THE LEFT AND RUSSIA: An open letter to Tony Benn and Chesterfield Labour Party from Socialist Organiser (1986)

Submitted by dalcassian on 5 October, 2016 - 11:43 Author: Sean Matgamna

30 Oct 1986

Dear Comrades,

Your letter to Gorbachev is motivated by a sincere desire to influence the international peace process. You are right to be concerned that Mrs Thatcher will simply use her visit to the Soviet Union as a public relations exercise, and a propaganda ploy.

But are you right to believe that Gorbachev is an ally in the fight for peace? We think not. The underlying assumption of your letter is that where Thatcher is a hypocrite, Gorbachev is sincere; where Thatcher is a war-monger, Gorbachev is geuinely working for peace. From this you appear to conclude that Gorbachev is a friend of the British labour movement, who may need some advice and warning on the intentions of the British Prime Minister. You appear to believe that a friendly voice from Britain will enourage Gorbachev further down e road of "constructive disarmaent proposals".

If Gorbachev, or the Soviet peole, can see that not everyone in the West is a hostile cold-warrior, constructive peace proposals will be forthcoming, you suppose.

It is a widespread view on the left that the USSR is essentially concerned to bring about disarmament, or at least that it is more genuinely concerned to do so than the USA is. The Cold War is put down to US aggressiveness alone, with the USSR portrayed as a passive victim. This image is popular on the left far outside of pro-Moscow circles.

It is essentially false, though here is a germ of truth to it.

The USA and its allies have a lead in nuclear weapons, and much of the initiative in the nuclear arms race has come from the West-from the use of the first A-bomb through to the development of a first-strike strategy.

But the view of the USSR as being essentially non-warlike is drawn from psychological, emotional and political needs, too. When Reagan and Thatcher base their case for nuclear weapons on the 'Soviet threat', the Left wants to undermine their argument simply by denying that the Soviet Union is expansionist or aggressive at all.

But it is a naive view. Gorbachev is not the same as Reagan - he rules over a very different social and political system. But Gorbachev is not a friend of the peace movement in Britain, and he is not a friend of anyone fighting against US or British imperialism.

Gorbachev is the opposite of a friend to the labour movement. He presides over a system in which the working class is held in an iron totalitarian grip in the USSR and Eastern Europe.


The Soviet bureaucracy which Gorbachev leads is opposed to progress towards freedom and socialism. Thirty years ago, the Hungarian people discovered to what extent Gorbachev's predecessors would go to crush progress towards freedom and socialism.

And let us not forget that the man responsible for crushing the Hungarian revolution was Krushchev - Krushchev, the great 'de-Staliniser', the liberaliser of the Russian system; Krushchev who showed his commitment to world peace by backing down over the 'Cuban missile crisis' in 1962. The most liberal of Gorbachev's forerunners was also the butcher of Budapest.

In Hungary still, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, as in Afghanistan, as in the USSR itself, national freedom is denied. Everywhere that the Moscow bureaucrats' long arm reaches, the working class is repressed, suffocated, atomised, oppressed. They have done to the Polish labour movement, Solidarnosc, what Pinochet did to the Chilean labour movement - and worse: some trade union activity is possible even now in Chile, while nothing but police state unions are allowed in Poland.

Even the vile apartheid state is forced to tolerate the kind of militant independent workers' movement that Gorbachev hates, fears and crushes.

Unofficial peace movements, too-like all movements outside the bureaucrats' vice-like grip-are repressed.

World peace depends upon the destruction of this bureaucratic obstacle on the road to socialism as much as on the destruction of Western capitalism and imperialism. It depends upon future Hungarian revolutions - and Polish, and Czech, Rumanian, Ukrainian...and Russian revolutions, as well as on the overthrow of Reagan, Thatcher and co.

Our allies are those people, and in particular the working class, who are oppressed by Gorbachev. To believe that Gorbachev is our ally or to behave as if he is, is to militate against building links with his 'internal enemies', the working class of 'the East'.

In opposing Reagan and Thatcher, we don't have to take their word for who their fundamental enemy is. Our enemies' enemy is not necessarily our friend. Stalin's heir, the dictator Gorbachev, is the enemy of socialism and independent labour movements everywhere and, in the first place, in the USSR and East Europe.

The British labour movement should treat him accordingly.

SO 290,

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