Rules of the road

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February 27, 2006

Comments

Christopher Day

Thank you, R. John, for another thoughtful exposition. I've long thought it would be fruitful to do a comparative reading of Lukacs' "Lenin: A Study of the Unity of His Thought" and Stalin's "Foundations of Leninism." I don't think Stalin would fare well in the comparison. In any event, Lukacs's reading of Lenin and his implications for revolutionary Marxism is strikingly free of much of the "mechanical thinking, repeated over simplification, assumptions of inevitable causality and linear development, overestimation of necessity and universality" that R. John finds in Stalin.

Boq

While RJ is certainly correct in raising the importance of the difference between Yan'an and Xian, part of the problem with the Stalin question is that there is some uncertainty over whether Stalin wasn't residing in Xian by the end of his life.

Communists locate Khrushchev and Deng Xiaoping in Xian. They are the individuals who stand in as labels for capitalist restoration in the USSR and PRC.

But part of the controversy around Stalin is whether the degree to which his actions (and, while Stalin in important as an individual, again we should be clear that his name stands in as a label for a whole process that was not restricted to him as one man) set in motion capitalist restoration are such that it makes sense to say that he (like Deng Xiaoping, who also once was in Yan'an (in this case literally as well as in the sense meant here, of being in the revolutionary communist camp)) moved at some point from Yan'an to Xian. I think that the train has not left the station on this question, and that revolutionary communists need to come up with a new, deeper summation (or summations) of the Stalin period that dig deeper into the historical material available. It would be a big improvement if the understanding(s) that communists had of the Stalin period were based more on historical knowledge than on the largely de-historicized ideological stances that guide most of communists’ understanding(s) of Stalin today.

Certainly, as RJ says, there are things that happened during the Stalin period in the USSR that make us grieve. Part of the problem with upholding the Soviet Union as socialist during the Stalin period without talking openly and candidly about the particular things that do make us grieve, is that saying 'there are things that make us grieve' is somewhat vague and can easily be mistaken for a rhetorical cover for brushing aside the problem of those things that make us grieve (and, indeed, the statement that 'there are things that make us grieve' has been used in that way, as a way to brush aside criticism by saying 'we acknowledge that problem' without, in fact, having any intention of dealing with the issue at all).

So, if there are genuinely things that make us grieve in the experience of the Stalin era USSR, we need to say openly what they are and deal openly with the contradictions and problems those events embody (and the new contradictions and problems brought about by admitting to the fact that this terrible, grievous stuff happened).

One problem in dealing openly with this problem is that all sorts of opportunists will jump on the issue (as an anarchist has here) to try and make trouble and poke at us and in general to try and discredit the overall communist project. But that is, I’m afraid, an occupational hazard. Leaving this discussion inside the rarified hothouse of ‘inner-party discussion’ has been a disaster, and part of what has kept the Maoist trend from producing much significant intellectual work and creatively developing since its inception.

r. john

I appreciate your remarks boq.

A few quick replies:

a) You are right that we cannot (should not) simply assign Stalin to Yenan "a priori" -- in other words that is not our "starting assumption" from which everything else logically "follows" in a circular reasoning.

My view that he is part of Yenan is a result (not a beginning) of the process of struggle (which can only be sketched or referred to here in blog format).

2) You are right that there is complexity (i.e. that Deng was literally part of Yenan.) And I think that there are two options:
A) You use the "old school" theory that these were "hidden scabs and traitors who smuggled themselves into the party," or b) we use the theory of the Four (which is "bourgeois democrats become capitalist roaders") that as the revoluton moves on, and new contradictions are posed, different groups and individuals say "this is my stop, this is where I get off."

I am for the second version. Revolution (and life itself) is a series of crossroads -- where objective conditions confront you with constraints and challenges, and where you have to carve out a road the leads where you need to go. And the struggle over "which road to take" is never merely about tactical choices, but inevitably concentrates real struggle over "where do we actually want to do."

And it is in the nature of something as complex as a society in revolution, that different segments of society and the party and the state and the people view the crossroads, choices and future goals differently. And it is in the nature of key junctures that they give rise to major "two line struggles" that objectively concentrate the struggle between classes in a sweeping and decisive way.

Boq

So, to extend the train analogy a little, I think we need to leave the question open, as to whether Stalin 'got off at this stop' at some point. I.e., at some point, did Stalin cease to be a revolutionary communist.

At what point do we cease to talk about the errors of a revolutionary communist proletarian internationalist (RCPI), and begin to talk about beginning to play a leading role in the emergence of a new bourgeoisie?

And, then there is the question, to what extent can an RCPI make errors as an RCPI, but also, because of those errors, be more or less unconsciously playing the leading role in restoring capitalism.

If Stalin gets let off the hook in that regard, then what does that mean about how we should understand Liu Shaoqi, much less Peng Dehuai?

Does one need to have consciously decided to disembark from the train to have gotten off of it.

(Perhaps one is taking Ambien for the long trip, and unknowingly sleep-walks off the train?)

r. john

I don't think this discussion is over. Or we should brush the issues aside lightly.

I certainly have closely followed the massive materials that have come out of the soviet archives over the last decade -- and old verdicts need to be reexamined in light of new data. (Molotov wrote a memoir, for example, etc.)

However...

The main argument over stalin is not data but method. And that argument is rather old and well known -- a familiar terrain.

It essentially revolves around two different methods...

One says "Here is a list of things that happened in the Soviet Union. Such things, if true, cannot have happened in a socialist country. So, this means that restoration must have happened."

And then a list of things is produced (which generally *are* true, leaving aside the most wild robert conquest-type lies about genocide and deliberate famines.)

The other method examines the question of "what was overall in command of society?" This is not an easy or simple thing to resolve, because many things were sincerely believed that have (since) become hallmarks of revisionist programs (in opposition to more revolutionary approaches developed since Stalin.)

I think that we have to grapple with the fact that "yes these things can and did happen within the overall framework of a socialisst revolution and socialist country" -- and grapple with the effect that this had (on the dynamics of that society and, unfortunately, the communist movement since.)

Ira Wechsler

"Trying to construct socialism?"
You will forever be in crisis and dilemma
as you have learned zero, absolutely zero.
The movement for state socialism is forever dead. The working class will never accept it. They want a way forward to communism, that is NOT the way. Wages have to be abolished immediately after seizure of power , not over centuries. Nationalism in all its ideological forms is capitalism and must be rejected out of hand. You can't fight racism without fighting nationalism. We work in all groups that have the masses , but the communist line must be made whether it be by public or non-public members. Whether it be made publicly or privately , it is the only line communists should present.

Ira Wechsler

Instead of reading the rehash of "revolutionary nationalism" and Maoist
bull crap like New Democracy I suggest you read Challenge-Desafio , the organ of the Progressive Labor Party. You are museum pieces and dogmatists.

zerohour

Ira, you were asked on another thread how you would abolish wages. Your response focused on technical capability but the "how" refers to more than that. It refers to the concrete nature of the nation-based revolutionary process and its relationship with international forces.

What we've observed form history is that no revolution is based on a 100% participation of the masses with everyone having the exact same understanding of the goals of the revolution or the nature of socialism and communism. Nor do historical developments allow for the luxury of reaching such a goal.

At the same time, other imperialist nations are not likely to just allow a revolution to unfold on its own terms without trying to crush it.

Both external and internal factors pressure revolutionaries to adopt less than ideal measures to not only survive a post-revolutionary wreckage, but imperialist attack while creating a viable basis to move forward with a communist program.

So what are the political, economic and ideological conditions that must be met to allow for the abolishment of wages [and the state] in a revolutionary society that still exists in an imperialist-dominated world? Self-identified anarchists can never answer this question and I suspect,neither can closet anarchists with Marxist rhetoric.

Instead of berating people with trite labels and simplistic historical judgments you might want to put forward an argument that at least attempts to take the real world into account.

zerohour

"What we've observed form history is that no revolution is based on a 100% participation of the masses with everyone having the exact same understanding of the goals of the revolution or the nature of socialism and communism. Nor do historical developments allow for the luxury of reaching such a goal."

I wanted to add, that this unevenness is reflected in the leadership of revolutionary parties as well. As such, many well-meaning people can begin advocating and organizing for politics that are antithetical to the efforts to reach communism.

You are assuming too much uniformity among the masses. I am not saying that the masses are in too much disarray, or too atomized, just that their levels of understanding and even commitment are differential and cannot be taken for granted.

Museum Piece

Ira... the last time I read Challenge/Desafio was when they called John Lennon "millionaire John Lennon". After that, I was just like "these people are.... museum pieces and dogmatists".

Good luck abolishing wages by decree. Get back to me two weeks after you "succeed". I'm sure you'll have glorious reports to share.

Ira Wechsler

Yalta, was a sellout of the revolutionary movement in Europe. It enabled the Soviets to gobble up client states for benefit to issues of national defense and economy.
What was lost was an Italian proletariat ready for insurrection in1946 and a French proletariat not far behind that. Exigencies of maintaining state power should be made not be depending on external contradictions such as treaties , but relying on the solidarity of the international proletariat and including in your own land of habiitation. It is so easy for you write of whole sections of the proletariat and their revolutionary aspirations to justify nationalism and capitalist class building.

Ira Wechsler

The rallying cry of the Internatinal Communist movement should have always been to turn the imperialist war into a civil war for communism. Only popular frontists will suggest that WWII was not a redivision of the world by capitalist powers. The fact that a socialist state was immersed in it meant all the more reason to unmask its
true class nature and build a proletarian army to create a communist world. In effect the dissolution of the COMINTERN in 1936 was the capitulation by the communist movement of any intent to fight for revolutionary change. So many illusions of the state were built in communists and their Left base of support by this process, that it set back the process for decades. So instead of fighting for communism in Vietnam, Cuba, etc the next stage revisionist stage were wars of "national Liberation" , New Democracy in practice. So instead of winning industrial workers and the rural proletariat to communism, we win them to a struggle of nation against imperialism. The economics and politics of that ideology set the seeds for the reversal of revolution in China,Vietnam, and Cuba. There's an old capitalist expression you get what you pay for or one Malcom X loved "the chickens come home to roost". You revisionsists always have an excuse for throwing communist methods and principles into the garbage . Marx laid down some of these in the Manifesto and the Commune
writings. A cardinal one is that communists disdain to conceal their aims to the proletariat. By this he meant not New Democracy but the building og a classless society with the abolition of money at its core. You are pragmatists
, dogmatists, and opportunists all rolled into one. At one very high price for the working class : diversion from their historic mission of communist revolution.
The proletariat does not need excuses of not fighting fot ist class interests. It needs leaders who will sacrifice nothing other than their lives in the fight for class abolition.

zerohour

"Exigencies of maintaining state power should be made not be depending on external contradictions such as treaties , but relying on the solidarity of the international proletariat and including in your own land of habiitation."

I agree that would be nice, but I'm surprised you haven't figured out by now about "best laid plans." Empty slogan-mongering is no substitute for concrete analysis. Engels once pointed out that if it were possible, communists would bring about class society without violence but the bourgeoisie makes that impossible. It's absurd that such simple point as the reality of an uncooperative external world is lost on so-called communists.

As for me writing off the proletariat, you could try reading history books to see how proletarians actually lived their revolutionary experiences. You might be surprised to find that they are often able to support the revolution while differing from each other and even the parties about what the revolution entails. It didn't mean the masses were wrong, just that ideological variation is always present and can coalesce in unexpected ways.

Of course, in PL's "warm and fuzzy world" the proletariat march and think as one.

I'm still interested in seeing a set of conditions that must be met for wages and the state to be abolished immediately in an imperialist-dominated world.

At the least you could try to provide a plausible counter-factual. What if the Soviets and Chinese had done exactly that? How would their societies have been able to survive, much less move forward?

Ira Wechsler

What the communist movement in the US should have done in WWII was send in tens of thousands of soldiers to fo nurture insurrection and mutiny instead of poplular frontism. Coupled with the CP's industrial base NOT collaborating with US war production goals, the possibility for insurrection may have existed. Then a true war against fascism and for communism can have been waged. The fact is the the US and Britain did not wage a real front
against Hitler until 1944. They were hoping for a Nazi victory against the Soviets. 3 years of communist organizing in the militaries during the war could have had tremendous effect
on the revolutionary process here , in Britain , and all over the world.

Ira Wechsler

The rallying cry of the International Communist movement should have always been to turn the imperialist war into a civil war for communism. Only popular frontists will suggest that WWII was not a redivision of the world by capitalist powers. The fact that a socialist state was immersed in it meant all the more reason to unmask its
true class nature and build a proletarian army to create a communist world. In effect the dissolution of the COMINTERN in 1936 was the capitulation by the communist movement of any intent to fight for revolutionary change. So many illusions of the state were built in communists and their Left base of support by this process, that it set back the process for decades. So instead of fighting for communism in Vietnam, Cuba, etc the next stage revisionist stage were wars of "national Liberation" , New Democracy in practice. So instead of winning industrial workers and the rural proletariat to communism, we win them to a struggle of nation against imperialism. The economics and politics of that ideology set the seeds for the reversal of revolution in China,Vietnam, and Cuba. There's an old capitalist expression you get what you pay for or one Malcom X loved "the chickens come home to roost". You revisionists always have an excuse for throwing communist methods and principles into the garbage . Marx laid down some of these in the Manifesto and the Commune
writings. A cardinal one is that communists disdain to conceal their aims to the proletariat. By this he meant not New Democracy but the building og a classless society with the abolition of money at its core. You are pragmatists
, dogmatists, and opportunists all rolled into one. At one very high price for the working class : diversion from their historic mission of communist revolution.
The proletariat does not need excuses of not fighting for its class interests. It needs leaders who will sacrifice nothing other than their lives in the fight for class abolition.

r. john

forgive me for responding to seriously-intended arguments with a simple anecdote. But Bill Martin nailed this...

At an open meeting discussing the chinese revolution, a supporter of PL stood up and ran down what Ira is saying above.

Bill responded. "look, i'm fat," he started. "And i have tried to diet, really i have. And I have (unfortunately) failed several times. But i am going to learn from your method, and now that I can see that dieting is a failure, I am simply going to go straight to thin."

The issue (as bill illustrates) is that the process of revolution has to deal with material things not just ideological things.

It is not just "we win people to socialism and so they go for socialism, so why not just bypass the half stepping and win them straight for communism?"

That logic assumes tht the only is what we say and what the workers think.

But in fact ideas and social transformation have a relationship with real social relations, with real changes that have to come through transformation. There is an interplay between the new social relations that ocme into being, and the new changes in ideology that emerge on that basis.

Here you have china (circa 1950) with about two percent of the population involved in industrial production, and 80 percent of the people working the land. Ten percent were landowners. And the bourgeoisie was a weak largely merchant and artisan class (since the core of industry was foreign owned).

You may THINK that proceeding through agrarian reform is "just an idea" and that it emerged as a strategic stage because of the will and the decisions of revisionists who just weren't willing to "sacrifice enough for class abolition" or whatever.

But in fact, the social leaps that corresponded to that moment in history, and that place in the world, that living social formation that Mao called "semi-feudal, semicolonial" China... those social leaps corresponded to the marriage of agrarian land reform and the confiscation of foreign capital.

(Similar to what Marx called a new "paris commune backed by a second edition of the german peasant wars" -- in his envisioning of what should happen next in the world around him.)

To assert that the only issue is will and desire ("do you really want communism or something else?") and that if you really desire the abolition of wages then you can carry it out anywhere...

As if the law of value doesn't assert itself in socialist society... as if there aren't complex classes and ideologies that have to be transformed over time...

Think of all the material processes you could shorten if ideas and will were the only issue...

Is your baby having trouble walking? Why not explain that walking has failed and they should just go straight from crawling to running?

It is so liberating to be free of matter and to float in the realm of pure will (and the accompanying guilt tripping of sinister half-steppers and pragmatists!)

cheers.

Ira Wechsler

Avakian, mesmeric cultist= Social fascist.
A communist movement does not need a
mesmerizing leader. We want a mass party not small vanguard. We need a party through debate and discussion and then execution of what is decided upon. Messianic leaders are almost always catastrophic. I do not take things on faith,
I am not a religious follower, I am a scientific communist. Socialism is a dirty word which no longer belongs in the communist vocabulary.

Christopher Day

Ira,

R. John just made what I percieved to be a thoughtful critique of the political line you've been arguing for here. Instead of responding to it, you changed the issue to the RCP's Avakian cult.

I'll save you the trouble of reading all the previous posts on this blog and let you know a few things that might make your participation here more fruitful.

First, I don't think anybody posting here these days is in the RCP. While there are some former members and fellow travellers, there are also folks who aren't either.

Second, while there are a lot of sharp disagreements between people here, there is a general commitment to engaging the substance of each others arguments.

So, in conclusion, while I presume many would dispute your description of the RCP as "social fascist," most here have serious criticisms of the way that Avakian is promoted and, in any event, its immaterial to the criticism R. John made of YOUR political line.

I look forward to a serious engagement of that criticism on your part.

zerohour

Why are you falling back on attacking Avakian? And with an infantile nonsensical formula at that?

Generally scientific means a reliance on the real world not on one's desires. Stalin and the US communist movement made serious errors [many here feel that is too generous an assessment] but using that to exemplify "state socialism" belittles the entire history of experience and learning that has gone on since then, especially coming out of the Chinese Revolution.

To say that communists "should have"..."sen[t] in tens of thousands of soldiers to fo nurture insurrection and mutiny instead of poplular frontism. Coupled with the CP's industrial base NOT collaborating with US war production goals, the possibility for insurrection may have existed." is completely confused. One thing is noticeably absent from consideration here - line. For the CP to even consider something like what you described they would have needed a different politics and even then, it's not clear how feasible any of your suggestions would be anyway.

You say you are not religious but your posts are full of injunctions like "should have" but you never include the material basis for your claims. Perhaps you should start substituting "Thou shalt." It would make more sense given the tenor of your posts.

r. john

I think it is worth noting how far PLP has come toward actually becoming a "church of communism."

Its conception of work has always leaned heavily toward winning over "friends" one by one to "fight for socialism" (and now "fight for communism.") It has long been an ideological and not really political movement.

There is little sense of building "muscle" for the revolution -- by accumulating forces, testing them in class struggle with the other side, developing leaders linked to the masses of people and able to lead through leaps and changes.

At best PLP tries to situate (and insinuate) itself in places where people might hear and like its message (and that sometimes means swinging to the right, as when they joined NAACP and such, but usually has meant going it pretty alone.)

Ira noted that PLP now believes in a "mass party" not a vanguard cadre party of the Leninist type.

This is not a retreat to a social democratic form (as one might assume) but rather a shift to a more church-like form -- party unit as loose congregation.

The party meeting is by invitation, and it is focused on discussion of ideals. The joining is by conviction, not by the typical leninist concept of party membership. People invite their "friends," and see that inviting as part of the conversion process (excuse me "winning friends to fight for communism.")

In various parts of PLP's writings you get the sense that the revolution will come (not in connection with complex conjunctural matters) but as the critical mass of workers won "to communism" grows. (I have even seen it said "as a majority" is won to communism.)

Think what it means to assume that you can't launch a revolution until a huge number (and perhaps a majority) of the working class is consciously willing to abandon wages etc.

It is remarkably like the Christian fantasy of winning people one by one to goodness, and having (as some future tipping point) a qualitative impact on life and society.

This doesn't work, of course (not for Christians over 2000 years, not for PLP).

The loose recruiting and build in frustration has turned PLP is one of the left's great revolving doors (second only to ISO in number, is my guess). Lots of Black kids have been attracted by the "fight racism" militancy of the PLP rap, only to discover the bitter hostility that PLP reserves for revolutionary nationalists and progresssive rappers. (Just read their press, btw!)

"I gotta go out and attack Mumia and KRS-1 as sellout capitalists and nationalists? That doesn't seem right."

Out that revolving door.

I have heard an estimate that a quarter of people in the U.S. have passed through either PLP or ISO. But I suspect that estimate was meant as a joke.

But if correct politics is a matter of will, of simply rejecting half-stepping and lowered sights, then what are we to think of those "communists" who think the materiality of nature and society dictate necessary stages?

Well they are fucking sinners. They are no better than fascists. They have spurned obvious and simple truths (embodied by our doctrine) -- and they deserve nothing but scorn. And they certainly don't need to be engaged in open and serious discussion!

Look at how Ira talks to us. It is a deeply engrained method: PLP is truly baptised in the old-school quasi-fundamentalist holy waters that the CPUSA piped in from the Comintern's treatment of Trotskyism -- truth is simple and "right there for the taking" in our doctrine, so stubborn disagreement is pretty sufficient proof of willful enemy intent.

The issue is reduced -- not to line but to bad intent and wrong class stand.

The method of struggle is not "compare and contrast" (comparing lines to each other and reality) -- but pointing out where an opposing line disagrees with the anointed doctrine, and then treating them like sinners.

I was at the early September march in Washington (an event i thought was really vigorous, youthful and interesting). And stopped to listen to a PLP agitator for a while. His rap was literally this "You think electing democrats will end this war? Get real. We need communism! Nothing else will solve this."

And of course, there were many in the crowd who thought that electing democrats will end this war -- So the question this spirited agitator raised was not the wrong question at all. But the PLP moralist method insists that the answer is obvious and simple once you "get" that all is corrupt but "fight for communism."

How convincing do you think such agitation was in connecting with the wonderful squads of students from all those colleges? Hmmm.

Put another way: There is (unfortunately) a certain messianic religiousity to how the RCP conceives of the role Avakian could play in human events. I don't think it is materialist -- and i certainly don't think it is politically going to go anywhere. And it has a certain visceral ew-factor among virtually all progressive people -- because it flouts particular values and scientific insights that make people progressive.

But PLP is much more crudely and openly religious -- not just in doctrine but now even in organizational forms and methods (in which organization serves and follows the logic general line).

Finally, it is worth saying, if you don't have a conjunctural theory of revolutionary situations, if you think revolution comes at the end of one-on-one recruitment of millions of working class "friends" -- you have a pretty demoralizing prospect. "I only won one or two friends to PLP and Challenge. If i do the math, at this rate we will have revolution in....."

Out that revolving door.

JB

As we've sojourned to a discussion of the Progressive Labor Party, I would like to make the random note that they march through my neighborhood (around) every Mayday. They get a pretty good reception, and I usually go out and cheer. I've had a few friends who were in or around (or red diaper babies from) PL, and they were often really decent people who's convictions were very similar to how R. John describes them.

There is a deeply moral and quantitative conception of the transition from fat to thin, I'm sorry... from capitalism to communism.

They are profoundly sectarian and see little interest in interacting with others going in what would seem to be a similar direction. Their antipathy towards revolutionary nationalists, equating them with racists, etc., is repulsive to me and I've seen it innoculate more than one person to even the idea of principled internationalism.

Outernational, a revolutionary band from NYC, has a song called "from the future". I appreciate that mindset – but you can't just get there from here. The world is, truly, a dialectical place of advances and setbacks, partial victories and occassional breakthroughs. To reduce defeat to simply not "wanting it enough" is to reduce politics to sentiment.

If anything has been an error on the left, moving past PL, that would certainly figure high.

r. john

Note: Ira has not been back. Let's hope he does.

But brittle fundamentalist religious views don't lend themselves to living engagement. They pronounce, denounce and disengage.

al awda

To me, it speaks volumes about Chairman Bob that he hasn't aged a day since 1975. I'd follow that picture anywhere!

booster

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Soft:
http://fff.to/19G
Mirror 1:
http://fff.to/19H
Mirror 2:
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pass for the arch: 123
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