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Reform and Counter-reform in Bureaucratic Power

Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969)

Translated by Gyllene Flottan

ONE COULD SAY that the only task of the history of the last twenty years was to refute Trotsky's analysis of the bureaucracy. As a victim of "class subjectivism," he — for his whole life — regarded Stalinist practice as just a temporary deviation by a stratum of usurpers, a "Thermidorian reaction." As the ideologist of the Bolshevik Revolution, Trotsky could never be the theoretician of the proletarian revolution at the time of the Stalinist restoration. By refusing to admit what the bureaucracy in power is — a new exploiting class — Trotsky, the Hegel of the revolution betrayed, deprived himself of the possibility of really criticizing it. The theoretical and practical impotence of Trotskyism (in all its variations) is to a great extent explained by this "original sin" of the master.

In Viénet's Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement (Gallimard, Paris 1968, page 20 [page 15 English version]), we said, a month before the Russian invasion:

The bureaucratic appropriation of society is inseparable from a totalitarian possession of the State and its ideology's absolute domination. The absence of censorship and the guarantee of freedom of expression makes, in immediate terms, the following alternatives possible in Czechoslovakia: either a repression, where the artificial character of these concessions is admitted, or an attack by the proletariat against the bureaucracy's proprietorship of the State and the economy, which would be revealed as soon as the dominant ideology had to do without permanent police supervision for a time. The outcome of such a conflict is very much of interest to the Russian bureaucracy, whose own existence will be threatened by a victory for the Czech workers.

How it is settled: the first alternative, with the assistance of "Soviet" tanks, was chosen. The basis of Moscow's absolute domination over the so-called socialist countries is the following golden rule, proclaimed and practiced by the Russian bureaucracy: "Socialism is not to go any further than our army." Everywhere this army has been the principle force and has installed "communist" parties to power, it is accordingly the same army that has the last word each time its former protegés show such leanings toward independence that they might threaten the totalitarian bureaucratic domination. The Russian socioeconomic system has from the beginning been the ideal type for the new bureaucratic regimes. But this loyalty to the archetype has often conflicted with the demands of the dominated societies themselves; as the interests of the dominating class in each satellite bureaucracy do not necessarily coincide with those of the Russian bureaucracy, the inter-bureaucratic relations have always been marked by the latest conflicts. Put between the hammer and the anvil, the satellite bureaucrats have always in the end obeyed the hammer each time the proletarian forces showed their will for autonomy. Neither in Poland, in Hungary, nor recently in Czechoslovakia does the national bureaucratic "revolt" attain anything more than the replacement of one bureaucrat with another.

As the first industrial state conquered by Stalinism, Czechoslovakia for twenty years has had a "privileged" position in the system of international exploitation, set up in 1949 by the Russians, inside the framework of "the socialist division of labor" ruled by Comecon. The unconcealed totalitarianism of the Stalinist era meant that after their seizure of power, the Czech Stalinists just humbly had to imitate "the universal socialist system." Contrary to other bureaucratic countries, where there was a real need for economic development (industrialization), the high level of the Czech productive forces was in complete opposition to the objects of the new regime's economic planning. After fifteen years of ineffective bureaucratic administration, the Czech economy was on the brink of ruin and, from that time on, a reform of the economy became a matter of life and death for the ruling class. These are the roots of the "Prague Spring" and the adventurous liberalization tried by the bureaucracy. But before we begin to analyze this "bureaucratic reform," let us look at its origins, that is, the balance sheet of the purely Stalinist (or Novotnyist) period.

After the Prague coup, and as it was integrated into the almost totally self-supporting economic system of the East, Czechoslovakia became the principal victim of Russian domination. Because it was the most highly developed country in the Eastern bloc, Czechoslovakia had to pay for the industrialization of its neighbors, whom themselves were submitted to an overexploiting system. From 1950 onwards, the totalitarian planning, with its emphasis on heavy metallurgy and engineering, threw the economic totally out of balance, a state of affairs that steadily grew worse. Investments in Czech heavy industry had to bear an interest of 47 percent in 1966 — the highest figure in the world. It was a consequence of this situation that Czechoslovakia had to provide raw materials and manufactured goods (machines, arms and so forth) to the "Soviet" Union and to the other so-called socialist countries (and thus to the much coveted "Third World") at ridiculously low prices that did not even cover the amortization of the production costs and normal wear-and-tear. (The "Soviet" Union has emptied a reserve of uranium ore in Jachmov, Boehmen — estimated to contain 50 years' worth of ore — in only five years.) "Production for the sake of production" was the ideology that accompanied this enterprise, which the workers had to pay for first of all. When the workers in Pilsen — who saw their wages getting lower, and prices getting higher as a consequence of a monetary reform — revolted in 1953, they were violently repressed at once. Accordingly, the consequences of this economic policy were the following: the Czech economy's ever-increasing dependence on "Soviet" deliveries of raw materials and fuel; the orientation of this economy towards exterior interests; the very perceptible lowered standard of living resulting from cuts in real wages; and, not least, falling national income, which fell from an average of 8.5% in the 1950 to 1960 years, to 0.7% in 1962. From the first time in the history of a so-called social country, the national income fell in 1963 instead of rising. This development became the alarm signal for the new reforms. Ota Sik calculated that four times as much investment was needed in order to attain in 1968 the same growth in national income experienced in 1958. From that moment on, it was admitted that "the country of Czechoslovakia is really in a period of great structural imbalance, with moderate tendencies of inflation appearing everywhere in life and in society, especially in foreign trade, the home market and investments" (Foreign Trade of Czechoslovakia, October 1968).

Voices were heard that expressed the vital necessity of reforming the economy. Professor Ota Sik and his collaborators began to prepare their reform plan, which more or less would be accepted in 1965. The new plan of Ota Sik criticized rather boldly the economic activity of the preceding years. It touched upon the Russian guardianship and proposed that the economy should be loosened from strict central planning and opened up to the world market. In order to be able to do this, one had to abandon the simple imitation, give up the system of "production for the sake of production" (now declared an antisocialist crime, whereas before it was extolled as a principle for this selfsame socialism), lower the costs of production and raise the production index, which had fallen from 7.7 percent in 1960 to 3.1 percent in 1962 and kept on falling thereafter.

This plan, a technocratic reform model, was applied in 1965 and took effect in 1967. It required a radical showdown with the methods of administration that suppress every initiative: instead, "one should now 'interest' the producers in the results of their work, make some enterprises autonomous, reward success, punish losses, promote the success of profit-making industries and enterprises with the appropriate technical measures, and by degrees reestablish the market by making prices coincide with those on the world market" (Ota Sik). Because the program was opposed by the diehard administration cadres, it was applied only partially. The Novotnyist bureaucracy began to realize the dangerous consequences of such an enterprise. The temporary rise in prices, which was not compensated for by a corresponding increase in wages, gave this backward strata a pretext to reject the project in the eyes of the workers. Novotny himself stood up as a defender of the interests of the working class and openly criticized the new steps during a speech to an assembly of workers in 1967. But the "liberal" wing, being conscious of the real interests of the Czech bureaucracy, counterattacked with the support of the population. As a journalist in Kulturni Tyorba stated on 5 January 1967, it was "as if for some of the people the new economic system was equal to the need to change," to change everything. This was the first link in a developing chain that was bound to lead to important social and political changes. The conservative bureaucracy, which lacked real support, was forced to make an official apology and, one by one, leave the political stage of the country: resistance meant an explosion similar to the one in Budapest in 1956. When the writers — who, like the filmmakers, had been permitted a certain degree of freedom in practicing their aesthetic vocations — held their fourth conference in June 1967, it was changed into a long, single sustained accusation against the regime. Gathering their last forces, the "conservatives" reacted by expelling a certain number of radical intellectuals from the Party and put the writers' journal under the direct control of the minister.

But the wind of insurrection blew ever harder and nothing could now prevent the opposition of the people to the prevailing state of affairs in Czech society. A student demonstration against an electricity break was beaten down by the police when it was designated a protest against the regime. One of the first discoveries that resulted from this experience was to become a password in the later struggles: the absolute demand to tell the truth, stressing "the astounding contradictions between theory and practice." In a system that is founded on the permanent lie of ideology, such a demand for the truth simply became revolutionary, and the intellectuals were not slow to complete the thought. In the bureaucratic systems, where nothing escapes the totalitarianism of the Party-State, a protest against the slightest of details in social life necessarily calls into question all prevailing conditions and brings forth a human protest against the whole inhuman organization of life. Even if the protest of the students was limited to the University of Prague, it concerned all the alienated features of Czech life, which were rejected as unacceptable. The neo-bureaucracy lead the movement and tried to keep it inside the narrow framework of its reform: in January 1968 a "program of action" that approved of the rise of Dubcek and his collaborators, and the fall of Novotny, was accepted. Besides the fact that the economic plan of Ota Sik definitely was taken and integrated into this new program, a certain number of changes in the political order were strongly confirmed by the new regime. Nearly all of the bourgeois regime's formal "freedoms" were guaranteed, which meant a totally unique track for the bureaucratic regime. This shows how much was at stake and how serious the situation was. The radical elements who took advantage of the concessions made by the bureaucracy could later show that these concessions were only "objectively necessary" in order to preserve the dominance of the bureaucracy. The most liberal among the newly-appointed members — Smrkovsky — made the truth about bureaucratic liberalism very clear in his naive way: "Considering that the development, even in a socialist country, is a continuous struggle between different interests on the economic, social and political levels, we must find a political way of governing that allows a regulation of all conflicts in our society and excludes the necessity of extraordinary administrative interferences." But the new bureaucracy did not understand that by saying no to these "extraordinary administrative interferences" — which in fact is the normal way for a bureaucracy to govern a society — it placed itself in a position in which it had to face a merciless radical critique. The opening up of cultural and political freedoms of speech and the right of free assembly turned out to become a true orgy of critical truth. The idea that the Party "in the base organizations, too," ought to take advantage of the natural and spontaneous authority founded on the general ability of the officials of the "Community" Party (the Action Program) was rejected everywhere, and demands for autonomous workers' organizations were raised here and there. In the end of the Spring of 1968, the Dubcek bureaucracy created the ridiculous impression that it wanted to have its cake and it eat, too. It stressed again its intention to keep for its a political monopoly. "If anti-Communist elements try to question this historical fact [the right of the Party to lead the people], the Party will mobilize all the forces of the people and of the socialist State in order to stop and annihilate such foolish attempts" (Resolution of the Central Committee, June 1968). But having allowed the majority of the Party to participate in all decisions, how could one expect ordinary people to suppress their own will to participate? Sitting on top of Power and playing the fiddle, how can one not expect the people down there from starting to dance?

From this moment on, one can see how the revolutionary tendencies begin to turn into a critique of liberal formalism and its ideology. Up until this moment, the democracy, like the dictatorship, had in a way been "forced upon the masses": that is, without their real participation. Everyone knew that Novotny had come to power as a representative of the Liberation and that a Gomulka-type return had menaced the Ducek movement from the start. One does not change a society by changing the few men in power, but by revolutionizing it. Soon one started to criticize the Bolshevik idea of a vanguard party and demanded an autonomous organization of the proletariat, something that was synonymous with the impending death of the bureaucracy. This depends on the fact that, for the bureaucracy, the proletariat can only exist as fictive power; the bureaucracy empties the proletariat of its content — and tries to do so — until it is only a fiction of what it really is, and the bureaucracy wants this fiction to remain so that even the proletariat believes in its existence. Because the power of the bureaucracy is founded on ideological formulae that it turns into its formal goals, it everywhere comes into conflict with its real goals. Everywhere where the bureaucracy has seized the State and the economy, and where the common interest of the State is turned into an autonomous and consequently real interest, it begins to fight against the proletariat in the same way as every consequence fights against the existence of its own presumptions.

But the movement of criticism, which had appeared as a consequence of the bureaucratic reforms — only went halfway. It never got the opportunity to show itself in all its practical consequences. And the great majority of the people had hardly begun their own theoretical and merciless critique of the "bureaucratic dictatorship" and Stalinist totalitarianism when the neo-bureaucracy — in order to defend itself — began a hue and cry about the Russian menace, which already in May was a reality. You might say that the primary weak point of the Czech movement was that the working-class never stepped forward as an autonomous and decisive force in practice. Phrases about "self-management" and "workers' councils" could be found in Ota Sik's technocratic reform program, but they — because the reform originated in the bureaucracy — never did mean anything else than a democratic "administration" on the Yugoslavian model. And the same is true for the reply to this reform, probably elaborated by trade-unions and presented at the Wilhelm Pieck mechanical factory on 29 June. The critique of Leninism represents the highest point reached by theoretical criticism in a bureaucratic country. Even Dutschke and his "anarcho-Maoism" was ridiculed and rejected with malice by the revolutionary Czech students as "absurd, comical and not even worthy of the interest of a fifteen-year-old child." This criticism was still accepted and even encouraged by Dubcek as long as it could be regarded as a legitimate rejection of "Stalino-Novotnyan mistakes." But it could not end in anything but a practical interrogation of the power of the bureaucratic class. It is true that the bureaucracy usually condemns its own mistakes, but only as if they had been committed by others; it is enough for the bureaucracy to take a part of itself, call it autonomous, and then blame it for all the anti-proletarian crimes committed by the bureaucracy. (Since time immemorial, the purge is the method preferred by the bureaucracy to maintain its power.) As in Poland and Hungary, one found in Czechoslovakia that the best way to make the people support the ruling class is to evoke nationalistic feelings. The greater the Russian menace, the greater the power of the Dubcek bureaucracy; one can imagine that its most ardent wish must have been to have Polish troops at the frontier forever. But sooner or later, the Czech proletariat would have found out during its struggle that it is not enough to know what a certain bureaucrat or the bureaucracy as a whole is aiming at for the moment; but that the important thing is to know what the bureaucracy is in reality and what in reality it is forced to do. And the proletariat would have acted accordingly.

What haunted the Russian bureaucracy and its satellites was just the fear that the proletariat would follow its reasoning to its logic end. Friends, imagine a Russian (or East German) bureaucrat in the middle of this "ideological" witches' cauldron! Imagine how tormented and confused his brain, which is as sick as his power, must have been! How frightened he must have been by all this talk about independence and workers' councils, about the bureaucratic dictatorship over workers and intellectuals and the threat they posed to defend what they had gained with arms in their hands! Imagine this and you will understand that the Russian bureaucrat, in this confusion — which boiled with liberty and truth, conspiracy and revolution — shouted to his Czech colleagues: "Rather an end with terror than a terror without end!"

If ever something had been predictable long before it really happened, this something is the Russian intervention, which everyone who has grasped modern history saw very clearly. Prepared for a long time and, in spite of all its international consequences, [the intervention] was in a way inevitable. By questioning the omnipotent power of the bureaucracy, Dubcek's daring but necessary experiment became a threat against the bureaucracy in all its forms all over the world. Therefore, it could no longer be tolerated. Six hundred thousand soldiers — almost as many as the American force in Vietnam — put a brutal stop to it all. And when the "anti-socialist" and "counterrevolutionary" forces, which the bureaucrats all the time had invoked and called forth, finally appeared, it was not under the portrait of Benes or with arms from the "German revanchist," but in the uniform of the so-called Red Army.

For seven days — "The Glorious Seven Days" — nearly all the population displayed a magnificent resistance against the intruders. Paradoxically, one could find typical revolutionary methods appear in the service of a reformist bureaucracy. But all that which had not been realized during the course of the reformist movement could not be realized during the occupation: when the Russian troops stood at the frontiers, Dubcek used their presence to stop the development of the revolutionary movement, and, on the afternoon of August 21st, he was presented with the opportunity to get control over the whole movement of resistance. A situation was created that was in some ways similar to that in North Vietnam, where the population is made one and all to support a bureaucracy that exploits them.

The primary reflex of the people of Prague, however, was not to defend the House of Parliament, but the Broadcast Center, considered to be the symbol of their principal conquest: true information versus the organized lie. And the nightmare of all the bureaucracies of the Warsaw Pact nations — the press and the radio — was going to ride them for one more week. The Czech experience has unmasked the extraordinary possibilities of struggle, of which an organized revolutionary movement might one day explore. It was the equipment of the Warsaw Pact nations — in view of a possible imperialist invasion of Czechoslovakia — that enabled the native journalists to establish 35 secret transmitters. Thus "Soviet" propaganda — urgently needed by an occupying army — had been sabotaged at the base. Consequently, people could learn about almost everything happening in the country, and could listen to the appeals of the liberal bureaucrats as well as those of the radical elements who controlled certain radio stations. As the result of a broadened appeal to sabotage the operations of the Russian police, Prague was turned into a true "city of labyrinths," where all the streets lost their names and the houses their numbers in order to be drowned in words that were reminiscent of the revolutionary feast in May [1968]. The city became a nest of freedom that made fun of all the cops, and thus provided an example of a revolutionary way to nullify [détourner] police urbanism. Thanks to an excellent organization on the side of the proletariat, all the papers could be freely printed and distributed right below the nose of the Russians, who were ridiculous enough to occupy the papers' editorial offices. Several factories were turned into printing houses, wherefrom thousands of papers and leaflets were distributed. Even a fake issue of Pravda was printed in Russian. The XIVth Party Congress could clandestinely meet for three days, protected by the workers of Auto-Praha. Through this congress, "Operation Kadar" was checkmated, and the Russians were forced to negotiate with Dubcek. Relying, on the one side, on their own troops, and on the other side on the internal contradictions of the Czech bureaucracy, the Russians, however, managed to turn the liberal party faction into some sort of disguised "Vichy regime." Thinking of his future, Nusak became the main spokesman for canceling the XIVth Congress (on the pretext that the Slovac delegates were absent, an absence apparently recommended by him). The next day, about the "Moscow Agreements," he declared, "We can accept this agreement in accordance with which sensible men (our emphasis) may guide the people out of the present blind alley in such a way that it will be spared from feeling ashamed in the future."

When they become revolutionaries, the Czech proletariat will be spared from feeling ashamed of having trusted Husak, Dubcek and Smrkovsky. They know already that now they can trust none but their own forces; they know that Dubcek and Smrkovsky will betray them in turn, as the neo-bureaucracy has betrayed them collectively by submitting to the Russians and obeying their totalitarian policy. The sentimental pledging to one individual or another is part of the past era in the history of the proletariat, that is, part of the old world. The strikes in November and the suicides slowed down the "normalization" a little. It could not be brought to an end until April 1969. By ascending in its old shape, the bureaucratic power felt the defeat much harder. One by one, all the illusions had been shattered, and the lining up of the Czech masses behind the reformed bureaucracy is gone into the wind. Rehabilitating the "collaborators," the reformists now have lost their last chance of popular support in the future. The harder the repression, the firmer the consciousness of the workers and the students. The return to the "restricted and foolish spirit of the fifties," and its methods, already results in violent reactions from the workers and students. The most serious anxiety that Dubcek has left as a legacy to his successors and their masters is just the various forms of collaboration between workers and students. Now the workers declare "their inalienable right to reply to possible extreme measures" with "their own extreme countermeasures" (motion from the workers at CKD to the Minister of Defense, 22 April 1969). The restoration of Stalinism shows once and for all the illusory character of each bureaucratic reformism and the inborn inability of the bureaucracy to "liberalize" its management of society. Its feigned "Human Socialism" means nothing but the introduction of some bourgeois concessions in the totalitarian world; and already these concessions ruin it. The sole possible humanization of "bureaucratic socialism" consists in the revolutionary proletariat crushing it, not by some sort of "political revolution," but by a total overthrow of the international bureaucracy.

The riots of 21 August 1969 have proved the degree to which ordinary Stalinism has been reestablished in Czechoslovakia, and, furthermore, the degree to which it is threatened by the critique of the proletariat: ten killed, 2,000 arrested and the threat of exiling or trying Dubcek the Marionette do not stop the strike from spreading like wildfire all over the nation. Thus do the Czech workers directly threaten the economic system of their native-born and Russian exploiters.

If the Russian intervention has succeeded in braking the objective process of transformation in Czechoslovakia, international Stalinism will surely have paid dearly for this. The bureaucratic powers, from Cuba to Hanoi — directly depending on the so-called Soviet State — have been forced to applaud the intervention of their masters, to the great embarrassment of their Trotskyist and Surrealist admirers and of the "good conscience" of the Left. With outstanding cynicism, Castro has fully justified the military intervention, which, according to him, became necessary as a consequence of the threats to reestablish capitalism. In these words he reveals the truth about his own "socialism." Hanoi and the Arab bureaucracies, themselves victims of a foreign occupation, drive their logic into absurdity when they support a similar aggression for the simple reason that this time it proceeds from their superior protectors.

As to the members of the international bureaucracy who are now weeping over the fate of Czechoslovakia, they all do so because of their own national reasons. Immediately following the heavy blow with which the revolutionary crisis of May 1968 hit the French Communist Party, the Czech affair knocked the Party once more: now it is split into archaic, new and orthodox Stalinist factions, which are torn between loyalty to Moscow and their own interests in the bourgeois political schema. If the Italian Communist Party has been bolder in its condemnation of the Russian intervention, it is because of the looming crisis in Italy, and first and foremost because of the direct violation of its own "Togliattism." In the Czech crisis, the national bureaucracies of Yugoslavia and Romania found an occasion to strengthen their class domination by regaining support from the population, which did not look behind the mask of the more-fictive-than-real Russian menace. Stalinism, already having tolerated Titoism and Maoism as other images of itself, will always be able to overlook some "Romanian independence" as long as it does not directly threaten its "socialist model," which has been faithfully reproduced everywhere. It is unnecessary to speak of the Sino-Albanian critique of "Russian imperialism." In their anti-imperialist delirium, the Chinese at one moment reproach the Russians with not having invaded Czechoslovakia in the way they did in Hungary (cf. Peking Information, August 13) and, at another moment, condemn "the loathsome aggression of Breshnev's and Kosygin's fascist clique."

In Internationale Situationniste #11, we wrote that, "the dissolution of the international association of totalitarian bureaucracies is now a completed fact" [The Explosion Point of Ideology in China]. The Czech crisis has done nothing but confirm the advanced decomposition of Stalinism. And this Stalinism would never have been able to everywhere play such a great role in the crushing of the workers' movement had it not been for the consanguinity of the Russian totalitarian model with the bureaucratization of the old reformist movement (German Social Democracy and the Second International) and the bureaucratization of modern capitalist production generally. But now, after more than forty years of counterrevolutionary history, the revolution is reanimated everywhere and makes the Occidental as well as the Oriental tyrants tremble when it attacks them both in their differences and in their firm kinship. The bold, isolated protests in Moscow after 21 August announce the revolution that can't fail to break out in Russia itself. Henceforth, the revolutionary movement knows its real enemies, and no alienation produced by the two capitalisms — the private bourgeois and the State bureaucratic — will any longer escape its critique. Facing the immense tasks awaiting it, the revolutionary movement will no longer waste time, either by fighting phantoms, nor by clinging to illusions.