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What did Gorbachev represent for Russia?

2022-08-31 | History
What did Gorbachev represent for Russia?
This article was chosen for today's issue by the subscribers of our @Communia channel on Telegram

Who was Gorbachev?

Gorbachev was a stalinist leader who became the top leader of the Russian party-state (the CPSU) and led it during the years leading up to its collapse.

Are the myths about Gorbachev true?

1981, Gorbachev, Andrei Gromyko, Nikolai Tikhonov, Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Suslov, Konstantin Chernienko, Yuri Andropov and Boris Ponomarev

1981, Gorbachev, Andrei Gromyko, Nikolai Tikhonov, Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Suslov, Konstantin Chernienko, Yuri Andropov, and Boris Ponomarev

Before the American and European press, Gorbachev created the public image of being a "new man", born of stalinism but not committed to it and separated from its political methods. They emphasized his human side, his supposed closeness to the common people and his relationship with his wife Raisa. In Russia his internal rivals, on the other hand, spread the image of a weak, indecisive man, incapable of taking drastic decisions at critical moments. For some, Gorbachev represented the impotence of the reformists of stalinism in the face of the power of the CPSU and KGB apparatus; according to others, he was responsible for the collapse of the regime due to his lack of capabilities.

The myth of Gorbachev that has survived in the decades that followed, massively disseminated by the media, is a mixture of both stories. But reality is far from both. One need only read the quasi-official biography provided by Wikipedia to realize that Gorbachev was co-opted by the bureaucracy from a very young age: grandson of the leader of a collective farm and son of a hero of the "Great Patriotic War", at the age of 18 he received the "Order of the Red Banner of Labor"; the party organs also granted him an award to enter without entrance exams at the Lomonosov University -the cradle of the top leaders of the time- and only two years later he was admitted as a member of the CPSU. From there, after only 15 days of work as an assistant prosecutor, he began a bureaucratic career in the party-state under the wing first of Brezhnev, who promoted him to the Central Committee in 1978, and then of Andropov.

Whichever way one looks at it, Gorbachev was the favorite son of Stalin's successors -and clique-, selected by them from a very young age as the guarantor of the continuity of the system. He was not a new man, free from the sins of the regime. He was its most distinguished beneficiary. And in fact its most efficient operator, a true master in the bureaucratic arts, as his biographer Oleg Kashin claims.

If we compare Gorbachev with any other general secretary - Brezhnev, Stalin, Khrushchev - he turns out to be much tougher, more efficient, faster and, in general, more brilliant than any of them in every respect. He achieved every one of his goals, even those that contradicted the basic principles of functioning of the CPSU, such as the expulsion of his opponents from the Politburo. Even Stalin, in order to become Stalin, had to devote more than ten years, and even then he could not win the elections at the "congress of the victors". However, Gorbachev quickly got rid of all his opponents in the Central Committee. [...]

Gorbachev, with the help of Rust [the scandal generated by the landing of an ultralight on Red Square], took on all his opponents in the leadership of the army. Stalin did this, but only 13 years after coming to power and literally with the help of executions, and Gorbachev, two years after assuming the post of General Secretary, calmly eliminated the entire military leadership. That is what you call a weak and indecisive politician, right? Even Yeltsin and Putin could not and still cannot afford this.

Interview with Oleg Kashin in Gazeta.ru

Why did Gorbachev go for "Perestroika" and "Glasnost"?

Russian state capitalism, because of its historical origin, i.e. because it was the product and the engine of the counterrevolution in Russia, was markedly different from the state capitalisms of the USA or European countries. Its defining element, centralized state planning, multiplied the contradictions proper to capitalism in its own extreme way.

The central plan, imposed on the industrial management by the high bureaucracy, indicated the number of goods to be produced by each branch - up to 20,000 products of all branches came to be planned - and assigned to the workers a limited quantity of goods. Accumulating money did not ensure greater access to consumer goods. It is important to understand what this implies:

  1. There is no competition in the market between individual plants (they compete to obtain investment from the state instead). Prices are fixed and money serves mostly to facilitate exchange.
  2. The number of goods to be produced is fixed by the state. Likewise, the number of goods to be purchased by each industry is also fixed. It is not possible to reject the product if it is of poor quality or to lower prices if there is overproduction.
  3. It was not possible to lay off workers (in an absolute way until the 1960s and even after then factories remained critically overstaffed), the management of each plant has to make do as best it can to maintain production.

The third point is a good example of the facade "concessions" of the upper bureaucracy to the workers in the Khrushchev era, not out of love, but out of fear of an uprising. The middle and lower bureaucrats could get paid less than an industrial worker because the key to consumption was not the salary, but belonging to the Russian state bourgeoisie. It was the greater or lesser proximity to the ultimate core of state power that gave access to scarce consumer goods, single-family apartments, dacha and spa vacations, international travel, automobiles and even not a few basic consumer goods.

What is the result of this capitalist social order "without" a market? Something completely unexpected for everyone: a brutal overproduction in the basic industries and an exaggerated shortage of consumer products at the end of the industrial chain. It was no secret: it appeared again and again in the documents of every CPSU congress, only apparently ignored by the foreign philo-USSR propagandists of the time and their epigones who were not even able to read Russian.

At the congresses from the 1930s to the 1970s there is a call to put all efforts into increasing the production of basic consumer goods. Production is increased, planning is improved, but to no avail. In the same way (and for the same reasons as in Cuba), industrial machinery breaks down and fails many more times than in Western countries. Soviet reports indicate that up to 4 times more than seen outside. Azerbaijan's plants produce clothing that is defective between 30% and 80% of the time, and many other examples...

Can capitalism be planned?* 29/6/2018

The regime was caught between imperialist tension with the US bloc and workers' resistance, which from '53 (Berlin) to the mass strikes in Poland (1970, 1976 and 1981) via Hungary in 1956 seriously threatened the stability not only of its satellite states but of the head of the bloc itself.

The situation became evident after the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Capitalist chaos in its Russian version had reached the point where it was dependent on US grain to stave off famine. And when Carter in 1979 blocked the sales, the regime became dependent on Argentina, which is why it supported the military dictatorship to the point that Galtieri considered military support from Moscow in the Malvinas/Falklands war in 1982. And soon after, the antimilitarist movement of the parents of soldiers began to spread to the factories, where a wave of strikes spread and became massive at the beginning of the following decade.

The bureaucracy realizes that it has to confront the situation openly and undertake a "restructuring" (Perestroika). At first the man chosen is Andropov, a hard-core stalinist former head of the KGB, a great promoter of repressive psychiatry and a supporter of Gorbachev. But Andropov died after only fifteen months in power when he was still gaining a foothold in the party-state apparatus. He is succeeded by Chernienko, the last great mummy of the stalinist mass murder era who dies before a year in office.

The ground is cleared for a new generation and a new program: perestroika. Gorbachev is elected General Secretary of the CPSU on March 11, 1985.

Why did Perestroika fail?

Mass strike in the Donbass in 1989

Assembly of strike committees during the mass strike in the Donbass in 1989.

The program of Perestroika was nothing other than to carry out reforms in the organization of the bureaucracy proper, which would again boost accumulation. That is why it was accompanied by Glasnost (transparency). The ruling class had the double hope that removing the opacity over the disasters of the local bureaucrats and industrial managers, would boost a competitive system among them capable also of raising hope among the workers, as to a certain extent had happened in the first years of Khrushchev.

This is not what happened. As soon as the bureaucracy turned exploitation more violent, the whole territory of the state broke out into massive strikes. In the summer of 1989 alone the mass strike of the Donbass miners mobilized more than 200,000 workers spontaneously organized in committees and councils, they were followed by the Azeri oil workers numbering more than 700,000 and the miners of the Far East. Strikes of drivers and teachers dotted the whole country. The bureaucracy's hands were tied.

However, the vigorous movement that incapacitated the Gorbachev-led regime to carry out the restructuring of its system had no capacity to go beyond basic defensive political demands. Sixty years of stalinism had wiped out all class organization. There was no possibility for a political expression to mature, a consciousness, capable of turning the economic and political crisis of the system into a revolution.

Stalinism never totally subdued the working class, and the working class ended up destroying stalinism. But stalinism destroyed all the forms of organization that the proletariat had given itself in its struggle against capital, leaving only minuscule and dispersed revolutionary organizations, in fact incapable of taking advantage of the weakening of the Moscow dictatorship.

Coup d'état in Russia, August 1991

Why did Gorbachev fall and the political apparatus of the Russian Party-State imploded, giving rise to the new republics?

Yeltsin during the coup

The impotence of the bureaucracy to impose its program of domination and increased exploitation could only exacerbate the fractures in its own midst. The battle within the bureaucracy will be radicalized until the coup attempt of 1991, which puts an end to the existence of the USSR, the appearance of new states and the banning of the CPSU by those who until then had been its leaders.

Since the massive strikes of 1989, entire sectors of the bureaucracy already disbelieved Gorbachev and his ability to revive accumulation and the state. Then the new nationalist movements began, the stronger and more determined to surrender to an external or greater imperialism they are, the stronger the class struggle around them.

The class struggle progressively generated seismic tremors of increasing intensity and whose epicenter was constantly approaching the Kremlin. The slow disintegration of the Eastern bloc then directly affected the neighboring countries and now corrodes the links with the countries absorbed at the beginning of the Second World War (the Baltic States) or even at the time of the formation of the USSR, such as Georgia, bled by the Georgian Stalin, or Armenia.

However, until very recently, there was no nationalist organization or > struggle in these nations. All of them were created after the failures of the repression of the workers' action they expressed. In Lithuania (former duchy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania), for example, the impact of workers' struggles in Poland has been decisive and partly explains the advance of this country in the ongoing centrifugal process.

Old nations, new struggles, old refrain, 1990

That is why there is no historical "break" in the ruling class: the new politicians and businessmen both in the new independent states in the name of national liberation, and in Russia itself in the name of freedoms and welfare,were part of the stalinist bureaucracy which until shortly before spoke of the fraternity of the peoples and sold the alleged successes of socialism in one country.

They carried the same names, were the same leaders of the same apparatuses, looking for new ways to reorganize and modernize state capitalism. And no one failed to notice it at the time. Nor were they discreet.

The implosion of the Party-State did not provoke the terror of its henchmen, but their jubilant rush towards no less sinister havens: democrats, fascists and nationalists, with a zeal for each to his own, mixed with racism and xenophobia, here comes the nursery where the stalinist manure blooms again. At the head of the Transcaucasian militiamen, in Pamiat or around Yeltsin, we find the same mold of inhumanity and lies.

Contrary to the nonsense propagated by the journalistic caste, all these new leaders have learned efficiency under the Party, the Army or the KGB. To work efficiently does not mean to produce usefully under the reign of capital, where bureaucrats, technocrats and autocrats swarm like vermin over the poor. Their function was only to block the way to subversion, to guard capital.

Today they can no longer do so. They have lost to the proletarians who hate them and see them as oppressors. They have won and fulfilled their function by making people believe, at least temporarily, that any revolt would produce new Stalins.

This efficiency is essentially reconverted into the productivist management of capital. They immediately undermine their fragile victory because they have only one slogan, only one instruction and only one way out for the proletarians: exploitation. The increase of exploitation, the beginning of mass layoffs and the dizzying rise of prices have already put an end to the proletarian illusions about the benefits of national independence and democracy.

Coup d'état in Russia, August 1991

Was Gorbachev a "traitor"?

The coup plotters of 1991, still confident that they could revive the system by pure and simple military repression of the workers, thought of Gorbachev as a failure, a soft-handed guy, not as a traitor.

In Russia in 1991 there was no one left to call Gorbachev a traitor. There were all the members of his class, hitherto organized in the leading bodies of the CPSU, busy hastening the sinking of a ship that was going nowhere.

Outside the bloc, there remained orphans, satellite bureaucracies such as Cuba and a plethora of parties and friend of the USSR groups, until then subsidized with more or less generosity.

The discourse on "Gorbachev's betrayal" would come years after the resurgence of Russian nationalism and would serve the faction regrouped around Putin and busy reorganizing the state, the bourgeoisie and Russian state capitalism to attract the most backward part of the petty bourgeoisie, especially in the countryside, the provincial cities and in the army. A social group already then aging and nostalgic for the stalinist good old days which in part remained regrouped around the so-called communist party of the Russian federation and other related forces.

But regardless of distorted interpretations, the truth is that Gorbachev did not betray his class. Rather, it was the other way around, as he showed in the few interviews he gave, secluded and dedicated to financing his own and his wife's existence with a foundation.

Gorbachev was in reality the last great bureaucrat of the USSR bent on turning the old and rusty machinery of domination and exploitation created by the counterrevolution into a model of competitive capitalist exploitation. A project as miserable as it was a failure, which does not appear in a better light even when compared to what came later.