Posts Tagged ‘Boris Yeltsin’

William Blum’s List of American Foreign Interventions: Part 1

February 15, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece about American hypocrisy in the allegations that Putin was blackmailing Donald Trump, when the Americans themselves interfered in the Russian elections in 1996 in order to secure Boris Yeltsin’s election as Russian president. This was, however, hardly the first time America had intervened in the domestic politics of a foreign country. William Blum devotes two chapters to this in his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. In one he lists the various interventions America has made in other countries, including invasions and military coups, and in the other cases where America has interfered with the conduct of elections in order to secure a win for their favoured candidates.

Both of these are very long and ignominious lists. Here’s part 1 of a list of foreign interventions by the US.

American Interventions

China 1945-51
Aiding Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang against Mao’s Communists.

France 1947
Backing French Socialist party against the Communists, using Corsican mobsters to attack Communist party and Communist-aligned trade unionists.

Marshall Islands 1946-58
Indigenous people of Bikini Atoll removed from the island in order to make way for nuclear tests.

Italy 1947-1970s
Backing Conservative Christian Democrats to keep the Socialists and Communists out of power.

Greece 1947-9
Backing neo-Fascists and creating intelligence unit for them in the civil war against the Communists.

Philippines 1945-53
Military actions against the left-wing Huk forces.

Korea 1945-53
Korean War. However, afterwards US backed Conservatives, who had collaborated with the Japanese, and Fascist dictators, also committed atrocities against fleeing civilians.

Albania 1949-53
Backing anti-Communist guerillas, most of whom were collaborators with the Nazis and Italian Fascists.

Eastern Europe 1948-1956
Head of CIA Allen Dulles deliberately heightened paranoia in the eastern bloc, causing hundreds of thousands of imprisonments, purge trials and murders by the Communist regimes.

Germany 1950s
Lengthy campaign of terrorism, dirty tricks and sabotage against East Germany.

Iran 1953
Prime Minister Mossadegh overthrown by CIA and British led coup, as dared nationalise what is now British Petroleum oilfields.

Guatemala 1953-1990s
CIA backed Fascist coup against democratic socialist Jacobo Arbenz for nationalising plantations owned by American company, United Fruit. Result: forty years of terror, with 200,000 people murdered.

Costa Rica mid-1950s and 1970-1
Attempted assassination of liberal democratic president, Jose Figueres, because considered too soft on the left, and for making his nation the first in Central America to establish diplomatic links with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and questioning American foreign policy, like the invasion of Cuba.

Middle East 1956-58
Attempts to overthrow the Syrian government, shows of force in Mediterranean against opposition to US-backed governments in Jordan and Lebanon, landing of 14,000 troops in Lebanon, and attempts to overthrow and assassinate Egyptian president Gamal Nasser.

Indonesia 1957-8
Attempts to manipulate elections, assassinate, blackmail and start a civil war to overthrow President Sukarno. Sukarno neutral in Cold War, went on trips to China and USSR, nationalised private property of Dutch colonialists, and did not crack down on the Communist party, which was then engaged on electoral path to power.

Haiti 1959
Trained troops of notorious dicator Papa Doc Duvalier, and destroy attempted coup against him by Haitians, Cubans and other Latin Americans.

Western Europe 1950s-1960s
Granting of American money through charities and so on to various groups and organisations in pursuit of American anti-Communist, anti-Socialist policies.

British Guiana/Guyana 1953-64
Attempts to force out of office democratically elected socialist premier, Cheddi Jagan by America and Britain.

Iraq 1958-63

Long campaign against nationalist leader General Abdul Karim Kassem after he overthrew the monarchy and established a republic. USA and Turkey drew up plan to invade; this dropped in favour of arming Kurds, as well as assassination attempts. Kassem helped set up OPEC and created nationalised oil company. Kassem was finally overthrown in a Ba’ath coup, which also led to a clampdown on the Communist party, which was backed by both America and Britain.

Soviet Union 1940s-1960s
Cold War campaigns of espionage, propaganda and sabotage, backing of resistance movements against USSR.

Vietnam 1945-73
Vietnam War.

Cambodia 1945-73
Overthrow of Prince Sihanouk enabling Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge to gain power.

Laos 1957-73
Armed insurrection and bombing against reformist left, led by Pathet Lao party.

Thailand 1965-73
Armed forced against insurgents.

Ecuador 1960-63
Overthrow of president Jose Maria Velasco for not clamping down on left and not following US policy against Cuba.

Congo/Zaire, 1960-65, 1977-8
Overthrow of Patrice Lumumba in favour of dictator and mass-murderer Mobutu Sese Seko.

France/Algeria 1960s
Backed French military coup in Algeria to stop country becoming independent. Also hoped repercussions would overthrow De Gaulle, who was blocking American attempts to dominate NATO.

Brazil, 1961-64
Backed military dictatorship which overthrew President Joao Goulart for being too independent and friendly towards Communists, despite the fact that Goulart millionaire devout Roman Catholic.

Peru 1965
Military action against leftist guerillas

Dominican Republic 1963-5
Overthrow of liberal president, Juan Bosch.

Cuba 1959-Present
Attempts to overthrow Communist regime.

Indonesia 1965
Overthrow of Sukarno and bloody suppression of Communists by successor, General Suharto.

Ghana 1966
Overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah

Uruguay 1969-72
Dirty War against Tupamaro leftists guerillas.

Chile 1964-73
Long campaign against democratic Communist, Salvador Allende, culminating in Fascist coup of General Pinochet.

Greece 1967-74
Intervention against liberal Greek president George Papandreou, as he wanted to take Greece out of NATO and declare Greek neutrality in Cold War. Overthrown in the Fascist coup that inaugurated the rule of the Colonels.

South Africa 1960s-1980s
Assistance to South African apartheid government against African Nationalist Congress, which, amongst other things, led to the arrest and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

Bolivia 1964-75
Military campaign against President Victor Paz for supporting Cuba.

Australia 1972-5
Operations to have Gough Whitlam, the leader of the Aussie Labor party, removed by America and British, ’cause he was opposed to Vietnam.

Iraq 1972-5
CIA backed Kurds, not for them to get autonomy, but to distract Iraqi army and make sure they didn’t overthrow the Shah of Iran.

Portugal 1974-76
comprehensive series of measures, including shows of force by NATO warships, against radical policies proposed by the army officers, who overthrew the previous Fascist dictatorship of General Salazar.

East Timor 1975-99
Backing of Indonesian invasion, which killed 1/3 of the island’s population.

Angola 1975-1980s
Angolan civil war, which was basically proxy war between US, China and South Africa on one hand and USSR and Cuba on the other.

Advertisements

Putin and Trump, and Bill Clinton’s Interference in Russian Elections for Yeltsin

February 14, 2017

There’s increasing concern and speculation that Putin really does have some kind of ‘dirty’ dossier on Trump, featuring some rather unsavory things that the Orange Generalissimo may have done with prostitutes during business trips there.

But America also has a very long and deeply unpleasant history of interfering in the elections of independent states around the world. At its most extreme this takes the form of coups, but the US has also exerted its influence through more subtle means, like the financing of opposition candidates and parties, covert propaganda, threats to withhold aid and so on.

William Blum has a entire chapter on the US ‘Perverting Democracy’ in his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. And it includes a very, very long list of mostly developing nations, whose democratic processes the US government has attempted to suborn.

But one of the nations whose elections the Americans tried to influence was rather more important on the world state. In 1996 Bill Clinton and his team intervened in the Russian elections to secure the victory of neoliberal privatisers and booze-sozzled corrupt drunk, Boris Yeltsin. Blum writes

For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Although the Americans were working independently, President Clinton’s political guru, Dick Morris, acted as their middleman to the administration, and Clinton himself told Yeltsin in May that he wanted to “make sure everything the United States did would have a positive impact” on the Russians electoral campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the final goal line. The American’s scripted a Clinton-Yeltsin summit meeting in April to allow the Russian to “stand up to the West”, to match what the Russian Communist party-Yeltsin’s main opponent-was insisting they would do if they won.

The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing etc., urged more systematic domination of the state-owned media, and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. With a virtual media blackout against them, the Communists were extremely hard pressed to respond to the attacks or to shout the Russian equivalent of “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It is impossible to measure the value of the American consultants’ contribution to the Yeltsin campaign, for there’s no knowing which of their tactics the Russians would have employed anyhow if left to their own devices, how well they would have applied them, or how things would have turned out. But we do know that before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favoured by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent. “Democracy” declared Time magazine, “triumphed”. (pp. 230-1).

Putin is a murderous thug, who has had journalists and members of the opposition beaten and killed. And the Communist party was responsible for horrific repression. Gorbachev’s reforms, if allowed to continue, may have created something positive, and established Communist Russia as a true ‘workers’ state’, where working people had real power, both in elections and over their boss and his decisions at work. But he was overthrown by the hardliners before he could complete it.

As for Yeltsin, his rushed privatisation of anything that wasn’t nailed down resulted in economic meltdown. Millions of ordinary Russians found themselves thrown out of work, in a country that did not have any unemployment benefit schemes, because the state had always provided work. So too did massive inflation wipe out ordinary Russians’ pensions and savings. It’s partly as a reaction to that chaos that Putin was elected. He’s a thug and a strongman, but he offers his people stability and prosperity.

It’s grossly hypocritical for American politicos to whine about Putin interfering in their democratic process, when America has been doing just that all over the world, including Russia, since World War Two. The latest victim of American interference was Ukraine, where the Orange Revolution, far from being a spontaneous display of democracy, was carefully orchestrated by various American state NGOs, including the National Endowment for Democracy.

So as far as this issue is concerned, I’m sure that there are now many people in Russia and abroad who feel this way: ‘Payback’s a b*tch’.

Radical 80s Anti-War Pop: Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes

August 6, 2016

A week or so ago I put I blogged about Sting’s great anti-war song, Russians. Based on a tune by Prokofiev, and with the haunting refrain, ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’, this was Sting’s protest against the new Cold War between America and Russia in which both sides were condemned for their militarism. The video I used here was of a performance the great songster made a few years ago on Russian TV, which shows how far the world has come since I was a schoolboy in the 1980s. Then, Russia and the rest of the former eastern bloc were very much closed off to the West, although as the political climate thawed, the BBC did launch a fascinating series of films on the Soviet Union. This included an edition of antenna on Soviet TV. I was moved to put up the video as a reminder of great pop challenging the horrific spectre of nuclear war by the arms build up in the West and increasing tension between NATO and Russia. There’s been a series of manoeuvres in Estonia, Poland, Romania and the other Baltic states against the possibility of a Russian invasion, despite the fact that the Russians have said that they have no intention of doing any such thing. This follows a book by a NATO general predicting that by May next year, Russia will have invaded Latvia, and our nations will be at war. This should terrify everyone, who grew up in the 1980s and remembers the real threat of nuclear Armageddon then, along with the horrific spoutings of some generals about fighting a ‘limited nuclear war’ in Europe.

Unfortunately, that possibility has just come a step nearer after the statement on Morning Joe, an American news programme hosted by Joe Scarborough, that he had been told by a foreign policy expert that in discussing the subject with Donald Trump, the coiffured clown asked him three times why America hadn’t used nuclear weapons. As I said in my last post, this is a very good argument for keeping the pratt out of the White House, if not the society of decent humans. If you only needed one argument for not wanting to see Trump as president, regardless of the endorsement of violence, the misogyny, the racism and Islamophobia, this would be it. Trump shouldn’t be president, because he’s a threat to all life on Earth.

Sting wasn’t the only pop musician to release a piece in the 1980s against the militaristic posturing between East and West. So too did Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Frankie … were a band that managed to shock the British public with the release of their single, Relax, and the homoerotic imagery of both the song and the accompanying video. It was so shocking, that the Beeb was supposed to have banned. This, of course, had the usual effect of making it massively popular, and it shot to Number 1 in the charts. The band’s frontman, Holly Johnson was gay, as was I think, one of the other band members, but most of them were straight. Bands like Frankie…, and other gay pop stars like Marc Almond, Jimmy Summerville and Boy George helped to challenge the popular prejudice and real hatred there was for gays there still was then, over a decade after gay sex in private between consenting adults had been legalised.

Two Tribes continued their trend of edgy music by presenting the confrontation between East and West as a bare knuckle boxing match between someone, who looked very much like Ronald Reagan, and an opponent, who was clearly based on one of the Russian presidents of the time. I can’t work out quite who the Russia is based on, as he looks a bit like Brezhnev, but not quite, and I can’t remember who Andropov and Chernenko, the last two Soviet presidents before Mikhail Gorbachev, looked like. To my mind, he looks more like Boris Yeltsin, the former mayor of Moscow, who succeeded Gorby as president of Russia. Unlike Gorby, Yeltsin wasn’t a Communist, but a capitalist-in-waiting, who sold off just about everything that wasn’t nailed down. The result was that Russian economy went into meltdown, millions across the former USSR were thrown out of work without any of the welfare safety nets in place in Europe or America, while rampant inflation wiped out people’s savings. Despite his generally pro-Western, pro-capitalist stance, he could also be belligerent. Sometime in his presidency, a Norwegian sounding rocket went off course, and landed somewhere in Russia. Yeltsin appeared on TV pounding his desk and declaring that he had been quite prepared to respond with nukes, if such an event seemed to be an attack on Russia. He was also, like many of the Russia politicos, including Brezhnev, massively corrupt. A lot of the state enterprises he privatised mysteriously ended up in the hands of his cronies, and people, who were prepared to fork over a lot of roubles. He was also a figure of western media amusement, as he appeared to be permanently smashed, unlike his predecessor, who appeared far more temperate and had launched a strong anti-drink campaign. The mass privatisation of the Soviet Economy had a devastating effect on its citizens’ health, which Basu and Stuckler discuss in their book, the Body Economic, on how economic austerity harms people’s physical health. Putin, with his promise of economic stability and national pride, is very much a response to the chaos of the Yeltsin regime. I’ve got a feeling Yeltsin might be dead now, but if anyone needed a good drubbing, it was him, though by the Russian people, who had a better reason to hate him than Ronald Reagan.

Frankie’s Two Tribes shows the violence in the ring escalating, until the audience of other international dignitaries begin fighting amongst themselves, to the consternation of the ringside commentator. The video ends with the Earth itself being blown up, a graphic comment on the real danger of the conflict. The song’s title, Two Tribes, also gives a very cynical take on the conflict. This isn’t about politics, human rights or the effectiveness and justice of economic systems. This is just pure tribalism, the primitive, nationalistic aggression that has haunted humanity since the Stone Age. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and just about everyone I know is repulsed and disturbed by the Relax video. But Two Tribes is a classic piece of ’80s pop with a very relevant political message, and one that deserves to be given another hearing. Before Trump gets anywhere near the White house, and starts ranting and threatening like Reagan.

Book Review: G.D.H. Cole’s A Century of Co-Operation

July 2, 2016

Cooperative Cole

(George Allen & Unwin Ltd. for the Co-operative Union Ltd 1944).

Many of us of a certain age still remember the Co-op before it became a regular supermarket chain. It was a store in which regular shoppers – the co-op’s members, were also it’s owners, and entitled to receive a share of the profits. This meant that you were paid a dividend. This was later issued in the form of ‘Green Shield’ stamps, which could be used to buy further goods in the stores. The co-operative movement was founded way back in the 1840s by the Rochdale Pioneers, former members of Robert Owen’s socialist movement. After this had collapsed, the Pioneers then went on to apply his socialist principles to running retail stores. The movement rapidly caught on and expanded, not least because, unlike ordinary shops, the co-ops sold pure food without the poisonous substances added elsewhere. For example, many bakers added arsenic to their bread to make it whiter, and more attractive to the purchaser. The co-ops didn’t, and so their food and goods was healthier, and thus more popular. Unlike their competitors, you could be fairly sure that what you bought from the co-op wouldn’t kill you in the name of making it appear more tasty. By 1942 there were 1,058 co-operative retail societies, with a total membership of 8,925,000 – just shy of 9 million people.

I found this book on the history of the movement in one of the charity bookshops in Bristol. It’s by the great socialist and writer, G.D.H. Cole, who was one of the leading members of Guild Socialism, a British form of syndicalism, which recommended the abolition of the state and its replacement with a system of guilds – trade unions, which would include all the workers in an industry, and which would run industry and the economy. Instead of parliament, there would be something like the TUC, which would also have administrative organs to protect the consumer.

The book’s chapters include:
I: “The Hungry ‘Forties'”,
II: Co-operation before the Pioneers
II. Rochdale.
IV. The Rochdale Pioneers Begin.
V. The Rochdale Pioneers to 1874.
VI Christian Socialists, Redemptionists, and Trade Unions
VII. Co-operation and the Law.
VIII. The Origins of the Co-Operative Wholesale Society
IX. Co-operative Growth in the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies.
X. The Second Revolution.
XI. The ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties.
XII. The Women’s Guild.
XIII. Co-operators and Education.
XIV. Co-operation in Agriculture – Ireland: The Beginning of International Co-operation.
XV. Co-operation before and during the First World War.
XVI. From War to War.
XVII. Guild Socialism and the Building Guilds
XVIII. Co-operative Development between the Wars.
XIX. Co-operators in Politics.
XX. Co-operative Employment.
XXI. International Co-operation.
XXII Co-operation Today and Tomorrow
I. the Growth of Co-operation.
ii. The Development of Co-operative Trade.
iii. Large and Small Societies.
iv. Democratic Control.
v. Regional Strength and Weakness.
vi. Co-operative Education.
vii. The producers’ Societies.
viii. The Wholesales and Production.
ix. The Next Steps.

Appendix: Who Were the Pioneers?

Cole notes that some forms of what became known as co-operation existed in various trades and businesses before the Rochdale Pioneers. Some of the capital used to set up businesses in the early 19th century, came from the workers. They tended to invest in other businesses’ than their employers, so that if their wages were cut during a recession or dip in trade, the dividends they would receive from their shares would not also suffer. Although not remarked on in the book, you could say that this shows how the working class has been disinherited. In many cases, they contributed their savings and money to the development of capitalism, but despite the existence in some firms of profit-sharing schemes, they have been and are being excluded from the profits of the modern, industrial economy.

From industry, co-operation also entered politics, with the establishment of a Co-operative Party, which is now part of the Labour party. The movement spread across Europe, to Germany and as far as Russia. Lenin was greatly impressed by the value of the co-operatives as a form of socialism. According to Aganbegyan, Gorbachev’s chief economist for perestroika, before 1950 47 per cent of all industries, including farms in the USSR were co-ops. Industrial democracy and co-operatives were a central plank of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Unfortunately, Gorby’s attempts to revive Communism failed, and Yeltsin turned them into bog-standard capitalist companies through the voucher system. Other thinkers and politicians in other countries saw co-operation as the solution to their countries’ social and economic problems. One of these was the Bulgarian Stambolisky, the leader of a peasant’s party before the First World War. He wished to organise the peasant farms into a system of co-operation, which would modernise the country by allowing them to acquire electricity and improve production and conditions. More recently, the Mondragon co-operatives, set up in Spain by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1950s, has become an industrial giant, involved in just about all areas of the Spanish economy.

Cole’s book understandably concentrates on the history of the co-operative movement from its emergence to the middle of the Second World War, and is an immensely detailed and thorough work of scholarship. Although not as prominent as they once were, co-operative businesses still exist in Britain. They were supported in the 1970s and ’80s by politicos like the great Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, and may once again become a major force in British society and the economy.

Aganbegyan on Perestroika and Workers’ Control

June 29, 2016

Earlier this week I put up a translation of an Austrian governmental pamphlet from the 1980s on the system of factory councils and workers’ representation in industry. Over the in Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet Communist president, advocated a system of workers’ control and the transformation of state enterprises into co-operatives, in order to reform and invigorate the moribund Soviet economy and political system. It was also intended as part of a wider series of measures, like free speech and elections, which were to transform the USSR into a Socialist democracy. I’ve posted up pieces from Gorbachev himself in his book, Perestroika, about the new thinking, and from Ken Livingstone, who was deeply impressed with this aspect of the Soviet experiment. Gorbachev’s chief economist, Abel Aganbegyan, also discusses the importance of industrial democracy in his The Challenge: Economics of Perestroika (London: CenturyHutchinson 1988).

Aganbegyan states that the importance of co-operatives in the Soviet economy was recognised by Lenin, and that Gorbachev was returning to this earlier Soviet ideal. He wrote:

The development of cooperatives and self-employment is not a departure from Socialist principles of economic management. In Soviet conditions a cooperative is a socialist form of economic management, foreseen by Lenin in one of his last articles “On Co-operatives”. As is well known, Lenin’s last articles were dictated by him. He was extremely ill and sensed his imminent death; these articles are rightly seen as his last will. It is symbolic that among the various questions to which Lenin wished to draw society’s attention, was the question of cooperatives as an important form of socialist economic management. Lenin fully understood that a socialist society could not be developed solely on enthusiasm and on the application of administrative measures. He wrote about the need to employ the principles of material self-interest, self-financing, financial accountability (Khozraschet) and material responsibility. The cooperative form of economic management is indeed a form which ensures greater material incentive in work, more responsibility and the ability to pay one’s way. At the same time it is a democratic form since it is voluntary. Lenin attached fundamental importance to the voluntary nature of the cooperative. Cooperatives are self-managing organisations, where the collective itself decides everything and things are not fixed from above by an official. Thus the potential advantages of cooperatives within our society are far from exhausted. And we know from economic history, no economic form will disappear if it contains within it potential for self-development. The development of self-employment has also to be approached as a way of strengthening the material interest of individuals in creative labour.

The aim of socialist development in the final analysis lies in meeting the needs of all members of society more fully. Cooperatives and self-employment contribute to this end and therefore reinforce our socialist principles. They completely correspond to Gorbachev’s slogan for prestroika, ‘Give us more socialism!’ (p. 30).

The Cooperatives and Democratisation

Aganbegyan also makes it very clear in the book that the creation of the co-operatives was part of the wider process of democratising the USSR.

Democratisation of the whole of our society including the development of glasnost is an important aspect of perestroika. As it applies to the economy, debate is proceeding on an increased role in workers’ collectives in the resolution of economic questions, and in the transition to self-management. In the Law on Socialist Enterprises, workers’ collectives have been granted extensive rights in framing the plan of economic development for their enterprise, deciding on the way incentives should be offered, on work conditions and salaries, and the social development of their collective.

Of particular significance is the right of workers’ collectives choose their economic leaders, at brigade, enterprise and association level. Earlier, under the administrative system, directives on the conduct of the plan, even the smallest details, were handed down from above. Now, with full economic independence and self-accounting, the welfare of the collective depends above all on work organisation and levels of productivity. Its leader, as head of the working collective, must take the lead in striving for higher efficiency and productivity. (P. 31).

The Workers’ Democracy in Action

Aganbegyan also describes the new system of industrial democracy at work, and how it was introduced by a number of firms, so that managers had to compete for their positions. As a result of this, 8 per cent of the most inefficient were weeded out.

In the new system of economic management the rights of working collectives have been greatly expanded by the Law on Social Enterprises passed in June 1987. The working collective now determines the development policy of the enterprise. It also establishes the plan of development for its enterprise, including the plan for the five-year period. Plans set by the collective are final and are not subject to the approval of any higher authorities. The collective determines the way the enterprise uses the self-accounting income which it has earned. it scrutinises particularly the way the enterprise’s funds are used in the technological research and development fund, the social development fund and the financial incentives fund.

The working collective carries out its f8unctions both directly at meetings of the whole working collective and through democratically elected Councils to represent its interests. The decision to broaden the rights of the working collective was not taken dogmatically, but on the basis of generalisation of the experience accumulated at individual enterprises in the Soviet Union. At the Kaluga Turbine Factory, fore example, a council of brigade leaders, representing the working collective’s interests, has been operating effectively for many years. The fact is that here collective labour brigades were genuinely organised. Each brigade elects its brigade leader, so that the brigade leaders’ council is a democratically elected body. The factory has major productive and social results to its credit and, moreover, the long-term development policy of the enterprise is in the main the responsibility of the brigade leaders’ council.

For the first time working collectives are being given extensive rights such as the right to elect the manager. This affects the election of managers of all ranks: the brigade elects the brigadier, the workers and section foremen the section head, the working collective of the factory elects the director of the factory, and the whole working collective of the association elects the General Director. These elections are planned as a creative process. They must be preceded by public competition for managerial posts, with a preliminary selection made by, say, the working collective council. Each candidate then meets with the workers in the sections, departments and enterprises, attends meetings and meets with representatives of public organisations. Each candidate for the post of manager draws up a programme of actions and presents it to the working collective. Secret elections then take place with votes cast for a specific person, whose particulars and potential are known, and for a definite development programme for the enterprise.

The idea of appointing managers by election has already been taken up by many working collectives. Even before the official acceptance of the Law on Enterprises these elections were being organised independently in many places. Interesting events occurred for example at the Riga Car Factory. This factory produces the RAF microbuses which gained popularity in their day, but had eventually ceased to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands as needs changed and technology developed. The factory was in a deep crisis and stopped fulfilling the plan. A new leader was needed. Under the aegis of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda a nationwide competition was held for the post of director of the factory. A total of four thousand applications was received from all corners of the country and a commission was specially created composed of car construction specialists (from the Ministry of Car Industry), from the factory and from local bodies. About thirty candidates were shortlisted. They studied the factory and made their proposals for it. One the basis of a detailed examination of these more concrete data the list of candidates was further reduced to eight. They came to the factory, familiarized themselves with the work, stated their views on how to improve the situation and finally the working collective in a secret ballot selected its factory director. This turned out to be V.L. Bossert, an energetic young manager, 35 years of age, who up to then was working as the manager of the Omsk Factory, a major producer of gear-boxes for the Moskvich car. The collective supported the candidacy of this new director and gave its views on his programme for the full reconstruction of the factory and the design of a new model of microbus which would be on a par with world standards. Having elected the director, the collective began to work intensively and soon fulfilled the plan. The number of claims for replacement of defective goods was reduced. The financial situation of the enterprise improved, people started to receive prizes and work motivation grew. Parallel to this, work continues on designing a new car and reconstructing the factory.

This experience has proved to be successful and it has caught on. Based on the RAF factory’s example, tens and even hundreds of other enterprises have organised elections for directors. Success is assured wherever this is carried out not as a mere formality, but where competition is guaranteed, where time is given and conditions are created for the preparation of imaginative programmes of development of the working collective, and where people really feel they are participating in the advancement of their enterprise at management level. In discussing the question of appointment of leaders by election, we have studied attentively the experience of other socialist countries, Bulgaria and Hungary. In Hungary in particular, the democratic mechanism has been very effective. In re-election for the post of direct 8% of former directors were voted out, but 92% had their competence at management confirmed by the collective. IN this way the quality of managers has been improved.(Pp. 197-9).

Unfortunately, this experiment was abandoned. The cooperatives throughout the eastern bloc were transformed into bog-standard capitalist enterprises through the voucher system. Yeltsin recklessly privatised everything he could lay his hands on, with the result that the Russian economy went into meltdown. And the end result of this has been the rise of Putin and the oligarchs. It is a great pity, as if this experiment had succeeded, Russia could have been the first and greatest genuinely democratic, socialist country, and undoubtedly the benefits this gave its working people would have been taken up and copied around the world.

Ken Livingstone on Perestroika and Industrial Democracy

May 31, 2016

This morning I put up a piece about how Mikhail Gorbachev, the very last president of the Soviet Union, attempted to regenerate Soviet Communism by introducing industrial democracy and strengthening trade unions as part of Perestroika. Ken Livingstone devotes an entire chapter of his book, Livingstone’s Labour, on Perestroika, including a few paragraphs on worker’s control. He writes

So far the reformers around Gorbachev such as Aganbegyan have stressed that as the economy is modernised the workers must be protected from cuts in their standard of living. that is why he emphasises the strengthening of social provision such as housing, health and education. He has also spelt out the intention to keep rents low and to ensure that when price reform comes there must be compensation to protect living standards. He argues that there must be increased investment in new technology but makes the following innovative condition:

The distinctive feature of this reform is industrial democracy moving towards self-management … this will involved [workers] in determining the enterprise plan, the allocation of resources and the election of managers. It is a revolutionary programme. There will be much opposition, especially from management… This can only be overcome because the … driving force is political openness and democratisation.

It is not only academic economists who talk like this. I was struck by the enthusiasm and pleasure with which Vadim Zagladin, the Head of the International Department of the Central Committee, described how a Siberian shoe factory, which had been facing closure, had been taken over by the workers. The products of the factory were notorious for falling apart within days of purchase but the Central Committee had agreed to give the workers a last chance to improve their shoes before closure. Once the workers took control their first act was to sack the incompetent managers. They then turned the business into a dramatic success within two years. Now the factory is expanding and their shoes are in demand all over the USSR. Even more innovative is the workers’ proposal to issue ‘shares’ in factory-not to investors, but to their customers who would then be in a position to exercise real consumer power. (Pp. 205-6).

Livingstone also explains that the Perestroika movement was divided into two camps, with a right-wing that favoured something like Thatcherism, and a left, which included Gorby himself, that wanted to protect the workers as much as possible. He stated

In the first place, the perestroika movement is split into two quite distinct camps (it is the failure to understand this which has led so many We3stern observers to talk so inaccurately about the reintroduction of capitalism). there are those like Nikolai Shmelev and the technocrats Lisichkin and Popov whose arguments are similar to those of Thatcher that the economy can be reformed by the creation of a poll of unemployment which will act as a spur to increase productivity. They argue that Soviet society must be led by an elite and that the welfare state is a ‘survival of feudalism’.

The other faction inside the perestroika movement is that of the democratisers. Typified by the economists Aganbegyan and Zaslavskaya, this faction believes that the economy can only be modernised by democratising Soviet society from the grass roots upwards. Most important of all, they see the way to improve the economic performance of the USSR is by introducing democratic rights at work so that the workers elect their managers. At every stage Gorbachev has thrown his weight behind the democratisers and against the elitists. As he wrote in his book Perestroika (1987)’There was opinion…that we ought to give up planned economy and sanction unemployment. We cannot permit this… since we aim to strengthen socialism, not replace it with a different system … Furthermore, a work collective must have the right to elect its manager.’ (P. 204).

Livingstone was aware how radical Gorbachev’s reforms were, and that there were many who wished them to fail so that they could introduce unemployment:

The excitement with which progressive Central Committee members like Zagladin recount each successful experiment in workers democracy is an indication of just how much is riding on the hopes of the reformers that democracy from below will be the key to the modernisation of the Soviet economy. If they fail the conservatives will be waiting in the wings to try the ‘spur’ of unemployment.(p. 206).

By ‘Conservatives’, Livingstone means the traditional managerial class of party functionaries and civil servants.

This passage is interesting, as it shows how well-informed Red Ken was about the Soviet Union and perestroika. He was well aware, for example, that the restructuring of the Soviet economy would result in 16 million jobs being lost, and acknowledged that this would present a serious problem. In the event, Gorbachev’s radical proposal to transform Soviet industry into co-operatives was abandoned, and they were transformed through the voucher system into straightforward capitalist enterprises. The result was chaos and the complete meltdown of the country’s economy under Boris Yeltsin, a drunk, corrupt incompetent, who was useful as a stooge to the Neo-Cons and Neo-Libs then in the White House and Downing Street.

This also explains one of the quotes the Scum attributed to Red Ken in their campaign against Labour in the 1987 general election. The rag produced a page of photos of various Labour MPs and activists, with a radical quote from each underneath the photo to scare people. Under Diane Abbott they placed the words, ‘All White people are racist’. With Red Ken they placed a line about how he wasn’t in favour of the army, but a corps of soldiers to defend the factories. Looking back now, it seems quite unlikely that those quotes were even true, especially Ken’s, except perhaps at a time in his early career when he, like many left-wingers, was far more radical. But his interest in perestroika, and the reintroduction of industrial democracy, also showed how much of a threat he was to Thatcher and her programme of grinding the workers down any way she could.