Marxists in the Soviet CP

February 18, 1991

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN is a lecturer in economics at Moscow State University and a central figure in the Marxist Platform tendency of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. At the CPSU's 28th Congress he was elected to the Central Committee. He was interviewed for Green Left Weekly by RENFREY CLARKE.

Question: How did the Marxist Platform come into existence?

In 1988 and 1989 a movement arose of Communists who considered that the dictatorship of the party apparatus and the fusion of the party leadership with the elite of the bureaucratic state apparatus were discrediting the party and acting as a break on perestroika. In the first months of 1990, the Democratic Platform tendency was formed within the Communist Party, and in April, the Marxist Platform.

Can you outline the social and political platform of your tendency?

In our view the administrative-command system has done a great deal to discredit the idea of socialism. But this doesn't mean that socialism can't be realised in the future, or even today. We stand for the renewal and dialectical development of the ideas of Marx and Lenin. We deny categorically that Stalinism in any of its varieties has the right to call itself Marxism.

1>We argue that a consistent realisation of all democratic rights is the first, absolutely indispensable condition for the development of the country along the socialist path. But this on its own is inadequate. We also need a system of effective self-management from top to bottom.0>

2>We call for a consistent struggle against any continuation of the power of the party-state bureaucracy and of the rising liberalism. All power should lie with the productive, territorial and other organs of self-management, with the Soviets of People's Deputies at their head.0>

In the economic field, we call for replacing bureaucratic state property with social property, resting on the self-management of workers' collectives, villages, cities and republics as real owners, independently deciding how to use their property and funds. We need the market, but only if real political and economic power belongs to workers and residents, not bureaucrats and "banditocrats". We say "no" to total privatisation, and we reject the rule over the economy by a market in labour and capital.

What forces support you? Who have you held discussions with?

In the main, our support has come from among skilled workers and rank-and-file intelligentsia, that is, engineers, technicians, teachers and doctors.

Last summer a split occurred in the Democratic Platform group. A part of its supporters declared that they would remain in the party to work for a consistent democratisation of the country and the party, and to ensure the development of the country along socialist lines. We work closely with these people.

We also have close links with the Socialist Party of the USSR, and we have had discussions with left social democrats on the one hand, and with the Marxist Workers Party and the democratic, anti-chauvinist wing of the United Front of Workers on the other.

We see one of our central tasks as supporting and conducting dialogue with the mass democratic movements which have already begun to defend the interests of workers — the Confederation of Labour, the Consumers' Federation, the Union of Strike Committees, workers' clubs and so on. We are working to form a left bloc that will include the Socialist Party, the Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists, the reform Communists from Democratic Platform, the Greens and the Marxist Platform itself.

Within the Communist Party agreement has been reached on united activity by the Democratic Movement of Communists. This is a bloc of small groups formed around the part of the Democratic Platform which stayed in the party.

What contacts have you had with rank-and-file workers, and what has been their response to your positions?

During 1990 I went on a number of study tours of industrial centres. I found that the workers were mistrustful of Communists, but their attitude isn't as uniform or straightforward as it might appear.

In May, for example, I addressed a meeting of representatives of strike committees in Novokuznetsk, and began by saying: "I'm a Communist; that's where I've stood and that's where I continue to stand." The hall let out a collective gasp, but after the seven minutes that were allowed me, they were applauding. I finished up getting a large number of contacts.

The point is that when you tell people concretely: a new dictator from among the old bureaucrats is sitting on your neck and is changing the old Brezhnevite forms of bureaucratic oppression to a form of oppression by shareholders that will lead to even harsher labour legislation; when you explain that neither [Moscow Mayor Gavriil] Popov, nor Yeltsin, nor [Leningrad Mayor Anatoly] Sobchak have any intention of abolishing the anti-strike laws; when you explain how these people are planning to overturn workers' self-management, offering in exchange a maximum of 10% of shares of the enterprises — when you do all this, then people start thinking and even begin to organising to defend their rights.

What is your assessment of the economic plans that have been adopted at the level of the Russian Republic and the USSR?

1>The history of these programs is extremely confused. First Gorbachev approved the 500-day plan in principle, then it was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Republic without the deputies even having a proper chance to read it — the vote was taken the day after the document was distributed. Then it was, in effect, rejected by Gorbachev, and a compromise variant, much less concrete, was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. Next two key authors of the 500-day plan, Shatalin and Yavlinsky, denounced it.0>

This confusion and indecision have occurred for some very good reasons. The first is that the economy which arose in the Soviet Union under conditions of bureaucratic deformation is quite unsuited to market relations. Secondly, the social base is totally unprepared for the introduction of the market. People aren't ready to live in the conditions of a market economy, and for the most part they don't want to. So this forced march to the market economy is creating grave social tensions.

What's going to happen? The crisis will become more acute. The "500 days" won't save us — on the contrary, it will create a still more explosive confrontational situation. Then the program of the Marxist Platform will become thoroughly realistic, as a means of dealing with our savage capitalism democratically, from below.

What is the current relationship of ideological and political forces in the CPSU? Where is the party headed?

The CPSU has never been a "party" in the strict sense of the word. It's a huge, complex bureaucratic structure, containing the most diverse types of people, who joined it with all sorts of motives. The great majority of members could be called conformists. There used to be a wing of social democrats, many of whom have now left the party.

There's a wing of neo-Stalinists who remain, or perhaps neo-Brezhnevist would be a better way of describing it. This movement is beginning to grow — there's a nutrient medium for it, since under Brezhnev people could buy meat, sausages, butter and sugar, and prices weren't fantastically high.

-1>There are people who embrace a mixture of social democratic and bureaucratic attitudes — these are the party apparatchiks, the party intellectuals, who are conducting dialogue with the liberals.0>

Finally, I believe that the party still contains several hundred thousand real communists, capable of defending the interests of the workers through fighting for consistent democracy.

The party is in a severe crisis. The majority of members stay in because leaving would mean having to make a choice between the various new movements, and it's unclear to these people how things are going to finish up.

What perspectives does Marxist Platform have for its work within the Communist Party?

Communists face a choice: either they use their knowledge, energy and unselfishness to prove to the people "down below" that the country's problems can be solved better with the Communists than without them, or else the party will finally disintegrate.

It is essential to liquidate the existing model of the Communist Party as the party of "barracks communism". The party must be freed from the inappropriate functions it fulfils in administering the country's economy. The party has to abandon its pretensions to being a direct governing body; these functions must be carried out only through Communists working in the soviets and in other state and social organs. We have to rid the party of thieves and swindlers. We have to decisively reject any privileges for members of the party and, in the first instance, for its leaders.

How real is the danger of dictatorship, and what forms might it take?

This isn't an immediate threat. The army isn't preparing to seize power, and there's no new Stalin after the blood of Soviet business entrepreneurs. Rather, what's occurring is a long-term, quiet, but deliberate preparation for introducing a harsh right-wing liberal regime of the Pinochet type.

2>Among our present "democratic" leaders there are people who would like to turn the screws. Gavriil Popov, for example, has published an article in Ogonyok calling for the introduction of "governors-general" — in effect, for police rule — and for suspending the system of soviets. Now many liberals are starting to observe that the preventive detention of criminals can be very useful, that the Communist Party is an organisation of criminals, and that all leftists are by definition akin to criminals.0>

People like Popov, in short, are paving the way for the real dictator who won't trouble with any of the niceties. n

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