The Third International after Lenin

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Defending the Socialist Workers Party on capitalist restoration in Russia

A week ago I posted an article from the 3 February issue of The Militant on the Facebook Group for the Discussion of the Revolutionary Science of Marxism-Leninism.  The article: "18th World Youth Festival hosted in Quito, Ecuador."

The Facebook post motivated these comments, initiated by Workers World Party leader [and World Youth Festival attendee] Caleb Maupin:

Caleb Maupin: The SWP sold many books.... and was hostile to the Bolivarian countries... wow... wow...

Jay Rothermel: Hostile at the event to people from those countries? Or hostile to the government's capitalist policies?

Caleb Maupin: Watching a group of white people from the United States lecture the Cubans about why "your revolution is different from what Chavez is doing that, you need explain that people!" is something I will never forget. -

Caleb Maupin: The SWP is a bizarre, bizarre animal. The USSR is still a "worker's state", the Tea Party is more progressive than Occupy Wall Street, the Assad regime is the biggest threat to the "workers and farmers of Syria".... These people are from the Planet Saturn.

Caleb Maupin: These folks are like an episode of Star Trek... where on some far off planet, Farrell Dobbs and James P. Cannon are deities, the policies of the fourth international in the 1930s are permanent reality.

Caleb Maupin: Did you see my talk on the festival?

Jay Rothermel: Where did the party say the tea party was more progressive than OWS? I prepared a doc two years ago of everything the party wrote about OWS and I never read that.

Caleb Maupin: I was told by an SWPer that OWS were "petty bourgeois radicals", but the Tea Party was a movement of "actual workers" with "real demands and grievances."

[Comments by another group member at this point have been removed for privacy purposes].

Caleb Maupin: They insist "the working class lost nothing in 1991".... oh boy!

Jay Rothermel: On the tea party: you and I discussed three years ago that workers with grievances were attracted its rhetoric, and in early 2011 we were discussing ways to intervene in that process. The SWP I suspect has seen the same process, and has found among workers attracted to the tea party an openness for political discussion.

Jay Rothermel: On Russia: your library and mine are full of books and documents written by people who wanted to tell the world that capitalism has been restored in Russia. Some called it state capitalism. Mao and our friends Hoxha and Avakian said it happened a few hours after Stalin died. Your party seems to think it happened with the advent of Yeltsin. But these are all impressionistic and subjective assumptions based on staffing changes at the higher levels of state apparatus and their subsequent ideological rationalizations. Who among those claiming capitalism has been restored in Russia has done the hard sociological work to make that case? Who has shown how the commanding heights of the economy and the state monopoly of foreign trade have been ended?

I am not suggesting this is an academic question exclusively. But claiming capitalism has been restored because you don't like the fate of the Stalinist caste you used to identify AS the socialized property relations speaks only to historical impatience and exasperation.

Jay Rothermel: Some notes on SWP and OWS I made in 2012:
Did The Militant and the U.S. SWP publish anti-OWS screeds? A look at the documentary record
Caleb Maupin: When the means of production are privatized, capitalism overthrown [sic - I think he meant "restored" - JR], statues of Lenin torn down, the Communist Party driven from power, and a new constitution written, and the natural resources sold to the highest bidder... capitalism has been restored.

Caleb Maupin: China today is a mix of contradictions but all the former Soviet republics except Belarus are capitalist.

Caleb Maupin: Russia is taking a nationalist anti imperialist world position. But it is capitalism. It calls itself capitalism. Openly talks of how "socialism was overturned" in 1991

Caleb Maupin: In 1991 there were big changes in property relations. The other restoration theories you listed are only about political line.

The Facebook discussion ended there.  

I posted a few articles on my blog at the beginning of the week from The Militant that dealt with the question of restoration.  But I was contacted offline by a fellow supporter of the SWP's line, who had some very useful comments on the question of capitalist restoration in Russia.  The real purpose of this post is to preserve his thoughts.

He wrote:

Great initiative Jay in posting different articles on the Workers state!

You may want to take a closer look at the report of Jack Barnes to the 1992 fusion congress of the Communist league in the UK - "Youth and the Communist Movement".  Its included as the last chapter in the Pathfinder book Capitalism's World Disorder.

There are some sections in that report - given in 1992, shortly after the crumbling of the Stalinist apparatuses - that give a concrete flavor of the development of the Marxist position on the Workers state.

"... Second, we stand on the analysis of "What the 1987 Stock Market Crash Foretold," the political resolution adopted in 1988 at an international conference held in the United States.... At the time we adopted that resolution, of course, nobody could have predicted the concrete timing of events that would further complicate the shape of the capitalists' crisis: the rapid collapse of the Stalinist apparatuses in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union; the price the German imperialist rulers would pay for formal reunification of the country and its impact on capitalist Europe and the world; the Iraq war and its consequences; and the results of the worst destabilization of the international monetary system since the 1930s..."

To point out the inaccuracy of the arguments advanced by Caleb Maupin and the whole school of petty-bourgeois revisionists that the SWP didn't recognize the "negative" consequences of the further degeneration of the workers states:

"...If we look at the unfolding slaughter in Yugoslavia, we will see many elements of the world we are describing. The most difficult things to come to grips with in discussing Yugoslavia are not the theoretical questions...The slaughter in Yugoslavia is the product of the breakdown of the capitalist world order; it is the product of intensifying conflicts among rival capitalist classes in the imperialist countries and would-be capitalists in the deformed workers states. These conflicts, in which exploiting layers demagogically don national garb to defend their narrow class interests, will increasingly mark world politics..."

On Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 90s concerning the importance of the correct revolutionary attitude towards the national question; inter-imperialist rivalries; the political characteristics of Stalinist petty-bourgeois leadership:

"What is happening in Yugoslavia also bloodily demonstrates the fact that Stalinist leaderships cannot unite toilers from different national origins on a lasting basis to open up a broadening federation of soviet republics working together to build socialism."

"The federated Yugoslav workers state that the imperialists and rival Stalinist gangs are now trying to tear apart was a gigantic accomplishment of the Yugoslav revolution of 1942-46. Workers and peasants who were Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and from other nationalities forged unity to oust the Nazi occupation forces and their local collaborators, carry out a radical land reform, and expropriate the capitalist exploiters. It was truly one of the great revolutions of this century, a proletarian socialist revolution."

"The war in Yugoslavia sharpens inter-imperialist conflicts. It sharpens the divisions between the United States and Europe, as well as divisions within Europe itself."
On the concrete developments in the Chinese workers state and its relationship to the growing world disorder of capitalism (not the solution to its problems) and the potentialities of a growing world proletariat:
"We should never underestimate how attractive the Chinese revolution remains to hundreds of millions of toilers, especially to peoples of color long oppressed and exploited by imperialism. Despite the crimes of its Stalinist misleadership, China stands as an example of a people... who carried out a powerful revolution, swept aside the landlord and capitalist exploiters, and restored their national sovereignty and dignity."

"Today, more and more toilers in China are being drawn out of the countryside and into factories, mines, and mills owned by the state and increasingly also by foreign and domestic capital. As this process unfolds, the breakdown of Stalinist apparatuses that we have seen in Europe and the former USSR will inevitably shake the deformed Chinese workers state as well. It will take time, but class tensions and conflicts are already growing in China's cities and workplaces, as well as in the countryside."

"What is really going on is not simply that the People's Republic of China is about to gobble up Hong Kong. What is happening instead is the "Hong Kong-ization" of southern China. What is developing in China today is an accelerated expansion of capitalist methods and penetration by international finance capital - the growing sway of the law of value in southern China especially, as well as Shanghai and other coastal areas....

"Ever since then, the biggest problem confronting revolutionists within the working-class movement has not been that weak people, political cowards, or corrupt individuals have been attracted to Stalinist organizations. The problem has been that revolutionary-minded workers, peasants, and youth looking for communist answers - the best and most self-sacrificing representatives of their generations - ended up joining Stalinist organizations. They ended up internalizing ways of carrying out politics that are the counterrevolutionary opposite of communism. That was what happened to the overwhelming majority of such fighters; only small numbers somehow found their way to the communist movement."

"But today that obstacle has crumbled. The Stalinists still exist and have political influence, of course. But they are no longer a force with state power in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with the attendant massive resources. They find it more difficult to misrepresent themselves as the continuity of the Bolshevik-led Russian revolution and mislead fighters on the basis of that spurious political authority. As a result, the Stalinist lie that there is a way of building national socialism has also begun to crumble. The lie that socialism can be built by bureaucrats, social engineers, and a massive police apparatus has been weakened. And the lie of both the Stalinists and social democrats that socialism can be advanced in alliance with one or another wing of the bourgeoisie has been undermined."

Reading this report with both feet firmly planted in Today - doesn't it give an accurate and objective evaluation of some world-historic happenings in a very concrete way? Compare this scientific way of proceeding with the rumblings of a Caleb Maupin: "When the means of production are privatized, capitalism overthrown, statues of Lenin torn down, the Communist Party driven from power, and a new constitution written, and the natural resources sold to the highest bidder... capitalism has been restored." "China today is a mix of contradictions but all the former Soviet republics except Belarus are capitalist." "Russia is taking a nationalist anti imperialist world position. But it is capitalism. It calls itself capitalism. Openly talks of how 'socialism was overturned' in 1991"

[Continuing quotation from the Barnes article]. "Youth must also be offered a tradition. Without a political tradition, there is no chance whatsoever of building a working- class movement. Moreover, young people have to find living carriers of that tradition, fighters whose experience draws from more than one generation of working-class struggle. Youth have to find others like themselves from previous generations whom they can join with in building a common movement." "Just being a radical, just being against the bourgeoisie, just negating bourgeois values is no more likely to lead somebody to communism than to fascism. We should think about the political implications of this fact. It is only finding the working-class movement, and finding the human beings who carry its tradition, that leads rebel youth in the direction of communism."

No one will find that tradition in the WWP, nor the other petty-bourgeois currents inside the labor aristocracy, labor bureaucracy or the well-meaning middle-class-with-bourgeois-appetites-meritocracy who call themselves "socialists".
"Moreover, what disintegrated in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union was not socialism; these Stalinist regimes were the transmission belts within the workers movement of capitalist values and pressures against the toilers in those horribly deformed workers states and worldwide."

Note the importance of making a distinction between "regimes" (governments) and the character of the state. (Without the dialectical understanding of the dynamics of workers and farmers governments in our time, would have been impossible for the SWP and communist movement world-wide to scientifically understand this question)

"What happened during the subsequent sixty-four years is certainly no revelation to the communist movement. We know that history very well. After the first levies of revolutionists who came to our movement in 1928 and 1929 out of the Communist parties in the United States and other countries as they were becoming Stalinized, we never once broke off a significant current, even a small one, from the Stalinist movement."

"Not only was a massive murder machine consolidated in the Soviet Union based on a broad, petty-bourgeois social layer, but it also laid claim to the legacy of Marxism, its literature, history, and traditions. This Stalinist apparatus turned the overwhelming majority of potential communists in the working- class and national liberation movements into pseudo-communists who believed they were communists, and who believed one of their duties to be the physical marginalization, if not the murder, of apostate communists."

"The strength of Stalinism gave social democracy a new lease on life as well. The Stalinists and social democrats always claim to hate each other. On one level, they do; they ultimately served different masters - the parasitic regime in Moscow, on the one hand, and the imperialist ruling classes, on the other. For a few years in the late 1920s and early 1930s the Stalinists called the social democrats "social fascists." The social democrats decried "totalitarian communism." Notwithstanding, the Stalinists and social democrats have come together many times in "popular fronts" to make sure the working class stays under the thumb of the capitalist state and does not threaten the international status quo."

"The qualitative enormity of the Stalinist obstacle to the influence of the communist movement and our ideas is now behind us, however. That is what has changed. Yes, the Stalinists are still around in large numbers, and will continue to be. But shorn of any linkage to state power falsely endowed with historical authority, the material basis of Stalinist organizations, the trough from which they fed, has now substantially dried up. They have been irreversibly weakened. And this decline of Stalinism weakens social democracy and a number of ultraleft and centrist currents in the workers movement as well."

"What the communist movement can accomplish, even at our current size and strength, cannot be predetermined in some absolute terms. What we can accomplish is always relative to our leverage within the vanguard of the working class, and the size and activity of that vanguard. It is always relative to the strength or weakness of historic obstacles that make it difficult to get communist ideas to the working class. Being right on all the fundamental questions of world politics is not enough, in and of itself; we have been right since 1928 and before. Nor is there any guarantee of success for communists just because the working class and its allies are in a fighting mood. Stalinism has dealt many of its biggest blows during big class battles and in the midst of historic revolutionary developments."

"It took the events of the last several years, however, for our movement to fully absorb the consequences of the fact that communist continuity in the working class of these workers states had been completely broken at least by the 1960s if not earlier. The communist vanguard had been physically liquidated in the purge trials, labor camps, and post-World War II witch- hunts. The working class in these countries had been pushed out of independent political life for decades, and blocked off from struggles by workers in other parts of the world." "Given this vacuum of proletarian leadership, the breakup of the political apparatus of these Stalinist regimes necessarily had to come before the possibility of political revolution would again be on the agenda. That, in turn, meant the objective opening up of these workers states to greater dangers of capitalist restoration. But the belatedness of the political revolution because of the limits of the extension of the world revolution determined that this was the only way the working class in these countries could begin going through the kinds of experiences once again that can and will give rise to revolutionary currents and a new openness to communist ideas."

Sorry for the sheer number of paragraphs Jay, but I think they are helpful in giving concrete meaning to any scientific and not teleological "definition" of the history of what constitutes a workers state and its prospects for communists Today.
Very helpful.

Jay Rothermel
2 February 2014

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