Defense of the USSR Does Not Begin On Warren Street

Over the years, the Spartacist League has developed a unique concept of "defending" the USSR. They have repeatedly invoked it in situations in which defense of the USSR was not the central issue. Remember "defense of the Soviet Union begins in El Salvador"? They called us anti-communists for advocating "military victory to Soviet forces in Afghanistan" instead of "hail Red Army in Afghanistan." They accused us of "flinching" because we supported action against Walesa & Co. despite any excesses the Stalinists might commit rather than accepting responsibility for those excesses. The SL considered our criticism of their decision to parade around as the "Yuri Andropov Brigade" to be Stalinophobic. More recently, when we said we would have been for a bloc with the Soviet coupists against the Yeltsinites, they twistedly claimed that "the BT has found...their long-awaited opportunity to wash their hands of the Soviet Union—something they have yearned to do for years" (Workers Vanguard, 27 September 1991).

There is another side to this coin. In the SL’s response to the abortive Soviet coup, there was a gap in this "defense" big enough to drive a counterrevolution through. The SL absolutely refuses to see that defense of the USSR was at issue at this crucial point, even though they acknowledge that "the botched coup attempt opened the floodgates of capitalist counterrevolution" (WV, 27 September 1991). Insisting that they nonetheless had a side, they say the attitude of a class-conscious worker would have been "against Yeltsin, but critical of the coup" (ibid). We think such a worker would have been more than "critical" of the coup, and would in fact have wanted to sweep away the coupists in a workers political revolution, yet nonetheless would have participated in a military bloc with the coupists precisely insofar as they acted against Yeltsin, because the more immediate danger came from Yeltsin. Never was the question of defense of the USSR in the classic Trotskyist sense more acutely posed. Just at this moment, the SL’s "defense" disappeared.

The SL argues that "the coup would not have stopped Yeltsin" (ibid). Kerensky alone would not have stopped Kornilov, either. They assume that because the coupists in fact did not stop Yeltsin, workers acting in a bloc with the coupists would not have stopped him either. Similarly, they accuse us of calling for support to the coup "without even a nod to mobilizing the proletariat" (ibid), while they themselves recognize that "independent working-class action would have been a launching pad for proletarian political revolution" (WV, 6 December 1991, emphasis in original). First of all, who do they think our call for a bloc would have been addressed to? Who else but the proletariat? This is the meaning of our statement that: "The August coup attempt was a confrontation in which the working class had a side." Secondly, the very concept of a military bloc, like that of the united front, presupposes independent organization. It is absolutely false to counterpose independent action to a military bloc. The question is not whether or not communist workers should act independently but rather, recognizing that they must act independently, what are they to do? We say they should have formed a bloc with the coupists against Yeltsin and taken the lead in cleaning him out. The coupists were demonstrably weak. In such a situation, they might well have lost control to the workers instead of to the Yeltsinites. Once it again became safely unreal, the SL returned to "defending" the integrity of the by then nonexistent workers state. Of course, they’ve had a bit of experience with nonexistent entities. They made the Tiananmen Square movement out to be a full-fledged workers political revolution, and they proclaimed another workers political revolution in the midst of galloping counterrevolution in the DDR. As of this writing, they still will not admit that a decisive change in the nature of the state power in the former USSR has occurred. They have gone as far as to say "What you have in the disintegrating Soviet Union today is a series of ‘governments’ that are counterrevolutionary through and through, intent on dismantling the Soviet degenerated workers state" (WV, 10 January), but they hysterically denounced us for saying that the process of consolidation of a bourgeois state is now underway, even though we pointed out that it is far from complete. A sober disagreement on when a workers state ceases to be a workers state would be one thing; the SL’s response to us is something else, and must be understood as guided by something other than scientific concerns.

As time goes by, it becomes more and more unlikely that the surviving remnants of the old state apparatus will attempt to assert themselves. The old state apparatus has been broken. It no longer exists as an instrument for the defense of collectivized property. The armed forces still exist, but they do not in themselves constitute a state. While many elements of the old apparatus, and much of the officer corps, are scrambling for a place in Yeltsin’s new regime, others may very well participate in working class action.

We do not shrink from drawing the Marxist conclusion that the degenerated workers state no longer exists. The SL’s principal response has been to insinuate that we are glad to draw such a conclusion. That is silly. In order for the working class to defend itself and move forward, it is absolutely essential to have a realistic assessment of the objective situation. Mere bravado and venom won’t cut it.

The disappearance of the degenerated workers state raises a further question: what was the decisive point in this tragic defeat? We have an answer. It was when the Yeltsinites prevailed over the coup—just at the very point when the SL had taken a break from its "defense" of the USSR.

31 January 1992

Posted: 25 November 2004