So, is communism "dead" or "dying" as it is now fashionable to say since the failure of last August coup in the USSR?
Well, for us, this is not a question of fashion. And let us say right now, that our answer to this question is not going to be fashionable. For, as far as we can see, communism is neither dying nor dead in the USSR. For the very simple reason that communism was never alive there, except in the literature produced by Soviet officials themselves, by their regime's supporters outside the Soviet Union and by Western proponents of capitalism.
We, in the ICU, belong to a political tradition, that of Trotsky's Left Opposition, which, for over 67 years, fought against the illusions that existed in our class about the Soviet Union, and for a return to the communist ideas formulated by Marx and Lenin. Many of our forerunners, and Trotsky himself, lost everything in this fight, including their lives, but they never gave up. And we are certainly not going to give up this fight today, just because of a fashion initiated by the enemies of the working class!
Having made this stand, we still have a lot more to do. And first of all, it leaves us with the responsibility of explaining the events which are taking place in the Soviet Union, in the light of our communist ideas.
Which does not mean that we are going to disclose major secrets or tell you the future. We do have a few ideas as to possible developments but we do not pretend to have any definite answers on that account.
The events we are witnessing have no precedent in history. The state which was set up in the USSR by the working class in October 1917, was and is still unique. The fact that it remained in place for three-quarters of a century without allowing capitalism back, is even more unique. And as we are not experts in crystal balls, all we can do is to assess what we and all of you can see, in the light of past experience, in order to understand these events and, if possible, to learn from them. This is what we intend to do today.
In order to do this, we will have to go back rather far in the past. Simply because what we can see today - the Soviet state and its economic machinery, the social forces which are at play, the political actors involved - have been shaped by a long evolution which started back in 1917 after the October revolution itself.
The context of the October Revolution
In 1917, Russia was already a huge country. But it was also among the most backward in Europe. On the whole it was still dominated by lords and clergy, very much like Western Europe had been six centuries earlier. Most of its population lived like serfs, not to mention many nomadic tribes. It was a patchwork of many different nations, kept together by force under the yoke of the tsar's dictatorship.
In the midst of this extremely backward society, a small working class had emerged. It was highly concentrated in a small number of larger towns, it was very young as a class - only three decades old -, and it was very dynamic too.
In October 1917, three years into WWI, while the whole of Europe was still a battle-field, this new working class overthrew the rule of the tsar and took power. For the first time in history, the fighting exploited classes were able to run society directly, their own way, through their own representatives, organised in the "soviets", the Russian for "councils".
This was another kind of democracy, nothing to do with the sort of bogus democracy we know today, where everybody is supposed to have an equal say except that a few, like the Maxwell's and the Hanson's, have a more equal say than others because they can afford to own newspapers and politicians. The new soviet democracy was more akin to that of a strike committee, where all strikers are involved in making decisions and implementing them, while the foremen and managers are politely told to keep away. It was the democracy which can exist among large masses of people who are bent on the same aim, roused by the same enthusiasm and armed with the same determination to fight a common enemy.
Yet in many ways, Russia was the worst possible place for the working class to take power. Certainly such was the view of the Bolsheviks who had led the October revolution. They shared that idea, developped by Marx in the previous century, that the working class was the only class capable of building a new type of society free of any form of exploitation. But that this could only be done on the basis of the industrial development produced by capitalism worlwide. There was no question in their minds. As far as the Bolsheviks were concerned, it was simply inconceivable to build such a new society within one single country, let alone within a backward country like Russia, where the working class was only a small minority, and where industry was still in embryo.
But, as it happened, the proletarian revolution did start in such an unlikely place as Russia. It left the Russian revolutionary working class with only one possible choice: spreading their revolution further abroad, winning over the large working classes of the richest countries to the revolution. This was not a matter of tactics, nor a matter of principles, it was a matter of life and death for the revolution. From October 1917 onwards, this became the primary aim for the Bolsheviks.
However, after winning its first battle in Russia, the proletarian revolution failed to win the next ones. It was defeated first in Finland, then in Germany and Hungary. In the rest of the world, despite a powerful tide of enthusiasm for the Soviet revolution, the revolutionary upsurges never went beyond the stage of a general strike. In the end, the Russian revolution remained isolated. Worse it had to face the military intervention of the capitalist powers which, conveniently, forgot their rivalries in order to attack the new proletarian power.
It took two years of a bloody war for the Russian working class to defeat the Western intervention. The cost was horrific. The bulk of the revolutionary working class disappeared - many of its best fighters were killed in the war, epidemics and starvation killed a lot more. The working class came out of the civil war triumphant but exhausted and demoralised. As to the other exploited classes, the poor peasantry in particular, whose commitment to the revolution had been much more superficial in the first place, their demoralisation was even worse.
The Bolsheviks and the retreat of the working class
So, by 1920, we can consider that the democratic relationship, which existed in 1917, between the soviets in power and the masses of the people, had already disappeared. Despair, demoralisation and deprivation had reached such a stage that by then, the Bolsheviks probably no longer represented a majority, even within the working class itself. The soviets remained in power only because there was no other alternative. The bourgeois forces were still too weak to attract any significant popular support. But the soviets could no longer rely on the active support of the poor classes.
What was there to be done? Should the Bolsheviks have given up power and opened the door for the bourgeoisie to return to power?
But giving up power could only have meant unleashing the revenge of the bourgeoisie against the Russian working class. The defeat of the Finnish revolution was there to show what the revenge of the bourgeoisie could involve. By 1919, one in four Finnish workers had been slaughtered. How could one take such a risk? Besides, giving up power also meant letting down millions of workers throughout the world who had been looking up to the Russian revolution as their natural leader. It meant turning the clock back to where it was before 1917, not just in Russia, but throughout the world.
The Bolsheviks did not stop one minute to consider such an option. And they were right. If there was the slightest chance for the Russian revolution to hold its ground until a new revolutionary wave emerged somewhere in the capitalist world, it had to be taken, whatever the price.
The revolution under siege
In making this choice, the Bolsheviks knew, however, the great dangers they were likely to come up against. From 1920 onwards, the speeches and writings of the two most respected leaders of the revolution, Lenin and Trotsky, were full of stern warnings against these dangers.
Because of the general demoralisation in the country, any discontent was bound to be used by the world bourgeoisie to destabilise the regime. The only way to protect it was to take emergency measures which the Bolsheviks had always refused to consider, even during the darkest hours of the civil war, that of banning all political parties and of all fractions within the Bolshevik party itself.
None of these measures were taken light-heartedly. They went against everything the Bolsheviks stood for. They were desperate measures, dictated by the ruthless struggle against the counter-revolutionary threat, in order to relieve the regime from the enormous strain inherited from the civil war. In any case they were meant to be reversed as soon as practicable.
And because the Bolsheviks were all too conscious of the fact that the problems they face could not be solved through dictatorial measures, they proceeded to address the economic causes of their problems. The NEP was introduced to loosen the knot around the soviets' neck. Its aim was to restart the economic machine which had completely broken down. It created incentives for individual peasants so that they would be more inclined to provide enough food for the towns. It also tried to attract investments from abroad as well as the collaboration of some of the former small capitalists. Incentives were offered in the form of a limited private market. A small price to pay, if only it could help to put an end to the dramatic deprivation that demoralised and decimated the population.
The social origins of the bureaucracy
And indeed, it did help. The economy started breathing again, in a small way, but enough to start considering restoring production to its pre-war level, that is repairing the damage of WWI and of the civil war. But at the same time, it introduced new social pressures everywhere.
Social pressures within society at large where the restoration of a limited free market implied a limited restoration of profit. As a result, capitalist aspirations sprang to life again in society, amongst those who could afford them, individual farmers and small entrepreneurs.
Social pressures within the economic machinery, where skills were required which scarcely existed among the Russian working class. Specialists, as they were called, were recruited, many of whom were former members of the middle classes, often politically hostile, even when they accepted to work for the soviets.
Social pressures within the state itself. For working in the state machinery had its own incentives. Whoever was in a position to make a decision was bound to be offered bribes by all these small entrepreneurs who were competing to increase their businesses. True, these bribes were only petty cash, more often than not just a bit more food. But at a time when, for instance, a census among Bylorussian members of the party revealed that 17% of them had tuberculosis, even those petty bribes were often considered worth big compromises. This by itself was bound to fuel corruption and self-interest within the soviets' state machinery itself.
Not just corruption, in fact, but also the narrow-minded conservative mentality of individuals whose only aim in life is to hold on to their positions and to the few small incentives they get out of it, and whose actions are only dictated by their fear of losing out. Like this farm administrator described by Igor Fadéev, a Bolshevik novelist, who stubbornly refuses using fertilizers because he was afraid that as a result an agricultural engineer might get his job.... From that mentality to the single-mindedness of careerists seeking to improve their positions at any cost, the gap was not very large.
For a few years, all these elements developped slowly, lurking in the background. There were regular warnings in the party press against them and action was taken in a few outstanding cases. But it did not stop the rot. In the end, like on many other occasions in the history of the USSR, the extent of the damage was to appear later, and in a dramatic way.
Lenin's death opens a succession crisis
Lenin's death, in January 1924, was a turning point. Not so much because of Lenin's immense abilities which, although they were to be missed, could have been replaced by those of his comrades. But rather because it raised new ambitions in the leading spheres of the party. Lenin's prestige and credit with every section of the party had been an effective obstacle to any sort of personal ambition in the leadership. His death left a vacuum.
This is where the personality of Stalin played a major role. He was ambitious, and he saw the vacuum left by Lenin as an opportunity for himself provided he found a way of isolating Trotsky who was, after Lenin, the most prestigious Bolshevik leader.
But what support could Stalin expect from the old membership of the party who may have known him as a shadow in the background, but certainly not as a political leader? He could only seek the support of the newer members and functionaries; of those who had joined only once the Bolsheviks appeared already solidly in power, when it was no longer risky to be a party member or a state functionary; in other words, of that category of conservative bureaucrat described earlier. And in order to secure their support, Stalin wooed them. Within the top levels of the party, Stalin became the spokesman of these bureaucrats.
Within a year, Stalin had gone one step further, looking for allies, outside the party this time, among those layers which were most hostile to Trotsky, to the revolutionary past he represented and to the working class itself. Thus, he issued his famous Thatcherite call to the peasantry: "Get rich". This opened a period in which the better off farmers and entrepreneurs were shamelessly wooed into supporting Stalin's fight against the Left Opposition which had emerged around Trotsky, within the party, the working class and the youth.
In 1927, this Left Opposition grew to the point of including the majority of the old Bolshevik leaders. The Opposition denounced the rising power of the bureaucracy within the party and the state. They warned against the dangers of Stalin's conservative policy of wooing the better-off farmers, thereby allowing the re-emergence of a propertied class in the countryside. As opposed to this policy, the Opposition argued for stepping up industrialisation in order, among other things, to develop the working class as a social force in the country, while mobilising the poor farmers to counter-balance the growing arrogance of the richer farmers. They called for an end to all the emergency restrictions on democracy which were no longer justified by the situation, for the election of all officials within the party and for the dismissal of all careerists. Their programme was a direct challenge to the party and state bureaucracy who instinctively lined up behind Stalin.
The confrontation came to a head. Within two years of a mercyless fight the Left Opposition was crushed; many of its members, including some of the most prominent were exterminated; others renounced fighting under the enormous pressures which were put on them; and its most prominent leader, Trotsky, was finally arrested and expelled from Russia in 1929.
Stalin's victory marked the end of a period. The Communist party had ceased to be a revolutionary proletarian party. Instead it had become the party of that bureaucracy which, by then, made up a large part of its membership.
Was the bureaucracy a new ruling class?
We won't go into details over the history of the following twenty-five years, from Stalin's 1929 victory to his death in 1953. But it is worth stopping at this point to take a closer look at the bureaucracy.
From the very beginning, in the 20's, the bureaucracy was very close to the Western petty-bourgeoisie, socially, morally, even in terms of the social background of its members. They shared the same contempt and defiance towards the poor masses. No wonder the rising petty-bourgeoisie which developed as a parasite of the NEP in the mid-20's should have appealed to the bureaucracy.
The better-off farmers and businessmen were eagerly following Stalin's slogan to the letter, using every chance on offer to accumulate wealth, influence and positions. And their greed for quick profits fitted perfectly the psychology and the aspirations of the average bureaucrat. In many ways the bureaucracy seemed ready to merge with the petty-bourgeoisie, bent as both were on private gains at the expense of society. However events developed in a different direction.
As their economic weight increased, the new petty-bourgeoisie gathered confidence in its social weight and in its ability to shape society according to its own interests - which could only mean the restoration of full private property rights. By 1928, the pressure of the petty-bourgeoisie became open in the form of widespread refusal to deliver cereals to state stores, as a means to force higher prices. All of a sudden the country's food supply came under threat. In some of the peripheral regions of the USSR, underground remnants of the old bourgeois parties, so far irrelevant, started raising their heads, calling meetings and preparing almost openly for an armed confrontation. The threat of a counter-revolution was now on the cards.
What side was the bureaucracy going to choose? There is no doubt that many bureaucrats felt in deep sympathy with the rich farmers' demands. But on the other hand the kulaks, as these rich peasants were called, were challenging the authority of the state which the bureaucracy had come to consider its own property. Probably even more prominent in the minds of the bureaucrats was the fear that the working class might respond to food shortages by taking the problem into its own hands, and by turning against the kulaks but also against the bureaucracy who had been instrumental in encouraging the kulaks' arrogance.
In any case, almost overnight, the regime turned round against its former allies. War was declared against the kulaks. Battalions of armed workers were drafted in to implement a programme of forced collectivisation of the land. At the same time, all industrial estates were confiscated and a huge programme of industrialisation was launched. And this complete U-turn in Stalin's policy, which involved massive deportations and went as far as taking the form of an outright civil war in some areas, was largely supported and implemented by the bureaucracy.
This said something about the bureaucracy itself. When it came to the crunch, and despite all their own petty-bourgeois aspirations, not only had the bureaucracy shied away from joining ranks with the aspiring bourgeoisie, but they had used all their resources to destroy it. Being totally dependent on the soviet state for its social status and power, the bureaucracy had chosen to defend it, thereby protecting it against a return of the bourgeoisie and the overthrow of the main achievement of the October revolution.
The fact was that the social status and privileges of the bureaucracy were only based on their role as cogs in the state machinery or in the party. How could they be sure to retain their position if a counter-revolution occurred? Wouldn't the old bourgeoisie seek to get rid of all these functionaries as well, and replace them with its own?
This confirmed Trotsky's view that the bureaucracy was not a new exploiting class. It was a parasitic layer, an accidental fungus, which had developed on the state set up by the working class. It was too weak and too dependant on its origins to break from them completely by restoring private property in the Soviet Union. Paradoxically, its origins made it much too frightened of a new revolutionary upsurge in the working class to risk altering the status quo in any way.
This, argued Trotsky, did not mean that the bureaucracy was any closer to workers' interests than the bourgeoisie. Quite the opposite in fact, the bureaucracy was even less likely to tolerate any threat to its power coming from the working class. But what it did mean was that, at least as long as it saw the working class as a threat, the bureaucracy would be forced to defend "reluctantly", in its own brutal way, the major social gain of the October revolution.
Of course, one could not dismiss the possibility of that threat getting dimmer and dimmer with time, specially if there was no sign of independent working-class intervention. If things came to that point, then it was likely that the bureaucracy would eventually try to work its way back towards capitalism. Whether it would succeed or not, would then be entirely up to the ability of the working class to reclaim the heritage of the October revolution.
Such was the way Trotsky formulated the problem back in 1940, before being murdered by Stalin's thugs. And, in hindsight, in the light of today's events in the USSR, his views have been vindicated by history.
Stalin's dictatorship, a shield for the bureaucracy against the proletariat
But, for the time being, let us go back to the bureaucracy of the 30's. In its initial period of development in the 1920's, the bureaucrats had enjoyed a relative degree of freedom.
This changed when the social pressures on the bureaucracy started to build up: on one side the pressure of the working class represented by the left Opposition, on the other the pressure of the bourgeoisie represented by the kulaks. Panicked by these momentous social pressures, the bureaucrats found themselves at a loss. For the cement that kept them together did not go much beyond their common fear. It needed to face the attacks of hostile social classes with a policy of its own, and it did not have any. It needed to be united and to act as a single block; instead, it was constantly divided and weakened by all sorts of trivial internal conflicts. Stalin's intervention at this point was again decisive.
From the top spheres of the state, Stalin provided the bureaucracy with a policy aimed at defending its privileges while offering his arbitration over its endless internal conflicts. This made Stalin's personal dictatorship over the bureaucracy acceptable. Not that anyone liked it among the bureaucrats. But, for the time being at least, it was considered a necessary evil, although often a painful one.
And indeed Stalin's personal dictatorship, which developed fully throughout the 30's, was very costly even for the bureaucracy. There was no way Stalin could provide the bureaucracy with a homogeneity similar to that of the bourgeoisie. The causes of conflicts within the bureaucracy could not be rubbed out. Partly because of the narrow and selfish outlook of each individual bureaucrat which prevented them from having the slightest idea of a higher common interest. Partly because most of these conflicts were due to the backward state of the Russian economy which just could not be dealt with by decree.
Constantly there were new cliques emerging within the bureaucracy defending frantically their own narrow interests, which were often a potential threat to the fragile status quo on which the power of the bureaucracy rested. One day it was a nationality-based clique, the next day, it was an army clique, or an industry-based clique, you name it. Stalin did not wear gloves in arbitrating these conflicts. He simply physically suppressed those involved. And in order to prevent the building up of cliques, he saw to it that no bureaucrat would ever feel totally safe in his job. This was done by constantly reshuffling the leading spheres of the state and the party, each reshuffle resulting in many casualties; and by more and more far-reaching purges, which at their height in the late 30's, could claim as many as several hundred thousand victims at a time - and when we say victim, the word should be taken literally as those who escaped the firing squad rarely escaped a painful death in a labour camp.
The internal evolution of the bureaucracy
At the same time, the bureaucracy itself developed and changed significantly under Stalin's reign.
First of all it developed in numbers, enormously. Not just through the growth of the repressive machinery, although it was considerable. But primarily through the growth of the administrative machinery, particularly that overseeing the economy, due to the huge industrial development which went on without interruption until the early 50's and beyond. While the size of the bureaucracy was probably under 3 millions in 1924, Trotsky put it at 12 millions in 1936 and estimates for the early 40's are around 35 millions.
The bureaucracy also developed qualitatively, in its relationship with society. The centralised economic development resulted in the building up of relatively autonomous national administration in all spheres of the economy. A considerable new layer of bureaucrats developed in the shape of managers, among whom a significant proportion was no longer operating at the scale of one single factory, but rather at the scale of a whole industrial sector, at national, regional and local level.
Each one of these industry-based apparatuses, usually organised around one ministry, developped into being a state within the state. Each of them had their own communication system, transport organisation, building department, education system, and often their own private police. Just as the army had its own police and the police its own army, while the forerunner of the KGB had its own industrial apparatus which produced anything from gold to weapons, communication equipment and fashion clothes. And in each ministry, the bureaucrats insisted on developing this autonomy, regardless of the considerable waste it often represented, in order to avoid having to depend on the other ministries.
This, of course, fuelled yet more divisions, competition and conflicts within the bureaucracy. But on the other hand, it fitted Stalin's policy quite well in so far as his method of government involved a permanent game of divide and rule, setting up one section of the bureaucracy against another, in order to tame both. And it was in fact Stalin's direct intervention which encouraged the development of these industrial empires within the state.
There were other important changes as well as to the relationship between the party and the bureaucracy. In the first period of development of the bureaucracy, all power was concentrated at every level of society in the hands of party structures. Subsequently the role of the party remained just as important in the overall running of the state. No-one could be appointed to any significant position without being vetted by the party. But at the same time, the party structures were often by-passed. The existence of huge national apparatuses, whether administrative, military or industrial, meant that many decisions were taken within structures on which the party hierarchy had no direct control. It also meant that those running these national apparatuses ended up defending their interests within the party rather than the reverse. And this again was largely encouraged by Stalin himself who often used the power of these national apparatuses as a lever against potential oppositions within the leading spheres of the party.
Simultaneously the party composition changed as well. From the insistence which prevailed in the early 30's on maintaining a high working-class membership, the party moved more and more towards being dominated by administrators and managers, not just in its ruling circles as before, but in its membership as well. The purges of the late 30's resulted in so many casualties in the party ranks, that a recruitment drive had to be launched in 1939 in order to provide the party with new blood. This time, the rules of the party were explicitly altered in order to make the recruitment of managers and technical staff, not just easier, but a top priority.
Other than that, the way of life and the aspirations of the bureaucracy remained very much what they had always been. Slightly less narrow-minded, maybe, in its leading spheres. Certainly often driven by much more ambition. But just as much based on the petty trafficking that a position of authority can provide in any country where many things are in short supply, only on a larger and constantly growing scale. It involved bribery, embezzlement of public funds, forgery, black marketering, plain theft. Nothing original, by the way, compared to the day-to-day practices of many respectable bourgeois politicians and businessmen in the so-called "democratic" Western world.
As a whole, a large part of this activity was tolerated by Stalin's regime, as long as it remained invisible. Enough at least to make it worthwhile to be part of the bureaucracy. But not enough though to undermine the position of the bureaucracy. Regularly bureaucrats were taken to court, and quite a few were shot, for "economic crimes". The regime took care to protect the bureaucracy against its own greed. The fear of a working class backlash was real enough in the eyes of the bureaucracy as a whole, for them to accept having to enjoy their affluence in the secrecy of hidden-away datchas, and having to pay a high price when they were caught red-handed.
Stalin's succession crisis: the Khrushchev turn
In many ways, Stalin's death triggered the same mechanisms in the Soviet society as Lenin's death had. Not because of any similarity between the leader of the revolutionary soviets and the executioner of a whole generation of revolutionaries. Nor because of similarity in the circumstances either. But because, in both cases social developments which had remained hidden in the background for a whole period, were all of sudden brought to the fore by the struggle for succession.
In the struggle for Lenin's succession, all the main social layers that made up the Russian society were represented, including the working class. Not so, in the struggle for Stalin's succession, nor in the string of political crises that followed, up to and including the failed coup in August this year.
But in all these crises, the handful of individuals who came to the fore, all chose to express the aspirations of one privileged layer or another, of one big apparatus or another, as a means to promote themselves, many of them shifting their allegiances according to their own circumstantial interests.
When Stalin died, on 6 March 1953, there was a frantic surge to avoid creating any sense of political vacuum. A collective leadership was proclaimed on the very next day. And a power struggle started between the members of this new leadership, which lasted over five years before reaching a conclusion - Khrushchev's final victory.
In the process, Beria, who was the representative of the political police was arrested and shot. And the political police lost part of its power.
By 1956, Krushchev probably appeared as the most likely candidate for the succession of Stalin, but by no means as the victor. In any case, at this point, he felt confident enough to strike a major blow against his remaining opponents, with his famous "secret report" to the XXth Congress of the CPSU. What was important about this so-called secret report was not so much its contents, which were only a rather mild exposure of Stalin's crimes, but precisely the fact that it was never meant to be secret. Its questioning of Stalin's policies spread like wild fire far beyond the leading spheres of the party.
In other words, unlike all his opponents, Khrushchev was choosing to appeal for support to all those in the bureaucracy who were longing for an end to the bloody purges of the Stalin era. The impact in the country was enormous. All of a sudden there was a whirlwind of freedom. Underground organisations mushroomed all over the country. And the movement spread far beyond the Russian borders and was instrumental in encouraging the political explosions which took place in Poland and, more importantly, in Hungary.
A year later, Khrushchev's opponents in the PolitBuro tried to use the latter events to crush him. But the army, represented by Marshall Jukov, sided with Krushchev. Overnight army planes were sent up and down the country to gather the members of the Central Committee. An emergency session was held which dismissed Khrushchev's main opponents, Malenkov, Kaganovitch and Molotov. As it happened, Jukov's personal contribution was not to be rewarded. A few months later, Khrushchev took opportunity of Jukov's temporary absence, to get him dismissed from the leading bodies of the party for "personality cult". The point was that Jukov was the most popular figure in the army due to his role during WWII. This made him a useful ally but a potential competitor too...
Finally, in March 1958, having successfully and successively used and disposed of all his most prominent opponents, Khrushchev came out as a victor. By that time, he held in his hands all the leading positions in the state and in the party.
Khrushchev's reforms and the backlash
The struggle for succession was over. But not Khrushchev's struggle to remain in power. He had won several battles, but his competitors had only retreated. They had not surrendered. Resorting to something like Stalin's terror was not really an option for Khrushchev. Under what pretext? There was no social cloud in the sky that could be used to scare the majority of the bureaucracy into accepting a new period of terror. So Khrushchev resorted to other methods.
As it happened, Khrushchev's most dangerous enemies at the time were also the main obstacle to the limited economic liberalisation that was demanded by the vast majority of the bureaucracy: the large economic ministries. So, in the name of achieving "the greatest economic flexibility required for the building of communism", Khrushchev simply disbanded most of these ministries, replacing them with regional councils in which the local hierarchy of the bureaucracy could have more of a say while hopefully reducing the endless bureaucratic bottlenecks due to the previous higher level of centralisation. Meanwhile, attempts were made at encouraging individual initiative in various areas of the economy, particularly in the agriculture.
Khrushchev's policy was by no means an ideological choice. Nor was it probably a policy that he had thoroughly thought out right from Stalin's death. Rather it was a circumstantial response to a particular relationship of forces in which Khrushchev was seeking to canvass the support of large layers of the middle bureaucracy against the powerful bureaucratic industrial barons.
For the same reasons, this yet timid economic liberalisation went together with a measure of democratic liberalisation. Writers openly criticising the bureaucracy had their books published. And a whole range of economists took a stand in favour of deep economic reforms, up to and including the restoration of some form of property rights and inheritance. By and large they were expressing the long-concealed aspirations of the bureaucracy. It was certainly during this period that large layers of the bureaucracy came to be conscious of a community of opinion in their ranks: that they were no longer prepared to endure the instability due to their total dependence on party committees for their positions; that they were no longer prepared to be constantly scrutinised by an all-powerful hierarchy; and that they needed legal ways of transforming their privileges into accumulated wealth.
However, the liberalisation was soon to backfire, showing the extent of the risks taken by Khrushchev in initiating it, and the power of the social forces he had started to unleash involuntarily.
Agricultural workers had been given the use of private plots of land. These represented only 3% of all lands. But within just about two years these private plots represented 21% of all agricultural production. What was happening was simply that these plots developed as parasites of the collective farms organisation, using their land for grazing and their equipment for toiling the land. The result was a sharp decline of state farm production and a significant increase of real agricultural prices. Meanwhile the black market that had existed under Stalin developed to new heights using every loophole left open by the system and a few more.
There were problems with the new regional councils too. They showed the same tendency as the old ministries, only on a larger scale, to create around them large crowds of parasites who managed to get on their payrolls. Worse, more often than not they competed against one another rather than collaborated. In the peripheral republics and autonomous regions, the regional councils became the power basis of national, and often feudal, cliques. Some of them diverted enormous amounts of public funding to finance local extravaganzas for the sole purpose of boosting the prestige of some local leader. Others undertook the task of turning their region into miniatiure duplicates of the USSR, complete with their own heavy industry, etc..., often at an enormous economic cost, with the result that huge plants were built without any hope of ever being viable.
In the end, faced with the threat of economic chaos, Khrushchev had to backpedal. In 1961, he set up 17 major economic regions to oversee the operations of the regional councils and the following year over half of the regional councils were disbanded while all industrial construction and technological development were again concentrated in the hands of separate national administrations. The time of the big ministries was back.
By 1962, Khrushchev had managed to withdraw most of the limited liberalisation that he had used in order to consolidate his own power. Once again, not for ideological reasons, but because, economically, politically and socially, the risk of things getting out of hand had become visible - a risk which was a direct threat to his own power.
To an extent, Khrushchev was successful in reversing the process he had himself started. But only to an extent for, on 14 October 1964, as he was coming back from a holiday on the Black Sea, he was summoned by the PolitBuro and forced to resign on health grounds. For good measure he was discharged from all his positions except his party membership and invited to move into a little wooden cottage just outside Moscow to enjoy a happy retirement. Quite an enviable outcome compared to the years in Siberia usually experienced by disgraced leaders under Stalin!
At any rate this decision failed to trigger the slightest visible protest. Probably, behind Khrushchev's disgrace were deeper social reasons - in particular the fact that, as a whole, the bureaucracy was not prepared to go though yet another period of Stalin-like dictatorship whether under Khrushchev, nor was it prepared to give up the relative stability and job security it had enjoyed since the mid 50's. And it can be assumed that the Brezhnev-Kossygin team who succeeded in forcing Khrushchev's resignation, had felt the mood in time to take advantage of it.
From Khrushchev to Gorbachev
In any case the new team did respect these aspirations within the bureaucracy. And, as opposed to the Stalin era, the unusual length of their reign, nearly twenty years, was probably more due to this policy than to the fact that the regime was repressive. By and large they provided the bureaucracy with the breathing space it needed, allowing it to consolidate its social position.
This period was one of armed truce between the main apparatuses within the bureaucracy. Not that the conflicts opposing these apparatuses disappeared. Only they took a more muffled, subtle form.
All through this period, despite this apparent stability, or rather because of it, the economy and the state underwent some far reaching transformations, giving birth to new social forces. This period was one of relative prosperity and regular economic growth. The urban petty-bourgeoisie developped to unprecedented levels, aspiring, just as most of the bureaucracy itself, to some form of Western affluence. This frustration which was expressed by many of the political dissenters who were repressed by Brezhnev's regime. All these growing social aspirations remained concealed behind the smokescreen of stability. And once again, this build up of social pressures was to explode brutally one day or another.
The struggle for succession which followed Brezhnev's death, in 1982, was to be, once again, the trigger which unleashed these new forces.
Andropov, a former head of the KGB, first took over and proceeded to tighten the regime's control over the economy, clamping down on the black market maffiosi who had been formerly part of Brezhnev's clique but also on the working class by tightening discipline at work. But his reign was shortlived, just over a year. Tchernenko, another ageing bureaucrat, took over and... died within thirteen months, leaving few memories behind him.
Finally Gorbachev was elected party general secretary in March 1985, with the help of the KGB who managed to discredit his main rival. He was only 54, very young compared to his predecessors. But he was all the same a full-blown product of the bureaucracy's upper hierarchy, whose education had been shaped by the Khrushchev era, rather than by the Stalin era like his predecessors.
As usual, Gorbachev's problem once elected was not so much that of implementing reforms, something on which everybody agreed in the top spheres of the regime, but rather primarily to consolidate his own power by getting rid of potential rivals. Such was the function of perestroïka and glasnost.
In April 1985, he came up with the slogan of perestroïka, Russian for reconstruction. What this meant was simply the need to get rid of some of the most conspicuous bottlenecks that plagued the economy. But politically it was aimed first of all at winning over the support of the middle bureaucracy against his rivals, by providing them with new incentives and improving their standards of living. This was made all the more vital by the fact that, since 1978, the rate of growth of the Soviet economy had slowed down as a result of the world crisis, fuelling widespread frustration within the bureaucracy whose standards of living had started going down.
At first perestroïka looked very much like Andropov's initial moves. Gorbachev clamped down on workers by tightening discipline at work, under the pretext of fighting alcoholism. He used a reshuffle of the biggest ministries, resulting in tens of thousands of dismissals, to appoint his own men at key positions. And he took steps to eliminate the regional feudal cliques which had developped under Brezhnev, in Moldavia, in Uzbekistan, in Kazakhstan. And in Moscow, he eliminated his main rival, Grichine, the head of the party in this town, replacing him with his friend Yeltsin who immediately proceeded to sack nearly 20,000 functionaries to appoint his own trusted men.
Glasnost, Russian for transparency, consisted of bypassing the bureaucracy's leading spheres to appeal to its lower ranks and to the petty-bourgeois public opinion to secure their support. It involved all sorts of gestures like unbanning certain publications, freeing some prominent dissidents such as Sakharov and encouraging the media to address some old taboos like corruption.
Glasnost came as a relief in every sections of society, including in the working class. Unlike the intellectuals, workers were never given much of a say on television. But glasnost did provide them with more lee way to voice their demands and to stage demonstrations and strikes. However the reactionary forces in society were much quicker and more effective in using the benefits of glasnost, in particular the fact that for the first time opponents of the regime felt that repression was no longer much of a risk. And, for instance, very soon, the new freedom of the press became a tool in the hands of warring factions fighting for power.
The social forces at work behind the scene
In many ways this process was similar to what had been triggered under Khrushchev. But whereas at the time, it was never given a chance to develop, being stopped in its tracks by Khrushchev himself, under Gorbachev it turned out to be much stronger. This time, Gorbachev was very quickly outflanked by the social forces he had unleashed and some of his allies, among them Yeltsin, were quick to take advantage of this situation by overbidding Gorbachev in terms of demagogy, thereby encouraging these social forces to go even further and faster.
This was best shown in the republics. At first Gorbachev had encouraged national feelings as a means to fight the local cliques, closely associated with Moscow, which had developped under Brezhnev. This resulted in his own appointed local officials playing on national feelings to divert people's frustration over the economy against the central power and the neighbouring republics.
Likewise, in the economy, having been encouraged by Gorbachev to show more flexibility, autonomy and initiative, local factory managers went further, ignoring more and more openly the planning authorities, looking after their own local interests, resorting more often and more openly to the black market to sell their production and creating artificial shortages in order to force prices up, thereby destroying the fragile balance of the economy and leading to the present utter chaos.
With the party and the state machinery, a similar process took place. Initially, Gorbachev had leant upon the party apparatus. This resulted in the party machinery seeking to tighten its control over the state, an aspiration which was best expressed by the emergence of those labelled as "conservatives" by the Western media, who were mostly those of Gorbachev's competitors who were trying to use the aspirations of the party apparatus as a power basis against Gorbachev. To counter-balance their influence, Gorbachev moved to introduce more flexibility in the relationship between the party and the state machinery, thereby weakening the power of the party. Such was the purpose first of allowing multiple candidates to run in elections, next of scrapping the political monopoly of the party from the constitution of the USSR.
But in so doing, Gorbachev triggered a new process. While the state machinery was granted a greater degree of independence in relation to the party, it was loosing more of the cement which kept it together at the scale of the Union, thereby fuelling more divisions, and more conflicts between its various components, whether between different republics or different ministries.
Moreover this process led to many officials in the party having the basis of their social status shifted from the party to the state that is, they no longer needed the party as much to guarantee their privileges. Many chose to resign from the party as a result, not seeing any point to remain in it any longer. Many more remained in the party, thereby concealing the real state of affairs which was to come into the open when the party was finally banned: there was no resistance against the banning, nor did it result in any hickups in the operation of the state. Simply because the people that counted in the party were already entrenched in the state apparatus and no longer relied on the party for their social status.
None of these developments were totally new. As we saw earlier, they had been initiated under Khrushchev. Only Gorbachev ended up taking them far enough for the bureaucracy to oppose their reversal.
The process leading to the August coup
When he came to power, Gorbachev had certainly never considered going as far as he did. He was probably planning a few limited reforms in order to consolidate his power, but certainly not a drive towards capitalism and even less the break up of the Soviet Union.
However he was eventually completely outflanked by the forces he had unleashed. And in order to retain some control and to avoid being ousted he had no other choice than to go along with the current. But as he was reacting to events rather than taking the initiative, he ended up tailing events while some of his competitors, like Yeltsin, were seen as having the initiative. Of course, Gorbachev's competitors were no more in control of events than he was, as these events were powered by social forces operating from the depths of society. But appearances were enough to tilt the balance in favour of Yeltsin and co.
The official drive towards the market and a return to capitalism was not the result of a choice on the part of either Gorbachev or any of his allies or competitors. It was imposed on those in power for fear of losing it. And the more concessions they made in that direction, the more they gave space to the bourgeois aspirations at work in the country, the more concessions they had to make. Even when these concessions were purely demagogic, like the famous Chataline plan which was supposed to re-establish capitalism in the USSR within 500 days. No-one among the serious economists, including among the pro-capitalists ones, believed in it, not even Chataline himself probably. Yet this plan became a stake in the fight between Gorbachev and Yeltsin for power, to the point that Gorbachev was left with no other choice than to endorse it. It did not change much in reality, in the sense that it was not implementable anyway. But it did boost even more the greed for profit among the aspiring bourgeoisie and it gave even more confidence to those whose main activity was to steal everything they could from the state industries in order to prepare for privatisation.
Eventually, in October 1990, Gorbachev found himself in a position similar to that Khrushchev had experienced in 1961. He decided that his best chance to remain in power was to backpedal. He renewed his team, this time relying heavily on the army and the KGB and introducing everywhere around some of the "conservatives" who were to be instrumental in last August's coup. This triggered an open warfare between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, which the latter used to turn the Federation of Russia into his own power basis. Unlike Khrushchev, Gorbachev found that he was no longer in a position to backpedal. Eventually, in April, Gorbachev made a new U-turn hoping it would contain Yeltsin's rising influence. Instead it boosted Yeltsin's profile while alienating the "conservatives".
The result of this was the coup. What was significant about it, apart from the total lack of intervention of the working class to support either sides, was the fact that what was at stake were not policies but power.
What the long-term plans of the leaders of the coup were, is anybody's guess. Probably they did not know themselves, and that was reflected in the fact that everything could be found in their statements, from open support for capitalism to an appeal to go back to the "good old days". The reality of the coup was that one faction of the bureaucracy, namely the "conservatives", was trying to reinforce its power by inviting the others to close ranks around the authority of the major national apparatuses - the party, the army, the KGB and the industrial ministries -, rather than carry on allowing events to be driven by uncontrolled social forces. And in doing so they were conspicuously hoping to rally not only whole layers of the bureaucracy, but probably even Gorbachev and Yeltsin themselves.
In that sense the coup was a palace coup, or rather an attempted one, whereby a clique was trying to force the cadres of the bureaucracy to make a choice. In the event, the attempt failed. Given the obvious lack of support for the coup among the bureaucracy itself, Gorbachev, Yeltsin and further, the army and KGB cadres, refused to support it. And the coup collapsed by itself.
The bureaucracy's strong men push their advantage
After the coup, events developed at a much faster speed. Yeltsin moved in to take as much advantage as he could of the situation and Gorbachev became a hostage in Yeltsin's hands. In that sense, the coup has opened a new stage in the struggle for power within the bureaucracy.
All the processes that had developed in the background over the previous period have come to the fore as a result. For over 60 years, at first for fear of the working class and subsequently mainly through inertia, the bureaucracy felt it necessary to use the language of communism and to live in the shadow of Lenin's mummy. Today the leaders of the bureaucracy are busy dismantling any reference to Lenin throughout the country. Their language is shifting from that of communism to that of social-democrats if not of staightforward reactionaries.
The communist party, which was an obstacle on Yeltsin's way to power, is now banned in Russia. And its banning did not trigger much of a reaction simply because a majority of the bureaucrats who made up the bulk of its cadres have already secured for themselves positions in society which they consider safe enough to do without the party's protection. Some of the republics followed Russia's example. In others where the communist party was already effectively controlled by the nationalist leaders, its apparatus has now changed its name and goes on performing the same function as before, only as a nationalist party.
The drive to re-introduce capitalism is now the official policy of the state. None of the reservations and misgivings as to the dangers involved which used to be expressed in the leading spheres of the bureaucracy are to be heard any longer
What can be described as a genuine bourgeois party is therefore in the process of taking power in Yeltsyn's steps. But at this very same point, the machinery of power is beginning to collapse. The social forces which have been at work behind the scene in the previous period are now operating openly at full speed, tearing apart the state of the Soviet Union. It seems that the state which came out of the October revolution is proving inadequate for the task of implementing the re-introduction of capitalism.
The economic chaos that prevailed already before the pustch is reaching new heights. But the reasons for this chaos have nothing to do with what politicians here would have us believe. It is not due to a painful transition to capitalism, simply because capital is still hardly significant at all in the USSR. Nor is it due to any incapacity on the part of the central planning system to cope with the situation. On the contrary it is due to the fact that the planning system has ceased to operate normally because of the collapse of the state machinery.
Instead of plundering the state economy in the shadows, shamefully as it were, like they used to do in the past, factory managers are now busy tearing apart their plants to equip the private companies they are setting up. Plundering the state economy has now become a respectable open activity. Just like speculating on supplies, waiting for their prices to rise rather than releasing them for sale. The control mechanisms that used to exist and to restrain the greed of the bureaucracy are no longer operating, except in the large-scale production units which just cannot operate on the unsteady trickle of raw materials and parts provided by the so-called "market", which for the time being is still nothing but the black market.
Those blaming the present chaos on the planned economy conveniently forget to mention the fact that despite the large-scale plunder of the economy by the bureaucracy, despite the wastes and bottlenecks due to its internal rivalries, for 53 years, between 1937 and 1990, the Soviet economy did outperform the richest Western countries in terms of production growth. And that is according to the West's own figures! Our apologists of the capitalist system would have a hard time finding one single example of a capitalist country having made up for its initial economic backwardness in a comparable way. No wonder, there aren't any! And what else was responsible for this growth, if not the centrally planned economy?
A process of disintegration in the making
So now the leaders of the bureaucracy are openly in the business of reintroducing capitalism in the USSR, or rather in what remains of it.
So they say in any case. Because in this field as in many others it is wiser to judge the hard facts than to rely on their statements of intention. Indeed the gap between words and deeds is huge. If anything, an indirect evidence of this fact is given by the Western companies' own reluctance to risk their capital in the USSR. With the exception of Volkswagen and Fiat, who both were involved in a long-standing co-operation with Russian state companies, no sizeable Western investment has been recorded yet in the Russian economy.
There has been no shortage of laws and decrees to restore private property in all sorts of fields. Even the decisions to redistribute agricultural land and to privatise state companies have been taken. But very little has been done so far. And why is that? There is probably not just one reason, but several, and which reason comes first is hard to judge.
As far we can see, the main reason has to do with the social nature of the would-be capitalists in the USSR. We described before the way the bureaucrats used to plunder the economy. Their mentality has not changed. They are out for the quick buck with the short-term outlook of a shopkeeper and the meanness of a crook. So that the new private companies and cooperatives are mostly making a living as parasites of the state industries, providing services such as computing facilities, transport, import-export, long-distance commerce, publishing, etc... And even then their finances are provided not by individual investors, but mostly by large state companies. The minority who are rich enough to be potential partners for large-scale privatisations are simply unwilling to freeze their money for any length of time.
There is also another reason, so far less prominent but which has a growing importance, that is money itself. Most of the wealth accumulated by the Soviet petty-bourgeoisie is in rubles. And the ruble is going through a drastic crisis of confidence at present. The result is random inflation in which the flotation of significant chunks of the state economy could bring about such a rush on shares as to make the whole monetary and financial system collapse.
On the whole, therefore, the state economy is still intact whether in the USSR or in the republics, while the capitalist sector remains largely insignificant.
However there is the possibility of the development of capitalist relations being imposed by events despite the factors just mentioned. And that is through the break up of the Union and the setting up of national economies in the republics. In that case, and if the republics insisted on replacing the existing economic organisation by capitalist relations between the various national economies, that is relations based on world market prices, it would probably mean the complete break up of, not just of the state control over the economic machinery of the USSR, but most likely the collapse of most of its production capacities.
The planned economy, however ill-managed and plundered by the bureaucracy, allowed enormous savings and a redistribution of income among the various sections of the industrial machinery, simply because of the scale on which it had been designed and was operated. To take an example, Armenia, which is a very industrialised republic, has no raw materials. It was entirely dependent on the whole Soviet economy for its supplies and for selling its production. There is no alternative supplier or buyer anywhere near Armenia. And if Armenia was to buy its raw materials at world market prices and sell its products in the West, it is estimated that it would have to close about half its production facilities.
In other words, most of these national economies in the republics are just not viable on their own on the world market, with maybe the exception of the larger Federation of Russia, assuming it remains intact despite the numerous minorities now demanding independence. And even in the case of the Federation of Russia, we would probably see the small number of companies which are already profitable in capitalist terms seek investments and trade abroad in order to boost their profits, thereby letting down their usual trading partners in the USSR and forcing them to bankruptcy.
The leaders of the bureaucracy are perfectly aware of these risks. This is why they are all now trying to maintain some form of economic union, including Yeltsin, who opposed the idea when he could afford such demagogy, not being in power. So far, however, many conferences have been held but little progress made. This is largely due to the greed of the national bureaucracies. But it is also due to the pressure of the social forces on which they rely to remain in power, and to their whipping up of nationalist feelings which can end up taking them much further than they would like.
Therefore it is possible that at some point in the future, the break up of the Soviet Union as a single economic entity could result into the final collapse of the economic and social heritage of the October revolution and into the final disappearance of the state which came out of it. But let us stress once again that despite the victorious claims of Western politicians, we are not at that point yet.
The working class and the future of the Soviet Union
Paradoxically, very little has been said so far about the Soviet working class. This is mainly due to the fact that so far it has had no independent intervention in the events we described. Not that it was passive. Far from it. There has been no shortage of strikes, some of them affecting whole industries. But whenever workers have taken action on a large scale, like during the various miners' strikes, their interventions have ended up being used by one of the bureaucratic cliques fighting for power to boost its own profile. When they were not led from day one by unofficial union leaders whose only aim was to support one bureaucratic clique against another, like during the last round of strikes this year which was aimed at providing support for Yeltsin against Gorbachev.
Yet, what those in power have in store for the working class is fairly open and well-known. Their plans involve throwing as many as 30 million workers on the dole and Russian dole officers are presently being trained in France to learn how to handle the job. Likewise the freeing of prices is planned, involving huge increases, when, even before their implementation, the standards of living of workers have already gone down over the past year by 30 to 50% at least.
That the bureaucrats in power would not stop at resorted to dictatorial methods against workers is no secret either. The so-called "libreals" may be portrayed as democrats by politicians here. But their models are well publicised: it is Pinochet's Chile and South Korea. And the methods they have in mind to deal with workers' resistance may well turn out to be similar to those of the coup leaders, if not worse!
Yet it is fairly obvious as well that the primary reason, first for Gorbachev and now for Yeltsin to stop short of implementing their plans, despite pressures coming from the IMF for instance as far as prices are concerned, is the fear of major social unrest.
It is impossible to say whether and how the working class will react or not in the months to come. But if it does the outcome of their intervention will depend entirely on the objectives they choose to fight for. If once again they put their fate in the hands of one of the factions of the bureaucracy, their intervention will be a demoralising dead end and will not even brake the drive towards capitalism.
But there is another possibility. That of an independent intervention of the working class, relying on no others than themselves to defend their interests. And we do think that such an intervention would have to reclaim the heritage of the October revolution. That it would have to set itself the objective of fighting against the aspiring capitalists, against the privatisation of the state economy, against the disbanding of the Soviet economy as a single economic unit and for resuming the operation of a plan over the state economy under the control of the working class.
This, in itself, would not turn the USSR into a communist society, as this would still be impossible to achieve within one single country. But it would be the first step towards the rebirth of a real communist movement not just in the USSR, but worldwide, on the basis of the heritage of the October revolution the first and only victorious proletarian revolution in history.
So where is the Soviet Union going? Towards a new revolutionary upsurge of the working class or towards the re-establishment of capitalism for 300 million people? Only the future can tell.
Would the latter development make a difference for us? Yes, definitely. Not in the sense that it would rule out the possibility of communism as bourgeois politicians are claiming so enthusiastically. But it would take a thorn out of the flesh of the world bourgeoisie.
Of course Stalin's dictatorship and that of his successors, were rather unattractive for the Western working class, and often acted as a repellent against communist ideas. But the fact is that despite this, for 74 years, the very existence of the USSR has been the living proof that the working class can get rid of the bourgeoisie and that it is possible for society to function without capitalist exploitation and without all the paraphanerlia of shares and market.
If that living proof was to disappear at some point, it would be a setback for the working class worldwide. There is no point in denying it. And it might make the idea that capitalism can be replaced more difficult to consider as an option in the working class. And, by the way, this is precisely the reason why Western politicians are acclaiming so vociferously what they call the "death of communism".
But they may also be proved wrong in their enthusiasm. For it is highly unlikely, not to say impossible, that capitalism re-establishes itself in the Soviet Union in a smooth way, without triggering some sort of social upheavals.
All the visible evidence we have today points in the same direction: that the re-introduction of capitalism will trigger, at some point a violent break up of the Soviet state and economy; and that in the process, large sections of the working class will be made to bear the brunt of the shock, not to mention the populations of the peripheral republics who are bound to discover rather brutally what it means to live in a Third World country subjected to the capitalist market. All these developments may in turn trigger mass rebellions against the causes of these hardships and the aspiring bourgeoisie which is responsible for them. And, of course, this is our hope.
Of course, as we pointed out before, rebellions won't necessarily change the course of history and prevent the re-establishment of capitalism. It depends on the objectives for which the masses choose to fight, and it depends on whether there are, within their ranks, militants proposing a policy which can arm the masses against all exploiters, against the Western bourgeoisie as well as against the Soviet aspiring bourgeoisie and the nationalist leaders of the republics.
In the meantime, for us here, what is happening in the USSR is not worse than what happened there at various points in the past. Certainly not worse, for instance, than what happened at the end of WWWII, when Stalin worked hand in hand with Churchill and Roosevelt, dividing Europe between them, in order to crush in advance any possibility of working-class uprising in Europe. At the time what was at stake was whether capitalism would be allowed to get away with one more world war, and Stalin's intervention made sure that it did!
Today, the situation is far from being as bad as that. But what the present events in the USSR do imply, is a need which is more pressing and more urgent than ever: that of re-building a communist tradition within our class. Heaps of lies are being poured out by the media on communism and on the October revolution and there are few people in the factories and in the council estates to oppose these lies. The working class must have a chance to judge for itself. And it will only be able to do so if there are workers and militants who do not shy away from fighting against the media trend, who show that they are proud of raising the banner of communism and of the October revolution, and that they are not afraid of putting themselves and their ideas to the test in front of the working class.