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James P. Cannonism

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Mural by Diego Rivera, To the left of Trotsky are Cannon, Engels and Marx.


By Owen Gager

From Spartacist: A Marxist Journal Vol 3 No 1 1973

There has been a long argument in the American Trotskyist movement over what went wrong, and when, with the longest standing American party claiming to be Trotskyist, the Socialist Worker’s Party. This argument is now spreading far beyond the original small groups of American Trotskyists who began it, as it becomes clear that the Socialist Workers’ Party has moved and is moving to the right even of the discredited Stalinist, hopelessly pro-Soviet, American Communist Party, and its trying to push the Mandelist Fourth International to more and more reformist positions, as shown in the political practice of the N.Z. Socialist Action League.

The argument as it has so far developed centres around personalities far more than around ideas. James P. Cannon, the undisputed leader of the SWP at the time of Trotsky’s death in 1940, has retained his role as leader of the party until the present day, though as he has grown older more and more authority has been assumed by his supporter and co-thinker Joseph Hansen. Cannon enjoyed Trotsky’s blessing as leader of the party, yet Cannon went wrong – or so American “anti-revisionist” groups like the Spartacist and Workers’ Leagues see the situation.

They ask why Cannon went wrong and find the answer partly in the divisions of labour within the Party before Trotsky’s death; where Cannon was the Party’s main organiser and Shachtman, who left the SWP in 1940 because he believed the Soviet Union was “State Capitalist”, its main theoretician. They claim that this division of labour should never have been allowed to grow up, and allowed Cannon to make theoretical errors later. It is also argued that in the discussion in 1953 in the Fourth International around Pabloism, the view that the colonial revolution of that period was the `epicentre’ of world revolution. Cannon failed to take a stand against Pablo until Pablo won support in the SWP. Cannon’s attitude, it was claimed, was “provincial”.

Attention is thus focussed on Cannon’s leadership and its deficiencies, rather than on the ideology of the Party, and the effect on that ideology of the Party’s Social environment. The view that Cannon, as an individual, was responsible for the degeneration of the SWP is a version of the “great men make history” idealist methodology used to explain, of all things, revisionism in the Trotskyist movement.

A critique of revisionism, which fails to examine the historical development of theory as a guide to action cannot explain revisionism because it accepts rather than explains the gulf between theory and practice in an allegedly Marxist party. To argue this is not to deny that the criticisms so far made of Cannon do not point to ‘symptoms’ of revisionism within the SWP. But it does insist that the discussion so far has been about the symptoms of the revisionist disease, not the disease itself.

The reason why the so-called “anti-revisionist” groupings in the United States have not examined the growth of a Cannonist theory of the SWP is simple: they also share in the support of, and elaboration of, this theory. These “anti-revisionist” groupings defend Cannon’s refusal to heed Trotsky’s advice, after the split with Shachtman, that the Party headquarters should be moved from the petty-bourgeois intellectual milieu of New York to a working class centre like Detroit. In fact their headquarters remain, to this day, like the SWP’s, in New York.

They refuse to demand of their own petty-bourgeois members the systematic recruitment of working class cadres as a condition of membership, as also demanded in In Defence of Marxism. The SL/US claims exemption from Trotsky’s organisational principles on the ground that it is a “propaganda group” where the SWP after 1941 was a “party” – ignoring the fact that the SWP was too weak even to stand candidates in the 1941 elections and was in fact more or less reduced to the status of a propaganda group by the split with Shachtman (as Robertson and Ireland have virtually admitted in their document The Centralism of the SWP and the Tasks of the Minority  in “The SWP – Revolutionary or Centrist” p. 19.) This attitude even if it were based on fact could only represent the rottenest organisational fetishism.

The SL/WL and SWP, also “all” adhere to one document. The central and major Cannonist theoretical document, representing the SWP’s main orientation after the death of Trotsky, the Theses on the American  Revolution (published together with an explanatory speech by Cannon, under the title of The Coming American Revolution). This article will examine this document in detail. What must be pointed out here is that this document represents not only the political point of departure of the SWP as it now exists, but is also the avowed point of departure for the main “critique” of later SWP policy, In Defence of a Revolutionary Perspective, which the present leaderships of both the Spartacist and Workers’ Leagues accept as defining their basic position. To criticise the “Theses” is to attack all the major American Trotskyist groupings.

It is easy to see why the “Theses” have been regarded by `anti-revisionists’ as a document embodying their position. Thesis 9, on the relation between revolution in the colonial world and revolution in the industrialised centres of the world, could not have been endorsed by Pablo during the controversy leading up to the 1953 split in the Fourth International. It reads:

” [If] the revolutionary upheavals of the European proletariat which lie ahead, will complement, reinforce and accelerate the revolutionary developments in the US. The liberationist (sic) struggles of the colonial peoples (sic) against imperialism which are unfolding before our eyes will exert a similar influence. Conversely, each blow dealt by the American proletariat to the imperialists at home will stimulate, supplement and intensify, the revolutionary struggles in Europe and the colonies. Every reversal, suffered by imperialism anywhere will, in turn, produce ever greater repercussions in this country generating such speed and power as will tend to reduce all time intervals both at home and abroad.”

In the conflict between Pablo and Healy the “Theses” supported  orthodoxy against revisionism, Healy against Pablo. The “Theses” formulated the position to which Cannon remained loyal when Pablo challenged it in 1953. Cannon’s loyalty to this position, and the SWP’s adoption of it were, however, basically unreflecting carryings on of the traditions of Marxist Internationalism. The position of the “Theses”, a position on the strategy and tactics of the international movement, was only counterposed to the Pabloist line internationally after, and owing to, the emergence of a Pabloist opposition to the internal regime in the SWP. Internationalism was a luxury the SWP allowed itself only during internal organisational emergencies.

Moreover, even the 1946 expression of ‘orthodoxy’ had its limitations as Robertson and Wohlforth should have observed but did not. It is silent on the question of the leadership of the colonial revolution and the working class party in exactly the same way as Pablo was and is – a position whose meaning is expressed unambiguously in the SWP’s present “out now” perspective with its silence on the role of the Vietnamese working class and Vietnamese Stalinism. The resolution already, foreshadowed the `platonic  internationalism’ against which Cannon thundered rhetorically but to which he capitulated politically.

The central theme of the “Theses” – the thesis 10 declaration that “the role of America”, not the American working class or even its Marxist party, but American sans phrase, “in the world is decisive” – is the real measure of its retreat from internationalism. Trotsky, it is true, underscored the fact that without revolutions in the industrialised West, the workers revolution elsewhere had no option but to retreat. But in certain circumstances this “orthodoxy” could be a cover for national chauvinism, for a glorification of the “American” working class’s special role, and it was in terms of this reading of orthodoxy that Cannon’s alignment with Healy against Pablo in 1953 should be read.

For this is the meaning of the Theses on the American Revolution. The “Theses” begin with the, as it turned out quite wrong, perspective that “the blind alley in which world capitalism has arrived, and the US with it, excludes a new organic era of capitalist stabilisation”.  Stabilisation is the name for what happened to American capitalism in the post-1945 years. But whatever the limitations of the SWP’s view of the years immediately following 1946, the last decade has shown it was strategically justified in declaring that “American capitalism, hitherto only partially involved in the death agony of capitalism as a world system, is henceforth subject to the full and direct impact of all the forces and contradictions that have debilitated the old capitalist countries of Europe”. The “Theses” contrasted the American with the German bourgeoisie and claimed that more stood in the way of an American “organisation of the world” than the German – in  immediate terms, a false prediction, based on an even more false analogy, since America, unlike Germany, did not need Fascism to provide her bourgeoisie with a world empire.

But given that all these predictions led to a claim that America was headed for a return to a slump worse than the conditions in the ‘thirties, it was clear that America would lose her role as ‘organiser of the world’ so quickly, and her period as Chief imperialist power would be of such  short duration, that any claim that ‘the role of America in the world is decisive’, whether this applied to the bourgeoisie or the working class, had to be wrong. This totally ‘pessimistic’ ‘evaluation of American imperialism was quite incompatible with the SWP’s totally ‘optimistic’ evaluation of the American working class. The proud words of the “Theses”, that “Wall Street’s war drive, aggravating the social crisis, may under certain conditions actually precipitate it”, though they ring hollowly after the epoch of Korea and McCarthyism (and stand in total conflict with Lenin’s condemnation of the 1912 Socialist International resolution) invalidate the later claim that: “… if the European or colonial revolutions…precede in point of time the ‘culmination’ of the struggle in the US, they would immediately be confronted with the necessity of defending their conquests against the economic and  military attacks of the American imperialist monster”.

On the arguments of the “Theses”, the objective conditions were such that an American imperialist war might be prevented without revolution, and if this was so, it was just not true that “the decisive battles of the communist future will be fought in the US”. It certainly could not be true if a second coming of a new world slump would reduce America to the level of the European capitalist states, and deprive her of her defences against the speedy disintegration of the world capitalist economy. There was only one reason why these battles should be prophesied for America and America alone – social patriotism.

The prediction of a new slump, the “Theses” ultra-pessimism about capitalism, served to justify their ultra-optimism about American workers. Because conditions would grow worse even than the level of  the `thirties, it would cease to be true as the 1938 Transitional Programme had declared that the more prosperous upper strata of workers would in a revolutionary situation act as a brake on the movement. “The widely held view that high wages are a conservatising factor is one-sided and false”, proclaimed the “Theses” using Cannon’s deep economic analysis to revise the political programme of Trotsky. “This holds true”, according to the “Theses”,  “only under conditions of capitalist stability”. The high wages of the American workers would disappear, and this would force high-paid workers into revolutionary consciousness because despite what Lenin claimed, trade union consciousness spontaneously generates working class political consciousness.

To claim that consciousness develops out of objective circumstances, without the intervention of the revolutionary party, as subject, was to take the position later described as Pabloism. In this form, however, it had an older name “economism”. Not only was American capitalism, unlike British imperialism or Monopoly capital of any kind as Lenin described it, not capable of bribing a section of the working class with super profits so creating a labour aristocracy, but also it had ceased to try to divide workers by race and nationality!

“Masses of negroes”, it was said, “have since the `twenties  penetrated into the basic industries and into the unions.”  It was beyond the American revolutionary Marxist vanguard party to realise that once all the white GIs came back from the war the black workers would be out of the factories and back on the streets again, even though the SWP was predicting for America the greatest slump in its entire history. This entry of the negroes onto the “front lines of progressiveness and militancy” showed the “cohesiveness and homogeneity” of a working class still haunted by racial prejudice.

Moreover, the “Americanisation” of foreign-born workers – the same phenomenon which was in the ‘fifties to be the fertile soil for McCarthyism – was viewed as an asset to the revolutionary movement. Optimism by itself is a dubious blessing for a serious Marxist movement, especially when reinforced by economism. The  “Theses” main argument against the ‘superficial’ view that the ‘backwardness’ of American workers might ‘postpone’ the revolution, was that in a brief decade the American workers attained trade union consciousness on a higher plane and with mightier organisations than in any other advanced country. What the SWP had to learn was that trade union consciousness does not automatically generate political consciousness – and it is a lesson which the SWP is still learning. It was precisely in the slump conditions of 1937 that Trotsky had warned of the conservatising influences of the stronger unions. In a bigger slump on Trotsky’s view, this conservative influence would be stronger.

But Cannon knew better than Trotsky, or thought he did. History has certainly shown who was right.

As early as 1923, Trotsky was arguing that to “predict” a stabilisation of capitalism did not mean to “welcome” it, and the Marxist case against programmes whose ‘revolutionary’ character derives from a total pessimism about capitalism, and a total optimism about the revolutionary potential of workers is not a new one. One of the things about such programmes is that, when tested in political practice and found wanting, they are almost certainly “inverted”. This is certainly what happened to the 1946 “Theses”.

The higher paid workers moved from their “high level of trade union consciousness” to the political level. However, as expected on the basis of the 1938 Transitional Programme, they moved from the world’s most highly bribed labour aristocracy, to a plebeian radical rightism, not in conflict with, but the logical deduction from, their purely economic conception of their class’s social role. The SWP, faced with the total bankruptcy of their programme on this point, abandoned any belief that the workers were in motion, adjusting purely empirically to the failure of their programme instead of questioning the correctness of their basic theory. Forced to revise their patriotic assumptions about he unparalleled ‘homogeneity’ of the American working class, they turned towards the very minorities whose incorporation into the working class they had so triumphantly proclaimed, to substitute those “sections” of society – blacks, women, Chicanos, students – for the economist conception of the working class they had originally adhered to. These minorities now emerged as the force that would set off the spark to awaken workers generally into motion. Once the imminent downfall of American capitalism had been announced, some force had to be found to justify the SWP’s jeremiads about capitalism’s quick demise, and it had to be whatever group that appeared at the moment the most militant, because the SWP had not allowed enough time for the forces of destruction of American capitalism to mature. More than this, to question the reality behind the appearance of non-worker radicalism would be to put in doubt the proposition that the battles of the Communist future were to be fought in America. How…unpatriotic!

But this position was marginally preferable to that of the  `anti-revisionist’ Wohlforth and Robertson groups which, in order to maintain that the SWP’s 1946 positions represented orthodoxy, and its later positions revisionism, had to deny that the 1946 Programme had failed to meet the test of social reality. The failure to comprehend American reality destined them to the role of sects. Both failed to see the SWP’s basic weakness was its surrender to national chauvinism, though they were both capable of seeing in the “Out Now” perspective of the SWP’s antiwar work a concession to bourgeois pacifism and liberalism. In an implicit alliance with that pacifism, they did not follow this to its logical conclusion and see that its basis lay in the theory of a ‘special role’ for the ‘American’ working class, and, therefore, of a special role for America.

The Workers’ League’s incapacity to grasp the problems of chauvinism led to its surrender, in international relations, to the British chauvinism of Healy’s Socialist Labour League, the abandonment of political independence being the only way in which Wohlforth could avoid his own surrender to American chauvinism. The Spartacist League on the other hand, did not struggle at all against American chauvinism, not seeing the existence of the problem even to the extent that Wohlforth did, so that the history of its international relations after its break with Healy is simply a struggle to impose its programme 100% on those groups unfortunate enough to enter into fraternal relations with it.

The Logan group, ex of Wellington, who have now emigrated to Australia, was reduced to a servile group of correspondents with New York, the `anti-revisionist’ mirror image of its ‘revisionist’ enemies in the Fyson group who follow equally slavishly the American SWP line. The working class economism of Robertson, Wohlforth and Logan is counterposed to the ‘youth vanguardism’ and spontaneism of Hanson and Fyson, a difference which reduces itself in terms of Russian Bolshevik Party history to the difference between the narrow trade union radicalism of Martynov, and the youth vanguardism of the Social Revolutionaries who preceded Martynov as the chief antagonists of Bolshevism.

Bolshevism remains the line of the 1938 Transitional Programme and Trotsky’s Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay. As the 1938 Programme declares, and Cannon’s Coming American Revolution denies:

“As organisations expressive of the top layers of the proletariat, trade unions…develop powerful tendencies towards compromise with the bourgeois democratic regime. In periods of acute class struggle, the leading bodies of the trade unions aim to become masters of the mass movement in order to render it harmless. This is already happening during the period of simple strikes which smash the principle of bourgeois property. In time of war or revolution, the trade union leaders usually become bourgeois ministers. Therefore, the sections of the Fourth International should always strive not only to renew the top leadership of trade unions… but also to create in all possible instances independent militant organisations corresponding more closely to the tasks of mass struggle against bourgeois society and, if necessary, not flinching in the face of a direct break with the conservative apparatus of the leadership”.

Some ‘anti-revisionists’, with their usual glibness, try to confuse the issue: is the problem the unions or…the leadership? The answer is clearly stated in Trotsky’s The Unions in Britain: “the trade unions [not just the leadership] now play not a progressive but a reactionary role”.

The section of the Transitional Programme quoted above clearly sees that “the top layers of the proletariat” find their natural expression in an apolitical unionism and have themselves a tendency to compromise with the capitalist state. All Cannonites deny this basic fact, from Hansen to Logan. Now, to fight for democracy and independence of the capitalist state, the trade unions can only turn to the Fourth International and its 1938 Programme, which alone can, by its political fight, ensure that the economic fight can also be won. Only the party and programme of revolutionary Trotskyism can prevent the unions from subordination to the capitalist state.

The Cannonite subordination of the political struggle to the  ‘autonomous’ economic struggle leads directly to the refusal to use the Party apparatus to fight against both old and new state encroachments on the independence of the unions. The fight for the independence of unions is, after all, the way in which unions are ‘politicised’, when Cannonites want to do something quite different, to ‘economise’ the Party. Some Cannonites, Logan for example, refuse to fight against the enforcement of union membership by the capitalist state, so supporting unions which can be smashed by the same hand which created them, and giving up the struggle to win workers to unionism by rank and file organisation, militant industrial action and the political programme of Trotskyism. This is where Cannonism and economism lead.

Against this, the words of Trotsky speak clearly:

“…[We must] mobilise the masses, not only against the bourgeoisie but also against the totalitarian regime within the trade unions themselves and against the leaders enforcing this regime. The primary slogan for this struggle is complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state. This means a struggle to turn the trade unions into the organs of the broad exploited masses and not the organs of the labour aristocracy.”

And how is this to be done:

“In the epoch of imperialist decay the trade unions can be really independent only to the extent that they are conscious of being in action, the organs of proletarian revolution. In this sense, the program of transitional demands adopted by the last congress of the Fourth International is not only the program for the activity of the Party but…for activity of the unions.”

In other words, only by subordinating the economic to the political struggle and recognising the historically decisive force of the Marxist Party, can unions become revolutionary.

As we said in Red No 1 “Where we Stand” statement, without the Party, the unions cannot be revolutionary, and only a party based on “Power to the People”, that is, on the Leninist concept of peoples’ revolution as stated in the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International, can make the unions revolutionary. But ‘revolutionary’ leadership of a union, without subordination to the leadership to the party and its programme is a parody of Trotskyism; it is this parody Cannon and his friends try to impose on the International.

Written by raved

July 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Marx is right, again.

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Is Marxism a new anti-viral drug prescribed by bourgeois spin doctors to keep the revolution at bay? Is Marx the new black and white? Why is it that Marx is the only thinker to explain what is happening to the capitalist system today? More and more bourgeois thinkers are asking that question. They have a struggle to understand Marx. In their haste to rob his grave they usually find Keynes body. Who was the real Marx? Does he have the magic bullet for the global capitalist crisis today? No, if we think Marx is Keynes and can save capitalism. Yes, if we mean he explains that capitalism has exhausted itself and is ready to give birth to socialism.

Marx discovered the laws of motion of capitalism much as Copernicus discovered the Earth’s orbit, Newton gravity and Einstein, relativity. He therefore made the definitive scientific analysis of capitalism. He advanced beyond the discoveries of Adam Smith and David Ricardo and left a legacy that is rich in its development by his successors like Kautsky, Lenin and Trotsky. But Marx’s science of capitalism was revolutionary in its implications predicting its end and replacement by socialism. So Marxism as a scientific theory was constantly challenged by neo-classical economic theory in his lifetime. Marx called this ‘vulgar’ political economy because it reverted to a crude ideological simplification of the classical theories of Smith and Ricardo (and Marx in one sense) as a market theory of value.

On the left Marx main rivals were first, the Proudhonists who mistook money to be the main problem of capitalism. In Aotearoa Te Whiti developed a similar view, blaming colonisation on the worship of money. But money was only the universal measure of the labour value of all commodities the basis of capitalist production. The Proudhonists treated the symptom not the cause and could not develop a revolutionary critique of capitalism. Marx was right then.

Second, were the anarchists around Bakunin who were expelled from the first Communist International after the Paris Commune in 1871 over the dictatorship of the proletariat. They opposed the working class forming a centralised workers state after the revolution. Marx critiqued anarchism as incapable of destroying the bourgeois state and therefore open to joining it. Anarchists subsequently participated in revolutions and despite their hostility to the state joined in bourgeois government as in Spain in 1936. Marx was right then too.

Third, Marxism itself was exposed to various schools of revisionists like Lassalle who backslid from value theory to exchange theory and reformism. In his own life time he disowned these so-called ‘marxists’ including his own son-in-law Paul Lafargue. He was right then, again.

Today these ersatz ‘marxists’ follow in the footsteps of legions of others from Bernstein to Stalin who have distorted or dragged Marxism in the mud. Wallerstein, Zizek et al talk about the current world situation without reference to the basics of Marxism and ignore the historical dynamics of the bourgeois and socialist revolutions! Marx is still right today.

And finally there are those who come back to Marx to join the “He’s back!”bandwagon claiming Marx was right all along. But this doesn’t mean he is right for the right reason when the Marx of the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ is ‘updated’ to be more presentable to the ‘middle class’, as in Terry Eagleton, or others celebrating Marx new found resonance with the ‘chattering class’. 

So keeping the Marxist legacy alive was always a battle both with those who defected as well as its traditional enemies. Sometimes these were the same person as in Kautsky, the main German defender of Marx until the Russian revolution which he repudiated. Wars and revolutionary crisis tested Marxist orthodoxy to the limit; some regressed like Kautsky, some became victims of their failure to build a Bolshevik-type party like Luxemburg and Gramsci, some vacillated as centrists like Trotsky, and others remained steadfast like Lenin.

Bolsheviks and Mensheviks

The Great Imperialist War was the first major test of Marxism that found the 2nd International wanting. The big majority betrayed Marxism and backed their capitalist classes sending their workers to kill one another. A tiny minority, the Zimmerwald Left around Lenin and Luxemburg defended Marx and Engel’s internationalism and kept a living link to Marx that carried over to the Bolshevik Revolution.

This revolution was the supreme test of Marxist orthodoxy because it necessitated a major change in Marxist theory at a time when Marxism taught that socialist revolution would arise only in the developed industrial capitalist countries. Karl Kautsky was the main defender of this position which we call Menshevik. Lenin and Trotsky became the main critics giving rise to a new flowering of Marxism as a program for revolution not limited to particular countries but of the global capitalist system. We call that position Bolshevik. Luxemburg and Gramsci took positions close to the Bolsheviks although they arrived late at the need for a Bolshevik party. Had Luxemburg lived, she would have become close to the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky. Gramsci however shifted from left to right like a centrist and during his years in jail moved away from the Bolshevik camp.

Lenin and Trotsky developed Marxism by applying the dialectical method. They understood the material basis of ‘backwardness’ as a one-sided aspect of global capitalism. There could be a revolution in a backward country but there could never be socialism in one country alone. Kautsky and Luxemburg couldn’t see it. Kautsky rejected a revolution in backward Russia outright. Luxemburg said that the revolution in Russia was premature because the conditions were lacking for realising socialism after the revolution. Gramsci developed a crude typology of backwardness and types of revolution justifying the October revolution and eventually Stalinist revolution in one country.

While the Bolshevik revolution sorted the Bolsheviks from the Mensheviks it left the non-Marxists floundering in its wake. They failed to understand the contradictions of Russia and the revolution, and wound up on the counter-revolutionary side. The Proudhonists had become Fabians who wanted to nationalise the banks. They mistook the Bolsheviks for state socialists. The Webbs went to Russia in the 1930s and lauded Stalin. The anarchists welcomed the October Revolution but then quickly rejected the single party state. They sided with the Peasant leader Makhno against the Red Army during the civil war, and backed the sailors of Kronstadt who staged an insurrection against the state for new elections without the Bolshevik party.

Logically, then these opponents of Bolshevism had become anti-Marxists and counter-revolutionaries adding to the isolation and defeat of the revolution in Russia. Therefore they have no credibility in events since then including the attempts by Marxists to defend the Russian revolution from degeneration under Stalin, the defence of the Spanish Revolution, the fight against fascism, the tactics against social democracy etc.

In class terms these currents are petty bourgeois. Their view of capitalism is one of unequal exchange where the capitalists cheat workers of part of the value of their wage. It falls to the petty bourgeois to correct this by reforming the state. We call this petty bourgeois current that uses Marx’s name in vain centrists.

Reformists and Centrists

Trotsky defined centrism as those currents that vacillate between revolution and reform. In reality any shortfall from revolution makes you a reformist. But centrism tries to disguise this fact with Marxist phrases. So ‘born-again marxist’ Wall St journalists who claim that Marx was right about capitalism but wrong about socialism, are liberal reformists posturing as centrists, distorting and neutralising the revolutionary heritage of Marxism. We can dispense with them as impostors. They are saying that capitalism has to be saved from those who corrupt it. Centrists who hold this position mask it as anti-capitalism based on equalising exchange. David Harvey’s take on Marxism is very popular among centrist groups because while it argues that the crisis is caused by a surplus of capital, it is caused by ‘feral’ capitalism that ‘loots’ wealth (unequal exchange). So the political conclusions he draws are about reforming the unequal distribution of wealth.

For Marx however, unequal exchange is a secondary phenomenon that affects the fluctuation of prices of commodities around their value. It cheapens the costs of production of value because it is essentially theft. Capitalism got its start by theft (primitive accumulation), and grew by sucking slave and unpaid labour into its system. But it developed as a highly productive system only when it could pay a living wage to sustain life and began applying new machinery to increase labour productivity. This reduced necessary labour time and brought down the value of commodities.

Nevertheless capitalism still resorts to unequal exchange (theft) at the margins in the neo-colonies and semi-colonies (like NZ) to boost profits especially when defence of labour’s historic gains prevent devaluation of living standards.

But the basic point is that the system does not function by buying cheap and selling dear except at the margins. At the centre of all the big capitalist powers is highly developed monopoly industry that sets the value of commodities by the value of the labour power expended in production at a level set by a historic compromise between labour and capital.

Capitalist Crisis means socialism or death!

The inherent crisis of capitalism is that it cannot exploit workers enough to extract sufficient value in the process of production to maintain an adequate return of profits over all the capital in existence. So as the rate of profit falls capital is not re-invested in production and overproduction of capital is the result.

This is where Keynesian state intervention comes in, substituting for capitalists who want to hoard their excess capital (or these days engage in casino capitalism betting on future prices of existing commodities or buying future prices of commodities that do not yet exist) to stimulate demand and therefore productive investment. But the fact is that the capitalists control the state and make sure that they receive the bailouts to cover their debts and finance a return to hoarding and speculation rather than invest productively.

It follows that both the banks and corporates have to be socialised, not by a state that consists of corrupt capitalist cronies, but a state that represents the interests of the working class that produces the wealth. Only such a workers state can make sure that capital is socialised and invested in production to meet needs rather than profits. The market is a total handicap to this so no mixed system is feasible.

The crisis of capitalism is now a crisis of human survival so the stakes are high – for workers to survive, capitalism must die. Capitalism depends on drawing down nature’s bounty which includes the labour power of its workers. It destroys nature. We have little time to smash capitalism and rescue humanity and the rest of nature. We can only do that by uniting workers all around the world. This means that Marxists must take the lead in the socialist revolution drawing on the lessons of ‘Why Marxism is Right’.

Capitalism as a system is in a terminal crisis unable to develop human society but rather is destroying it. The crisis can only be resolved either by capitalist barbarism or proletarian socialism. Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto of 1848 “Proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win”. They were right. They are still right. It is up to us to make it come true.

reblogged from redrave.blogspot

Written by raved

July 5, 2012 at 12:17 am

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Occupy MayDay! Occupy Lenin!

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First, let’s get this idea that Occupy is finished out of the way. It hasn’t finished and this is why. You can’t evict an idea when that idea is to make the Bankers pay for their crisis. They won’t and they can’t without renouncing the whole basis of capitalism – making profits. Therefore Occupy is forced to confront the system in all of its dirt and blood. Physically Occupy lives on in the many actions and meetings that are taking place globally. Occupy is outreaching to working class struggles in workplaces, education, housing, unions, media etc and much of this activity is live-streamed, twitted or blogged continuously.

The #OccupyMaydayGeneralStrike call is an attempt at a global general strike. There is intense political and theoretical discussion among liberals, radicals and Marxists about what Occupy is, its class composition, its demands, its prospects, and so on. This is not new as liberals, radicals and Marxists have had to debate Occupy’s progenitors – the Arab Revolution and the European revolt of the Indignados and the British youth riots. So what do revolutionary communists make of Occupy as a social movement and the ideological struggle between reformists, radicals and revolutionaries?

The reformists want to suck occupy back into legislative politics on the instalment plan. Bad! The radicals want a movement of the streets and workplaces that occupies everything. Good! But can the mass radical movement resist the reformists without an organised, disciplined leadership? As Bolshevik/Leninists we say that Marxism does not spontaneously grow on the streets under attacks from the cops. You can be academically anti-capitalist like Chomsky or violently anti-capitalist like black bloc without understanding what capitalism is.

Those who want to challenge capitalism have to take power and that means the class conscious, organised armed insurrection to take power. So how is the revolutionary left working towards this? Let’s look at a discussion kicked off by Pham Binh that is directed at the failure of the organised ‘Leninist’ left to relate to Occupy fruitfully. Binh argues that is because today’s Leninists are a caricature of Lenin. He remonstrates that Lenin would have done a much better job. So the question is what would Lenin have done? At its heart this is the question posed by many revolutionaries today. Let’s look at the three positions in turn.

Reformists co-opting occupy?

The reformists in Occupy are trying to turn Occupy into a support base for the re-election of Obama. Leading this co-option is the 99Spring which is a “campaign” fronted by organizations like MoveOn, Jobs with Justice, Greenpeace and others who have signed the 99% Spring pledge? It claims to be a broad base movement based on the grass roots. The 99% Spring label attempts to trade off both the Arab Spring and the 99% concept of Occupy. Yet it’s objective is to coopt Occupy behind Obama. That is why it has not endorsed the MayDay General Strike. That is the test. Since the call for the reclaiming of MayDay is a radical initiative to put International Workers Day on the agenda of Occupy and making clear that Occupy and the base of the labor movement must join forces, this will embarrass the machine politics of the Democrats. So 99Spring is using its training schools for “nonviolent direct action” as a way to divert Occupy from MayDay. There is also the Occupy NATO in Chicago, but that would be too close to the bone for the party of Bomber Obama!

At the same time we don’t want to write off Occupy just because it has a large number of reformists. This is a factor of the backwardness of US political culture where no workers party exists and the weak unions act as conveyor belts into the Democrat Party. But Occupy signals a huge upwelling of anger at the effects of the capitalist crisis especially as it effects middle class youth. The whole point is that Occupy has the capacity to develop into a revolutionary movement.

But first it has to outgrow its reformist limits, and this is made more difficult when some radicals inside Occupy do not present a clear alternative to the Democrats. This is the result of adopting key electoral slogans like Tax Capital or Tax the Rich that are directed at the political parties. On top of that there are prominent supposed radicals like Chomsky, who when it comes to the election will give critical support to the Democrats.

Chomsky is a classic case of the celebrity anarchist who is trapped in the petty bourgeois politics of individualism that offers no way out of the existing state apparatus other than to adapt to it. Much pseudo radicalism is based on the notion of ‘horizontalism’ ostensibly directed at the ‘hierarchy’ of political parties. It implies Occupy can operate without a leadership and function on the basis of direct democracy. It can build a ‘counter-power’ that does not need to challenge the bosses’ state power. But inevitably if you don’t contest the power of the state uncompromisingly then you end up joining that state. Chomsky and Co are the reverse side of the anarchist coin to the Black Block. Both offer no alternative to capitalism because they have no program to replace it.

Radicals: Occupy Mayday!

Occupy proved in a few short weeks that the reformist platform is bankrupt. This is why reformists like Hedges attacked the Black Bloc. But the Black Bloc is an easy target and does not represent more than a tiny minority of Occupy. The reformists have more difficulty in neutralising the real breakthrough which is the radical unity of Occupy with union rank and file. This proved to be the ‘circuit breaker’ that built mass support for port closures and forced the ILWU union bosses to expose themselves as in the bosses’ pocket at Longview. That is to say, as soon as Occupy, rebounding from the vicious attacks of the state forces, joined up with the militant union rank and file, the reformist’s strategy to recruit Occupy to Obama was blown out.

What was blown out was the pacifist politics of electoralism where ‘Violence’ is reserved for Obama’s bombs and drones. In its place Occupy found that the mass picket justifies violence in defence of the 99%, and in the process confronting state violence put them in solidarity with the ‘wildcat’ strike at Longview! The linking of Occupy and the ILWU rank and file at Longview also exposed the union officials who panicked by the fear of losing control of the dispute signed a sell-out deal with the EGT bosses. To its credit Portland Occupy who were not shown the rotten terms of this deal, saw it as a small victory as part of the ongoing war against the 1%. There is a long way to go to build solidarity to the point where the unions take strike action against Taft-Hartley and return to the militancy of the early days of the US labour movement.

The Occupy decision to reclaim MayDay as a general strike follows directly from the experience of solidarity with workers in struggle. It’s a first attempt at a national strike which falls far short of a general strike. But it is a political strike that prepares the ground for a political general strike at the power of the 1%. But the labour solidarity at Longview and other struggles may not lead directly to militant class conscious struggle in the ranks of the unions or Occupy unless revolutionaries intervene directly. This is because neither the unions or Occupy as yet has a Marxist analysis which explains that the labour bureaucracy act as the labour lieutenants of capital that keep the unions confined to the labour law. The labour bureaucracy is no friend of the workers!

As Earl Gilman says, “Yes, labor unions of course are prohibited from striking for political demands….they are prohibited from striking to support other unions, etc. The list of legal prohibitions on unions goes on and on…The reason the unions in the U.S. are gradually dying is because they obey the law. The law was made by the rich to protect themselves from the poor. The auto workers who occupied the Detroit auto plants were defying the law. John L. Lewis, when he was head of the miners during the Second World War, called strikes in defiance of the law. I don’t think we on the Left should let the labor bureaucracy off the hook…so the courts throw them in jail for a few days…so what? But we have to educate/prepare/organize workers that defying the bosses’ laws are the only way to save their jobs. Thanking the union bureaucracy for “supporting” the movement with resolutions is political bootlicking!”

Fortunately Occupy has labour solidarity groups like #OOlaborsolidarity where revolutionaries can put forward analyses of what must be done. It requires the revolutionary Marxists to speak plainly and tell the truth. So this means Marxists advocating labour solidarity actions that unite workers’ strikes against the employers with Occupy’s commitment to ‘breaking the law’ to advance the 99%. In essence it means making Occupy MayDay General Strike the launching pad for an unlimited political general strike for an insurrection to bring down the ruling class and put a Workers’ and Oppressed peoples’ Government in power!

The radical reclaiming of MayDay by Occupy is an attempt to generalise this revolutionary thrust. But it’s not enough. Lenin and Trotsky recognised the limits of Trade Union Consciousness as falling short of revolutionary consciousness. Trade unions operate as economist institutions that negotiate wages but do not fight to end the wage system! Without a revolutionary Marxist party neither the unions or Occupy cannot develop beyond an economist consciousness of capitalism into a class conscious revolutionary movement. Let’s examine this point because it is central to the debate on what kind of revolutionary party is needed to lead workers to revolution.

What would Lenin have done?

The need for a revolutionary Marxist party is the need for a revolutionary Marxist program. Capitalism throws up a smoke screen that hides the class basis of exploitation. A Marxist program proves that capitalism cannot be reformed and that to survive the working class must become class conscious and overthrow it. The program also spells out how to go about making a revolution. Such a program needs to be kept alive and kicking by a revolutionary party. Whether a program works or not is decided by testing it in practice. So a revolutionary party must be organised to put the program into practice, and to change it if it doesn’t work. The Marxist left sees the need for leadership and a revolutionary party, but what does this party look like.There are two basic models of a Marxist party. The first is a ‘class party’ (or “multi-tendency” party) including reformists, radicals and Marxists. The second is the so-called ‘vanguard’ party of class conscious Marxists. The question of how Marxists should intervene in Occupy has raised this question again. And the advocates of both types of party both claim to be Leninists.

For the class party side is Pham Binhwho argues against le Blanc and others that the idea that Lenin built a new type of vanguard party is a myth. He claims Lenin didn’t form a party of Bolsheviks separate from the broad party of the class in 1905 or 1912. The Bolsheviks in 1905 were a small minority inside the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) which was a mass party including a number of currents which shifted course so that both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks (minority) where never actually distinct or separate parties.

What Binh is arguing here is that today left parties are tiny sects modelling themselves on the mythical Leninist ‘vanguard’ and competing in a sectarian way to win support in Occupy and meeting resistance. He looks back to Leninism as he understands it for the model of a broad class party, that contains workers at different levels of political consciousness, where the different factions compete to demonstrate how a Marxist program can be applied to solve the problems of the 99%.

There is some truth in this as the Bolsheviks did function as a faction in the old RSDWP until 1917. Yet that faction acted more as a vanguard party within a much broader party from 1905 when it declared itself to be a separate party, and after 1912 when it actually became a separate party. The Bolsheviks growing split from the Mensheviks was necessary to defend the Marxist program. The basis on which the Bolsheviks formed a faction/party distinct from the rest in the RSDWP was a programmatic principle: the refusal to ‘liquidate’ the proletarian class into subordination and even political alliances with the exploiting classes. In other words the Bolshevik faction stood for the independence of the workers as the revolutionary class against those who ‘liquidated’ this class independence into cross-class or popular fronts with the bourgeoisie. Allied to the ‘liquidators’ were the ‘conciliators’ who while formally opposed to liquidation, in practice vacillated towards the ‘liquidators’. The liquidators in various degrees all took the Menshevik position that ‘backward’ Russia would have to go through a prolonged bourgeois revolution before it was ready for a socialist revolution.

The long battle against ‘liquidationism’ faced the critical test over the question of whether the RSDWP would give ‘conditional support’ to the bourgeois Provisional Government in Russia after the February 1917 Revolution. Up to that point the Bolsheviks had won support for a Bourgeois revolution led by the workers and peasants (the ‘Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasants’) since the bourgeoisie was too weak and dependent on Tsarism. The Bolsheviks would give ‘conditional support; to a bourgeois government ‘insofar as it acts in the interests of the revolution’. That is, mobilise workers and peasants to control it and push it left (for peace, land, and bread) to complete the tasks of the Bourgeois revolution and so prepare for the socialist revolution.

Yet when the workers rose up in February and a Bourgeois provisional government was formed Lenin rejected ‘conditional support’ for this government as ‘liquidation’ into the class enemy. He argued that the working class was capable of completing the bourgeois revolution ‘uninterrupted’, or in Trotsky’s terms, in a ‘permanent revolution’ for socialism. Subordinating the workers and peasants to the Provisional Government would leave workers defenceless against a Bourgeois/Tsarist counter-revolution. There would be no peace, land or bread. No road forward to socialism, only back to barbarism.

The lesson for Leninism in Occupy today is that after 1903 the Bolsheviks formed a faction in which the principle of revolutionary independence of the working class against any political alliances that subordinated it to the bourgeoisie was the test of membership. When revolution broke out in Russia the Bolsheviks had the history of building an organisation with a long experience of both democracy and discipline to act to defend this principle and change its program from one which involved a ‘popular front’ with the bourgeoisie, to that of socialist revolution. The change in program defeated the counter-revolution and made the revolution. So if this is the Leninist party we need today how do we go about building it?

Lenin in Occupy

The global capitalist system is facing a terminal crisis. The world economy must go through a deep depression to restore the rate of profit. No bourgeois or capitalist party can stop this, only a working class revolution. We face socialism or barbarism. The bourgeoisie cannot rule without invoking extreme repression, first smashing of democracy and then unless workers stop it, fascism. The workers cannot live with capitalism. For workers to live, capitalism must die. Lenin would call it a revolutionary situation where the extreme rottenness of global capitalism threatens destruction of humanity and where the working class is ready and willing to fight to the death but has yet to overcome a huge lack of class consciousness and organisation.

So Lenin would recognise Occupy as a spontaneous mobilisation of objectively anti-capitalist youth and other workers but with its majority trapped into an economist ideology and still misled about the possibility of reforms. However the severity of the crisis means that the capitalist attacks and resistance of Occupy to them will quickly prove that the capitalists must destroy rather than grant reforms. One term of Obama has gone a long way to destroy economist illusions. Several social democratic government in Europe have been voted out after imposing drastic austerity programs. Even so the reformists are fighting like hell to hijack Occupy and stop its revolutionary development. So Leninists must join in this fight against all attempts to subordinate the working class to the bourgeoisie via the Democrats, Social Democracy and the labour bureaucracy, and raise instead the need to build an independent mass workers party with a revolutionary program.

Leninism is about how Marxists lead in the wider working class struggles. This means a program for socialist revolution. It means to fight against today’s liquidators and conciliators who want to bury the Marxist program into the popular front of the workers, petty bourgeois and bourgeois elements who make up the 99%. Leninists intervene to oppose the politics of all those who claim to be anti-capitalist yet act as the agents of the popular front with the bourgeoisie.

Lenin’s tactic of a Bolshevik faction engaging in patient explanation combined with contesting the leadership of the class struggle would weed out those among the 99% who are agents of the bourgeoisie. Cops, Ron Paulites, libertarians, etc. yes. But more dangerous are those that pose as workers. We oppose pacifist and reformist appeals to the 1%, the cops, the middle class, the Democrats, Social Democracy and the labour bureaucrats of the trade union federations.

We do this by calling on Occupy to follow Occupy Oakland’s lead and unite with the union rank and file members to Occupy all the strategic sites of production of profits – the workplaces, the banks, transport and communications, schools, hospitals etc – to demand workers administration and control. Reformists will oppose such direct action, and radicals will join with Leninists to build workers councils and workers militias capable of smashing the capitalist state and installing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

We advocate reading Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and  Luxemburg but not the petty bourgeois radicals Zizek or Chomsky, Bourdieu or Badiou. The latter offer no revolutionary answers as in their various ways they oppose the Leninist-type party and the practice of democratic-centralism. For us the only way that the Marxist program can be tested is if a majority agrees to unite in action to test it, and then to debate the results democratically to see if it works or not. That is the basis of democratic centralism, or, dialectics – which in its highest form is the class conscious intervention of the vanguard of the working class to resolve the contradiction between socialised production and private profit by means of a socialist revolution.

That is the method of Leninists in Occupy. The crisis of capitalism is destroying the working class and driving it to resist it’s destruction. Leninists are Marxists; we do not separate ourselves from the masses, but champion their class interests locally and globally. We intervene only to help workers become class conscious fighters, organised in strike committees, democratic councils of action, defence militias, and as militants of an international party of socialist revolution, able to unite internationally as a force to smash the capitalist system and its military machine and replace it with a socialist society producing for need and not profit!

Turn Occupy into revolutionary workers councils!
For a new World Party of Socialist Revolution!

reblogged from redrave.blogspot

Written by raved

July 4, 2012 at 3:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized