The coming week marks twenty years since the fall of the Berlin wall. This event represented one of the high points of a great mass struggle against the tyrannical order in the Eastern Bloc, but with the defeats of movements opposed to both these statist régimes and the free market, the popular movements of 1989 are now used to prove there is no alternative to capitalism.
In the coming week The Commune shall be presenting a series of interviews with communists from the former Eastern Bloc focussing on the struggles of the time, what system really existed in the ‘”communist” countries and what has happened to the working class over the last twenty years. In the first of these we talk to Russia’s Marxist Labour Party.
Can you briefly introduce your organisation?
The Marxist Labour Party was founded on March 24-25 1990 in Moscow. Our organisation was one of the first Marxist organisations in the USSR that pointed to the non-communist character of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which was then the ruling party.
Some of our comrades had been “red dissidents” under the power of the CPSU. By the decision of the MLP Council, there was created the all-Russia independent workers’ union ‘Defence of Labour’ under the leadership of a member of the MLP Council Yuri Leonov.
In the early 1990s the ‘Workers’ Information Agency’ created by the party worked actively: it had several dozen correspondents all over the USSR. The MLP published five issues of the scientific and political journal Marxist. Now the organisation publishes the newspapers Left Turn and The Workers’ Path. The latter is being made together with trade unionists from the city of Togliatti. We maintain the web-site
Today we maintain effective contacts with the trade unions and individual activists of the working class movement. We consider this to be one of the priorities in our work.
It’s twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a few years later saw the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic. How do you evaluate the events of 1989-1991 in the USSR in light of aspirations at the time? Was it a victory or a defeat?
It was an objective historical process, and, as this often happens, a dialectically contradictory one. It led to the destruction of much of the productive forces of the USSR, to the impoverishment of a large segment of the population of the country. At the same time, it destroyed the “Iron Curtain” and thus provided the inclusion of Russian and other post-Soviet economies into the mechanism of global productive forces.
The events in the USSR of the late 80s and early 90s of the last century, up to the liquidation of the Soviet Union itself, signified the completion of the Russian bourgeois revolution “in the broad sense”. This revolution lasted for almost 100 years – 1905-1991/93.
Here’s what V. I. Lenin wrote about revolutions in “the broad” and “the narrow” senses in his article “Notes of a Publicist” (Completed Works, Russian Edition, Vol.19, March-May 1910):
“…. Now let’s see what the authors of the platform “understood” by the completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution? Generally speaking, two things can be understood by this term. If it is used in the broad sense, then they mean by it the solution of objective historical tasks of the bourgeois revolution, the “completion” of it, i. e. the elimination of the ground able to give birth to a bourgeois revolution, the completion of the entire cycle of bourgeois revolutions. In this sense, for example, in France, the bourgeois-democratic revolution was completed only by 1871 (but begun in 1789). If this word is used in the narrow sense, then they mean a separate revolution, one of the bourgeois revolutions, one of the “waves”, if you like, that beats the old regime, but does not deal it the final blow, does not eliminate the ground for the following bourgeois revolutions. In this sense, the revolution of 1848 in Germany was “completed” in 1850 or in 1850′s, having not eliminated by this the ground for the revolutionary rise of 1860′s. The revolution of 1789 in France was “completed”, let us say, in 1794, having in no case eliminated by this the ground for the revolutions of 1830, 1848.”
How would you characterise the society that existed before 1989-91 and society today? Is there any continuity between them?
In the USSR there existed a catch-up model of state capitalism. The temporarily nationalised property allowed the Soviet Union (Russia) and many other countries of the “socialist camp” to successfully overtake the developed countries, as well as to quickly eliminate vestiges of feudalism.
Indeed, in the USSR there existed commodity-money relations, wage labour, classes and other attributes characteristic of the capitalist mode of production. The classics of Marxism maintained: where there is hired labour, it generates capital.
These notions are inseparably linked. The “socialist state” making investments in certain sectors of the national economy, like other capitalist countries, was in fact a capitalist society, in which the functions of private capitalists were performed by the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. This wasn’t, of course, a traditional capitalist society in the superstructure, but its basis was certainly a capitalist one.
It should be noted that Marx and Engels criticised the petty-bourgeois, bourgeois, state, etc. “socialisms”, which had no relation to the Marxist socialism. For all this the “state socialism” is a state capitalism in its essence. Today there exists in Russia a “normal” private-ownership capitalism, and Russia itself is an imperialist country of, so to speak, second order in contrast with the leading imperialist powers.
The continuity between the USSR and modern Russia is, first of all, in an enormous influence of the state bureaucracy on society, and in the absence of traditions of organised class struggle within Russian workers. The point is that in the Soviet Union this struggle, on the one hand, was forestalled by a wide range of social benefits and guarantees, and, on the other hand, if it occurred, it was severely suppressed by the repressive organs. The continuity also shows itself in the personal composition of the elite of society: many of the former party functionaries now occupy prominent positions in business and in the government bureaucracy.
Do you think the events of twenty years ago represent the historic triumph of capitalism and the defeat of communism?
As we have said, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was an objective process of the catch-up development of Russia’s capitalism. There can be no question of any communism in the USSR. Accordingly, it is impossible to talk about the defeat of communism, although the disintegration of the USSR, of course, struck a blow on the world communist movement, on the Russian one in the first place.
Many people considered that western style capitalism would be progressive compared to the USSR, is that still the case?
Today in Russia there is not any influential movement for the restoration of the USSR and the order corresponding to it. In general, society has submitted to the transition to private-ownership capitalism, i.e. ultimately, it has realised the objective nature of the changes occurred. The majority of Russia’s citizens prefer not to think whether it was progress or regress.
Before 1989 there were dissident communists, there was a long tradition of Marxists who envisioned a far more radical social transformation. What happened to this tradition, why did it not re-emerge?
In the USSR this tradition was practically destroyed or it existed in the deep underground with no real influence upon social processes. Today there exist in Russia radical-communist organisations. But they have no serious influence due to the fact that the historical stage the country is experiencing is still far from the struggle for communism. Russia’s society is too consumer-bourgeois; there are almost no more or less large-scale sprouts of communist relations. Accordingly, there is no “demand” for communist activities…
Russia has been reviving as a state power and asserting itself, how is this viewed in Russia today?
Most Russians are proud of the successes in the formation of Russia’s imperialism, although there are strong critical sentiments concerning the crying social inequality, the arbitrariness of the bureaucracy and capital. However, these sentiments are still very far from practical attempts to change the situation.
Many on the western left view America as the main imperialist power to be opposed, do you think Russia is also imperialist? How do you think the left in the West should relate to Russia?
As we have said, Russia is an imperialist power. And one should relate to it accordingly! At the same time one shouldn’t simplify things and reduce everything only to this. After all, Russia is a very multinational country and it continues to be a federation of national entities. In Russia there has not yet been completed the process of forming a number of bourgeois nations, and this imposes a significant imprint on the political situation. And the Left in the West should take into account this bourgeois-progressive factor in the development of these ethnic groups. At the same time, some national autonomies of the Russian Federation still have not got their national proletariat; besides, strong tribal remnants are still in place there, and the local ruling elites, as well as the population as a whole, are reluctant to abandon them.
What is the current situation of the Russian working class and the prospects for the labour movement?
In general, the Russian workers are not yet organised into a class. The class’s trade unions are being created, but this is the exception rather than the rule. There is an understanding of their oppressed position. But the struggle against capitalists is mostly led spontaneously and individually – through courts, changing places of employment, primitive forms of sabotage. As for prospects for a way ahead, we see them in the interaction of the organised Russian workers, first of all, with the organised Western proletarians.
What do you think the legacy of official and dissident communism?
The legacy of official communism is expressed in parliamentary reformism and in the national-conservative ideas of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and of the organisations close to it; the legacy of dissident communism lies in in the broad spectrum of radical left-wing groups that comprehended its ideas in some way or other: but the first prevails over the second a great deal.
What do you think the prospects are for the post-Stalinist left today? How do you think genuine communists should organise and operate?
We hold that the development of the Left is directly connected with the development of the proletarian movement. They are like a political superstructure over this movement. Accordingly, a reliable basis for the organisation of communists can be only in proletarian class organisations. And their formation and growth occur in the real class struggle, in which communists must occupy an important place as well. As for the organisation of the current work of communists, we believe that one must proceed from the real present-day situation. Today we are in need of an all-Left information network based on the new advanced technologies, as well as joint actions. We try to work in these directions.
What would you say are the main influences on left thought in Russia today?
It is strongly influenced by Soviet nostalgia and bourgeois national-patriotic sentiments. But the slowly spreading class struggle of proletarians influences it too! Even now people’s mentality is adversely affected by the collapse of the USSR, at the helm of which there stood “communists”. Their ideological orientation is lost. Left thought is vulgarised and subjected to the strongest obstruction by the official mass media and the majority of oppositional political associations.
What do you think real communism means today?
It is a historic overcoming of class and commodity-money relations on the basis of globalisation of the world’s productive forces and production relations, the abolition of private property and, ultimately, of national states… To be short, everything that Marx and Engels envisioned in their works ‘The German Ideology’, the ‘Communist Manifesto’ and ‘Critique of the Gotha Program of German Social-Democracy’.