The Party’s over
At the time of writing, the main document I shall discuss has not been published and has had only minimal exposure in the media anywhere. It circulates among at most two to three thousand members of the Soviet Communist Party nomenklatura and policy intelligentsia. It was not particularly difficult to acquire: it will certainly be in the hands of several Soviet journalists. But nothing of its content has appeared so far in the Soviet press, in spite of its fundamental importance to Soviet society – a testimony to the nervous respect (or aversion) it invokes.
It is a draft of the new programme of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. If adopted, and for the first time in nearly a century there is real doubt about such an adoption, it will be only the fourth document of the kind since 1903, when the Bolsheviks agreed their first programme at their Second Party Congress. In 1919, as the sole party, the Bolsheviks reworked a programme of revolutionary opposition into one of revolutionary power. In 1961, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union declared itself ready to build Communism through a third programme; and in 1986, a year after the access to power of Mikhail Gorbachev, a ‘New Edition’ was adopted at the 28th Party Congress which incorporated some new elements, including a softer international line and the idea of ‘self-financing’ for business enterprises.
Otherwise, the ‘New Edition’ – still, as of now, the official Party programme – is as rigidly correct as the slow-motion goosestep of the KGB guards on their way to and from guard duty at Lenin’s tomb in Red Square. ‘The third programme of the CPSU in its present updated edition,’ it says, ‘is a programme for the planned and all-round perfection of socialism, for Soviet society’s further advance to Communism through the country’s accelerated socio-economic development. It is a programme of the struggle for peace and social progress.’
The Stalin period was glossed over more or less completely, with a tiny genuflection to ‘deviations from the norm of Leninist Party and state guidance’, errors ‘of a subjectivist, voluntaristic nature’ and the ‘cult of personality’ (which ‘personality’ was not stated). In that period, it was understood, ‘a socialist society ... was essentially built’ in which ‘the alliance of the working class and the peasantry was placed on a solid socio-economic footing,’ ‘ethnic conflicts became a thing of the past’ and ‘Marxist-Leninist ideology became dominant in the minds of the Soviet people.’ ‘History,’ the document said, ‘has not known such a community of countries in which no one country has or can have special rights and privileges.’
By contrast, ‘the general crisis of capitalism is deepening ... its historical doom is becoming ever more obvious ... mass unemployment and inflation have become a chronic disease, and budget deficits and state debts have reached a colossal scale.’ And so on, for a hundred-odd pages.
It is important to remember that the document was written by a commission under the leadership of Gorbachev, a man who, we now know, had based his own programme on an awareness that the doomed capitalist world was outstripping the world of which he was the leader in almost every sphere. He had read, and had already accepted intellectually, the reports of such economists as Abel Aganbegyan, whose studies were circulated only among academics and written in a kind of code: but that code said that the Soviet Union was failing.
The programme which the Party will put before the seventeen million-plus members of the CPSU in the next weeks or months is thus most revolutionary in not being revolutionary. In the five years which have passed since the ritual adoption of the ‘New Edition’, an intellectual and ideological world has collapsed. The Party’s Fourth Programme takes the Party to democracy and, probably, oblivion. On the model of those other Communist Parties which have renounced the leading role, the class struggle and the iron certainties of Marxism-Leninism, this is the end.