USSR: a stolen victory
Once again, the abortive coup in the USSR demonstrates that undemocratic methods cannot serve the cause of socialism, or indeed the aspirations of ordinary people for a better life under any political system. The failed usurpers claimed to be acting in the name of socialism, but in fact they were merely defending their own privileged positions in a thoroughly corrupt system that is deservedly collapsing.
The tragedy of this collapse is that, to the present time at least, the old order appears to be giving way not to a better society but to a restoration of the inequalities and injustices of capitalism, and a very primitive and brutal capitalism at that. The fear and passivity resulting from decades of systematic crushing of independent political discussion and initiative under the old bureaucratic system have so far prevented the emergence of new political currents necessary to promote genuinely socialist political and economic aims. This is what has enabled the other main anti-democratic force in the USSR — the pro-capitalist politicians grouped around Boris Yeltsin — to steal the victory of the masses over the old guard, at least for the time being.
This situation is a result of the failure of the Gorbachev reform movement, after its great promise of the mid-'80s, to develop a consistently democratic platform that might have given it the mass base necessary to defeat both the Stalinist old guard and the capitalist restorationists and build a truly just society with an efficient, modern, environmentally sustainable economy.
The people of the Soviet Union demonstrated their potential power during the coup, coming into the streets and persuading the army not to fight. But instead of that power being harnessed to a political force that could genuinely act in their interests, it was coopted by the cynical politicians of the Yeltsin camp, who are popular at the present time mainly because they have hitherto lacked the power to carry out their program of self-enrichment.
Now the Yeltsin supporters and their counterparts in other republics seem to have achieved the freedom to press ahead and sell off the Soviet Union's resources to private interests and destroy the system of social guarantees which was one of the few positive aspects of the old order. It is unlikely their present popularity will last long once this program begins to threaten the welfare of millions of ordinary people.
It is equally unlikely that their democratic pretensions will survive the demise of their popularity. Indeed, they are already showing their true colours by launching a witch-hunt, not against the top bureaucrats who instigated the coup, but against the entire membership of the Communist Party. The banning of the activities of the Communist Party is likely to provide Yeltsin with a precedent when he is confronted in the future by working-class, leftist opposition.
Gorbachev aroused howls of outrage from the capitalist
media by reaffirming his commitment to communism and the Communist Party, though it is too early to say what this means in view of his subsequent resignation as party general secretary. For it to mean anything more than an attempt to use sections of the old bureaucracy as a base for political manoeuvre, Gorbachev would have to turn to the Soviet masses, to make a commitment to building genuinely democratic mass organs of political discussion and decision making, such as the original soviets were during the revolutionary events that brought down the old tsarist tyranny. This seems very unlikely, and the hope for positive developments in the USSR must now lie with the emergence of new political forces.