The Road to Market Stalinism

By Mandel, David | Canadian Dimension, November-December 1990 | Go to article overview

The Road to Market Stalinism


Mandel, David, Canadian Dimension


THE ROAD TO MARKET STALINISM

The storm of protest provoked last May by the government's "Program of Accelerated Transition to the Regulated Market" came from two sources. The liberals were upset that the program was too gradual and timid. They want a bold, swift transition to capitalism and cast admiring glances at the decisive policies of restoration in Poland and Hungary.

The population at large, on the other hand, was worried by the effects of the reform, most immediately the price rises, on their living standards and by the spectre of mass unemployment. As one commentator put it, the government was wrong to propagandize only the positive side of the market, its efficiency, while failing to prepare the people for the market's 'extremely cruel' side.

But people were also angered by the secretive, undemocratic nature of a reform process that aims to fundamentally transform their society. The following are excerpts from telegrams sent by worker collectives to the Russisn trade union federation in response to the May reform program: "We demand a referendum and the publication of alternative reform conceptions."

"People do no know what a regulated market is. There is little information. The toilers of our enterprise demand a national discussion of this question."

"The immediate publication of alternative, less painful alternatives for the transition to the regulated market is necessary."

"We must put an end, once and for all, to secrecy and incomplete information in discussing questions that are vital to people."

Responding to the popular reaction, the trade union leadership, while continuing to support the regime's basic reform orientation, retracted its initial endorsement of the new program and demand a national referendum on the reform. This idea had originally been floated by the government itself before it became aware of the intensity of the popular opposition. The liberals, for their part, rejected the idea out of hand. For example, N. Petrakov, personal advisor to Gorbachev on economic issues, even while recognizing the existence of deep popular 'prejudices' against the market, explained that "You can't ask people their opinion about things they don't know." No doubt Stalin failed to consult the peasants about collectivization out of similar considerations.

People not consulted

Opinion surveys show that, despite the elections and other political reforms that have occurred, three-quarters of the population do not feel any increase over the past two years in their ability to influence political life. This is especially true of workers, with the partial exception perhaps of the local soviets in the coal mining regions.

Workers constitute only a few per cent of the delegates elected to soviets at the various levels. This would not be so important if democratic workers' parties existed, with clear programs to which elected representatives who are not workers could be held accountable.

But this is not the case. Nor is there any functioning recall mechanism.

"At the end of 1989, we were told that it would be irresponsible to shift to the market in 1990," wrote a worker from Odessa. "Now, only a few months later, we learn the government is preparing to do just that. Why do the arbitraty methods of rule continue? Will there be real soviets of toilers?"

It is not surprising, therefore, that the support for referenda is very strong among the population. According to opinion surveys, three-quarters of the population want referenda on key questions of national and republican life and feel they are a necessary measure for further progress in democratization.

A reader of the trade union paper Trud writes: "The Supreme Soviet blocked passage of a law on referenda and thereby pushed people away from participation in the key issues of the reform. Yet just recently, the Supreme Soviet and the government assured the people that no important matters would be decided without their agreement. …

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