Workers' Liberty 3/25: The fall of European Stalinism

Timeline

Chronology

1979

December: USSR invades Afghanistan, where it fears that the pro-USSR government is about to be defeated by traditionalist and Islamist rebellion. The invasion becomes “Russia’s Vietnam war”.

1980–1

Mass workers’ movement, Solidarnosc, erupts in Poland. It is banned after a military coup in December 1981, but continues to exist underground.

1985

Chronology

Around the world: 

Publications: 

Introduction

It is 20 years since the destruction of the Berlin Wall by the people of then divided Germany signalled that Russia’s control over Eastern Europe was collapsing. Russia had held Eastern Europe in a brutal grip for four and a half decades, since the end of the Second World War.

It had used the most brutal and bloody methods of imperialist control to maintain that grip. In East Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968 it used as much military force as was required to beat down revolt against old-style Stalinist, and Russian, rule.

Introduction to Workers' Liberty 3/25, "The fall of European Stalinism".

Around the world: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

The risen people: Eastern Europe after the revolutions

We have seen a tremendous series of revolutions in Eastern Europe, the latest in Romania during Christmas week [1989]. At the beginning of the week the Ceaucescus were in full control. By its end they lay crumpled like rag dolls, dead beside a bullet-marked wall.

People after people has risen in revolt against the dictatorship of Stalinist bureaucrats — Poles, Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians — and sloughed off the dictators like so much dead and putrid skin.

A tremendous series of revolutions in Eastern Europe, the latest in Romania during Christmas week [1989]...

Around the world: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

What was in the coffin at the funeral of socialism? (1990)

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

BOURGEOIS propagandists and ex-Stalinists alike tell us that we are witnessing the end of socialism. Socialism is dying of shame, failure and self disgust before our eyes in Eastern Europe. Socialism has been tried and is now deservedly rejected as an all-round social and historical failure.

It is rejected most explicitly by the working class who, for example, gave the right the bulk of its vote in last month’s East German election.

What collapsed when European Stalinism collapsed?

Around the world: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

The Lies Against Socialism Answered

“But socialism is dead, darling!” This was one response on the street to the front page of Socialist Organiser with the headline: ‘Stand up for socialism’ And there were many similar responses, sad as well as gleeful.

For sure, if the Stalinist systems were any sort of socialism, then socialism is dead, and it deserves to be dead. It was rotten and stinking for decades before its recent outright collapse.

But Stalinism was not socialism. It was the opposite of socialism.

What the collapse of European Stalinism says and does not say about Socialism: the lies against socialism answered

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

4. Stalin’s system collapses

The system Stalin built in the old Tsarist empire has collapsed irretrievably. The USSR is collapsing, too: most of its republics have now declared themselves independent. In most of those republics the “Communist Party of the Soviet Union” has either been banned outright, or banned from activity in the army and the KGB, and in factories.

The astonishing ease with which the Stalinist system finally fell asunder has few parallels in history.

Around the world: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

5. Why socialists should support the banning of the CPSU

Immediately after the August coup in Moscow, Boris Yeltsin and his friends turned the Russian parliament into a veritable revolutionary committee which, backed by the people, took measures it had no legal power to take, to break up the old order.

Immediately after the August coup in Moscow, Boris Yeltsin and his friends turned the Russian parliament into a veritable revolutionary committee which, backed by the people, took measures it had no legal power to take, to break up the old order.

Around the world: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

The triumph of unreason in the ex-USSR

What is happening in the former USSR now is a grotesque triumph of unreason. In its destructiveness and senselessness, it will rank in history with the carnage of the First and Second World Wars as an almost inexplicable piece of 20th century madness.

At the behest of men like Boris Yeltsin and other ex-Stalinists, men who have been through their whole lives members of the corrupt old Stalinist ruling class, nearly 300 million people are now being pitched into the maelstrom of deliberately created or intensified economic chaos.

Nearly 300 million people pitched by Yeltsin into the maelstrom of economic chaos

Around the world: 

Publications: 

What was the Bolsheviks’ conception of the 1917 revolution?

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

Click here for the series on The Roots of Bolshevism of which this article is part
By Sean Matgamna
[An Introduction to "Trotsky's 3 Conceptions...". Both were published in Socialist Organiser at the time of the collapse of Stalinist Russia.]

The erstwhile rulers of the Stalinist system — which they said was the realisation of socialism — are now working openly for the restoration of capitalism. So are most of those they rule, and in the first place the working class.

Whatever label you gave them — degenerated and deformed workers’ states, bureaucratic collectivist, state-capitalist — the Stalinist societies continued to have the essential relationship to the world capitalist economy heralded by Stalin with his notion of building “socialism in one country”.

Publications: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

8. Why the workers want to restore capitalism

Socialists like ourselves, watching the replacement of the Stalinist state economies not by socialist workers’ power and a democratic collectivist system, but by capitalism, are in a position roughly similar to the pioneering Marxists George Plekhanov and Karl Kautsky when they watched the Russian workers take power although their dogmatic expectation was that only the bourgeoisie could replace the Tsar.

In fact not the Russian bourgeoisie, but the working class led by the Bolsheviks, replaced the Tsar. The parallel has lessons for us.

For masses of workers to form the idea of their own democratic collectivism would be difficult in the circumstances even if a respected and big working-class-based democratic-socialist anti-Stalinist organisation had presented and argued for such a programme in the heat of the struggle against Stalinism.

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

9. In the beginning was the critique of capitalism

The Russian socialist revolution is dead? It died long ago! It died not in December 1991, when the USSR formally ceased to exist, nor in August 1991, when the failure of the attempted coup finally broke the back of what power the “Communist Party” had left.

It died more than six decades earlier, when Stalin led the state bureaucracy he personified to the final defeat of the working class and the destruction of the working-class communists led by Trotsky.

Stalinism was not socialism; Lenin and Trotsky were not responsible for Stalin; socialism is not dead; the proletariat under capitalism changes: it cannot disappear.

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

Trotskyism after the collapse of Stalinism: an open letter to Ernest Mandel

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

Comrade Ernest Mandel: Certain of your critics — James P Cannon reasonably in the 1950s, the degenerate sectarians (Healy, Lambert) ridiculously in the 1960s — named the “Fourth International” current you lead “Pabloism”.

The truth, however, is that you, comrade Mandel, are the representative leader of post-Trotsky “Trotskyism”. If it is to be given a special “ism”, then it must be “Mandelism”.

"You, comrade Mandel, are the representative leader of post-Trotsky 'Trotskyism'..."

Publications: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Trotsky and the collapse of Stalinism

“When Erin has ceased with their memory to groan, she will smile through the tears of revival on thine”. Those were the words with which an English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, addressed the Irish Republican Robert Emmett, who in 1803, at 25, had been hanged, cut down still alive, disembowelled and then chopped up by a servant of the then all-powerful British government of Ireland.

When liberated socialist humanity has ceased to groan at the memory of bourgeois and Stalinist rule, it will recall the name and the memory of Leon Trotsky with gratitude and love.

Around the world: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

And where were Jacob Sverdlov's sons?

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

AND WHERE WERE JACOB SVERDLOV'S SONS?

Sverdlov killed the bloody Tsar,
He signed the warrant for it;
So when they struck his statue down
The Tsarists cheered who saw it:
They hauled the hollow statue down,
And the Tsarists sang when they saw it.

And where were Jacob Sverdlov's sons?
And Lenin's proud granddaughters?
And where were Trotsky's Bolsheviks?
All of them lost, slaughtered;
All of the leaders, fighters, Reds,
All of them, all, slaughtered!

After the collapse of Stalinism in August 1991, a crowd sang the Tsarist "National Anthem" as a statue of Jacob Sverdlov was pulled down. Sverdlov signed the warrant for the killing of the Tzar in 1918. He died of typhus in 1919

Culture and Reviews: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

Sources

The program we advocated: WSL fusion platform, 26 July 1981

The system they overthrew: Workers’ Fight (first series), no.8, August 1968

1. The risen people: Eastern Europe after the revolutions. Socialist Organiser 429, 4 January 1990

2. What’s in the coffin at the funeral of socialism? Originally published in Socialist Organiser, March 1990. This version from Workers’ Liberty 28, February 1996

3. The lies against socialism answered: Eastern Europe: Towards capitalism or workers’ liberty?, Socialist Organiser special pamphlet issue, 427-8, 7 December 1989

Sources for the items in the Workers' Liberty 3/25 supplement on the fall of Stalinism in Europe.

Publications: 

Subscribe to RSS - Workers' Liberty 3/25: The fall of European Stalinism