By Peter Annear
BUDAPEST — "If the coup had not happened, Boris Yeltsin would have had to invent it", according to prominent Hungarian Sovietologist Tamas Krausz. In an interview with Green Left Weekly, Krausz also pointed to what he considers striking parallels between Soviet developments in the wake of the coup and the collapse of Communism in Hungary in 1989.
"How was it that Yeltsin, who was the US's man in the days of the putsch, was permitted to speak with the leaders of the Western world, including Bush?
"I can imagine that every section of the old power elite, including Yeltsin, was involved in the coup. After the first day, when it was clear the coup leaders didn't want to kill anybody and in Moscow Yeltsin used the radio and television to organise strikes against the coup, even US President George Bush understood the real situation."
In one sense, the attempted coup was a real turning point because it finally established that the energy of the Communist "state-party system" was exhausted and could not be restored. The Communist Party had already fractured into several different parts, and the leaders themselves decided to destroy the party. This was the main purpose of the coup, said Krausz.
But, he said, the coup grew out of the conflict between competing parts of the power elite and as such was a symbolic, not an organic, turning point in Soviet developments.
One section of the power elite felt particularly threatened. At the recent G7 meeting in London, attended by Mikhail Gorbachev, Western leaders indicated their support for the Soviet president would continue only if he threw his weight behind the USSR's radical "democrats". After that, the conservatives in the apparatus and the central organisations — the party, the government, the state, the KGB and the military forces — understood that their power base would be destroyed.
Under the cover of talk about "democracy", Yeltsin and Gorbachev have employed their own authoritarian methods in response to the coup. Krausz is scathing about the "so-called Soviet constitutional parliamentarianism", which allowed Yeltsin to appoint himself leader of the Soviet army during the crisis. He said you can see the real future of the USSR in this fact.
"The state power, or party power, is quite independent of the rest of Soviet society, and political questions are decided without real popular participation. That is why big masses were not
involved during the events of the coup, nor after it."
Another reason for the limited popular response was disillusion with the results of the reform process that Gorbachev personified. "For six years Gorbachev spoke every day about freedom, and people began to hate this 'democracy and freedom' because they could sense only unemployment, poverty, empty shops, and the lingering effects of the old economic system."
Now Gorbachev's time has passed, and he maintains importance only as a sign of continuity. "This is the end of an old card game", said Krausz, "though we cannot yet see who the new dealer will be".
Despite the greater prominence Boris Yeltsin gained as a result of the coup, he also has a limited tenure and does not represent the end product of developments which are now unfolding.
Yeltsin seeks to unite traditional Russian nationalism with a Western type of market economy, "but there are no such economic roots in the Russian tradition". The traditional structures are characterised by a "romantic, messianic, conservative, anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist Russian nationalism" which cannot be united with neo-liberal sentiments from New York or Washington.
While Gorbachev's original intention was a "socialist" reform program, from 1985 to 1989 he could not achieve the promised economic self-government of the enterprises or workers' control of the factories. Then, seeing the historic changes in Eastern Europe, the government thought it could adopt similar market-based reforms, but under Communist leadership.
It was a totally contradictory approach because it is not possible for a state-party apparatus to accomplish the IMF program. That requires a new, capitalist structure, the elements of which cannot be located in the USSR.
"Gorbachev has been a very good tactician without any real strategy", Krausz concludes. "After 1989 he split with the 'socialist' alternative: he didn't want to support the miners; he didn't want to use the workers' protests against the bureaucracy; he didn't want to create a real communist party from the state-party.
"He decided then to be a politician only of the ruling elites. That is why he could not get any real mass support, neither in the party nor in society. He has been a very unpopular leader for a long time, and the defeat of this coup will not help him."
In common with the Hungarian experience, the Soviet party leadership prepared the way for its own demise. In effect, the power of the Communist Party was destroyed two years ago when the
so-called reform Communists prepared the way for the "liberals" and the "democratic forces". These so-called democratic forces then prepared the way for the new authoritarian turn to a nationalist, "state-capitalist" dictatorship.
Gorbachev could be the former Hungarian Communist party political reformer Imre Pozsgay, who maintained his belief in "socialism", says Krausz, and Boris Yeltsin could be Karoly Grosz, who promoted Hungary's IMF-linked economic reforms. The difference is, unlike Grosz, Yeltsin understood he had to split with the Communist Party before it collapsed.
After 1989 the Western nations also thought they could help destroy the old Soviet structures in the "Hungarian way". There are several close parallels:
- The Soviet leaders believe the IMF and other Western institutions have a recipe for the solution of Soviet and east European economic problems.
- There is the same monomania for privatisation.
- Despite the big differences between the Hungarian Democratic Front and the Democratic Russia organisation, the bureaucratic-nationalist root is the same, and this is evident everywhere in eastern Europe.
- The leaders have destroyed the party over the heads of the membership.
Further political and economic disintegration and the increased threat of conflict are the likely outcome of the failed coup. A carefully timed and controlled disintegration of the USSR along national lines would benefit Western economic interests by allowing them to focus on specific regions. The result could be the Latin Americanisation of economic relationships with the Western powers, creating dependent though not formally colonial relations.
The Yugoslav experience shows that the various regional power elites can survive by riding the wave of nationalism, and there is also a very big danger in the USSR that the different regional elites will set the small nationalities against each other. The seeds of civil war could already be seen before the coup in Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Baltics, for example.
Peoples of the small nations are buoyed by the new spirit of nationalism, but they will discover in one or two years that it cannot solve their economic problems. Lithuanian leader Vytautas Landsbergis, for example, doesn't understand the real economic problems. The Baltic states will be the first to achieve political independence, but where will they find a market for their huge electronics industries other than in the USSR?
"I cannot imagine a solution without a new Union agreement of some sort", said Krausz, "firstly because the national minorities are in every republic. For example, 70 million Russians live outside the Russian Federation. Secondly, the Union economic structure is very strong and very deep. Thirdly, the military factor is very significant. The sudden appearance of four new nuclear powers [Byelorussia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Russia] would be unacceptable."