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.
They struck heavy blows at the so-called “Communist Party”, which had backed the coup. This 17 million-strong cartel of the old bureaucratic ruling class was banned It was forbidden to organise in the factories and in the army, and all its property was confiscated. In short, the Yeltsinites used the coup to make a political revolution which has cleared the way for capitalism.
What attitude should socialists take to these moves to root out and destroy the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union? One of two things: either we support the essential work of this bourgeois democratic revolution — and that is what it is — in destroying Stalinism, or we oppose it.
In the name of what might we oppose it? Of socialism? The workers themselves must want socialism first: right now they seem to want what Yeltsin wants. In the name of the Stalinist old order? But under that system the workers did not even have the right to organise trade unions. One of the first decrees issued by the organisers of the abortive coup banned trade unions. Socialists least of all have reason to support the old order. To preserve liberty — fighting side by side even with Yeltsin — against the partisans of the old order is to preserve freedom for the working class to develop towards socialist consciousness.
There is no reason, no reason at all, to have confidence that the present bourgeois democrats will remain committed to democracy. But in the coup Boris Yeltsin — who may be a Mussolini in the making — stood for the continued development of freedoms from state tyranny against those who tried with guns and tanks to reimpose it.
Yeltsin, along with the army and the police, may threaten democracy in the future. But that remains a danger because the destruction of the old order, of which the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the head and heart for so long, has been limited to the CPSU. The measures against the CP are freeing the army and police from its grip, leaving the old state purged but intact for future use. It needs to be broken up.
Even so, breaking the power of the CP is a necessary part of any democratic revolution in the USSR. This was not a party, but the political machine of a vastly privileged and highly organised multi-tentacled ruling class. The revolution that dares not strike at the power and wealth of the old ruling class is no revolution.
Socialists in the USSR should be the most vigorous advocates of revolutionary measures against the old order, competing with the Yeltsinites for the leadership of the democratic revolution, while countering their pro-capitalist ideas and trying to organise the working class us a politically independent force. Their model should be the Bolsheviks, who before 1917 competed with the liberal bourgeoisie in the Cadet party for the leadership of the people in the fight against Tsarism. To oppose revolutionary measures against the old cartel of the tyrants is to be a political satellite of the old rulers: or to show a caricatural “feeble liberal” attitude to the harsh reality of revolution.
The editorial in Socialist Outlook [forerunner of Socialist Resistance] after the coup displayed all these characteristics. Militant [forerunner of the Socialist Party] took the same position. Trotsky, who said in the 1930s that a workers’ revolution should deprive the bureaucrats even of civil fights, had a more serious idea of what the anti-Stalinist revolution involved. Yet Militant and Socialist Outlook say they are for a “political revolution”. How can there be a “political” revolution without the destruction of the CPSU, the state within a state of the Stalinist bureaucracy?
Socialists can have no confidence in the Yeltsinites, especially on the question of democracy. They represent not our class but the nascent bourgeoisie in the USSR. Yeltsin’s ban on the CPSU in the factories in Russia takes the form of a general ban on all political party activity (and on trade union activity unless the factory boss agrees). The general ban should be opposed — not the blows at the CP.
For decades that bureaucratic cartel has run a regime of political tyranny and political spying in the factories through its police state “trade unions”. If the drive against the CP is used to beat down working class interests — used, for example, against a splinter of the old Stalinist “trade unions” which is defending working class interests in a factory (such splinters have done this in Eastern Europe) — then socialists will of course oppose such measures.
Opposing the blows against the CP is a different mutter altogether The question of general impartial democratic rights, free from the threat of a bureaucratic coup like that of August, can only arise after the power of the old order is broken. For these reasons, while expressing no confidence in the Yeltsinites and, indeed, while urging USSR workers not to trust them an inch, but instead to rely only on themselves — we must, it seems to me, support and cheer on the destruction of the CPSU, even by the Yeltsinites. With the latter we have — or had in August — a common opposition to the would-be autocrats. With the Stalinist “party” we have nothing in common.