Market `Reforms' Exacerbate Crisis, Struggle In Russia
BY JACK BARNES
Below we print an excerpt from "Imperialism's march toward fascism and war" from the Marxist magazine New International no. 10. The article is based on talks by SWP national secretary Jack Barnes in 1994. New International is copyright c 1994 by 408 Printing and Publishing Corp., and reprinted by permission.
The promises by the imperialist bourgeoisie - and their imitators throughout Eastern Europe and in the former USSR - that capitalist market "reforms" would bring better living and working conditions have rapidly shown themselves to be lies. Production has fallen steeply since the opening of the nineties - by some 40 percent in Russia; 50 percent in Ukraine; almost 25 percent in Hungary; and more in several other countries. Real wages have fallen; pensions, medical benefits, education, and other social programs have been devastated. Unemployment has risen to double- digit levels, even by official figures, which are understated. Abortion rights and job and educational opportunities for women have come under assault.
Despite the horrors meted out to working people in the name of "socialism" by the former Stalinist regimes, workers were not so badly defeated by the bureaucratic castes in these countries that they have simply been ready to acquiesce to, let alone internalize, all the culture, values, and attitudes that are necessary to the expanded reproduction of capitalist social relations.
Virtually every step by the U.S. rulers with regard to Russia over the past few years -whether advocated and guaranteed by the White House, by Congress, by university professors or Wall Street technocrats - has ended up setting back attempts by the regime there to win broader layers of working people to the glories of capitalism and has undercut Washington's chosen favorites. It's not that the U.S. rulers consciously set out to destabilize Russia. To the contrary! They aimed to collaborate with the aspiring bourgeoisie emerging out of the privileged caste in Russia to reimpose capitalism and zap the workers and other toilers. Given the decades of police-state repression by the Stalinist regimes in the USSR, the imperialist rulers assumed the working class in Russia would be an easy mark. They condescendingly told Yeltsin to use "shock therapy" against the workers, go along with U.S. foreign policy as Gorbachev had done during the Iraq war, and turn over Russia's nuclear weapons. The job would be even easier in the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, the U.S. rulers assumed.
But Washington and other imperialist powers and agencies delivered on only a small percentage of the billions of dollars in economic assistance they pledged to Moscow and the other regimes. The "shock therapy" urged by finance capital's academic wizards and other "advisers"- wholesale plant shutdowns; elimination of food, rent, and other price subsidies; the slashing of education, pension, health, and other hard-earned and desperately needed entitlements - magnified impoverishment and social instability. The new regimes have repeatedly been forced to back off these draconian policies in fear of setting social forces in motion that could spiral beyond their control.
The big majority of toilers in these countries reveled in getting the Stalinist boot off their necks. But they are resisting efforts to make them accept as normal the joblessness, social insecurity, and dog-eat- dog competition produced and reproduced by the workings of capitalism. They're defending the social conquests that have survived in the workers state, in however tattered condition, despite decades of police- state terror and massive corruption by the petty- bourgeois castes. It's a class question.
In the past couple of months I've noticed that even opinion polls in Russia and eastern Germany reinforce this assessment. One taken by the Russian Academy of Science at the end of 1993 found that support for "economic reforms" in Russia had dropped from about 40 percent of those surveyed in 1989 to less than 25 percent. The majority of those polled agreed with the statement that "privatization is legalized theft." And according to the German Economic Ministry itself, a survey in eastern Germany in December 1993 found that support for the "market economy" had dropped to 35 percent from 77 percent in February 1990.
Of course, this doesn't mean that the working class in any of these deformed workers states has a class- struggle leadership, let alone a communist vanguard. Communist continuity was broken by the Stalinist murder machine in these countries decades ago and is yet to be reknit. As a result of Stalinism's counterrevolutionary legacy, even the most rudimentary support for socialism versus capitalism as a conscious alternative exists only among small numbers of workers and youth.
But as events of the past half decade have demonstrated, it would be dead wrong to conclude that workers in these countries have been transformed into warm-blooded robots to produce surplus value for the world bourgeoisie. Neither Stalinist police terror nor the procapitalist course of the new regimes has been able to crush and atomize the working class.
Having gone through two presidents, Gorbachev and Yeltsin; too many prime ministers and cabinets to remember; and two botched coup attempts, the upshot of half a decade of U.S. imperialism's efforts to advance capitalist restoration in Russia is that the economy and society as a whole have been driven into deeper crisis and social dislocation. As Moscow seeks to reassert dominance over the now-independent countries that once made up the USSR, rival factions among the privileged layers in those lands divide over relations with Russia. The grab for territory and resources is draped in Yugoslavia-style nationalist demagogy on all sides. Parts of the former Soviet Union are intermittently engulfed in civil war.
But the workers in city and countryside in Russia and other former Soviet republics have not been won to the course of capitalist restoration, or to acquiescence to its consequences.