Rebellion Is Justified!: Reactionary Student Movements under Socialism and Revisionism

Tuesday, June 6

Reactionary Student Movements under Socialism and Revisionism

Recently, I have been studying the ways in which student movements were used to topple the revisionist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989, as well as how earlier right-wing student movements were aimed at subverting real socialism. Though the states in the region were not socialist in nature in 1989, I believe that the experience in these countries has implications for future socialist experience.

After Khrushchev attacked Stalin and the bulk of Soviet socialist experience in 1956, old and new reactionaries throughout the socialist countries (most of which were now in the process of restoring capitalism) took this as a signal and opening to attack the whole edifice of socialism, albeit sometimes under a “socialist” cover. The Hungarian events of 1956 are the most extreme expression of this. In this case, communists were viciously persecuted, Marxist books were burned, old fascists appeared openly and attacked police and state officials, reactionary clergy mobilized their flocks to loot and burn, and so on. In China during 1956, Mao had called for “one hundred flowers to bloom, one hundred schools of thought to contend.” The bourgeois rightists took advantage of this to agitate against the basic constitutional premises of socialism in China. Their aim was to replicate the Hungarian events in China. Mao quickly launched a campaign against the rightists, and made clear that democracy was for the people, but the organs of state power would defend socialism when contradictions with political elements became antagonistic in nature. By doing so, he maintained the political initiative for the communists in Chinese society, while in the European countries, which were changing color, the parties were politically and ideologically passive, failing to mobilize the masses and instead relying on secret police and law enforcement measures alone.

The student movements in Eastern Europe during 1989 were essentially reactionary in nature.* While the regimes against which they were agitating were not socialist, the protesters represented new and old bourgeois elements who were profoundly dissatisfied with the constraints on their political and economic activity which were largely a relic of the previous socialist order. They represented “experts” and “technocrats” who were no longer content to be paid significantly less, relatively speaking, than their Western counterparts. Incomes in Czechoslovakia, for instance, were quite egalitarian by international standards. Taking all this into account, there is a similarity between the rightist student movements of 1956-1957 and those of 1989, and a lesson for future socialist states.

Gorbachev and his clique were instrumental in engineering the dissolution of the revisionist order in Eastern Europe. They made a strategic decision as the ruling class of Russian imperialism that they could do better without what they perceived as the fetters imposed by their phony socialism. They endorsed those in the ruling parties in Poland and Hungary who wished to pursue multi-party, bourgeois politics, and openly go over to social democracy. The problem for Gorbachev, et al., was that there were Brezhnevite remnants in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. In Romania, Ceausescu was also not about to let go of the pretense of socialism. And so, the Soviet political agents, including KGB, encouraged and managed the political activity of various “democratic socialist” groups in these countries. In East Germany, the main group was called “New Forum,” which now is a part of the Green Party. In Czechoslovakia, social democrat Dubcek, the Communist Party leader who was overthrown in the 1968 Soviet invasion, was wheeled out.

At the beginning of October 1989, the crusty revisionists felt secure in their positions of power. In East Germany, leader Honecker was preparing festivities for the 40th anniversary of the republic. There was political resistance to the wind of “perestroika” coming both from Moscow and from the West. Soon, demonstrations began occurring, in which the participants called for “free speech” and for “socialism with a human face.” Slowly but surely, with the active intervention of the Soviet authorities, party leaderships in Eastern Europe were purged of those resisting “new thinking,” and concessions were made to the student-centered opposition. Suddenly, the protesters stopped talking about “socialism,” and instead sensed the weakness of the “communists,” and they began to strike at the heart of the legitimacy of their rule. Soon, the ruling parties, stripped of all leadership and sense of cohesion, stripped themselves of their leading state roles, and removed references to socialism and Marxism-Leninism from their respective state constitutions.

There is a lesson in this for future socialist states. The reactionary student movement is a favorite tool of internal and external class forces seeking to subvert socialism. It first parades as supportive of socialism and even as supportive of the Communist Party. We saw this in China’s right-wing Tienanman counterrevolutionary riots of April 1976, in which students upheld “socialism” and the deceased right-wing Premier Zhou Enlai, while beating up workers’ militia and slandering Mao and his closest comrades. Under socialism, the rightists don’t generally dare to openly oppose socialism, because this would provoke mass mobilization to defend revolutionary gains. Instead, they slowly eat away at the political foundations of socialism, seeking to confuse and disorient revolutionaries, until they have achieved their goal.

Future socialist states must learn from this experience. They must, first of all, adhere to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, wage successive cultural revolutions, and make the working people masters of society and not slaves to their labor. But furthermore, the socialist state must never conciliate with old or new reactionaries. It is fine to allow reactionary ideas to be expressed; in particular, this may serve as a good lesson by negative example. But the socialist state must also not hesitate to impose dictatorship over those who seek to restore the old order. All the student movement “liberalism” is a smokescreen, for they would unleash white terror given the opportunity. Future socialist states must prevent the emergence of new reactionary elements in academia and technical fields by keeping the working class in charge, ensuring that universities are filled with children of workers, and insofar as practical, integrating study with application through real-world work. Communists must assume a leading role in society. But the crux of this role is not legal-administrative, it is political and ideological. They must be the most active element politically, continuously mobilizing people and shaping public opinion. The Hungarian experience of 1956 is a good example of the consequences of ceding political ground and retreating into administrative affairs.

*Some Maoists may think that the collapse of revisionism in Eastern Europe was at least a democratic victory over “social-fascism,” but I do not agree. While now in these countries there is greater democracy in some areas, such as rights of assembly, speech, and the right to strike, in other areas, there is less freedom, such as with social guarantees, workplace democracy, and so on.

4 Comments:

At June 06, 2006, Blogger celticfire said...

I've always felt a little conflicted about the anti-rightist campaign, and this has been intepreted in a myriad of ways.

On the one hand, you did have a section of people who wanted to cause simular events like in Hungry, but, on the other hand, there were revisionists who used this is an excuse to silence honest sections of the masses who raised simple disagreements.

A sticky situation it seems.
What do you think?

 
At June 07, 2006, Blogger Klement said...

Definitely. And the rightist "work teams" dispatched in the early months of the Cultural Revolution also used this tactic, attempting to silence correct criticism of local officials.

I am sure that not a few honest intellectuals were wrongly condemned in the anti-rightist campaign. Many were not rehabilitated until after Mao's death. That is too bad, because it strengthened the political position of the Deng group. We need to learn from past mistakes. There should be a transparent legal mechanism to deprive only the worst reactionaries of their civil political rights. Even then, it's better to "befriend" them and keep them neutralized politically.

But for Hungary, I think it was pretty clear. You had Horthy fascists and supporters of the reactionary clerics going on a real rampage. The drivers of the armed revolt were clearly those who longed for the old fascist order.

 
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