Saturday, May 6, 2017

Countries of former Soviet Union: New movement developing.

Russian youth and workers march against corruption of capitalist regime. 
Sean O'Torain.

When the Stalinist states that comprised the old Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980's early 1990's, contrary to the hopes and some forecasts of left minded people and groups, they were not replaced by democratic workers’ states and a democratic workers’ socialist federation. They were replaced by capitalist regimes.

There were a number of reasons for this. One is that there were no mass workers' parties that existed or were in formation in the countries of the former Soviet Union which could have enabled the working class to replace the Stalinist dictatorship with a workers' democracy.

Had this been the case, it would have been possible for the economies of these countries to have remained nationalized and planned------ not by a Stalinist dictatorship------but by democratic workers’ councils, and through these, by the democratic, collective brain of the working class.

Another reason the Stalinist regimes were replaced by capitalism was that Imperialism, led by US imperialism, intervened in the collapsing Soviet Union to ensure that capitalism was re- established there. Imperialism was helped in this by the Vatican and the Catholic Church with its huge resources. Once the backward religion of European feudalism, now the main church of capitalism, the Catholic Church and its various Popes and emissaries toured these countries and pushed and organized for their capitalist alternative.

Another factor in the collapsing Stalinist regimes going to capitalism were the pro capitalist policies and outlook of the mass traditional organizations of the working class in the West such as the social democratic and labor parties. They did not intervene to try and prevent capitalism from being restored. On the contrary, they intervened to help it be restored. Democratic workers' socialist societies in these countries would have threatened their own positions in their own capitalist countries their support for capitalism in their own countries.

These developments led to the collapse of the mass Stalinist/Communist parties world wide along with the regimes in which they had been rooted. They could offer no alternative as they had at all times supported the Stalinist regimes in the former countries of the Soviet Union. When these regimes collapsed, they had no alternative and no credibility.  They went down with the ship. 

The various groups in the west that claim the mantle of Trotskyism and that stood against Stalinism and for democratic workers' states, had, through a combination of sectarianism, ultra leftism and at times opportunism, been unable to build any significant base in the working class and so were unable to influence events to any serious degree. In the main, these groups did not have an orientation to the working class mostly seeking to find in the student movement and the petite bourgeois a substitute for the working class.

The result of the combination of these factors was that capitalism was restored in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 ended capitalism and landlordism in Russia. But the Russian working class, under the blows of civil war, intervention by imperialist armies from the west, mass starvation, and being isolated in a capitalist world, were unable to hold on to political power and lost control over society to the Stalinist bureaucracy. The Stalinist bureaucracy maintained the nationalized and planned economy but ruthlessly took the power away from the working class and established a dictatorship. The Soviets, (workers’ Councils), that had replaced the capitalist state structure and played such an important role in creating the first workers’ state, at the time the most democratic system of government in the world, became empty shells and Soviets, workers councils,  in name only.

The Russian Revolution by ending capitalism and landlordism had been a step forward, not only for the Russian working class, but for the workers of the world. Human history had taken a step forward. But the rise of the Stalinist dictatorship by taking power out of the hands of the Russian working class then took history back a half step. Capitalism and landlordism were not restored, but the working class lost control over society.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's when Stalinism finally collapsed under the weight of its own monstrous dictatorship and inefficiency and contradictions, capitalism was restored in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. In doing so history took a full step back.

Most of the populations in these countries initially supported the change. They saw the end of the dictatorships. They saw more democratic rights in the main. If they had money they could travel. They could interact more with the countries and the peoples of the rest of the world.  However, things began to shape up in a way that the mass of the populations of these countries had not expected. A ruthless new capitalist class, rose out of sections of the old Stalinist bureaucracies and took charge. They looted the economies of these countries. Russia is now the most unequal country of all the larger countries in the world. The new capitalist classes that have arisen are corrupt to an extent seldom seen before. This is most clearly shown by the fact that Putin is now reputed to be the richest man in the world. While the mass of the population go into greater poverty under the new capitalist regimes, this massive inequality and corruption does not go unnoticed.

In order to protect the wealth they have looted from the population, these new capitalist classes have been taking away any democratic gains that had been won with the collapse of Stalinism. They also seek to make alliances with all the old and most reactionary forces in their countries. The Russian Orthodox Church works with Putin in Russia. The Catholic Church seeks to get into the saddle again in Poland. The corrupt leaders of the  Russian Orthodox Church has been given back much of the property it claims belongs to them and has been allowed to dictate many reactionary policies in relation to women's rights and gay peoples rights.

However and this is the main point of this article; a new period is opening up in these countries. Movements against corruption and for democratic rights are surging across the countries of the former Soviet Union. There was the recent march of mainly young people in many cities in Russia. There have been similar movements of mainly, but not exclusively, young people in Slovakia, Poland, Macedonia, Serbia, Romania, Hungary. A participant on one of the marches in Slovakia said, referring to the government: "They have all the power. They have all the money. But I will tell you one thing they fear, and that is students on the streets."

Many of these marches and demonstrations have been organized initially by a small number of people using the social media. It has not only been against corruption and attempts by the various governments to one way or another stay in power that the movements have taken in place. In Poland a magnificent movement of women threw back the extreme right wing government’s attempts to take away women's rights to choose.

Anti capitalist fighters must not be disheartened. A new movement is beginning in the countries of the former Soviet Union. At this stage it is mainly against corruption and for democratic and women's and gay rights as well as against corruption in general. But as these movements develop workers, youth and all marginalized groups will increasingly see that the problems originate from the new system, from capitalism and will be forced to confront it and the new capitalist class at its head.

In the early stages of the collapse of the bureaucracy there were sections of the working class that saw a genuine, democratic socialist society as the alternative, a “third way” as one East German worker described it. The intervention of all these forces described above cut across this.

Anti capitalist fighters must not be disheartened for other reasons. The whip of the counterrevolution in the USA as exampled by Trumpism, is laying the basis for movements against the system there. The women's marches, the tax marches, the defend science marches, the shouting down of political representatives at town hall meetings, the pro environment marches, the movements against racism, police brutality and sexism.  The rising opposition to environmental degradation and the poisoning of the drinking water of entire communities, these are all developing and will come together at some point.

Internationally, while there is the rise in some countries of the extreme right, the capitalist offensive is also evoking new movements of opposition. Consider the hundreds of thousands of British youth and workers who have moved to support Corbyn the new left wing leader of the Labor party. Consider also the near 20% of the vote for Melenchon the former Trotskyist in the first round of the French Presidential elections. Consider also the recent general strike in Brazil. And most of all consider the beginnings of workers' struggles in China. When the Chinese working class rises against their super exploitation this will shake the world and will give further impetus to the already existing movements of workers, especially women workers in South East Asia and India.

The world is at the beginning of a period of revolution and counterrevolution. With the collapse of Stalinism, with the pro capitalist policies of the world's trade union and labor leaders, with the lack of a base of the self styled revolutionary groups, counter revolution has got off to somewhat of a head start. But as the saying goes: "Sometimes the revolution needs the whip of the counter revolution." This is the situation that exists today.

Because the international working class does not have a mass revolutionary international socialist leadership it has and will suffer defeats. But the events mentioned above also show that it is fighting back. The task facing all anti capitalist fighters and all workers and youth, and all who want to prevent capitalism destroying life on earth as we know it, through climate change, nuclear war, pollution, starvation, drought, the task facing all these forces is to build an international revolutionary movement of tens and hundreds of millions. The task is to build a international revolutionary leadership in the working class, the progressive class of today.

The task is to put a cutting edge on this progressive class.


Sam196 said...

You use the term workers democracy. what does that mean? Can you explain the differences between a workers democracy and a democratic republic? In a workers democracy are all public officials directly elected by the people? Are some positions indirectly elected? In a workers democracy do unions and union members have greater representation? Is there one person one vote? In a workers democracy does everyone have the right to vote? In other words is there universal suffrage?

I look forward to you response.

Richard Mellor said...

Thank you for your comment Sam. I see that on last Sunday May 14th there was another demonstration in Moscow. About 30,000 to 40,000 attended. This demonstration was against the government's plan (threat) to demolish large apartment buildings which house mainly working class people. No doubt the tenants see that the greedy ruthless capitalist class that now rules Russia are looking to make a killing out of some new developments. It is also important to note that this demonstration was organized mainly by women. It was not the usual youth demonstrations with the participation of sections of the liberal intellectuals. This was mainly working class women. This is an important development. In relation to your questions Sam I would say this. In my opinion a "democratic republic", I presume that you are referring to a country like the US, is a contradiction in terms. The US is in my opinion a bourgeois or capitalist democracy. That is democratic rights such as voting are only tolerated as long as the result is to leave the capitalist class in power. If the voters vote to end capitalism then history has shown that the capitalist class backed by all the imperialist powers will overthrow the elected government. Chile is a good example. I do not remember the exact quote but Kissinger supported the coup their that over throw the Allende government and murdered Allende by saying that a country could not be allowed to go communist just because of the irresponsibility of its own people. And Allende was not even going to end capitalism. Just mainly land and other reforms. Capitalist or bourgeois democracy means that people can have the vote and democratic rights as long as they allow the capitalist class to rule. It is not accident that democratic rights are most prevalent in the advanced capitalist countries as these countries can afford to give the majority of their populations enough to eat and so they can be convinced to allow capitalism to continue. The poorer the country the more looted by imperialism the country the less democratic is the country. A workers democracy as we understand it is where the working class through elected workers and peasants councils, elected on one person one vote would run the country and draw up a democratic socialist sustainable plan of production based on available resources and the needs of the population. A workers democracy would not be ruled by the handful of billionaires and their bought and paid for political parties and legal systems and armed bodies of men and women it would be ruled by workers and where the existed peasants and family farmers on the basis of one person one vote to workers and peasants councils. The mass media which in capitalist countries is owned by a handful of billionaires would be shared out on two basis: one, the percentages of votes different parties would get in elections would determine the percentage of the mass media that these parties would get. At the same time all except fascists would be able to publish their ideas. The fascists not so as they use any opportunity they get to organize against democracy and to try and build a base to establish racist dictatorships. In relation to whether public officials would be directly or indirectly elected this would depend on what positions we would be talking about, in cases of specialist knowledge for example it might be more efficient to have elections indirectly but all positions under the control of the over all workers and peasants councils. In relation to the terms you use, "democratic republic" "universal suffrage" I would respectfully suggest you give more thought to these. There was "universal suffrage" in the US when there was still Jim Crow. And also I would ask you to consider that many of the so called democratic rights do not apply in the workplace in the so called "democratic republic" of the USA.
Sean O'Torain.

Richard Mellor said...

The First amendment does not apply in the workplace in the US. The workplace is owned by the capitalist and you simply can't say what you want when he/she owns your time and the use of your labor power. Even in the "public sector" workplace this right is denied. I put that in quotes as it is the public sector within the framework of the capitalist economy and mode of production. It is still a step forward but it is not "public" in the sense that the workers,as consumers and producers control the production of things and their distribution as well as the entire labor process itself which is then set in motion not for the profit of private owners, but for social need.

Sam196 said...

You did not really answer my question. My question was what is the difference between a democratic republic and a worker's democracy. I understand that in a democratic republic the economy remains in the hands of a small minority of private owners and that in a socialist society the economy is publicly owned.

You say that a workers democracy has direct elections, one person one vote and universal suffrage. In other words its rules are essentially the same as a democratic republic with the only difference concerning who controls the economy. If that is so then why use the term workers democracy. If a worker's democracy functions the way a democratic republic does then why not call for a democratic Republic with public ownership of the economy. The use of the term implies that worker's democracy is different from a democratic republic. I would like to hear what those differences are?

In the first year or two or three after the October 1917 revolution in Russia was the Soviet Union a workers democracy? if so did it have direct elections of all pubic officials? Was their universal suffrage? Was there one person one vote? Were all citizens allowed to form a political party and run for public office? Were people who held views different than the Bolsheviks allowed to engage in public demonstrations?

Richard Mellor said...

When you use it the way you do or as its used in general, the term democratic republic refers to bourgeois democracy. We live in a bourgeois democracy. Ancient Greece was a democracy, it is applauded as such by western historians. But the slaves could not vote. They never had democratic rights because Greece was a slaveowners democracy. That is the difference between these terms. A workers democracy is not a bourgeois democracy so it cannot function in the way a bourgeois republic does.

On your other points the period you refer to was a period of civil war and a massive assault on the first workers state by global capitalism, by the world bourgeois including invasions by numerous armies and the financing of the white armies.Just as activists functioned differently under oppressive regimes,South Africa, Soviet Union, etc. than we do in a bourgeois democracy, that was the situation in the period after the revolution, it was threatened on all sides. I would suggest you read some material on this, Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution is important as is his My Life. Year One of the Russian Revolution by Victor Serge is also a wealth of info. Lots opf reading out there.

Sam196 said...

The slaves were a small minority in Ancient Greece. the overwhelming majority were independent or dependent (tenant farmers of some sort). But that is neither here or nor there. I don't see how that is relevant to our discussion of a workers democracy.

I am still trying to understand how a workers democracy operates. You use the term workers democracy. I assume you understand how it works.

I have conceded the point that in a democratic republic where the economy is privately owned democracy is limited. It does not extend to the economy. In a socialist society private ownership of the means of production has been abolished and there is at the possibility that the economy will be democratically managed.

I am still at a loss regarding the democratic rights people enjoy or do not enjoy in a worker's democracy.

To say that a worker's democracy is not a bourgeois democracy means nothing. It does not speak to the issue at hand. In a worker's democracy do people enjoy the formal, possibly superficial democratic rights that people in a democratic republic enjoy. That is the question.

You refer to civil war and foreign intervention in Russia I assume because you believe these provided a legitimate reason for limiting democratic rights. However, you are mistaken. In the first 6 months after the October Revolution, there was some fighting in southern Russia but it was on a very small scale, a big part of the country was occupied by the Germans as a result of the Brest-Livestock treaty but there was no large scale foreign intervention. In late May of 1918, Lenin declared the civil war to be over with the Bolsheviks victorious. (I have read a little about the Russian Revolution.) There was no reason to limit democratic rights.

In the first 6 months of its existence when it was certainly not threatened with destruction by foreign forces was the Bolshevik government a worker's democracy? if so, was there one person one vote? Did universal suffrage exist? were seats in the Soviet Congress reserved for the Communist Party? Were all officials directly elected by the people? Did people have the right to form a political party and stand for election? Did people have the right to peacefully protest against decisions made by the ruling Communist Party?

Sam196 said...

You say that under socialism the economy will be run by and for the overwhelming majority. When I asked you to define the rules regarding a workers democracy that would insure that it was governed by the will of the majority rather than an elite few, you could not give me a straight answer. You starting talking about Chile and Ancient Greece rather than the matter at hand.

You say that the 1917 October Revolution created a democratic workers state and provides a model that the current generation should try to emulate if they are going to solve the world's problems. I asked if people in Russia at the time enjoyed basic democratic rights and you responded that civil war and foreign intervention by capitalist powers prevented the democratic workers state from being democratic. Civil war and foreign intervention in and of themselves do not require a government to adopt police state methods. Governments have fought civil wars without creating police states. That aside, i pointed out that in the first 6 months of its existence the so called workers state did not face foreign intervention and the opposition had only 2,000 soldiers who operated only in the southern most part of the country and were easily defeated by the Bolsheviks. There was no reason for the Bolshevik government to have restricted democratic rights.

I will ask again, in the first 6 months after the October 1917 Russian Revolution did the people of Russia enjoy basic democratic rights like universal suffrage, direct election of all officials, one person one vote, right to organize political parties and stand candidates for election, peacefully assemble and protest government decisions. If people did not enjoy these rights then the government created by the leaders of the 1917 Russian Revolution was by definition rule by a minority in another form.