I've been reading the late 1970s issues of The Militant during the last two weeks.
One trend The Militant followed was the retreat of the U.S. petty bourgeois left under the onslaught bourgeois public opinion as Vietnam aided Kampuchean rebels in ousting the brutal capitalist dictatorship of Pol Pot and China subsequently invaded Vietnam (with tacit approval of the Carter administration).
Paul Sweezey is presented as a prime example of this trend.
I am probably not the only one to hear echoes of middle class left's collapse as Washington beat the drums for war in 1939-1940. Sweezey seems to be channeling Max Shachtman and Bruno Rizzi.
18 June 2018
Crisis of petty-bourgeois left
The correctness of the SWP's turn to the indus-trial working·class is highlighted by the crisis and
decay that infect petty-bourgeois radical formations that looked elsewhere for solutions.
More than a few radicals of the 1960s now
denounce affirmative action as unfair to white
males. Some, like Joan Baez, who opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam, have enlisted in the imperialist
propaganda campaign that continues the war
against the Vietnamese revolution in the guise of
concern for the "boat people." Still others have
drifted into the search for personal solutions
through "liberating lifestyles."
"Marxists" such as the editors of the Guardian
cry that "these are sorry days for socialism," while Monthly Review editor Paul Sweezy pronounces Marxism inadequate to explain today's world.
Isolated from and indifferent to the growing
proletarian resistance to the rulers' drive, and
completely incapable of charting an independent
course, such petty-bourgeois ex-radicals are being drawn in the wake of the imperialist offensive.
Invariably they cover their retreat by proclaiming
that the American workers are moving to the right.
They mistake their own drift for that of the masses.
The experiences of socialist workers as described by delegates on the floor of the convention and by
other SWP members in industrial union fraction
meetings and workshops show how far off the mark the ex-radical doomsayers are….
Feldman, Fred "Socialists meet: big advance in building party of industrial workers."
THE MILITANT/SEPTEMBER 7, 1979
'Crisis of Marxism' or Crisis of Stalinist 'Theory'?
(This month's column was contributed by Leslie
Evans. Evans Is the author of the book 'China After Mao' published by Pathfinder Press. )
In the June issue of Monthly Review, Paul
Sweezy, the journal's founding editor, who still
commands some reputation as a Marxist econo-
mist, proclaims "A Crisis in Marxian Theory."
The crisis that Sweezy perceives can be summed
up in the fact that the principal workers states, the
Soviet Union and China, are not moving to elimi-
nate inequality, have clung doggedly to a repres-
sive state apparatus, and, in Sweezy's view,
"They go to war not only in self-defense but to impose their will on other countries-even ones that are also assumed to be socialist." Sweezy no doubt had Peking's invasion of Vietnam in mind as an example.
From this summary, Sweezy draws a pessimistic
conclusion about the prospects for establishing a
genuine socialist society:
"We do not need to rule out the possibility of a
post-revolutionary society's being socialist in the
Marxian sense. That would be foolish and self-
defeating. But we do need to recognize that a
proletarian revolution can give rise to a non-
socialist society .... Having recognized this, we
can proceed along one of two lines: (1) the
hypothesis that the only alternative to socialism is
capitalism, and (2) the hypothesis that proletarian
revolutions can give rise to a new form of society,
neither capitalist nor socialist. I believe that the
second line is the fruitful one." (Emphasis in
In the past, Sweezy used the term "socialist" to
describe all workers states. His new terminology
does not mark a recognition that these are socie-
ties in transition from capitalism to socialism. He
has concluded that a new form of class society has emerged, qualitatively different both from capitalist and workers states. He appears ready to apply this label to all workers states, whether Stalinist-governed as in the Soviet Union, or led by revolutionists as in Cuba.
Sweezy maintains that revolutions against capi-
talism carry within them a monster that gestates in the state apparatus of a successful revolution,
emerging as a new repressive ruling class.
Clearly, a "new ruling class," if we mean by that
what Marxists mean, rests on a definite new set of production relations. Such a new ruling class must be assumed to have a fairly long historical life-span ahead of it, until it has exhausted the potential of its productive system. So the outlook for the workers is pretty bleak, from Sweezy's standpoint.
This theory is not new. It is usually called
"bureaucratic collectivism," that vision of a monoli-
thic, totalitarian superstate described in the novel
The first thing that must be said in reply to
Sweezy's dismal perspective is that it lacks the first requirements of a serious Marxist analysis: it does not examine either the causes, development, or the specific manifestations of the bureaucratization of the Soviet and Chinese workers states.
That is not surprising, given Sweezy's own
political trajectory. He began as a Stalinist fellow-
traveler in the 1930s, who closed his eyes to the
destruction of workers democracy in the USSR
under Stalin. He accepted and still accepts the
reactionary theory of constructing an isolated
"socialism in one country," the diametric opposite
of Marx and Lenin's concept of a world socialist
society transcending previous national boundaries.
Having defended Stalin's rule, Sweezy turned
away from Moscow towards Peking when many of Stalin's crimes were revealed for all to see by his successors in the late 1950s.
He moved in recent years toward the views of
French economist Charles Bettelheim, who deve-
loped an elaborate theoretical justification for
Mao's claim that the socialist revolution in the
USSR had been reversed.
Sweezy was a proponent of Mao's "cultural
revolution." He refused to recognize that Mao was
the leader of the bureaucratic caste in China, not
its proletarian opponent. When Mao's Red Guard
broke up trade-union meetings, burned books, and assaulted leaders of the Chinese Communist Party who belonged to factions Mao sought to crush, Sweezy assured his readers that this was a great emancipation of the masses from traditional bureaucratic elites. Even today, Sweezy clings to this false judgment. In his current article he writes of the existing workers states:
"They have not eliminated classes except in a
purely verbal sense; and, except in the period of
the Cultural Revolution in China, they have not
attempted to follow a course which could have the
long-run effect of eliminating classes."
With blinders like these on, it is small wonder
that the revelations of the crimes of the Mao era
that have poured out of China in the past two years caught Sweezy unawares. It must seem to him that a "new ruling class" inexplicably walked into power upon Mao's death, deposing the followers of his beloved Chairman.
To worsen Sweezy's predicament, China's work-
ing people gave every indication of being pleased
at the fall of the "proletarian" four. What they saw
as an opening to press for concessions looked like a counterrevolution to Sweezy.
For those like Sweezy, recent events must in-
deed seem like "A Crisis in Marxian Theory."
The truth is that it is impossible to understand
the real nature of the bureaucratized workers
states while clinging to a belief in Mao's self-
serving justifications for the great purge that he
called a "Cultural Revolution."
It is necessary to go further back, to the struggle
in the 1920s between the proletarian wing of the
Russian Communist Party, led by Lenin and Trot-
sky, against the rise of the reactionary bureau-
cracy led by Stalin.
Sweezy never came to grips with the Trotskyist
analysis of the social character of Stalinist bureau-
cratic castes as privileged layers that live as
parasites on nationalized and planned economies.
The progressive dynamics of the economic struc-
tures, established as a consequence of working-
class victories, are in contradiction to the long-
term existence of the governing castes.
The bureaucratic caste's need for a monopoly of
political power-and repressions like the "Cultural
Revolution" that flow from this-is an expression
of its weakness and vulnerability, not of strength. It is not a ruling class linked to a mode of production which cannot exist without it-as is the capitalist class. The mode of production in a workers state is in the interests of the working class. The bureaucratic caste feeds off the workers state by keeping tight political control within it.
In complaining that the workers states-in a
world still dominated by imperialism-have not
abolished classes or inequality, Sweezy protests
the fact that Stalin's and Mao's promises to build
socialism in one country have been exposed by
actual events as a fraud.
But this, like the origins of the castes them-
selves, was explained by Marxists in the 1920s and 1930s. Trotsky showed that socialism could not be achieved in individual backward countries while imperialism remained dominant on a world scale.
He demonstrated that "socialism in one country"
was no theory at all but a rationalization that the
bureaucracy used to justify its rule and its collabo-
ration with imperialism against the spread of
socialist revolution. The invasion of Vietnam by
Peking's forces is a recent example.
"Socialism in one country" is not the slogan of a
new ruling class confident of its capacity and
destiny to rule the world, as would follow from
Sweezy's theory. It is the watchword instead of a
conservative, bureaucratic governing caste that
seeks to preserve its privileges by reaching a live-
and-let-live arrangement with world imperialism.
Far from seeing proletarian revolutions as the
prologue to its rule, the bureaucratic castes join
with imperialism in trying to block them, for the
overthrow of imperialism would doom the castes
Rather than recognize that the "theory" of build-
ing socialism in one country was fallacious,
Sweezy now repudiates the workers states as new class societies because of their failure to accomplish the impossible.
He continues to reject the Marxist view that the
working masses-not bureaucratic saviours like
Mao-have the capacity to establish proletarian
democracy by overthrowing the bureaucratic
castes. And he shows no interest in the struggle
for an internationalist course aimed at removing
the imperialist obstacle to building world social-
Quite the contrary. Sweezy's growing pessimism
leads him to adopt a theory that has invariably led
its proponents to renounce the defense of the
workers states against imperialism on the grounds that the workers had nothing to choose between hem. Unless he plans to rally to the defense of the "new ruling class," what else can be the political significance of his theory of the "new form of society."
Ironically, the events that threw Sweezy's "Marx-
ism" into crisis-such as the exposure of Stalin's
crimes in the USSR, the Hungarian, Polish, and
Czechoslovak antibureaucratic upsurges, and the
precipitous decline of the Mao cult in China-
inspire real Marxists with added confidence in our
socialist perspective. Along with such recent
events as the overthrow of the shah, Somoza, and Pol Pot, they indicate that the working people of the world are growing stronger relative to their
enemies and have the power to topple capitalist
exploiters and bureaucratic parasites.
Such events provide new confirmation of the
Marxist analysis of Stalinism, developed most
thoroughly by Trotsky in The Third International
After Lenin and The Revolution Betrayed.
THE MILITANT/AUGUST 10, 1979