Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mushrooms from a blasted stump: what "Line of March" can tell us today

Marxist Internet Archives' Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line continues to post useful and fascinating magazines, journals, and broadsides from the heyday of the New Communist Movement in the United States and Western Europe.  They have also posted earlier pro-Stalin materials from struggles against such long-forgotten revisers as Earl Browder and Nikita Khrushchev. 

Of course "anti-revisionism" in this sense is another word for full-throated and red-blooded Stalinism, both programmatically and organizationally.  Others might dispute this use of nomenclature, and might point out that anti-revisionism was the banner of Lenin against Bernstein and Kautsky, of Trotsky against Kautsky and Stalin, of Jack Barnes against Ernest Mandel and Livio Maitan.  But for the purposes of these notes, we will present anti-revisionism as Line of March explained it: neither Moscow or Peking or Tirana.

Marxists usually have more than a merely spectatorial interest in old journals, newspapers, and books of our fraction of the international labor movement.  We try, whenever possible, to "check" ourselves against our forebears: dialectical materialism is, after all, the supreme ontological and epistemological science that it is because [among other advantages] it acknowledges all aspects of evolution in their historical contexts, whether they be in the realms of natural, social, or psychological reality.

In reading Line of March's 1980 "Marxism and the Crisis of Imperialism", I tried to cull what I could that seemed apropos for today and bracket it as I read the entire article.  The remainder [Gang of Four, CWP, CP-ML, CPSU, CPC, Three Worlds Theory, CPUSA] I read with interest and some agreement, but left behind.  These once life and death issues for the Leninist vanguard, particular manifestations of bourgeois and petty bourgeois reality within the labor movement, are behind us, and positions once taken on them are no longer of any moment for those building the communist movement today.

I have also left on the editing bench Line of March's summation of what they call Trotskyism.  Whatever else might be said of the article's authors, they never read Trotsky with anything approaching seriousness, and their formulations rely on some rather musty Short Course cliches.  One such cliche, that Trotskyists are inveterate splitters and small-group factionalist sharpies, comes across as rather humorous after previous pages retailing the perfidies of groups like CPUSA, CP-ML, RCP, and a whole alphabet soup of once-important Ruritanian entities.
Perhaps other readers will agree with me that many of the summations of anarchism and the ideological undergirdings of the New Left bear a striking consonance with some quasi-anarchist elements in #ows.  Line of March's delineation of this trend in the imperialist counties is very helpful.  And while the entire article takes controversies in the living struggle of the working class movement and reduces them to a question of ideological rectification, I encourage every Marxist Update reader to study the entire document.  It is time well-spent.
A few excerpts:
The collapse of any social order inevitably is presaged by the failure of its normalizing institutions to command their accustomed ideological authority. All long-held values, titles, signs of respect, moral codes and norms of behavior are suddenly called into question. Uncertainty replaces "truth." Chaos replaces order. The glaring gap between the ways in which the great masses of the people live their lives and the style of life to which the rich and powerful have become accustomed stands out in sharp relief as a commentary on what is more generally perceived to be an unjust social arrangement.
At the root of this phenomenon is the maturation of those fundamental contradictions inherent in society's mode of production which have now ripened to the point where the prevailing relations of production stand in opposition to and indeed retard the further development of the forces of production.
Increasingly, the masses of people express their discontent with the prevailing order of things–even when the alternatives are neither apparent nor yet deemed acceptable. Increasingly, the rulers of society conduct their affairs with a sense of desperation about their ability to control the course of events or their prospects in the future. Identifying their own fortunes with those of humanity in general, and identifying the glimmerings of their own demise with the triumph of barbarism, the masters develop an apocalyptic vision of their own agonies. As the Wall Street Journal so succinctly put it not long ago while contemplating the developing dilemmas of imperialism, there is a "general collapse of established values and conventions of conduct; throughout the world, civilization is receding before our eyes". Did not the masters of the Roman Empire view their own decline in a similar fashion?
But the ideological dislocations which daily erode the norms of accepted values and behavior are merely the orchestration for agonies with a more material base. The irrationality of society's economic order daily becomes more apparent and with that development there is an erosion in the perceived legitimacy of society's political institutions.
A revolutionary age has an additional character to it, however. Those forces capable of resolving the perceived contradictions are already on the stage of history. The old order is dying, but not by attrition alone. It is hastened on its way by the revolutionary self-actualization of those classes and forces whose destiny flows out of the very contradictions which have called them into being. It is a time for choices, a time in which "neutrality" and its ideological partners, cynicism and skepticism, have the objective effect of reinforcing the old social order.
A revolutionary age is, as Charles Dickens noted, "The best of times and the worst of times." Can we not say the same of our own age?
this enormous growth in industry and concentration of capital has done nothing to alleviate the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist mode of production. In fact, that contradiction–between socialized production and private appropriation–has intensified as capitalism has completed its journeys over the face of the earth and introduced its relations of production and appropriation with all its brutalizing ramifications for the producing masses everywhere that it has settled.
In Marx's time, the first communists could see that capitalism was begetting its own grave-diggers–the proletariat. But as capitalism assumed its world-wide imperialist character, the overwhelming majority of humanity was drawn into the struggle to eliminate this system of massive exploitation and brutal oppression on a world scale.
The masses of oppressed and exploited peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America joined the proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries as the gravediggers of capitalism. That profound slogan, "Workers of All Countries, Unite!" was extended in accuracy and power to "Workers of All Countries and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!"
The twentieth century was ushered in as the age of imperialism, summed up by Lenin as capitalism at its "highest stage"–and also its "moribund" stage. In those early years of the century imperialism seemed an invincible force. The capitalist powers dominated the planet in a manner far beyond the wildest imaginings of an Alexander, a Caesar or a Napoleon. Well-equipped armies numbering in the millions were available to fight their wars of conquest and rivalry, goaded by the demands of the market place, capitalist industry, science and technology almost daily, it seemed, burst asunder barriers which had existed since the beginning of recorded time.
But every "advance" recorded by imperialism simultaneously hastened the day of its own destruction. In 1914, the inherent anarchy and irrationality of imperialism engulfed the world in a war whose carnage eclipsed the entire previous history of warfare. In four years, the insatiable drive for profit which is the inexorable heartbeat of the imperialist system wasted tens of millions of lives and destroyed accumulated wealth beyond counting.
And in 1917, the working class of Tsarist Russia rose up and carried out a revolution, announcing with a living manifesto that the reign of plunder of the bourgeoisie was coming to an end.
Unless those defending Marxism-Leninism root themselves in the real world of political practice, they will fall into idealism and consequently will be organizing new parties and new movements at the drop of an opinion. Furthermore, they will isolate themselves from all those who may not yet be convinced of their arguments so long as they remain in the realm of theory and can only be won over as the theory manifests itself in actual social practice.
The rise of anarchism internationally, particularly among the student youth in the major imperialist countries, can be tied directly to the intensifying crisis of imperialism and the political vacuum created by the degeneration of the revisionist parties. The "New Left" in the US and its variants in France, Germany, Italy and Holland, for instance, gained legitimacy as the result of their militancy in opposing imperialism at a time when the revisionist parties were being discredited by their blatant reformism and subservience to the Soviet Union. In the US, the "New Left" threw itself into the struggle against racism and the US war in Vietnam with a vigor and thoroughness that served to underscore the cowardly tailism of the CPUSA.
This movement reached a crescendo in 1968 when student militancy linked up with worker dissatisfaction in western Europe and when the mass anti-war and anti-racist movements in the US had become the sharpest expressions of class struggle.
By and large, the "New Left" was student-based and of petty bourgeois class origin. In itself, however, this was not the problem. Historically there have been many political movements of similar origins which have been won to and guided by Marxism, and at its peak the "New Left" did make some important contributions to the class struggle. But the ingrained class values of the "New Left" did become a major problem and ultimately the source of its "left" political deviation in the absence of a leading Marxist-Leninist line and a genuine vanguard party. For without such a line and party, the inevitable gravitation of these forces toward Marxism resulted in the grab bag of superficially-digested Marxist theory and anarchist prejudice which came to characterize that section of the "New Left" which linked up with the communist movement. Herein rests one of the major betrayals of revisionism; that its surrender of the revolutionary essence of Marxism left a whole generation of revolutionaries leaderless and opened the doors of the international communist movement to a substantial reintroduction of anarchist tendencies.
the rectification of the parties' ideological and political lines will take place outside existing organizations and express itself in the reestablishment of genuine parties. This is the precise situation of the US communist movement.
The anti-monopoly coalition is a blatant trivialization of the tasks before the US working class. To maintain some semblance of internal logic, it must abandon the Leninist theory of the state, Lenin's analysis of imperialism, the principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the political education and training of the working class. The CPUSA has not hesitated to see its thesis through to its logical conclusion, declaring: "We advocate social change by peaceful means, through political institutions and people's organizations within the American constitutional framework."
Naturally, this gradualist vision of the transition to socialism raises certain other troubling questions, such as how it may be possible for capitalism to enter into a "democratic" period in which, within the prevailing relations of production, the mighty wealth of capital is being used to dispossess itself both at home and abroad. Karl Kautsky, the revisionist leader of the Second International, saw the logic of this view and concluded therefore, in opposition to Lenin, that imperialism was not a system (monopoly capitalism) but rather the preferred policy of the monopoly capitalists and that, therefore, they could conceivably adopt (or be persuaded to adopt) another policy which might serve them equally well.
The supposedly "Leninist" CPUSA has exactly the same view. "It is possible under capitalism," notes a leading theoretician of the party, "for the US to pursue a democratic foreign policy based on detente, respect for other countries, noninterference in other countries' internal affairs, and conduct relations on the basis of mutual benefit." (Conrad Komorowski, Daily World, June 21, 1975)
the absence of a long-range revolutionary perspective even compromises the quality of the work done by the CPUSA in the reform struggle; for seeing no necessity to train the working class in revolutionary tasks, the party more easily falls into unprincipled alliances with trade union bureaucrats, bourgeois politicians and reformists of every stripe, holding back the self-actualization of the masses which is one of the indispensable preconditions for gaining revolutionary experience.
Organizationally, the CPUSA has become thoroughly corrupt. A reformist party has no need to be a party of professional revolutionaries, and so the CPUSA has abandoned virtually all ideological criteria and training for party membership. Nothing resembling genuine ideological and line struggle is to be found within the ranks of the party. It is dominated by an encrusted bureaucracy which rules through bureaucratic methods, cronyism, and conscienceless manipulation.
At the same time, the CPUSA is characterized by a profound sectarianism toward the rest of the US left demonstrating anew that sectarianism is not the exclusive property of the ultra-left. It rarely, if ever, participates in or mobilizes for mass activities involving other left forces unless it is in a position of organizational hegemony. Its press studiously avoids even mentioning other conscious left forces except for an occasional polemic based on some political atrocity which can be ascribed to ultra-leftism. But there is never a serious attempt to analyze its opponents on the left or to take up their theoretical challenges.
The ideological, political and organizational degeneration of the CPUSA is a great tragedy for the US working class. The positive aspects of its historical legacy will not easily be reclaimed by Marxist-Leninists because the passage of time has led to a break in the continuity of Marxism-Leninism in the US. We do claim that history, however, and intend to re-establish that continuity. But this can be accomplished only through the most thorough and far-reaching demarcation with the revisionism which has come to be the CPUSA's dominant characteristic.
dogmatism, the chief feature of which is the denial of particularity. Determination of tactics and strategy, for instance, is made by the application of universal principles of Marxism-Leninism without a concrete analysis of the actual "circumstances directly encountered". Dogmatists find great difficulty in distinguishing between tactical and strategic questions and, in the staunch tradition of medieval scholasticism, view theoretical work by and large as the interpretation of sacred texts rather than the effort to solve the real problems posed by the actual course of development of the class struggle.
voluntarism, of which the principal feature is a tendency to substitute the consciousness of the communists for the consciousness of the masses. Voluntarists behave as though the desires of the revolutionaries are, in and of themselves, more powerful than any objective difficulties which may be encountered. True voluntarists frequently make great martyrs; but seldom do they become great (i.e., successful) revolutionaries. In its most extreme variety, voluntarism expresses itself as the theory of terrorism in which a small band of devoted revolutionaries make the revolution on behalf of the masses. Or to take another example: while it is true that a single spark can start a prairie fire, the voluntarist does not take into account that the prairie itself must be dry and ready to burst into flames in the first place. It is quite apparent, therefore, that voluntarism, like dogmatism, invariably expresses itself in ultra-"left" politics.
Ideologically, anarchism is rooted in the world outlook of the petty bourgeoisie. The intellectual strength of this class rests in two features: first, the moral values and principles it upholds are those associated with rising capitalism, when the bourgeoisie was still a revolutionary class, giving this outlook a certain historical validity; second, the overwhelming majority of professional ideologists are themselves of the petty bourgeoisie, self-enterprise being their principal mode of production. They provide a large number of prolific, articulate and talented voices.
Individualism and self-cultivation are among the principal ideological manifestations of anarchism. Just as the petty bourgeoisie writhes under the oppression of monopoly capital which undercuts its material basis for existence as a class, so too does it recoil at the prospect of its own proletarianization, that fate worse than death to which monopoly is ultimately consigning it. Anarchism is one of the ideological forms through which resistance to its loss of identity can be most militantly expressed.
The material foundation for the existence of the petty bourgeoisie is small-scale production. It is not surprising, therefore, that the "solutions" anarchism proposes for the oppression of monopoly should frequently be expressed in such phrases as "small is beautiful" and should emphasize decentralization of the social structure. These solutions found a ready audience in the rebellious anti-authoritarian youth movement in the US in the 1960s. The counter-culture of the late sixties and early seventies was a particular attempt at realizing in life the idealist world outlook of anarchism.
Politically, anarchism can frequently link up with the struggle against imperialism because objectively it reflects the views of those who are oppressed by monopoly. Likewise, since whenever the class struggle develops to the point where it is being expressed politically–as in the mass antiwar movement which was obliged to challenge the state apparatus directly–anarchism can find itself in the mainstream of revolutionary practice.
But within these broad movements, anarchism frequently tends toward ultra-leftism. Losing patience with the masses and unable to organize people in their millions, anarchism tends toward individualized forms of struggle–whether of moral witness (pacifism) or small group violence (the Weather Underground). It wants to solve all problems at once and dismisses "reform" struggles as a distraction from revolution.
In the working class movement, anarchism tends toward dual unionism, since it sees the subjective ideas of individual workers as being more important than the objective position of the working class in society. Its view of how society should be organized is to eliminate the state and establish "workers' control" over the economy at the point of production. Since, under present conditions, this can be achieved only through a society organized on the basis of small cooperatives, such a solution is dependent on the revival of small-scale production. It is actually an only slightly disguised form of early capitalism with the workers now cast in the role of a cooperative grouping of self-employed individuals–in short, the petty bourgeoisie's image of socialism. There is little point in discussing the merits of this view since it is thoroughly idealist from beginning to end, having no material basis for realization in life, but certainly capable of sowing illusions among sections of the workers and feeding into anticommunism from the "left."
in line and strategy, all forms of social democracy see imperialism as a "policy" of monopoly capital which could, therefore, be defeated in its own right without the defeat of capitalism.
Social democracy sees no fundamental ideological or political break between capitalism and socialism, only a change in the mode of production which will maintain the political institutions and fundamental values of the old mode of production. Social democracy sees the world as it is (or thinks it does) but cannot see that world in motion as the result of the fundamental contradictions wracking it.
Social democracy's more specific ideological underpinning is pragmatism. It shuns theory (particularly Marxist theory) as inherently doctrinaire and as an impediment to "flexible" political activity. Social democracy fetishizes bourgeois democracy and promotes national chauvinism through theories of American exceptionalism and its implicit assumption that the political institutions of the imperialist west represent the most advanced achievements in "democracy" in world history.
Politically, modern social democracy expresses itself in a variety of forms. Chief among these is parliamentarianism. It holds that the "democratic" parliamentary path to socialism is not only possible and desirable, it is probably the only acceptable path to social transformation. In essence, social democracy views democracy as an eternal value standing above class, as a direct reflection of each individual's "inalienable rights." This classless view of democracy is one of the most propagated social-democratic myths, and a major component of even the most "revolutionary" social democrats' anti-communism.
As for revolution, social democracy sees the transformation from one mode of production to another taking place gradually, step by step, a process whereby capitalism will actually evolve into socialism.
Its "magic" slogan, the key to everything, will be "full employment," because the pursuit of this goal will require "a democratic system of public investment and the abrogation or withering away of the corporate investment system. And that will require a mass movement poised to make the legislative branches the instruments of the popular will."
[n.b. shades of Gar Alperovitz today]
essential dialectic between the conscious element and the spontaneous movement, between the vanguard party and the working class. The conscious element–conscious because it is based on the science of Marxism-Leninism–must analyze objective reality correctly. The conscious element must bring that analysis to the spontaneous working class movement and struggle to make Marxist-Leninist theory a material force–refining and deepening the theory at every step. For while the impetus for proletarian revolution stems from the objective class contradictions of capitalism, the direction and ultimate triumph of that revolution is dependent upon the leadership of a conscious vanguard force, capable of constant analysis and reassessment of social and political phenomena, which will undertake to train and guide the working class in the science of revolution.
This is the ideological outlook at the heart of the Marxist-Leninist theory of the vanguard party. Given the youth of the emerging Marxist-Leninist trend and its broken continuity with the history of the world communist movement, it is understandable that views which belittle the role of the conscious element have credibility and influence. But crucial to the ideological transformation of the communist movement is rooting these views out as rapidly and thoroughly as possible. The immense theoretical and practical tasks before us–in the rectification process and later in the struggle to lead the working class to power–require US communists to take on tasks and responsibilities which will only be accomplished through the utmost exertion of the conscious element.
Jay Rothermel

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