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War and the Socialist Workers Party*

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The following are two more sections of the counter-resolution of the Communist Tendency (CT) in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Historical Roots of the Degeneration of the Fourth International and the Centrism of the SWP—For a Return to the Proletarian Road of Trotskyism.

These sections concern themselves with the obligations of a vanguard party of the proletariat in the struggle against war. They do not represent the first salvos against the SWP’s class-collaborationist and essentially pacifist politics in the antiwar movement, its main area of activity since 1965. Cde. Fender, the CT delegate at the SWP convention, August 9, 1971 [see Vol.4, No.1, of Vanguard Newsletter In Defense of Trotskyism, pages 12-24, for Cde. Fender’s speeches] had, at the two previous conventions of the SWP In 1967 and 1969, carried on the polemic against the SWP’s reformist approach in the struggle against war.

Except for a few added details, Cde. Fender’s documents were the basis for the CT’s positions outlined below. However, one of the added details deserves some comment and correction. The first section below maintains that the SWP used the “single-issue” question as “a cordon sanitaire to exclude alien class Influence” of the bourgeoisie, but that the gimmick failed and the “single-issue” business was finally dropped. Actually, the opposite is true. The “single-issue” approach is only the other side of the same coin of non-exclusion under which the SWP Justifies the inclusion in the antiwar movement of a section of the liberal imperialist bourgeoisie and their representatives. While the SWP’s non-exclusion is designed to allure and protect the petty-bourgeois pacifists and liberals, “single-issuism” is designed to repel and muzzle any tendency who might raise political issues that would drive these same pacifists and liberals away. The SWP had no trouble conveniently forgetting about “single-issuism” when the liberals or the pacifists raised issues such as anti-draft campaigns, when during the lulls—and the liberals were not around—the SWP needed an extracurricular activity to tide them over to the next peace parade, or when, in response to a current vogue, it was more opportune to do so as with women’s liberation.

Not only does “single-issuism” provide a cover under which the SWP leadership can avoid any political struggle that might frighten its bourgeois allies, but It also provides a convenient excuse to hide the SWP’s s own lack of political struggle.

The SWP’s chase after this will-o-the-wisp of respectability is nothing new. To Ingratiate themselves with those influenced by the Cuban revolution as well as with Castro and Co., the SWP leaders have continually apologized for the petty-bourgeois Cuban leadership and kept any political criticism they might have had, strictly to themselves for fear of scaring off all the spontaneously developing “unconscious Trotskyists” such as Fidel himself. The telegram of condolences to Mrs. Kennedy was only one more of many similar steppingstones touched by the SWP on its way to today’s outright blatant opportunistic moves to gain favorable acceptance in the petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois milieus, such as the women’s “liberation” movement, where even the fight for free abortion on demand was considered too risky and, therefore, dropped In favor of a campaign against abortion laws—much more palatable in bourgeois circles.

The SWP like the CP of yesterday and today thinks that people can be fooled or tricked into playing a “progressive” or even “revolutionary” role and that the capitalists can be maneuvered into involuntarily forfeiting their “rights” to the “people,” or more correctly, to “the vanguard mass movements.” This objectivist approach permeates the whole of the political activity of the SWP and is tied in methodology to the guerrilla war and terrorist approach so prevalent today. All think that due to the “new” reality, the methods of class struggle and the building of a vanguard party, modeled after the Bolshevik party, can be discarded without compunction. While the guerrilla advocates substitute for the party a small group which is supposed to arouse the masses to revolutionary activity with their daring exploits and super-revolutionary calls to action, the SWP substitutes action and action alone by the greatest number possible and, therefore, organized strictly on the lowest, i.e., on a purely reformist, basis. The SWP sees its role as a mere coordinator of all the “mass vanguard movements” and as a centralized information clearing house for these movements. Both approaches are united in methodology in that they see their role as merely a technical one. The revolution is left to the spontaneity of the masses or perhaps to some divine inspiration. In reality, the revolution is abandoned.

In the antiwar movement—as well as in every other movement—the SWP maintains that it is not necessary to struggle for a conscious appreciation of capitalism or imperialism on the part of the masses. The antiwar movement is objectively anti-imperialist, as the women’s liberation movement is objectively anti-capitalist, merely because it is. The Stalinist NLP and the Stalinist regime in Hanoi are no longer considered to be Stalinist, but objectively as revolutionary merely because they actively defend themselves against imperialist aggression. And those like Hartke, who identify with the antiwar movement, are unconsciously betraying their own class and objectively helping to advance the world revolution. From the early days of Fidel and the Cuban revolution, the “unconscious Trotskyists” have multiplied in geometric progression.

In sacrificing the conscious element, i.e., the Bolshevik party, in the revolutionary process, the SWP has turned its back on the last half-century of history, from the defeat of the 1925-27 Chinese revolution through the rise of Hitler and the smashing of the Spanish proletariat to today, with the massacre of the Indonesian masses and the sell-out of the French revolution of May-June 1968. In so doing, the SWP as well as all its political bed-fellows have sacrificed their own capability of leading a revolution. They satisfy themselves instead with the shabbiest organizational maneuvering, the old political shell games and pretentious diplomatic wheeling and dealing. But for this, all that is required is money, technocrats, cannon fodder and, above all, respectability.7


The Struggle Against Imperialist War

The struggle against imperialist war has always been the great test of a revolutionary party, and some of the most Important writings of the great Marxists have outlined the correct strategy for this task.

The SWP, despite its smug feeling of self-congratulation, has failed the test. From the beginning the party’s position was inadequate. Despite this, due to the totally wrong character of all other alternatives, the leadership has been able to convince its members and the best of the radical youth that the party has been wholly right. The party has been advancing the idea of immediate withdrawal—correct in itself, but not enough—as the basis for the “objectively anti-imperialist” character of its “single-issue united-front-type coalition.” These propositions deserve a little investigation. The “single-issue” character of the coalition has been the backbone of the leadership’s argument that the movement was not an evasion of revolutionary duty. If the program of the bloc was limited to the demand of immediate withdrawal, then everything was perfectly legitimate —no reformist demands were being smuggled in. What the “single-issue” business really was, only became gradually clear as the other “mass movements” began to develop. It was an artificial barrier which a centrist party erected to keep it from falling into the swamp of open reformism. Due to its total inability to project and carry out a revolutionary program, the SWP needed a cordon sanitaire to exclude alien class influence. With the influx of petty-bourgeois elements into the party, the gimmick was bound to fail. Soon the antiwar movement took positions on everything from the draft to the Black movement and union struggles. But instead of taking these positions on a class basis, the party merely went along with a totally reformist outlook, and objectively, by abandoning the program of Marxism, subordinated this movement to that “soft” wing of the exploiters, which wanted out of the Vietnam misadventure.

Several other points are connected with this evaluation of the nature of our participation in this movement. The movement obviously is not a “type” of united front, by definition, since this involves only the participation of working-class organizations, but neither is it formally a “Popular Front” as it is often called. This phrase poses the question too narrowly and too specifically. The most exact description of the essence of this formation is best given in Trotsky’s words:

“The matter at issue in all cases concerns the political subordination of the proletariat to the left wing of the exploiters, regardless of whether this practice bears the name of coalition or left bloc (as in France) or “People’s Front” in the language of the Comintern.” (Our emphasis— China and the Russian Revolution.)

Closely connected with this is the question of non-exclusion. Originally this policy was used, correctly, to fight against red-baiting against us and as a justification for blocking with anyone who would agree on a common action. It has gone far beyond this now and is used as a principle to demand the inclusion of liberal bourgeois speakers and representatives, at all times, as spokesmen for peace. This only legitimizes the deceit of the ruling class and furthers the illusions they perpetrate. Non-exclusion has become the means by which the leadership has cemented an alliance with the liberal imperialists. As a consequence, the party is unable to correctly handle the union bureaucrats who have followed their capitalist masters into the antiwar movement. Instead of utilizing the opportunity to reach workers and destroy the fakers, as in a real united front, the tactic has been to build them up and actually strengthen their hand. Just as all the so-called “radical” programs to end the war are in reality based on students, etc., and thus are just so much hogwash, so must a real program for revolutionaries look to the proletariat.

The Transitional Program shows the way. The party, rooting itself in the proletariat, in the factories and the armed forces, must struggle to win the proletariat to a “subjectively” anti-imperialist consciousness. Only revolution can end war for good, and if this war is ended on the terms desired by the liberals, then the next war is already near. A program for struggle would include, in addition to immediate withdrawal: workers’ control of war industries, confiscation of war profits and the expropriation of war profiteers, public works to employ war workers, open diplomacy and other appropriate slogans. Factory antiwar committees would be the organizing base for such a program, as well as for the political mobilization of the class in opposition to the capitalist class and its war. Such must be our perspective, and not the futile pacifist actions we are now engaging in—like the April 24th “Youth Festival -cum-Rites of Spring.”

The Proletarian Military Policy

Along with the abandonment of the rest of our program on the struggle against the war has gone the Proletarian Military Policy (PMP), which was a concrete expression, under American conditions, of the Leninist policy on military training and conscription. This policy was counterposed to the pacifist program of ending the war by ending the draft, and to the control of conscription by the imperialist government by demanding that the government finance training in the military arts in camps which would be under the control of the trade unions. The idea was to try to make a bridge between the level of the masses who saw the need, for learning how to wage war in an epoch of violent upheaval, and the future possibility of turning the army against the imperialist government. It was designed, as well, to ensure that no repetition of the disastrous policy of draft resistance, which isolated the radicals of WWI, would occur, and had the additional benefit of increasing the prestige and strength of the trade unions as organizations of the working class.

The present party leadership, which would very much like to forget that there ever was such a policy, has concocted several stories to justify its rejection of proletarian methods for pacifist ones. These stories can be summarized as follows: 1) WWII was basically an “inter-imperialist war,” and consequently that tactics of Marxists in the period of counterrevolutionary colonial wars must be different; 2) the party made an adaptation to the backwardness of the workers; 3) there was no movement against conscription, so we simply adjusted our tactics—today things are different. There is a certain division of labor on points 2 and 3. The slicker advocates of the present line combine them in a sort of “times-have changed” routine, while the more vulgar peace-nik elements simply claim that the stupid workers led us astray.

All these arguments and all their variants are false to the core. The first is simply the grossest kind of petty-bourgeois moralistic breast-beating. Even when we exclude the question of Russia in WWII, we are faced with the interesting case of it being alright for American workers to fight German and Japanese workers and peasants, and not alright to fight Vietnamese workers and peasants. Maybe we fought WWII to “defend Democracy?” The reality of the situation, of course, is that the party’s abstentionist policy of having comrades at Columbia [university] rather than Khe Sanh, has left the spontaneous GI revolts largely leaderless, and has hindered the defeat of US Imperialism.

What was the reality of the situation on conscription in 1940? The party did not in its propaganda oppose the introduction of conscription before its adoption, despite significant opposition to a peacetime draft from the “America-Firsters,” the radical movement in general, John L. Lewis and his section of the bureaucracy and many plain citizens. The draft law of 1940 passed by one vote. The OHIO (over the hill In October) movement, which encouraged mass desertions, spread rapidly at first. The party, however, stood firm against all those who wanted to go along with the crowd, despite the ravings of the Shachtmanites who called our policy “social-patriotic.” The party based Its stand on the clear and Irreconcilable position of Trotsky, who was largely responsible for the inspiration of our position. Trotsky said: “We can’t oppose compulsory military training by the bourgeois state just as we can’t oppose compulsory education by the bourgeois state.” This is not an Isolated quotation but is a good example of his thoughts on the question during his last year. (cf. Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-40). The party leadership, of course, not being formalists, are not at all troubled by their departures from Trotsky.

The Proletarian Military Policy, nonetheless, was not just dreamed up by Trotsky in 1940. It was the continuation of the line laid down by Lenin in his polemics against the centrists and reformists of the Zimmerwald movement. Prior to WWI the Social-Democracy had proposed the establishment of a people’s militia as a means whereby militarism and war could be prevented. This fantasy of peaceful substitutionism was destroyed by the shock of the war. During the discussions among the Zimmerwaldists, an alternative was proposed to this now discredited theory. This alternative was, “disarmament!” Lenin reacted violently to this form of pacifist hogwash, and in two articles—”On the ‘Disarmament’ Slogan and “The Military Program of the Proletarian Revolution—demolished these idealistic conceptions of the nature of war and society. He pointed out that imperialism, not weapons, was the cause of war, and that the only way to end war was to end the system that produced it. Consequently, proletarian militarism had to be opposed to bourgeois militarism. As concrete steps to this end he proposed the drafting of women, the election of officers, and, especially, the setting up of military training under the control of workers’ organizations, as well as full civil and economic rights for soldiers. He fiercely fought against draft-dodging, whether individual or “mass.” This Is the root of the 1940 adoption of the PMP.

There is no great gap between 1915 and 1940. This outlook was continued in the theses on War and the Fourth International in 1934. It was clearly stated as a transitional demand in the Transitional Program of 1938, which says nothing about “abolishing the draft,” “capitalist” or otherwise. What the Transitional Program does say is crystal clear:

 “… we must tear from the hands of the greedy and merciless imperialist clique… the disposition of the people’s fate. In accordance with this we demand: …military training and arming of workers and farmers under the direct control of workers’ and farmers’ committees.”

In 1940, in the Manifesto on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution, this position was further enunciated. Nor was the PMP abandoned after the war, to which it was supposedly a subjective reaction. In a 1946 polemic against the Workers Party (International Informational Bulletin, Vol. VIII, No.10, August 1946) it was described as a major difference between the SWP and the Shachtmanites. Even in 1948 when conscription was reintroduced, we advocated the PMP although in a rather abstract way. It was not until 1953 that we abandoned this policy, but we would not vote on this question until 1969. (It seems that this puts an interesting light on the question of “adaptationism.” When was the working class more social-patriotic—in 1940 when we adopted the PMP, or in 1953 when we abandoned it? When was the party more susceptible to petty-bourgeois pressure—on the eve of WWII, or in the period of “McCarthyite-Fascism?”)

The question of a correct policy on conscription is no longer a question of great urgency for our movement. The bourgeoisie literally hungers and thirsts for a voluntary army. They must demobilize the present army which every day threatens them more and more. The Gates Commission has shown the ruling class that it can be done. When they say they want “no more Vietnams” they are not lying. They do not; they want more Santo Domingos! And with a relatively small, cheap, elite, cadre-type army they can have them. This Is the significance of the experimental TRICAP (triple capability) divisions which combine armor, airmobile infantry and helicopters into juggernauts which are not designed for use against students. The ruling class says “volunteer army.” We say “abolish the draft.” The juxtaposition makes it clear that our present policy objectively supports the bourgeoisie in its desires. The situation now, as well as all our traditional analysis, demands the adoption and implementation of the Proletarian Military Policy.

All the party’s documents state that members will enter the armed forces if drafted. What actually happens is something else. A comrade about to be drafted sends a letter to his draft board informing it of his political beliefs and affiliations, supposedly to provide future legal cover. If this does not have the desired effect, then it is followed by a press conference, and then by a demonstration. After all this, if a comrade is inducted, he enters the army as a marked man. Everything Is done, short of any illegality, for SWP’ers and YSA’ers to avoid their revolutionary duty. Trotsky once said, “If the leaders seek to preserve themselves, that is what they become—dried preserves.” This practice of the SWP shows its total unwillingness to leave behind a comfortable milieu and to penetrate into an arena where the proletariat is to be found. The hard and difficult work is avoided, just as with the unions. It is another manifestation, more hypocritical and despicable, of the party’s wish to turn its back on the working class.

*From Vanguard Newsletter, Vol 4. No 3*, pps 39-44. April, 1972. Editors: Harry Turner, David Fender and Ed di Tullio. This issue was numbered incorrectly as No.2 and its contents are missing from ITOL

Written by raved

June 21, 2022 at 12:26 am

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For a New Zimmerwald!

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On August 4, 1914, the First World War broke out. The Second International had an official policy of opposing the war. But this collapsed under the pressure of wartime hysteria and with a few brave exceptions, broke up with each section voting for workers to go to war to kill other workers. The remaining revolutionary forces regrouped at Zimmerwald in Switzerland in 1915 to take a stand against the war, calling for workers to turn their guns on their own ruling classes. The ‘left’ at Zimmerwald were to be the core of the revolutionaries who went on to make the Russian revolution and build the 3rd Communist International. In a series of articles we argue that we are living through a similar period were the left is not prepared to fight the drive to war. We call for the rallying of left forces in a new Zimmerwald to build a revolutionary opposition to new imperialist wars. Part one deals with the years before the First Zimmerwald in 1915.

Many communist and revolutionary socialist forces around the world recognise that with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the victory of imperialism in the late 1980’s the workers of the world experienced an historic defeat. Yet, this defeat was not one that smashed all the past gains of workers won over the previous centuries.

Nor could this victory postpone for long the onset of a more serious world recession that would once more see the workers and poor peasants mobilised in defence of their hard-won gains, and imperialism embark on a drive to war to revive its falling profits.

The onset of the current world recession and the drive to war that began with the Gulf War in 1990 has vindicated this perspective. We are now facing a period of worsening crisis and polarisation of classes world wide, that pits workers revolution against imperialist counter-revolution.

The time has arrived once more for the surviving communist forces to rise up again against imperialist war to overthrow capitalism and build of a socialist world.


The situation resembles the crisis facing humanity with the onset of the first imperialist war in 1914. Workers in every country are being rallied by their bosses behind the national flag to go to war against ‘evil’ in whatever guise the ruling class says. We need to mobilise our forces in the same way that the communist fighters did against the first war at Zimmerwald in 1915 and Kienthal in 1916. Here they broke with the rotten International of Social Democracy and raised the cry for workers to shoot their bosses and not each other. In taking this stand they rallied around them the forces that would make the Russian Revolution and become the new Communist International, the 3rd International.

Zimmerwald, a town in Switzerland gave its name to a conference held in Sept 1915 to rally all the anti-war forces, pacifists, defencists, and the Bolsheviks. The majority refused to break with the 2nd International, while the Zimmerwald ‘Left’ called for “civil war not civil peace” and the overthrow of capitalism. The ‘Left’ position was rejected at Zimmerwald. By the end of 1916 the Left split from the majority so it could rally those sections of workers who were beginning to resist the war to its revolutionary program.

The broad Zimmerwald movement was anti-war, but not anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist. It was still heavily influenced by chauvinism and pacifism. Why then did the Bolsheviks remain in it for more than a year? Did they, while they were inside, and while they were outside, adopt the best tactics to win workers over to the revolutionary position? These questions are important because a New Zimmerwald movement must avoid making the mistakes of the First.

Before addressing these questions, what took the anti-war movement more than a year to unite at Zimmerwald? What were they doing in the years immediately before the outbreak of war and the year following?

Pre-Zimmerwald:Stuttgart 1907

The 2nd International didn’t suddenly jump on the nationalist bandwagon in August 1914. It had been moving in that direction for years. At the Stuttgart Congress of 1907 a sizable minority argued for a ‘socialist’ colonisation policy; i.e that colonisation was necessary to advance human civilisation provided the method of colonisation was not exploitative! Bernstein (the famous German socialist) said “The colonies are there; we must come to terms with that. Socialists too should acknowledge the need for civilised peoples to act somewhat like guardians of the uncivilised”. (LSRI: 10).

That made the imperialist countries out to be ‘civilised’! If they were bad imperialists and mistreated the colonies or immigrants, they could be made into ‘good’ imperialists, or even cease to be imperialist, with the correct ‘socialist’ colonial policy! Even thought his ‘social imperialist’ tendency was outvoted, it showed that the rot was setting in. What was the material cause of this rot? Lenin was onto it.

Lenin commented:
“This vote on the colonial question is of very great importance. First, it strikingly showed up socialist opportunism, which succumbs to bourgeois blandishments. Secondly, it revealed a negative feature in the European labour movement, one that can do no little harm to the proletarian cause, and for that reason should receive serious attention. Marx frequently quoted a very significant saying by Sismondi. The proletarians of the ancient world, this saying runs, lived at the expense of society; while modern society lives at the expense of the proletarians…However, as the result of the extensive colonial policy, the European proletariat partly finds itself in a position when it is not its own labour, but the labour of the practically enslaved natives in the colonies, that maintains the whole society. In certain countries this provides the material and economic basis for infecting the proletariat with colonial chauvinism.” (LSRI:39).

On the question of war the Stuttgart Congress debated four resolutions, two of which called for workers actions against war to include strikes and insurrections (one as the last resort); while two called vaguely for “appropriate measures” or “intervention”.

Two extreme tendencies opposed each other. One tendency [Bebel] saw imperialist war as ‘militarism’ that could be resisted by socialists, first by voting against it, but if necessary going to war against ‘militarism’ to defend the ‘workers father land’. That meant that workers in every country would be dragooned to fight in ‘defensive’ wars to defend ‘their’ fatherland.

The other tendency talked of stopping wars by uniting workers across national frontiers to refuse to fight imperialist wars. “Our class -that is our fatherland” [Herve] (LSRI: 27). Herve said of the German Social Democratic Party (and its ‘workers’ fatherland’): “…you have now become an electoral and accounting machine, a party of cash registers and parliamentary seats. You want to conquer the world with ballots. But I ask you: When the German soldiers are sent off to reestablish the throne of the Russian Tsar [this was two years after the 1905 revolution] when Prussia and France attack the proletarians, what will you do?…the whole of German Social Democracy has now become Bourgeois. Today Bebel went over to the revisionists when he told us: “Proletarians of all countries, murder each other”. (28)

Lenin commented on the anti-militarism debates criticising Herve as a ‘semi-anarchist’ who did not see that war was necessary to capitalism and stopping wars could only be achieved by ‘replacing capitalism with socialism’. “However, underlying all these semi-anarchistic absurdities of Herveism there was one sound and practical purpose: to spur the socialist movement so that it will not be restricted to parliamentary methods of struggle alone, so that the masses will realise the need for revolutionary action in connection with the crises which war inevitably involves, so that, lastly, a more lively understanding of international labour solidarity and the falsity of bourgeois patriotism will be spread among the masses.” (41)

In the middle of these two extremes but leaning towards Bebel, was Jaures who argued that socialism could reform the imperialists and prevent war by means of an international arbitration court, but if push came to shove, strikes and insurrection would be necessary. He saw war as an extension of the class war which up to then had been managed successfully by the big socialist parties. In reality, Jaures believed that negotiations would suffice and make militant actions unnecessary.

Also in the middle but leaning away from Bebel was Rosa Luxemburg who spoke of the recent Russian Revolution and the need for workers to use the general strike against war not only to end war, but to “hasten the overthrow of class rule in general”. She moved an amendment along these lines which she drafted(along with Lenin and Martov of the Russian Social Democrats ) which was incorporated into the final draft.

The Resolution was a compromise. On the one hand ‘militarism’ was bad policy, on the other, militarism was vital to the survival of capitalism. These were clearly two very different views of imperialist militarism! But Lenin regarded the result as good. The left got in its view of militarism as necessary for capitalism to survive and for the struggle against war to be also a struggle against capitalism. He was pleased that the resolution spelled out the methods that social democracy would use, and could not be misinterpreted by the reformist Vollmar or by the semi-anarchist Herve. (42)

However, despite the amendments from the revolutionary left which strengthened the Stuttgart resolution on War and Militarism, it was clear that a growing element in of the international viewed capitalism, imperialism and militarism as reformable by social democracy. Herve characterised the German element around Bebel as “bourgeois”, “satisfied” and “well fed”.

Lenin’s view was that the material benefits of colonialism created an “aristocracy of labour” in the imperialist countries. Thus the move away from proletarian internationalism towards the socialist fatherland was the result of the success of the movement in legislating for reforms. But these reforms were paid for by the imperialist super-profits extracted from the colonies, and the ‘socialist’ adaptation to super-profits took the form of ‘social imperialism” or :”social chauvinism” -i.e. the civilising socialism of the ballot.

Lenin summed up rather optimistically that despite the sharp contrast between the “opportunist and revolutionary wings” …the work done at Stuttgart will greatly promote the unity of tactics and unity of revolutionary struggle of the proletarians of all countries”.

Nine years later, when the Second International has collapsed in the face of the war, Zinoviev commented that at Stuttgart the coming war was clearly seen on the horizon and it was understood that it would be the life and death test of the International. Yet the opportunists had already “won the upper hand”. “Bebel, Jaures, Branting, Vendervelde, Vollmar, and Vaillant all spoke about “the nation” and “the fatherland” in terms which the social patriots of all countries now find it easy to justify their “new” tactics…Only one speech delivered at Stuttgart differed….in principle -Rosa Luxemburg’s. This speech provided, although not yet in a fully finished form, the basis of the revolutionary Marxist position”(44).

Zinoviev tries to explain how a resolution that embodied such contradictory positions could be agreed to. The opportunist majority stood for “defence of the fatherland” yet they agreed to the revolutionary amendments. On the one hand they could not openly take a position in defence of the ‘revolutionary father land’ when everyone knew the war would be between bloody imperialist ‘fatherlands’. Second, the revolutionary amendments on strikes and insurrections was “watered-down” by lawyers to avoid the German SD being prosecuted (47).

The result was less than Lenin wrote at the time, a congress in the “spirit of revolutionary Marxism”, but more a compromise congress in which the revolutionary left was indulged by an opportunist majority who did not need to proclaim their revisionism openly because they had the material means (voting and bookkeeping) to decide the issue in reality. So the scene was set for further retreats in the years between 1907 and 1914.

The years 1907-1914

The next international Congress was at Copenhagen in 1910. The international became more divided on how to respond to the coming war. Commenting on the German Party Congress at Magdeburg in September 1910 Lenin put his finger on the reason for the failure to take a strong internationalist stand on the war. He recognises that the socialists in Germany have been sucked into a legal apparatus and were unsure how to break with bourgeois legality (parliamentarism).

“The chief feature of this peculiar pre-revolutionary situation consists in the fact that the coming revolution must inevitably be incomparably more profound, more radical, drawing far broader masses into a more difficult, stubborn and prolonged struggle than all previous revolutions. Yet at the same time this pre-revolutionary situation is marked by the greater (in comparison with anything hitherto) domination of legality, which has become an obstacle to those who introduced it…The era of utilising the legality created by the bourgeoisie is giving way to an era of tremendous revolutionary battles, and these battles, in effect, will be the destruction of all bourgeois legality, the whole bourgeois system…” (67)

The Copenhagen resolution against militarism echoed the Stuttgart resolution. It called on workers to use all measures available to stop war, but it stopped well short of the internationalist position that workers should turn imperialist war into a civil war. During the Copenhagen Congress Lenin tried to rally the left wing without success. Rosa Luxemburg wrote a critique of the ‘Peace Utopias’ evident in the resolution.

She ridiculed the utopia that imperialists could make peace as flying in the face of imperialist economic expansion and rivalry. “Arms limitation and curbing militarism are not part of international capitalism’s further development. In fact they could result only from the stagnation of capitalist development…Only those who think that class antagonisms can be softened and be blunted, and that capitalist economic anarchy can be contained, can think it possible that these international conflicts can subside, ease, or dissolve. For the international antagonisms of the capitalist states are only the complement of class antagonisms, and world political anarchy is but the reverse side of the anarchic system of capitalist production. Only together can they grow and only together can they be overcome. “A little peace and order” is, therefore, impossible, a petty-bourgeois utopia, as much so in the capitalist world market as in world politics, in the limitation of crises as in the limitation of armaments.” (71)

A confrontation between German and French troops in Morocco in July 1911 showed Rosa Luxemburg to be correct. Hermann Molkenbuhr of the SPD executive claimed that the German government had provoked the crisis to “divert attention from the domestic situation and create a mood favourable to them in the Reichstag elections”. He argued that this ruse would fail as ‘pro-French’ industrial capitalists would stop the war as it was against their interests to go to war.

Luxemburg responded attacking the concept that different national imperialist rivalries that surfaced in Morocco could be stopped by a common interest among German and French firms to ‘share’ colonial booty.

She summed up Molkenbuhr’s argument:
“Leave it to the grandees of the steel monopolies to order a halt to the German action in Morocco at the appropriate moment. As for us, we will pay as little attention as possible to the entire affair, since we have other business to attend to, namely the Reichstag elections…It is best not to rely on the commitment to peace of any particular capitalist clique, but on the resistance of the enlightened masses as a force for peace…Above all we must carry out socialist education in the Reichstag elections. This cannot be accomplished, however, if we aim our criticism exclusively at Germany’s internal political conditions, and fail to portray the overall international context – capital’s deepening domination over all parts of the world, the obvious anarchy everywhere you look, and the prominent role of colonialism and world power politics in this process. We must not fashion our electoral agitation as some simplistic political primer cut down to a couple of catchy slogans, but as the Socialist world view in its all-encompassing totality and diversity.” (77).

At this time there broke out in the German party a debate on the nature of imperialism. Was it doomed to go to war by its very nature, or was war a sort of aberration, even an accident, that could be corrected by socialist peace policies? On the left was Pannekoek, Radek and others, on the Right was Kautsky, Hasse, Bernstein and others. The left was defending the existing position while the right was looking

g for a parliamentary road to socialism by arguing that modern imperialism had investments in every country so could not afford to go to war. Kautsky’s theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ expressed this clearly.

Pannekoek neatly summed up the revisionists views: “We often hear talk of imperialism as a sort of mental derangement of the bourgeoisie…Bernstein speaks of a spiritual epidemic. But we should not conceive of it in such an un-Marxist manner, as if it were an accident.”.

Lensch also had some ripe words:
“Comrades! How did the international arms buildup which we have witnessed these last ten years come about? Is it really just a case of international misunderstanding? That would mean that world history had made mistake, as it were: that a capitalism without resort to force, without colonies and fleets is also feasible. No doubt that is true, but only in a vacuum! Perhaps in your imagination or on paper, you can conceive of a capitalism without violence. But we deal with the real capitalism here on earth. Our task cannot be to correct World History’s homework, and say, “Dear World History, here is your work back! Its swarming with mistakes. I marked them all in red. In the future I expect better work from you.” (80).

In October 1912 the International was put to the test by the outbreak of war in the Balkans. Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria attacked Turkey which was defeated and forced to withdraw from its European possessions. Then Serbia, Greece and Romania turned against Bulgaria. What was the role of international socialists in this war? All the various socialist parties took a stand against the war. In Bulgaria the a Socialist parliamentarian was assaulted when he spoke out against the war. Yet in each country this opposition got more popular as the death and destruction affected the people. The international correctly saw the Balkan wars as a forerunner of imperialist war. Both sides in the war were pawns of imperialism so the war had to be opposed and stopped by revolutionary means.

An emergency congress was held at Basel November 24-25 1912. The Basel Manifesto began by quoting the earlier Stuttgart and Copenhagen resolutions against war including ‘civil war’, but again refrained from calling on workers to use the methods of ‘strikes and insurrections’ to stop the war.

While the war in the Balkans did not see any wavering from the official line, in the German party the centre and right began to grow in influence as it was put under pressure to vote for money to expand the military. In March 1913 the SDP deputies (MP’s) voted for a huge increase in military spending. The measure needed the SPD support to pass, so the government tried to win its support by introducing an income tax rather than a flat tax that would hit the poor hard. After a sharp debate the majority abandoned the principle ‘not one man, not one penny for war’ and voted for the Bill. At the Party’s Jena conference of 1913 the leftist position calling for a mass strike in the event of war was outvoted 142 to 333 in favour of the rightist position against the general strike.

Again Rosa Luxemburg sounded the warning that this capitulation to social chauvinism would lead to disaster with the outbreak of war.

“What will happen if war breaks out and we can do nothing more to avert it? The question will then arise whether the costs should be covered by indirect or direct taxes, and you will then logically support the approval of war credits…the position will lead us onto a slippery slope where there is no way to stop. Let our resolution therefore put an end to such cheating on principles by proclaiming, “So far and no further!” (94)

Jena was the last Congress of the united SDP. The SDP was now split into three fractions, Left, Right, and Centre.

August 4, 1914. The collapse of the International

The outbreak of war saw the rotten centre of the International expose in a massive betrayal. Despite many dire warnings, this event was still a huge shock for the ‘left’.

Rosa Luxemburg co-founder of the new revolutionary journal Die Internationale wrote in the leading article in the first issue “The Reconstruction of the International”:

“On August 4, 1914 German Social Democracy abdicated politically; at the same time the Socialist International collapsed. Every attempt to deny these facts or go gloss them over, regardless of its motive, in reality serves only to perpetuate the disastrous self-deception of the Socialist parties and the internal sickness that led to their collapse”. (183)

“A body of four million strong allowed a handful of parliamentarians to turn it around in twenty-four hours and harness it to a wagon going in a direction opposite to its aim in life…Marx, Engels, and Lassalle; Liebknecht, Bebel and Singer trained the German proletariat so that Hindenburg could lead it” (186)

Brave exceptions on the Left.

Luxemburg, Trotsky and Lenin all drew the conclusion that this betrayal did not call into question either Marxism or the revolution. It was the result of alien class forces and the ‘internal sickness’ of the party. They all called for a the reconstruction of a new International to replace the collapsed Second.

However, almost immediately differences emerged on how to fight the war. Trotsky said that workers had to stop the war to preserve their power and so use their arms to fight for the United States of Europe. But how? Mobilise for peace? “Neither victory or defeat” was his slogan.[155]

Lenin said that workers must oppose the war by calling for the defeat of their own country. It was necessary to turn imperialist war into civil war by turning their weapons on their own bourgeoisie. [156]

Their differences.

Trotsky criticises the Bolsheviks for their defeatism in Russia as unrealistic. It is “an uncalled for and absolutely unjustified concession to the political methodology of social-patriotism, which would replace the revolutionary struggle against the war and the conditions causing it, with an orientation – highly arbitrary in the present conditions – towards the lesser evil”. Trotsky wants to avoid defeats as they “disorganise the whole of social life, and above all else the working class”. [165]

Lenin responds that this is typical of Trotsky’s “high-flown” phrases with which he “justifies opportunism”. He criticises Trotsky for calling for peace without any means of linking this to revolution i.e. defeatism. “ ‘A revolutionary struggle against the war’ is merely an empty and meaningless exclamation, something at which the heroes of the Second International excel, unless it means revolutionary action against one’s own government even in wartime.” [166].

Lenin accuses Trotsky of ‘opportunism’

because Trotsky assumes that the call for the defeat of Russia must mean the victory of Germany. The ‘lesser evil’ means that Russian workers will see the victory of Germany as preferable to the victory of the Tsar. And Trotsky is not prepared to swim against this stream of social-patriotism

Yet, says Lenin, the 2nd International position was clear: “In all the imperialist countries the proletariat now desire the defeat of it own government”. So in rejecting the call for workers in all countries to defeat their governments, and adopting the position that one nation must win, it is Trotsky that adapts to the “political methodology of social-patriotism” [167].

Trotsky moves toward Kautsky’s fatalist view that neither revolutions nor international solidarity between workers of different countries is possible in an imperialist war. That’s why the call for ‘peace’ is substituted for ‘defeatism’ because it does not challenge social-patriotism. It means in effect “neither victory nor defeat”.

This is a paraphrase of the “defence of the fatherland” slogan because it is a ‘class truce’. The working class is neither for nor against the war policy of its ruling class which also claims to be ‘against defeat’. [168] So the class struggle is suspended for the duration of the war. That is why the Italian government threatened its social democrats with ‘treason’ if it called a general strike. This explains why the Tsarist government charged Russia’s social-democrats with ‘high treason’.

For Lenin: “A proletarian cannot deal a class blow at his government or hold out (in fact) a hand to his brother, the proletarian of the ‘foreign country’, without contributing to the defeat, to the disintegration of his ‘own’ imperialist ‘Great Power’”[169].

Lenin concludes: “Those who stand for the “neither-victory-nor-defeat” slogan are in fact on the side of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, for they do not believe in the possibility of international revolutionary action by the working class against their own governments, and do not wish to help develop such action, which, though undoubtedly difficult, is the only task worthy of a proletarian, the only socialist task. It is the proletariat in the most backward of the belligerent Great Powers which, through the medium of their party, have had to adopt – especially in the view of the shameful treachery of the German and French Social-Democrats – revolutionary tactics that are quite unfeasible unless they ‘contribute to the defeat’ of their own government, but which alone lead to a European revolution, to the permanent peace of socialism, to the liberation of humanity from the horrors, misery, savagery and brutality now prevailing.” [170]

In Germany it was some months before the revolutionary left was able to mobilise opposition to the leaderships betrayal. Small meetings in working class branches supported the minority opposition to war credits but also criticised the minority for upholding party discipline and voting with the majority in the Reichstag. In Stuttgart on September 21, a meeting of SPD elected leaders condemned the war credits stand by 81 to 3.

Liebknecht responded: “You are quite right for criticising me. Even if alone, I should have called out my “No!” in the Reichstag and so informed the whole world that the talk of unanimity of the Reichstag and the German people is a lie”. [173]

In November in the Berlin suburb of Niederbarnim local left wingers also took a stand against the war credits: “Had the Social Democratic faction done its duty on August 4, the external form of the organisation would probably have been destroyed, but the spirit would have remained…then the German working class would have carried out its historic mission.” Their conclusion was to build a new party and begin underground work.

“The Main Enemy is at Home”: Liebknecht and the Spartacists

In December on the second vote for war credits 20 deputies voted against at the party meeting. But once again all but Karl Liebknecht voted with the majority in the Reichstag.

On December 2, 1914 Karl Liebknecht took his historic stand and cast the sole vote against war appropriations. [174] In a declaration, “Explanation of War Credits Vote”, distributed as an illegal leaflet he explained his political stand. In the leaflet Liebknecht said he refused to vote for war credits because the war “is an imperialist war, fought for the capitalist domination of the world market and for the political domination of important territories for settlement of industrial and finance capital” [175]

Liebknecht was drafted into the army on 7 February 1915. Rosa Luxemburg was arrested and jailed on 18 February. Despite the repression, the left SDs formed an underground opposition to imperialist war in the factories and working class areas, known as the ‘Spartacists’ – the name of the leader of a slave rebellion against the Roman empire. Their main slogan became “The Main Enemy is at Home”!

But it was the Russian revolutionaries who spelled out what revolutionary defeatism meant.

“Who is it that threatens the Russian people? Who should we combat? They say it is the Germans…But it is the landlords, the factory owners, the big proprietors and merchants who steal from us; it is the police, the tsar, and his hangers-on who rob us. And when we have had enough of this robbery, and call a strike to protect our interests, then the police, the soldiers, and the Cossacks who are unleashed upon us…Now they try to mislead us and make us believe that our enemy is “the Germans” whom we have never seen… But will we Russian workers be so stupid as to take these lying phrases seriously?…No! If we must sacrifice our lives, we will do it for our own cause. They put guns in our hands. Good. We will use these guns to fight for better living conditions for the Russian working class.” [178]

Revolutionary defeatism got a practical endorsement during Xmas 1914 when British, French and German soldiers fraternised at the front. The British and German troops even organised their own 48-hour truce! Lenin wrote that this proved workers could unite against their own bosses. The military high commands worried that it might spread rapidly ordered that fraternisation was high treason punishable by death.

Lenin wrote (in The Slogan of Civil War Illustrated) that if the opportunists had devoted their efforts to calling on workers to fraternise for peace instead of backing their bosses war efforts and accepting ministerial jobs, then the spontaneous fraternisation of Christmas 1914 might spread on into the new year and beyond. The real issue came down to what cause should workers die for.

“There is only one practical issue – victory or defeat for one’s country – Kautsky, lackey of the opportunists, has written…Indeed, if one were to forget socialism and the class struggle, that would be the truth. However, if one does not lose sight of socialism, that is untrue. Then there is another practical issue: should we perish as blind and helpless slaves, in a war between slaveholders, or should we fall in the “attempts at fraternisation” between slaves, with the aim of casting off slavery? Such, in reality, is the “practical” issue.” [179]

Kautsky and ‘ultra-imperialism’

Meanwhile, Kautsky was working overtime trying to invent new twists in Marxist theory that would justify workers not having to fight anybody in principle. His theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ was revamped to claim that imperialist war was old fashioned and that the class interests of the bosses were now so enmeshed in each others stock markets that fighting imperialist wars was bad for business.

“Every far-sighted capitalist today [with the benefit of Kautsky’s lesson on where their class interests lay] must call on his fellows: capitalists of all countries unite!” [180] Kautsky is saying: imperialists wake up! Why are you fighting among yourselves when the real danger is posed by the colonial and semi-colonial

countries, and by your own socialist movements. You are ruining yourselves unnecessarily. Stop the war in your own interests. Peace brings prosperity!

This was the old opportunist line from the pre-war Congresses of appealing to the bosses self-interest but now revived to provide ‘official Marxist’ legitimacy to the opportunists.

Kautsky and Co got the savaging they deserved from the revolutionaries. In a new theoretical journal, Die International, launched on April 14 1915 to combat this falsification of Marxism and to advance the creation of a new revolutionary leadership, Rosa Luxemburg wrote the devastatingly brilliant ‘The Reconstruction of the International’:

“Kautsky, the representative of the so-called Marxist Centre – politically speaking, the theoretician of the ‘swamp’ – made a sincere contribution to the party’s present collapse. Many years ago he degraded theory to the role of obliging hand-maiden to the official practice of the party establishment. Already he has thought up an opportune new theory to justify and whitewash the collapse”.[184]

“…Official theory, whose organ is Die Neue Zeit, [The New Times!] misuses Marxism any way it pleases to serve the party officials’ current domestic requirements and to justify their day-to-day dealings…The world historic call of the Communist Manifesto has been substantially enriched and, as corrected by Kautsky, now reads: ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite in peacetime and cut each other’s throats in wartime!”

”…According to historical materialism, as Marx laid it out, all of previously recorded history is the history of class struggle. According to Kautsky’s revision of materialism, that must be amended to read: ‘except in time of war’.” [187]

Luxemburg goes for Kautsky’s throat: “A moments reflection shows that Kautsky’s theory of historical materialism…does not leave a single stone of Marxist theory standing. According to Marx neither the class struggle nor war fall from the sky, but rather arise out of deep-seated social and economic causes. Thus neither of the two can periodically disappear unless their causes also vanish into thin air.”

“…Wars in the present historical period result from the competing interests of rival groups of capitalists and from capitalism’s need to expand. But these two driving forces do not operate only when the cannon’s roar, but also in peacetime, when they prepare and make inevitable the outbreak of new wars. War is indeed, as Kautsky is found of quoting from Clausewitz, only ‘continuation of politics by other means.’ And it is precisely the imperialist stage of capitalist domination whose arms race has made peace illusory, by declaring what is in essence the dictatorship of militarism and permanent war.” [188]

On the dangers of ‘official Marxism’ Luxemburg says this:

”All attempts to make Marxism conform to the present transitory decrepitude of Socialist practice, to prostitute it to the level of a mercenary apologist for social imperialism, are in themselves more dangerous than all the blatant and shrill excesses of the nationalist confusion in the ranks of the party. Such attempts tend not only to conceal the real causes of the International’s profound failure, but also to discard the lessons from this experience necessary for its future construction.” [192]

Writing for the Russian Bolshevik journal Kommunist, in September 1915, Lenin also takes Kautsky apart in “The Collapse of the Second International”.

First, Lenin refutes Kautsky’s complaint that the revolutionary situation that was expected at the Basle Congress did not occur with the outbreak of war because governments got stronger and workers weaker. Lenin shows that the war did create a revolutionary situation which he famously defined in this article. ,

A revolutionary situation exists ‘objectively’ when the ruling classes find it impossible to rule ‘in the old way’; when the ‘lower classes do not want to live in the old way’, and when workers are drawn into independent action. To which he adds the necessary ‘subjective’ changes to workers consciousness –the “ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government” [194].

Thus the prediction of the pre-war Basle Manifesto is “fully confirmed” says Lenin; even “…those who fear revolution – petty bourgeois Christian parsons, the General Staffs and millionaires’ newspapers – are compelled to admit that symptoms of a revolutionary situation exist in Europe…To deny this truth, directly or indirectly, or to ignore it, as Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co have done, means telling a big lie, deceiving the working class, and serving the bourgeoisie”. [196]

So rather than take advantage of a revolutionary situation to ‘hasten’ the downfall of capitalism as demanded in the Basle Resolution, Kautsky and Co take refuge in the ‘big lie’ that no such crisis exists. Hence Kautsky rejects the charge that the leadership of the SD betrayed the masses. He caricatures the left SD position as calling for a ‘revolution within 24 hours’ which was impossible.

Lenin counters that revolutions are not ‘made’ but develop within objective conditions and the betrayal of the leadership was a massive setback to that development.

Kautsky justifies his position by trying to make the crisis dissolve into thin air as a ‘mistaken’ policy option that can be turned into peace by appealing to ruling class interests

The conditions were not ripe for revolution because the ruling class had not come to an impasse where it could not ‘rule in the old way’ but could instead opt for peace rather than war.

Lenin responds: “The most subtle theory of social-chauvinism, one that has been most skillfully touched up to look scientific and international, is the theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ advanced by Kautsky…This theory boils down, and can only boil down, to the following: Kautsky is exploiting the hope for a new peaceful era of capitalism so as to justify the adhesion of the opportunists and the official Social-Democratic parties to the bourgeoisie, and their rejection of revolutionary i.e. proletarian, tactics in the present stormy era…[198]

Further: “Let us recall what the passage from the previous and “peaceful” period of capitalism to the present and imperialist period has been based on: free competition has yielded to monopolist capitalist combines, and the world has been partitioned. Both of these facts (and factors) are obviously of world-wide significance: Free Trade and peaceful competition were possible and necessary as long as capital was in a position to enlarge its colonies without hindrance, and seize unoccupied land in Africa, etc., and as long as the concentration of capital was still weak and no monopolist concerns existed i.e. concerns of a magnitude permitting domination of an entire branch of industry. The appearance and growth of such monopolist concerns (has this process been stopped in Britain or America? Not even Kautsky will dare deny that the war has accelerated and intensified it) have rendered the free competition of former times impossible; they have cut the ground from under its feet, while the partition of the world compels the capitalists to go over form peaceful expansion to an armed struggle for the repartitioning of colonies and spheres of influence.” [199]

Both Luxemburg and Lenin proved that Kautsky’s ‘official Marxism’ rejected the laws of capitalist development and the operation of the market, leaving “no stone” of Marxist theory overturned. Rather imperialism by its nature was inevitably forced to war. That war created the objective factors necessary for a revolutionary situation but the old leadership had betrayed the Basle resolution and failed to lead a revolutionary opposition to the war. It needed to be replaced urgently by a new leadership that could exploit the revolutionary crisis and turn imperialist war into civil war. The time was overdue to regroup the left SD forces and begin the process of building a new Third International.

It was necessary to unite the left forces and prepare for a anti-war conference. The question arises why did the ‘left’ leave the initiative to the ‘centre’ to convene the first anti-war conference at Zimmerwald in September 1915, one year after the war had begun. Why did it take the ‘left’ so long to re-organise?

Towards Zimmerwald

The bourgeoisie understood that imperialist war created a revolutionary crisis and passed tough repressive measures against workers and the ‘left’ in general. The anti-war movement was driven underground and many of their leaders and cadres were imprisoned. To implement the Basle resolution and the call to turn imperialist war into civil war, the left needed to build a new international. Why didn’t the left initiate an antiwar conference?

Two pre-conferences were held during this period; an International conference of Women met in Bern, March 26-28, and an Internationalist Youth Conference during April 1915. But no call arose out of either of these for a full blown anti-war conference. In May 1915, the Italians try to get the ISB to hold an antiwar conference. This is rejected, so the Italians decide to convene a conference without the ISB. A Preliminary Conference met on July 11 in Bern. Invitations were sent to the official ISB national leaderships! Kautsky among others declined.

Zinoviev reported on the Preliminary Conference. He was obviously surprised to find that the organisers had invited only representatives of the official ISB parties “Where are the genuine lefts of the International?” he asked.

The Zimmerwald Left and the Lessons for Today

How and when did the split which formed the Zimmerwald Left in 1915 take place? Why was this the important step to building a new international? What are the lessons to be learned today as US imperialism steps up its war drive? With the end of the Soviet Bloc most of the Western left has reverted to a Menshevik position of putting faith in the completion of the bourgeois revolution. They have given up on any belief that the working class is the revolutionary class and substituted the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. Those who adapt to democratic imperialism, Stalinists, centrists, and social democrats avoid fighting their own ruling class! They turn their backs on revolutionary Marxism, Leninism, and Bolshevism. As the contradictions of imperialism intensify these Menshevik currents form a counter-revolutionary barrier to the leftward movement of workers and poor peasants. That is why we need a New Zimmerwald, a new Bolshevik left, and a new Communist International.

Zimmerwald at Last

During the first year of the war the pressure from the left for an international conference to unite those prepared to break with the social chauvinists and pacifists was sabotaged by the right and centre. The preliminary conference in Bern on July 11 1915 was dominated by the right and centre and rejected Zinoviev’s motions for revolutionary mass actions against the war. When the Zimmerwald Conference was finally held, September 5-8, 8 delegates including the Polish, Russian delegates met beforehand and formed the ‘Zimmerwald left’. They were Lenin and Zinoviev (Bolsheviks), Berzin (Latvian social democrats), Radek (Polish-Lithuanian opposition), Borchardt (for Lichenstrahlen in Germany), Hoglund and Nerman (Swedish and Norwegian left), Platten (Switzerland). Trotsky was among several others who attended this meeting but did not endorse the left’s position.

Liebknecht writing from prison greets the delegates and calls for a “settling of accounts with the deserters and turncoats of the International”. He urges the delegates to fight an international class war and to break with false appeals to national and party unity. He concludes:

“The new international will arise on the ruins of the old. It can only arise on these ruins, on new and firmer foundations. Friends – socialists from all countries – you must lay the foundation stone today for the future structure. Pass irreconcilable judgement upon the false socialists…Long live the future peace among peoples! Long live internationalist, people-liberating.”

The formation of the ‘Zimmerwald left’ was the decisive step in the break with the old international. Lenin and Radek had drafted resolutions to put to the conference. Radek’s was adopted but Lenin’s references to support for colonial wars and calling for ‘defeat of one’s own country’ were omitted. Yet Radek’s draft was still strong. The war is characterised as an imperialist war. The causes of war can only be overcome by socialist revolution in the leading countries. The majority of the socialist international has gone over to the social patriotism of their national bourgeoisies. The ‘centre’ current of pacifists such as Kautsky is more dangerous than the open patriots because it misleads and confuses the more advanced workers. The left must struggle against social patriotism with every method at its disposal – rejection of war credits, propaganda against the war, demonstrations, fraternisation in the trenches, strikes etc. Quoting Liebknecht’s letter, Radek concludes: “Civil war, not ‘civil peace’ is our slogan” (LSRI, 299).

The debates centred around the question of ‘civil peace’ versus ‘civil war’. Most delegates were for ‘peace’ because they said workers were demoralised, confused and needed further preparation before they could turn the war into a ‘civil war’. Those against ‘civil peace’ also included Trotsky who opposed to pacifism ‘class struggle and ‘social revolution’. Chernov the Russian socialist revolutionary said that the “struggle for peace exclusively” must be extended to the “struggle for social revolution”. Radek’s resolution that put the case for ‘civil war’ was voted down 19 to 12 and did not become part of the final manifesto. Trotsky and Roland-Holst, Chernov and Natanson voted with the Zimmerward 8.

Zimmerwald Manifesto

The Zimmerwald Manifesto addresses the Proletarians of Europe: “one thing is certain: the war that has produced this chaos is the product of imperialism…economically backward or politically weak nations are thereby subjugated by the great powers, who, in this war, are seeking to remake the world map with blood and iron in accord with their exploiting interests…In the course of the war, its driving forces are revealed in all their vileness…The capitalists of all countries who are coining the gold of war profits out of the blood shed by the people, assert that the war is for defence of the fatherland, for democracy and the liberation of oppressed nations…thus the war reveals the naked figure of modern capitalism which has become irreconcilable not only with the interests of the masses of workers, not only with the requirements of historical development, but also with the elementary conditions of human existence…this situation that faces us, threatening the entire future of Europe and humanity, cannot and must not be tolerated any longer without action…

So far so good, but what action? The Manifesto concludes: “Proletarians! Since the outbreak of the war you have placed your energy, your courage, your endurance at the service of the ruling classes. Now you must stand up for your own cause, for the sacred aims of socialism, for the emancipation of the oppressed nations as well as of the enslaved classes, by means of irreconcilable class struggle”.

“Class struggle”? What does this mean? Socialists in the countries at war are told to take up “this task”. What is this? “peace among the people”. Compared with real task of turning the imperialist war into civil war this is a pious platitude. (320)

Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, Nerman, Hoglund and Winter of the Zimmerwald left produced a statement protesting the omission of any “characterisation of opportunism” as the main cause of the capitulation to war, and any clear presentation of “methods of struggle against the war”. But they said that they would still vote for the Manifesto as a “call to struggle, and because we want to march forward in this struggle arm in arm with the other sections of the International”.

Zimmerwald leads to inevitable split

The Zimmerwald left was aware of the need to use the left position to break with the right and centre to form a new international. Lenin and the others (excluding Trotsky) saw that a split was necessary. Radek calls the betrayal of the opportunists a de facto split. The failure to prepare for a new international quickly was to set the scene for later defeats. This is most obvious in Lenin’s critique of the Spartacists for not taking a firm independent line against the centrists in Germany.

The main lesson from Zimmerwald was that the left needed to strike out on an independent course (collaborating where possible at Zimmerwald etc) to win over the most advanced workers, with both a critique of opportunism and a revolutionary mobilisation against the ruling class.

Radek put this forcefully in his report on the conference: “It may be a long-time before the masses, bled white by the war recover and renew the struggle. We can shorten this time, however by explaining to the most conscious workers why the International collapsed, how they have to struggle, for what goals they must appeal to other workers, and how they must organise the struggle under conditions of military rule. The more difficult the situation the clearer must be the politics of socialism. It is never too early to tell the workers their true situation” (339).

Lenin’s critique of Luxemburg

Lenin critiqued Luxemburg and the German Spartacists for following the Zimmerwald Manifesto in toning down their critique of opportunism and failing to break from the centrists and create an independent party. He was responding to Luxemburg’s famous ‘Junius Pamphlet’.

“The chief defect in Junius pamphlet…is its silence about the connection between social chauvinism …and opportunism. This is wrong from the standpoint of theory, for it is impossible to account for the ‘betrayal’ [of the 2nd international without linking it up with opportunism as a trend with a long history behind it, the history of the whole Second International. ..It is also a mistake from the practical political standpoint, for it is impossible either to understand the ‘crisis of social democracy’ or overcome it, without clarifying the meaning and the role of two trends, the openly opportunist trend…and the tacitly opportunist trend…A very great defect in revolutionary Marxism in Germany as a whole is its lack of a compact illegal organisation that would systematically pursue its own line and educate the masses in the spirit of the new tasks; such an organisation would have to take a definite stand on opportunism and Kautskyism (436).

Lenin also criticises Luxemburg for not understanding that a civil war against the bourgeoisie was necessary. “In saying that the class struggle is the best means of defence against invasion, Junius applies Marxist dialectics only half way…Marxist dialectics call for a concrete analysis of each specific historical situation…Class struggle…is too general and therefore inadequate in the present specific case. Civil war against the bourgeoisie is also a form of class struggle, and only this form of class struggle would have saved Europe…from invasion” (443)

Lenin explains these defects in Luxemburg’s position materially as due to the ‘environment’ of German social democracy and the fear of the leftists to follow “their revolutionary slogans to their logical conclusions”. As a result Luxemburg pulls back to “something like a Menshevik ‘theory of stages’ of first defending a republic and then to the next stage – socialist revolution”

“But this shortcoming is not Junius’ personal failing, but the result of the weakness of all the German leftists, who have become entangled in the vile net of Kautskyite hypocrisy, pedantry and “friendliness” for the opportunists.”

Trotsky the semi-Menshevik

Trotsky’s role in all this was ‘confusionist’. He had illusions in winning the ‘centre’. He talked of Kautsky moving left. He confused the necessary subjective task of winning the most advanced workers (Radek’s point) with the objective backward consciousness of workers. This misled him into trying to influence the party leaders of the centre like Kautsky who had “authority” with the masses. Hence his mechanical schematic view that workers had to stop fighting themselves before they would fight their own bourgeoisies. This was true but undialectical.

Trotsky was proved wrong. When the German soldiers and sailors mutinied in 1918 they fulfilled the first part of Trotsky’s schema. But instead of turning their guns against the bourgeoisie, they were talked into exchanging their guns for votes in a German Republic. In Russia, the first revolution in February against the Tsar did not succumb to the bourgeoisie. The armed workers retained their guns, defeated the counter-revolution and went on to make a socialist revolution.

What was the lesson from Zimmerwald? Lenin expressed it very well. Imperialist wars can be won by workers only by means of a socialist revolution. Wars open up revolutionary crises and the revolutionary leadership must clearly take the lead from the right and centre of the party. The right goes further to the right and drags the centre with it. Failure to break from the centre was the fate of the German Spartacists. The lack of a Bolshevik party in Germany was the vital factor that allowed the counter-revolution to succeed. The defeat of the German revolution was ultimately to bring the defeat of the Russian revolution in 1991.

We need a new Bolshevik International

Menshevism allows the possibility of a ‘peaceful’ evolutionary transition to socialism and so sees bourgeois democracy as a shell for workers democracy. But In times of war capitalism doesn’t want workers votes it want their blood. Revolutionaries have to counter that by building independent workers organs that do not rely on bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois democracy is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie counter-posed to the dictatorship of the proletariat. That’s why we were against bourgeois democracy in the former DWS’s. As Trotsky said, bourgeois democracy could only be counter-revolutionary in a DWS.

Today the remains of the 2nd International are even more openly social imperialist. Socialism has virtually disappeared inside imperialism. The new imperialism promotes western values of democracy and human rights as the means of ‘civilising’ the colonial and semi-colonial world. The remains of the 3rd international have become 2nd internationalists in the imperialist world. In the ‘3rd world’ they are for the patriotic popular front to complete the bourgeois revolution in the former workers states and in the semi-colonies. This means counter-posing the international civil society of Porto Alegre to the rogue institutions of globalisation such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO etc. Both of these currents endorse the right of imperialism to intervene in oppressed states to remove local dictators and facilitate ‘democratic’ regimes. They are against the armed struggle of colonial and semi-colonial peoples to do it themselves.

The degenerate Trotskyists are joining forces with these betrayers to revise the permanent revolution and promote the democratic stage as a necessary preparation for the socialist stage. But this is a grotesque deformation of the theory of permanent revolution that says that the democratic stage can be completed only by socialism. That is, the struggle right now is for socialism during which the incomplete democratic tasks will be completed.

Zimmerwald teaches us the importance of the fundamental distinction between the methods of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks explained by Lenin in What is to be Done, and then proven decisively in the massive betrayal in imperialist war. The Mensheviks wanted peace first, that is an end to military imperialism by peaceful imperialism. This was so because it was the institutions of bourgeois democracy, parliament, pressured by the masses that would enact peace. The Bolsheviks, dominating the Zimmerwald Left, saw the need to activate the working masses directly to stop the war by turning the imperialist war into a ‘civil war’.

Thus the Bolsheviks called for the struggle for socialism as the only way to stop the imperialist war. They knew that this struggle would transform workers from a backward, defensive consciousness, in awe of the bosses’ parliament, into a revolutionary force capable of socialist revolution.

Today, under conditions of growing crisis and drive to imperialist war on the part of US imperialism, revolutionaries have today, under conditions of growing crisis and drive to imperialist war on the part of US imperialism, revolutionaries have this same task. We need a New Zimmerwald. We have to reject the Menshevik program of counter-posing bourgeois democracy to US imperialism in the Porto Alegre, anti-globalising, sense. We have to break from the politics of the popular front and internationally from the Menshevik international. We have to rebuild a new Bolshevik International now!

All page references are to Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Documents: 1907-1916. The Preparatory Years. Edited by John Riddell. Monad Press, New York, 1984.

First Published in Class Struggle April-May 2002 and online at Communist Worker July. 2008

Written by raved

April 2, 2022 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Cuba and the World Revolution

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The mass demonstrations in Cuba for food, vaccines, medical care, electricity and democratic rights raise class questions on the island and internationally.  Is Cuba socialist, a deformed workers state, state capitalist, restored capitalist or in the process of capitalist restoration? These are the questions socialist and workers are asking.  In the restoration process, are competing factions of the new bourgeois class trying to consolidate their alliances with either the US/EU or the Russia/China imperialist bloc?  Is there a path forward to secure national liberation from these two imperialist blocs and to build socialism?  Is US imperialism still the hegemon or has its power been eclipsed?  Does the NATO 2030 recognition of the bi-polar world order reflect a deepening  cold war between imperialist and anti-imperialist forces or a pending hot war between two imperialist blocs, or between their proxies in the nearer term? The need to answer these questions is posed by Cuban developments, among others.

The generation that made the revolution and sacrificed for decades is dying off and the youth with internet access see how their conditions are more akin to a semi-colony than an independent socialist state. They can see that both in the US and China the vast middle class have better living conditions.  The major gains of the revolution, except healthcare (guaranteed jobs, food, housing) are gone, swept away by the restoration of the Law of Value in relations of production. The state is no longer committed to defending these gains, but is  instead committed to opening up Cuba as a semi-colony to Chinese imperialism. This means rank exploitation no matter who the boss is, and a generalized decline in the standards of living consistent with a defeat of the revolution. Communism, let alone socialism, could never be achieved in one country let alone one island. What gains the population enjoyed in the name of socialism, were the result of the revolution that went beyond the nationalist intentions of its leaders, by necessity of survival abolished capitalism  and assimilated into the Soviet boc, have eroded after capitalist restorations in Russia and China and as the bureaucratized Castroist Communist Party charted the course to restoration. 

As everyone who attended high school in the US who was paying attention in 10th grade history class knows, the Monroe Doctrine expanded Manifest Destiny and the White Man’s Burden to the entire hemisphere and beyond into the Pacific. From nearby Cuba to Tierra del Fuego and as far as the Philippines, the expanding of the U.S. capitalist empire was secured by 1917 and with the postwar unrivalled economic dominance and nuclear monopoly  the “American Century” began with the victory in WW2. It meant US capitalist interests would be enforced by Capital flows, arms flows, cultivation of dictators, militaries and private armies. Invasions of Latin America by the US are far too many to be reviewed here but nary a year had gone by in the last 150 years when either US military overt and/or covert actions were launched from Washington.  

Following the Cuban revolution, prior to the ‘proclamation of Socialism in April, 1961, the CIA blew up the La Coubre cargo ship. Expropriation of US holdings quickly followed.    Cuba was never a terrorist threat, not even a military threat since Krushchev blinked, and “Create 2,3 Many Vietnams” was never more than an anti-imperialist slogan. Having been adopted into the Soviet bloc, teaching and practicing Stalinist misinterpretations of Lenin, Cuba, — despite its limited foreys into Africa— lacked a revolutionary socialist foreign policy and never became  a realistic threat to the world capitalist order. A dead Guevara sufficed for revolutionary credentials. As time went on the viva che sentiments had more to do with bringing in the sugar harvest than pretensions to effective internationalism.

So why the near 60 year blockade following the Bay of Pigs, the missile crisis and the hundreds of assassinations attempts on Fidel? Because Cuban independence from the clutches of US imperialism represented proof and hope that US sponsored dictatorships could be overturned. Noam Chomsky, an anti-Leninist liberal anarchist professor even called Cuba the “threat of a good example,” an example that liberation movements of workers and peasants could free themselves from US domination.

Cuba, a small island country with monocrop agriculture, faced the tasks of the unfinished national democratic revolution against imperialism and for agrarian reform. This came up against the limits proven by the theory of permanent revolution that those tasks cannot be successfully completed unless the socialist revolution triumphs under the leadership of the working class. But 1960 Cuba existed in a bi-polar world, without an internationalist revolutionary workers leadership, without links to a powerful revolutionary workers’ international and/or a healthy industrialized workers state with a revolutionary foreign policy. 

Cuba would either succumb to the imperialist onslaught with mafia power restored, or as they did, list uneasily into the port of the Soviet bloc. This union of “revolutionary Cuba” and world Stalinism bolstered the Pabloists of the Fourth International, giving more reason to devolve theoretically from nominal Trotskyism. Pabloism took hold, as the Leninist International and orientation to the working class was replaced by sectoralism on the one side and orientation to continental guerilla warfare on the other. Trotskyism as embodied in its various organizational forms had lost its relevance and in many cases reduced itself to being cheerleaders for the best aspects of the Cuban revolution.

Because capitalism was overturned and the capitalists run off the island no social revolution was necessary.  Indeed if, as the Pabloists said, the Cuban Revolution was “healthy” then no political revolution was necessary; cheerleading and gentle nudges for expansion of workers’ democracy were all that was left to do. And even until today there is no lack of outfits to compete for their franchise.  Cuba cheerleaders would have you believe they proved that the working class was not the decisive force in the leadership of the socialist revolution, so the concept of multiple vanguards was adopted in the emerging New Left, among them Herbert Marcuse, who claimed the working class was “bought off.”   

The Pabloist revision of Trotskyism abandoned the permanent revolution, the critique of Stalinism as the foreclosure of the Marxist program for world revolution, and abdicated the fight for the leadership of the working class and a democratic centralist international.  Unable and unwilling to mount a fight for Che’s “2, 3, Many Vietnams,” the Fourth International lost the race Trotsky explained in “Revolution Betrayed”. Either the political revolution restores soviet democracy and defeats and controls the bureaucracy or the bureaucracy will restore capitalism if the fascists do not do so first. 

The Fourth International was plagued with two wings of Pabloists, the Stalinophile and the Stalinophobes.This was the basis of the 1953 split into the “entryist” Stalinophile Pabloists of the International Secretariat and the ostensible Stalinophobes of the International Committee. It was exactly the Cuban revolution that permitted their reunification in 1961. Each had adapted to Castroism and the factions became two models of stalinophilia. This only explains the United Secretariat.

Still other would-be Trotskyists rejected this reunification. They style themselves as anti-Pabloist, but their own contradictory Stalinophilia led to their uncritical support of the repressions and military invasions meted out by the Stalinists. Likewise many of these defend the CCP regime in China and refuse to acknowledge capitalist restoration there. Their calls for political revolution ring hollow as they never find sufficiently revolutionary forces to support. 

While the Mandelites buried themselves in the Stalinist milieu earlier and the Barnesites in the Castroists-Guevarists milieu later, the latter day anti-Pabloists turned “unconditional defense of the USSR” into unconditional defense of the bureaucracy, They continue in the same pattern defending the Xi regime today against all the post Tien An Men upheavals.

The Marcy-led split from the SWP in 1956 were the original “tankies” who faced off over the Hungarian uprising.  Where the SWP/International Committee Cannonists and International Secretariat Pabloists saw workers’ political revolution, the Stalinists and those developing toward Stalinism in Marcy’s WWP saw counter-revolution and Horthyite fascism. 

Divisions in the workers movement would continue across events in Czechoslovakia 1968, Poland 1981, and Tienanmen 1989. The Trotskyist movement left the working class ill prepared to defeat Stalinism and incapable of advancing the political revolution in time to prevent the Stalinists from restoring capitalism– ergo counter-revolution prevailed across the so called communist bloc. We can say capitalist restorations have followed two models: the Chicago School of Business “Shock Therapy” fast road or the Chinese “slow road” restoration, where the party monopoly of political power is maintained. Cuba has followed the Chinese slow road model.

Today, with the Soviet workers’ state having long since collapsed and the Cuban Communist Party courting Foreign Direct Investment, China is winning the competition to make Cuba its semi-colony while the rest of the imperialist west remains restrained by the US sanctions against blockade breakers.

Miami Gusanos and Wall Streeters salivate at the prospect of subordinating Cuba to the USA again. In the face off in the Caribbean between two competing imperialisms, China and the US, the people of Cuba have no way out other than socialist revolution.   

The Restoration of Capitalism in Cuba

In Cuba For Sale (2011) we observed that,

 “…The 6th Cuban Communist Party Congress held in April, 2011 resolved to make major changes for the Cuban economy to overcome its stagnation. These changes represent a wholesale embrace of the capitalist market…..Cubans are now being encouraged to adopt market practices such as buying state property as private property and employing wage workers. Thus the capitalist market will replace state allocation of resources as the main mechanism of the economy. Marxists analyze this as a shift from state planning to the law of value, and hence a shift from a Workers State, albeit deformed from its birth in 1959, to a Capitalist State.

To avoid the fate of the USSR which opened itself up to capitalism by means of rapid “shock treatment,‟ Cuba looked towards China‟s gradual restoration of capitalism. It began to open a sector of the economy to foreign private investment and found that the new market relations with imperialism were much more lucrative for the bureaucracy than trying to defend the planned economy. So it now seeks to complete the process and turn itself into a new bourgeois class.

…Cuban bureaucracy, desperate to become a new bourgeoisie, has “sold‟ capitalist restoration using the same language as that used by the Chinese CP to cover its restoration of capitalism –(as) “market socialism.‟ 

We further developed our analysis in Cuba Sold Out (2013), which stresses the method which allows us to recognise that Cuba has restored capitalism without fully reverting to private ownership of the means of production. The Law of Value has been reinstalled as state capitalism. What Trotsky predicted as the most likely route to restoration has been confirmed in the ex-Soviet Union, and most clearly, China. Cuba follows China with its ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ i.e. state capitalism, behind the mask of Cuban state socialism. This is why we make the point that Cuba represents the future of ALBA, as all the Bolivarian states fall into line behind the international popular front with China. Cuba is the ideological flagbearer for the state capitalist Bolivarian regimes, notably Venezuela and Bolivia, in this global popular front. 

Here is the prediction we made in Cuba Sold Out: 

Thus, the current situation in Cuba is critical in determining the future of the socialist revolution not only in Latin America but globally. Opposition to US imperialism is widespread in Latin America, but while this opposition is subordinated to the Bolivarian popular front with China, there can be no break with the bureaucracy or bourgeoisie throughout the sub-continent. To smash the hold of the Bolivarians on the anti-imperialist struggle, our first task is to convince the workers, the unemployed and poor self-employed, that China is imperialist and that for the workers movement to be independent of imperialism they must fight to take the leadership of the socialist revolution from both the pro-China bourgeoisie and the Castroist/Bolivarian bourgeoisie.  

“Both private sector FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and Cuban expatriate capital are extremely impatient for the US to lift its economic embargo on Cuba. Neither is able to make a sufficient profit that justifies investing in a backward, closed economy where China’s influence is dominant. If the US drops the embargo will it be satisfied with investing in tightly managed export zones while China, having moved into the driver’s seat left vacant by the Soviet Union, is able to exploit Cuba’s best resources, or will it look for a neo-liberal faction in the Cuban bourgeoisie to remove the pro-China faction and push the usual demands of a FTA (Free Trade Agreements) to create an open economy that can be dominated by the US?” 

So what we see on the streets of Cuba today is the predictable outcome of the restoration of capitalism in what is now a small, weak, semi-colony. One section of the bourgeoisie is loyal to China. Yet China is only interested in super-exploiting its ally in the name of ‘market socialism’. China has not provided aid to enable the working class to escape poverty. The other section of the bourgeoisie is based on the ‘Gusanos’ and new petty bourgeois that has been allowed to expand by the regime. Its interests are to eclipse China’s influence in the name of ‘democracy’ and open the country to the full force of US imperialism. Among these forces are the Miami fascists/revanchists who seek a war of reconquest to punish all associated with post-1958 political power on the island. Of course any one variety of this reaction would create even worse conditions for workers, such as we find in every US semi-colony or colony. We take no sides in this rivalry between bourgeois factions and call for socialist revolution based on the formation of a real Marxist revolutionary party based in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky. 

Permanent Revolution vs. Stalinism 

Cuba was the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean that was victorious in the revolution and expropriated the bourgeoisie. Cuba became a Deformed Workers’ State; it had no soviets nor a Bolshevik party. Its petty bourgeois leadership led by Fidel Castro was pushed by the threat of American imperialism to expropriate the bourgeoisie and ally with the USSR to remain in power as a parasitic bureaucracy. The leaders of the Cuban revolution had no intention of completing the permanent revolution and internationalizing it. As Fidel said on the occasion of the Nicaraguan revolution, “we do not want Nicaragua to become a Cuba”.

The Cuban revolution challenged the Soviet Union’s credibility which was on the wane and it had to answer to the cries of revolutionaries in Algeria, Vietnam and Cuba where the popular movements expected (and rightly so!) internationalist support.  But the Stalinist movement worldwide abandoned the socialist revolution and made its peace with imperialism long ago, leaving the masses to suffer the effects of the stalled permanent revolution. 

The world Stalinist movement was caught, because they were not promoting socialist revolution, and as  Cuba’s nationalizations of imperialist property resulted in the blockade and the missile crisis, Cuba became dependent on the USSR, the east bloc and the non-aligned. 

With the collapse of the USSR, Cuba became even more isolated and strangled by the US which kept the smaller imperialists from trading with Cuba.  The Stalinists turn away from world revolution, their  accommodation to imperialism, the Kruschev revelations, barricading the workers revolution behind the theory of  socialism in one country and the popular front exposed again  the crisis of the leadership of the working class as Socialist and Communist Parties  signed on to help administer capitalism in the west and in the semi-colonies,  breaking the hopes of workers that the “Soviet motherland” would lead us out of the nightmare of imperialism.

In turn the Castroists followed suit and abandoned any pretense of a revolutionary foreign policy, limiting their foreign interventions to aiding reformists and nationalists  and then they restored capitalism which they administer while waving the perfunctory red flag. No wonder the youth are out in force-the promise of socialism has been stolen by the fake Communist Party.  From Cuba to Nicaragua to South Africa, Venezuela and Hong Kong the Stalinists have failed to defeat capitalism and where it was defeated they restored it. So the left has no obligation to cover for the Stalinists, Castroists, Bolivarians and sellout Sandinistas.  

Despite being a deformed workers’ state, the gains of the revolution were undeniable. In a miserable, violent, illiterate and unemployed Latin America, Cuba has reached levels of social development unthinkable in other countries in the region. However, if the permanent revolution does not advance, the retreat is inevitable. The embargoes of American imperialism were a great attack against the revolution and its development, but the fall of the USSR and the workers’ states in Eastern Europe strongly shook the Caribbean country and measures to open up the economy began to be adopted for more than 20 years, having in the 2010’s completed the restoration of capitalism. In the last decade, hunger, unemployment and other capitalist ills are advancing on the island. The setback in working class consciousness caused by the Stalinists and fakeTrotskyists is enormous and a great betrayal. In addition to pushing back the revolution and restoring capitalism with their own hands, they do it in the name of “socialism”.

All over the world, but in Latin America and the Caribbean in particular, activists and left-wing organizations have been divided over the July 11 demonstrations. The Stalinists (who have always defended bureaucracy and socialism in one country) and the fake Trotskyists are against the demonstrators, accusing them of being manipulated by the US and defending Cuba as a workers’ state, leaving only the imperialist embargo responsible for the setback of the revolution. These “Trotskyist” currents defend China as a workers’ state too. Clearly, these currents capitulate to Stalinism. Unlike Russia, the Communist Parties’ permanence in power and the one-party regime is crucial for analyzing the character of these states.

Other sectors of the left, such as the reformist currents of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) and the United Socialist Workers’ Party (PSTU) in Brazil, defend the demonstrations for “democracy”. Their positions are a capitulation to US “democratic” imperialism. For them, capitalism has been restored in Cuba, the Communist Party regime is a bourgeois dictatorship and the struggle for “democracy” is defended. The PSTU had a similar policy in the fall of the Eastern European and USSR regimes, instead of defending the workers’ state and the political revolution against the bureaucracy, it supported the end of the biggest victory of the working class to replace it with a bourgeois “democratic” regime. 

It is true that the Cuban people are proud of the revolution and have defended it a lot, but today they see the regression of the revolution and the restoration itself as a “socialist” measure, creating illusions with capitalism and bourgeois democracy. Defeating the reformist leaderships and the popular front is an urgent task for the revolutionary vanguard and the workers. Cuba today needs a new revolution that defeats both the imperialist blocs and the ruling bourgeoisie.

Revolutionary workers and the international labor movement  must oppose all imperialist intervention and the blockade and stand with the masses and advocate for popular assemblies, workers control and socialization of production, and the implementation of a worker-led central plan, the monopoly of foreign trade and expropriation of foreign capital. But first workers have to be convinced that Cuba has restored capitalism, and that China is an imperialist power and will not lead the anti-imperialist struggle. For actual anti-imperialism the permanent revolution is necessary. 

We demand the U.S. close and abandon the Guantanamo military base and prison. We are not looking for a Reiss Faction to save the day in a ‘political revolution’ led by an uprising exclusively led by Communist party members. We are for a Bolshevik-Leninist party of the authentic proletarian membership model with its revolutionary socialist program. The pretensions of the Castroists do not measure up, and behind those pretensions there is only the desire to maintain their exclusive political power by breaking the blockade. Socialist revolution is called for, in Cuba, throughout the Caribbean the Americas and beyond to world socialism! To prepare and lead this world revolution we call on workers in Cuba to build their democratic centralist Revolutionary Workers Party as part of a new Workers’ International based on the program and method of Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Program. Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains!

  • Defeat all  imperialist overt and covert  interventions. Defeat the Blockade!
  • For international workers’ defense of Cuba! 
  • For the return of Guantanamo to Cuba. 
  • For workers councils to take control of production and to coordinate and control a socialist central plan.
  • For workers democracy and free speech for workers and oppressed in all trade unions, workers committees, councils, public assemblies, in the press, the arts, on the internet, in academia and historic institutions of the revolution.
  • For workers and farmers  sliding scale of prices and wages.
  • End corrupt and bureaucratic control of resources
  • For socialist distribution of  Food, Jobs, Housing and Healthcare for all!
  • Form up workers committees and councils in every workplace and community!
  • Establish the right to immediate recall of workers  delegates. 
  • For workers committees to set prices  control food and medicine distribution!
  • For Socialist Revolution to smash the Stalinist bureaucracy that has restored  capitalism 
  • No to the capitalist restoration and the restorationist program of the PCC
  • Stop counter-revolutionary privatizations and special zones and deals with foreign capitalist profit takers.  
  • Build workers self defense guards that fight for socialism. Down with the PNR and CDR that defend the restorationist policies.
  • Down with the Dictatorship of Capital
  • No to fake bourgeois democracy. 
  • Expropriate Foreign Owned Means of Production
  • For a revolutionary foreign policy, turn all anti-imperialist uprisings socialist!
  • Form up workers councils to initiate workers democracy!
  • For a workers government  –the Dictatorship of the Proletariat! 
  • For the Construction of the World Party of Revolution.

August 1 2021

International Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency

Written by raved

July 31, 2021 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Workers Unite! The Historic Task of the Working Class is to overthrow Capitalism and fight for World Socialism!

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(1)  Workers Unite to defeat the Pandemic!

The sudden onset of the coronavirus pandemic has exposed global capitalism as irretrievably rotten. For decades revolutionaries have warned that capitalism had outlived its use by date, that it must destroy the forces of production, including the working class, to survive.

Capitalism could no longer produce profitably without destroying both the value of workers’ wages and of material wealth (variable and constant capital). From the end of the post-war boom in the 1970s and the beginning of the long structural crisis that still continues today, we saw workers resist all attempts by capitalism to restore the rate of profit back to the level of the post-war boom period.

The neo-liberal counter-revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, aimed at devaluing workers’ labour power and state-owned assets to restore profits, failed. The reformist left claimed that the problem was not capitalism, but neo-liberalism itself, an aberration that could be cured by parliamentary democracy. At the same time, the Menshevik lefts of Stalinism engaged in destroying workers property in the Soviet Union to restore capitalism, and turned themselves with Marxist phrases into Eurocommunists or social democrats.

Then came the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, where overnight central banks abandoned the free market and bailed out the parasitic private banks. So, the reformists turned their attention to the banks as the big bogey. Intellectual priests like Chomsky continued to preach that true capitalism had not been tried yet, so ‘vote Democrat’ to control the banks. They got Obama, who proved that the only capitalism that he could try was the same old capitalism with a black face.

After ten more years of stagnation capitalism was clearly in a terminal crisis. It had not recovered the rate of profit required to stimulate productive investment. It was still gambling its surplus capital in existing values and buying up its own shares to create fictitious capital (bidding up the prices of their own stocks with the taxpayers’ bailout monies). Despite years of austerity, military adventures abroad, and tame unions at home, workers still resisted the destruction of their labour power.  And still the Mensheviks (reformist parties around the world and outfits like the DSA in the US that pretend to be ‘Marxists’) agree with academic Marxists that they could fix profits with re-branded forms of Keynesianism, i.e. deficit spending schemes.

Over the same period the threat of climate change became clearer. We warned that the continued destruction of nature by capitalism would lead to human extinction. There was now no question that capitalism was in a terminal crisis. Devaluing labour to restore profits cannot work when the human species is extinct.

Of course, the deniers blamed science for inventing a mythical Anthropocene. But after 600 years of plunder, nature’s fight back was now melting the polar ice, warming the oceans and killing thousands of species. The perpetrator was not the anonymous ‘man’ of the Anthropocene but the social relations of the capitalocene. There was no doubt then that capitalism had to go. Naturally, the social democratic left reinvented the green revolution while the Mensheviks debated how to build ‘new deal’ popular fronts to nationalise the big polluters. See Climate Crisis: From Capital to Commune.

Today, with the explosion of the pandemic we have further evidence that capitalism is so rotten that it destroys the conditions of its own existence. The capitalocene now allows viruses to jump species and wipe out millions of humans. Yet up pops the reformist left to cheer on the draconian measures taken by capitalist regimes to bail out the bankrupt bosses as the true coming of the bastard Keynes. Of course, it has nothing to do with Keynes. The key to Keynes is that of boosting demand and consumption through full employment and state subsidies to wages. As Michael Roberts points out this is a bailout of capital much bigger than the Great Depression of the ‘30’s, and the subsidies going to workers are no more than the value of a miserable dole and many will not qualify for even that. Read Michael Roberts’ A war economy?

Keynes is now dead after a long run. Capital cannot afford to boost consumption in the working class if the conditions for profitability do not exist. In the current world situation China has become the leading imperialist power, not because it introduced Keynesian policies to impossibly escape the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (LTRPF), but because it has developed the most advanced state monopoly capitalist regime. Of course, to compete with China, the declining imperialist powers of the West must follow the same course.

Having abandoned Marx, the fake Trotskyists in the West are in a rapture over state spending as if Marx has risen from the grave as the corpse of Keynes. They throw around the words, ‘socialism’ and ‘revolution’, but never in conjunction. They find a niche in the market for their brand of revisionism – capitalism has not yet exhausted its capacity to develop the forces of production – it can find alternative sources of value, if value is required at all, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to restore profitability. Advised by themselves, of course. Read Roberts’ UNAM 3 – the robotic future.

Meanwhile, the bosses, fearing workers’ opposition to their draconian measures to combat the coronavirus, even the spectre of anti-capitalist uprisings, justify locking up the working class behind curfews, states of emergency and ‘lockdowns’ to maintain ‘social stability’. Once again, the gravediggers of the working class, the democratic and Menshevik left, are called upon by capitalism to suck workers into popular fronts with the bourgeoisie to strangle the development of workers revolution. All those who reject the LTRPF speak of crises as caused by a failure of neo-liberal policy settings.  They end up in the bourgeois camp advising reforms that correct for the wrong policies and steer capitalism towards some peaceful, evolutionary socialism in the never-never.

For example, the Internationalist Leninist-Trotskyist Fraction (FLTI) for all its boisterous language of class war always fails to pose the question of power except rhetorically. It’s program never exceeds that of syndicalism or some half-way house like national workers’ assemblies. The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), equally demonstrative in leading the revolutionary communist vanguard to the insurrection, invariably sells its literature in the shadow of the popular front;  most recently in an open letter to the Workers Left Front (FIT) of Argentina, a bloc of fake Trotskyists acting as the left wing of the bourgeoisie in parliament (Congress).  For Leninist Trotskyists, Menshevik/Pabloite groups such as these fail to pass the test of raising Trotsky’s ‘crowning’ demand that sums up the transitional program – The Workers’ Government.

However, the credibility of those who do not pose the question of power today, is shot among the townships, favelas, barrios, shanty towns and villages of the semi-colonial world where workers left to starve or beaten to death by bosses’ regimes left, right and centre, have nothing to lose in resisting these attacks. They face loss of jobs and forcible relocation where resistance is met by the force of police and military. Those who are outside the formal economy are even worse off with no means of support or defence. They are angry about their treatment and spontaneously resist the curfews, ‘lockdowns’, and evictions which condemn them to poverty and death.

Capitalism is rotten, the ruling class is divided over how to solve its terminal crisis, though it remains united in trying to make the workers and oppressed pay for their crisis. Workers locked down in disease, poverty and oppression will not die without a fight and rise up against their class enemy. The only element lacking to turn these uprisings everywhere into socialist revolutions, is an international Leninist-Trotskyist Party and Transitional Program.

(2)  Pandemic as compounding crisis

We understand Terminal Crisis to be the compounding of economic crash, climate change and pandemic. There are feedback loops among them, as the drive for profits to avoid or mitigate crashes exacerbates climate change which creates the conditions for pandemics. The pandemics then in turn compound the severity of the crash and accelerate the terminal crisis. It puts capitalism into the ICU without any PPE. Therefore, the program we need has to address all aspects of the crisis, their interactions, and their effects on the class struggle. In particular the impact they have upon the working class in its widest sense as the only class that can resolve the terminal crisis of rotten capitalism in the interests of workers and humanity as a whole. We cannot develop a scientific program for international revolution without such a theoretical starting point.

It is clear from the above that capitalism has failed to restore the conditions for profitability since the 1970’s: not by means of labour austerity, nor by the privatisation of resources. The effect of climate change has not helped as opposition to fossil fuels and capitalist growth dependent on them has strengthened in the working class and petty bourgeoisie. The explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic and the panic it has created is an opportunity for capitalism to break workers resistance with a counter-revolutionary offensive that can resolve the crisis for capitalism. But it also poses a threat to capital, a revolutionary coup de grace even. Yet for the revolution to defeat the counter-revolution, we must understand the enemy and not play into its hands.

If the exit from the terminal crisis is an historic defeat for the proletariat, it would be of the same order that Trotsky foresaw regarding the outcome of World War 2, an historic defeat for humanity. It would signal the arrival of a new society, no longer capitalist, but a Bonapartist dictatorship ruled by a new bureaucratic class. This outcome would render Marxism redundant and the proletariat no longer the historic agent of socialist revolution. Trotsky naturally refused to accept such a defeat, and fought to prevent it until his assasssination by Stalin’s agent. Had he survived the war, he would have continued to support the Soviet Union unconditionally against the capitalist imperialist powers, who always saw it as the main enemy. Today it is up to us, as Leninist Trotskyists, following the historic defeat of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism, to fight for the victory of the socialist revolution against that historic defeat of humanity! Read Leon Trotsky: The USSR in War (1939).

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was a clear warning of capitalism’s inevitable death drive, the exhaustion of the failed neo-liberal free market counter-revolution, and a move toward the strong corporate state, the archetypal regime which characterises state monopoly capitalism in the epoch of imperialism. It is no accident then, that the success of China’s rapid rise as an imperial power was due to its centralised state monopoly capitalist form, and that this form has been increasingly adopted by Western imperialist powers to compete with China, albeit unevenly and chaotically due to the inertia of liberal democratic institutions and ideology. The political instability of bourgeois democratic rule has pushed capitalism towards Bonapartism and fascism, with the object of finally removing the proletariat as the revolutionary class from the world stage.

The current crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic, is that opportunity. China’s state monopoly capitalist regime shows the way. First, 40 years (starting in 1978) of super-exploitation of its workers reintroduced the law of value to rescue the bureaucratic plan. This was the necessary platform for its emergence as an imperialist power spreading across the world. China rapidly caught up with the old imperialist powers. However, unlike the 2008 GFC when China rescued world capitalism and gave it a momentary breathing space, today it is not able to avoid the global crash itself, let alone carry the rest of the capitalist world through that crash.

What it did, however, was provide an example of how to prolong capitalism’s death agony for others to follow; the model of centralised power in the authoritarian monopoly capitalist state form. This enabled China’s ‘authoritarian’ method of containing and defeating the COVID-19 epidemic. It demonstrated to China’s imperialist rivals that in facing the terminal crisis of capital, bourgeois democracy was a luxury that they could not afford. China’s experience of other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS provided it with the confidence to apply the ‘authoritarian’ lockdown of Hubei province to isolate the virus at source. Similarly, other smaller monopoly state capitalist regimes in the region, including Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam, were highly efficient in containing the spread of the epidemic based on their experience and central state interventions. The fact that Russia, a restored state monopoly capitalist regime failed to act quickly in the same manner, needs to be explained.

By comparison with China and the smaller Asian states mentioned above, the imperialist powers in the US bloc, and the EU as a whole, trapped in the chaos of the dysfunctional global market, responded to COVID-19 badly. The neo-liberal dogma stopped them from immediately adopting the Chinese model. They took some time to adjust to the prospect that the pandemic offered the opportunity to rescue bankrupt banks and corporates and at the same time afford to lockdown the working class without risking the collapse of capitalism. This was most clearly demonstrated in the reluctance of the two semi-Bonapartist powers in the West, the US and UK to lockdown workers, and shock the economy into a depression. Bolshonaro in Brazil went further, and still rejects COVID-19 as more than “a little flu”, demanding that workers return to work in ‘business as usual’.

Thus the most right-wing semi-Bonapartist regimes, the US and UK, were the last to move due to the heightened inter-imperialist political rivalry between the US and China. Trump’s incipient Bonapartism emerged in his first term as a desperate attempt to stop US decline in relation to China by rallying his populist ‘troops’ behind a white supremacist chauvinist racist national flag. This reached a hysterical high in his determination to blame China for the “Wuhan Flu” rather than congratulate it for slowing down its global spread!

All the EU ‘liberal democracies’, from Italy to the UK, in transition to Bonapartist regimes, were in varying degrees caught like startled clowns with their pants down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Totally unprepared by the anarchy of market forces for the onslaught of a virus carried by ships and planes loaded with middle-class tourists, they failed to screen, test and quarantine the spread of infection until it was too late. The panicked emergency control measures they rushed into place downloaded the whole cost of the pandemic onto the lives of working people already suffering from decades of declining public health and welfare provisions. While businesses got massive bailouts touted as in the ‘national interest’, the working people got mass sackings and ‘lockdowns’ and very little compensation for lost wages or other subsistence earnings.

As the pandemic spread to the semi-colonial world, its effects were even more chaotic and destructive of the lives of the working masses. Lagging behind the imperialist powers, but also subjected to middle-class international travelers carrying the virus, these semi-colonial countries, already in economic recession, were devastated. Iran had shown early what happens when a brutal clerical dictatorship already subjected to sanctions was prepared to sacrifice the people rather than risk the economy further. So, when Brazil, South Africa and India, to name only the most important cases, rush to catch-up with the virus, this means draconian curfews and lockdowns that force the masses into quarantine without jobs, income, adequate housing or the medical resources to prevent the spread of the virus.

(3)  Pandemic as opportunity to manage depression

This is how the COVID-19 pandemic spread, compounding the terminal crisis of capital.  What opportunities did this offer the ruling class? There are those, not confined to Trump, who hold China responsible for the pandemic. Other online conspiracies claim that the virus was engineered by Chinese scientists as part of a biological warfare program. It is patently absurd. Previous corona viruses in Asia can be traced to the living conditions, travel of migrants and tourists or the habits of workers who augment their diet with wild animals sold in wet markets. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime may have a biological warfare program, but trade in wild animals for food is not part of it. This practice is illegal and the state tries to stamp it out. There are equally absurd conspiracies from the opposing camp that attribute the pandemic to US or Israeli bio-chemical warfare. Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who thinks that one cause of the pandemic was the introduction of ‘gay marriage’, probably takes the prize.

More damaging to the workers internationally is the conspiracy put up by some on the self-professed Trotskyist left. For example the RCIT attributes the measures adopted by imperialist and semi-colonial powers that ‘lockdown’ the working masses to a deliberate counter-revolutionary strategy to finally defeat and destroy the revolutionary potential of the international proletariat. It labels those who do not share their view as the ‘lockdown left’ for accepting lockdowns as necessary to fight the pandemic and therefore siding with the bourgeoisie in shutting down business with huge loss of jobs.  We reject this type of un-Marxist conspiracy theory since there is a good Marxist explanation for the adoption of these ‘lockdown’ measures to deal with the pandemic. See RCIT’s COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive.

The COVID-19 is not the first pandemic in the history of capitalism. Pandemics, like other threats to the health and safety of the working class, are caused by capitalism and pose a risk to its conditions of existence. The working class has struggled over centuries to force the capitalist class-in-general to introduce health and safety measures which benefit workers’ lives, even though it also benefits bosses’ profits.  Of course, individual capitalists always try to avoid the costs of these reforms, and in its terminal decline neo-liberal capitalism has succeeded in taking back many of these gains. This is reflected in the draconian attacks on public health as a short-term drain on falling profits during the neo-liberal counter-revolution. The response of the working class historically, so long as it is forced to work for capital to subsist, is to defend health and safety laws as matters of life and death.

In the current pandemic, health and safety principles demand the isolation of workers from conditions in the workplace and in public life that threaten their lives. At the same time, it demands that workers resist measures in the name of ‘public health’ that leave them destitute in living conditions that exacerbate the pandemic. Therefore, Marxists do not reject public health ‘lockdowns’ on principle because of a loss of jobs and income. Instead we put the lives of workers first, and demand fully funded public health, healthy and safe living conditions in employment, and a living wage for employed and unemployed. Moreover, since capital in a terminal crisis of its own making cannot afford these reforms, we advance a transitional program to fight for workers to take control of their living conditions, which must take that struggle all the way to the overthrow of capitalist social relations.

The China model of combatting the pandemic did not impose unusually draconian controls over workers compared to the ones that bourgeois democratic regimes have themselves used under war-time ‘blitz’ conditions. The “authority” of the Chinese monopoly capital state is based on a ‘class’ social contract in which workers’ lives are protected so that capital can continue to exploit them. The Marxist program in that situation defends the democratic right of workers for life today, because that enables us to fight to overthrow the exploitative, oppressive and alienated social relations tomorrow.

It was the failure to impose the China solution when there was plenty of advance warning of a pandemic that left China’s imperialist rivals resorting to panicked, confused and draconian blanket curfews, economic shutdowns, and punitive lockdowns of the working people. This was the result of the chaos of the market, not a capitalist conspiracy.

The chaos was an expression of the fact that the ruling classes in the West were divided between those who resisted lockdown as damaging the economy, and those who recognised the need for a short, sharp shock to restore the conditions for profit. That is, to use the pandemic as an opportunity to induce and manage a depression to restore the rate of profit. This explains why the most rotten of imperialist powers vacillated while the virus spread. Trump and Johnson both took the laissez faire view of parasitic speculative capital of allowing the virus to spread to create a ‘herd immunity’. That is, to let the market rip instead of let the market R.I.P. Both were overruled by productive capital fractions who recognised the compounding effects of the pandemic for the survival of capitalism. Yet in both the UK and the US the vulture capitalist fraction of the bourgeoisie championed by Trump and Johnson is still pushing for the return to ‘business as usual’ ahead of the shutdown of business and lockdown of workers. Trump openly rallies his fascist base against the lockdown state Governors, while Johnson allows ‘herd immunity’ to prevail by underfunding attempts to isolate and halt the pandemic.

This division in the ruling class explains why the semi-Bonapartist regimes in the West did not attempt to fight the pandemic and impose authoritarian shutdowns and lockdowns following the China model. Bonapartist rule has to dispense with bourgeois democracy to carry out its task of counter-revolution. But it can only dispense with democracy when it has the power to do so. These regimes were under pressure to increase surveillance and repression against the rise of militant workers’ movements. For example, Macron was in trouble getting the Yellow Vests and unions off the streets, and Boris Johnson too had a problem with a divided country and the threat of the breakup of Britain. It was the pandemic which induced the economic crash overnight that presented the semi-Bonapartists with the opportunity to attack workers to restore public order in the name of public health. Here was the opportunity to rescue capitalism from its terminal crisis as the supposed ‘cause’ rather than ‘symptom’.

The factions of the ruling class that most represented the interests of productive capital, that is capital-in-general, seized the time to use the state to induce and manage a depression to restore the conditions for the return to profitability.  The analogy to war is apposite, as it was not the Great Depression but WWII that followed that destroyed the massive amounts of capital to create the conditions for a post-war boom. That is, it was war that cut costs at all costs; that destroyed capital value by getting rid of surplus fixed capital and drastically cutting the value of wages. Only by destroying sufficient amounts of surplus capital in this way were the conditions for a return to profitable production restored.

To replicate the conditions of depression and war these semi-Bonapartist regimes, have to remove the democratic barriers to more centralised state power in order to catch up with China. Thus, the Western imperialist powers and their semi-colonial client states have seized on the pandemic as the opportunity to force the pace to rescue bankrupt banks and corporates, and to restructure production able to compete with China. They also forced their semi-colonial client states to seize the opportunity of the pandemic as the pretext to restructure their corrupt, crony dependent economies and simultaneously use the army to lock up the class enemy.

Marxists understand that this is the only course for the imperialist ruling classes facing the terminal crisis. Having failed to revive global capitalism by bailing out business in the GFC, the conditions for profitability were not restored and the global market stagnated. In desperation the declining imperialist powers began to retreat behind protectionist borders to save their national capitals. We saw the rise of autarchy, the centralised power of national state monopoly capital, which calls forth national leaders who personify national capital-in-general. Trump and Johnson are the most flamboyant personifications of Bonapartism today. The pandemic shocked this process into overdrive as the semi-Bonapartists realised that the state must step in to nationalise business in the name of capital-in-general and close the borders to rescue dying capitalism. This is ‘business as usual’ in the new normal.

Therefore, capitalism in terminal crisis, bankrupt, debt ridden, fearing the historic threat of a rising working class which refuses to pay for the terminal crisis, seizes the opportunity arising out of its own destruction of nature, as an escape route. But there is no way out. Its feeble attempt at counter-revolution is a black swan song, and will fail to bring it a new lease on life so long as revolutionaries seize their opportunity to act decisively to overthrow rotten capitalism and build survival socialism.

(4)  Transition from Terminal Crisis to Workers’ State

The transitional program to defeat capitalism’s opportunist counter-revolution is based on the transitional method which applies the dialectic of the revolutionary party developing class consciousness of workers through their active subjective struggle to transform the objective situation from that of rotten capitalism into that of survival socialism. It begins with demands to change the immediate reality of a pandemic, itself the symptom of terminal crisis and climate change, which puts workers’ health and lives at stake, to defending their basic rights to life, to liberty and to health from bourgeois government attacks, and then on to the formation of organs of workers’ power to resist state power, and finally onto the political general strike and the socialist insurrection to smash the state and found the Workers’ and Oppressed Government.

The terminal crisis is first and foremost determined by capitalism’s inability to resolve its long-term Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (LTRPF.) Read Is the “World in Crisis” terminal?  But there is no chance that the terminal crisis can be resolved even by a state-induced and managed depression. It cannot destroy enough value, constant and variable to allow a return to profitable production and a new period of rising accumulation. Why? Because the conditions for its existence are being destroyed by climate change and ecological destruction. These conditions are not external to capitalism, but internal. Capitalism is in the last analysis, a contradiction between society and nature that is embedded in capitalist social relations. It is the proletariat as a natural force of production (labour power) that is being destroyed and it is the proletariat as part of nature that resists that destruction that will bring capitalism to its end. That is why Marxists speak of capitalism destroying itself as its internal contradiction explodes and creates the conditions for its replacement by socialism.

Therefore, our transitional program recognises that there can be no solution to the terminal crisis of capitalism short of socialism. The program begins with the most immediate demands to allow the working class to survive today so that it can advance the struggle to overthrow rotten capitalism to allow the working class to survive tomorrow. There can be no backing off that objective, no half-way houses, no electoral deals. Either capitalism dies or we do.

Some of those immediate demands will vary depending on what is necessary to advance the class struggle in different countries. But as the struggle develops, so will the capacity of the working class to unite around internationalist socialist demands for organs of struggle, councils and militias, capable of splitting the ranks from the top brass in the army, initiating  insurrection, and leading to the founding of Workers’ States and federations or unions of Workers’ states.  Let’s look at what demands need to be raised in action programs that can be applied in this situation in the two major imperialist rivals, China and the US; and in the largest semi-colonies, Brazil, India and South Africa.


We start with China as it is the new imperialist power that is competing with the US for dominance of the world economy. As we have argued above, the characterisation of China as capitalist and imperialist is the key to understanding the objective world situation. First, for historic reasons China evolved as the most advanced state monopoly capitalist regime. This explains its rapid rise as the No 2 imperialist power. Second, these factors determine its relationship with the other imperialist states, in particular the US, but also the semi-colonies, including those within its sphere of interest as members of BRICS; Brazil, India and South Africa. These relationships also explain the significance of China’s influence in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the case of China, the model used to control the spread of the pandemic, the lockdown and quarantine, stopped the increase in infection within two months. It went from a peak, to a decline, and then to stable management. But the cost was heavy for workers who lost their jobs, and the informal sector (over 50%) of workers who rely on casual work or street vending. It is too early to say if the impact on China’s economy will be much less than other countries as a result of its success in containing the virus. Nevertheless, the impending global crash could see China’s economy slump to well below the 6% GDP growth of recent years. This is already raising fears of job losses and of heavy state clampdowns on protests.

The immediate demands to meet workers’ needs at this point would be for massive state spending to create jobs, a living wage, adequate health and housing against the impact of further epidemics and the coming depression. Democratic demands would be for rights to free speech, association, labour strikes, independent unions, independent political parties, minority rights etc. We expect the CCP one party state to resist these immediate and democratic demands making it necessary for a struggle for workers control of their living conditions, health, habitation, education, welfare etc. This raises the socialist demands for workers councils and self-defence committees to overthrow the CCP regime and the bourgeois state, followed by the founding of a Workers’ Government and Workers’ State.

There is no fragment of the original Fourth International of Trotsky left in mainland China capable of raising even a reformist program. Socialist Action, the Chinese section of the newly formed International Socialist Alternative (ISA –the majority of the former Committee for a Workers International), claims to stand on an orthodox Trotskyist program. That is contestable. One can hold the view that the Chinese revolution of 1949 led to the creation of a Deformed Workers’ State (DWS), but to claim it remains so today is to break from Marxism. Deng Xiaoping reintroduced a limited market to overcome the stagnation of the bureaucratic plan in 1978 and the Party sanctioned the return to the law of value in determining prices in 1992. One cannot explain China’s return to the global market as a new imperialist power as the result of the bureaucratic plan in a DWS. Nevertheless, the ISA program for China is for a political revolution, rather than a socialist revolution, in perhaps the second most powerful imperialist nation, after the US.

When the ISA calls for the end to the CCP dictatorship, it means the overthrow of the CP leadership in a political revolution that puts the workers in control of the Party. While it is not possible to reject entirely the fact that the state control of the economy is ‘state capitalism’ for the ISA, this does not constitute the restoration of capitalism which requires private ownership of the means of production. Stretching reality to fit a dogma that state ownership cannot be capitalist, contradicts Trotsky’s statement that the path to the restoration of capitalism in workers states will most likely take the form of state capitalism. By that definition the class character of the state is determined by the social relations it defends. China is therefore ruled by a bureaucracy that is a collective capitalist ruling over a state capitalist economy. Read the ISA’s China’s dictatorship ignites massive coronavirus backlash.

The fact that this is an alternative route to state monopoly capitalism with such success explains why it is something the Western powers seek to emulate. The common denominator is state monopoly capitalism crowned by a Bonapartist head of state which must be overthrown by social revolution. The program of the ISA that calls for ‘political revolution’ in China plays into the hands of the Bonapartists in the West who point to the CCP as ‘authoritarian’ whilst they represent the democratic will of the people. Would-be Bonapartist Trump makes a great play of demonising China at every opportunity as a justification for his own power grab at home. Both Chinese and US workers are sucked into the rivalry between the two powers that could easily develop into war. Such a contradiction between the ISA program and objective reality is a counter-revolutionary travesty of Leninism-Trotskyism.

Leninist-Trotskyists must reach out to Chinese workers and raise the full Transitional Program based on the correct characterisation of the Chinese state and link immediate demands to democratic demands for freedom of expression, assembly, self-organisation, self-defence, and ultimately to socialist demands for the political general strike, workers militias and for socialist revolution. In its relations with rival imperialist states we are for the defeat of both sides and for workers to turn their guns on their respective ruling classes. In relation to the semi-colonies, we defend them in any war with China. The program has as its crowning objective the Workers’ Government to expropriate the means of production and capitalist property without compensation, putting nationalised land under workers control, and the replacement of the law of value with the socialist plan. And because there can be no socialism in one country, we call for a Socialist Republic of China as part of an East Asian Federation of Socialist Republics! Read our January, 2012 “The Most Dangerous Class”: Chinese Workers and Farmers Confront Chinese Imperialism: For the Socialist Revolution! Draft statement for discussion.

(b) USA

We do not take Trump’s claim seriously, that because the COVID-19 came from China and arrived in the USA, China must take the blame. Even Trump’s political rivals at home reject this on the basis that the US failed to agree to jointly study the corona viruses in China, and failed to recognise China’s rapid containment of the COVID-19 epidemic. See Breaking With China Is Exactly the Wrong Answer – The Atlantic.

While this is true, Marxists do not separate the corona virus from the historic vector for viruses that is capitalism itself. Capitalism has a long history of introducing its viruses into the ‘new world’ including its early wars against China. US imperialism played a starring role in creating the conditions for corona viruses, notably in its support of the nationalists in the long civil war against the CCP that ended in the 1949 Revolution. And since then, as part of the Cold War against ‘communism’, the US has tried to ‘quarantine’ China against the spread of the Red Menace.

It turns out that the viruses that capitalism introduced to the ‘new world’ are coming home to roost in the USA where the global contradictions of dying capitalism are concentrated and centralised and ready to explode. The Terminal crisis begins and ends in the USA. Meanwhile the pandemic which it refuses to take responsibility for, accelerates the terminal crisis, and gives China an opening to take the global leadership from the US. Read the Guardian’s US awol from world stage as China tries on global leadership for size.

The rush to Bonapartism in the West to compete with China’s ascendency is most evident in the US which has the most to lose. If Trump is re-elected we can expect a further grab for power that will not stop at Bonapartism but descend into the abyss of fascism. It will meet China’s economic power with military power in local and regional wars where the two blocs compete for control of what remains of the earth’s natural resources. Any of these wars can easily end in a catastrophic global war.

For the International Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency (ILTT), US imperialism in decline expresses the fundamental contradiction between dying capitalism and nature in extremis. Everywhere, the US is riven by its extreme effects. Our action program for the US captures this exploding global contradiction manifested in the biggest and most rotten imperialism of all. Our rivals lack this perspective of the US because they are tainted by social imperialism or its flipside, national Trotskyism, that blinds them to that reality. Read Russia, China, and the Unfinished Permanent Revolution.

Our action program for the US, COVID-19 Pandemic and Capitalist Economic Crisis: A Class Struggle Workers Action Program, states:

“The post-WWII U.S. hegemony of the last 70 years, arising from the redivision of the capitalist world after the devastation of the second inter-imperialist world war and built off of the super-profit accumulation from the exploitation of the semi-colonies/colonies, is coming to an end. American capitalism was sustained by a capitalist ideology rooted in the middle class and infecting large swaths of the working class. In particular, it was the labor aristocracy and bureaucracy who directly benefited from the imperialist profit-grabbing and who in unions such as the UAW, engaged in anti-China chauvinism rather than the international class struggle needed as American plants were closed and jobs moved offshore by Wall Street for cheaper labor. Down with anti-Chinese chauvinism and ‘Buy American’ protectionism!! Anti-Chinese chauvinism dovetails with Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Latin American prejudice campaigns! These blame games are the harbingers of fascism, the latent political content of the Make America Great (White!) Again campaign.”

And the material basis of this social chauvinism/imperialism is retailed in the unions and the Democratic Party:

“The pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy presided over the decimation of the unions as they pushed the team management schemes that tied workers to management on the shop floor. This class collaboration was historically prepared in the political sphere binding the unions to the capitalist Democratic Party, robbing the working class of both its political independence and the ability to use class struggle methods to defend and advance the historic gains and interests of our class.  Down with labor/management peace schemes! For class struggle to defeat anti-labor laws such as Taft-Hartley! Defeat the Popular Front with the capitalist parties! We fight for the  political independence of the working class.”

And as rotting capitalism collapses in on itself in the US where Trump with Republican backing cannot solve the terminal crisis, nor China’s challenge for hegemony, without exposing the bankruptcy of capitalist rule, all this makes it clear that world socialism’s time has come.

“The U.S. is number one in the number of COVID-19 cases, due to the deliberate criminal neglect of the Trump administration and the Democratic and Republican Congress.  And the death rate is rising. It was the pandemic and the economic impact that tipped the world capitalist economy into turmoil, into a crisis that was already brewing as the capitalists have been unable to restore their rate of profit since the economic crisis of 2008, despite the working class being driven yet further into poverty.  The dominance of U.S. imperialism on the world stage is faltering, as the U.S. is not able to turn on a dime as it did in WWII to fight the war on COVID-19. This is due to the deindustrialization under the ‘logic of globalization’ (imperialism). The supply chains trace back to areas in China closed by COVID-19. And China itself is a competing, rising imperialist power challenging U.S. hegemony.  Only under rational, cooperative, centralized social economic planning on a world scale, a socialist world economy, can pandemics of this magnitude be effectively contained or the looming catastrophe of climate change be halted and reversed. And the working class is the only social class capable of democratically building and managing such an economy. The capitalist ruling classes and governments, the defenders of capitalism, have proven themselves utterly bankrupt as stewards and rulers of society.”

The full text including the action program can be found in: COVID-19 Pandemic and Capitalist Economic Crisis: A Class Struggle Workers Action Program.


Brazil’s historic role as a semi-colony in the capitalist world economy determines its economy and politics. Once dominated by US imperialism it is now caught up in the rivalry between declining US imperialism and rising Chinese imperialism over control of energy and other basic resources. The Brazilian ruling class is also divided by this rivalry as ‘junior partners’ in sharing the surplus value pumped out by both imperialist powers. China as the most advanced state monopoly imperialist regime is extracting what remains of Brazil’s natural resources to produce superprofits. The bourgeois fraction associated with China’s ventures has built up China as Brazil’s No 1 trading partner, joined BRICS, and signed off on joint venture energy and infrastructure projects. Politically it is represented by the Workers Party (PT) popular front until the rise of Bolsonaro. As elsewhere where it invests, China presents it’s imperialist relationship with its partners as “win-win” venture capitalism.

A second bourgeois faction is aligned to US imperialism sharing in its investments and is associated with the rapacious US policy of Trump ‘vulture capitalism’ that quarries nature to death in order to squeeze another decade out of the earth to arrest US terminal decline. The bourgeois fractions that partner with the US include the most backward that still live with a white settler mentality as if defending the frontier of civilisation. They are the big landowners, the parasitic financiers who want to privatise all state assets, and the small bourgeoisie who want to destroy the nature reserves and kick the indigenous people out of the Amazon. One section of the army command that aligns with these interests backs these policies. They all joined in the US influenced Bolsonaro ‘coup’ against the PT.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of Bolsonaro’s ability to rule Brazil in the interests of the US fraction only. He does not have majority support and has backed off much of his radical slash and burn of the welfare system and privatisation of state owned corporations. But his crazy “little flu” stand on the pandemic has put him offside not only with most people, but with most of the state governors who are imposing lockdowns, and many bourgeois and military figures. This compounded crisis has disqualified Bolsonaro ruling as a Bonaparte, strutting above the classes and claiming to represent the people. Now he is a buffoon whose power has been quietly transferred to the army command which will try to find a new candidate to fill the vacancy for a Bonapartist figurehead.

For the ILTT, the bankruptcy and instability of the Brazilian ruling class is evidence that semi-colonial capitalism cannot solve the terminal crisis of capitalism. Only the revolutionary working class can solve this crisis by overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist world.

The GTR (Grupo de Trabalhadores Revolucionaros) of Brazil meets this crisis full on with its action program Economic crisis, coronavirus: the Popular Front paving the way for fascism and the need for the Revolutionary Party.

“The instability of the Bolsonaro government, the accusations and disputes between sectors of the bourgeoisie, the attacks it has been suffering from the media are consequences of the enormous political, economic and social crisis of the capitalist chaos that we have arrived at. The reformist left that wants Bolsonaro’s downfall via impeachment, with an alliance with bourgeois sectors, inside the capitalist system, only affirms their reformism and promises that they can improve capitalism. You can not!

All they will do is to feed fascism, the only way for the bourgeoisie to “resolve” the crisis.

Workers, General Strike to guarantee social isolation, overthrow Bolsonaro and expropriate hospitals, factories and banks and take actions to fight the epidemic and the economic crisis! In the face of capitalist chaos, humanity requires socialism in order to survive!

Bolsonaro is unlikely to sustain himself for long. The tanks on the street will not be to guarantee isolation and contain the pandemic, but to ensure that workers pay the price of the crisis with their blood! Down with the reformist left that ties us to the bourgeoisie and illusions in capitalism!

The Popular Front is paving the way for fascism!

The bourgeoisie cannot escape this crisis without attacking the working class. The reformist and traitorous left like the PT (Workers Party) that joins bourgeois sectors and the reactionary media Rede Globo to create illusions in capitalism and supporting bundles of public money to save banks and large companies, are paving the way for dictatorship and fascism, because that is the only real way out for the bourgeoisie to make workers pay the price of the crisis.

Time for workers to break out of reformism!

For a revolutionary party and for workers organized in committees to take control measures against the epidemic and the economic crisis, taking the factories and expropriating the bourgeoisie!

No public money for banks and large companies! Money for workers and to save lives!

The pandemic is a catalyst for a depression in the world economy that has already been announced by the flustered economists of academia. Bolsonaro’s government is yet another, after Dilma’s, which is unable to resist the terminal crisis of capitalism.

Doria, Caiado, Rede Globo, army generals and all bourgeois sectors rising against Bolsonaro are only concerned with how to maintain “stability” at a time when capitalism needs to allocate public money to save banks and large companies at the expense of the blood of the working class!

Bolsonaro mobilized the middle class with rallies  all over the country. Bourgeois sectors, Globo (major corporate media), army high command  and politicians in congress mobilizing against Bolsonaro. We are on the brink of fascism with a coup or civil war.

Unions, trade unions, left-wing parties that continue to join with the sectors of the bourgeoisie to create illusions, that there is a way out of the crisis inside capitalism, leaving the working class in their passivity,  attests  to their betrayal and paves the way for fascism.

It is necessary for the workers’ organizations, their unions and central to mobilize the class from the base, with committees by local work for the general strike and for a revolutionary and socialist outcome out of this crisis, expropriating the bourgeoisie and the banks, with a workers’ government!

In the face of capitalist chaos, we need socialism to survive!

We urgently need a revolutionary workers’ party to say what is necessary: ​​to end capitalism!

The current chaos must serve as an awareness that the capitalist system is the cause of economic crises, wars and pandemics!

Lenin during the civil war in 1919 said that typhus was laying low the Red Army and holding back the development of socialism!

Fight for a working class government based on workers’ councils and a working-class militia to carry out the revolutionary reorganization of a socialist society!

Build  workers’ “crisis committees”, build a working class movement to take control of this crisis, to nationalize all the big banks and big industries without a penny of compensation for the bourgeoisie, under democratic control of the workers!

We need national assemblies of workers deputies to centralize social planning to determine who should work, under what conditions, provide safety equipment and what should be produced and where it should be distributed!

No money to save the failed bourgeoisie! Rescue package for workers and healthcare!

Defeat the reformist and traitorous left that creates illusions in this failed system and tries to manage the capitalist crisis!



India is the richest and most populous semi-colony in the world, with a national bourgeoisie divided into two main political fractions, the secular Western-oriented Congress Party, and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) an extreme Hindu nationalist party under Prime Minister Modi. Modi has promoted a Hindutva (Hindu fascist) movement to create a one party state where he, as a jumped up Bonapartist, claims to rule all India. He looks to China for economic cooperation, but at the same time fraternises with Trump. Though India is a member of the BRICS, it fears China’s growing influence in Asia and does not participate in the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Therefore Modi’s regime is caught in an impasse between the two major imperialist powers which both download their costs of the global crisis onto India. He has no option but to internalise the crisis by staging adventures such as his re-partition of Kashmir, and reviving the internal ‘partitions’ of caste, religion and nationalism to pass on the costs of the crisis to the working masses. He used constitutional reform to create a gulf between the Hindus and Muslims second only to the partition of 1947. This creates an internal partition which denies Muslim citizenship rights and fans Hindu mob violence to turn Muslims into stateless persons. The massive protests against this racist mobilisation drew big crowds onto the streets and bloody fights between Hindus and Muslims. Of course, there is no effective political opposition to the BJP from the liberal bourgeoisie of the Congress Party, nor the reformist Communist Party (CPI) which forms a popular front with the Congress Party to provide cover for Modi’s movement towards fascism.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic added another dimension to India’s economic crisis. Even while Modi was raising an internal partition against Muslims he was denying the existence of the threat of a pandemic. His method of dealing with it was the opposite of that of China. The Government ignored the threat of the pandemic for months and then rushed through an emergency 21 day lockdown with four hours notice. This threw millions of migrant workers out of their informal jobs and forced them to walk long distances to their home villages. As a result many millions, hounded by the police and military, were displaced, quarantined under a curfew and exposed to the virus.

In this chaotic situation, the Transitional Program must be used to reverse and overcome these national and sectarian partitions between workers and fuse them into one international united proletariat!

Immediate demands of workers are for democratic rights to health and safety, and to mobilise to break the curfew/quarantine which isolates and traps workers so they cannot organise to fight for jobs, wages etc. Under the current state emergency where the police are deployed to repress workers who break the curfew, these immediate demands for workers to organise to meet their most pressing needs must rapidly escalate into demands for self-organisation and self-defence that will in turn trigger socialist demands for the seizure of power. Only the transition to power can rescue workers from destruction at the hands of fascism!

The only party that argues for the Transitional Method and Program in the Trotskyist tradition is the WSP (Workers Socialist Party of India). It’s aim is to rebuild the 4th International in the tradition of the short-lived Bolshevik Leninist Party of India (BLPI) before it capitulated to the Pabloism of the Fourth International after WW2. Its ultimate objective is to restore the unity of the South Asian region, destroyed by Partition, to create a Socialist Federation of South Asia.

The WSP recognises that the crisis in India is extreme and developing rapidly so there is a short step from the most immediate to more advanced socialist demands and this was expressed initially in their calls to workers to break the curfew and occupy the streets. However, since the displacement of millions of working people returning home and the deploying of the police to attack those who break the lockdown, the WSP no longer demands mass demonstrations, but rather the formation of workers committees that can organise to prepare for workers’ organs of power, the fall of the Government, and the installation of a Workers’ Government and socialist plan.

WSP Statement on the Coronavirus Pandemic (25 March, 2020)

“Corona pandemic has taken over our world by surprise and fear. Countries, one after the other, are falling to it’s deadly trap. There is tragic devastation- deaths, illness and economic depression, and even more than that- the widespread scare and fear. Amazingly, this is happening in the 21st century- in the era of computers and robotic science, in the era of abundance of resources and immense proliferation of all material forces.

To be sure, the virus itself is no pandemic. It is nothing more than any other virus. What has made it deadly, is the inability of our generation, first to foresee it’s advent, then to prevent it’s development, then to control its spread and finally to counter it with an antidote. To be short, there has been a whole series of failure after failure, from beginning to the end, that has made the virus so deadly.

Needless to say that these failures are the failures of capitalism. They are failures of capitalism in as much as for long they have continued to accumulate inside it’s belly before the final explosion. Capitalism has not only failed to develop the human cognizance to answer the challenges of contemporary times but has itself become the chief hurdle to the development of human wisdom and intelligence. It must come as no surprise to anyone who keeps even the least pace at the world around them that the profit orientation of capitalism has turned all resources- human and natural- away from the socially driven research and innovation in science and technology. Since long back, profits have become central to all scientific development and research.

Division of the world and it’s resources into rival nation-states, ruled by nationally organised gangs of capitalists and profiteers, has immensely impeded the evolution of viable and effective global strategies to counter these challenges. Capitalist national states, the regulators of all economic life and the chief defenders of profits and private property ensuing from them, that still keep our planet divided into rival territories, have been the main roadblocks to barricade and retard the development of science and knowledge as a whole.

Their austerity programs for social expenditure, that go hand in hand with huge military budgets allocated for upkeep of armed forces and piling up weapons of mass destruction to damage and destroy each other, the worst hit was public education and health. They have retarded human cognizance, knowledge and wisdom, pushing it to a level where it is rendered completely unable to respond to the challenges of our times. These sectarian state partitions, prevented the world from rising in time in unison against the coming pandemic having global dimensions. To the global spread of the disease, the answer was too little and too late.

When Covid-19 corona virus first appeared in a Wuhan market, the callous Chinese bureaucracy focussed upon suppressing the news till there was a huge outbreak of the disease going beyond all control. While Chinese cities kept falling to the outbreak, other countries remained in slumber till they got their own dose. Disastrous virus spread has come on the back of the scientific myopia of ruling elites and the callousness of their national governments alongside their fatal failure to see the spectacularly foreseeable.

Corona is no natural epidemic as is popularly perceived. It is man made disaster- a disaster emerging out of the failure of our generation completely disarmed by capitalism- materially and intellectually. Even now, the minimal efforts being advanced by the sectarian national states, rooted in turn in private property and oriented to profits, with a very backward corresponding consciousness, are abysmally insufficient to tackle the dreadful virus spread. No effective war upon the challenges like Covid-19 is possible on the outworn basis of capitalism. Only a socialist unification of the world would present us with the opportunity and arm us fully for the first time in history, to rise up to the challenges of our era.

After zero response to corona spread for more than two months which proved fatal, the perplexed Modi government has rushed recklessly for a countrywide curfew, an insane surgical strike upon billions of working people, again! Not caring a hoot for or respecting any law, the police are beating everyone found moving. There are off the record orders for this indiscriminate brutal repression.Working people must fight it back! During the curfew, the economic-political situation is deteriorating so fast that after 21 days, if Modi wants, he will not be able to finish it. He will move it forward and finally call the army for suppression!

The only effective way to fight and avoid Corona epidemic is to take over not only all hospital and pharmaceutical companies, but also banquet halls, sairagāhōṁ, clubs and hotels.

It is certain that the capitalist government of the capitalists will not do this. So, with the help of crores (crore = 10 million) of working people, the working class should immediately take over the government as well as the hospitals and pharmaceutical companies!

Long live the socialist revolution!

“Organise Workers’ Committees! Sideline the failed bourgeois Governments!” (30 March 2020)

WSP informs us that these workers’ committees will be the basis for organising the working class organs of power such as defence committees, making appeals to the ranks of the armed forces to disobey orders and join the workers committees, and to stage the insurrection and form a Workers’ Government!


South Africa today is a living example of a semi-colony that cannot escape the clutches of imperialism short of a socialist revolution. Some of its socialist intellectuals claim it is sub-imperialist but this is a pipe dream. Its attempts at national liberation were aborted by imperialism co-opting the ANC and its military wing so that the long overdue end of apartheid would peacefully transition via ‘truth and reconciliation’ into the Republic today ruled over by a comprador Black Bourgeosie. Today these one-time institutions of national liberation have turned into  institutions of class rule on behalf of imperialism to oversee the exploitation and oppression of the working people. South Africa’s mineral and agricultural wealth produced by its mainly Black proletariat is siphoned off by imperialism, in particular UK, US and Chinese imperialism.

The conversion of the ANC from national liberator to national oppressor was not quite total. The national liberation struggle of the ANC was led by the SACP, a Stalinist party whose objective was to create a republic with its own ‘road to socialism’ that remained capitalist but aligned as an ally in defence of the Soviet Union. It was no accident that it was the demise of the Soviet Union that allowed the ANC and the white ruling class to compromise on sharing power in the post-apartheid capitalist republic. The ANC ‘Freedom Charter’ was now a relic used as a fig leaf over its pact with the imperialists. Since 1994 the rise of a Black bourgeoisie in business with the white bourgeoisie oversaw the neo-liberal counter-revolution in which the working masses have suffered increasing poverty and misery in the mines, on the land, and in the reserve army of labour.

The ANC affiliated COSATU unions subordinated the working class under these conditions of worsening exploitation in the service of imperialism which now included the growing influence of China. South Africa joined the BRICS and welcomed Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the economy.

The massacre at Marikana in 2012 marked a turning-point when widespread rank and file disillusionment with the ANC and COSATU saw moves on the part of a number of unions to break from COSATU. The metalworkers union NUMSA broke from the ANC and SACP in 2013 and called for a new workers party. It was expelled from COSATU in 2014. Since then it has rejected other left parties like the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) and WASP (Workers and Socialist Party – a section of the ISA – International Socialist Alternative.) At the time our tendency critiqued NUMSA for remaining trapped in illusions in the reformist Freedom Charter, when that could only degenerate into a ‘Red’ bourgeois “South African road to ‘market’ socialism” under subordination to imperialist China.

The founding of the ‘workers party’ that NUMSA called for in 2013 came to fruition in April, 2019, when the Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party (SRWP) was formed on a ‘Marxist-leninist’ program by mobilising outside parliament. But the content of its program remains the Stalinist two-stage road to socialism in which the first stage is accomplished in the bourgeois parliament. Yet in the 2019 general election the party scored less than 15,000 votes nationally, surely a strong temptation to join popular fronts in future elections. So it was no surprise that the new party was hailed by the reformist left including the fake-Trotskyist WASP and Pabloite Brazilian PT, further signs of its Stalinist/Menshevik heritage. And even the Spartacist splinter group,  the ‘Internationalist’ was prepared to give the SRWP ‘critical support’, no doubt in the hope that its untested program would be steered by the Chinese “deformed workers’ state”, into a ‘win-win’ deal for workers.

Our tendency sees the SRWP entering the political arena as a reformist party at a critical time with a stageist Stalinist ‘minimum-maximum’ program to keep the masses tied to parliament when they are under attack by world imperialism and the national bourgeoisie. The critical test of the SRWP’s program, the pandemic, has arrived after a year of its existence. What the masses need now is a revolutionary party and program to expose the dangers of a reformist program and to advance the struggle for socialist revolution. From the standpoint of Trotsky’s transitional method and program, we critically examine two SRWP statements on fighting the pandemic, going through its more general statements as well as its specific demands.

Critique of SRWP program on the pandemic that appears on its official facebook page.

“Every crisis discards the conventionalities, tears away the outer wrappings, sweeps away the obsolete and reveals the underlying springs and forces.” Vladimir Lenin, On Self-Determination, 1916

This is a classic statement of the two stage ‘minimum-maximum’ program. Lenin is quoted invoking the authority of Bolshevism, or, “Marxism-Leninism”.

“After Covid-19, there can be no going back to Capitalism’s brutal economy of inequality.”

Correct as a general statement about crises. And the pandemic is a crisis.

“With the contradictions of the capitalist system being laid bare, we as the working class have the responsibility of arresting the status quo and ensuring that the way forward is socialism and not barbarism.”

It seems the proletariat must play a role in this and not leave it to history.

“While in the immediate term governments must be pressured to provide all the necessary materials and means for humanity to emerge victorious from the scourge of Covid-19 (such as larger cash payments to working class and poor individuals and families), we must pursue a far more decisive class struggle of smashing the host cell of the neoliberal order. As the working class, we have to amass our forces to the enemy’s centre of gravity – capitalism and imperialism.”

To get to socialism, fIrst workers must fight to overcome the scourge of Covid-19, and “emerging victorious” they then must smash capitalism and imperialism.

The minimum program here is the concrete actions to fight the pandemic e.g. cash for working class and poor families. These are reforms won from the government by mobilising the masses. They do not require workers to organise to smash capitalism and imperialism. The smashing happens after the victory against Covid-19.

“Capitalism always seeks and finds ways of reshaping itself and shed-off its old skin, which would have been wounded from the time of crisis. Its defeat will therefore not come as a result of magical forces. The working class must organize – trade unions must organise the unorganized workers, social movements, working class student formations and all the progressive forces must unite to put capitalism where it belongs – in a dustbin of history.”

If there is any doubt as to this being a stageist program here we find the second stage elaborated as an ongoing struggle by the working class to put capitalism into the dustbin of history. But it is to be organised by the trade unions and not by a revolutionary mass party around a political program. This is essentially a syndicalist program.

The SRWP is a workers’ party based on the unions, specifically NUMSA, so we can give it credit for responding to pressure from the masses to found the party. Yet if the workers party is not won over to a transitional program, its min-max program will lead to defeats at the hands of capitalist imperialism. The transitional program is based on the method that mobilises around immediate demands by demonstrating that even the most minimal demands cannot be won except by a successful socialist revolution.

We will demonstrate this method by critiquing the ‘action program’ and comparing each immediate demand with a transitional demand.  Of course this means rejecting the minimalist statement at the start.

“Key demands we continue to make for a new, just arrangement of the South African political economy”.

Reforms to make ‘just’ the SA political economy will require a socialist revolution. We soon see that the ‘key demands’ fall short of advancing workers to socialism.

1.  Abolish extreme income inequality through a universal basic income grant based on a social scientific analysis of people’s needs.

This is a demand put on the capitalist state but it cannot be fought for with class struggle methods. Trotsky posed demands for wages to be put on the capitalist employers, backed by organised labour, and based on a sliding scale to keep pace with inflation calculated by workers’ prices and wages committees. In the same way workers would determine their needs collectively not individually making use of ‘social scientific analysis’ only if needed.

2. Introduction of a wealth tax and solidarity tax to fund programmes to eradicate unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Like Point 1, this is a demand on the state to redistribute income to the unemployed, poor etc. Workers are mobilised only to elect a government that can pass such legislation. Trotsky’s method was to demand employers agree to a sliding scale of hours, reducing hours without loss of pay until there were jobs for all. Poverty and inequality are met under point 1.

3. Implementation of a general anti-avoidance tax act to halt base erosion, profit shifting and the loss of the country’s resources to illicit financial flows.

Another demand on the state, this time to stop ruling class tax avoidance. Trotsky demanded that bosses’ open their books to the workers so they could calculate the rate of profit and where profits ended up. Again, this is imposed on the bosses by class struggle and not by voting for reformist political parties in bourgeois governments. (see next point)

4. Restructuring of personal income tax to ensure that those who can pay more make more contributions to the fiscus.

This appeals to the state to make the rich pay more. It doesn’t even demand a graduated tax which would mean the rich paid at a higher rate. On the tax question in general Trotsky did not call for workers to demand income redistribution from the bourgeois state as it diverted class struggle away from production relations to distributional relations. However under a Workers’ Government in a Workers’ State, taxation of the rich was a policy to redistribute income determined by the plan under socialist social relations.

5. Free and adequate provision of quality housing, water, electricity, health services, education and all other basic services necessary for a healthy and happy human life.

This is a key demand in responding to the pandemic lockdown of the working masses. Yet it states only the urgent needs of workers under lockdown and that they can do no more than get the state to meet these needs. It doesn’t mobilise workers to self-organise to occupy and requisition these basic services. Like workers committees on prices, wages, hours of work, Trotskyists demand that all these services come under workers control through committees that plan, requisition, and distribute housing, health, transport, water, electricity, education etc.

6. Abolish the current poverty national minimum wage and replace it with a living wage linked to the actual cost of production of the life of a worker and their family.

See point 1 above. A living wage can be won only by class struggle and determined by workers’ committees on wages and prices. Workers know how much their lives cost, and have the power to win a living wage.

7. Nationalise all strategic industries particularly the mines, the land and commercial farms, the banks, the big factories and the big business.

Demanding that the bourgeois state ‘nationalise’ capitalist and imperialist property (even without compensation) is to convert private property of individual capitalists into the collective property of the capitalist class in general. Trotsky’s transitional demands are to occupy and expropriate capitalist property (not private property outside capitalist production) which means without compensation since the value that is being expropriated was that expropriated from the working class over generations.

8. Integration of all nationalised industry into a democratic socialist plan of production for human need and not for profit.

Nationalised property cannot be integrated into a socialist plan unless it is socialised by a workers’ government for that purpose. Adding the words ‘democratic socialist’ does not change capitalist social relations.

9. Nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, and transform it from a profiteering apparatus to a central accounting department.

Same as 7 and 8 above. While the Reserve Bank is officially privately owned, it’s function is already nationalised on behalf of all capitalists since the state decides monetary policy and pays off debt with future taxation originating as the surplus-value of the working class. The socialist demand is for a Workers’ Government to expropriate the private banks and create one central workers’ bank.

10.The imperialist institutions such as the World Bank must cancel structural adjustment programs imposing debt/loan, and the debts of all developing countries.

The only way that South Africa can cancel its debt is for workers to take power as a Workers’ Government and renounce all debt owed to imperialist and national banks and financial institutions.

“We will abolish inequality by abolishing capitalism and all its social and cultural institutions. Only through decisive socialist revolutionary action, will humanity have a chance to survive.”

Yes! But we need a transitional program to mobilise workers’ power and Workers’ Governments in the whole of Southern Africa as part of a federation of socialist republics, in a world federation of socialist republics! ehe RSWP  position on the pandemic  along with the FTI and any

We also critique the Statement on Working Class Struggles in the era of Covid-19 issued by the national chairperson Irvin Jim on April 7, 2020

Jim reports that the time has come to break the “negotiated settlement” with the government that has delivered nothing since 1994 but worsening immiseration of the black masses. He concludes:

“This negotiated settlement has run its course. It will never deliver to the bulk majority, who are black and African and who remain economically marginalized. It is our advice as a vanguard Party, to the leadership of the ANC and the current government that it is impossible to continue to supervise the poverty of our people and the working class on behalf of imperialism and capitalism. [our emphasis, ed. note] We therefore join together with all other working-class formations, trade unions and federations in the call for an immediate implementation of the following demands for the rest of the year:

Private hospitals to be nationalized and open to all.

Testing and treatment for coronavirus must be free.

Cutting interest rates down to zero for the duration of the pandemic and create stimulus packages for the economy.

Basic income grants must be made available for the poor.

Guaranteed paid leave for all workers who have been placed on quarantine, or short time/layoff because of the temporary shutdown of plants.

A moratorium on job losses across all sectors of the economy.

All home loan and rent payments including all debt repayments must be suspended until after the pandemic has been dealt with

Food parcels must be provided for all those on self-isolation or quarantine in our townships and informal settlements.

It must be mandatory for all companies to adhere to the World Health Organization standards of cleanliness in the workplace. Workers who are forced to work and who are exposed to the public, e.g. garage workers, cashiers, waiters etc, all workers in the service industry must be provided with safety masks, sanitizers and gloves while on duty by the employer. This must be enforced with severe penalties for those who fail to adhere.

Stop all evictions with immediate effect.

Ensure all communities across South Africa have access to clean and quality water. Yet, whilst we work to secure the immediate survival of our class, we know this is a short-term strategy. In the long term, only a full-scale war on capitalism, where we unite and organize, wielding ourselves as the working class into a political force, can we liberate ourselves and all of humanity from this system that prioritizes profit over people.

The gigantic division between those who have and those who do not – between those who have the resources to survive the virus and those who live in the most vulnerable, risky conditions – has long existed. However, these contradictions have been sharply highlighted, exposed and laid bare for the world to see through the rapid spread of COVID-19.

The state must deliver all the basic social and economic conditions for the survival of our people now. In Section 27 of the Constitution, the guarantee for health care, food, water and social security for all, is the long-called-for mandate by the people. We must be unrelenting in our call for justice, equality and safety of the people. [our emphasis, ed. note]

Ultimately, we know that it is up to us all to begin to break the system of inequality and build a new one. Let us take this time to organize ourselves to defend the working class. Let us guard against stigmatization of people suffering not only from Covid-19, but from poverty, unemployment, homelessness. Let us lead in ensuring that our communities get what they need, that they are fed, our elders and most vulnerable cared for: physical distancing combined with social solidarity!”

This official statement from the SRWP confirms our view that the party is responding to pressure from below to transmit that pressure on the ANC led government for a ‘new settlement’ where the government must ‘deliver’ the list of demands presented. The party is ‘advising’ the government to do this on behalf of the working people at a time when that government is committed to serving the interests of imperialism and the national bourgeoisie facing a global terminal crisis.

It is possible that mass pressure can force the hand of the government to nationalise private hospitals, keep workers in jobs, provide emergency support, clean water and health and safety conditions. These have been won in the past. But to achieve these today at a level necessary to meet the needs of workers at a time of a terminal crisis would threaten capitalist’s survival and be met with state repression. Under the pandemic workers are being attacked for breaking curfews or protesting without making any demands! Workers face defeat unless they mobilise, build workers’ councils and self-defence organisations capable of defending their class from defeat.

This cannot happen without workers’ organising to fight for these demands independently of the government to build the unity, power and confidence of workers to take control of the economy. Workers have the power to occupy and take control of private hospitals. They have the power to take control of health and safety in combating the virus. They can back the health workers to occupy and manage hospitals and health clinics and hotels suitable for physical isolation. They can organise committees to provide food, water, and other essential services by seizing surpluses being destroyed by the lockdown. They have the power to organise defence committees that maintain the security of these workers organisations against the repressive forces of the state.

With these transitional demands based on Trotsky’s Transitional Program, the international party of socialist revolution can lead workers to build the power to gain control of the economy that bridges the gap between the minimum program and the maximum program that exists in the SRWP program. If workers are expected to beg the government for their immediate needs they will never develop the class consciousness and class power to cross that bridge and take the power that makes the maximum demand of socialist revolution possible.

It is necessary for class conscious workers to build that independent party, based on the Transitional Program to fulfill their historic task of leading the masses to the overthrow of the capitalist system and the fight for a socialist world!

Forward to the Permanent Revolution!




Written by raved

April 28, 2020 at 2:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Climate Crisis: From Capital to Commune

with 3 comments


While most capitalists still deny that climate change is anything to do with them, increasingly the world is now facing up to the truth of climate change. Yet most don’t understand the cause and therefore cannot grasp the solution. The default position of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and climate science in general is that the problem is Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). And the solution is to make that abstract ‘man’ human again. We argue that ‘man’ is not to blame; it is capitalism. So we should at least be talking of the Capitalocene. Yet what is understood by capitalism today makes all the difference as to what we do about it. We argue that capitalism cannot be reformed. It has to be overthrown and replaced with the Commune.

What is Capitalism?

If capitalism is mentioned as the cause of climate change, it is as an aberration on the part of elites, or capitalists, who are out of step with nature. Capitalism can be corrected if it is rescued from deniers like Trump. One can vote for a government that will act on climate change. So, the typical ‘anti-capitalist’ corrective is to focus on the elites and advocate ‘democratic’ and ‘non-violent’ means of providing a new leadership that can apply the technical fixes to solve the problem. Or abandon technology as if that, rather than the capitalist who owns and uses it as a means of production, is the problem.

But that ignores that capitalism is more than market and exchange relations. Capitalism presents itself as a system of market exchange which invert and obscure production relations. Workers do not see that their labor power produces value when capitalist ideology preaches that value is determined by market supply and demand. The extraction of surplus value from workers at the point of production is trivialised as workers and bosses fighting over a ‘fair share’ in the distribution of incomes.

This fetishism is the basis of bourgeois ideology which ignores class exploitation during production and mythologises ‘capitalist man’ as the free individual who buys and sells on the market. Marx’s critique of bourgeois political economy proved that value is created during the production of commodities which is then realised by their sale in the market. Value is not created by supply and demand driven prices of commodities, say oil, that can be regulated by the state.

For example, the fossil fuel industry produces value by using human labour to extract fuels. Therefore, regulating the market to shut down the fossil fuel industry cannot work because it retains ownership of its capital assets including labour, and has the power to manipulate political policy in its defence. Revolution is necessary to expropriate capitalist assets and redirect them into sustainable production. But to understand this, we need a social science that “tells the truth” about capitalism and its “war on nature” and what we need to do to overthrow capitalism.

It is not good enough to extrapolate from climate science to the bourgeois ideology of fetishized capitalism. Climate science has recognised the bio-physical problem of what happens when the atmosphere heats up rapidly with terrible consequences for life on the planet. But bourgeois ideology makes the cause of AGW abstract ‘man’. This assumes there is ahistorical, universal man, rather historical man shaped by the socio/economic relations, or production relations, that characterise specific historical societies, or modes of production, that determine how ‘man’ relates to nature.

Let’s get rid of ‘Man’ and replace him with Human. Human’s relation to nature changes because humans are part of nature, capable of acting with nature or against it, i.e. their own ‘human-ness’. Therefore, human’s changing ‘nature’ is the result of historical change from non-class society when both Humanity and Nature are in union, to class societies where contradiction destroys that unity.

It follows that if ‘human nature’ is ahistorical, static, and unchanging, and is responsible for AGW, how can it change enough to reverse AGW and avoid human extinction? The impasse is broken once we understand how ‘human nature’ changes throughout history, shaped by the production relations that define what Marx calls historical ‘modes of production’[MOPs]. If Humans change historically, under different production relations, they can under some conditions cause AGW, yet under other conditions change to avoid its consequences.

These production relations embody the contradiction between humans and nature, and vary from complete unity in non-class society to rising contradiction in class societies to an existential contradiction in capitalist society. But before taking that discussion further we need to get rid of the flawed concepts of AGW and the Anthropocene.

From Anthropocene to Capitalocene

So, we have a climate science that has named the period in which ‘man’ causes AGW, but in the absence of a developed social science of climate change we are stuck with the unscientific abstraction of the Anthropocene. This concept may have shifted the blame from nature to ‘man-made’ climate change, but at the cost of failing to point us in the right direction for solutions. First it is not abstract ‘man’ (human) that created climate change, it is capitalist human. Let’s replace the wrong ‘man’ with the right ‘human’ to signify the universal qualities of humanity that are potential in the union of humans and nature. But where the contradiction between human and nature exists, this potential unity is yet to be realised. Let’s look at the history of this potential unity.

Pre-capitalist modes of production [MOPs] had historically specific ‘human natures’ corresponding to the Kinship, Domestic, Slave and Tributory MOP and their corresponding production relations. Kinship relations were the basis of cooperative production and the sharing of products among kin as equals. Domestic relations describe the unpaid domestic labour of women for the benefit of men (i.e. the Patriarchy). Slave relations drove the slave production and the extraction of the product by slaveowners. Tributory (including feudal) relations comprised peasant production and extraction of rent by landowners.

Where these modes have survived in the margins of capitalism, subordinated to capitalist production relations as ‘indigenous’ peoples, unpaid domestic labour, slaves, low paid or unpaid agricultural workers, and so on, they remain trapped in uneven and combined development where all these forms of labour are subsumed to, and extracted by Capital. Capital controls and exploits pre-capitalist labour forms as a subsidy to the costs of wage labour, thereby ‘combining’ and ‘underdeveloping’ these forms free from exploitation.

All of these specific historical ‘human natures’, Kinship, Domestic, Slave, or Tributory, and their subordination to Capital exhibit a fundamental unity, in relative harmony with nature. They vary in their degree of unity with nature, from relative unity in class-less societies, while the growing separation of humans and nature intensifies as we go from the exploitation of women, slaves, peasant production, to the advent of capitalism. Before capitalism, none of these MOPs threaten to disrupt the union of humanity with nature, there is no extreme contradiction between humans and nature, despite some extinctions and local climate changes, in their respective production relations with nature.

If Anthropocene means ‘man-made’ climate change, then these pre-capitalist producers share none of the blame! But equally while pre-capitalist unity with nature inspires a vision of a non-capitalist human future, any return to pre-capitalist production relations is not part of the solution to climate change. The unity between humans and nature of pre-capitalist production relations cannot meet the needs of 8 billion humans today who are already enmeshed in the global capitalist system. The reason that such modes survive today is because they serve a purpose in providing cheap labor and raw materials to counter the LTRPF in the ‘developed’ countries.

Marx in his analysis of capitalism, fully realised how pre-capitalist modes survived in the service of capital, and toward the end of his life considered the possibility of the Russian peasant commune ‘leaping’ from a kinship mode into socialism with its ‘commune-ism’ intact and avoiding the transition to capitalism. More than twenty years later, the young Lenin tested this proposition in his book on the Development of Capitalism in Russia. Lenin found that by the 20th century the commune was subordinated to feudalism and its growing incorporation into global capitalism. The commune could not hold out to more ‘advanced’ modes that penetrated its economic relations and diverted its labor to the feudal lords and capitalist bankers and industrialists.

Capitalism, for the first time in history, created the potential for the unity of humans and nature within the contradiction of its production relation. While Capital dominates nature to the point of destruction, at the same it time creates the embryo of socialism within it, in the form of human Labor, that can resolve this contradiction in the future Commune.

Our present predicament is one of extreme contradiction between humans and nature in which the unrealised potential of unity of the Commune is the key to post-capitalist production relations. While pre-capitalist production relations were adapted to relative ‘scarcity’, post-capitalist production relations must restore the unity of humans and nature by overcoming the ‘scarcity’ imposed by capitalism and creating ‘plenty’ as the pre-condition of the future Commune.

So, how do we develop a social science of climate change? How can humans stop climate change in time, or failing that, mitigate its destruction of the biosphere? First, we get rid of the ahistorical and dead-end concept of the Anthropocene. It fails to explain why ‘industrial’ (another abstract concept) society created by the anonymous ‘man’ took off and developed at the expense of nature. Bourgeois ideology has its Robinson Crusoe myth of the birth of capitalism, that stranded white man who enslaved his black man Friday, a tragi-comedy which glorifies the separation of humanity from nature.

It ignores the real culprit, the capitalist production relations that created the conditions for ‘industrialisation’. To the extent that it acknowledges capitalism as an historical society, it explains its development not as a specific mode of production, but rather the myth of ‘economic man’ driving the evolution of the market, as both ‘natural’ and ‘just’.

It follows that this mythology is a road block to ending capitalism. If ‘economic man’ can perform such wonders then surely Anthropogenesis can find new socio/technical fixes that make capitalist production lean, clean and green. Capitalism would be a good idea, says Chomsky, so let’s make it better and survive. This is the ideology that permeates the bourgeois social ‘science’ that traps the leaderships of social movements such as Extinction Rebellion within bourgeois history, law and politics.

This ‘science’ is antagonistic to the revolutionary social science we need to guide us towards a post-capitalist future. Because the Anthropocene has become an ideological alibi to free capitalism from the blame for climate change, our first step is to replace it with the Capitalocene. When that too, proves a barrier to revolution, we can open our eyes to new possibilities.

Capitalocene means ‘capitalist-made’

While capitalism made climate change it had to make the ‘capitalist human’ to make it happen. But what makes a capitalist human, and the ‘human nature’ specific to capitalism? The production relations between capital and labour. Like previous class societies, capitalism arose when an emerging class, the bourgeoisie, challenged the artificial scarcity of the old feudal production relations. The bourgeoisie were not concerned to solve the problem of scarcity for humans as such, but to accumulated the surplus labour of wage workers as their own private property.

Far from realising the potential of the unity of humanity and nature, the new production relations separated the producers from nature to an unprecedented degree, alienating workers from nature – that is their labor and means of production – exploiting nature to exhaustion. Capitalist development became possible only by exhausting nature so that the contradiction between humans and society grew to the point of destroying the very conditions for capitalist growth.

Unlike the Anthropocene which can be reformed by capitalism as solutions to AGW, the Capitalocene is defined by the antagonism between humans as nature, and capital as destroyer of nature. Marx understood that underlying the class struggle in the market between workers and capitalists there was a deeper contradiction between nature/labor and capital/society. He wrote about this contradiction as a metabolic rift to mean that the essential interdependence of nature and society was doomed to rupture when capital exhausted nature.

Its existence became the driving force of the fundamental laws of motion of capitalism. The separation of humans from nature under capitalism followed from the metabolic rift between labor as nature, and capital as destruction of nature. The resolution of this contradiction would be socialist revolution for nature against capital and new production relations in harmony with nature, realised in full under Commune(ism).

Kohei Saito, in his book Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism, shows that Marx from early in his study of Capital understood the metabolic rift as both the secret of capitalist development as well as the ultimate cause of its decline in the necessary destruction of the conditions for its existence. The Young Marx recognised this as a contradictory process as capitalist production for profit led to the inevitable exhaustion of nature as wage labor, land and other means of production [MP]. Workers sold their Labour Power [LP] as a natural productive force to Capital. Part of it, necessary labour [NL], was advanced to them as wages to pay for the reproduction of LP. The surplus-labour [SL] was expropriated by Capital as the basis of profits.

In consuming their own NL and forfeiting their SL, this production relation alienates workers from control of their own labour (nature). Workers’ alienation from nature includes alienation from the human self, from solidarity with other humans, and from capitalist society. As a result, the fundamental contradiction between nature and humanity sets up an historical class struggle between labour and capital to defend nature or destroy it. We can see already that the concept of the Capitalocene that does not entail this contradiction is as apologetic for Capital as the Anthropocene. Capital is an historically specific mode that created at its heart the working class as a productive force of nature, which far from carrying any blame for climate crisis, would become its ‘gravedigger’ and finally explode the contradiction in the socialist revolution.

Marx critiqued the political economists who failed to see that the Capitalist [MOP] was historically specific. They had an evolutionary theory of capitalism in which the market and the individual bourgeois entrepreneur freed Capital from ancient and feudal scarcity and could overcome any natural limits with technology, giving it everlasting life – an early expression of a utopian Capitalist scenario!

In rejecting this evolutionary myth, Marx first had to debunk bad theories of the natural limits to Capital. Malthus claimed that population limits were set by loss of soil fertility. Marx buried himself in the debates over Agricultural chemistry and physics to show that capitalist agriculture could overcome soil exhaustion and overpopulation in the short term, but only by plundering and exhausting nature in the long term.

Between the short-sighted Malthus and Ricardo, and the bourgeois utopians without limits, Marx credited the class struggle as setting the limits to capitalist production. Capital would plunder nature to raise profits until such time as the class-conscious proletariat would overthrow it. Marx’s Ecosocialism can be summed up thus: the contradiction between Nature and Capital sets the absolute limit which capitalism today has now reached posing two roads forward. Nature will destroy capitalism and with it, humanity, unless humanity, in the form of socialism embryonic within capitalism, is born and destroys the Capitalocene replacing it with the Commune.

From Capital to Commune

To overthrow the Capitalocene as the concrete embodiment of the destructive relation between nature and capital we have to get rid of the concept of Capitalocene imprinted with bourgeois ideology. It is not capitalism in general, vaguely defined, subject to abuses and aberrations, and open to state reforms, that causes CGW. It is Capital destroying Nature. Therefore, capitalist relations of exchange and distribution cannot be reformed as they are embedded in the underling production relations. And these production relations presuppose private property and the dispossession of the producers of their own means of subsistence which is enforced by the capitalist state apparatuses.

The state is not a class-neutral institution that can limit the political power of elite, with occasional, liberal or labour-type governments. Its citizens are fetishized bourgeois individuals who must obey the state as the ‘organizing committee’ of the ruling class. The state enforces bourgeois law which defends private property and ensures that political representation does not challenge capitalist rule, using its armed forces, its spies and its controls over the media to enforce that rule. There is no room for reforms in any of these institutions devoted to Capital. If the specific production relations of capital and all of its supporting institutions are committed to destroying nature, cannot be reformed, then they must be overthrown. But how?

This fundamental contradiction between nature and capital is not a timeless abstract force, but the historical flesh and blood class struggle. It is the contradictory unity of nature and capital that is the force for change. Under the specific economic relations of capital, humanity, as part of nature, is turned into its opposite, inhumanity, antagonistic to nature. The ‘young’ Marx may have generalised about humans alienated from nature, self, others, society.

But he doesn’t leave it there by just talking about or ‘interpreting’ capitalist society. In his Capital, he shows how the alienated producers become conscious of their ‘humanity’ and fight back against capital becoming the embryonic material force necessary to liberate nature. Let’s look at the transition whereby the class struggle of those who produce labour-value creates the embryo of socialism within capitalism itself.

As we saw, the origin of capitalism was made possible only by the plunder of pre-capitalist society. That disrupted the metabolic balance within these societies destroying their capacity to reproduce themselves. This plunder was continued by the colonial dependence of capitalism on their stolen land, labour and natural resources to further capital accumulation in the ‘homelands’. Capitalism harnessed these natural forces of production for private profit. And as competition to cut prices led to the never-ending search for cheaper inputs to maintain profits, capital became a global force exploiting and alienating nature to survive and grow. Not according to the evolutionary story of the ‘progress’ of European ‘civilisation’. But rather, the capital relation that separates producers from their means of subsistence, so that what they produce with their labour-power, value, becomes the private property of capital.

Marxist writers follow Marx in calling this destruction of nature the ‘metabolic’ or ‘ecological’ rift. But nature fights back in the form of the producers of value. Capital accumulation globalises the formation of a powerful force where labour harnessed to capital, as slave or wage-labour, is forced to resist capital, to avert its destruction and reclaim its essential ‘human nature’.

Here, then is the inescapable law-like emergence of the global social force of nature that must challenge the rule of capital to create the conditions for the Commune. Marx gave us many examples of the existence and development of the first stage of this embryo as ‘socialism’. From the resistance of indigenous society to conquest; the slave revolts, organised wage-labour and de-colonisation.

Today, Marx would recognise the continuity of all these struggles fusing with the contemporary uprisings of workers and the poor (the global producers) against austerity and the rise of fascism. And to clinch his argument, all these struggles are essentially united in the fight to defeat capital and restore the unity of society with nature, now becoming manifest in the growth of the global movements against climate catastrophe.

Of course, this force for change does not automatically end the historic rule of Capital. It has to overcome the limits of bourgeois ideology that resists Marx’s Ecosocialism and defends capital as a progressive force compared with socialism or communism. Various spurious ‘left’ voices combine to abort the embryo of socialism as incompatible with ‘democracy’. Yet it is the underlying contradiction now peaking historically as the threat of human extinction which teaches us that the dialectic ‘knows’ reality and dissolves the apologetics of capital.

Even so, this objective process is not capable of ending Capital without the subjective consciousness and actions of nature, class struggle, driving socialist revolution. The forces “not of our own choosing” that operate “behind our backs” now come out to the front and are recognised and understood. That knowledge becomes the program of the revolutionary party. Namely, the Marxist party that tests the program in action to resolve the contradiction between nature and capital as socialist revolution.

That revolution begins the transition to socialism but is only the first stage of Communism. The producers’ rule with their own class state to suppress counter-revolution. It lays the groundwork of workers’ democracy and a planned economy preparatory to the return to nature. But it falls short of ‘freedom’ from necessary labour and the conception of a classless and stateless Commune. Let’s look at the revolutionary transition that takes place when the socialist embryo becomes the newly born infant and develops within the post-capitalist conditions from scarcity to plenty as the precondition for communism and the Commune itself.

Commune: Union of Nature and Humanity

Marx never attempted to put forward a blueprint for communist society of the future beyond a few necessary conditions. He assumed that the socialist transition would create the conditions for communism. When workers “win the battle for democracy” and take state power, they become the ruling class to suppress reactionary classes. The transition to communism creates social ownership and planned production. Bourgeois norms remain until scarcity is overcome. For example, workers receive back the equivalent of their work. When the Commune is fully developed the norm becomes “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.

In the Communist Manifesto of 1848 Marx caustically compares bourgeois society with communist society. The Communist Mode of Production (Commune) abolishes private property for property in common. Classes are abolished and with them the class state. Likewise, all the political and cultural apparatuses of capitalism. For example, women are liberated from domestic slavery and prostitution. Nation states are abolished for the voluntary associations of peoples. “In the place of bourgeois society, with its classes, and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

The Commune remained an untested theory/program until 1871 and the Paris Commune. The working people of Paris rose up against the Government and created an embryonic workers state which lasted for two months before its military suppression. In the Civil War in France, Marx saw it as the first attempt to bring this theory to life through the practice of proletarian revolution. First the workers created a democratic administration – the Commune – and a militia to defend it. All public offices were filled by elected and recallable delegates, and paid no more than the average worker’s wage. All governmental functions were centralised in the Commune and backed by the armed people.

The failure to build on these foundations was explained by the isolation of the Commune within France and internationally, and the lack of a Marxist leadership. Yet the lessons learned reinforced the 1848 prescription for socialist revolution to be internationalist, to lead all other oppressed classes including the peasantry, and as a result of the lessons of the Commune, the necessity to smash the capitalist state (rather than take it over) in order to create the ‘proletarian dictatorship’.

Four years later in his Critique of the Gotha Program Marx had to defend the program from retreating under attack from bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces. For the ruling class, the legacy of the Commune, the organised and armed proletariat opening the road to socialist revolution, had to be suppressed. Notably, Bukharin rejected the Paris Commune as an attempt to form a new oppressive class state thus depriving the revolution of the military means of success. And Lassalle spoke Marxist phrases but in practice reduced the program to begging Bismarck for state aid – an early welfare state. In reply to both, Engels argued that the Commune was the embryo of the “community” or “commune” that prefigured the abolition of classes and the state under communism. Engels to August Bebel, March 18-28, 1875

Communism therefore is the theory/practice of realising the Commune, restoring the unity of humanity and nature. After the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution was its only serious test. The Bolsheviks saw themselves in continuity with the Jacobins and the Paris Commune.

The Russian revolution went much further. It had the revolutionary leadership but succumbed to international isolation as the revolutions in Europe, which lacked that leadership, were defeated, allowing fascism to flourish and to seal this defeat in blood. While the revolution brought a workers’ dictatorship to power, defeating the imperialist invasion and Civil War, it was at the cost of major economic setbacks. Hopes that the Soviet Union would benefit from revolution in Europe, failed as the damage caused by war, and an economy producing less than pre-war levels of ‘scarcity’ weakened the revolution.

Isolated, and surrounded by world capitalism, the economically backward state was unable to catch up with advanced capitalism and overcome ‘scarcity’ before being dragged back by the counter-revolution. This broke the pact with the peasantry who turned against the revolution. In the absence of ‘plenty’ the Bolsheviks had to rely on capitalist production and bourgeois rights to manage the economy. The embattled and weakened proletariat was exhausted and within the party Stalin formed an alliance between the peasantry and the rising bureaucracy. What began as a workers’ dictatorship against capitalism ended by the 1930s in a bureaucratic dictatorship of the party in alliance with the petty bourgeoisie making ‘peace’ pacts with imperialism.

But like ‘Paris’ 1871, ‘October’ 1917 vindicates the Bolshevik’s theory/program of the socialist transition to the Commune. Writing in 1924 as a direct attack on Stalin’s hijacking of the revolution after the death of Lenin, Trotsky spelled out the Lessons of October. In the epoch of imperialism capitalism had exhausted its historical mission. International socialist revolution was now top of the agenda. And no revolution could succeed if not international.

For that to succeed there must be an international communist party. Russia opened the road but succumbed to counter-revolution externally and internally. Yet the lessons of October remain as the guide to world revolution, then, and now.

Marxism as scientific socialism has taught us that the contradiction between nature and capitalist society must be resolved by the producers if it is to be overcome and the re-union with nature restored. No bourgeois theory of social change no matter how radical can achieve that because they fear the Commune. The proletariat is the only class with the interest in resolving that contradiction on behalf of all oppressed classes and peoples, humans and non-human species.

It must do this by becoming class conscious, building democratic soviets or councils and implementing the socialist program of smashing the bourgeois state, expropriating capitalist property, and beginning the transition to the Commune. Short of the Commune, there is no version of capitalism reinvented that can possibly mobilise the world’s producers to organise, act, and rescue nature from the capitalist system that must destroy the planet. Unless capitalism’s gravediggers rise-up we will all end up digging our own graves.

Kohei Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy Monthly Review, 2017

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Written by raved

October 30, 2019 at 10:04 pm

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Is Greta Thunberg a sock puppet for green capitalism?

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Situations Vacant

Extinct ReblExtinction Rebellion (XR) represents a new movement against climate change that promises to become a revolutionary force for change. Why is the most inspiring leader of XR, Greta Thunberg, now subject to intensive criticism which claims she is a mere trophy for green capitalists who will exploit her power to rally the masses as consumers for not-for-profit capitalism. Cory Morningstar in “Wrong Kind of Green” argues that Greta is the creation of NGO’s and not-for-profit capitalism and is being used to sell sustainable capitalism. Is there any truth in this claim, or is it a conspiracy theory, the symptom of a bankrupt Left failure to credit how social movements can erupt without being ‘manufactured’ by elites? Is Greta a tool of reaction or a key to survival and liberation?

 Morningstar’s take on Greta is part of a wider world view shared by Morningstar and others who reduce…

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July 29, 2019 at 1:37 am

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Reclaiming Marx at 200

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Marx 200

Karl Marx at 200 returns to his home town Trier in 2018 courtesy of China

1 – “I am not a Marxist”

A famous dead white man indulges us by coming back from the grave on his 200th birthday for a bit of celebrity haunting. Why? Should we be impressed when the interest in Marx is on the rise among academics, students and journalists? Not only in the liberal bourgeois press such as the Guardian, or The Daily Blog, in myriad ‘left’ journals, like Jacobin, but also in the US colleges where The Communist Manifesto is the most read book in college libraries. Not only that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has held an official celebration and funded a statue of Marx erected in Trier, Germany, his home town, upsetting some of the locals.

Yet if Marx was alive today, I don’t doubt that he would react much as he did shortly before his death in 1883. “Just as Marx used to say, commenting on the French “Marxists” of the late [18]70s: “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.”  This rebuff was the last of many times that Marx castigated various “self-proclaimed” Marxists for misrepresenting his ideas in their attempts to ‘improve’ or ‘update’ them. Let’s see why Marx found this necessary. But to do that we have to reclaim Marx from the grave robbers.

Any evaluation of Marx cannot be left to the superficial idea that “Marx was right” without setting out what it means to be “right”. It means knowing how he used the scientific method to understand capitalism and how he applied this knowledge in a program for revolutionary communism. His dispute with the French “Marxists” in 1883 was over their practical demand for wage increases, without making it clear that the struggle for higher wages must lead to the overthrow of the wage-system itself. Class struggle was not about adjusting to capitalist exploitation but developing the class consciousness needed to overthrow capitalism and arrive at communism. But how do we decide who was right on this and other questions?

To know who was, and is right today, the evaluation of Marx 200 years after his birth needs to be based on how well his ideas have been tested in practice and proven correct or not, rather than the ideas of ‘self-proclaimed’ Marxists, no matter how well intentioned. Here I am not dealing with anti-communists, hostile to Marxism. We can leave the aversion to Marx of people like Ana Stankovic to stew in its own juice.

We should also make passing reference to life President Xi Jinping whose celebration of Marx is grotesquely contradicted by ‘socialist’ China’s restoration of capitalism and rapid rise as the world’s second biggest economy and chief rival of US imperialism. Such blatant caricatures of Marxism are so grotesque as to be already headed for the dustbin of history.

More dangerous is the social/liberal left that pays its respects to Marx’s life work only to disarm him and inoculate workers against his revolutionary message. But most dangerous are the self-proclaimed Marxists of all shades, Stalinist, Maoist and fake Trotskyist, who drag his name in the mud rendering him a common liberal. How do we decide between Marx and anti-Marx? One example: the Anti-Capitalist blog does a good job deconstructing Yanis Varoufakis’ Introduction to a new issue of the Communist Manifesto which covers Marx with faint praise while trying to bury him -Yanis to Karl, with love.

Marxism vs pseudo Marxism

Marx considered himself to be a scientist whose critical ideas had to be put into practice by the class struggle to test and develop them. It was the class struggle that would prove his, rather than his political rivals and opponents, right or wrong. Remember the 11th thesis of the Theses of Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world… the point, however, is to change it.:

Marx’s critical theory of capitalism was of an historically limited form of society based on the exploitation of labour that must sooner or later exhaust its potential to develop the forces of production (using labour to increase productivity) as they were in contradiction with the social relations of production (capitalist ownership of the means of production). This would ultimately destroy the forces of production including throwing living labour out of work and necessitating a proletarian revolution to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism.

To activate his theory a program of action was necessary to represent and advance the interests of the proletariat. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 was the result. Here Marx and Engels described the overthrow of bourgeois rule by the revolutionary proletariat which would open the road to communism. Marx and Engels saw the Communist Party not as substituting for the proletariat, but as part of the proletariat, embodying the program and separated from other workers’ parties only by its program advancing the historical and international interests of the proletariat.

The first major test of Marx’s program came in 1871 with the Paris Commune when the working people of Paris rose up against the bourgeois government after the defeat of the Emperor Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon’s great-nephew) by the Prussians. Already by that time Marx was convinced that the proletariat has succeeded the bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class.  The failure of the 1848 attempts by European bourgeois classes to make their “French” revolution against their ‘ancient regimes’ collapsed in embarrassing deals with the feudal ruling classes.

This default on the part of the European bourgeoisie left the proletariat with the responsibility for completing the task of developing the forces of production in the name of socialism. For the first time Marx spoke of ‘the permanent revolution’ signifying that the proletariat had to step onto the stage of history and take over the task of the reactional bourgeoisie of completing the bourgeois revolution and creating the conditions for socialism. But how to do this: reform or revolution? It was the Paris Commune of 1871 that put the Marxist program and the various reformist programs to the test with a bloody ruling class vengeance.

The lessons of the Commune were clear. First, disproving the reformists it was proof that the bourgeois state had to be overthrown by proletarian armed force or it would physically wipe out all working-class opposition. Second, disproving the anarchists, the overthrow of the bourgeois state had to be replaced by an armed workers’ state to defend the revolution. The Marxist program was amended in the light of these lessons but the defeat of the Commune ushered in a period of capitalist reaction. The First international collapsed after bitter in-fighting with Bukharin and the anarchists. And Marx had to fight the retreat of ‘Marxists’ back to reformism, most notably at Gotha in Germany in 1875.

Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program” was an angry attack on those who followed Lassalle’s “falsification” of the Communist Manifesto. But it was largely futile and the Marxist party was only revived when the Second International was founded in 1889. Engels carried forward the defence of the program until his death in 1895. Then the task of defending and developing the program became that of the next generation of Marxists – in particular, Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky to name the most important. We can judge whether Marx would have disavowed or accepted these new leaders as worthy of real Marxism starting with their position on the lessons of the Commune, and then what they did to apply the theory and practice of Marxism in the 20th century.


2 – Marxism after Marx

For Marx, even the best theory, without the Party testing it in the class struggle, was worthless dogma. The fusing of theory and practice demands a program that is tested by the Communist Party in the class struggle. In his lifetime, the revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871 were the most important practical tests that produced lessons requiring revisions of the program. By 1850, the proletariat had succeeded the now reactionary bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class. The bourgeois revolution could be advanced only by the proletarian revolution – the permanent revolution.

The Commune put this to the test. Its defeat strengthened the bourgeois counter-revolution and the impact of reformism on the workers’ movement. It proved that the bourgeois state had to be smashed and replaced by a workers’ state. Failure to learn these lessons frustrated Marx and his Critique of the Gotha Program in 1875 was a declaration of his Marxism against those who revised it by succumbing to bourgeois reforms.

His statement made a few months before his death in 1883, that if the reformists called themselves Marxist then he “was not a Marxist”, leaves no doubt as to what his Marxism was right up to the end. His friend and political collaborator, Engels, continued the fight to defend Marx’s Marxism from all sides in the struggle to keep it alive in the face of the opportunist, reformist tendencies in the Second International.

Engels, friend and collaborator

After Marx’s death, Engels, his lifelong collaborator continued the fight to resolve this crisis. He was faithful to Marx’s Marxism, completing and publishing three of the unfinished volumes of Capital (Vols 2,3 and Theories of Surplus Value), in which Marx had fleshed out the foundations of his scientific theory so they could be understood and applied in practice to developing the Communist program. The importance of publishing these 3 volumes were that they demonstrated Marx’s method of moving from the abstract to the concrete.

Moving from the Vol 1. analysis of value which was ‘abstracted’ from the struggle over wages, prices and profits etc., Marx in Vol 2, showed how the production of value underlay the struggle over the distribution of value between Labour and Capital; and on to Vol 3 to show how crises that appeared on the surface of capitalist society as unstable ‘chaos’, were determined by the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (LTPRF). Engel’s major contribution was therefore to show how falling profits and not falling wages explained the ‘chaos’ of capitalism. Not only did this show that workers wage demands did not cause crises, rather it exposed the fact that capital could not exploit workers sufficiently to prevent recurring crises.

Therefore, workers had to understand Marx to recognize that capitalist crises could not be overcome; capitalism itself had to be overthrown. Engel’s determination to make Marxism comprehensible to ordinary workers, has seen him belittled as a ‘populariser’ of Marx. Yet Marx himself would have done much the same had he lived, as shown by his pride in the reception of the serialized Volume 1 in the French Edition making it accessible to workers.

To illustrate this point, after their critique of the Gotha Program, Marx and Engels intervened in the debate against Herr Duhring, a minor academic who launched a reformist socialist program, attacking Marx among others. Engels’ book Anti-Duhring, serialized in 1877/78, was as a response to this attack. It explodes Duhring’s “bumptious pseudo-science” as “sublime nonsense”. Marx contributed the chapter “From the Critical History” in which he takes his opponent apart as an “ignorant plagiarist”.

Engels’ pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, published in 1880 was a re-write of some sections of Anti-Duhring “suitable for immediate popular propaganda”. Marx clearly approved of these joint efforts since he wrote the Introduction to the French Edition praising it as “…an introduction to scientific socialism”. It proved very popular, selling 20,000 of the four German editions despite being banned under the Anti-Socialist Law, and was translated into 10 languages.

After Marx’s death Engels continued to intervene as the authority on Marx’s work in the debates that took place in the Second International.  First, his Postscript to a new edition of Marx’s The Civil War in France (1891) restated the lessons of the Commune. Second, his Foreword’ to the first publication of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, (1891) aimed at the German Social Democratic Party leadership which tried to suppress the publication of Marx’s Critique because it exposed their break from Marxism.  Third, Engels’ work popularised and defended Capital Vol 3 to explain crises, imperialism, colonialism, ‘bourgeois workers’, and the material roots of ‘social chauvinism’ in the Second International.

When Engels published Capital Vol 3 in 1894 it was clear that imperialism in the 1880s was the result of crises cause by the LTRPF forcing the export of capital to restore profits. This accounted for super-profits extracted from the colonies that raised living standards for the working class in the imperialist countries, creating a privileged labour aristocracy made up of “bourgeois workers” as Engels called them.

Colonial super-profits explained the material roots of the labour bureaucracy and social democracy – the political expression of a layer relatively privileged worker-officials in the trade unions and in parliament.  Lenin labelled the labour aristocracy “social chauvinist” and “social imperialist”, promoting “parliamentary socialism at home and imperialism abroad”.  Clearly, it was colonial super-profits that paid for ‘democracy’ in the imperialist countries.

These interventions were to lay the foundations for the next generation of Marxists whose task was to in effect to write Marx’s last three planned volumes – on The State, Foreign Trade, and the World Market and Crises – which accounted for the uneven and crisis-ridden expansion of world capitalism. They explain why the 2nd International degenerated into opportunism after Gotha and evolved into a reformist party with a bourgeois program. This opportunism was to lay the ground for what was to be the second crisis of Marxism, the betrayal of the proletariat by the majority of the Second International leadership on August 4, 1914.

Love Marxism, Love Leninism

After the death of Engels in 1895, the task of keeping Marxism alive fell to the next generation born in the late 19th century – notably Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg. To do that they had to develop Marxist theory as a guide to the class struggle in the new epoch of imperialism recognized at its outset by Marx and Engels. Marxism can only live when it is tested as a program of action by a Marxist party immersed in the struggles of the day. So, those who took over the leadership of the movement from Marx and Engels have to be evaluated as leaders who were capable of this task.

As mentioned above, we first need to assess their agreement with Marx and Engels on the major challenges to Marxism in their time – the Commune, and the Gotha Program.  Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg took a Marxist stand on these questions, and condemned the anti-Marxist position of Kautsky and others who opposed the Communards’ taking up arms to overthrow of the French regime, in favour of parliamentary compromises. However, it is notable that their critique of Kautsky did not become urgent until the shock betrayal of the 2nd International in 1914.

This betrayal proved beyond doubt that even the most revolutionary Marxists were taken by surprise by the power of the labour bureaucracy in the imperialist countries that sided with its own ruling classes calling on workers to pay for the war and give their lives fighting worker against worker. In their defence, the three leaders were in exile in Europe, in the US, or in jail, and isolated from the European sections of the International.

The death of Marx had created the first crisis in Marxism; the betrayal of the 2nd International was a second crisis that nearly claimed the life of Marxism itself. Joining with the exploiting class to kill one’s fellow workers was a total rejection of Marxism. It was putting bourgeois national chauvinism ahead of international working-class solidarity. It was junking every lesson learned in the history of class struggles, that declare to the world that the proletariat and bourgeoisie have nothing in common. There could be no argument to justify going to war in the interests of the bourgeoisie. There was only one course open to save Marxism and that was to declare the 2nd International dead and begin the task of building a new one.

Zimmerwald Left

Those on the anti-war left of the International met at Zimmerwald. The majority opposed the war but took a subjective, pacifist line in voting against the evils of war while voting to pay for it, in the Reichstag.  They were now reformists having succumbed to social imperialism – the view that imperialism abroad could be reformed by parliamentary socialism at home. The minority, the Zimmerwald Left, around Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, argued to turn imperialist war into class war in which workers would refuse to fight one another and turn their guns on their own ruling class. The 2nd International was pronounced dead and a commitment to building a new, third, international made by Russia emigres of the RSDWP. They all agreed that the betrayal of Social Democracy resulted from the creation of labour aristocracies (Engels’ ‘bourgeois workers’) bought off by colonial super-profits to promote social chauvinism at home in support of imperialist war. What to do?

The “three L’s” called for workers to mutiny and organise armed uprisings against the ruling classes in every imperialist country. Trotsky did not think that workers were ready for armed insurrection and called for workers to refuse to fight for their ruling classes. They disagreed on other aspects of Marxism too. Luxemburg and Trotsky, from right and left positions, rejected the Bolshevik Party as substituting for the proletariat.

Trotsky on the right saw the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks as unnecessary. He was known as a ‘conciliationist’ for advocating a united party. Yet at the same time Trotsky agreed with Lenin in rejecting the Menshevik two-stage theory –  that the bourgeois revolution had to be completed by a class alliance with the bourgeoisie, before the socialist revolution was possible in Russia.  They both agreed with Marx, that since 1850 the bourgeoisie was now a reactionary class. Therefore, the bourgeois revolution against the Tsar would have to be led by the proletariat as the revolutionary class, drawing in all other oppressed classes (poor peasants etc), and completed as the socialist revolution i.e., the uninterrupted, or permanent revolution.

Luxemburg from the left objected to Bolshevik democratic centralism as substituting for the spontaneous revolutionary consciousness of the masses. But from the right, however, her underconsumptionist theory of capitalist crisis ignored Marx’s law of “the tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall” (LTRPF) in Capital Vol 3. Since for her, falling profits was caused by underconsumption due to low wages, the spontaneous struggle for higher wages would bring about revolutionary class consciousness and the overthrow of capitalism.

Therefore, on the central question of the Party, both in their own way took one-sided views of democratic centralism against Lenin’s dialectical position which saw the party as the revolutionary vanguard leading the revolution. For him the Party was the subjective class conscious factor in the revolution, not spontaneous “trade union” consciousness – a barrier to revolutionary consciousness that must be overcome by the Party. Nor can the Party be united around a broad program that represents an objective, inevitable march from reform to revolution, without the subjective vanguard party intervening to signal the advances and retreats.

Not until the Russian revolution proved them wrong did Trotsky and Luxemburg come around to Lenin’s position. Trotsky joined Lenin in July 1917 and became one of the main leaders of the Russian revolution. Luxemburg withdrew her objection to the Bolshevik type party and belatedly formed the German Communist Party (KPD), but was betrayed by Social Democracy in 1919 and assassinated by fascist thugs, cutting short the life of a true revolutionary, and contributing to the defeat of the German Revolution.

The October Revolutions in Russia and Germany

Lenin, as the leading revolutionary Marxist, advanced Marxism, against all backsliding comrades (Trotsky as conciliator; Luxemburg as spontaneist and underconsumptionist) and hostile class enemies (Social Democracy), by re-asserting its premises, re-reading Hegel, re-affirming the dialectical method, and applying the theory of Capital Vol 2 and 3 to analyse the ‘concrete’ conditions in Russia (he read Marx on Sismondi to expose the petty bourgeois program of the Narodniks). He developed the theory of crisis in Vol 3 to explain the state of the world economy embedded in imperialism and war (Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism); the reactionary role of Social Democracy and Kautsky’s vacillating centrism (Renegade Kautsky etc); the class character of the State (State and Revolution); and applied it to a transitional program put into practice by the democratic centralist Bolshevik Party.

Lenin embodied Marx in fusing theory and practice in the democratic centralist party in which objective and subjective reality was united in practice. He used Marx’s dialectic method to defeat the objectivists and subjectivists whose role was to rely on old idealist formulae instead of the ‘art’ of revolution.  He routed the objectivists who treated the proletariat as a passive rather than active participant in revolution. Naturally, petty bourgeois upstarts substituted for the ‘backward’ proletariat in deciding when the workers would be ready for revolution. Lenin also denounced the subjectivists (anarchists and left communists) who argued that spontaneous proletarian class consciousness was sufficient to make the revolution, and that democratic centralism must necessarily lead to the Party substituting itself for workers democracy and opening the road to counter-revolution.

It follows that without Lenin in the leadership of a democratic centralist party there would have been no socialist revolution in Russia. It would have collapsed into objectivism or subjectivism; nor would Marxism have survived as a living political force on the powerful legacy of the Russian Revolution. In February 1917, the Bolshevik leadership was tied to the old dogma of Plekhanov etc., that Russia must have a bourgeois revolution to prepare the conditions for socialism. This was based on a doctrinaire application of Marx’s slogan that capitalism cannot be overthrown until it has completed its historic task and is no longer capable of developing the forces of production. Yet after 1850 Marx said that the bourgeoisie was no longer the historically revolutionary class and had to be overthrown by the proletariat as the new revolutionary class. So, if the pre-conditions for socialism still had to be created, that could only be done by the proletariat!

When it came to the concrete conditions in Russia this dogma was clearly out of touch with reality. The bourgeoisie was not strong enough to overthrow the Tsar and complete the bourgeois revolution. It was women textile workers that began the strikes in February that led to the overthrow of the Tsar. Only the industrial workers, combined with the poor peasants and soldiers could advance the revolution by overthrowing capitalism. Lenin challenged the doctrinaire leadership by going to the Bolshevik masses and convincing them that a socialist revolution was necessary to complete the bourgeois revolution especially in backward Russia now subordinated to French and British imperialism and fighting a war against German imperialism. In Russia 1917, the same mistake that saw the German bourgeoisie join forces with the feudal Junkers in 1848, had to be avoided at all costs. So like Marx in 1850, Lenin was affirming the validity of permanent revolution as the only way to take the bourgeois revolution forward to socialism in one continuous movement.

Permanent revolution was also put to the test by the failure of the German revolution. The first uprising in 1919 failed because of the Menshevik SPD formed a government with the ‘democratic’, ‘progressive’, but still warmongering, bourgeoisie. Then in 1921 the Communist Party (KPD) took part in a premature putsch that was easily suppressed. By 1923 a revolutionary situation had returned. The KPD was better prepared, but its leadership vacillated and failed to grasp the situation and prepare for insurrection on time, so the moment was lost. Having failed to make the revolution, the responsibility for the rise of fascism in Germany then became that of the KPD leadership, mainly because it had not learned the lessons of the Bolshevik revolution and built a strong, democratic-centralist party in time.

Left Opposition and Fourth International

With the failure of the German revolution, the most important condition for the success of the Russian revolution disappeared. The industrialization of the Soviet Union was setback by the backwardness and war devastation of both industry and agriculture. The Bolsheviks were forced to keep the revolution alive in an isolated, under-developed country without international support. The only way out was to fight for a democratic-centralized plan for industry and agriculture to develop the forces of production and survive until revolutions succeeded in Europe or Asia. For the Bolsheviks there was never the possibility of socialism being built in one country surrounded by global capitalism.

After the death of Lenin in 1924, the battle to claim his legacy was the key to the life and death struggle between the growing bureaucratization of the party and state apparatus under Stalin that appealed to the petty bourgeoisie and surviving bourgeoisie,  and the Left Opposition led by Trotsky, which insisted that workers’ democratic control of the soviets and of the Party regime were pre-conditions for planning production in industry and agriculture, allowing the forces of production to grow, reducing necessary labour-time, and making the building of socialism possible.

The record of the Bolshevik-Leninists from 1923 to 1933 was of a life and death struggle to challenge the Stalinists regimes break from ‘Leninism’ as it subordinated world revolution to popular fronts with the bourgeoisie around a Menshevik program for ‘national roads’ to socialism in defence of ‘socialism in one country.’ From the final betrayal of the German Revolution in 1923, to the Chinese Revolution, 1924/1927, the challenge of the LO was met with mounting repression, exile and execution of its militants. Among them was Trotsky expelled and exiled in 1927 until his assassination by Stalin’s agent in 1940.

The Left Opposition became an International Left Opposition (ILO) as an internal opposition inside the Comintern. It fought to restore workers democracy against the bureaucratic regime until 1933 when Stalin’s policy to appease fascism in Germany helped the Nazi’s come to power. This betrayal of the international communism was of the same order as the 4th of August 1914 had been for the 2nd International and forced the ILO to declare the Comintern dead, and call for the building of a new, Fourth, International.

From 1933 the ILO became the Bolshevik-Leninist tendency committed to building a new revolutionary international to take the leadership of the world revolution, fighting for political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, and for socialist revolutions based on workers’ and peasants’ soviet governments everywhere. The Fourth International was formed in 1938 based upon a Transitional Program keeping the legacy of Marxism and Leninism alive, and dedicated to the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union, the political revolution and the international revolution.

Conclusion: The Short 20th Century

For Marxism after Marx, it is the onset of the epoch of imperialism that explains the inevitability of recurring crises, revolutions, counter-revolutions and wars. Arising out of WW1 the rise and fall of the Russian revolution became the ultimate test of the power of revolutionary Marxism. The British historian Eric Hobsbawn, talks of the “Short 20th Century” from the Russian revolution of 1917 to the restoration of capitalism in 1991, as shaping the fate of the modern world. Indeed, there is some truth in this. The October revolution proved that Marxism could keep the 19th century theory of Marx alive in the form of a revolution led by a Marxist party. Its success proved that a dying capitalism could be replaced by a socialist revolution. But was the rise of Stalinism to power the end of the road for Marxism?

No. The degeneration of the revolution also vindicated the living Marxism of the ILO. Neither the revolution nor the counter-revolution can be understood except as a partial and incomplete advance of the permanent revolution Marx spoke of in 1850. The proletariat made the revolution along with the poor peasants, against the counter-revolution of world capitalism and the united exploiting classes. While we can talk about the Russian revolution succumbing to counter-revolution as the culmination of the Short 20th century, it is only part of the larger historic dynamic of permanent revolution from the mid-19th century to today, and beyond.

For Marx permanent revolution did not mean only that the working class must to lead the exploited and oppressed classes to the revolution against all the exploiting and oppressing classes. It meant that the revolution could not be realized fully without the victory of the international revolution, and finally without the victory of world socialism and the prospect of a future communist, classless, and stateless, society. Not until then, will the Manifesto of the Communist Party and permanent revolution end up in the museum of class struggle. Until then, it is the task of Marxists to continue the fight for permanent revolution.


3 – Marx Today

Has Marxism survived Marx’s death and those who followed him claiming to be Marxists? Part one showed that Marx took exception to the term “Marxism” as not representing his views. Part Two argued that Lenin took responsibility for defending and developing Marxism within the second generation of Marxists. In the concluding part we ask: who would Marx recognise as Marxists today? To answer this question, it is necessary first to reprise the essentials of Marx and Lenin’s thinking as the litmus test of those who claim to be a Marxist today.

The legacy of Marx and Lenin

Marx’s method was to abstract from the surface appearances of capital as commodity exchange, to the essence of the commodity. In Vol 1 he dealt with the production of value as commodities, and in Vol 2, the circulation of commodities between production and consumption. By Vol 3 he was actually constructing a working model by introducing competition between capitalists to advance labour productivity which led in turn to the relative rise of constant capital, the LTRPT and recurring crises. Of course, Marx planned to write three further volumes on the State, Foreign Trade and World Market, to reconstitute the ‘concrete’ reality of ‘everyday life’. He was not fussed about failing to draft these volumes as others could apply the method and theory, complete the analysis, and explain the ‘many determinations’ of surface appearances as ‘actual’, and the basis for revolutionary practice.

Not only that, while he was producing Capital, he wrote many articles on the contemporary class struggle, notably India, the US, and the Civil War in France, in which class relations were exposed in their ‘many determinations’ e.g. the Commune, testing and requiring changes in the Communist program (e.g. smash the state). In that sense Capital was clearly a C19th work of social science where Marx not only developed his theory but saw it tested it in practice. The logic was: method (dialectics) > theory/program (Marxism) > practice (the Communist Party). It is clear that the objective of Marxism is to form an international communist party, grounded in democratic centralism, that develops the theory by applying it as a program to lead the organized class struggle to overthrow capitalism and impose the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’.

Entering the C20th Lenin was the main continuator of Marx’s project. He studied Hegel to fully understand Marx’s dialectical method. He needed to explain the rise of imperialist nations and the implications for Marxist theory. Nor did he have to start from scratch to develop Marx’s theory. For example, he was not the first to argue that capitalism had made a transition from its competitive stage to one of state monopoly capitalism in the late C19th. Marx and Engels had laid the foundations.

Capitalism as an historic mode of production was progressive only so long as it developed the forces of production. The Vol 3 theory of crisis as one of falling profits explained why the export of capital was necessary to restore profits and why rival national capitals would be driven to the partition the world economy leading to the destruction of the forces of production.

Lenin took Marx’s theory in Vol 3 and condensed the contents of the unwritten volumes in his theory of Imperialism – the highest stage of capitalism. Only socialism could develop the forces of production beyond capitalism in its decline.  In particular, Lenin applied Marx’s theory of rent to the concrete political task of explaining how state-backed monopolies could extract super profits, manipulating the market and partially suppressing competition by diplomatic, political and military means. It was the theory of imperialism that allowed the main features of the highest stage of monopoly capital in the early C20th to be understood as the basis for the program of the Russian communists drawn into a major imperialist crisis and war.

So, we have the legacy of Marx in the C19th and that of his successor Lenin in the C20th to lay the foundations for C21st Marxism facing the terminal crises of the economy and climate change. Let’s see what Marxism today looks like. Again, we use the criteria of the continuation and development of the fundamental lessons of Marx and C20th Marxists as the basis for judging who stands for Marx today. Let’s evaluate these developments on the basis of fulfilling the demands of Marxist method, theory and practice.

On Dialectical Method

Marx took Hegel’s dialectical method and stood it on its feet. Instead of historical development enacting the will of God (idealism) it was the result of class struggle “the motor of history” (materialism). Here we have the unity of opposites, capital as a social relation between labour and capital, causing the contradiction between the social relations and the forces of production. In turn this contradiction drove the proletariat as the revolutionary subject to transcend that contradiction by means of social revolution. In place of Hegel’s idealist worship of God as the ‘subject’ of history, dialectics grounded in material life was the method of the revolutionary subject, the proletariat. Hence the term dialectical materialism.

In 1908, Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, defended Marx’s materialism against a current of Russian Marxism influenced by Machism, that rejected Marx’ premise that there existed a material reality independent of thought. Bogdanov and others retreated back toward Kant claiming that the premise of a material world was about an ‘unknown nothingness’ and was therefore ‘metaphysical’ or idealist. Lenin rubbished this, labelling it ‘empirio-criticism’ and a break from the ‘historical materialism’ of Marx and Engels. He argued that ‘being’ is not the product of ‘consciousness’ but the reverse.

“Materialism in general recognises objectively real being (matter) as independent of the consciousness, sensation, experience etc., of humanity. Historical materialism recognises social being as independent of the social consciousness of humanity. In both cases consciousness is only the reflection 0f being, at best an approximately true (adequate, perfectly exact) reflection of it. From this Marxist philosophy, which is cast from a single piece of steel, you cannot eliminate one basic premise, one essential part, without departing from the objective truth, without falling a prey to bourgeois-reactionary falsehood. (M&EC, Chapter 6, p 326).

Lenin concludes his polemic against empirio-criticism:

“The genius of Marx and Engels lies precisely in the fact that during a very long period nearly half a century, they developed materialism, further advanced one fundamental trend in philosophy, did not rest content with repeating epistemological problems that had already been solved, but consistently applied – and showed how to apply – this same materialism in the sphere of the social sciences, mercilessly brushing aside as rubbish all nonsense, pretentious hotchpotch, the innumerable attempts to ‘discover’ a ‘new’ line in philosophy, to invent a ‘new’ trend and so forth. The verbal nature of such attempts, the scholastic play with the new philosophical ‘isms’, the clogging of the issue by pretentious devices, the inability to comprehend and clearly present the struggle between the two fundamental epistemological trends – this is what Marx and Engels persistently tracked down and fought against throughout their activity.”  (M&E-C, 336)

Lenin’s philosophical critique of empirio-criticism established a firm dialectical materialist foundation for Russian Marxism and the method of the program of the Bolshevik party. However, it was the betrayal of the 2nd International in August 1914 that drove Lenin to an intensive study of Hegel to understand the philosophical basis of the opportunism of the international’s historical betrayal and provide the grounding for a new revolutionary international. The results were his ‘Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic’, included in Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks, written between mid- 1914 and 1916.

He summarised dialectics as follows:

“Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical – under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another, – why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another.” (Bk 1, 109)

“(1) Ordinary imagination grasps difference and contradiction, but not the transition from one to the other, this however is the most important.

2) Intelligence and understanding. Intelligence grasps contradiction, enunciates it, brings things into relation with one another, allows the “concept to show through the contradiction,” but does not express the concept of things and their relations.

(3) Thinking reason (understanding) sharpens the blunt difference of variety, the mere manifold of imagination, into essential difference, into opposition. Only when raised to the peak of contradiction, do the manifold entities become active and lively in relation to one another – they receive/acquire that negativity which is the inherent pulsation of self-movement and vitality.” (Bk 2, 143)

“If I am not mistaken, there is much mysticism and empty pedantry in these conclusions of Hegel, but the basic idea is one of genius: that of the universal, all-sided vital connection of everything with everything and the reflection of this connection – Hegel materialistically turned upside down – human concepts, which must likewise be hewn, treated, flexible, mobile, relative, mutually connected, united in opposites, in order to embrace the world. Continuation of the work of Hegel and Marx must consist in the dialectical elaboration of the history of human thought, science and technique.” (Bk 2, 146)

Lenin took this “dialectical elaboration” to new heights. The retreat from Marxism to empiricism in the 2nd International was explained at the level of method. Empiricism took surface appearances as reality and suppressed the contradictions that drove the class struggle. ‘Evolutionary socialism’, or Menshevism, was the result. Workers must collaborate with the bourgeoisie and use the state to legislate for socialism. Against this attack on Marxism, Lenin’s critique of Plekhanov, Kautsky, the role of the state, of the Mensheviks, and so on, ‘elaborated’ the theory/practice of the Bolshevik Party.

Therefore, there can be no question that Lenin and Marx were in complete agreement in their conception of the revolutionary party as the ‘vanguard’ developing class ‘consciousness’ in understanding and embracing the world as a contradictory ‘unity of opposites’. Armed with this Marxist program and practice, Bolshevism and the 3rd International until Lenin’s death in 1924 represented the highest expression of Marxism. Dialectical materialism enabled the party to create a program that was tested in practice culminating in a successful revolution.

Bolshevism vs Menshevism

Only correct method can lead to correct program and practice. Who can claim to follow Marx and Lenin on dialectics? Very few, including self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninists and Trotskyists. First among equals, Trotsky was critical in defending this continuity. The Lessons of October and the History of the Russian Revolution, condenses Bolshevism as living Marxism. After the death of Lenin and with the revival of Menshevism in the bureaucratic dictatorship of Stalin, the struggle of Trotsky and the Left Opposition kept dialectics alive until its defeat with the exile of Trotsky in 1927 and the death of other leading communists. From that point on the International Left Opposition survived as ‘Bolshevik-Leninists’ fighting the degenerating 3rd International under Stalin.

But method and theory do not amount to more than ideas unless united with revolutionary practice in a healthy communist international. Trotsky’s Bolshevik/Leninists fought to restore workers democracy in the USSR and in the Comintern until 1933 when Stalin’s policy of voting with the Nazi’s against the ‘social fascists’ (social democracy) in Germany helped bring Hitler to power.

For the Bolshevik/Leninists this amounted to a clear betrayal of the international proletariat as complete as August 1914. Trotsky immediately broke with the Comintern and called for a new revolutionary international which led to the foundation of the 4th International in 1938. Its Transitional Program is the most developed expression of Bolshevik/Leninism that survived Trotsky’s assassination by Stalin in 1940. Embodying dialectics, the transitional method of raising demands mobilised workers to fight for what they need immediately, so that they learned from their experience that class struggle must go all the way to socialist revolution to transcend the contradiction between labour and capital.

But the 4th International failed to materialize into a revolutionary international after the war capable of advancing the interests of the revolutionary proletariat – backsliding into ‘Pabloism’ under a petty bourgeois leadership adapting to Stalinism as a modern form of the old one-sided evolutionary Menshevism. Maoism was another expression of modern Menshevism as it was based on Stalin’s theory of ‘bloc of four classes’ – the popular front of workers, peasants, ‘progressive’ bourgeois and petty bourgeois, to strangle the proletariat.

Meanwhile most ‘Western Marxists’ in the C20th judged Bolshevism as an aberration if not abomination. And of course, they junked dialectics. Why? Because dialectics is the method of the revolutionary proletariat that requires an organized vanguard party to advance its class interests in socialist revolution. Against dialectics the method of Mensheviks is that of bourgeois logic – idealism, and its twin, empiricism. This creates a reactionary theory/program and the anti-Marxist substitution of the petty bourgeois for the proletariat as the historical agency of socialist revolution.

Menshevism and Western Marxism

Most of what passes for Marxism today is one or other form of Menshevism that goes back to the Paris Commune of 1871 and Gotha 1875. The subordination of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie in the name of the evolutionary socialism that led to the successive betrayals of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Internationals. Kautsky was a left-Menshevik, as was the majority of the ‘old’ Bolshevik leadership. Lenin split the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP) party to combat Menshevism and those who compromised with it (e.g. Trotsky for a period).

The split was necessary because Menshevism replaced the proletarian party with the petty bourgeois intelligentsia as the agent of revolutionary change (Marx’s ‘petty bourgeois socialism’). Mensheviks were against the October Revolution.  They conspired with imperialism to defeat the Revolution. Western, or Euro-Marxism is the direct descendant of Menshevism committed to the ‘failure’ of Bolshevism, and the retreat to the ‘half-way’ house of parliamentary socialism

C20th ‘Western Marxism’ is enlisted to the counter-revolution by suppressing dialectics and reviving evolutionary socialism. Lukacs defended Lenin and the revolution only to succumb to Stalin and the bureaucratization of the revolution. Gramsci defended Stalinism and the ‘long march through the institutions’ of the ‘Eurocommunist’ batch of Mensheviks. The Frankfurters from Adorno to Marcuse abandoned the proletariat for ‘revolutionary’ petty bourgeois intellectuals i.e. students. Why? because they substituted the contradiction between labour and capital as a living class struggle for the ‘contradiction’ between an abstract ‘nature’ and capitalist society. Sartre found the young ‘humanist’ Marx and ignored the late ‘determinist’ Marx. Althusser rejected the ‘humanist’ young Marx for the Marx of Capital, and the class struggle for ‘theoretical’ struggle. All broke with dialectics to end up in the camp of the Mensheviks.

So, what are we left with? Who is Marx, and what is Marxism, 200 years on? Our objective is to reclaim Marx at 200. What do we keep, what do we junk?

Academic and Post-Marxism

If we look at the self-proclaimed Marxists today what do they stand for, Marxism, or Post-Marxism?  Post-Marxists invariable revert to pre-Marxist doctrines to ‘improve’ on Marx. Remember Marx’s critique of the Gotha Program – ‘why revert’? he demanded. Academic Marxists reply ‘why not’. As a result, they revive the idealist reactions to Marxism of Marx and Lenin’s time for consumption today. Take Zizek’s return to the great ‘master’ (Lenin) to serve the Menshevik project. “To repeat Lenin is to repeat not what Lenin DID, but what he FAILED TO DO, his MISSED opportunities.” Zizek writes off the Party as made up of political elitists ‘outside’ the class struggle. And Lenin, repeated, ‘channels’ Zizek and becomes the substitute for the Party deciding what the revolutionary masses should do or not do.

Add the hybrids like Derrida who ‘repeat’ social democracy out of strange liaisons with post-structuralism and Marxism where social determination is outlawed. This born-again ‘Marxism’ rejects the proletariat as the historic gravedigger of capitalism for the idealist re-construction of the idealist ‘great leader’, the Young Marx, or the messianic Lenin who can inspire the masses to spontaneous world-historic events.

Academic Marxism is the factory that produces and reproduces modern Menshevism, cutting and pasting Marx and Lenin accordingly. For example, David Harvey has a reputation for reproducing Capital faithfully, yet rejects Marx’s theory of crisis for a surreptitious Keynesian underconsumption theory that can be corrected by parliamentary socialism. Even Michael Roberts who staunchly defends Marx crisis theory based on Capital 3 against Harvey, cannot in practice apply value theory to the real world when he fails to grasp the significance of the law of value in restoring state capitalism/imperialism in China for the global class struggle.

However, beyond the academy where Marxism is mostly far removed from the everyday politics, some celebrity ‘Marxists’ are attempting to bridge that gap with a call to return to communism as a real social movement. Let’s take the French Maoist Alain Badiou who argues that  today the Marxism we must build is a ‘communist movement’ as if that is distinct from the ‘Communist Party’. In his view, the ‘party-state’ has proven to be a barrier to communism, and is part of the failure of socialist revolutions. Therefore, the ‘communist movement’ must act to check the ‘communist party’ degenerating into the party-state. But is the ‘communist movement’ outside the Party capable of ‘checking’ and ‘correcting’ the democratic centralism of the ‘communist party’?

Is this the “new beginning for Marxism? No! Revolution is not possible without democratic centralism that unites all communists in the vanguard party. The problem of the failure of key 20th century revolutions in Russia and China to build socialism, let alone communism, cannot be overcome today by a ‘communist movement’ separate from the ‘communist party’. Why? Because since 1850 any proletarian political ‘movement’ itself is only possible as the result of the vanguard party fusing theory and practice in the  proletarian dictatorship of the workers’ state.  Only this realisation can spark a “ new beginning for Marxism”.

In sum, Western Marxism (and its Eastern Maoist analogue) is counter-revolutionary along with all other Menshevik and fake Marxist-Leninist and Trotskyist tendencies claiming to be followers of Marx. There is a failure of revolutionary leadership when the masses wallow in the swamp of social-imperialism, social democracy, crypto-Stalinism and ‘red-brown’ politics. The counter-revolution is not confined to the ‘West’ – the euphemism for imperialism – as the permanent counter-revolution to the international permanent revolution. The short C20th is a retreat from Marx that parallels and conspires with counter-revolution. The early C21st is a retreat from the 20th in toto and marks its lowest point yet – the bitter fruit of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and before long the DPRK.

The ‘crisis of leadership’ that Trotsky spoke of in the 1930s persists today and in the future until such time as new generations of Marxists take up the true legacy of Marx and Lenin and build a new Communist International capable of leading the workers of the world to socialist revolution to end capitalist destruction and climate collapse, and to build a future communist society.


Written by raved

December 21, 2018 at 12:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

War Crimes for Idiots: The New Zealand SAS and the War on Terror

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Situations Vacant

SAS3 Part of the NZ SAS squad walking away from a firefight in Kabul, June 2011

17 years after 9/11 and the official launch of the War on Terror (WOT) NZ finds itself facing for the first time the undeniable proof that it was recruited by the US (“for us or against us”) as mercenaries in the US campaign to avenge itself against ‘Islamic Terrorism’. The occasion is not any actual current events in the WOT in Afghanistan, but the publication of the book Hit and Run by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson documenting Operation Burnham, the revenge raid against the killers of SAS Lieutenant O’Donnell led by the NZ SAS on two villages in the Tirgiran valley during the dead of night on March 22, 2010. The title of the book might have been ‘Hunt and Kill’ as that more accurately describes the nature of the SAS mission between 2002…

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Written by raved

February 10, 2018 at 9:25 pm

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Review of China Mieville’s: October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

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Commenting on the many works on the Russian Revolution, China Mieville describes his book as: “… a short introduction for those curious about an astonishing story, eager to be caught up in the revolution’s rhythms. Because here it is precisely as a story that I have tried to tell it.”  This captures the purpose but also the vivacity of the book which is like a beautifully written film-script told by invoking the living flesh and blood individuals and life and death events that made 1917 such a world-historic year 100 years ago. Mieville tells the ‘strange story’ well but leaves himself open to criticism that he blames the Bolsheviks for ‘mistakes and crimes’ (such as the ‘one party state’, War Communism, censorship, ‘one-person management’, and Kronstadt). Not as necessary means to an end (desiderata), but the result of ‘weakness’. That these ‘failures and crimes’ were explained at the time as a consequence of the counter-revolution is not properly addressed, leaving the book somewhat lacking as a guide to revolution today. Nonetheless, for those who are wanting an inspiring, page-turning account of the most important event in human history, October is it.



No Halfway House

The story begins with a prehistory of the years before 1917 as the struggles against reactionary Tsarism test the various revolutionary currents. In particular, for the Bolsheviks who reject the standard Eurocentric Marxist dogma that after the Tsar would come the rule of Russian capitalists. It is the experience of the 1905 revolution that convinces the Bolsheviks (the majority of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party) to break with the Menshevik (minority) line that the bourgeoisie must lead the fight against the Tsar.

The Bolsheviks, by contrast, contend that in the context of pusillanimous liberalism, the working class itself must lead the revolution, in alliance not with those liberals but with the peasantry, taking power, in what Lenin has called a ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.

The book then weaves a story of the development of the revolution, month by month, from the opening February Revolution to the closing October Insurrection. February ends the Tsarist rule as when 100,000s of women and men strike in their factories, joined by mutinous and sailors, to take to the streets demanding ‘bread’ and ‘peace’. “This is not a mutiny, comrade admiral, shouted one sailor. “This is a revolution.” The power vacuum is filled by a desperate scramble in the Duma (Tsarist ‘parliament’) to create a “Provisional Committee” for a Bourgeois Parliament, and by a “Temporary Committee” for a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. Hence the arrival of “dual power” shared by the bourgeoisie in the Provisional Government and the workers in the Soviet!

The revolution can now go nowhere other than forward to victory, or back to defeat. There is no ‘half-way house’. In the months that follow, the struggle for power zig-zags between both classes as the bourgeoisie resist the call for “All Power to the Soviets”. In March, the workers and soldiers have the power but not the leadership to use it effectively. The Bolsheviks are caught off guard. Even Lenin in Switzerland worried he might not live to see the revolution. Workers and soldiers spontaneously demand the formation of a ‘provisional revolutionary government’ along the lines of Lenin’s slogan for a Workers’ Government to carry through the bourgeois revolution.

But the leading Bolsheviks in Russia are not ready for power and prefer that the Soviets support the bourgeois provisional government provided it meets a list of democratic demands. This was the Menshevik position. Soviets would force the Provisional Government to ‘take power’ and go to a Constituent Assembly or bourgeois parliament. Only the soldiers, rejecting the ongoing war, resist handing over their armed power to the bourgeoisie without a fight and demand that the Soviets, not the bourgeoisie, should control the army! Trotsky later refers to this ‘Order No 1 as “a charter of freedom for the revolutionary army”. The Soviets, even the Bolshevik leadership, are lagging behind the revolutionary masses.

The question of the Bolshevik failure of leadership is raised dramatically by Lenin from exile. In early March, he writes a series of “Letters from Afar” proving that despite his absence he was in touch with the masses. These letters re-affirm old positions, most urgently against ‘defence of the fatherland’, as the Provisional Government continues the war. Some Bolsheviks think that the bourgeois republic should defend itself from German imperialism. Lenin points out that ‘revolutionary defencism’ is a crime. Russian imperialism, aligned to French and British imperialism, is engaged in an inter-imperialist war. More ‘shocking’ is Lenin’s total rejection of any support for the bourgeois Government which is on the side of imperialism against the revolutionary masses. The ‘first stage of the revolution will not be its last’. The workers must take power in order to complete the bourgeois revolution. The anti-war mood grows and soldiers are chaffing under the weak Bolshevik policy in the Soviets ‘conciliating’ with the bourgeois-imperialist Provisional Government.

Meanwhile Stalin, Kamenev etc arrive in Petrograd and take-over Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper. On March 15, they condemn the slogan, ‘Down with war’, and argue,

Our slogan is to bring pressure to bear on the Provisional Government so as to compel it to make, without fail, openly and before the eyes of world democracy, and attempt to induce all the warring countries to initiate immediate negotiations to end the world war. Till then let everyone remain at his post.

In case there is any doubt, “post” means, “answering bullet with bullet and shell with shell.”

March ends with another sort of bombshell. Lenin arrives in Petrograd with his famous ‘April Theses’. The Bolshevik ‘old guard’ is lagging behind the revolutionary masses and has to be straightened out. The scenario, of Lenin meeting the welcoming crowds at the Finland Station, is well told. Lenin stuns the conciliating Bolshevik leaders.

What Lenin demanded was continual revolution. He spoke briefly to those present. Scorned ‘watchfulness’ as a position on the Provisional Government. He denounced the Soviet’s ‘revolutionary defencism’ as an instrument of the bourgeoisie. He raged at the lack of Bolshevik ‘discipline’. His comrades listened in stricken silence.

The next day Lenin intervenes at a Bolshevik-Menshevik meeting to discuss unity. He presents his 10-point ‘April Theses’.

Lenin’s April Theses

In summary, Lenin says that:

…for now, the order of the day was to explain the imperative of a struggle to take power from the government, and to replace any parliamentary republic with a ‘Republic of Soviets’.

Mieville vividly describes the reactions all round. Shock, horror, bewilderment, anger, among the leaders, who write off Lenin’s ‘personal opinions’ as ‘anarchism’, ‘schematism’, ‘Blanquism’. They reject Lenin’s new line that the bourgeois revolution can only be completed by going on to the socialist revolution. But when Lenin takes his Theses to the mass meetings of the rank and file workers, soldiers and peasants, his program resonates with the revolutionary masses. They know that the revolution has to be completed, or suffer the counter-revolution. It is socialism or death. Lenin is accused of swallowing Trotsky’s permanent revolution, which, though not mentioned by Mieville, Lenin has defended as far back as 1905.

Between the minimum and the maximum program (of the Social Democrats) a revolutionary continuity is established. It is not a question of a single “blow”, or of a single day or month, but of a whole historical epoch. It would be absurd to try to fix its duration in advance.

The masses are on the march whatever the Bolsheviks say, so Lenin is in fact, marching in step with the masses by fixing the duration of the ‘historical epoch’ in advance, from February to the socialist insurrection. The timing depending on the Bolsheviks winning the majority of workers, soldiers (peasants in uniform) and poor peasants in the Soviet. To prepare for the insurrection the Bolsheviks must gain a majority in the Soviets against the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (SR: the big peasant-socialist party). Despite the bankruptcy of the Provisional Government, and the growing anger of the ranks, the Soviets, under their Menshevik and SR majority continue to collaborate with the prime minister, Kerensky. From May to as long as it takes, the task of those who back Lenin, is to prepare for power, by continually checking the balance of forces so as to judge when the time is ripe for the insurrection.

May and June were months when the impatient masses, particularly the soldiers, wanted to flex their arms and stage demonstrations against the Government. In June, responding to pressure from below, the Bolsheviks boycott the Soviet rally for the Constituent Assembly to ‘finish’ the bourgeois revolution. Instead they ‘test the water’ by organizing protests demanding the end of the Provisional Government.  The result is as huge rally behind banners calling for “Peace! Land! Bread!”.

Sunday’s demonstration, wrote Gorky’s paper, Novaya zhizn, revealed the complete triumph of Bolshevism among the Petersburg Proletariat.

The Bolsheviks then try to restrain further armed demonstrations which the Soviets vow to squash, until they have won the majority in the soviets.

July brings a more serious test of the balance of dual power. Mass protests and street fighting lead to a clamp-down by the Government. The Bolshevik leadership was in jail (notably Trotsky) or in hiding (Lenin in Finland). From July to September, Lenin along with Trotsky in the leadership, continually assess the balance of power to decide the timing of the insurrection. First, in August, the counter-revolutionary coup of General Kornilov is defeated by the revolutionary masses. September sees Lenin in exile constantly badgering the Bolshevik leadership to boycott the ‘compromisers’ attempts to steer the revolution back to the Constituent Assembly and ‘bourgeois democracy’ – the fateful halfway house. Finally, in October the Bolsheviks win a majority of the Soviets and under the ‘legal’ cover of the impending Second Congress of Soviets on the 20th, plan the insurrection. As Trotsky says in Lessons of October, it is the refusal of the Petrograd Garrison to obey Kerensky’s order to go to the front on the 10th of October that kicks-off the armed insurrection, and sets the scene for the “ultimate fate of state power”.


Insurrection builds over weeks, days and hours 

Picking up the Mieville’s story in the month October, the pace of the revolution speeds up, and events are counted in weeks, then days, and finally, approaching the 25th and the Second Congress of Soviets, hours. As Trotsky says of that time: events are “measured not by the long yardstick of politics, but the short yardstick of war.”  The Bolsheviks always judge events in terms of the impact of class struggle on a revolutionary situation. Events rush forward and come to a climax as they are forced to a head-to-head of the two classes in a fight to the death. Dual power now reaches a stalemate and can only be broken by proletarian revolution or bourgeois counter-revolution.

As the climax builds during October, events are driven by the approaching war and the militancy of the masses, impatient for peace, land and bread. The Bolshevik Central Committee (CC) fails to keep pace with the masses, while the Mensheviks and SRs scheme to draw the Soviets into a Pre-Parliament as a precursor to the Constituent Assembly. Meanwhile, chaos reigned as the Germans threaten Petrograd and the counter-revolution builds. Lenin in hiding, fumes at the inaction. It is time for deeds not words. On September 29 comes what Mieville calls the “bombshell.” Lenin sends a ‘declaration of war’ to the Bolshevik Central Committee and tenders his resignation from the CC.

In view of the fact that the CC has even left unanswered the persistent demands I have been making for such a policy [take power now!] ever since the beginning of the Democratic Conference, in view of the fact that the central organ [Pravda] is deleting from my articles all references to such glaring errors on the part of the Bolsheviks…I am compelled to regard this as a subtle hint that I should keep my mouth shut, and as a proposal for me to retire. I am compelled to tender my resignation from the Central Committee, which I hereby do, reserving for myself freedom to campaign among the rank and file of the party at the Party Congress.

No response. On October 1 Lenin sends another message, this time including the Executives of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. He weighs up the situation. The peasants and workers are rising up, there are mutinies in the German ranks, while growing support for the Bolsheviks gives them a mandate. Therefore, the postponement of the insurrection to the 2nd Congress of Soviets is “positively criminal”. The Moscow and Petrograd committees get the message despite the efforts of the CC. They do not endorse Lenin’s demand for immediate insurrection, though in Petrograd, they agree to take action to strengthen the Bolsheviks military preparations.

While the CC is determined to risk waiting for the 2nd Congress they are being pressured by the Bolshevik ranks to boycott the Pre-parliament as a counter-revolutionary threat to the insurrection. This mass pressure is inflamed on 7 October by the order of Kerensky’s Chief of Staff, General Polkovnikov, to transfer a large part of the Petrograd garrison to the front, now fast approaching the city. That night the Pre-Parliament re-convenes. On the previous day the Bolshevik CC had voted for a boycott. Trotsky stands up to make an “emergency” statement. “Petrograd is in danger, All power to the Soviets. All land to the people!” In the commotion that followed, 53 Bolsheviks rose as one and walked out.  That same night, Lenin returned to Petrograd.

Military Revolutionary Committee formed

October 9, the Petrograd Soviet meets. The Menshevik Broido moves to prepare for the garrison to transfer to the front as a compromise with the Provisional Government. Trotsky responds with a damning rejection of compromise. “Down with Kerensky”, for immediate peace and soviet power, calling on the garrison to prepare for battle against both Germans and the Kornilovites. When the motion is put to a packed plenum of workers’ and soldiers’ delegates Trotsky prevails and the Soviet gives its blessing to the formation of the Military Revolutionary Committee to prepare for the insurrection. Mieville says that Trotsky later refers to this decision as the ‘silent’ revolution. But Trotsky is more forthcoming in Lessons of October:

From the moment when we, as the Petrograd Soviet invalidated Kerensky’s order transferring two-thirds of the garrison to the front, we actually entered a state of armed insurrection. Lenin who was not in Petrograd, could not appraise the full significance of this fact. So far as I remember there is no mention of it in all his letters during this period. Yet the outcome of the insurrection of 25 October was at least three-quarters settled, if not more, the moment that we opposed the transfer of the Petrograd garrison; created the MRC (16 October); appointed out own commissars in all army divisions and institutions; and thereby completely isolated not only the general staff of the Petrograd zone, but also the Government. [Italics ours]

As of 9 October, however, the majority of Petrograd Bolsheviks are not persuaded that the insurrection should happen before the 2nd Congress. And the CC is in two minds. The next night, 10th October, the CC meets, and Lenin makes his first appearance in Petrograd since July. He argues passionately for immediate insurrection; the peasants and workers are ready and waiting for the Bolsheviks to lead them; the counter-revolution is imminent. Lenin’s resolution: “recognizing that an armed uprising is inevitable and the time fully ripe, the CC instructs all party organisations to be guided accordingly and to consider and decide all practical questions from this viewpoint”, is passed. But no date for the insurrection is set.

The CC’s decision is communicated to Bolshevik workers and soldiers who enthusiastically back the preparation for insurrection. A full session of the Petrograd Soviet on 16 October is convened to confirm the formation of the MRC. Trotsky defends it against angry charges from the Menshevik Broido, that the MRC was a Bolshevik ruse to seize power. Trotsky declares the MRC is an organ of the Soviet, not the Bolsheviks, created to prepare the defence of the revolution from the counter-revolution. The MRC is confirmed by the Soviet.

But the Bolshevik ranks are not yet convinced that an immediate insurrection would prevail. At a Petrograd Committee meeting of delegates from the city, doubts and fears that the revolutionary ranks were not ready come from the Bolshevik Military Organization – a hotbed of militant soldiers and sailors. The meeting votes down an immediate insurrection 11 to 8. In view of this news, the CC is urgently reconvened on the same day. Again, Lenin demands immediate insurrection; the masses are not unready but waiting; they trust the Bolsheviks and demand action not words! The usual objections were raised, all effectively claiming that the workers are not ready. Lenin did not insist on a timeline, while Zinoviev held out for the 2nd Congress (which had been postponed from the 20th to the 25th). Lenin won, 19 for, 4 abstentions and 2 (Kamenev and Zinoviev) against.

Though Lenin had used the threat to resign from the CC and go to the ranks these were an essential aspect of internal party democracy. When Kamenev tenders his resignation from the CC, unlike Lenin, he does not raise his opposition inside the wider party. He breaks party discipline and publishes the CC decision to prepare for revolution in Gorky’s newspaper the next day (17 October):

At the present the instigation of an armed uprising before and independent of the Soviet Congress would be an impermissible and even fatal step for the proletariat and the revolution.

Lenin reacts angrily: “a shocking, damaging transgression of party discipline” and demanded Kamenev’s resignation. The moderates and right of the party leadership fall into line. Larin and Riazanov attack the CC line as “premature”. Stalin objects to Kamenev’s resignation and resigns himself from the editorial board. All these threats of resignation are ignored or rejected by the CC. Chudnovsky reports that the Bolsheviks have no support base on the Southern Front. A meeting of 200 soldier delegates opposes coming out, as does the Peter and Paul Fortress. Stalin exclaims, “our whole position is contradictory!”

In reality the party leadership is split only over the question of timing; whether the urgency of the revolution is outweighed by the ‘legal’ cover of waiting for the 2nd Congress. The real contradiction is that of antagonistic class interests. Those for insurrection (Bolsheviks and Left SRS) represent the proletariat and the poor peasants whom they know are ready and waiting for the right time. Those who want to delay the insurrection on the basis that the ‘workers are not ready’ do so in the hope of winning support in the Soviet for the Constituent Assembly. They (Mensheviks and SRs) represent the utopia of a bourgeois socialist democracy (half way house).

MRC turns words into action

Lenin finds the way to resolve Stalin’s “contradiction” when, on his return to Petrograd, he realizes that the MRC representing the majority of the Soviet, is actually a front for the Bolshevik CC, and the key to the insurrection. It is taking responsibility for organizing and preparing for the seizure of power. While ‘defending’ Petrograd, it is upping the momentum for an insurrection sooner rather than later. On the 20 October the CC endorses the MRC and instructs “all Bolshevik organisations [to] become part of the revolutionary center organized by the Soviet.”

On 21st October, Trotsky opens the MRC Garrison conference. He wins support for a declaration calling on the 2nd Congress to ‘take power’. The Don Cossacks cancel the next day’s procession to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the liberation of Moscow from Napoleon’s occupation and declare that they would oppose the ‘counter-revolution’. At midnight, a MRC delegation meets Polkovnikov and asserts its right to veto Headquarters orders. He refuses – “we won’t recognize your Commissars”. In the early hours of the 2nd the garrison acclaims a MRC resolution to take full responsibility for the defence of Petrograd. “Long live the Garrison!”

Next day, the 22nd, is Petrograd Soviet Day. At mass meetings throughout the city, Bolshevik speakers rally support. Sukhanov reports that Trotsky’s speech: “Petrograd is in danger, workers and soldiers must defend the city”, generates a “mood bordering on ecstasy.”  Meanwhile, the counter-revolution is also building. Polkovnikov orders troops from the Northern front to the city. Kerensky goes for the kill demanding that the MRC reverses its declaration of power “Long Live the Garrison” or face suppression.

23rd October. The MRC appoints its Commissars and declares a veto over all military orders. MRC delegates go to Peter and Paul to win its support. A debate between the Commander, SRs and Mensheviks vs the Bolsheviks goes on from 12 noon to 8pm, changing venues to the Modern Circus, the scene of Trotsky’s most famous 1905 speeches. Finally, a vote is taken on the dance floor; for the MRC move to the left; those against, move to the right. Overwhelming victory! Or is it? Are the soldiers too far ahead of the Soviet leadership and even the ‘moderate’ Bolsheviks who are holding out against jumping immediately from the bourgeois to the socialist revolution? Later that night a pre-congress meeting of Petrograd delegates to the 2nd Congress endorses the MRC role in defence of the Congress. But Menshevik and other delegates demand that the MRC withdraw its “veto” of Headquarters orders, or, be derecognized by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet! The MRC “reverses its declaration” of veto power!! But these are only words, roll on the action.

Early hours of 24th October. As Mieville puts it: “The MRC had blinked. Kerensky struck.”  But a “strange army” of cadets, members of the Women’s Death Battalion, horse artillery, assorted Cossacks, bicycle units and war wounded, is was the best he can offer. The Bolsheviks are aroused from sleep by Trotsky’s call to arms, “Kerensky is on the offensive!” The CC decides to answer attack with counter-attack. The pretext is the clownish smashing of the Bolshevik press by the ‘strange army’ (along with two right-wing presses!) which Trotsky seizes on to justify an armed response “because the Soviet…cannot tolerate suppression of the free word”. But this is a counter-demonstration only, proportionate to Kerensky’s panic jab. Later that day, Trotsky, speaking to the Bolshevik delegates gathering for the 2nd Congress, re-affirms that there will be no insurrection ahead of the Congress, for there is no need to arrest the Government when it is falling itself. “This is defence, comrades. This is defence.”

Meanwhile, Kerensky’s collapsing regime retreats to the Winter Palace. It is surrounded by the guns of the revolution waiting for the order to fire. On the afternoon of the 24th, Headquarters orders all bridges closed except for the Palace Bridge. But by the evening two of the main bridges are back in the hands of the revolution, along with the telegraph office. Yet just down the road on the Nevsky Prospect, middle class burghers promenade unaware a new world in birth. The dual power is wobbling. Lenin is still pushing hard to tip the balance toward immediate revolution. “We must not wait! We may lose everything! …The Government is tottering. It must be given the death blow at all costs.” In whose name? “Let the MRC do it”, he writes in an urgent message.

But the MRC, though controlled by the Bolsheviks, is a Soviet institution and that is not yet controlled by the Bolsheviks. The question of insurrection can be solved only by force of arms on the streets. The Mensheviks and SRs in the moribund Pre-Parliament try to compromise with Kerensky. A ‘Committee of Public Safety’ is formed to remove Kerensky and move toward the CA. At the same time the Left SRs and Bolsheviks are in the streets taking power in easy steps and meeting little resistance. The Pre-parliament’s compromising words dissolve like hot air when armed sailors from Helsingfors take the Telegraph Agency. Then around 9 pm the Pavlovsky Regiment barricades the Troitsky Bridge, and the MRC Commissar in charge, Osvald Dennis incredulously ignores the MRC command to pull down the barricade.

Insurrection Day

Lenin can stand it no longer. He takes off for the Smolny to play an active part in the revolution. He enters around midnight disguised in a wig with his face bandaged, both of which he has to remove before being recognized. But words still try to smother actions in the Soviet. In the All-Russian Executive Committee, the Mensheviks take up the Pre-parliament proposal for a Committee of Public Safety route to the CA.  The Left SRs and the Menshevik-Internationists push for a Soviet Government comprising a socialist coalition (themselves). But now the Reds are also on the move. The urgency of events and Lenin’s constant demands, are forcing the MRC onto the offensive.

Around 2 am, MRC Commissar Dennis is ordered to reinforce the barricade he has refused to remove, and extend that barricade to the grounds of the Winter Palace.  MRC Commissar Faerman leads a party to take the electric power station and cut-off supply to Government buildings. Commissar Kadlubovsky’s squad take the post office. The Sixth Engineers take the Nikolaevsky Station behind the Winter Palace. At 3.30 am the cruiser Aurora appears in the Neva near the Nikolaevsky Bridge just south of the Palace. The Garrison is on alert and more armed Reds are heading for Petrograd from Kronstadt and Finland.

Dawn on the 25th. Revolutionary guards meet no resistance in taking the Engineers’ Palace, the Petrograd State Bank, the main telephone exchange, and in freeing prisoners from the jails. Later that morning the Kronstadt revolutionary sailors set off in a squadron of destroyers and patrol boats decked with the banners of revolution. In the Smolny Lenin hastily drafts a proclamation in the name of the MRC:

To the Citizens of Russia. The Provisional Government has been overthrown. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Military Revolutionary Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison. The cause for which the people have struggled – the immediate proposal of a democratic peace, the elimination of the landlord estates, workers’ control over production, the creation of a soviet government – the triumph of this cause has been assured. Long live the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ revolution!

11 am. As the proclamation is being pasted up all over the city, Kerensky devoid of any military backing, wangles a US embassy car to flee the city.

Mid-day. The Pre-parliament, beloved by the compromisers as the road to the CA, is put out of its misery by revolutionary guards who enter the Mariinsky Palace and order the deputies out onto the street. The Kronstadt forces arrive and the Admiralty and its high command is stormed. By noon the deadline set for taking the Winter Palace is passed. The next deadline 2pm, the scheduled opening of the 2nd Congress is also missed. But the delegates already assembled demand to know what is being done in the Soviet’s name.

At 2.35 pm Trotsky opens an emergency session of the Petrograd Soviet: “On behalf of the Military Revolutionary Committee, I declare that the Provisional Government no longer exists”. Big cheers. More cheers when Lenin appears briefly: “Long live the world socialist revolution!” he exclaims before departing.

The dual power situation has been resolved, but for the task of tidying-up the Ministers of the Kerensky Government. More useless deadlines come and go – 3,4, 6pm. Lenin sends off a barrage of notes to the MRC demanding they finish the job. Without waiting for the order, at 6.15pm, Commissar Blagonravov of the Peter and Paul fortress delivers an ultimatum to the Winter Palace. He gives them 20 mins to surrender or suffer shelling from the Fortress and the Aurora. It turns out that the Peter and Paul guns are deemed unworkable. By 8pm most of the troops defending the Winter Palace are fading away and journalists, like John Reed, and all and sundry, can enter the Palace at will. It is not until 9.40pm that Blagonravov organizes a signal to the Aurora to fire. A resounding blank sets off a long boom.

2nd Congress Opens

The Congress delegates will not suffer further delays. Around 11pm the Second Congress of Soviets is officially opened in the Assembly Hall of the Smolny. While the revolution is being decided on the streets by Red Guards, the Congress continues its class war within. Of a total of 670 delegates, 300 are Bolsheviks; 193 SRs (most of which are Left SRs); 68 Mensheviks and 14 Menshevik-Internationalists. Without the left SRs the Bolsheviks do not have a majority. The Menshevik Dan speaking for the outgoing presidium, immediately attacks the insurrection in the name of the Soviet. A new presidium reflecting the new composition of delegates is elected. 14 Bolsheviks, 7 Left SRs. The Mensheviks refuse to take up their 3 positions. The 1 M-I position is left empty -pending events.  Then from offstage another boom sounds, this time from Peter and Paul, starting  a barrage of live shells and the “endgame” at the Winter Palace.

At the Smolny the Soviet indulges in some theatre of the absurd. Against the sound of gunfire, the Menshevik-Internationalist Martov, calls for a ‘ceasefire’ and a ‘cross-party, united, socialist, government! Who will be in this ‘cross-party’ popular-front SUG? Mensheviks and SRs only? Then the Left SRs and Bolsheviks endorse Martov’s motion. Why not, if victory is imminent, merely waiting on the arrest of the Govt Ministers? The victory of the revolution will determine who is in the Soviet Government. Support for the motion is unanimous. Then as the guns boom on, reality intrudes upon the theatre.

The Duma [parliament] is split between the pro-Government Kadets, Mensheviks, and Right SRs marching to defend the Winter Palace, and the Bolsheviks and Left SRs marching to join the Soviet. In the Smolny the Mensheviks in the Congress arouse themselves.

A criminal political venture has been going on behind the back of the All-Russian Congress … The Mensheviks and SRs repudiate all that is going on here, and stubbornly resist all attempts to seize the government.

When they hear of the Duma decision from the arriving Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks and SRs call for the Soviet to join the march to the Winter Palace. The left mocks and condemns them. They then act on their words and leave the Soviet and the fate of the SUG to the Bolsheviks and Left SRs. Now there is a true Soviet majority of workers, soldiers and poor peasants.

Then Martov (leader of the M-I) who has stayed behind, criticizes the Bolsheviks for anticipating the vote of Congress and moves again for his half-way house SUG. Trotsky responds:

A rising of the masses of the people requires no justification. What has happened is an insurrection, and not a conspiracy. We hardened the revolutionary energy of the Petersburg workers and soldiers. We openly forged the will of the masses for and insurrection, and not a conspiracy. The masses of the people followed our banner and our insurrection was victorious. And now we are told: renounce your victory, make concessions, compromise. With whom? I ask: with who ought we to compromise? With those wretched groups which have left us or who are making this proposal? But after all we’ve had a full view of them. No one in Russia is with them any longer. A compromise is supposed to be made, as between two equal sides, by the millions of workers and peasants represented by this congress, whom they are ready, not for the first time or the last, to barter away as the bourgeoisie sees fit. No, here no compromise is possible. To those who have left and to those who tell us to do this we must say: you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out. Go where you ought to go: into the dustbin of history!

Martov, amid overwhelming applause and cheering, utters a curse, “one day you will understand the crime in which you are taking part”, and leaves in search of his dustbin. The Left SRs are not yet ready to join the other SRs in their dustbin. But when they try to revive Martov’s ‘compromise’ proposal arguing that the Bolsheviks do not represent the majority of the peasantry nor the army, they come up against the Bolshevik majority in the Soviet. The Bolshevik reply is brief and pointed: how do you compromise with those who walked out of the Soviet?

2am, 26th October. The Winter Palace, the dustbin of Tsarism and now of the Provisional Government, falls over itself. The Bolshevik Antonov leads the MRC Red Guards to arrest the remaining few members of the Kerensky cabinet, then escorts them to the safety of confinement in the Peter and Paul. The news reaches the Soviet at 3am. An anti-climax, compounded by the continued comic opera of the semi-exiled M-I’s reviving their pathetic demand for a SUG to include the ‘compromisers’. The fitting finale of the Second Congress is being orchestrated by Lenin from elsewhere in the Smolny. He drafts a resolution declaring victory to the Revolutionary Government:

“To all Workers and Peasants”. The revolution will deliver peace, land, bread and national self-determination. But not unless all attempts at armed counter-revolution are defeated. “Soldiers, Workers, Employees! The fate of the revolution and democratic peace is in your hands!” At 5am the resolution becomes the ‘will’ of the Soviet and the dawn breaks to welcome a new Government, the first workers’ state, and a new society. Yet all remain precarious until the counter-revolution is defeated.


Epilogue: After October

The October insurrection was not the end of the story but the beginning. For Lenin the insurrection was the easy part; building socialism was the hard task. At the victorious Second Congress, late on the 26th, Lenin declares: “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.” The first steps are to nationalize the land and stop the war. “But” says Mieville:

the war is not ended, and the order that will be constructed is anything but socialist. Instead the months and years that follow will see the revolution embattled, assailed, isolated, ossified, broken. We know where this is going: purges, gulags, starvation, mass murder. October is still ground zero for arguments about fundamental, radical social change. Its degradation was not a given, was not written in the stars.

Mieville doesn’t go far beyond October to assess the historic impact of the revolution and its fate, other than to rehearse the main reservations about its success.

The story of the hopes, struggles, strains and defeats that follow 1917 has been told begore and will be again. That story, and above all the questions arising from it – the urgencies of change, or how change is possible, of the dangers that will beset it – stretch vastly beyond us. These last pages can only offer a fleeting glance.

Here Mieville’s strength as a story teller comes undone as he rehearses a familiar list of arguments but without a full balance sheet of all the forces that determined the outcome of the revolution. True, ‘lessons’ are beyond the brief of the ‘story’ of October, but since it ventures forth in that direction, we need to critique its shortcomings, to re-affirm the ‘lessons’ we take from October for today.

Did the Bolsheviks hijack the revolution to create a one-party state?

Mieville is concerned about the ‘hard-line’ that the Bolsheviks should form a ‘one-party’ state.

The pro-coalition All-Russian Executive Committee of the Union of Railway Workers demands a government of all socialist groups. Neither Lenin nor Trotsky, both hard-line on the question, attend the resulting conference: those Bolsheviks who do – Kamenev, Zinoviev and Milyutin – agree that a socialist coalition is the best chance for survival.

Why are Lenin and Trotsky “hard-line” on this question? ‘Socialism’ since Marx’s time is not unique to the proletariat. Bourgeois and petty bourgeois ‘socialism’ is not the same as proletarian ‘socialism’. It depends which class benefits from that ‘socialism’. The Bolsheviks were the only party representing the vanguard of the proletariat. The Mensheviks represented moderate workers and petty bourgeois whose internationalism fell well short of a proletarian revolution to overthrow the Provisional Government and stop the war.

Mieville chides the Left Mensheviks for walking out of the Soviets and handing the majority to the Bolsheviks and Left SRs. He says:

The Left Mensheviks, committed anti-war internationalists, have a case to answer, with their walkout in October 1917. Coming straight after the congress voted for coalition, this decision shocked and upset even some of those who went along with it. ‘I was thunderstruck,’ said Sukhanov, of an action he never ceased to regret. ‘No one contested the legality of the congress… [This action] meant a formal break with the masses and the revolution.

Mieville is misleading himself and his readers if he thinks that the Left Mensheviks who stood for a ‘socialist coalition’ in the Constituent Assembly could complete the bourgeois revolution and win peace, land and bread in the face of imperialist war and threat of invasion. At the first test, they could not even fight to defend their majority in the Soviet, and walked out at the critical point, “isolating themselves from the masses and the Revolution”. They wrote themselves off as a revolutionary force. Their better members became Bolsheviks. Their worst became enemies of the revolution.

The closest the Soviet Government came to being a ‘socialist coalition’ was in early 1918. In January the Left SRs (who had split with the Right SRs) joined with the Bolsheviks in the new Soviet Government. This was a socialist coalition of poor peasants, soldiers and workers. Together they closed down the CA dominated by the SRs representing petty bourgeois peasants who opposed the revolution. That is why Lenin asked the Cossacks to close down the CA to test their support for the revolution. Then in March the Left SRs resigned from the government because they opposed signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. They wanted to continue the ‘revolutionary war’ to defend the new workers and peasants state.

Why did the Left SRs and the Bolsheviks fall out of this treaty? Representing poor peasants and soldiers, the Left SRs were exposed to the reactionary position of the peasantry in general whose world view was limited to private land ownership. The Left SRs saw fighting Germany as the necessary defence of their national class interests. ‘Peace’, land and bread could only be defended by victory over the imperialist invader. On the other hand, the proletariat (workers who are active in class struggle) and the vanguard Party which represents its universal and historic class interests (a la Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto) do not see the revolution in national isolation. The defence of the new workers state had to be subordinated to the interests of the international proletariat.

For until the world socialist revolution breaks out, until it embraces several countries and is strong enough to overcome international imperialism, it is the direct duty of the socialists who have conquered in one country (especially a backward one) not to accept battle against the giants of imperialism. Their duty is to try to avoid battle, to wait until the conflicts between the imperialists weaken them even more, and bring the revolution in other countries even nearer. Lenin in “Left-wing” Childishness, May, 1918.

The Bolsheviks were divided (what’s new?) with some siding with the Left SRs. Lenin and Trotsky argued for a negotiated peace to stop the destruction of Russians resources needed to build socialism. The ‘revolutionary war’ would lead to the destruction of the revolution. Trotsky argued for peace negotiations to gain time to allow workers and soldiers in the warring imperialist countries to strike and mutiny and make their own revolutions. Critical time was needed to build Bolshevik parties in these countries to win workers from the treacherous social democrats and Kautsky’s centrist United Socialists.  Ultimately, the Bolshevik leadership approached the question of peace as reducing the impact of the war on the ability of Soviet Russia to extend the revolution internationally. But in the event this effort fell short of the end of the war by some months and the German invasion of the Ukraine forced the Soviet Government to sign the Treaty on March 3rd.

The civil war followed immediately in May and the Left SRs then turned on the Bolsheviks over peasant resistance to state requisitions to feed the revolution. Was deserting the revolution rather than feeding it justified? In July the Left SRs assassinate several leading Bolsheviks and in August make an attempt on the life of Lenin. There was no prospect of restoring a ‘socialist coalition’ across the clear class line now drawn between those who fought to defend the revolution and those who sided with the counter-revolutionary attack on the Bolsheviks.

At every point where the fate of the revolution is in the balance the Bolsheviks prove themselves able to mobilise the masses to defend the revolution. Those who claim to represent workers but who turn their backs on the revolution cannot then whine that they were ‘hijacked’ by a one-party Bolshevik state.

The question of whether an isolated, backward, soviet Russia could have avoided ‘state capitalism’ is answered by Lenin well before the revolution. Replying to the charges in the Left Communist journal Kommunist in May, 1918, that the Bolsheviks are betraying the revolution by going back to ‘state capitalism’, Lenin writes:

It has not occurred to them [Left Communists] that state capitalism would be a step forward as compared with the present state of affairs in our Soviet Republic … It is not state capitalism that is at war with socialism, but the petty bourgeoisie plus private capitalism fighting together against both state capitalism and socialism. The petty bourgeoisie oppose every kind of state interference, accounting and control, whether it be state capitalist or state socialist. “Left-Wing” Childishness

In order to make the ‘transition’ from capitalism and socialism Russia needs state capitalism to develop the forces of production to prepare for socialism. This requires state ‘interference’ – hiring capitalist owners, appointing ‘one-man’ managers etc to direct production in industry. Then after the failure of the German revolution, it was necessary to ‘retreat’ to the NEP. The peasants dream of becoming rich had to be harnessed to increase productivity on the land to feed the industrial workers who were building socialism. Without ‘peace’ there was no possibility of developing the land – nationalised by the revolution – and providing ‘bread’. Hence ‘war communism’ was part of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ necessary to mobilise the forces of production to defend the revolution. Without it, the new workers and peasants’ state would have been further decimated by war and starved into submission.

Was Russia ready for revolution?

Was the revolution “historically necessary”? Mieville says that by October 1918 the Mensheviks come around to this position. In fact, it was only a few ‘internationalist’ Mensheviks wanting to rejoin the Soviet Government to fight the civil war and influence the outcome. Their object was to increase the pressure on the Bolsheviks from within to steer the revolution back to the bourgeois Constituent Assembly.

Meanwhile, the majority of Mensheviks remained hostile to the Government and sided openly with the imperialist counter-revolution. They claimed that the Bolsheviks had hijacked the bourgeois revolution by excluding all non-Bolshevik parties from the Soviet government. They fought on the side of the Whites in the Civil War 1918-1920. When in 1921 the Kronstadt garrison rebelled against the Bolsheviks and declared for the Constituent Assembly –  without the Bolsheviks – they were on the side of the rebels. Clearly, the Mensheviks were hostile to the bourgeois revolution ‘going over’ immediately to socialist revolution (permanent revolution) and sought to replace the Soviet Government with the Constituent Assembly (halfway house).

Did Lenin think the socialist revolution was ‘historically necessary’? Of course. Without Soviet power the bourgeois revolution would have fallen to the counter-revolution. But Mieville states wrongly that: “Lenin startlingly claims as ‘incontrovertible’ that Russia had not been ‘ready for revolution’”.

In fact, Lenin is not referring to ‘revolution’ but ‘socialism’. Lenin is stating that Russia is ready for socialist revolution, because the bourgeoisie are too weak to overcome the fact that “the objective premises for socialism do not exist in our country”. He actually says:

The development of the productive forces of Russia has not attained the level that makes socialism possible. All the heroes of the Second International, including, of course Sukhanov, beat the drums about this proposition. They keep harping on this incontrovertible proposition in a thousand different keys, and think that it is the decisive criterion of our revolution. (emphasis ours) Our Revolution, 1923.

Here, Lenin is merely repeating the position that the Bolsheviks have held for a decade. The overthrow of the Tsar would bring the bourgeoisie to power, but they would be incapable of completing the bourgeois revolution to create the conditions for socialism. This was the historic task of the proletariat. The Mensheviks refused to accept that the bourgeoisie could not play this role and would inevitably acted as a prop for this counter-revolutionary class. This explains their class-collaboration with the bourgeoisie to ‘push it leftwards’.

The Bolsheviks, however, knew that the bourgeois revolution must be completed by the working class by means of the proletarian revolution (land reform, national self-determination, peace).  From as early as 1905, despite other differences, Lenin (uninterrupted revolution) and Trotsky (permanent revolution) understood this continuous revolution to be necessary. How long this transition would take (‘a whole historic epoch’) would be decided by the class struggle under the specific concrete conditions. The proletariat would take over the historic role of the bourgeoisie, and leading the peasantry would set up a ‘democratic dictatorship’. However, after the February revolution, the Bolshevik leadership in Russia, notably Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev, interpreted this to mean the proletariat leading the bourgeoisie in a ‘socialist coalition’ in the Provisional Government.

Lenin’s return in April junked any compromise between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (which also included capitalist peasants). This would be a treacherous popular front with the class enemy that was too weak to rule except in alliance with the Tsarist restorationists and foreign imperialism.  It was necessary that the proletariat, leading the poor peasants, would take power from the craven bourgeoisie, declare peace, and force-march the development of state capitalism. April’s slogan “All power to the soviets” became October’s, “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.”

Misreading Lenin

As if the ‘uninterrupted’ or ‘permanent’ revolution was not part of the Bolshevik program for over a decade, Mieville interprets Lenin’s clear explanation of this necessary act as a subjective adventure in a ‘hopeless situation’.

He [Lenin] wonders pugnaciously, however, whether a people ‘influenced by the hopelessness of the situation’ could be blamed for ‘fling[ing] itself into a struggle that would offer it as least some chance of securing conditions for the further development of civilization that were somewhat unusual’.

Mieville agrees that:

Russia had no choice but to act, on the chance that in so doing they might alter the very parameters of the situation. That things might thereby improve. The party’s shift after Lenin’s death, from that plaintive, embattled sense that there had been little alternative but to strive in imperfect conditions, to the hope of Socialism in One Country, is a baleful result of recasting necessity as virtue.

This interpretation misreads history seriously. The Bolshevik’s program did not leave things to “chance” or “hope”. As Marxists they understood what they were up against and the prospects for success. They were on the side of history against all those who sought to destroy the revolution internally and externally. If they failed to ‘construct the socialist order’, it was not because of anything that the Bolsheviks did, or failed to do, despite many errors and mistakes as Lenin always acknowledged. It was because the enemies of the proletariat in the working class and petty bourgeois conspired with the bourgeoisie and the surviving feudal ruling class to smash the European revolutions that could have rescued the ‘embattled’ Russian Revolution.

Here’s the full passage Mieville cites from Our Revolution above:

But what if the situation, which drew Russia into the imperialist war that involved every more or less influential West-European country and made her a witness of the eve of the revolution maturing or partly already begun in the East, gave rise to circumstances that put Russia and her development in a position which enabled us to achieve precisely that combination of a “peasant war” with the working-class movement suggested in 1856 by no less a Marxist than Marx himself as a possible prospect for Prussia?

What if the complete hopelessness of the situation, by stimulating the efforts of workers and peasants tenfold, offered us the opportunity to create the fundamental requisites of civilization in a different way from that of the West-European countries? Has that altered the basic relations between the basic classes of all the countries that are being, or have been, drawn into the general course of world history?

If a definite level of culture is required for the building of socialism (although nobody can say just what that definite “level of culture” is, for it differs in every West-European country), why cannot we begin by first achieving the prerequisites for that definite level of culture in a revolutionary way, and then, with the aid of the workers’ and peasants’ government and the Soviet system, proceed to overtake other nations? (emphasis ours).

Here Lenin, in replying to the Menshevik Sukhanov, is directing his remarks to all the “petty bourgeois democrats” who are stuck in the old dogma that Russia is “not yet ripe for socialism”. There is nothing ‘plaintive’, or unexpected, about the prospect of having a proletarian revolution in Russia to advance the ‘culture’ of Europe where the revolution has been aborted by the treacherous betrayal of social democracy. It could have been taken directly from Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto where they argue that communists represent both the historic and international interests of the proletariat. If the Bolsheviks were ‘embattled’ this was following an imperialist invasion and occupation of parts of Russia during the civil war which laid waste to large tracts of the country. Meanwhile, the ‘cultured’ European petty bourgeois democrats, and their Russian counterparts, taking advantage of their bourgeois freedoms, did nothing, or actively conspired against the revolution as ‘premature’.

Talking of ‘civilization’ and ‘culture’ Lenin means that capitalism and its culture is the high point of civilization – so far. But this culture is ‘ruling class culture’ which will inevitably destroy the gains of capitalist civilization unless overthrown and replaced by a ‘proletarian culture’. The proletarian culture represents its class interests and is expressed scientifically by the Marxist method – dialectics. Lenin rips into the petty bourgeois democrats. They are ‘faint-hearted pedants’, have failed to understand ‘revolutionary dialectics’, are ‘cowardly reformists’, and cannot understand that the West-European path of development is not the only road to revolution. They refuse to understand that backward countries dominated by the European ruling classes do not have the luxury of realizing socialism unless they declare independence from imperialism and from social-imperialist fake socialists!

You say that civilization is necessary for the building of socialism. Very good. But why could we not first create such prerequisites of civilization in our country as the expulsion of the landowners and the Russian capitalists, and then start moving towards socialism? Where, in what books, have you read that such variations of the customary sequence of events are impermissible or impossible? Napoleon, I think, wrote: “On s’engage et puis…on voit.” Freely rendered this means: “First engage in a serious battle and then see what happens.” Well, we did first engage in a serious battle in October 1917, and then saw such details of development (from the standpoint of world history they were certainly details) as the Brest Peace, New Economic Policy, and so forth. And now there can be no doubt that in the main we have been victorious. (emphasis ours) Our Revolution.


Conclusion: October Today

At the time Lenin wrote Our Revolution, in January 1923, the situation was difficult but not ‘hopeless’. Capitalism in its imperialist ‘final stage’ had exhausted its ‘historic mission’ to prepare the way for socialism and was destroying the forces of production including the lives of millions of workers. The war had mobilized armed workers in the struggle to re-partition the world but this had created the objective conditions for proletarian revolution. All that was needed to turn this revolutionary situation into victorious revolution was the class-conscious proletariat and a vanguard party to lead it. The German revolution had been betrayed by social democracy, yet failed ultimately because there was no Bolshevik-type mass party capable of leading it to victory. The result was that the European proletariat was now confronted with a rising fascist movement.

The Russian Revolution had survived the civil war but at a huge cost. The revolutionary proletariat was weakened, Lenin was on his sickbed, and Stalin was moving to concentrate power in the bureaucracy. But there was not the slightest suggestion that Lenin was viewing the situation in Russia as more than a ‘tactical retreat’ (NEP) necessary to construct the socialist order, nor his view of the upwards trajectory of the international revolution. Towards the end of his life, Lenin began to turn to the East for new revolutions that would follow Russia’s lead. In his ‘Last Will and Testament’ he called on Trotsky to remove Stalin and the bureaucracy from power and re-arm the revolution in the cause of international revolution.

Against all his detractors who paint Lenin as an authoritarian, or even ‘dictator’, who substitutes his ‘will’ for that of the proletariat, the party even, Trotsky, in Lessons of October, sums up Lenin’s role in forcing the pace of revolution with his constant interventions, particular the letters from exile he bombards the CC with:

All these letters, every sentence of which was forged on the anvil of revolution, are of exceptional value in that they serve both to characterize Lenin and to provide an estimate of the situation at the time. The basic and all-pervasive thought expressed in them is – anger, protest, and indignation against a fatalistic, temporizing, social democratic, Menshevik attitude to revolution, as if the latter were an endless film … When things have reached the point of armed insurrection, events are to be measured not by the long yardstick of politics, but b6 the short yardstick of war. To lose several weeks, several days, and sometimes a single day, is tantamount under certain conditions to the surrender of the revolution, to capitulation. Had Lenin not sounded the alarm, had there not been all this pressure and criticism on his part, had it not been for his intense and passionate revolutionary mistrust, the party would probably have failed to align its front at the decisive moment, for the opposition among the party leaders was very strong, and the staff plays a major role in all wars, including civil wars. (Our emphasis)

Mieville’s ‘strange story’ is well told, but his interpretation of events is limited by his inclination to attribute “failures and crimes” to the Bolsheviks (and in particular Lenin) who took responsibility for that revolution, rather than those global players who worked to destroy it, and sought to excuse their own marginal or counter-revolutionary role. Yet as we have argued here, the Bolsheviks could not be ‘blamed’ for the ‘one-party’ state without putting bourgeois democracy ahead of proletarian democracy. For that ‘one party’ was the only one that represented the ‘historical’ and ‘international’ interests of the revolutionary class – the proletariat.

The construction of socialism in Russia always depended on a victorious German revolution, betrayed by the petty bourgeois ‘culture’ of social-democracy in league with fascists. ‘State capitalism’ was not a betrayal of the revolution but a Marxist grasp on the reality that a Workers State in a backward country must take advantage of the latest technical developments of capitalist production to create the pre-conditions for socialism. The Bolsheviks were not to blame for the mistakes and shortcomings of the revolution. We put that blame where it belongs, on the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois counter-revolutionaries.

Without the Bolsheviks, and without Lenin, there would have been no socialist revolution. Russia would have become a semi-colony of France and Britain, and there would be no ‘lessons of the October’ to inspire and guide revolutionaries for another century towards the only solution for the survival of civilization, the international socialist revolution. The main lesson that we must take from October, today, is to promote Marxism and build the Bolshevik party and program as our guide in making that global revolution.

Written by raved

October 23, 2017 at 7:10 am

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Grupo de Trabalhadores Revolucionários

“Os comunistas desdenham de ocultar suas visões e objetivos. Eles abertamente declaram que seus objetivos só podem ser alcançados pelo derrubamento à força das condições sociais existentes. Que a classe dominante trema perante a Revolução Comunista! O proletariado nada tem a perder além de suas correntes. Tem um mundo a ganhar.” Manifesto Comunista

Lenin ou Kautsky?

Hoje nós vivenciamos um retrocesso/recuo massivo do Leninismo na esquerda. Sob o ataque vindo da crise mundial, a classe trabalhadora e os oprimidos movem-se para a esquerda em oposição aos seus efeitos – austeridade, precarização, desemprego massivo e repressão política – lançando-se a Primavera Árabe, manifestações, ocupações e lutas armadas contra os ditadores burgueses. As massas estão famintas por ideias de como desafiar e vencer o capitalismo. Mas ainda não há um partido revolucionário de massas para tanto. A esquerda revolucionária move-se no sentido de apresentar essa direção.

No entanto, essa esquerda tem medo…

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Written by raved

August 9, 2017 at 2:16 am

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