August 21--A coalition of military officers, party officials and security forces has made an ill-fated attempt to halt the process of capitalist restoration in the USSR.
In their news conference and statements the emergency committee tried to assure the imperialist bourgeoisie that they only meant to restore order and proceed with the reforms instituted by Gorbachev. But the world capitalists immediately recognized it as an attempt to overthrow the governing group headed by Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.
Yeltsin is the president of the Russian Federation and the most outspoken reactionary leader of the bourgeois counterrevolution. He tried to mobilize mass support from the working class in order to shore up the narrow stratum of bourgeois elements in the USSR that is his base of support. Appearing before the world press, he called on the nearly 150 million workers in the USSR to go out on a general strike.
It soon became evident, however, that even though he had available to him not only the world capitalist media but his own radio station, which could reach every nook and corner of the Soviet Union, the strike call fizzled.
Workers stay put
All media accounts agree on this. Except for unspecified numbers of coal miners in Siberia and the Don Bass, the workers did not heed Yeltsin's strike call. Even in Moscow itself, Yeltsin's stronghold, all the factories were operating on Aug. 20 and 21, including the huge Zil auto plant and the Stolichnaya vodka distillery.
Moscow cab driver Nikolai Zavyanov told a Washington Post reporter: "About three-quarters of the drivers I've talked to at the stations and the airports said the coup is OK, so long as it gets some food on our plates." Even with the troop movements and demonstrations, Moscow has functioned normally from the beginning of the coup attempt until the present time. Reuter, the British news agency, remarked that the workers at the giant Tyumen oil field also ignored the strike call.
Despite unrelenting TV coverage here, there have been no interviews with striking Soviet workers, not even the coal miners.
Could it be that the workers didn't know about the strike? But the Yeltsin forces had access to their own radio station and were broadcasting unimpeded. Moreover, as Western officials have remarked with surprise, the move by the military was not accompanied by any attempt to cut communications in Moscow or elsewhere.
Failing to get any significant response from the working class, the Yeltsin counterrevolutionary forces, and more important the imperialist governments backing them, panicked.
Massive imperialist intervention
The imperialists moved in en masse to shore up the Gorbachev-Yeltsin regime. This proved decisive.
What followed was characterized by New York Times (Aug. 21) analyst Andrew Rosenthal as an attempt by the Bush administration "to influence Soviet politics more directly than anytime in the more than 70 years since American forces fought with the counterrevolutionary army against the Bolsheviks in the Russian civil war of 1918-19."
Bush, Prime Minister John Major of Britain, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and President Francois Mitterrand of France made frantic calls directly to Yeltsin to immediately shore up his pro-restorationist forces. At the same time, these capitalist governments shed crocodile tears about their lack of influence in the situation--for the benefit of the media.
Yeltsin sent his "foreign minister," Andrei Kozirev, to Brussels to meet with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who was there for an urgently called meeting of NATO, the military alliance of the U.S. and European imperialists. Kozirev had instructions to form a government in exile in the West if the military coup attempt succeeded.
Yeltsin also asked Thatcher, hated in Britain for her virulently anti-worker and anti-socialist policies, to head up an international committee to investigate what had happened to Mikhail Gorbachev. The emergency committee said Gorbachev had become ill while on vacation in the Crimea.
Bush promotes Yeltsin to national leader
The U.S. virtually broke off diplomatic relations with the Soviet government, instead dealing directly with Yeltsin. Bush quickly sent his newly appointed envoy, multi-millionaire Robert Strauss, to Moscow, but with instructions not to present his credentials to the Soviet authorities. One of Strauss' first acts was to meet with Yeltsin--thus promoting him to head of state in a slap in the face to the many republics outside Russia.
The foreign ministers of the 12 European Community imperialist nations, meeting in The Hague, cut off more than $1 billion in food credits and technical aid to the USSR. Japan said it would cut off all aid. The secretary general of NATO, Manfred Woerner, threatened to freeze planned military cutbacks in Europe. In the U.S., Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, architects of the Gulf war, rushed back to Washington from their vacations for an emergency meeting of the National Security Council.
All the time, the Bush administration and the other leading imperialists kept up a constant flow of contact with Yeltsin, shoring him up.
At first they hoped his appeal would bring about a Solidarity-style general strike of the Polish type. But after a day, Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, admitted on ABC-TV's Nightline (Aug. 20) that there was no response to Yeltsin's call. Brzezinski hinted that the imperialist media--especially Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the BBC and similar stations beamed to the USSR from Germany and France, should step up their propaganda. In another press statement, he also urged that the imperialists give Yeltsin "unambiguous, energetic political and moral support." (New York Times, Aug. 21) It was a clear call for intervention.
Private capital has made such extensive inroads into the Soviet Union in the perestroika years that the media here can now matter-of-factly report that Yeltsin is surrounded by "private security guards" and "private detectives" from agencies with names like Bells and Alex (New York Times, Aug. 21). They are equipped with automatic weapons, bulletproof vests, camouflage suits, gas masks and Molotov cocktails and are deployed throughout the "White House"--Yeltsin's headquarters.
We have maintained all along in these pages for several years now that the forces of the bourgeoisie in the USSR are a narrow stratum and cannot carry through a full-scale restoration of capitalism on their own. They cannot manage their own affairs on a capitalist basis. So even the imperialist bourgeoisie feared advancing them credits or loans without getting control over the economic and political institutions.
Yeltsin's failure to get the workers' support in the same manner as Lech Walesa was able to in Poland prompted the world imperialist bourgeoisie to move feverishly, intervening most aggressively in defense of Gorbachev and Yeltsin and restoring them to power. Without the imperialist intervention, the Gorbachev-Yeltsin coalition could not have prevailed.
Bonaparte, Blanqui, and Marx
The coalition of different elements from within the state apparatus that made up the emergency committee is what Marxists call a Bonapartist regime, one that straddles the class forces at a time of extreme crisis. The political leadership relied on the military and police to maintain order and stability. Until the coup attempt, they went along with Gorbachev. They were split between the bourgeois and socialist sectors in the USSR, with no definite program on how to get out of the crisis.
Their strategy in attempting a coup d'etat, however, were more reminiscent of Auguste Blanqui than Bonaparte.
Blanqui (1805-1881) was the organizer of a revolutionary secret society who was prominent in every revolutionary upheaval in France until his death. Blanqui relied upon the conspiracy of a small group against the reactionary ruling class, thinking that if they succeeded in carrying out a blow against the state, the masses would follow.
Karl Marx, while calling Blanqui a great revolutionary, criticized his tactics as futile, since they relied on small conspiracies of a select group of people who tried to substitute themselves for the masses. This often paralyzes the mass movement for, when it fails, the attack against the state is turned into an attack against the masses by the state.
As distinguished from Blanquism, Marxism sees that no small group can substitute itself for the masses. Marxism relies on the masses and therefore organizes the workers' party, which is the advance guard of the working class.
Answering critics who said that the Bolsheviks' plans for an insurrection were Blanquist, Lenin wrote in a letter to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party (Oct. 16-17, 1917) just before the party seized power in the October Revolution, "a military conspiracy is Blanquism if it is not organized by the party of a definite class, if its organizers have not reckoned with the political situation in general and the international situation in particular...."
How interesting that Lenin in his letter warned the party that they had not only to reckon with the political situation at home but the international situation in particular. At the time Lenin was writing, the imperialist bourgeoisie was virtually exhausted from the imperialist war. The situation was favorable for a mass insurrection. Nevertheless, Lenin took great pains to emphasize the particular significance that imperialist intervention would have for the fate of the revolution.
It was a serious blunder on the part of the emergency coalition to have in any way believed that the imperialist bourgeoisie would not almost instantaneously recognize their action as an attempt to overthrow the Gorbachev-Yeltsin coalition. No amount of reassurance that they would retain the so-called market economy and confine themselves to maintaining social order, fight crime, etc., could possibly have impressed the bankers and industrialists of Western imperialism, least of all the Pentagon. These vague assurances would only confuse the masses, not the bourgeoisie.
It is easy to level attacks against the emergency committee for the previous record some of them had of support for the Gorbachev program. Whatever mistakes they may have made in organization, timing and so on are of minor significance. Even Blanqui himself, who was a master tactician, made many errors.
What is of decisive significance in this case is not to have realized that a cold takeover of the state apparatus and deposing Gorbachev and Yeltsin would enrage the imperialist bourgeoisie. In the final analysis it would impel the bourgeoisie toward extreme adventurism, unless there was solid mass support for the coup from the beginning. This in turn means that the coup had to be carried out either simultaneously with or immediately following a mass insurrection.
A naked military move, without the awareness of the masses, without organizing and propagandizing for it openly in the way the Bolsheviks did, would leave them open for defeat.
Need for socialist program
After declaring their authority and moving troops into Moscow and other areas, the emergency committee did pledge to address some economic issues, for instance promising to set up brigades to bring in the harvest and construct much-needed housing. This would only be helpful, however, if they could mobilize the masses on a socialist basis. If not, they would have to straddle the fence between a market economy and the socialist sector, and would fare no better than the Gorbachev reforms, sliding further into capitalist restoration.
As it is, the failure of the attempted overturn has undoubtedly strengthened the restorationist forces. But it's by no means a definitive triumph. It's only one phase of a protracted struggle. The working class has not yet spoken out, let alone made its move.
The revolutionary class consciousness of the workers has not yet come to the surface, but it surely will. The economic chaos caused by dismantling the socialist sector will bring untold misery, particularly as it takes place in the midst of a worldwide capitalist crisis. The capitalists find themselves in the kind of impasse where they can scarcely avoid an economic catastrophe at home, let alone dish out huge amounts of cash to shore up a regime in the USSR that has to govern more than 290 million people.
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