Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A rocky journey from Maoism to Trotskyism

Communist Working Collective: From Maoism to Trotskyism
Workers Vanguard 10/1971

The theoretical development of the Communist
Working Collective (CWC) grew out of the experience
of two comrades in the Maoist Bay Area
Revolutionary Union. Their criticisms of the RU
became the main ideas around which the CWC was
founded and represented the beginning of our differentiation
from mainstream Maoism. Our criticisms
of the RU centered around the "Strategical
United Front Against Imperialism," which called
for unity with sections of the bourgeoisie, saw the
proletarian party arising out of this united front,
and subordinated communist work to uncritical
support of various petty-bourgeois struggles, especially
national struggles.

In reaction to the tailism of the RU and the
RYM(SDS), the two comrades supported and drew
close to the California Communist League. The
CCL (now the CL), which originated in the Communist
Party and the Provisional Organizing
Committee, is a small sectarian Stalinist group
who see themselves as a pre-party formation,
publish a newspaper, and require a working-class
job for all members. We were soon repelled by
the conscious anti-intellectualism and workerism
which veiled a crude economism and was then
passed off as theory. We saw that theory must
take precedence over practice in the period of
pre-party formations. The main void in the
American movement was the absence of a revolutionary
program, and dogmatic adaptions of various
formulations of Stalin's Third International
would not fill it. We became convinced that this
program could not be developed within the bureaucratic
confines of the CCL. We were critical
of the deification of Stalin and could not accept
the analysis that the restoration of capitalism in
the USSR began with the last heartbeat of J. V.
Stalin. We believed that Stalin had made a number
of important errors, such as the mass purges
of the 1930's. But we thought that Mao TseTung,
through the "Cultural Revolution," had
rectified these errors with the discovery that
classes and class struggle continue during socialism.
We counterposed Mao to Stalin and came
into direct conflict with the CCL who equated any
criticism of Stalin as an attack on the dictatorship
of the proletariat ("d of p").

A similar struggle was also developing in the
CCL's youth group, the Young Communist League.
After breaking with the CCL both groups fused to
form the CWC.


The CWC began by analyzing the programs of
the Bolsheviks, the CPUSA, Weatherman, RYM II,
and the Progressive Labor Party. Our basic
criteria were the primacy of the class struggle,
propagating socialism in practice, recognizing
the need for a Leninist vanguard party, and publishing
a theoretical communist newspaper capable
of serving as a collective organizer. Within
these programmatic principles, we made numerous
criticisms, but could not advance toward a

Applying Mao Tse-Tung Thought to the U. S.
was complicated by its inherent ambiguities.
Groups as divergent as Weatherman and PL could
claim that they were the expression of Maoism in
America. Two platitudinous statements on the
black struggle are the sum total of Mao's guidance
to the U. S. movement. The clearest Chinese
statement was a public letter to the CPUSA in response
to their support of the Soviet Union against
the Chinese. The CPC called upon the U. S. communists
to "carry on and enrich the revolutionary
tradition of William Z. Foster form the broadest
united front agains t imperialism ..• carry
through to final victory the great cause of the
people of all countries for world peace, national
liberation, democracy, and socialism." This was
precisely the RU's strategical united front. We
rationalized that this was not the current Chinese
position, that it was written in 1963 when the
CPC was controlled by Liu. In short, we tried to
paint the RU as right deviationists from Mao's

Our position on the Chinese international strategy
was filled with contradictions. We accepted
the two-stage revolution theory in the colonial
countries but disagreed with the same two-stage
theory when applied to world revolution. We were
dubious of Lin Piao's strategy of triumphant colonial
revolutions surrounding the imperialist
countries, "the countryside surrounding the cities."
This strategy, based on united front (really
popular front) national liberation struggles,
relegated the proletariat to a supporting role. A
correct strategy, we thought, should be the reverse:
only a working class revolution in the imperialist
countries could completely overthrow
international capital. In Long Live Peoples War,
Lin Piao' s only reference to the proletariat of the
West was: "Since WWII, the proletarian revolutionary
movement has for various reasons been
temporarily held back in the North American and
West European capitalist countries."

We were disturbed by the lack of analysis by
Lin Piao of the history of the western proletariat
but we were ignorant of the theoretical and historical
experience of the working class since the
Russian revolution except through Stalin's falsified
histories. Not understanding the actual basis
of Maoism we tried to separate Mao from the
strategic united front against imperialism, from
Stalinism, and from the defeats of the Third International.
In short, we tried to separate Maoism
from Mao; as a result, after four months we were
no closer to a program than when we formed.

Permanent Revolution

The turning point of the CWC was a debate
over the nature of the Chinese state in 1949. Most
of the group concluded that "New Democracy" was
a fundamental revision of Marx and Lenin on the
class nature of the state. Our view, though incomplete,
logically would lead straight to Trotsky's
Permanent Revolution. After this discussion
and a split over whether critical analysis of
Mao should continue, we were able to begin our
task of independently re-establishing the theoretical
and historical continuity of the communist

How could a joint dictatorship ("New Democracy")
exist? Marx and Lenin defined the state as
special bodies of armed men enforcing the rule
of a single class upon the rest of society. In the
modern world, either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie
controlled the state apparatus. There
could be no third state, no "New Democracy."
Mao called for a coalition government of the proletariat,
the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie,
"national bourgeoisie," and even, for a time,
the so-called comprador bourgeoisie (with Chiang,
thus making a bloc of five classes )-leaving the
question of who controls the state apparatus unresolved.
For the first time we understood the
reason for Mao's uncritical support of the Indonesian
CP immediately prior to its physical elimination,
and the lack of any subsequent self-criticism
by the CPC or Mao.

In the course of this investigation we learned
that current Chinese editions of Mao's writings
differed radically from the originals. This policy
of outright falsification alone destroyed Maoism's
scientific pretensions.

The debate over New Democracy was actually
no debate at all. The two comrades supporting
New Democracy said simply: "Your analysis is
Trotskyist" and "unless it is in Mao, it is not
true. " (In which edition? one might ask!) Mao
taught that intellectuals should go to the masses
and learn from them, so when Mao was criticized,
our dogmatists who had been pushing for programmatic
investigation and study of dialectical
materialism, flip-flopped and demanded that we
propagate Maoism to factory workers as our primary
arena and at every step present our theoretical
achievements to them for final judgement.
The overwhelming majority of the CWC determined
to proceed with our analysis. Three comrades,
clutching Red Books to their breasts, fled
from our threatening ideas. They eventually buried
themselves in a small dogmatic sectet, parroting
invincible Mao thought.

The CWC then divided into subcommittees to
accomplish two basic tasks: to write a draft program
and to examine anew the history of the Communist
International. The latter committee immediately
launched into a thorough reading of
Trotsky who had played a prominent role in the
CI's early history. It was here that we first realized
that Trotsky's analysis paralleled our own.
But it was Trotsky! Suddenly we felt the full
weight of the emotional spectre of the splitter /
wrecker agent Trotsky looming before us. On the
most significant question of the Chinese revolution
we were "Trotskyites"!

It became immediately necessary to reorganize
the work, abandon the committee system and
bring the entire collective into this basic study.
Fortunately, the other comrades who had put together
a threadbare draft program recognized
that fundamentals take precedence even over program.
We began the Stalin-Trotsky study with
some of us already embryonic Trotskyists.
What is the relationship between the struggle
for democracy and the struggle for socialism?
This question, important above all to nations which
have not achieved their bourgeois revolutions, we
resolved by study of the experience of the Russian

The Menshevik view tied the proletariat to the
leadership of the liberal bourgeoisie which the
victory of the bourgeois revolution would put in
power. The proletariat under the more favorable
conditions of the bourgeois republic could then
begin its struggle for power. Permanent Revolution
advocated by Trotsky maintained that, "the
complete victory of the democratic revolution in
Russia is conceivable only in the form of the dictatorship
of the proletariat, leaning on the peasantry."
Upon seizing power the dictatorship of the
proletariat would immediately be faced with both
democratic and socialist tasks. The peasantry
was not an independent force but must either follow
the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. The seizure
of power by the Russian proletariat would
spark revolution in the West, protecting Russia
from bourgeois restoration and providing immense
resources for backward Russia's socialist

History proved Trotsky's position correct and
Lenin adopted this strategy in April, 1917 (April
Theses). This strategy remains the only correct
strategy for revolution in the colonies.

After the Russian Revolution Stalin and later
Mao revived the Menshevik two-stage revolution
which subordinated the proletariat to the liberal
or national bourgeoisie. Because of ties to imperialism
and landholding, the national bourgeoisie
cannot carry out the bourgeois revolution.
The two-stage strategy means subordination of
the workers and peasants to imperialism and the
landowners, leading the workers into the inevitable
reaction and slaughter. Just as Stalin's support
of the Kuomintang led to the Shanghai massacre
and destruction of the Chinese Revolution
in 1927 so Mao's New Democracy led the Indonesian
party to massacre in 1965. Such are the
fruits of New Democracy.

The actual history of the Chinese revolution
repudiates New Democracy. The Chinese Communist
Party seized state power in 1949 and established
a deformed workers' state characterized
by nationalized property and a bureaucracy
ruling over the working class. All the talk of "The
Dictatorship of Four (or five) Classes" aside, the
CPC (including the Red Army) and nobody else
controlled the state. Its reformism led it to talk
of sharing the power, something it could not actually
do in China without being overthrown by a
bourgeois counter-revolution. Those who took the
CPC's words literally  - like the PKI of Indonesia - were

Only a victory of the working class and the
establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat
can break imperialism, carry through the
agrarian revolution and enable the working class
to rule in their own right.

What is Socialism?

An essential task of ours was a re-establishment
of the basic axioms of Marxism-Leninism.
Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin all believed
that communism would replace capitalism
only after a transitional period during which the
proletariat enforces its dictatorship over all the
other classes.

Socialism according to Marx and Lenin means
the lower phase of communism. It is a society
characterized by common property ownership,
very high productivity of labor, the absence of
class-based social antagonisms, the replacement
of the standing army by a universal people's militia,
material incentives limited to equal pay for
equal work, full emancipation of women, disappearance
of the age-old distinction between town
and country, etc. In short, it is only the beginning,
but definitely the beginning, of man's ascent
from the "kingdom of necessity into the kingdom
of freedom."

It was obvious that the socialism which Marx
and Lenin envisioned would be a world society,
necessarily embracing the industrialized countries
of Europe, the United States and Japan.
Now we understood why Stalin was forced to
deny one year after the great purges that there
was any longer any class struggle in the Soviet
Union. To proclaim socialism in the Soviet Union
he had to deny the glaring non-socialist features
of the Soviet Union. The Chinese "discovery" that
classes still exist under socialism is equivalent
to discovering that their socialism is not socialism.
Any analysis of the Third International must
come to grips with the Stalin-Trotsky debate on
socialism in a single country. All would-be revolutionaries
are forced, willy-nilly, to a position
on this single vital question. Thorough study of
Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky revealed the
true nature of the debate.

International Revolution or National Reformism

The theory of socialism in a single country
requires a denial of the fundamental characteristics
of modern capitalist economy and cuts the
heart out of Marxism. In The German Ideology
and elsewhere Marx states very clearly that one
of capitalism's greatest achievements is the creation
of a proletariat who is a world historical,
universal man based on the international division
of labor and the supra-national character of modern
productive forces. The motive force of history
is the ever developing productive forces.

For a new historical society to evolve this new
society must unfetter the world productive forces
Denying this is tantamount to denying Marxism-
precisely what Stalinism-Maoism does.
Because of uneven development the proletariat
in the colonial countries may be first able to
seize power. Their seizure of power does not
abolish their dependence on the international division
of labor. As the former colony develops it
becomes more dependent on the world economy.
Lenin spoke of "a test which is being prepared by
the Russian and international market, to which we
are subordinate, with which we are bound up from
which we cannot break away." The only hope for
the dictatorship of the proletariat in the backward
country is clearly set forth by Lenin on the
5th anniversary of Soviet rule. "Even before the
revolution and likewise after it, our thought was:
immediately, or at any rate very quickly, a revolution
will begin in the other countries, in the
capitalistically more developed countries .... or
in the contrary case we will have to perish ... .
The dates have shifted, the pattern of events has
formed itself in many respects unexpectedly, but
the fundamental orientation remains unchanged."
Once we grasped the essence of socialism in
one country, i. e., national reformism, all the
other pieces of the puzzle of the temporary postponement
of revolution in the advanced countries
fell into place.

To mask socialism in a single country in Leninist
phrases Stalin had to turn Lenin inside out.
All the subsequent lies and falsifications of history
were designed to reconcile the revolutionary
internationalism of Marx and Lenin with the
counter-revolutionary national reformism of Stalin
and Mao. Here is the thread which runs
through the popular front, social fascism, support
of the liberal bourgeoisie against the proletariat,
peaceful co-existence, and the absence of a communist

National reformism represents the world outlook
not of the proletariat but of the bureaucracy
on the backs of the proletariat. The principal
historical cause for the degeneration of the Soviet
regime was Russian backwardness and universal
want confronted with hostile capitalist encirclement,
setting the basis for fulfillment of
Marx's predictions that so long as want was merely
made general, "all the old crap" would rise up
again, i. e., the development of a privileged bureaucracy.
International revolution, which unfetters
the world productive forces, is contrary to
the interests of the bureaucracy for it would
eliminate the basis on which it rests. The position
of the Stalinist bureaucracies is analogous
to the labor bureaucracy under capitalism. Although
their social base is the proletariat they
occupy privileged positions, maintained by collaboration
with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.
According to Stalin only intervention by the
capitalist countries can prevent the building of
socialism in a single country. He advanced the
tactic of the "neutralizing of the world bourgeoisie"
by the world proletariat to ensure the building
of socialism unopposed. The world would attain
socialism through the Directorate of State
Planning for the USSR, through peaceful economic
competition. The world proletarian movement is
turned into border guards for "socialist countries."
The Communist International first degenerates
into a pressure group on the world bourgeoisie
and then is dissolved to give concrete
assurances to the bourgeoisie that the bureaucracy
has no plans for their overthrow.

The fundamental identity between Maoism and
Stalinism was the reason why the Chinese would
neither summarize the Third International or
call for a new International. The anti-imperialist
united front-a bloc between the Chinese bureaucracy
and sections of the world bourgeoisie is a
concrete betrayal of the workers and peasants.
The Chinese bureaucracy hopes to transform its
alliance with tin pot national bourgeoisies of colonial
countries into a grand alliance with the imperialist
bourgeoisie, e. g., fro m Sihanouk to
Nixon. Membership in Peking's anti-imperialist
front consists of everybody from the Pakistani
military regime of Yahya Khan to imperialist
Japan. Mao calls for a "patriotic united front of
all strata of the Japanese people" within one of
the most developed imperialist nations in the
world. Why? Because the victory of the working
class in Japan, the industrial powerhouse of Asia,
would immediately precipitate the political overthrow
of the Chinese bureaucracy by the Chinese
working class. Here stands Mao, stripped of his
red veil, fighting for the interests of the bureaucracy.

Avakian on the Run

In a real sense our collective struggle had
been one of defeating the revisionism in the communist
movement exemplified by the RU. For a
full year we had probed Maoism for something to
refute the RU united front strategy. Nothing was
forthcoming. Only by basing ourselves on Lenin
and Trotsky did we finally come up with a concise,
revolutionary refutation of the RU's class
collaboration policy of the popular front and
understanding of the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies.
In July we had a chance to intervene in a
panel debate on Chinese foreign policy between
Maoists Bob Avakian (RU) and Frank Pestana and
former SWPer Milt Zaslow (Liberation Union),
and a lecture on the RU united front strategy by

The night of the panel on China's foreign policy
fell ironically on the day after Nixon announced
his visit to China, putting the defenders
of Mao in an extremely shamefaced position. Far
more important, though, was that the lines were
drawn this time not between the "left" and right
Maoists as so often in Los Angeles, but between
Stalinism and Trotskyism. Between our leaflet,
Zaslow's devastating critique, and comments
from the floor, the debate was a complete and unconditional
rout of Stalinism and Maoism. Barely
a Stalinist dared to speak from the floor as time
and again Avakian and Pestana completely contradicted
themselves in their attempts to defend
the indefensible Chinese betrayals. In such a
position, Maoist debate was replaced with the Stalinist
stand-by: slandering the personal integrity
of Trotsky. In all, they got creamed.

To top it off Avakian personally attacked a
CWC member (a former RUer) for "corrupting
the youth" and threatened him with violence if he
appeared the following night. The CWCer, replying
with the slogan "Long Live Socrates!" proceeded
to form a defense front and returned the
next night in force.

The collective proprietors of the hall in collaboration
with Avakian avoided another "terrible"
night by limiting questions to 30 seconds and prohibiting
discussion and debate.

The year's effort had transformed an insignificant
internal struggle within Stalinism into a
component part of the historic and worldwide battle
of Marxism-Leninism against its detractors,
thereby helping to prepare the way for the socialist

By the time of the RU confrontation we had concluded
the greater portion of our examination of
Trotskyist groupings. We had long been critical
of the SWP's rampant revisionism even when we
were still Maoists. In fact, one of the main obstacles
to taking Trotskyism seriously was the
politics of the SWP. We noted their similarities
to the CPUSA, sharpened up our historical understanding
of the particular twists their opportunism
took (Pabloism, Cuba, etc.) and then turned
to those groups which appeared to be applying
Trotsky's ideas in a serious manner.

We spent considerable time examining the
"Russian Question," that is, the class nature of
the Soviet State. In the course of this inquiry we
studied both wings of the International Socialists
(state capitalist and bureaucratic collectivist) and
found both wanting. We concluded that Trotsky's
analysis of the deformed workers state as an obstacle
on the road to socialism, as the first phase
of the restoration of capitalism but not itself that
restoration, remains the most sensible ordering
of the facts. We should note in passing that while
we did not consider the IS practice in party building
to be Leninist, we found the individual members
and the local Los Angeles leadership to have
a democratic and scientific spirit in our all-too-few
discussions with them.

Wohlforth Exposed

Our investigation of organizations considering
themselves Trotskyist led us to study the politics
of the Workers League and the Spartacist League.
Our contact with the Workers League soon revealed
to us the spurious character of that organization
and its dependence upon the blind loyalty
of its membership to it in place of Trotskyist politics.
In a letter of April 27 Tim Wohlforth declared that the Spartacist
League "is completely hostile to the Fourth International
and bears no relationship whatever with
Trotskyism" and that "you cannot have joint discussions
or joint actions with us while at the same
time maintaining relations of any sort with Spartacist."
We replied on May 18 that we could
reach such a conclusion only "on the basis of our
own independent investigation." We noted that
"Spartacist has shown a healthy attitude toward
encouraging and aiding our investigation (which
is more than we can say about your approach)"
and reaffirmed our intention to continue our investigation
of the SL and WL "in spite of any
roadblock you may throw up in our way. "
If Wohlforth had had his way, we would not
only have proclaimed the WL to be the Leninist
vanguard before we had even studied the question,
but further we would have been prevented from
our attempts to influence the Maoists in the direction
of Trotskyism. Referring to recent Chinese
atrocities in Ceylon and Pakistan, Wohlforth
declared, "In any event we will not have joint actions
with Maoists." We replied that he obviously
assumed that Maoist groupings were finished formations,
and ignored the tremendous flux such
organizations were undergoing in the wake of the
intensifying crisis of world imperialism and the
ever clearer capitulations of Chinese Stalinism
to imperialism. Such sectarianism, we wrote,
could permanently bar these comrades from the
road to Trotskyism. We characterized Wohlforth's
position as leading to "either a sectarian
liquidation of the united front reminiscent of Third
Period Stalinism or to a series of opportunist zig-
zags - now condemning joint action, now pragmatically
entering into it."

The arrogance, sectarianism, misrepresentation
and political tomfoolery exemplified by the
WL in our contact with them only underscored the
decisive character of our break with Stalinism.
In this sense the WL hastened our decision to
fuse with the organization which, through open
and comradely discussions sustained over a period
of months, we found ourselves in political
solidarity. Our fusion with the Spartacist League
took place at the Labor Day Plenum in New York .


No comments:

Post a Comment