Editorial from the February 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
Before the end of 1989 few people had heard of the Rumanian town of Timisoara. Since then it has added its name to Tiananmen Square and the many other places where workers have been gunned down in their struggles for democracy; such blood has stained the streets of cities throughout the world. In Rumania the price was high and we salute the selfless courage and the sacrifice of men and women who put their lives on the line demanding freedoms which are vital to the interests of workers everywhere. There would be many political points on which Socialists would disagree with those who rose against their oppressors in Eastern Europe but we also acknowledge that they risked their lives trying to establish the conditions in which free trade unions and a genuine socialist movement could operate.
Since the second world war, the enforcement of political tyranny in Eastern Europe has cost the lives of incalculable numbers of workers and brought untold misery.
A further crime that has been perpetrated has been against the integrity of ideas in the claim that socialism exists in Russia and Eastern Europe. A distinction must always be made between the fraudulent claims of ideology and the real facts of productive relations. In Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe there is commodity-production, wage-labour and capital, the accumulation of capital through the exploitation of workers, the market, rent, interest and profit; that is to say, all the economic features of capitalist society, organised mainly through the state for the benefit of a privileged class. The wealth robbed from the workers and enjoyed by the Ceausescu family with its millions of pounds deposited in foreign accounts was only one example of the luxury lifestyle enjoyed by the rich in the state capitalist countries.
Despite these facts it has suited the propagandists of both East and West to describe those systems as socialist. The Russian rulers needed to cloak the reality of their vile system with an acceptable ideology and for Western propagandists, this gave them an ideal opportunity to discredit the name of socialism.
It was inevitable that the oppressive forms of state capitalism in Russia and Eastern Europe would degenerate into chronic inefficiency. It is impossible to allocate such vast resources to repression, to engender corruption, cynicism, low morale and outright lack of enthusiasm and at the same time expect to be well ahead in the world league of rates of productivity and industrial growth. However, it would be wrong to say that the pressures for changes have originated at the top. Leaders like Gorbachev have reacted to a situation created by Russian workers through their many forms of passive resistance including their unwillingness to apply themselves conscientiously at work.
In Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania despite the intimidation, the workers took courage into their hands, came onto the streets and openly defied their oppressors. What has been impressive has been the sophistication of the ways in which these workers have conducted themselves. By their nature these events could not be well planned in advance, the movements had little structure of organisation behind them, yet despite these disadvantages in every case except Rumania (which was not the fault of the workers) they managed to conduct themselves without great bloodshed in a dignified and self-controlled manner.
With greater freedom of movement and expression, for the first time in many years, the genuine voice of socialism can now be carried to those countries. When we see these oppressive structures collapsing, what is being demonstrated is the power and force of popular consciousness. So, when we say that a majority of socialists will be able to take over the state and establish a system of co-operation and direct production for human needs on the basis of common ownership, the workers’ ability to carry this through has been demonstrated in Eastern Europe over the past few weeks.
When we say that in recognition of their common interests throughout the world, workers can co-operate and act simultaneously in each country; that a socialist majority will be able to organise this great revolutionary change through a series of fast-moving events in a level-headed and self-controlled manner, the ability to achieve all these things has also been demonstrated by the working class in Eastern Europe.
These are the grounds on which Socialists can be greatly encouraged by recent events. Having seen these vile and despotic structures continue intact decade after decade, we might have been excused for thinking that they were so firmly in place that they would last for ever. In fact, they were so fundamentally weak that they collapsed overnight.
Having seen world capitalism stagger on decade after decade, similarly we could get the impression that it is so firmly entrenched that it will remain for ever. In fact, confronted by a socialist majority, the lesson is that it will prove so fundamentally weak that its abolition will be a mere formality causing it to dissolve into history.