Preface to the second Hindi edition of Harpal Brar’s book, Perestroika.
(Written on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union).
It is nearly 25 years since, at the end of 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. There is no denying the reverses suffered by socialism consequent upon the developments in the USSR and in eastern Europe.
I wrote this book in the immediate aftermath of the demise of the once glorious Soviet Union. In writing it I faced a two-fold task. First, I had to expose the utter bankruptcy, and complete departure from Marxism-Leninism, of the propositions advanced by Gorbachev and his cohorts. Second, I had to explain the origin and development of what may be called the Gorbachev phenomenon.
Many people, sadly even many parties, up to today attribute the origins of the process of capitalist restoration in the USSR to the Gorbachev years alone, that is, the period from March 1985 to August 1991. Doubtless with the rise of Gorbachev a qualitative change took place: the accumulated practice of revisionist politics and revisionist economics struck with a virulence hitherto unknown and made way for the restoration of capitalism at a breathtaking pace.
But, as the old Chinese saying has it, it takes more than one cold day for the river to freeze three feet deep. The thrust of this book is that the rot, the downhill process along the road that led to the restoration of capitalism, began with the triumph of Khrushchevite revisionism at the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU in 1956, and the distortions of Marxism-Leninism in its aftermath and under its direct stimulus in the fields of political economy and the class struggle. In other words, it was the departure from, not the adherence to, the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism which led to the demise of the USSR.
At the 20th Party Congress Khrushchev launched a virulent attack on Joseph Stalin who had led the CPSU and the Soviet Union for three decades. These were decades of extraordinary difficulty and epoch-making achievements. During this time the Soviet Union was industrialised; its agriculture collectivised; its defence strengthened; universal healthcare and education put in place; an educated, technically and scientifically equipped working class, possessed of a higher socialist culture, came into being. From being one of the most backward countries, the Soviet Union became a mighty socialist country which almost single-handedly defeated the mightiest military machine of the time, namely, that of Hitlerite Germany.
Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin served, as was intended by the Khrushchevites, to discredit the Soviet Union, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the feats and world-historic achievements of socialism. It gladdened the hearts of the imperialist bourgeoisie and its agents in the working-class movement – the revisionists, Trotskyites and Social-Democrats – providing them with a weapon with which to destroy the communist movement.
The attack on Stalin served, as it was meant to serve, as a cover for the wholesale revision of Marxism-Leninism on a number of key questions. Between the 20th and 22nd Congresses of the CPSU, the communist movement and the world at large witnessed the spectacle of the emergence, formation, growth and systematisation of Khrushchevite revisionism, which eventually led to the undermining and destruction of the USSR.
By the 22nd Congress, Khrushchevite revisionism had become far more systematised, bold and open, with the result that it was able to secure the adoption and incorporation of its erroneous propositions in a new programme adopted at that Congress. The new programme declared that the dictatorship of the proletariat had ceased to be indispensable in the USSR and had been replaced by the state of the entire people – a patently absurd proposition since the state exists solely to serve as an instrument in the hands of one class to oppress, repress and subdue another class.
Likewise, according to the new programme, the Communist Party had ceased to be the party of the working class and had become a party of the entire Soviet people – an absurd proposition as political parties exist to represent the interests of particular classes. Then there was distortion, and revision, of the teachings of Leninism on questions of war and peace and the policy of peaceful coexistence. Further, the Khrushchevites propagated the erroneous proposition of the peaceful parliamentary road to socialism instead of inculcating in the working class the necessity of smashing the bourgeois state machine through the revolutionary violence of the oppressed class against its oppressors.
Lenin repeatedly emphasised the necessity, and inevitability of “…civil war, without which not a single revolution in history has yet been able to get along, and without which not a single serious Marxist has conceived of the transition from capitalism to socialism” (‘Prophetic words’, Collected Works Vol 27, p.496).
In parallel with the political and ideological distortions, the Khrushchevites instituted economic reforms which led to the most destructive consequences. The profit motive became the regulator of production under these reforms and, in time, these reforms led to the growth of private enterprise, the second economy, and the strata who were the beneficiaries of its growth. The private economy, which had been restricted within the narrowest of limits during the period of Stalin, emerged with new vigour under Khrushchev, registered a flourishing growth during the time of Brezhnev, and overwhelmed the primary Soviet economy under the loving tender care of Gorbachev.
The private economy, legal and illegal, apart from being an alternative source of income, created widespread corruption and criminality, gave a further stimulus to ideas, sentiments and theoretical thought in justification of private enterprise, provided funds for the critics of the Soviet socialist system, and furnished a material basis for the restoration of capitalism in the USSR.
The legal private economy inevitably brought in its trail illegal activities, which assumed an impressive variety of forms, penetrating in the end all aspects of Soviet society, its most common form being theft from the state.
In time, all this activity gave rise to the emergence of underground capitalists, who made large capital investments, organised production on a fairly large scale, hired and exploited workers, and disposed of their commodities on the black market. A plethora of private factories spread across the country, numbering tens of thousands, manufacturing knitwear, shoes, sun glasses, recordings of western pop music, handbags, and many other goods. These manufacturers ranged from owners of a single workshop to multi-million rouble family clans owning dozens of factories.
The second economy provided the soil for the emergence and growth, on the one hand of organised crime and, on the other hand of a whole stratum of petty-bourgeois dissidents, with their catchword of ‘freedom’ – freedom to propagate religious obscurantism, especially material critical of socialism and its achievements. Spurred on by market forces, and distortion of Marxism-Leninism, let loose by the Khrushchevites, as well as the material and ideological support they received from the imperialist camp, these dissident groups, numbering several tens of thousands by the mid-1980s, promoted bourgeois individualism, greed and acquisitiveness and, while spewing out poison against everything socialist, they carried on a veritable campaign in favour of private property, free enterprise, free markets, and suchlike bourgeois ‘freedoms’.
In the thirty years following the accession of Khrushchev to the position of General Secretary of the CPSU, the second economy grew at an increasing pace. According to reliable expert evidence, while the national income and value of retail goods and services in the Soviet Union as a whole increased four to five times between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, the second economy grew 18 times. From being 3.4% of the national income in 1960, it rose to 20% in 1988. This is certainly an underestimate by several percentage points.
The number of people engaged in the illegal part of the private (second) economy rose from under 8 million in the early 1960s to 17-20 million in 1974 and approximately 30 million (12% of the population) in 1989. If legal private activity is included, then by the late 1970s, the urban population (62% of the total) earned about 30% of its total income from non-official sources – that is, from either legal or illegal private activity.
The larger the illegal economy grew, the more it undermined the legitimate Soviet economy. Since the second economy necessarily meant theft of time and material from the state sector, it could not but result in the much reduced efficiency of the state sector, thus bringing the latter into disrepute into the bargain.
The second economy had a most corrupting influence on party and state officials as, without bribing them, such activity could not have lasted a month.
Through the ‘economic reforms’, the Khrushchevite revisionists created the conditions for the growth of the second economy, which in turn undermined the socialist economy, bred disbelief in the efficiency of socialism and the effectiveness of planning and, together with the accompanying widespread corruption, destroyed the faith of the Soviet working class in the integrity of the Communist Party itself. At the same time, the second economy created a stratum whose interests could not in the end be served within the boundaries of socialism. Thus were prepared the conditions for the restoration of capitalism.
While all this wrecking activity, aimed at destroying socialism and restoring capitalism, was taking place at an ever accelerating pace, the revisionist leadership was busy pulling the wool over the eyes of the Soviet masses by boastful, and false, claims to the effect that the USSR was marching full steam ahead in the direction of the higher stage of communism.
By the time of Gorbachev’s accession to the leadership, all the material and ideological conditions for capitalist restoration had been prepared. To accelerate the process of capitalist restoration, having purged vast numbers of Party elements he could not rely on, Gorbachev initiated his notorious policies of glasnost and perestroika. Glasnost performed the same role in the sphere of ideology as that performed by perestroika in the sphere of economics. If perestroika was aimed at restoring fully capitalist relations of production by destroying all remnants of the centrally-planned economy, glasnost aimed at destroying what remained of the science of Marxism-Leninism in the political life and institutions of the USSR and replacing them by norms characteristic of bourgeois democracy. Combined, these two policies became a veritable assault on socialism – a counter-revolutionary programme aimed at undermining the leadership of the Communist Party, state property, central planning, and the multinational integrity of the USSR.
Glasnost became synonymous with anti-communism. Economic reform materialised into the wholesale privatisation and dismantlement of the remains of the socialist economy, with the support for ‘socialist markets’ turning in to ‘market socialism’ – in the plain language: capitalism. Anti-Stalinism, with its catchwords of ‘democratisation’ and ‘decentralisation’, became, as it had been under Khrushchev, the slogan of Gorbachev ‘reformers’ who, under the pretext of ‘improving’ the Party and the economy, and in the name of criticising the ‘cult of the personality’, indulged in wholesale revision of the party history and denigration of the world-historic Soviet achievements.
While ‘democratisation’ marked a total shift from Marxism-Leninism to a social-democratic type of Party organisation, with its rejection of the leading role of the Party and democratic centralism as the organising principle of the Party, the concept of peaceful coexistence, now transformed into ‘universal human values’, became a euphemism for an open alliance with capitalism and imperialism.
Engaged as he was in deliberately dismantling the last remnants of socialism in the USSR, Gorbachev, despite his contempt for the Party, stayed long enough in his job as its General Secretary to supervise the demise of the socialist camp, as well as the disintegration of the USSR and the liquidation of the CPSU.
In the wider international arena, the Gorbachev clique betrayed national-liberation movements and smaller socialist countries such as Cuba.
By the time that the 28th Party Congress of the CPSU convened in July 1990, the question was no longer WHETHER the market economy should be fully restored, but simply WHAT SORT of market economy was to take the place of the centrally-planned economy which, having been undermined over the three previous decades, received its coup de grace from the Gorbachev clique.
In his message to mark the 73rd anniversary of the October Revolution on 7 November 1990, Gorbachev, with characteristic brazen shamelessness, portrayed his total betrayal of socialism and his capitulation to imperialism as acts of ‘freedom and emancipation’.
“Perestroika,” he said, “has brought [us] freedom and emancipation. We opened to the world … having stood in opposition to the world, we denied ourselves the opportunity of participating in civilisation’s progress at the most crucial turning point. We suffered terrible [losses], perhaps our greatest losses, thanks to this”.
Within a year of the 28th Congress, Gorbachev managed to achieve the destruction of the CPSU and the remnants of the socialist economy.
On 6 November 1991, a day before the 74th anniversary of the October Revolution, Yeltsin, who had been elected President of the Russian Federation in June 1991, banned the CPSU and ordered its dissolution. In December, he ordered the removal of the Red Flag from the Kremlin. On 25 December, Gorbachev, having done his “life’s work”, resigned. On 31 December 1991, the USSR totally ceased to exist.
Thus was brought to an ignominious end the once great and glorious Soviet Union, the first motherland of the international proletariat and the first base of world proletarian revolution, thanks to the ravages of Khrushchevite revisionism over a period of three and a half decades.
It is crucially important for the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples of the world to understand the cause of the collapse of the CPSU and the USSR, for the interpretation of the Soviet collapse is inextricably bound up with a fight for the future. The proletariat will hardly fight for, and make, the necessary sacrifices to achieve socialism if it thinks that it is a failed system, as it is constantly told by the bourgeoisie and its agents in the working-class movement. It will hardly make a serious attempt to overthrow capitalism if it is convinced that a market economy is the key to human liberation.
The bourgeoisie understands, said Lenin, that “the working-class activists who follow the opportunist trend are better defenders of the bourgeoisie than the bourgeois themselves” (Collected Works, Vol 31).
This penetrating observation was my guiding principle in understanding the calamity that was the collapse of the USSR. My book on Perestroika was an attempt to show that the USSR and the CPSU collapsed not because of any inherent flaws in the science of Marxism Leninism, but because of the departures from that science effected by the Khrushchevite revisionist leadership of the CPSU which was guilty of the wholesale revision and downright distortion of Marxism Leninism in the field of political economy, philosophy and class struggle over a period of more than three decades.
During these decades, distortions and falsifications of, and departures from, Marxism Leninism multiplied, and eventually quantity turned into quality. What began with Khrushchev as a trickle had by the time of Gorbachev assumed the proportions of a veritable flood, ending up in the restoration of capitalism in the land of Soviets, the land of Lenin and Stalin – the land of once triumphant socialism. Thus, what collapsed was not Marxism Leninism: it was revisionism that came to an inevitable and scandalous collapse, taking down with it the USSR itself.
This collapse of revisionism, which is a ‘manifestation of bourgeois influence on the proletariat and bourgeois corruption of the workers’ has been, slowly but surely, impressing upon proletarian parties the world over the urgent need to analyse in a most thoroughgoing manner the developments in eastern Europe and the USSR and to draw from these events the proper conclusions and to learn the appropriate lessons.
It has impressed upon them the necessity of sharpening their ideological weapons and of fighting against the lowering of theoretical standards that has been going on ever since the usurpation of the leadership of the CPSU by the Khrushchevite revisionists at the 20th Party Congress in 1956. It is this lowering of theoretical standards that explains why such a large number of working-class parties throughout the world proved to be helpless spectators in the face of the onslaught of revisionism. The collapse of revisionism is now increasingly dragging them to grasp the truth that ‘without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement’.
It is incumbent upon communist parties to realise that the ‘role of the vanguard party can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory’.
With these words I close this Preface, with the hope that my Hindi readers will find it useful in understanding the momentous events with which my book deals.