THE last bastion of communism in Europe has crumbled. Desperate last-ditch attempts to save it through a coup d’etat have only hastened its doom.

There was a time when the spectre of communism haunted Europe and now the spectre of Europe is haunting communism everywhere. Will the demise of communism in Europe affect the future of communism in Asia too? How long can China withstand the capitalist onslaught? How does it all affect the Indian communist movement? These and many other questions are haunting the minds of communists and Marxist academicians of our country and are becoming major questions of public debate.

Let us start with an analysis of the events in the Soviet Union. The setback for socialism in the country of the first successful proletarian revolution, in the country of great Lenin, is indeed a most shocking event for communists. For weak-hearted communists it may well provide grounds for dejection and desertion. But for the Marxist-Leninists it only reveals the protracted and highly complex nature of class struggle in the international arena — the struggle between socialism and capitalism.

There is no use blaming American designs or individuals like Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The essential point is that while capitalism overcame the setbacks after the Second World War and renewed itself, the socialist system at a certain stage of its development began failing to deliver the goods and stagnated. It was being rejected by the people themselves including the working class. The socialist chain was put under tremendous strain and it broke at the point where distortions were severest — first in East Europe and then in Soviet Russia.

To defend the socialist Soviet Union from imperialist aggression a huge nuclear arsenal was built up. Achieving military parity with the USA, and even surpassing it, had become the sole motto of the socialist state. In the process, the peculiar phenomenon of a hegemonic superpower built on socialist economic base had emerged. Ironically, when the crunch came, not even a single shot was fired and the Soviet Union’s transformation became a classical case of ‘peaceful evolution’. The mechanical transplantation of the basic contradiction between the two systems of imperialism and socialism into the principal contradiction, between two blocs in the present stage gave rise to the phenomenon of super leader, super party and superpower which definitely had its genesis in Stalin's period itself. As a natural corollary to those absurd ideas, the socialist bloc underwent a split as Mao refused to subscribe to this theory and China refused to accept Soviet domination. Militarisation of the Soviet economy left vital gaps in the sector of primary and essential commodities and people were fed with false statistics. Socialist democracy was given the go by, no dissidence of any sort was tolerated and, in return, people were served the illusions of ‘developed socialism’, ‘primary stage of communism'’ and of a superpower syndrome often reminiscent of the great Russian chauvinism. Under cover of all this, a communist party and a regime grew which was detached from the masses and was corrupt and degenerate.

The socialist economic base could not sustain this superpower structure for long and the Soviet Union was already sitting on a volcano by the middle of the ’80s. Gorbachev initiated reforms to salvage the situation, but it was already too late. His perestroika and glasnost brought far-reaching changes in Eastern Europe, kindled national aspirations within Soviet Union and unleashed a host of social forces within the Soviet society and soon a pole emerged around Yeltsin demanding full-fledged restoration of capitalism. Western powers got a fertile ground for meddling in Soviet Union's internal affairs. All the efforts of Gorbachev to tame the forces unleashed by himself proved futile and one after another he had to surrender his positions with the fond hope of striking a harmonious balance. Economic rejuvenation of the society remained a far cry and he had virtually to beg before the Western powers for assistance and in return offered them one political concession after another. As a net result, his own position went on weakening and that of Yeltsin grew stronger. With all the political and constitutional changes the communist party had already been pushed to the sidelines. With its old formation it became out of tune with the multi-party parliamentary democratic system. Gorbachev mooted the idea of a social-democratic party and opted for a new union treaty.

It was at this point of time that the much-discredited coup came. We don’t have with us all the facts to judge what really prompted the coup leaders to act and what went on behind the scene.

But to brand them as hardliners and conservatives is wrong. They were all Gorbachev’s handpicked men, the products and the mainstay of Gorbachev’s reforms. When the entire cabinet is found to betray the President, the more logical explanation seems to be that it was actually the President who betrayed the trust placed in him. They expected Gorbachev to halt at a point and use the emergency powers he himself had obtained to arrest the drift. They felt that the time had come but Gorbachev, becoming victim of his own creation, refused to oblige. The abrupt rupture left no other option but to seize power through a coup. The coup was destined to fail because Gorbachev was still the leader of pro-perestroika forces and the coup leaders remained a vacillating tiny and incoherent group from the very beginning. Yeltsin sensed the crack and stood in valiant defiance. The coup collapsed and masses flocked over towards Yeltsin, the hero. A dejected Gorbachev returned to find his social base eroding fast and he himself being forced to surrender vital positions to Yeltsin. A weakened central power accelerated the process of disintegration and the three Baltic republics have, for all practical purposes, separated from the Soviet Union. Yeltsin whipped up an anti-communist hysteria. After remaining for a few days virtually under the dictates of Yeltsin, Gorbachev has started making moves for his consol-idation vis-a-vis Yeltsin. His moves to disband the communist party are actually the preparation for launching a social democratic party as per his original scheme, now in a roundabout way. To be sure, major sections of the Communist Party will transform themselves into the Gorbachevian scheme. In the coming days it will be interesting to watch, how the cooperation and rivalry between the two representative personalities of the present Soviet society advance.

We do not know how the Marxist-Leninists of Russia will regroup themselves. We also don't know how the ‘hardliners’ and ‘conservatives’ are going to react and what sort of dramatic developments are still in the offing. But we do know that for the second edition of the November Revolution in Soviet Union we shall have to wait much longer.

In over a century, from France to Germany to Russia, the centre of the communist movement has decisively shifted to China now and of course, India will be the other country most keenly watched.

Now a few words of polemics. The CPI(M) theoretician Mr. Prakash Karat, citing our positive evaluation of the 28th Congress of the CPSU, accused us of turning totally pro-Gorbachev and pro-Russia from the totally anti-Soviet position of our earlier days. They take credit for criticising Gorbachev from the very beginning. Let facts speak for themselves. In the great debate we sided firmly with the CPC’s position and criticised the Khruschevite thesis. We never believed in the ‘equidistance theory’ and sided resolutely with Mao and China. We took Mao’s thought as our guideline, which in international relations opposed the thesis of a leading party, which put the Third World versus imperialism as the principal contradiction in the present day world, and which opposed the superpower hegemonic status of the Soviet Union. Not the metaphysics of Stalin but the dialectics of Mao, was our philosophical guide and it helped us to understand the existence of class struggle in a socialist society and also the danger of capitalist restoration. We did commit mistakes and sometimes went to the extremes but our basic premise has withstood the test of history. The CPI(M), on the other hand, ridiculed Mao’s philosophical thought, applauded the superpower status of Soviet Russia and backed to the hilt the Czechoslovak, Afghan and Kampuchean invasions. The CPI(M)’s basic premise has proved to be subjective despite some correct criticisms of this or that mistake.

We were the first to criticise the 2nd November speech of Gorbachev in the harshest of terms, in our Fourth Congress document in January 1988 itself. The CPI(M) opened its mouth much later — only after visits to Moscow. All along we have been severely critical of Gorbachev’s approach towards imperialism. Regarding Gorbachev’s ideas on class struggle etc., we termed him as nothing else but a sophisticated version of Khruschev. We welcomed Gorbachev's measures in dismantling the superpower status of Soviet Russia and bringing democratic reforms within a highly authoritarian system. If the CPI(M) still harbours illusions about the Brezhnevian model of socialism, it should not forget that the model had reached its saturation point and was bound to collapse. Gorbachev only acted as the catalyst of history. One should also not forget that it was the same Brezhnevian regime which supported the Emergency and the authoritarian regime of Indira Gandhi in India. As regards the 28th Congress, in the then balance of forces within the Soviet Communist Party, we only supported Gorbachev against Yeltsin and it was nothing more than that. We knew that the search for ‘genuine revolutionary communists’ of our imagination in present-day Soviet Union is subjectivism, pure and simple. The search leads the CPI(M) to pin their hopes on Ligachev & Co. and the 28th Congress exposed their real worth.

Now if we don’t support the coup it is only because we know that howsoever satisfying it may appear to our senses, in conditions obtaining in Russia, the coup did not enjoy even a minimal popular support. If we don’t make any hue and cry over the American interference in Russian internal affairs, if we don’t weep for the demise of the Communist Party there, it is because there is no voice being raised against all this from within the Soviet Union. We cherish socialism, but as a social system it can never be imposed on a people. If the Soviet people, after 74 years of experience with socialism, have decided to reject it, how can we advocate its imposition through army, KGB and martial law? When there was still time left to check the drift nothing was done and all criticisms were just branded as CIA-inspired both by the Soviet leadership and their henchmen in India. In the concrete conditions now we can only support the lesser evil against the bigger one and wait for a favourable turn of events when communists will be able to seize back the initiative. This can be the only Marxist approach. All the rest are hysteric cries, cries in the wilderness out of sheer frustration.

China is different from the Soviet Union in many respects and particularly due to its strong ‘Maoist’ legacy. Socialism, of course at a primary stage, survives there and enjoys popular support despite the unfortunate events in Tiananmen Square and despite several distortions. We should not try to keep people’s faith in socialism intact by presenting a golden image of China, the method which the CPI(M) is now well set to adopt. This is not only factually incorrect, it is counter-productive too. We should tell the people the reality and educate them about the zigzag course of the struggle between socialism and capitalism.

[From Liberation, October 1991]