The debate in India about Perestroika and Glasnost in the Soviet Union bears witness to the vitality of the Indian left. Not being a Marxist himself, the present writer as a friend of the Left (committed to socialism in practice) can only hope to enunciate some of the issues in the debate and not to resolve them with anything like finality.

The central issues in the debate seem to be the following:

1. Has the CPSU put such an undue weight on the globalist - humanist perspective as to marginalize the class struggle?

2. Do the economic reforms in the Soviet Union, such as the law on enterprises, the law on co-operatives and so on mark the beginning of what could be in effect a capitulation to the market economy system and profit motive characteristic of Capitalism?

3. Is the CPSU, in espousing Perestroika and Glasnost in the interests of facing the economic, military and cultural crisis in the Soviet Union, laying aside its leading role in the World Communist movement, particularly in relation revolutionary movements and forces in the Two-third world?

4. Would Soviet military power fail to support and defend the socialist system, particularly in Eastern European countries, and simply stand by when bourgeois reactionary movements seek to take over power in countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary?

5. Is the present CPSU assessment of Stalin and his role in Soviet as well as international communism too one-sidedly negative?

6. How honest is the CPSU in asserting that the fundamental principles on which Perestroika-Grasnost are still those of Marxism-Leninism?

The following comments are meant only to clarify the debate.

1. Global Humanism and The class Struggle

M.A. Latif thinks that the marginalising of the class struggle began already with the first post-Stalin CPSU Congress in 1956. "The Moscow propaganda concentrated (as early as 1956) on fanning fear of America's ‘nuclear teeth‘ and the danger of kindling any spark anywhere lest it engulf the world in nuclear conflagration" (Mainstream August 27, 1988, p. 25).

Advocates of perestroika would argue that the nuclear tests are real, and not just those of a paper tiger as Mao once claimed. . True, to us Indians, it is still easy to argue that the U.S.A knows well the cost to itself of any nuclear war, whether limited or total; that therefore USA will not use nuclear weapons except for deterrence; that therefore the peril of a nuclear holocaust is grossly exaggerated. But as A.K. Damodaran rightly asserts, Mainstream ibid. p.7) the recent shooting down of the wrong target over the Gulf by the most sophisticated weapon system in the world shows how wafer-thin is the margin of safety". In a world wired for auto-destruction with hair-trigger readiness,‘no nation can sit back under delusions of security.

The cumulative evidence leaves us in no doubt that the world market economy system will not baulk at using nuclear weapons if it can make sure that the damage to itself can be held down to an "acceptable level”. That situation has not substantially changed even after the four super-power summits and the signing of the INF treaty.

The nuclear threat cannot be isolated from the over-all strategy of the market economy system in confronting the socialist system. Nuclear weapons, even when unused, serve more than just the purpose of deterrence. Even more important are the two other reasons - to maintain a steady economic pressure on the socialist states to keep up with the arms race, thereby making it impossible for socialist living standards to compete with the West; and to provide an arms market paid for by the tax-payer in order to keep the market economy system from collapsing due to market saturation and shrinkage.

Without detente and genuinely safeguarded disarmament steps, the pressure cannot be released; effectively large disarmament measures and a decrease in the arms trade will fundamentally weaken the market economy system and strengthen the socialist system. Thus detente and disarmament are aspects of the class struggle on an international scale. The interests of the working class will be better served by a drastic cut in the arms trade and the arms race on both sides. Hence the issue of a globalistic-humanistic consciousness is not contrary to the class struggle but an essential aspect of that struggle.

2. Economic Reforms -Capitulation to Market Economy?

M.A. Latif pulls no punches in asserting that already at the 20th Congress (February 1956), the greatest social revolution in history was reversed, and that the Soviet Union changed "from an avowed destroyer of capitalism into its admiring imitator“. This "counter-revolutionary sweep of the Congress" made the world communist movement overnight into "a miserable reformist hawker of bourgeois parliamentarianism'.

I can understand the latter statement in the Indian context. But I have difficulty with the first; it is true that a weakened post-war Soviet economy settled down to doctrines and strategies of detente and co-existence; it sought to avoid major confrontations with the West; it tried to imitate western technology and production methods; as contacts with the west developed through tourism and international exchange (both commercial and diplomatic), consumerism and commodity fetishism crept into the socialist system everywhere; concepts like peaceful transition to socialism gained ground. Granting all that and much more, it remains still difficult to concede that there was an abandoning of the socialist mode of production and property relations. It is true that leadership in socialist countries often succumbed to love of comfort and bourgeois style of life. But is it not also true that Perestroika recognizes this evil and seeks to remedy it? The economic reforms approved by the 27th CPSU Congress (1985) do involve partial privatisation of the production process and the introduction of what looks like the profit motive The tension between the recognition of the market factor within a socialist economy on the one side and the continuing affirmation, on the other, of loyalty to a centrally planned system of socialist production does give occasion for legitimate anxiety. The newly introduced dialectic between Plan and Market has failed to carry total conviction.

To many the other new dialectic between ideology and reality also sounds strange and dangerous. But can scientific socialism overlook reality in the interest of dogmas masquerading as ideology? The reality is that the present socialist mode of production has failed at the level of quality and efficiency. Can we set aside quality and efficiency of production as bourgeois values? It is real that the present pattern of centralized production has smothered cultural creativity among the people. Is it unMarxist to argue without cultural creativity and democratic freedom it would not be possible to develop an efficient and quality-oriented system of socialist production?

It is true that the Law on Enterprises and the Law on cooperatives do introduce the profiit motive as an incentive to production with efficiency of quality goods and services. Is that no capitulation to the central principle of the market economy system? One answer is that it is not the profit motive as such that forms the pivot of the capitalist system; but rather profit through the appropriation of surplus value from wage labor. In so far as the new laws do not permit the employment of wage labour but insists on worker-owned family co-operatives, what is encouraged is still socialist collective labour without exploitation.

The new laws seem rather hastily put together and will probably need radical revision after a few years of actual practical experience. But they do not, according to many reasonable Marxist thinkers, involve any capitulation to the market economy system in principle. This will probably continue as a matter for debate for some time.

3. CPSU -- Leadership of the World Communist Movement.

An American Marxist was telling me the other day that they can no longer look to Moscow for leadership in the World communist movement, but will have to develop their own independent thinking and strategy. The argument was that the CPSU was so pre-occupied with political and economic problems of the Soviet Union, as to relegate assistance to and leadership of the world wide revolutionary movement to a much lower Priority.

There is indeed some truth in such reflections and expressions of anxiety. But has the world revolutionary movement so far been too dependent on the CPSU for assistance and guidance as to lose its own local initiative? Not counting China, and to a certain extent in the Indian CPM as well as Euro-communism in general, the dependence relationship has often led in many countries to a weakened contact with the local masses and their struggles and aspirations. Excessive Moscow dependence has been one of the factors in the rise of careerism in many leftist parties. China's independent line has been more pragmatically oriented than Perestroika-Glasnost. Within Chinese party circles there is even some questioning of Marxism-Leninism as an alien ideology as well as an attempt to formulate a new socialist ideology derived only partly from Marxism-Leninism and incorporating revised neo-Confucianist values and perceptions. Similar developments may take place in other leftist parties. In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, on the other hand, a new ideology has already developed and is being pursued. Moscow has not been able to mitigate the personality cult already developed in North Korea as an integral part of this new ideology. Latin American leftist parties are also in the process of developing somewhat parochialistic socialist ideologies of liberation which substantially deviate from Orthodox Marxism.

The CPSU knows that it cannot control or direct the world revolutionary movement. It is part of the new thinking to decrease the dependence and to permit freedom for development of revolutionary strategies related to varying cultural and socio-economic realities. It is difficult enough to control and co-ordinate revolutionary thinking within the Soviet Union itself. But the CPSU is not asking the various revolutionary parties and movements to fend for themselves. They seem to be ready to seek a more democratic relationship among the progressive movements of the world. It is not the case that the first revolutionary state of socialism is lying aside its world leadership role. But that role will now be exercised on a more democratic and pluralistic style than before, in order to reduce parasitism and dependence relationships. This does not mean however that leftist parties of the Two-third world can no longer expect assistance from the CPSU and the Soviet Union. But that assistance will be administered in such a way as to promote greater self-reliance, more creativity in initiatives, and a more perceptive integration with the struggles and aspirations of national masses. Indian parties have to seize the initiative at this point and apply some perestroika to their own structures.

4. Soviet Military Power in Defence of Socialism elsewhere

Clearly in a socialist state like Poland, the reactionary groups are now testing the resolve of Soviet military power. The recrudescence of Solidarity and the Roman Catholic Church more open identification with it seem to be based on the perception that Soviet military power will only be used as a last resort in checking reactionary movements. In Hungary and Czechoslovakia reactionary movements are more cautious, but they seem to be biding their time, watching developments in Poland.

The CPSU position appears to be that Eastern European socialist states should develop their own strength among the masses, and not depend on Soviet military power to sustain and promote socialism handed down from above.

Certainly the west will exploit this situation, and strategies for undermining socialism in Eastern Europe as a first step to overthrowing Soviet power are already well developed.

It is my understanding that the CPSU has not made any dogmatic decisions about the use of Soviet military might, but developing a strategy of "flexible response" in relation to the worldwide revolutionary movement.

5. Assessment of of Stalin

The present CPSU assessment of Stalin seems totally negative. There is no mitigation of this judgment by recognition of some of his positive achievements during the resistance to Nazi aggression and in the post-war economic development in the Soviet Union.

There is no doubt that Stalinist atrocities and repression gave a lot of grist to the mill of world-wide anti-communism. Alas, too many people in the world think of Communism in terms of brutal assassinations, ruthless bloodsheding and repression of all civil liberties. Much of Stalinist excesses and personality cult can in no way find justification on Marxist grounds.

The ethos is the Soviet Union today is rather emotionally anti-Stalin, and it has become difficult to say something positive about Stalin these days.

I believe it will be a major contribution if the leftist parties in India could achieve a more balanced assessment of Stalin, without playing down or justifying his inhuman treatment of his colleagues, the unnecessary killings, the institutions of correction, the disruption of mutual trust in Soviet society as a whole and so on.

6. Is Perestroika Revisionism?

On the surface the CPSU programme of Perestroika-Glasnost seems to have been made up of much that it previously condemned as revisionism and Dubeekian ‘socialism with a human face‘.

As far as I know, a full philosophical basis for Perestroika has not yet been developed by Soviet Marxist philosophers. Even veterans like Fedoseyev and Ambartsumov are hard put to provide such a well-reasoned Marxist-Leninist foundation for Perestroika, with a fundamental ontology and epistemology. Even the philosopher of Perestroika, Ivan T. Frolov, who has now become Gorbachev's adviser, has not so far as I know worked out such a Marxist-Leninist basis for the new thinking.

There is reason at present to avoid such fundamental thinking, because Marxism recognizes, though not openly, the difficulties of such philosophical reasoning in terms of both ontology and epistemology.

The tendency therefore is largely to stay at a more pragmatic level of reflection. The humanism that is being developed reveals an uncomfortable kinship with western liberal humanism. Values and principles are affirmed without grounding them in fundamental reflection. Such pragmatism is the hall-mark of western bourgeois liberalism and the market economy system which it has spawned or which has spawned it.

There is no doubt in my mind that there can be no reconstruction without revision. But the sloganeering about revisionism in which CPSU previously engaged was itself probably based on misunderstandings about what constitutes authentic Marxism. Marxism as scientific socialism cannot make the teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin or one interpretation of that teaching into some kind of Marxist-Leninist dogma.

Scientific socialism cannot be dogmatic. It must constantly revise its theoretical base in order to account for and effectively deal with empirical historical and social phenomena as they progressively unfold themselves. However that theoretical base must have some essential continuity. Some points of reference like exploitation as appropriation of surplus value from wage-labour, the class struggle, the leading role of the working class, ownership of the means of production, the link between relations of production (political economy) and the means of production (science-technology-organisation) etc. have to be preserved, for it is not possible to assess historical and social phenomena without a theoretical base derived from previous experience and reflection. Terms like revisionism in a pejorative sense make no sense. Human reflection involves by necessity a dialectic between theory and practice. And good theory is one that is continually revised in relation to practice. Hence it is not much use debating.whether Perestroika is revisionism. The more important question is whether Perestroika involves a fundamental departure, both in theory and practice, from the Marxist-Leninist tradition as it has developed through 140 years or so of world-wide experience and reflection. It seems too early to make a well-grounded answer to that question. But the debate must go on.