HC Deb 14 March 1991 vol 187 cc1191-208 9.45 pm
Mr. Terry Fields (Liverpool, Broadgreen)

This debate is important, not because I have anything to do with it but because it deals with world affairs and the relationship between this country and the Soviet Union.

Any breakdown in world relationships can have serious effects, as we saw in the Gulf war. I do not expect the Minister to agree with any of my arguments. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who will reply from the Labour Front Bench, may also experience difficulties. Nevertheless, in a so-called democratic society, I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will, as always, defend my right to express my view on behalf of all the minorities in our society. If a vote were taken at the end of the debate, it would be stretching the loyalty of the left of the Labour party to hope that they would go even three quarters of the way along the road with me.

In a debate on the Soviet Union and eastern Europe on 4 March, the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) said: The distorting prism of Marxist theology lies shattered on the ground. The old style of Soviet Government has failed the Soviet people and, for that reason, is finished. That bogus linkage was made intentionally to confuse the two issues when the events in the Soviet Union are analysed.

The Minister went on to say that Great Britain's policy is to encourage, to stimulate and, where we can, to reward political and economic reform in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. Those remarks smack of imperalism, paternalism and even a little impudence. We say that we do not want to interfere in the internal policies of those nations but that, so long as their policies are conducive to our way of thinking, we shall reward them.

The Minister of State continued: We have no right—indeed, we lack the capacity—to influence the way in which the Soviet peoples will ultimately determine their future. A little further in the debate, the Minister outlined the Government's proposals for a policy on the Soviet Union: We must recognise that within the Soviet Union the greatest shortage is not of food, but of expertise and that is precisely what we have to offer. We can offer knowledge to develop an entrepreneurial system; training and advice to those engaged in new projects and market-oriented enterprises; and assistance to those engaged in constructing the legal framework for a market economy. That approach is the objective of the United Kingdom's know-how fund for the Soviet Union and it was also the purpose of the Community's technical assistance programme."—[Official Report, 4 March 1991; Vol. 187, c. 82–84.] That is a clear, capitalistic analysis of a capitalist programme to resolve the problems in the Soviet Union.

The theme of the debate is Anglo-Soviet relations in the light of recent developments in the Soviet Union. If we want to look to the future, we must examine what is happening today and has happened in the past, in the light of what the Minister of State said. We must consider the economic and social conditions that prevail today, which might prevail in the future and which certainly prevailed in the past. The Minister outlined the Government's programme. Let us make no bones about it—it is a Conservative, capitalist policy. I am not a capitalist, but a member of the Labour party, which I joined to change the nature of society. I propose a policy for workers in this country and in the Soviet Union which is far from the agenda that the Minister will propose tonight.

In my book, foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy, and I do not believe that the majority of workers in this country have much confidence in the Government's domestic policy. It logically follows that they can have no confidence in the Government's foreign policy. Therefore, we have to establish the veracity of the prognostications of the British Government and the programme of world capitalism.

I do not want to go into the Gulf war in detail but it impinges on world relations. Exactly what was the United States doing in the Gulf? With the demise of the Warsaw pact, the National Security Council in the United States, in a paper to President Bush, said clearly: We shall need to replace the Warsaw Pact. Saddam Hussein and Iraq are the rationale for the continuation of cold war spending with the decline of the Warsaw Pact. That is a written fact and a policy of the United States.

Our relationship with the Soviet Union has implications for not only the United Kingdom but the world. The Minister talked about the prism of Marxism being smashed on the floor in Russia, but neither Marx, Engels nor Lenin ever imagined that a state with the grotesque totalitarian character of Stalin's dictatorship would arise in the course of the world's transition from capitalism to socialism, which is part of my perspective. In my perspective, the establishment of the first worker state through the revolution in Russia in 1917 was the highest achievement in human history. The Minister will not agree, and others in the Chamber tonight will also disagree. Yet, under the rule of bureaucracy, the same state of which I applauded the inception has degenerated into a form of rule which is barely distinguishable from Hitler's fascism.

Leon Trotsky, one of the joint leaders of the Russian revolution in 1917, said in 1936, 20 years after the revolution—but he could equally make the same points today— However we may interpret the nature of the present Soviet state, one thing is indubitable. At the end of its second decade of existence, the state has not only not died away but not even begun to die away. Worst than that, it has grown into a hitherto unheard of apparatus of compulsion. The bureaucracy has not only disappeared, yielding its place to the masses, but it has turned into an uncontrolled force dominating the masses. The army not only has not been replaced by an armed people but has given birth to a privileged officer caste crowned with marshalls, while the people, the armed bearers of the dictatorship are now forbidden in the Soviet Union to carry non explosive weapons. Trotsky went on: With the utmost stretch of fantasy, it 'would be difficult to imagine a contrast more striking than that which exists between the schema of a worker state according to Marx, Engels and Lenin and the actual state now headed by Stalin"— and today by Gorbachev.

While, they continue to publish the works of Lenin, which espouse the ideas of Marx, in excerpts and distorted by the centre, the present leaders of the Soviet Union and their ideological representatives do not even raise questions about the causes of such a criminal divergence from the programme and the reality of the situation there. The Marxist programme of the Bolsheviks in 1917 and of Lenin and Trotsky and the group at the head of the revolution have been diverted and diffused, all allegedly in the name of socialism and communism.

Today, Soviet workers believe in neither Stalinism, Gorbachevism or Yeltsinism. I do not say that academically but as someone who has been over to Russia and discussed with Soviet workers. I continue to correspond with people in that part of the world. Workers understand in the Soviet Union that Gorbachev and Yeltsin are but different wings of the same bureaucratic elite, who are responsible for the crisis both in the past and at present. What were at first mere distortions in the system developed into the system itself. Quantitative change became qualitative change and the bureaucracy entrenched itself in state power as a force with material interest.

Bourgeois law on distribution prevailed, but the means of production after 1917 was in state property as it remains today. In the first years of the workers' state, Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks feared that, if the Russian revolution remained isolated, capitalism would be restored. We have seen elements of that today in the Soviet Union. That possibility remained inherent in the conflict between bourgeois and socialist tendencies in the state that existed at that time.

The counter-revolution developed in a different way. The bureaucracy usurped power from the working class, but continued to rest on the same basis of a nationalised and planned economy. It carried through a political, not a social, counter-revolution. That showed the superiority of a nationalised and planned economy over capitalism. The bureaucracy defended that economy, because they feared to provoke the Russian working class by moving towards capitalism and also because, with an expanding economy, it was assured of its increasing privilege. Again, that has been exposed by Yeltsin and others in analysing his and Gorbachev's defects.

With nationalisation and planning—even though at huge cost—the Soviet economy developed rapidly under the rule of bureaucracy at a rate of 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. a year at its height. That rate has never been achieved in the history of capitalism. In contrast, between the first and second world wars, capitalism made no fundamental breakthrough in developing the forces of production but lurched from crisis to crisis.

As I shall show later, the conditions in which the Soviet bureaucracy exists today are different. On the basis of a nationalised and planned economy and even with all its warts, faults and mismanagement, the Soviet Union today has more scientists, engineers and technicians per head of the population than any other country. It can send expeditions into space and has the most highly educated working class of any major country, east or west.

On the basis of bureaucratic rule, the Soviet Union has not been able to deploy all its resources even to catch up with the forces of production and labour productivity of the most advanced capitalist countries. It cannot even guarantee supplies, let alone supplies of adequate quality, of the most basic food in the shops.

In the statement that I mentioned earlier, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: We must recognise that within the Soviet Union, the greatest shortage is not of food".—[Official Report, 4 March 1991; Vol. 187, c. 84.] I dispute that, and use as my reference point Andrei Orlov, the deputy chairman of the States Commission for Economic Reform in the Soviet Union. He admits that, of 1,200 basic commodities which should be available in big cities, only 56 can be bought on a regular basis. Where obtainable, sugar, soap and detergent are rationed almost everywhere, and meat, sausages and butter are rationed in one city in five.

The Independent on Sunday reported in May last year that a British journalist accompanied two Moscow housewives on a shopping expedition with 60 roubles to spend. They visited 13 shops in three different shopping areas. They took three hours to do their shopping but, at the end of the day, they had managed to spend only 24.27 roubles. They could find no decent meat, rice, cheese, eggs or even fruit. Shops were unaccountably closed, queues were too long to wait in—for example, for flour—or the produce was too rotten to buy. They bought barely enough for one evening meal, let alone for a weekend. That is the real symptom of the crisis of Stalinism in the Soviet Union today.

Last week we celebrated—in this country and internationally—International Women's Day. That coincided with a poll published in the Soviet Weekly on 7 March, which questioned women in the Soviet Union on their attitudes to the state and what was happening. A third of the 2,700 women polled said that they had no faith in perestroika because they had no trust in its leaders. Over half the women believed that its policies were unrealisable. Nearly half cited deteriorating food supplies, consumer goods and children's clothes.

Perestroika has had no impact on the day-to-day reality of women's existence. Significantly, although only 1 per cent. of women who work in most of the Soviet Union have been on strike, one in five of those polled now say that they would take industrial action, given the chance. That opinion poll reflects the rift between the power structures and the ordinary people, and the dichotomy between the expectations raised by perestroika and the harsh realities of civil life today.

I do not know where in Moscow or in Leningrad the Minister of State did his shopping when he said that there was not a problem about food. When I was there last May, that was not the case. It was explained to me by a Soviet citizen who said that the Soviet person today is like man, the primitive hunter. He goes out in the morning not knowing whether he is going to come back with food for his wife, his children and the rest of his family. That is the reality today.

Unlike the Minister, I did not spend my time in the British embassy; I spent my time in Siberia. Perhaps some of the comrades in this establishment think that that is where I should be. I spent my time with miners who had been on strike, and who had formed strike committees and town committees. I saw some of the deprivation there. I spent time in Leningrad and in Moscow, not in the best hotels, but living in workers' homes. To a small extent, I experienced what they were experiencing, so that I could report back faithfully to the British working class.

Six years of perestroika have solved none of the problems of the Soviet people. The standards for some may have improved—for the black marketeers and for the sharks who are the natural constituency of the capitalist class—but not for the masses. That is the reality. Food and commodities are being diverted. Some of the co-operatives and private enterprises, which are so laudable in the philosophy of the Conservatives, are extensive because of that.

I spoke to a woman who could not exist on her wages as a schoolteacher in Moscow. She does two or three jobs to reach a decent standard of living. Her response was, "Given the background of black market conditions, I would do better working in the ticket office at the Bolshoi ballet, because I should then be able to make a few bob slipping tickets to the bureaucracy and to the privileged in society. I should be better off despite all my qualifications.

I spoke to a factory worker who had won the big prize in a factory of some 10,000 workers. When I asked what she had won, she said that she had won a ticket. I asked what the ticket was for, and she said, "The ticket entitles me to go into a shop. If it has a coat, I will have the chance to buy it. It would have cost me three months' wages." She was the heroine of the factory for winning the ticket. That shows the shortages and the cost of living for ordinary families.

The idea of the market is easily acceptable to some people in the Soviet Union. They have never had it so bad and they believe that the market is the key to heaven in living conditions. I spoke at the founding conference of the Independent Workers Movement in Novokuznetsk in Siberia. Workers from all over the Soviet Union tried to achieve freedom and democracy for themselves, and they wanted to break out from the old structures.

I addressed the conference, and upset some of them when I asked them to which market they were attracted. I asked whether it was the stock market—the spivs' paradise, where people gamble daily on what a commodity will cost next week, next month or next year—or whether it was the market that we understand in this country, the market of the capitalist which exploits and destroys people. Such is the desperate state of the masses over there that even capitalism can appear to be an attraction.

The bureaucracy has become intoxicated with the apparent success of capitalism in the advanced countries in the past eight years. They little realise, because it has not been explained to them, that the success has been based on world expansion, and especially on the rise in oil prices. Capitalism offers no way out for any of those regimes. The consequences are already being revealed in Poland, which is among the furthest along the road to the market. It has seen massive price rises and growing unemployment since the beginning of the year. Yes, there are now goods in the shops, but only the privileged few can afford to buy them. The same situation will follow, to the extent that the market replaces the plan as governor of the economy, in East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

I am sure that western capitalists in general, and representatives of the Conservative party in particular, are rubbing their hands with glee at what they falsely regard as the failure of socialism. They are not prepared to pump massive amounts of investment into eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, because they are not confident. There are safer opportunities to reap profits. We have seen the monetary unification of West Germany and East Germany. Effectively, capitalism has been restored in parts of the east. Once the Berlin wall had been brought down, West German capitalism was driven rapidly on this road.. The alternative was a mass exodus of the people of East Germany to the west.

West German capitalism declares itself ready to pay the price of unification. The west Germans are prepared to pour state and private funds into the east. But that does not remove the inevitable reality of rising unemployment, which is occurring even as we speak tonight. There will be attacks on the living standards of working people. Since monetary union in July last year, the number of unemployed people in east Germany is reported to have increased by 40,000 a week. It is estimated that the rate of unemployment will rise to between 60 per cent. and 70 per cent.

Should capitalism be restored in the Soviet Union, the contradictions of world capitalism will be increased rather than eased. The underlying antagonism between capitalism and the planned economy has been a key factor limiting inter-imperialist rivalry. By contrast, a new capitalist Soviet Union will not only force the United States, Japan and Germany to engage in more fierce competition, but become an imperialist rival in its own right. The fundamental reason for the inability to restore capitalism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to promise the prosperity of west Germany, Sweden, Japan or the United States is that the productivity of labour in Stalinist countries is only half the level of that in the advanced capitalist countries.

That is now recognised even by some sections of the intelligentsia in the Soviet Union. In a keynote speech at a recent meeting of intellectuals, Boris Kazarlitsky, an elected member of the official Moscow Soviet, warned that Soviet capitalism would have more in common with Brazil or Colombia than the models we have seen in eastern Europe. That is a reality arising from the backwardness of productivity and from the decline and abuse of the system over the decades.

Of course, there is a price to be paid for going down the capitalist road. This was recently spelt out in a World bank report, which said that no dollars would be provided except for private ownership. What cynicism. Starving people cry out even for handouts, but private ownership is to be set above the needs of people. But that is capitalism all over. In the debate on 4 March, the Minister of State said that he did not want to interfere. But interference does take place—indeed, is taking place.

Recently, the International Monetary Fund sent three American gentleman with their briefcases to Poland to negotiate a loan to that country. A condition of the loan was that the Polish Finance Minister would be sacked, and a gentleman who was unpopular because of his economic measures appointed in his place. Those economic measures entailed high inflation, planned closures and redundancies, and led to the failure of the outgoing Prime Minister in the presidential elections that have just taken place.

The guy who was imposed by the International Monetary Fund not only runs the finance of the country, but also has the final say in who should fill various Cabinet posts. According to a former senior Solidarity adviser, the result is that Poland now has an apolitical Government, totally unrepresentative of the people and functioning in what amounts to a banana republic. That is what international capitalism is about—client states which themselves have no say.

It was said glibly that there would be no interference, but the size of the crisis in the Soviet Union is enormous. That is something that we must bear in mind when we are considering future relations between the Soviet Union and this country and indeed the world. The movements for autonomy in the various republics and the splits in society must be studied.

We have seen on our television screens demonstrations in Leningrad, Moscow and other parts of the Soviet Union. A recent demonstration coincided with the news that the Soviet economy is facing a dive into recession so deep that its own official forecasters are making comparisons with the famines which beset the country in the early 1930s.

Gosplan—the official planning institution of the Soviet Union—has produced a forecast which shows that Russia's gross national product will fall this year by at least 11.6 per cent. whatever policies are followed. The country can carry on with the Stalinist regime of Gorbachev or go over to capitalism, but the gross national product will fall by 11.6 per cent. this year alone.

Again according to Gosplan, industrial production will fall by 15 per cent. and agricultural production, much needed in the cities, will fall by 5 per cent. The forecasters say that the decline in the gross national product could be as much as 16 per cent. unless the Government introduce a number of hard measures, including price rises, very soon. There are non-existent products and a crisis in the economy. If people are to eat, prices will rocket. That is the only way to resolve the problems.

I have spoken about rising economic nationalism, and that has exacerbated food and other shortages. For instance, Leningrad is suffering a cut of 70 per cent. in meat supplies because of the problems created by the recession in other parts of the Soviet Union.

According to the draft version of the new treaty due to be signed this weekend, each republic will have a share in the gold, diamond and hard currency reserves of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the recipients of that largesse will also take on responsibility for the Soviet debt. That is something for us to consider. It now stands at around $60 billion, with $7 billion more in unpaid debts to foreign exporters accumulated by Soviet companies recently granted trading rights.

The Soviet Union's official reserves have traditionally been held tight by the centre under great secrecy, but the veil has been partially lifted. Earlier this year, 234 tonnes of gold were sold in Moscow and $5 billion-worth of diamonds have been promised to a Swiss firm, the De Beers corporation, during the next five years.

A week or so ago Mr. Uri Poletayev, the deputy chairman of the bank of foreign and economic affairs, revealed that the bank had repaid $12.5 billion-worth of short-term deposits to western banks which had stopped making commercial loans to the Soviet Union because of the high risks.

The crisis is desperate. It is against that background that the release of $1 billion food aid by the EEC and the resumption of negotiations with the IMF and the World bank, both frozen after the repression of the Baltic states, hold out only minimal relief for the masses in the Soviet Union.

The Minister offers the workers and toilers in the Soviet Union capitalist solutions, holding up the capitalist system as the epitome of all that is good in life. I wish that he would explain the crisis in the American economy, which has a budget and trading deficit and 30 million people living below the poverty line. The centre of international capitalism is a crises-ridden system. The recession is biting there, as it is biting here. Japan's economy is slowing down. Capitalist countries are doing nothing about hunger, deprivation and poverty in the third world.

If capitalism is so wonderful, I am sure that the Minister will be only too proud to tell people in the Soviet Union that, as Radio 4 reported this afternoon, business closures in Great Britain increased by 77 per cent. in 1990 and are forecast to increase by 25 per cent. this year. Interest rates may be falling dramatically, but can he explain to the Soviet people what the market and capitalism means in Britain? Figures from the CBI and the business community show that, every day, 100 businesses are closing, 3,000 workers are being thrown on to the stones through redundancy, and 125 homes are being repossessed.

The national health service is in total disarray, and I do not want to hear any nonsense from Conservative Members about more investment in real terms. Our families are dependent on hospital treatment but cannot get it because of bed closures and queues. That is a wonderful example for the Soviet masses.

Homelessness is evident every night of the week at the entrance to this place. During the recent cold spell, homeless people had to lie in the snow because they had no home, yet the Government make no provision for house building. Poverty is endemic, education has suffered and interest rates and inflation are high.

How should workers resolve those contradictions and difficulties? I spoke at a meeting of Soviet miners, who were the vanguard of the struggle in 1988 and were lauded by our then Prime Minister. It was a different story when Arthur Scargill and the national Union of Mineworkers fought against pit closures and for democracy in the coalfields. The Government support people who fight for democracy abroad, but when it is closer to home they say, "Hey, leave it out."

This month, millions of Soviet miners have started indefinite strikes for higher pay, better food and decent housing. Their strike two years ago for more food and basic essentials—such as soap—in a civilised society revealed the depth of popular anger at the failure of perestroika to deliver better living standards. The latest strike, which was co-ordinated by the conference that I was priviliged to attend, is for more reforms and pay increases.

I have great affinity with the mining community in this country. I went down a mine in Siberia and saw the dreadful conditions in which those miners work. Having risked their lives on behalf of the Soviet Union, they live in ramshackle homes with no food for their families. That leads them to conclude that things must change.

In the Soviet Union, 7 million working days were lost through strikes between January and September 1989. In the biggest movement since 1917, 100,000 miners struck in Siberia and the Ukraine in July last year. The rate of strikes last year was higher than the year before. Independent democratic unions are being established by miners and by other workers who have increasing political demands. The industrial struggle is moving on to a political plain. A Siberian metal worker told a British capitalist journalist: Theoretically, everything is the people's property. In fact, an uncontrolled apparatus decides everything. The only answer is to make us real masters of the factories and of the land. Against that background, I held discussions with those people.

On 4 March, the Minister said something that I agreed with: that the old-style government has failed. Of course it has failed, but those people have been told that the system that they have been living under—bankrupt and bureaucratic, with fiddling, black marketeers, repression and a lack of democractic rights—is socialism. The theoretical works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky have nothing to do with that so-called "socialism". It is like feeding me plaster of paris in a white bottle and telling me that it is milk. When my inside is destroyed, a doctor advises milk to treat the ailment, so I get another bottle of plaster of paris. That is the experience of workers in the Soviet Union.

All these theroretical works are dirty words for workers in the Soviet Union. I was there on 1 May. I asked them whether they would be singing the Internationale. "Forget it," they said. I asked whether there would be demonstrations. "Forget that, too," they said. They do not want to know about a planned economy, Marxism or anything else. They have been told that socialism is responsible for homelessness, shortages and deprivation, but it is not. The finest planned economy in the world is mismanaged by the bureaucracy—the privileged elite and the nomenklatura. There was falsification by the Stalinists and capitalist propaganda.

There was a chink of light in all the misery and despondency. When I said that I was a socialist, they looked at me quizzically—just as those people on the Conservative Benches look at me as though I have come from another planet. I explained what we mean by democratic socialism. I talked about control of industry by the workers—of nationalised industries under the control and management of workers. That failed in this country because of our mixed economy, with capitalist bosses in charge, because the interests of- the workers are diametrically opposed to those of management.

When I asked a Siberian foundry worker whether he wanted real democratic socialism, with a say in what is produced and where the profits go, he said that he did. I referred to the accountability of elected representatives, both political and trade union representatives, and to the right of trade union members to require their representatives to give an account of their stewardship. He said that he would like that, too. When I asked whether he would like those who are accountable to the workers not to be too far removed from general conditions on the shop floor and not to live in dachas, with the missus walking around dripping in mink while housewives in Moscow, Leningrad and elsewhere cannot provide decent food for their families, he said that he wanted equality in society and democratic management of the economy. We may call it socialism; he may call it something else, but the essence of socialism is the same, despite the fact that it has been dragged through the gutter.

The Soviet working classes and their newly formed democratic organisations are pioneers, starting again from scratch. However, the structures are there, and there is a degree of state planning. They are searching for a programme. Anatoly Lukyanov, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, was reported on 11 March as saying about the Soviet Union that Soviet society was white hot and that one match could set it afire.

That is the prospect for millions of workers in the Soviet Union. It is in turmoil; it is a hotbed of discontent. The workers are looking for direction and were present at these meetings and discussions. Leon Trotsky's book "The Revolution Betrayed" is being distributed in the Soviet Union, and is being grabbed by workers who want to read the real history of the Soviet Union. They want to find out for themselves why Stalinist bureaucracy railroaded them down the road that is responsible for today's conditions.

This debate is part of our current and future discussions on Anglo-Soviet relations. The Marxist perspective is conditional on the time bomb of social contradictions and discontent, both nationally and internationally, but particularly today in the Soviet Union. In 1936, Trotsky said that the fate of eastern Europe and the USSR would in the last analysis be decided by the struggle of living social forces internationally and in the world arena—that it would not be decided by the commentators on capitalism or by the proponents of the capitalist system people with pipe dreams, in quest of more profits and the exploitation of fresh markets to increase their wealth.

The system is bankrupt, exploitative and immoral. When planning their strategy, the Government should take no comfort from what is happening and from what will happen in the Soviet Union. If they think that they will make a fast buck from it, they can forget it. They will have to look for it elsewhere. As a socialist and a Marxist, I remain optimistic—and, as ever, realistic—about the size of the task that we and workers everywhere still have to do. We have consummate confidence in the future.

In time, there will be a socialist revolution in this country. We shall look after our friends when it comes. There will be a socialist revolution in Europe and in the USSR, and we shall create the new world order. We will put people before profit. We will protect young and old alike, allowing older people to live out their declining years with a little dignity. That is a socialist perspective. It is the only one that holds out any long-term solutions to the contradictions and crises facing workers in this country and in the Soviet Union, who must work, in mutually acceptable forums to resolve the problems created in this country and the west by acquisitive capitalism, and in the east by bankrupt Stalinism.

10.25 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) on his success in the ballot and on his choice of subject. I confess that I wish that he had called it "British-Soviet relations", but I hope that he will not be upset by that detail. He spoke with a wealth of personal experience in various parts of the Soviet Union, and he offered us a theoretical analysis.

My hon. Friend said that he assumed that not only the Government but the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman would differ from his analysis. I will not disappoint him: we do, indeed, differ. My hon. Friend implied that 1917 was distorted by Stalin. I suggest that inherent in the events of 1917 were the purge of the Kulaks, the purges of the 1930s and democratic centralism. Perhaps, too, it is inherent in human nature to succumb to what Kolokovsky called the totalitarian temptation, which is that those who see a brighter future but fail to erect checks and balances fail to understand the faults in human nature and are thus easily disappointed—even though they cry with optimism as they are led to the scaffold, as were some of the revolutionaries in France and, in the 1930s, in the Soviet Union.

My hon. Friend set out the alternative scenario of Trotsky. Where and when in any past or present society can he find a model that fulfilled or fulfils the criteria for a society that he has outlined? If he cannot name one, does not that suggest that his analysis may be faulty and that part of the problem lies in human nature and in the totalitarian temptation to which I have alluded?

Mr. Terry Fields

I cannot give my hon. Friend an example, but that does not prevent me from striving towards a democratic society in which we control our own destinies. My hon. Friend's argument apes the one thrown out by the opponents of socialism about the Stalinist excesses of the eastern bloc and of the Soviet Union. Clause IV (4) of the Labour party's constitution speaks of democratic control of society by the masses, and whatever else may change in my party, that clause will remain on my membership card.

Mr. Anderson

I invite my hon. Friend to consider again the reasons why, perhaps, there has been no such society and there is no such society. I remind him of the temptations that in the Soviet Union distorted 1917 through to the purges, to the Kulaks and to the totalitarianism that perhaps was the inevitable result of the principles of Stalin, which brooked no obstacle and no attempt to ascertain, as Cromwell might have said, whether there was another way. So be it.

I return to the key part of the debate, which is the nature of British-Soviet relations in the light of recent developments in the Soviet Union. My starting point is the internal state of the Soviet Union. We are passing through a period of extreme uncertainty, even confusion, with the paralysis of policy-making in the Soviet Union. We have a war of sovereignties between the different power structures in the Kremlin under President Gorbachev and the Russian Federation under Mr. Yeltsin. There are other challenges to the authority of the Kremlin in the Baltic republics, in Georgia and in other parts of the old Tsarist and Stalinist empire. The war of sovereignty is perhaps personified in the confrontation between President Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin. Some try to portray it as the conflict between the conservatives and the democrats.

Who would choose, with the multiplicity of conflicts, to be in the shoes of President Gorbachev? Who would be confident about the time scale or the direction of the massive movements that are now under way within the Soviet Union?

If one feels impatient and frustrated at the lack of progress and the current indecision, perhaps it is possible to be heartened by looking back over the past 10 years. It was 10 years ago that we saw the beginning of the new cold war. It was a time when President Reagan was referring to the Soviet Union as the evil empire. The then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), was creating a pale echo of that strident Reaganite rhetoric in a speech in Canada. That was before she saw the new apparition of President Gorbachev in 1985 and thereafter.

I had reasons to read an issue of The House Magazine in 1985 that featured the 40th anniversary of the United Nations. I compared it with what appeared to in the edition of December 1990, to which, I think, the Minister contributed. In 1985, we were in the last part of the new cold war. There was the assumption in a series of articles that that war would continue. We can take heart from the substantial changes that have taken place over the past five years or so. Both in domestic and foreign policy, the situation in the Soviet Union has altered dramatically. We should appreciate the changes, be prepared to understand the changes and the transitions through which we are passing and be prepared to adjust our own policies accordingly.

Internally the effects of glasnost and perestroika can be seen, for example, in the mass demonstrations that took place last Sunday throughout the Soviet Union. More than 500,000 people protested against the conditions to which my hon. Friend was referring—the shortages, the corruption, the lack of democracy, the paralysis of policy. That would not and could not have taken place even only five years ago. On sees strikes among the miners and a new era of political freedom. Yet those internal moves to democracy have been accompanied by an accelerating economic decline and a feeling of hopelessness and impotence among the policy makers and the people.

Externally, the new spirit in the Soviet Union has had a marked effect over a wide area. We see it most dramatically in Europe with the dismantling of the Berlin wall, the unification of Germany and the end of the old Soviet empire in eastern Europe. But it is also seen more broadly in the new co-operation by the Soviet Union in arms control agreements and in the easing of international relations in many parts of the third world, for example, in the developments in southern Africa, beginning with the independence of Namibia and the dramatic changes in South Africa itself. Those could not have happened had it not been for the greater co-operation of the Soviet authorities.

More recently, and perhaps most dramatically, we have seen the effects of the changes externally in the Soviet Union co-operation over the Gulf war. We recognise that even five years ago that could not have happened because of the alliance between the Soviet Union and Iraq, with Iraq a major purchaser of Soviet military hardware, with the Soviet Union regarding Iraq as its major foothold in the middle east and with the generals being largely in control. The new spirit, personified by President Gorbachev and Mr. Shevardnadze, was responsible in large part for the relative ease of international co-operation in the Gulf crisis.

Perhaps it is an answer to my hon. Friend's Marxist analysis that we are talking about changes which probably occurred as a result of the remarkable imprint on history of one man. That surely conflicts with the classic Marxist analysis that one has an economic substructure on which all else within the pyramid is built, as if we are the playthings of movements in the substructure. How can one fit into that analysis the remarkable changes in the Soviet Union as a result of the personal efforts of one man—President Gorbachev? It may be that he is played out as a reformer; I do not know, but no one can deny the vast changes, internally and externally, which have come about because of his activities. I do not see how those changes could be accommodated within the pure Marxist analysis.

Mr. Terry Fields

Some valid points need to be made. Is my hon. Friend saying that Gorbachev is not a Marxist and that it is not a Marxist economy? My hon. Friend is underlining what I said. There has never been a proper Marxist economy in the Soviet Union because of Stalinism. What we see today is neither socialism nor anything else. Gorbachev is moving because he feels the hot breath of the workers on the back of his neck. We cannot call it democracy if reforms are implemented from the top. The reforms will come from the masses, and not from Gorbachev or Yeltsin.

Mr. Anderson

The point I am making is simply that in my judgment those changes could not have come about had it not been for the personal commitment of President Gorbachev. It is an example of the influence of an individual on history, not of the effect of the interplay of some anonymous swirl of forces in the economic substructure. We can continue that theoretical argument elsewhere, at a different time.

We are seeing the emergence of a new world order. The Gulf crisis showed that there is probably now only one super-power, at least politically and militarily—the United States, joined on the economic front by Japan and Germany.

We are also witnessing a period of rapid change within the Soviet Union and one is bound to ask how permanent it is. Is the present period of indecision merely a pause or smoking break, is it irreversible, and is there a real danger of a stepping back, as the darker forces of the KGB and the Russian army take over whatever reforming impulses President Gorbachev may yet have?

Who knows what shape the USSR will eventually assume? It is generally acknowledged that, as a consequence of the Soviet Union's policies of the past five years, the genie of reform is out of the bottle and there is no way that a more repressive regime could squeeze it back for any length of time. That is the context of change in the Soviet Union, within which we must formulate our bilateral policy.

My hon. Friend spoke of a bilateral relationship between England—I would prefer to say Britain—and the Soviet Union, but in no wise did he refer to the European Community. We must surely accept that is now the forum in which much of our policy is formulated.

The Community responded speedily to the killings by forces loyal to the Kremlin in Vilnius on 13 January and in Riga on 20 January, by suspending the aid package of food and technical assistance for the Soviet Union that it had prepared. If Britain alone had taken that action, it would have had very little effect; because it was taken with the full weight of the Community behind it, the effect was substantial.

One looks back over 10 years to the beginnings of the new cold war and of the concept of the evil empire and forward to the next 10 years of a highly uncertain and possibly unstable Soviet Union. The balance within the USSR may change. Some argue that, over the next decade, its present nature will alter dramatically, and that there will only be left the core of the Russian federation—Byelorussia, the Ukraine, and Khazakstan—with not only the other existing republics, including the Baltics, but the Asian republics forming a looser confederation that may have no relationship with the core.

What will be the relationship of that core Soviet Union with the new Europe? We cannot attempt to answer that question tonight, but, in terms of our bilateral relationships, it is in our interests to respond sensibly to the major internal changes that are now under way in the Soviet Union. It is not in our interests to promote instability. The picture of a series of loose cannons jolting and knocking around the deck will make anyone who is seriously concerned about the future of our continent shudder.

As a country, and as part of the European Community, we have every interest in seeking ever closer co-operation with the Soviet Union, but that must be a conditional co-operation—conditional on the acceptance of basic human rights within the Soviet Union. That was our theme two weeks ago—the European Community and its relationship with eastern Europe and the USSR. The consensus in the House was that we supported Gorbachev the reformer, but not Gorbachev the man no matter what he may do. Therefore, a strong human rights theme underpins the development of our policies towards the Soviet Union.

Clearly, a strong effort needs to be made in this country to understand the Soviet Union more. I recall—I think that it was in the 1960s—that the policy formulators created the Hayter fund in our universities. Alas, within our educational structure, the commitment to the Hayter fund seems to have waned substantially. Whether we should seek to breathe new life into the academic study of the Soviet Union and other exchanges is a matter for our policy makers to consider. Clearly there has been a decline in that relationship.

Wherever possible we should seek to encourage co-operation and dialogue. In the internal debate within the Soviet Union, especially in relation to the Baltics, we must try to understand, and to be respected by both sides. So far as we are able, we must try to play a constructive role, recognising, for example, the complexity of the problems relating to the Baltics and the substantial Soviet interests which remain in those republics because of the military and economic integration which has taken place, for good or ill, in the past 50 years.

There are major things that we and our European partners can do, which the United States, because of its history and geography, would never be able to do, as we seek constructively to define the common European home, to which President Gorbachev alluded. Clearly, that common European home was not possible when, as one hon. Member said, there was a wall through the front room—through Berlin. Now that the Berlin wall has gone, there are possibilities for much greater co-operation.

Within that common European home which will evolve—and evolve constructively—as we try to understand the Soviet Union, its problems and the internal changes, we believe that we can live together, work together and trade together in a constructive and positive way.

10.48 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) is to be congratulated on raising this subject tonight for one reason in particular. At one moment in the speech by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) from the Opposition Front Bench, it seemed possible that we would witness a debate between him and his hon. Friend the Member for Broadgreen on the nature and meaning of socialism. That would have been most illuminating to the House—especially to all my hon. Friends, who have never understood what socialism was about anyway. We were not afforded that opportunity, but we heard interesting contributions from both hon. Members.

It is only fair to say to the hon. Member for Broadgreen that his speech was not about Anglo-Soviet relations but was a litany of despair that the Soviet people should have gone so astray. He admitted, honestly and indeed proudly, that he was a Marxist analysis. Of course we are all proud of the fact that, in this country and this House, everyone is entitled to his opinions and has an opportunity to express them; I cannot help noting, however, that allowing the free expression of dissenting opinion has not been the invariable practice of the Governments who have espoused the Marxist views advanced by the hon. Gentleman tonight.

In my reply, I do not intend to espouse what is without doubt a capitalist analysis of the position; I shall content myself with a few observations about our relations with the Soviet Union in recent years, and about recent developments there.

The reforms of the past six years have produced changes of lasting significance. They are far from complete, and they are not all irreversible, but it would certainly not be possible to recreate the monolothic communist state of old principally because, for the Soviet people, the truth is now out. Despite recent attempts to curb Soviet television and impose renewed restrictions on the press, information is no longer shackled and controlled as it has been in the past.

The Soviet people have become aware of the problems and failings of the system that has ruled them for 70 years. They have been able to see the way in which life is lived on the outside, in a way that can never be gainsaid. The Communist party of the Soviet Union—which lay at the heart of the old system—still has a large nominal membership, and retains considerable influence on the central Soviet authorities, but it is deeply discredited and has lost its monopoly on power, and—as the Soviet people have grasped the idea of elections with more than one candidate—governing bodies within republics and cities have in many cases fallen out of communist control.

The Soviet people have now acquired the idea of a law-based society, and the foundations of that are beginning to be built, although many elements of it remain to be put in place. They have also acquired the idea of freedom of travel: unprecedented numbers have, for the first time, been to the west in the past two or three years. All those developments are perhaps characterised by the observation of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) that the genie is out of the bottle.

Mr. Terry Fields

I concede that the question of travel is often overlooked. I can travel freely to certain parts of the Soviet Union; workers who are brought into Leningrad to work on specific projects, however, cannot move outside the city. Now that their work has finished —building a dam to ensure that the river does not overflow its banks—they cannot go home to their wives and families. So much for free travel in the Soviet Union.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The hon. Gentleman knows more than I do about some of the difficulties that remain, but surely he agrees that the position has been transformed from that of a few years ago, and that the prospect of travel has opened up new horizons and aspirations for the Soviet people.

Both the hon. Member for Broadgreen and the hon. Member for Swansea, East touched on my second point. Although the political advances of the past six years have been taking place, regrettably, progress in the development of the Soviet economy has not been as successful as everyone would have wished. Partial reform has, perhaps inevitably, led the economy into a deepening crisis, with industrial output falling, inflation rising and deficits increasing in food and other consumer goods. Some market mechanisms have been introduced—for example, in the co-operative sector—but a full-scale transition towards market economics has yet to be initiated, and the country is largely being run through what remains of the old centrally planned economy. It is in this area that we firmly and strikingly disagree with the analysis of the hon. Member for Broadgreen. It is not the introduction of capitalism that has caused the crisis in the Soviet economy but the failure to apply capitalism.

Mr. Terry Fields

The Minister misrepresents me.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If I misrepresented the hon. Member, I did so unwittingly, and I apologise.

In addition to the political changes and the lack of economic progress, there has been another major broad development—the crisis in the relationship between the central and republican authorities. One of the many welcome aspects of President Gorbachev's reforms was to decentralise power and to make possible the election of new and more genuinely representative republican and regional Governments, but this process has in turn raised questions of a fundamental nature about the powers to be assigned to republican bodies, and the degree of sovereignty to be enjoyed by the 15 union republics. The negotiations on the draft union treaty, and the referendum which is to be held on Sunday 17 March, have been a focal point for these discussions.

What attitude should we in Britain, the British Government, take to the Soviet Union in this turbulent transitional phase of its history? We do not know, and outsiders cannot determine, what will happen in the Soviet Union in the months and years ahead. But we should spell out clearly where we stand, and the Government propose to do so in several ways. I will touch on a few of them.

First, we stand for keeping open the many channels of communication that have developed in the past few years. Now is not the time to encourage a Soviet return to isolation. If we disagree with the policies which the Soviet Government are pursuing, we should discuss our disagreements frankly. We have many important interests in common with the Soviet Government. We share a vital concern in seeing, for example, a more secure and stable middle east in the wake of the Gulf conflict. We are both vitally engaged in building a safer and more prosperous Europe—for example, through the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. This new Europe must be built on trust and confidence.

Second, as a broad general principle, we do not seek to prescribe the future of the Soviet Union. All the peoples of the Soviet Union should enjoy the right to self-determination, but it is not for us to lay down how they should exercise that right. A process of evolution and of very active political debate is under way. Our policies will evolve in parallel with that process, as the hon. Member for Swansea, East said. We will seek to maintain effective working relationships with all those in authority throughout the Soviet Union, and to conduct appropriate business with them. We do not wish to see the Soviet Union descend into chaos or strife. We are well aware that it will be no easy task for the Soviet people to resolve their present difficulties.

Hon. Members have on many occasions rightly expressed concern about the predicament of the three Baltic republics. Democratic and peaceful negotiation is precisely what is needed there. The United Kingdom, like most western states, has never given legal recognition to the USSR's annexation of the Baltic states. They have a special history and a special status. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained to President Gorbachev the dismay that the violent events in Vilnius and Riga in January had evoked in the west. While we are glad that the elected authorities in the Baltic states remain in office, little progress has yet been made towards a substantive solution. Negotiations will take time; they will require patience and tolerance.

I have touched upon the problems of the Soviet economy. A third area of concern is the question of economic reform, and our economic and commercial relationship with the Soviet Union. Here, too, we and our western partners have made very clear where we stand. It is apparent that the highly centralised, rigid and monopolistic command-administrative system has failed the Soviet people. That is widely acknowledged, even within the Soviet Union. We believe that the overhaul and modernisation of the Soviet economy and more efficient exploitation of that country's huge natural resources and agricultural potential will be of common benefit.

With our partners in the European Community and the Group of Seven, we commissioned two major studies of the Soviet economy last year. They recommended a process of structural change, of the creation of markets and of introducing incentives for enterprises. As both reports made clear, that is a process in which western advice and training and western commercial investment could play an important part—as they are already doing in eastern Europe. The EC technical assistance programme and our own bilateral know-how fund have both demonstrated the west's willingness to offer tangible support for reform. If the Soviet Union moved decisively towards a market economy, I believe that those would prove to be only a first step.

British-Soviet relations are not simply the preserve of Governments. There is a considerable and growing network of connections between people in all walks of life—the hon. Member for Broadgreen is one—in this country and the Soviet Union, a network should evolve largely irrespective of politics. The Soviet people have inherited a sad legacy, and are going through considerable hardship as they work through the daunting task of reshaping their country. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said in a speech last month, we want to knit them into Europe as that becomes possible—the common European home referred to by the hon. Member for Swansea, East—and to continue bringing down the barriers of the past. There will be difficulties along the way, as there have been this year, but we are sure that it is the right objective, and one which hon. Members will support.