Dave Osler says (Solidarity 214) that the AWL has “adhered” to Shachtman’s position, i.e. that the Stalinist states were/are a form of class exploitation distinct from capitalism (“bureaucratic collectivism”). That’s not quite accurate.
In fact our collective position, adopted in 1988, does not conclude exactly what the Stalinist states were/are. We agree that they were class societies, with ruling classes that the workers had to overthrow in a full political and social revolution. We agree that they not post-capitalist, but detours within the general epoch of capitalism.
Of those in the AWL who have a definite opinion, some, I think a majority, hold some sort of bureaucratic collectivist viewpoint. Others regard Stalinism as a form of state capitalism.
But what would be the benefit of voting through a majority position? We have rough agreement on everything that significantly affects our political programme. Meanwhile, we continue to debate the theory.
As our 1988 document, “Reassessing the Eastern Bloc”, put it: “Too often discussion of the command economies on the left has been just a search for a label that can then be wielded as a sect badge. But a label is no substitute for detailed, careful, factual analysis...
“Our concern is first and foremost to develop an exact, concrete assessment of the workers’ struggles and the bureaucracy’s operations in the Eastern Bloc, and to fight for a programme for workers’ liberty East and West.”