Political Revolution in the USSR - A Process of Contradiction
(Marxist Monthly Vol. 1, No 7, September 1988)
In its issue of June 18, the Guardian reported a press conference in Moscow which called for the ‘rehabilitation of Leon Trotsky and the publication of his writings’. The call came from Dr. Yuri Afanaseyev, a doctor of historical science and Rector of the Academy for the training of historical archivists.
Dr. Afanaseyev declared, ‘we must not stop the process of rehabilitation and judicial review at any level, or with any person. We have to rehabilitate all who were oppressed or wrongly accused, and as a matter of justice Leon Trotsky stands equally with all the victims of Stalin … On the question of Trotsky’s political rehabilitation, I think there will be a breakthrough in this direction. But it will depend on the deepening of perestroika in our historical sciences, and on the internal political struggle that is now underway in our party … I believe the works of Trotsky, and indeed of Stalin, and of Khrushchev, should be published and made accessible to all, to teachers and to students and citizens … It is very strange that professors and teachers try to criticise Trotsky when they have never read a word that he wrote. The same is still true of Bukharin, Kemenev and Zinoviev.’
Dr. Afanaseyev suggests that ‘We have to envisage a situation in the near future when their works will sit in the bookshops and libraries alongside contemporary archive material, available for all to read.’ After an attempt by the Moscow City Party Committee to prevent him from being a delegate to the 19th All Union Party Congress, he was adopted at its final meeting. He, together with the editor-in-chief of Moscow News, Igor Yakovlev, Vitaly Korotich, editor-in-chief of Ogonyok, Elim Kilmov, head of film production in the USSR, and Daniel Granin, a writer from Leningrad, are amongst the most vocal advocates of perestroika in the Soviet media.
Two weeks before Dr. Afanaseyev held the press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs he went to Leningrad to debate ‘Lenin’s Last Testament’ with a fellow historian. The debate was cancelled, and Afanaseyev was prompted to comment in Moscow News on May 26 that ‘evidently the Regional and City Party Committees are not interests in organising seminars at which different opinions are expressed. But different ideas should be the norm in the scientific community and in the cultural community in general.
He continues, commenting on his visit to Leningrad: ‘The next day, May28), I was standing in Lenin’s study at the Smolny Institute. The guide was explaining that the display had been expanded – with old photographs of past Central Committee members. That, I must say, is progress. I asked the guide, “do you know that Trotsky used to have his study in this room too?” There was a pause, followed by a reluctant “yes”. Why not tell the visitors that in room No. 67 where the sign Form Master is still over the door, Trotsky used to have his study – after the form master and before Lenin. The photograph of two soldiers standing guard at the door of the study is very well known. At that time it was Trotsky’s study.’
Afanaseyev then makes this remark: ‘Another addition to the exhibit in Lenin’s study at the Smolny was a colour photograph of Gorbachev. What principles of museum keeping were used here?’ Clearly, he is suggesting that so far as the Stalinist old guard in Leningrad are concerned, Gorbachev himself has become a museum piece.
Living in the Swamp of Eclecticism
Historical materialism in the process of continuous change conforms to objective law. We are constantly establishing a synthesis with a living historical process, which in turn, because it is living, contains analysis. Through such living analysis, the past is preserved as historical content. This union of analysis and synthesis supplies the impulse to start from the forms of the present which contains the historical content of the past. Dogmatists avoid the substance which can only emerge through the union of analysis and synthesis, and they present the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky through abstract references which immediately become transformed into lifeless dogma.
The 27th. Congress of the CPSU in April 1985 was a powerful renewal of the political revolution which began after the death of Stalin in 1953. It has been gathering momentum as a living contradictory process under the leadership of Gorbachev over the past three years. Perestroika and the struggle for Glasnost, (democratisation), are the ever changing forms which contain the historical content of the struggle of the International Committee of the Fourth International for the political revolution. The author and Vanessa Redgrave, have together not only been to the Soviet Union, but are politically acquainted with some of those who are in the leadership of the struggle against Stalinism and the continuous decomposition of the bureaucracy. When we have travelled to the Soviet Union, we have done so as Trotskyists.
It was only natural for the subjective idealists and renegades from Trotskyism to denounce us as Stalinists when the word got around through MI5 and MI6 that we had been to the Soviet Union on several occasions. Such anti-Soviet renegades are certainly not consciously agents of MI5 and MI6, but become its tools for spreading diversions, because they are subjective idealists and incapable of analysing history as a living process.. As incurable sceptics, they can never say ‘what is.’ They merely speculate on aspects of the political revolution whilst avoiding as long as they can the fact that it is the political revolution unfolding inside the USSR.
To them, Gorbachev is another Stalin, preparing to introduce capitalism as quickly as he can into the USSR. Then they encounter a formidable contradiction which drowns them further in the swamp of eclecticism. If Gorbachev is another Stalin, then how come Afanaseyev and others felt free to demand the publication of Trotsky’s writings? Certainly that was not possible under Stalin, whose jumble of historical lies and garbage called The Short History of the CPSU (B) has now been officially withdrawn from all Soviet educational establishments. It has been replaced instead by the release to public libraries of all the writings of Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kemenev, published in the Russian language, which for decades were stored away by Stalin and Brezhnev. A limited number were released under Khrushchev, but certainly nothing from the above named. Whatever differences the Trotskyist movement may have with Gorbachev this is indeed a giant step forward in the development of the living process of the political revolution.
We start from the reality of today, in which is contained the historical content, and not from the past, turned into historical dogma. In the June 20 1988 issue of Newsline we read:-
‘The Trotskyist movement unreservedly supports the call of YuriAfanaseyev, the rector of the USSR State Archives Institute for the rehabilitation of Leon Trotsky and the publication of his works in the Soviet Union.’
Afanaseyev called also for the works of Stalin, Khrushchev and the Old Bolsheviks to be published. Why separate Trotsky from the ‘Old Guard’ of Lenin’s Party in 1917? It is a repudiation of the objective historical method of Trotsky himself, as anyone can see from reading his basic works, especially The History of the Russian Revolution. Historical materialism as a science is ‘a whole cloth’ which cannot be chopped up into Marx pieces, Engels pieces, Lenin pieces and Trotsky pieces. This is the road to dogma and can only lead to the blind alley of subjective idealism, as we shall see. The News Line Editorial of June 20 continues:-
‘Afanaseyev has for some time been the custodian of the State Archives and thus has been able to study the works of Trotsky. This right has been denied to every other Soviet citizen outside the top leadership clique of the CPSU and the top echelons of the KGB.’
The historical facts are almost the exact opposite. Until the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution the institute for training historical archivists had only Trotsky’s Lessons of October published in Russian in its possession. By April 1988 all the works of Trotsky and Lenin’s Old Guard, published in Russian, were available for all citizens in the public libraries. The editorial continues:-
‘Leon Trotsky, the co-leader of the Russian Revolution and founder of the Red Army and Navy is today in the USSR, still vilified as the leader of world counter-revolution and an agent of Hitler.’
Such examples of subjective idealism are forms of political lunacy. Having travelled to the Soviet Union twice in six months with cases full of Trotskyist literature, we were not searched once and had no difficulty in finding readers for what we brought into the USSR. On the contrary, our difficulties started when we returned to Britain, with the MI5 disguised as British customs officials. We did not meet a single Soviet Communist Party member who believed in and who did not oppose the Moscow trials.
Just read Moscow News for June 27, a leading full page article entitled The Poisonous Mist Disperses: ‘Trotsky and the other oppositionists were accused of trying to overthrow Stalin and to that end conspiring with Nazi Germany and militarist Japan, which they planned to pay with Soviet territories. Therefore anyone who was against Stalin was a Trotskyite, ie, an enemy of the people.’ Moscow News quotes two further examples of the frame-up system at the trials:-
‘Goltzman, a defendant at the Zinoviev and Kamenev trial, declared that he had gotten instructions from Lev Sedov, Trotsky’s son, at the Bristol Hotel in Copenhagen. The Danish newspapers pointed out that the Bristol Hotel had been pulled down in 1917 … At the 1937 trial Pyatakov “confessed” that in December 1935 he met illegally with Trotsky in Norway. He had flown to Oslo from Berlin in a special plane provided by the Nazis. The Norway papers wrote that not a single plane from Berlin landed at Oslo that entire winter.’
Those Trotskyists, including this author of this article, who hammered home these points, night after night, in bitter struggle against the British Stalinists, know that they came from the booklet Behind the Moscow Trials, published by the American Trotskyists in those days. Those who denounce us as Stalinists today because we insist on participating in the process of the political revolution inside the USSR would not be around today if we had not waged an all-out struggle against Stalin’s frame-up trials in those pre-World War II days.
On June 20 the editors of News Line wrote:- ‘Afanaseyev is a leading supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev and his right turn inside the Soviet Union and internationally towards capitalism and imperialism.’ Previously, on April 7 the same authors wrote:- ‘The right wing of the bureaucracy are using any support for Stalin, who was well to the left of Gorbachev and his ilk, as a means of beating the opposition.’ (Our emphasis). This eclectic juxtaposing of self-created abstract images to reality is now complete. Its, [News Line’s – Ed.], ‘unreserved support’ for Afanaseyev ‘for the rehabilitation of Leon Trotsky and the publication of his works in the Soviet Union’ is politically cancelled out as a self-created image. It is replaced by another self-created image – that since Afanaseyev supports Gorbachev, who is well to the right of Stalin, he wants Trotsky rehabilitated to prove how far he is to the right of Stalin.
Eclectics replace the union of analysis and synthesis by substituting posing their own self-created images for analysis which they then synthetically impose on the phenomena manifesting the infinite motion of the external world. They separate analysis from synthesis and re-write history in accordance with their own subjective idealist requirements. For them, the living process of the political revolution in the Soviet Union is walled off by the sensations of their own self-created images. Since the starting point for materialist dialectics must be the political revolution unfolding independently of us, the eclectical method rejects in practice the concepts of substance and contradiction. Since Afanaseyev calls for the rehabilitation of Leon Trotsky and the publication of all his books and writings, together with those outstanding leaders of the Bolshevik Party who were framed by Stalin in the Moscow Trials, the ‘editors’ have an insoluble physical contradiction to deal with. They resolve this contradiction by simply ignoring it.
Phenomena Arising From the Political Revolution
Yuri Afanaseyev , in his early fifties, according to an interview with the Spanish daily El Pais, Saturday November 14, 1987, was nominated to his post of rector by Gorbachev when he became General Secretary of the CPSU in 1985. In the interview, he insisted that ‘Science cannot be developed without pluralism’, and that ‘de-Stalinisation is irreversible.’
The El Pais correspondent, K.S. Karol posed the following questions to Afanaseyev:-
Q: Yuri Afanaseyev, since you have begun the battle for the publication of the archives and the renewal of historical studies, you are one of the most popular men in the city of Moscow. You have appeared on television, you are being invited everywhere to give conferences. How do you explain this? From whence comes the interest in the USSR, in the themes that you have revived?
A: Sometimes we encounter those who detract or slander us, but the discussions are developing well, in a democratic manner. As for the interest in history, it is completely understandable; we are in the phase of great structural changes, of perestroika, and it is necessary for us to understand when, how and why the structures were created which must now be changed. In understanding the past we can determine precisely that which must be restructured.
Q: Is it essential to open the archives in order to understand the past?
A: Without any doubt. I will give you a surprising example of this. We have celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the October Revolution, which began with the battles of the Soviets of the workers, peasants and soldiers of St. Petersburg. All the same, the minutes of the assemblies of these Soviets have not been published. They are under lock and key, because the Soviet of St. Petersburg, until August 1917, was headed by Mensheviks and later by Trotsky. (Our emphasis)
Q: However, the name of Trotsky is now appearing here and there …
A: These kinds of references, which are semi-clandestine, do not resolve anything and they are also accompanied by purely Stalinist explanations. Obviously, people no longer say that he was an agent of Russian imperialism, but basically the judgment is just as negative as it was in the past. As far as I am concerned, I do not understand why today there is more to fear about telling the whole truth about Trotsky than there is about the other protagonists of the revolution. Our history has been made a wasteland by falsifications, and the opening up of the archives will make it possible to repopulate this desert and give back its real value.
Q: Are you asserting a claim for historians to have the exclusive right to interpret history?
A: Not exclusive, but rather free and contradictory. I am an historian who is favourable to an investigation on a multi-disciplinary level and I am convinced that science cannot develop without pluralism. We have already suffered so many obstacles and we were so confined for three generations to isolation! (Our emphasis)
What Trotskyist could possibly disagree with this explanation? To do so would be to abandon the development of historical materialism and materialist dialectics as sciences. Afanaseyev is for the publication of all the history books, whether he agrees with them or not, in the interest of historical science. Let us return again to the News Line editorial of June 20 and see how the authors stagger from one image to the next without establishing a synthesis with their external source, which in turn contains the impulse for analysis.
‘He, (Afanaseyev), made it perfectly clear at his Moscow press conference that he is not a political supporter of Leon Trotsky. He considers that the works of all the Bolshevik leaders and Stalin should be produced and indeed said that all authors including Solzhenitzyn, who supports Tzarism, should be published.’
How can any Trotskyist be in disagreement with this? Do we support Thatcher’s ban on MI5 agent Peter Wright’s book? Especially since it told us so much on how the split in the WRP was organised? We are in principle against book burning, (the Nazis did in in 1933), and book banning. Bourgeois ideology is dragging our ex-comrades along the dangerous road of capitulation to Bonapartism itself.
It would be the greatest mistake to tie the process of the political revolution to either the statements of Gorbachev or Afanaseyev as individual leaders. We must study the historical sources behind what they are saying as a highly contradictory process. The Soviet Union presently numbers 24 per cent of the intelligentsia of the entire world. It is no longer a predominantly illiterate peasant population as in the period following the October Revolution. We have the utmost revolutionary confidence in the rising Soviet intelligentsia to arrive at the most revolutionary conclusions from the writings of Leon Trotsky. Through tireless discussion and debate the theory will emerge to guide their practice within the concept of world revolution. Those of us who have fought for the teachings of Leon Trotsky since our expulsion from the Communist Party in the late 1930’s have the utmost confidence in the land of the generations of October. It will be led by those who will have become more and more conscious that October 1917 was the beginning of the World October.
The editorial in the News Line of June 20 is written by subjective idealists within a swamp of eclectically counter-posed self-created images. Towards the end of the editorial they wag their fingers at us and yell: ‘We therefore support Afanaseyev’s call, but we are not going down their political road.’ It is, we repeat, neither Afanaseyev’s nor Gorbachev’s road, but the contradictory process of the political revolution itself. Because this is an objective process existing independently of thought, both Afanaseyev and Gorbachev have, together with others, inseparable from the Soviet masses, opened up the road to the point at which ‘there is no turning back because there is no place to go.’
But to lump Afanaseyev and Gorbachev together in the field of eclectically counter-posed images is the usual round of dreary impressionism from the ‘swamp creatures’. To a question posed to Afanaseyev by the Sunday edition of the Catalan newspaper Avui of December 13, 1987, ‘How do you evaluate the Boris Yeltsin affair?’ Afanaseyev replied: ‘It was a very important event which has given us mush reason for reflection. It was a rather sad case, worthy of lament. Personally, I do not know Yeltsin, but what I know of him has inspired a deep respect. I believe that we must think and reflect deeply on what has taken place. How is it that a person who personifies perestroika has finished his career in such a shameful manner?’ Gorbachev, on the other hand, supported the expulsion of Yeltsin from being secretary of the Moscow Committee of the CPSU.
Three days before Gorbachev made his report to the end of July 1988 plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Afanaseyev published an open letter to Pravda in which he wrote: ‘I do not believe ours is a socialist society, nor do I believe that we can restrict ourselves to speaking of deformations of Soviet socialism … We need deep structural reforms, otherwise we will be capable of putting into practice only partial measures, which could lead to the crash of Perestroika, our last historic endeavour to escape from this terrible blind alley.’
‘I look around myself’, writes Afanaseyev, ‘and when I see that after 70 years of movement towards socialism we have rationed food products, and in the Russian countryside millions of people are reduced to dreaming about sausage substitutes, I think it is shameful to talk about deformations , (our emphasis), which have been produced in the course of a road which is nonetheless glorious …Henceforth it is necessary’, writes Afanaseyev in an implicit criticism of Gorbachev, ‘to take decisions which are strictly observed as clear, so that people actually feel the results of perestroika, whether in the economic sphere, or in the relations between nationalities.’
Speaking about the right-wing bureaucrats in the Kremlin, he proposes that ‘if they were forced to go into retirement, this would not be a return to the Stalinist system, seeing that being pensioned off is something considerably different from a labour camp, or being shot, and it is completely compatible with democratisation and a normal political struggle.’
Whilst Afanaseyev supports Gorbachev in an all-out struggle for perestroika and glasnost, he is critical of the General Secretary if the process slows down.
Opposition to the Political Revolution
Since March of this year, from the time when Nina Andreyeva’s letter supporting Stalin appeared in Sovetskaya Rossiya, it is clear that within the CPSU there are two parties whose political boundaries at times overlap. There is the right-centrist group of Yegor Ligachev, and the left-centrist group led by Gorbachev. Both agree on perestroika, but with a much different emphasis. Ligachev favours Moderate restructuring which will not greatly disturb the all-powerful bureaucracy. Gorbachev and his left supporters want to slash the bureaucracy’s grip both in industry and the countryside by returning ‘all power to the Soviets’, and shifting it away from the Party.
The Nina Andreyeva letter was written together with the chief editor of Sovetskaya Rossiya Velentin Chikin, and a member of his staff, Vladimir Denisov, who was its correspondent in Tomsk between 1978 and 1982. Sergei Manyakin, the promoter of Andreyeva’s article, was Ligachev’s opposite number in neighbouring Omsk. The Leningrad region chief and Politburo candidate member Yuri Solovyov was the centre of the conspiracy, closely supported by Lev Zaikov, a former Leningrad chief, now a Politburo member and on the Central Committee secretariat, and the man who replaced Yeltsin as First Secretary of the Moscow Committee of the CPSU. Ligachev’s paper is Sovetskaya Rossiya, whilst his closest allies on the Politburo are Mikhail Solomentsev, formally from Leningrad, Gromykov, and KGB chief Chebrikov. The letter was intended as a form of political blackmail to slow down Gorbachev and his supporters prior to the 19th Party Congress.
Ligachev enjoys full support from the Leningrad Party organisation, described by Afanaseyev as being dominated by the ‘heavy Zhdanov-Romanov heritage, and the city’s firm reputation for being “more rightist than Moscow”’ (Moscow News June 26, 1988). The answer to Afanaseyev’s query as to why Trotsky’s study was not mentioned by the guide at Smolny came from Leningrad. In Moscow News of July10, Alexander Degtyarev replied to Afanaseyev as follows:
‘Now the last point. At Smolny there is no memorial study of Trotsky which, as I understand, you are advocating. There is also no memorial study of Stalin, who also worked there, nor Zhdanov, who spent 12 years at Smolny. And there isn’t going to be any of the three studies either.’
Much depends on the struggle between the Gorbachev and Ligachev trends. No Trotskyist can be neutral in this decisive stage of the political revolution in the USSR. We must critically support the Gorbachev wing in so far as they open the doors to the publication of Trotsky’s writings and those of Lenin’s ‘Old Guard’, together with all the archive material. The most fundamental difference between the Khrushchev and Gorbachev eras lies in the fact that thirty years on, the world economic and political crisis has intensified enormously during that period. Both the political revolution in the USSR and the global crisis of capitalism have a relation of causality with each other. This process favours the Gorbachev wing. On the political side, not only are the crimes of Stalin against Trotsky and Trotskyists being exposed, but the totality of historical crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy against the world working class. Starting with Togliatti in Italy, the Institute of Marxism Leninism in the USSR is preparing to publish the archives of the Third International under Stalin’s control.
Afanaseyev speaks about some of the problems in relation to the publication of the archives in the Soviet Union: ‘Back in Moscow, (May 28), I attended the conference of the Chief archives administration department to mark the 70th Anniversary of Lenin’s decree on archives. It was a gala show’, he remarks sarcastically, ‘the CAA report didn’t mention a single problem or the disturbing situation with our social memory. Why? The archives are as inaccessible as they were before; they have turned into a branch of the bureaucratic system and have only a selective memory. Certain departments – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the State Committee for Statistics – establish their own rules of access to archives, and this also damages the archive work’. (Moscow News, June 26).
Now that decisions have been taken to open the archives of the Third International, this must speed the way to all the archives being opened in the Soviet Union. The future of the political revolution depends upon this. We have every confidence that in this situation the writings of Leon Trotsky will be verified in all their completeness in this historical test.