The Third International after Lenin

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jack Barnes on Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968

Let's begin with the footnote first:

1   The 1956 Hungarian revolution began in late October following attacks by Hungarian secret police and Soviet troops on demonstrations demanding democratic rights. Workers formed revolutionary councils, took control of a large section of the country, and battled several divisions of Soviet troops. The uprising was crushed by Moscow within several weeks, though strikes continued into mid-December. Also in 1956, a workers’ rebellion in Poland was put down by a combination of armed repression and the establishment of a "reform" regime under Wladyslaw Gomulka. Three years earlier, in June 1953, Soviet troops and armored vehicles crushed an uprising in East Germany that included a general strike by more than 200,000 workers.
By the time of these rebellions in the 1950s, the Stalinist regimes and parties, through a combination of murderous repression and political disorientation, had decimated any vestige of communist leadership of the working class in these countries. These revolts, however, were the last in Eastern Europe to involve layers of socialist-minded workers who in their youth had been won to communist perspectives prior to the consolidation of the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and Communist International in the early 1930s.

The Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia was a period of mass radicalization during the early part of 1968 that initially succeeded in winning some democratic concessions and political space from the Stalinist regime. It was crushed by the August intervention of more than 650,000 Soviet and Eastern European troops. No communist leadership existed during this rebellion to organize resistance by working people and students, or to forge a nucleus of a revolutionary internationalist vanguard of the working class in the aftermath of the defeat.  


And now the context:

....Washington was the chief victor in that war. It emerged as imperialism’s predominant economic and strategic military power, and the only one nuclear-armed to boot. The Soviet toilers, at the sacrifice of tens of millions of workers and peasants, had repelled the onslaught by German imperialism. By the beginning of the 1950s capitalist property relations had been overturned throughout much of Eastern and Central Europe, even if under Stalinist-led regimes. By the latter half of the 1950s the USSR had its own nuclear arsenal (although not effective parity with Washington in weaponry and delivery systems until late in the 1960s).  

Post-World War II pattern 
Struggles for national independence and self-determination gained powerful momentum throughout the colonial and semicolonial world during World War II and its aftermath. During the decade and a half following 1945, victorious national liberation struggles in Azerbaijan, Yugoslavia, Albania, China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba grew over into deep-going anticapitalist revolutions; brought to power workers and peasants governments; and (except for Azerbaijan) culminated in the expropriation of the landlords and capitalists and the establishment of workers states.

Washington’s wars in Korea and Vietnam were fought during a period of an ascending world capitalist economy. The U.S. rulers’ dominance in the world imperialist system was still unchallenged, both economically and militarily. The dollar reigned supreme in world financial markets. But U.S. imperialism’s German and Japanese rivals were not under sharp competitive economic pressures that pushed them toward direct military involvement in the Korean or Vietnam conflicts. (In fact, Tokyo took advantage of huge construction contracts during the Korean War to take the first steps toward rebuilding its devastated economy, without having to share the burden of the U.S.-organized military operations.)

Given this global picture that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, imperialist war was expected to be largely limited for the foreseeable future to the use of military power against the colonial revolution, as well as threats against the workers states. It was in the colonial world that the main organized, massive resistance to imperialism was continuing to take place--from Asia and Africa, to the Middle East and the Americas. Bourgeois-nationalist leaderships and Stalinist organizations frequently dominated these struggles, but the obstacles posed by this misleadership did not prevent substantial victories from being won by the toilers in their fight for colonial independence.

In some cases radical petty-bourgeois leaderships--responding in a determined way to blows aimed at them by an arrogant imperialism, and under the impetus of worker and peasant struggles against capitalist exploiters in city and countryside--went through an anticapitalist evolution. This was the case with respect to the July 26 Movement in Cuba; a major wing of the Algerian resistance movement; and a few organizations influenced by the Cuban revolution such as the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua and New Jewel Movement in Grenada. (Most petty-bourgeois nationalist leaderships, on the other hand, did not evolve in this direction and ended up tailing or being integrated into bourgeois nationalist formations, or, in a few cases, Stalinist parties.)

This was the period of the so-called Cold War. At least from some point in the 1960s, the U.S. rulers operated on the assumption of a nuclear stalemate with Moscow, especially once the Soviet Union developed the capacity to hit U.S. targets with nuclear-tipped missiles. Meanwhile, the privileged castes in the Soviet, Eastern European, and Chinese workers states, acting as transmission belts for imperialist pressure, combined police-state repression with Stalinist political disorientation to push working people at home increasingly out of politics and keep them isolated from the international class struggle--to the great advantage of the imperialist ruling classes as well.

On the basis of this post-World War II pattern, most revolutionists concluded--correctly for the foreseeable future--that the international class struggle was not heading toward increased interimperialist military conflicts, but toward a standoff between the two major powers with strategic nuclear arsenals--U.S. imperialism and the Soviet Union--and their allies. A third world war, it was assumed, would necessarily find the imperialist powers aligned behind Washington in a conflict with the USSR. The rival capitalist ruling classes would avoid military conflicts among themselves, conflicts that would leave them vulnerable both to the Soviet Union and to the loss of additional portions of the world to anticapitalist revolutions.

I’m presenting a simplified version of this view of the world, but not a caricature. Whatever onesidedness there was to this assessment, it was grounded in the objective fact that due to the factors just cited there was no drive toward interimperialist military conflict during this initial period of postwar capitalist expansion.

This pattern corresponded with what was actually happening in world politics during the initial decades following World War II, including the generally low level of intensity of the class struggle in the United States and other imperialist countries. We were not heading toward intensified class combat on the picket lines and in the streets. We were not heading toward an ascending working-class movement bursting beyond the bourgeois political framework imposed by the petty-bourgeois union officialdom. We were not heading toward clashes in the streets with growing ultrarightist and fascist movements organized by wings of the employing class to try to take on and crush a class-struggle-oriented vanguard of the labor movement.  

Class struggle in imperialist countries 
With a time lag that could not be predicted, it was assumed, the class struggle in the United States and other imperialist countries would eventually turn a corner heading in this direction and begin narrowing the gap with the level of combat in the colonial world. This would lead to prerevolutionary situations that could result in major new advances in the international struggle for national liberation and socialism.

Politics and the class struggle in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, and other Stalinist-dominated workers states were largely a nonfactor in this political equation. The existence of a substantial portion of the world where the domination of capitalist property relations had been abolished was recognized as a conquest of the toilers worth defending against imperialist assault. But the workers and farmers of these countries seemed more and more to have been frozen out of the world class struggle for an indefinite period by the repressive and politically stultifying domination of the castes and their police-state regimes--especially following the bloody defeat of the Hungarian revolution in 1956.1 Meanwhile, as a way of maintaining bargaining leverage with Washington, the Stalinist regimes provided arms and financial aid to national liberation movements and to governments that came in conflict with imperialism in the Third World.

But none of these political assumptions hold any longer in the world situation today--one whose advent was most explosively marked by the 1987 crash of the world’s stock markets. The crash was further evidence that the 1974-75 worldwide recession and the sharp and sudden slump of 1981-82 were not simply two more periodic downturns in the capitalist business cycle; they also signaled the end of an ascending segment in the broader curve of capitalist development and the ushering in of a descending segment heading toward intensified class battles on a national and international scale, including among the imperialist powers....

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