Friday, September 7, 2018

Secret admiration

Boris Pugo

"From October to August" by Jack Conrad is a book published in 1992 by a left-wing radical group in Britain with the somewhat long-winding name Provisional Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Friend and foe alike called them The Leninist, after their magazine. I'm not familiar with the group's present positions, provisional or otherwise.

Back in 1992, The Leninist espoused a curious brand of Communist politics (apparently inspired by a group in Turkey) which sounded like a blend of Trotskyism and Stalinism, two ideologies that are usually seen as incompatible. Of course, they didn't quite put it that way, but the eclectic character of their line is clearly visible in Conrad's book. Since The Leninist emerged out of Stalinism, their movement in a "Trotskyite" direction would have been considered high treason by more classical Stalinists. However, at least in 1992, I don't think the hard-liners needed to worry. When push came to shove, The Leninist took classically "Stalinist" positions, despite their criticism of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bureaucracy.

Without acknowledgement, Conrad has borrowed (or stolen?) many ideas typical of Trotskyism. He believes that a privileged bureaucracy took power in the Soviet Union after Lenin's death, and seems to believe that *all* socialist countries were run by bureaucratic castes. There is criticism in the book of Stalin's purges and ethnic cleansing operations. "Official" Communism under Brezhnev is said to be a "secret Joseph Stalin admiration society". In the later articles, Conrad even calls for the overthrow of the Soviet nomenklatura through a "political revolution", surely a term taken from Trotsky. Conrad has also taken over one of the weaknesses of Trotskyism: the idea that the Soviet Union, despite its bureaucratic deformations, is in some "objective" sense still historically progressive, since industry and trade has been nationalized. Despite this, most Trotskyists nevertheless supported protests against the official Communist regimes, seeing such resistance as a precursor to a "political revolution". Thus, most Trotskyists supported the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the Prague spring in 1968, Polish Solidarnosc in 1980-81, and the democracy protests all over East Europe in 1989-91.

The Leninist, alas, did not. When the going got tough, these brave critics of the Stalin Admiration Society fell in line behind the Soviet Armed Forces, General Jaruzelski and even Romanian strongman Ceausescu. Thus, The Leninist *opposed* all really existing protests against the privileged bureaucracy of the Soviet Union et al. Even the frank call for a political revolution turns out to be bogus on closer inspection: it's only directed against Gorbachev's administration, which The Leninist accused of selling socialism down the river. But what about Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev or Andropov? It seems the political revolution is only directed against the reformers, never the hard-liners! True, The Leninist didn't support the hard-liner's coup against Gorbachev in 1991, but mostly because they realized that the coup was going to fail anyway. Presumably, a *successful* coup á la Jaruzelski might have been something else again...

Since The Leninist presumably believes that real change comes from the working class, why did they support the bureaucratic castes against the workers? Apparently, the workers "lacked a revolutionary vanguard", making capitalist counter-revolution inevitable in the event of a defeat for the bureaucracy. But where is the "revolutionary vanguard" supposed to come from, if not from the workers protesting bureaucratic privilege? To this, The Leninist has no answer. In the aftermath of the failed August coup in Moscow, The Leninist expressed the hope that genuine Communists might finally purge the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) of bureaucrats, careerists and opportunists. But the CPSU was not a "working-class" party in any meaningful sense - it was the organization precisely of the bureaucrats and careerists. Thus, what The Leninist really wishes for is the self-reform of one section of the bureaucracy in a "revolutionary" direction. This program, applied by some Trotskyists or ex-Trotskyists to Cuba or Mao's China, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever in the Soviet bloc. Let alone Romania!

At its worst, Conrad's book contain paens such as this one: "For all his faults, his mistakes, his championing of bureaucratic socialism, nothing should be allowed to detract from the positive developments in the Soviet Union during the years when Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin led the USSR. (...) We proudly and unhesitatingly defend the forward march of socialism over which Stalin presided. Gorbachev uses Stalin's mistakes and yes, crimes, to slander and undermine his achievements and the achievements of socialism itself".

That's living socialism for you, right there.

"From October to August" could be seen as the Provisional Central Committee's attempt to move from Stalinism to Trotskyism. In the event, the attempt must be seen as a dismal failure. At heart, this particular group were at least candidate members of the "secret admiration society" they claimed to despise.

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