TL On the Russian Question:
Dazed and Confused

In the pages of their newspaper, as well as in their public utterances, the Trotskyist League, sponsors of tonight’s meeting on Gorbachev’s Russia, likes to posture as the "Party of the Russian Revolution" and boasts of its "forthright Soviet defensism." But the TL’s analysis of Gorbachev and the character of the Soviet bureaucracy, its application of the Trotskyist position of defense of the Soviet Union, and much of its other activity, reveals considerable political disorientation.

Tonight’s speaker, John Masters, gave a public talk on the same subject—Gorbachev and the USSR—last October. This was considered so enlightening that an edited version was printed in the November 1987 issue of Spartacist Canada. Masters informed his audience that the Gorbachev grouping was a "pretty competent leadership:" More importantly, he implicitly equated the significance of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). According to Masters these were both "basic components" of the Gorbachev reforms. In fact, as we pointed out in our article in 1917, Gorbachev’s perestroika is an anti-working class policy which threatens the gains of the October Revolution, while glasnost, although it provides some openings for pro-socialist opposition currents in the Soviet Union, is a secondary and necessarily derivative product of the dangerous market-oriented "reforms."

Probably the most explicit departure from Trotskyism in Masters’ speech last year was his comment that "Gorbachev shares some political fundamentals with Stalin, but only an idiot could claim they were basically the same." This recalls the Spartacist League’s (SL—the American mentor of the TL) decision in 1982 to name one of its contingents the "Yuri Andropov Brigade" after the then-top bureaucrat in the Kremlin. At that time, the SL declared that it was "obscene" for us to compare Yuri Andropov—who played a key role in butchering the pro-socialist, anti-Stalinist Hungarian workers in 1956—with Stalin. If the TL thinks that Gorbachev is not "basically the same" as Stalin, it stands to reason that they think he is basically different.

Of course Gorbachev is not Stalin; he is his successor. In the thirty-five years since Stalin died the contradictions of the bureaucratic regime he consolidated have become more acute, and so the bureaucracy has opted for a change in policies...and a change of personnel to carry them out. Enter Gorbachev. But the political rule of the bureaucracy over the working class remains intact. Its treacherous policy of "socialism in one country" remains the same. Gorbachev is every bit as much a representative of the bureaucratic caste that has usurped political power from the Russian working class as Stalin was. Just as the fundamental features of the relationship between the privileged Kremlin oligarchs and the Soviet working class remain "basically the same" from Stalin to Gorbachev so too does the program of Trotskyists for the USSR. Trotskyists unconditionally militarily defend the Soviet Union against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, while waging an uncompromising struggle for political revolution to oust the bureaucracy—whether the General Secretary is Stalin, Andropov or Gorbachev. Perhaps if we are lucky, cde. Masters will take the opportunity tonight to tell us what he thinks the "basic" difference is between the bureaucracy under Stalin and under Gorbachev.

The TL’s confusion over Gorbachev is paralleled by some peculiar notions about Soviet defensism. This is apparent in regard to Nicaragua. While much of the reformist solidarity milieu stupidly denies any connection between the events taking place in Central America and the social revolution that took place in Russia in 1917, the TL shrilly insists that the main issue posed in Nicaragua today is defense of the Soviet Union! The crudest expression of this uniquely idiotic position can be found in the Summer 1988 issue of Spartacist Canada, edited by the same cde. Masters.

To "expose" the Bolshevik Tendency (BT), the TL quotes our intervention at last April’s TL forum on Nicaragua as saying "the key question in Nicaragua today in our view is not defense of the Soviet Union, that’s not the central question that’s posed there today, but rather defense of the Nicaraguan Revolution." It’s hard to understand how any ostensible Trotskyists could disagree with this statement two weeks after the signing of the Sapoa accords, where the Sandinistas promised to "democratize" in accordance to the dictates of the Central American neo-colonial rulers and Washington’s mercenary contras. But for the TL this simple observation is evidence of...Shachtmanism! Recalling how Max Shachtman refused to defend the Soviet Union in its war with Finland in 1939, the TL concludes: "For him then, as for the BT now, defense of the USSR was never ‘the central question’ and thus never to be fought where it counts."

Perhaps to atone for the sins of founder/leader James Robertson, who left the Stalinists for the Shachtmanites just as the cold war was gathering steam in the late 1940s, the Spartacists have decided that Soviet defensism is the "central question" at all times and in all places. Those who don’t agree are automatically denounced as State Department socialists. This travesty of the Trotskyist position of defense of the Soviet Union has one advantage. It is easy to teach to new recruits. But if revolutionary politics were so simple a moderately intelligent myna bird could learn the formula in a matter of weeks.

From its origins as a Trotskyist organization, the TL has followed the Spartacist League in its degeneration into a political obedience cult which actually fears political discussion. On several occasions, we have challenged the TL to debate the Russian question and, in particular, their slogan "Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!" but they refuse. We can understand their reluctance to display an incapacity to defend their positions in public. After all, the TL seems lately to be having trouble spelling its own name. Nonetheless a truly revolutionary organization should not shrink from political debate with its opponents, because the truth is revolutionary. Unfortunately the TL is not a revolutionary organization. The tradition of authentic Trotskyism, which was once upheld by the Spartacist tendency, is today represented by the Bolshevik Tendency.

17 September 1988

Posted: 25 November 2004