The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Russia:
After the “Battle of Parliament”:
Yeltsin Amasses a Little More Power but Power Continues to Disintegrate

Oct 29, 1993

Yeltsin has won the latest battle for supreme power in Russia. The outcome of the conflict, which pitted the president against the Parliament and its leaders, was not decided by elections. It was decided by the task forces of the Ministry of the Interior and by a division of paratroopers whose support Yeltsin managed to obtain, apparently, however, with some difficulty. The official death toll was put at a hundred and seventy, the real number probably much higher.

As the overwhelmingly pro-Yeltsin Western press euphemistically puts it, Yeltsin has somewhat "tarnished his image as a democrat". More than anything, he has given a glimpse of the ways and means he must use if he is to consolidate the power which is constantly slipping out of his grasp – assuming he is capable of consolidating it.

Yeltsin has taken advantage of his victory to settle a number of scores. The former vice-president, Rutskoy, and the former speaker of the parliament, Khasbulatov, are in prison. The very pro-Yeltsin mayor of Moscow gave the families of deputies who did not rally to Yeltsin only a few days to get out of their official residences. With parliament dissolved, they were informed that they had been dismissed without compensation. This was no doubt intended as a reminder that, even if the nomenklatura system (i.e., nomination from above to obtain positions of privilege) has been officially abolished, these privileges are still reserved for the cronies of the leader currently in power.

A number of parties, notably some of those claiming in one way or another to stand for communism, were banned. So too were some newspapers, including Pravda (which has apparently since been re-authorized). Widely varying figures are being bandied about concerning the number of arrests during the two-week state of emergency imposed in Moscow, not to mention demagogic round-ups of people from the Caucasus and Central Asia, who are held responsible for crime. The new Minister for Security – the former chief of the KGB in the Ukraine – has said he might re-introduce the systematic surveillance of political figures and militants.

Yeltsin and his advisers are now pretending to concentrate all power in their hands and are publishing decree after decree (apparently 250 in a month since September 21st).

Yet a show of authoritarianism is not the same thing as genuine authority. In Moscow itself, new rivalries are replacing the old ones. The reporter from Le Monde used the headline: "Free-for-all in the Kremlin", exclaiming that "Kremlinologists would do well to get back to work". Indeed, one can hardly tell who is against whom, and still less identify the configuration of the cliques battling for power. Is it the new vice-president Chernomyrdin against Yeltsin? Or Shakrai and Gaidar openly confronting each other while at the same time starting to distance themselves from Yeltsin? Or Yeltsin's advisers against each other? However this may be, the competing cliques are openly displaying their rivalry. Some of the authoritarian measures taken by Yeltsin – particularly the banning of Pravda – are being publicly questioned. Better still, some of the people in Yeltsin's closest entourage – those who supposedly took the decisions – are publicly asking themselves who on earth could have taken some of these decisions.

All this is taking place right in the heart of the Kremlin, before Yeltsin's very eyes, barely two weeks after his "decisive victory" over his rivals.

This does not prevent the machinery of repression from continuing to operate: people are still being arrested and newspapers are still banned. All that this requires is that the former KGB agents now policing a "nascent democracy" or the professional censors of the dictatorship period put the old tricks of their trade into practice. But it's not at all sure that this machinery is working towards the restoration of undisputed central power, and still less that this power is being restored to the benefit of Yeltsin.

And then there is the rest of the country.

To begin with, there are all the bureaucratic baronies, the 88 "subjects of the Russian Federation", to use the official expression. The leaders of these are admittedly not in a position to compete with Yeltsin for power in the Kremlin, but they are in a position to refuse to accept the Kremlin's authority on their territory.

Beyond these, there is a deeper movement, a social movement within the bureaucracy, which started in fact with the easing of the most brutal phase of Stalin's dictatorship, was accentuated and made partly public under Khrushchev and has come completely into the open since perestroika. It is through this movement that bureaucracy has shaken off central government control.

This movement was the dominant political fact of the last few years of the Soviet Union, which disappeared as a result, broken up into independent republics by the ruling cliques of the bureaucracies in the former federated republics. It remains the dominant political fact in the Russian Federation, as it does in the other republics which have replaced the Soviet Union, in some cases taking a violent, armed form and in others a more peaceful form. In this chaotic situation, all those who hold the slightest scrap of power are trying to increase it while defending it against the encroachment of a higher power.

Bureaucracy and Patronage

Patronage has always been one of the main features of the bureaucracy's political functioning. It has always played a key part in the selection and promotion of leaders. This hierarchical network of power relations has always borne within itself the threat that bureaucratic baronies would form, inevitably at the expense of central power. Stalin in his time countered this threat with bloody purges as well as by functional procedures – notably by periodically rotating the top officials at the head of the various republics and apparatuses of power. He was able, and had the means, to do this because the serious social crisis of the thirties and forties, as well as the threats posed both by the proletariat and by the international bourgeoisie, created a situation in which there was a consensus within the bureaucracy to accept a supreme arbiter, even if there was a price to pay.

The bureaucrats have now long forgotten the extent to which the dictatorship of the central government had protected them socially, ensuring that they all benefited from the wealth misappropriated from society as a whole. Rivalries and public conflicts at the top level have freed them from the control of central power. Regional and local powers have grown up on the decaying carcass of central power. The division of power has divided the state apparatus. Local administrations and police forces, or even local centers of the army, are more inclined to set themselves up as local powers than to obey a remote power, especially since it seems to be less and less firmly based.

This disintegration of the central power has been accentuated by the fact that regional and local authorities have hastened to lay their hands not only on the sinews of war, by keeping an increasing proportion of local tax revenue (or sometimes all of it), but also by helping themselves, in fact, to the state-owned factories in their region.

Local power itself is becoming the subject of increasingly bitter rivalries. And yet (and this is in no way contradictory), a local "holy alliance" is forming quite naturally between all the local components of the bureaucracy: administrative chiefs who are often former leaders of the CPSU, bureaucrats in the soviets, managers of state companies, the army and police hierarchy, kolkhoz officials, etc. This social layer, far from the center represented by the Kremlin, distrusts the center, and protects itself against it. It is this social layer which is controlling, deciding and organizing social and economic life. And it is grabbing the biggest share for itself. This is an old habit of the bureaucracy, except that in the past it was the center which was responsible for justifying the bureaucracy's misappropriations in the name of its social role – and even more so for concealing these misappropriations. It was also the center which was responsible for distributing the fruit of collective plunder by way of the state hierarchy and the nomenklatura system.

There is now no longer any center or any nomenklatura. But this is not preventing an expansion of the bureaucracy, if only because of the strengthening of local patronage systems and apparatuses. These thieves within the local bureaucracy are in collusion with each other; these cliques are well acquainted with each other, having rubbed shoulders in the corridors of the party and the state. It is this layer, the same bureaucracy as before, but now free of the yoke of central government, which is taking a cut off of running what remains of local industry, and off of the barter through which the local population is supplied. The members of this layer, the boundaries of which intersect with the mafia, are the ones in a position to divert state company stocks or central government subsidies to their own individual profit, or to the profit of their group.

The process of state decay feeds itself, not only politically but also economically. The central government makes up for shortfalls in tax revenue by printing money. But the more the ruble plummets, the less local authorities are inclined to let go of the real property they have taken over, and the more local autarchy is reinforced.

The local powers are also in the best position to take advantage of the privatization laws or decrees which the center is issuing, in wave after wave, without having the means to enforce them. But they are not as interested in these measures as those who most want to return to private property and the market economy.

There is a reason for this lack of enthusiasm: in the present situation in Russia, plain plundering, embezzlement and racketeering offer greater rewards than does productive investment (which is in any case impossible). The key question is not how to convert a state company into a private company, or even how to carry out this operation at bargain prices, but how to run this company, find suppliers, markets, capital, etc., once the company is set up. In most cases, this turns out to be impossible, since foreign capitalists do not want to invest in a risky market and the local nouveau rich are not rich enough.

In addition to this, the theft of state property through corruption and "mafioso practices" is much more part of the bureaucracy's social habits, and much more within its scope. Some of the most important sources of enrichment are the uncontrolled export of raw materials under false licenses, the setting up of phantom companies, the selling off of state property, the siphoning off of precious metals, and so on. But all of this was already a common practice at the highest level during the Brezhnev era; this suggests that the patronage which made it possible dated back even further. Some members of Brezhnev's family (his daughter, his son-in-law, etc.), and some of the top officials in the republics (such as Aliev, former KGB chief in Azerbaijan, former first secretary of the CPSU in this republic, member of the politburo and now once again the leader of Azerbaijan), practiced it on such a scale that it was impossible, even at the time, to cover up the scandal. And even at the time, the links between the profiteers of the so-called "shadow economy" and the criminal underworld were commonly known. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the loosening of border controls and the weakening of central power to the benefit of local potentates, these longstanding practices, protected by concealment, dictatorship and complicity in the top bureaucracy, can now take place openly.

The movement towards the break-up of the bureaucracy and the splitting-up of the state apparatus was encouraged when Yeltsin wanted to undermine Gorbachev's power. But this movement is now the main obstacle to the establishment of his own power.

Taking advantage of his victory over the parliament, Yeltsin has verbally attacked the local soviets. It is true that the majority of the soviets of the "subjects of the Russian Federation" had sided with the parliament or taken refuge in a cautious wait-and-see policy. Bold, but not reckless, Yeltsin has not dissolved the local soviets: he has asked them to "dissolve themselves" (with very limited success so far). At the same time he has announced the election of a Duma in place of the Supreme Soviet, to be held on December 12. The Supreme Soviet admittedly bears no relation to the revolutionary soviets of October 1917. And long before Stalin's 1936 constitution officially transformed this Supreme Soviet into a parliament without power, while maintaining its old name, it did not bear any relation to them. But as far as symbols are concerned, people like Yeltsin prefer those of czarist Russia to those of the Soviet era. They are better received in the West, where there is no end of talk about the "end of the Soviet system". Yeltsin has also decided to hold elections to designate the 176 members of the future Council of the Federation, at present automatically made up of the president of the regional soviet and the head of the administration in each of the 88 territories.

Commenting on this decision, Le Figaro enthusiastically wrote: "Piece by piece, the jigsaw puzzle of post-communist Russia is beginning to fall into place".

Yet it is not enough for Yeltsin to take revenge on the regional soviets and seek to dissolve them. Even if dissolved, the local powers can reconstitute themselves, and their opposition to the central power will continue. Yeltsin has already seen this happen. Many of the regional governors he appointed quickly transformed themselves into representatives of the local bureaucracy (sometimes after they themselves dissolved an offending local soviet).

Yeltsin against Local Power

Will Yeltsin be able to break the resistance of local powers in the same way that he broke the resistance of the Parliament in Moscow – that is, through force of arms? To do so, Yeltsin would require the support of the army chiefs of staff and the military hierarchy – and the readiness of local commanders and troops to obey their superiors. For the moment Yeltsin has no guarantee of this. The military bureaucracy is subject to the same centrifugal forces as the civilian bureaucracy. The two generally evolve symbiotically at the regional or local level, linked by their common interest to systematically bleed the region.

Yet this break-up of the army, and this state of virtual disobedience to the central government, like the break-up of the state apparatus itself, reflect a much more general problem.

Yeltsin almost certainly wants to re-establish central control, and wants to make sure he benefits from it. In this, Yeltsin's personal ambitions coincide with the general interests of the bureaucracy, but only its general interests, since individual bureaucrats are too irresponsible and too greedy for authority and personal enrichment to be conscious of their general interests. The disintegration of the state apparatus makes it less able to run society and to deal with any reaction by the working class to the deterioration of its living conditions. This presents a definite danger for the privileged stratum, regardless of the extent to which the composition of this stratum shifts from a bureaucracy which is at the moment politically, socially and economically dominant, to a renascent but still very weak bourgeoisie. But the bureaucracy, and the rich and nouveau rich as a whole, will probably not take fright before the working class begins to stir.

Only in a fairy-tale world could one imagine this central power re-establishing itself out of the present anarchy through "democratic" methods, through elections and so on. Western commentators on the changes taking place in Russia use the terms "market economy" and "democracy" as synonyms. This is a fraud. The "market economy" means democracy only in a limited number of rich imperialist countries. And even then, not in all cases, as was amply demonstrated by the history of Germany, Italy and even France before and during the last world war. Russia is not a rich country. Its only wealth, apart its natural resources, has been a planned economy spanning the biggest country in the world, an economy made possible by the revolution of 1917 and which the bureaucracy has distorted, dismantled and finally destroyed.

It is no coincidence that the most outspoken advocates of restoring capitalism agree on this point with those nostalgic for the Brezhnev era: what is needed is a strong state! What they are trying to do is not to protect an already existing "market economy", but to make changes in property relations and the legal system to try to allow the market to establish itself.

The restoration of central power (if it is still possible), whether it takes place to the benefit of the bureaucracy as it exists today or in the course of the restoration of capitalism, would inevitably mean an authoritarian regime and probably personal dictatorship. Yeltsin has put himself forward as the person around whom such a process would crystallize. He already holds the necessary position, as did Stalin ... but also Gorbachev. The latter's demise is a reminder that holding the necessary position is not enough. Personal power is not heaven-sent: it requires a certain consensus in the dominant social layer. This layer must consent to being divested of political power, and it must be ready, in its own interests, to submit to a supreme arbiter. There is no indication that such a consensus exists today within the bureaucracy, and even less that such a consensus would favor Yeltsin.

The ease with which rivals to Yeltsin emerge shows that he has neither the prestige, nor the authority, nor the force which would make him an undisputed leader.

In relation to his successive rivals, he holds the advantage of being well-known throughout the country, and of having acquired a measure of legitimacy through universal suffrage. And he is trying to maintain this advantage through his control over television and the written press. But this is an advantage only against his rivals for power in the Kremlin. It is not enough to get him accepted by the local potentates, who also, in many cases, control the local media.

The consensus required to consolidate central power cannot come about through elections, but only through confrontations. Unless the masses, and more precisely the proletariat, intervene, the armed forces will decide the issue. But how? Will they simply add the final touch, offering the army's support to a more or less peaceful recomposition of the state apparatus? Perhaps. But the population's fear, echoed by the press, that the shooting in the parliament is a foretaste of a coming civil war, are not unfounded. The past does not allow us to guess the future: it does, however, enable us to shed light on some of the processes which might lead to the restoration of an authoritarian power. In the past the bureaucracy gained a collective awareness of the need to maintain an authoritarian regime and eventually to give it absolute power for long periods, because of serious social crises, or the fear of such crises.

And the Social Counter-revolution?

More than half a century ago, Trotsky noted the "degree of complete degeneration" of the apparatus of the workers' state, which had become an "instrument of bureaucratic violence against the working class" and an "instrument of sabotage of the country's economy". He formulated two alternatives for the future of the Soviet Union: "Either the bureaucracy, becoming more and more the organ of the world bourgeoisie within the workers' state, will overthrow the new forms of ownership and plunge the country back into capitalism; or else the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open a way to socialism". Over the past few years, parallel to the crisis of power, the evolution towards the first of these alternatives accelerated considerably.

The political leadership of the bureaucracy has now been officially won over to the conviction that the time has come to restore capitalism and the market economy. Yeltsin, at any rate, has made this his banner, in order both to achieve supreme power and maintain it. Of course, Yeltsin is a clever and experienced politician who knows how to play the right tune to please the people he needs: the imperialist West outside, and the privileged social stratum inside Russia, for whom this policy seems above all to offer the prospect of unlimited enrichment.

It is far more difficult to tell how the mass of bureaucrats (a social layer made up of no less than ten million people!) interprets this bias on Yeltsin's part. If the market economy could bring enrichment, there is no need for a referendum or opinion polls to guess that there would be a broad consensus in its favor. The restoration of private property and inheritance is an aspiration as old as the bureaucracy itself. But there is no real consensus on how to implement this restoration or, more importantly, on who should benefit from it.

For example, look at what is happening in agriculture, although it's a sector of the economy not really decisive for the future of Russia's social system. The press has just announced that Yeltsin has signed a "revolutionary decree" re-establishing private ownership and transfer of land (a "revolutionary" decree, perhaps, but not a rapid one, coming two years after Yeltsin's rise to power). In reality, there have been many similar decrees, none of which have had any effect. The decay of power no doubt has something to do with the fact that these decrees have not been put into effect, like so many others. But one can assume that if there were a drive in the countryside towards the appropriation of land, there would not be any need for an apparatus to implement it.

Not only have we not seen any such drive by the mass of peasants, we have not seen any either from the rural bureaucracy, the managers and officials of kolkhozes and sovkhozes, etc. On the contrary, it seems that the capitalist tendencies of the kolkhozes are not taking the form of a return to private ownership of land; in fact, the kolkhoz managers or their allies in the local administration make violent attempts to discourage "private enterprises". Rather, taking advantage of the weakening of power, the capitalist tendencies consist of discontinuing deliveries to the state in favor of bartering with the managers of now-autonomous state companies who are supplying their towns or workers.

At any rate, there are at least some divergences between the future envisaged by the agrarian bureaucracy, which as yet seems to be in no hurry to tamper with the present functioning of agriculture within the frameworks inherited from the past, and that envisaged by the people in government who are issuing decree after decree in favor of private ownership of land.

Industry and Privatization

The decisive question is obviously the future of industry, and particularly of big industry. In the twenties, the leaders of the Soviet regime kept accounts of the respective percentages represented by privately-owned bourgeois sectors and the sectors controlled by the state, in order to measure the relationship of forces in economic terms. In the same way, the progress made in restoring private ownership could be a decisive index for measuring the development of the economic and social counter-revolution currently in progress. Just as in the twenties, however, the question is not solely one of the numbers of companies concerned, but of their capacity to produce and their productivity.

It is unfortunately impossible to obtain reliable figures in this area. The bureaucracy has never been noted for the reliability of its statistics. In the past, this was because it wished to hide the extent to which it siphoned off production. Now, for opposite reasons, the section of the bureaucracy committed to a "return to the market economy", and eager to please the West, the IMF, the BERD or the World Bank, is probably talking a better game than it is playing.

Yet there is an even more fundamental problem. Property relations themselves remain ill-defined, being unguaranteed and unstable. We should not underestimate the reciprocal effects of the crisis of power and the social counter-revolution. For one thing, many "local potentates" are taking over state companies in their region without wanting them to become private property and escape from their control; or else they are groping around for legal formulas enabling them both to free a particular company from central government control and at the same time keep it out of the hands of private capital.

More fundamentally, however, the weakness of the central government and its hesitations, stemming from its fear of social reactions and from all the competition for power, have hitherto prevented the drafting of a set of laws protecting private property.

Finally, and this is not the least of the reasons, the bureaucrats sometimes find it more profitable (only in the short-term, but what does this matter for them!) to strip their companies of their raw materials, their financial assets and their semi-finished products, and sell these at rock-bottom prices, if possible abroad.

In Western countries, the vast majority of laws, both in the civil and penal codes, are aimed at protecting private property. The absence of such a legal system is one of the few remaining gains of the revolution of 1917, although even this is increasingly being eaten away. During its long reign, the bureaucracy was never able to alter a legal system which ratified collective ownership (even if this did not prevent unequal private enjoyment of this property, which in reality became less and less collective). This is one of the fundamental aspects, among others, of the difference between the bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie.

To be completed, the counter-revolution demands not only a complete return to bourgeois laws and jurisprudence, but also a state apparatus capable of implementing these laws. One of the reasons discouraging Western investors, in addition of course to the general insecurity, racketeering, etc., is precisely this legal vacuum. This makes it impossible to enforce compliance with contracts, and a multiplicity of decision-making centers means that a piece of land, for example, may be sold very cheaply through corruption, but without any guarantee that another "owner" will not come and claim the sale price again.

The slowness with which things are progressing in this field, to the despair of the swarm of Western advisers descending on Russia (more often in fact to pocket tidy fees than to offer free advice), is in any case not solely due to the inabilities of the central government. As one of Yeltsin's advisers despondently told Libération recently: "The reforms are not progressing because there are too many people who are not interested in them". While few voices are being raised in the bureaucracy against the restoration of capitalism – were there many before against "communism"? – the concrete conditions of capitalist restoration are provoking considerable delaying tactics and resistance.

All those who profit from the plunder economy are obviously not in any hurry to see the present legal haze cleared up, or to see a return to an order protecting property ... even private property.

One might argue that this is only a passing phase, and that the plundering and large-scale banditry is leading to a sort of primitive accumulation, enabling the emergence and concentration of the Russian private capital which all the economists say is needed for the economy to run more or less successfully on a capitalist basis.

That may be so! But it's only how things turn out in the end which will let us understand what is happening today.

Today's gangsters can indeed become respectable owners of launderettes, bars or casinos. But for the moment, while the methods of accumulation are indeed primitive, this is not leading to capitalist accumulation or, at any rate, not to enough accumulation to run the Russian economy. And in any case, this money is not being accumulated and invested in Russia.

The money, illegally or legally amassed, is accumulating in Western banks. Even in this area, the bureaucracy is doing nothing new, as the practice was already widespread under Brezhnev. Capital inside the country is not being channeled into industrial companies any more than outside capital is.

Outside investors are still skeptical. Foreign investment in Russia, a huge country, was lower in 1992 than that in a small country like Hungary, which is itself complaining of a lack of capital. The total amount of investment to date comes to the ridiculously small sum of two billion dollars. And there is no suggestion that things will improve in the coming months. The chairman of the Deutsche Bank (which is the biggest creditor among the 600 Western banks lending to Russia) outlined the problem recently with solid capitalist good sense: "Investors need order before they move in ... I advise going and taking a look, but not investing at the moment".

There are plenty of people ready to "go and take a look". There are also people ready to open official branches, as yet inactive. Even the oil companies, which are accustomed to working in conditions of insecurity, and who initially rushed to sign contract after contract, lured by the country's rich oil deposits, are beginning to back-pedal. In any event, they are not investing. The problem is so great that American and German experts forecast that, deprived of maintenance, and receiving no state benefits on the one hand, and no Western investment on the other, the former Soviet oil industry will probably be unable in three to five years and be unable to export at all. This avoids the question whether there will then be anything left to privatize ... and this is the main problem.

The statistics about the degree of privatization – an area where figures can be doubled or even tripled from one source to the next – show that it is above all small businesses which have been privatized, at any rate in the big cities. Data on the number of companies is almost meaningless, since the same figures include the small kiosks sprouting up in the streets of Moscow or Saint Petersburg and the huge state-owned corporations. Statistics on capital are no more enlightening, for the value of businesses can't really be defined and compared given the runaway devaluation of the currency.

All that remains is the percentage of labor employed. A writer in Le Monde Diplomatique asserts, on the basis of Russian and British economic publications, that "Privatized businesses in the Russian Federation ... apparently touch 20% of the work force". This figure concerns all businesses, including shops, restaurants, hotels, etc. Given that it is in these sectors that so-called "small-scale privatization" has made the most progress, the percentage must be lower in industry. Moreover, "in most cases, the new owners are labor collectives made up of administrative staff, workers and office staff".

These figures are only worth so much, in other words not very much. In attempting to interpret them, if one accepted the example quoted above (which is certainly not very reliable), one could say that 80% of workers (not counting the unemployed) work in state companies, and the rest (10 or 15%) are divided up between companies of various legal statuses – cooperatives, companies controlled by local or regional government bodies, companies with shares distributed among their employees, etc. And among these, private property in the proper sense of the term, if this means anything in the present conditions in Russia, represents only a very small percentage.

Quite clearly, the overthrow of the forms of ownership created by the October revolution is advancing slowly. The counter-revolution is in progress, but it has been neither completed nor consolidated even in those areas where it has been carried out.

What Future?

In an article recently published in Courrier International, Yegor Gaidar envisaged "three scenarios for the future". Gaidar, who recently returned to the position of Prime Minister and is presented by the Western media as the most complete prototype of a pro-capitalist politician, does not rule out any possibility for Russia's future development. He does not even rule out "the return to a socialist model of organizing of society". The fact that he envisages this possibility, even if he does not think it is the most probable, is of course partly a threat aimed at blackmailing the West.

His personal preference is for the third possibility: "Russia is going through a transition to a modest market economy with abundant natural resources and an inexpensive workforce. This is an optimistic scenario, but one which requires a stable political situation".

He himself is not very optimistic, and his forecast tends towards what he calls a "national socialist evolution", with "low private investment and a wide range of incomes", and with the predominance and "generalized control" of the state.

Gaidar, of course, does not know any more than anyone else what the future holds in store. But his opinion reflects a state of mind in the bureaucracy. It reflects above all the fact that the outcome is undecided in Russia. Neither of the previously mentioned alternatives suggested by Trotsky has been fully realized.

When he outlined this question in 1938, in the "Transitional Program", Trotsky believed that the answer would come quickly with the upcoming war. This was not the case. It was not until fifty years later, at the end of the 1980s, that the bureaucracy's political leaders began to speak openly of "overthrowing the new forms of property" and "leading the country back to capitalism". But even now that this step has been taken, important as it is, things are not moving very fast. The crisis of power itself – and above all the break-up of the Soviet Union – has led to a disastrous decline in production. All the fundamental tendencies of the bureaucracy, previously curbed by a dictatorial central power and disguised in pseudo-communist phraseology, are now coming out into the open. At the same time, however, bureaucratic anarchy itself is working against the rapid re-establishment of private ownership of the means of production and the restoration of capitalism.

The victory of the counter-revolution may require a return to a strong state apparatus and a strong army.

Nobody can predict today how this might come about. But neither can anyone be certain that the present unstable situation will not lead to an ever increasing "Balkanization" of the former Soviet Union, the pieces of which would be transformed into so many "banana republics" of the type seen in Africa or Latin America. Such a future is not the most improbable, and it is even perhaps more probable than the re-establishment of strong central control, given the current division and irresponsibility of the bureaucracy.

It is even more impossible to predict whether the working class will be able to intervene on the political stage, and even more impossible still to predict whether it might be able to impose the other political alternative envisaged by Trotsky. For the moment, the working class is taking blow after blow. Its standard of living – especially that of its most vulnerable sections, pensioners and so on – is collapsing by the month because of runaway inflation. It is currently being deprived of all the social benefits, access to education, health, etc., which the bureaucracy had not dared deprive it of in the past. At the same time, workers can see a new breed of sharks flaunting their wealth unashamedly. They can see former "communist" bureaucrats, who previously muzzled them in the name of the march towards communism, who are now singing the praises of capitalism and getting rich through shady dealings. They can see that they are the ones who are paying the price not only for the social differentiation currently taking place, which, in itself, might not be much more costly than providing for the bureaucracy, but also for the disastrous collapse of the former Soviet Union.

Will all this lead to a social explosion? Will there be enough time for a political tendency to emerge within the working class, which proposes that the working class use revolutionary methods to oppose the restoration of private property and capitalism, at the same time ridding itself of the bureaucracy? Will the working class be able to set up a state-run, planned economy, but one free of the bureaucrats, before the bureaucrats have stolen and dismantled everything?

There is still no answer to these questions, other than the confidence we have in the revolutionary role of the world proletariat.