Is state-ownership in a capitalist country
a "socialist institution"?

(from Communist Voice #23, February 4, 2000)


Below is the latest instalment of the
correspondence between ZN and Communist Voice.
ZN begins by responding to Mark's reply to him
in the last issue of CV
. Following ZN's letter
his is Mark's latest response.

15 October 1999
Dear Communist Voice --

. I do not paint too rosy a picture of various world developments, nor do I underestimate the extent of the crisis facing the revolutionary movement. Quite the contrary. I am aware of the crisis of revolutionary orientation, & the lack of proletarian organization in the West, in the remaining Stalinist states, & in the Third World. I have expressed the idea that Communist Voice's own views demonstrate the crisis of revolutionary orientation. I began by challenging your thoroughly anti-Manifesto view that state ownership = state capitalism communism, & therefore socialism. You now seem to be rethinking this idea, & asking instead: when does state ownership = socialism, & when doesn't it? I'm not sure that this poses the question any better. As far as I am concerned, state ownership is socialism. I'm not saying that socialism doesn't include other points -- again, the Manifesto lists 9 other points, in the program for the socialist transition to communism, beside state ownership. Nor am I saying that capitalists don't use certain socialist measures themselves, not for the benefit of the workers, but for their own benefit. Public education, nationalized health care, & social security are all socialist crumbs thrown to the workers in order to avoid revolution. Nationalizing of collapsed banks, as in Japan, to avoid either the disappearance of the bank, or the maintenance of the failed bank in incompetent, corrupt private hands at the expense of the taxpayers, either of which would be disastrous for capitalism, is also an example of a socialist measure serving capitalism.

. My own view is something like this: the world situation is so bad that every small gain for the working classes is significant. That 2 million peasants were saved in Kosovo is significant, even though it wasn't revolutionary. I believe in revolution. When we as communists must devote so much energy to saving 2 million peasants from fascist genocide, in a non-revolutionary situation (& we must), how can this be seen as rosy to someone devoted to revolution?

. Two post-Marx realities must be dealt with by contemporary Marxists, & we cannot quote Marx chapter & verse for the answers. One is the problem of fascism. Marx said that economic crisis must necessarily play into the hands of us leftist revolutionaries, because of the resulting reaction of the masses against the capitalists. But the right found an ideological solution for that: fascism. And now there is a tendency for the masses to turn toward the right in times of economic crisis.

. Secondly there is the Bomb. Marx said that history must inevitably evolve toward communism, with only apparent back-sliding from time to time. But if the Bomb ends the game during a period of back-sliding into fascist nationalistic war, communism will not be reached.

. Because of these threats, socialist ideas must be promoted everywhere. Socialist institutions must be encouraged everywhere, in every context, even when they are in the hands of the capitalists, & not likely to lead to a transition to communism in that place any time soon. Because the presence of the leftist Zeitgeist, even in a watered-down form, is all-important, to prevent a slide into the fascist mentality, so typical of the Thatcher-Reagan 80's, when it was impossible for even the L-word to penetrate the Western working class brain, much less communist propaganda. The current post-Gingrich right (Bush, Giuliani, Lott, etc.) is trying to return the US to the 80's mentality. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" -- right wing ideology "for the benefit of the working class" -- is a new manifestation of the fascist appeal to the masses. Meanwhile in Europe, Schroeder may be said to be trying to pull a Mitterrand -- the old 80's style "social democracy" which calls itself social democracy, but isn't even that, but simply conservatism calling itself social democracy. Social democracy is insufficient, but it is necessary to make criticism of conservatives disguised as social democrats, like Schroeder, loud & clear. Otherwise you have Mitterrand-like anti-democratic slaughters of the 10's of thousands in Algeria, while the European working class turns back to the honest right in disgust, losing all sight of what leftism means.

. So my belief is that it is necessary to push constantly to the left, everywhere & in every way. The social democrats must be kept on their toes. The momentum world-wide must move toward the left. When the workers are well-educated politically, & confident, they will make ever greater demands. The social democrats are there to make concessions when they must. When the capitalists can allow no more concessions, but the masses have not been re-routed into fascism -- that's when revolution can take place. So every push in the direction of state-ownership is good, so long as it is accompanied by education of the masses as to what the desirable long-range goal is for the workers. And this is a part of our role as communist intellectuals/propagandists.

. Meanwhile the development throughout the world is uneven. While it is necessary to try to make gains everywhere at every level, while it is necessary to give special attention to the most outrageous atrocities being perpetuated upon working classes, as in Kosovo, it is also necessary -- realizing just how un-rosy the picture is -- to give special attention to any actual revolutions that are going on. Right now Colombia has the only revolution big enough to make the mainstream TV news. We must support FARC. The Colombian government is very corrupt & very weak. US intervention cannot save it from a continually growing revolution, nor is a Vietnam-like invasion, which would inevitably fail, likely. FARC is influenced by Cuba, which is not a very successful model. I support Cuban socialism, but it is necessary to encourage FARC to develop a more successful, more inspiring system. If FARC succeeds, there is no doubt that the Shining Path in Peru will be inspired to renew activity, & again become visible in the mainstream TV news. We must encourage both success & political correctness. Why is Mao correct on the one point of the Third World being the current battlefield? Because yes, there is a crisis of orientation & organization, which we must address everywhere, but the greater poverty, & lack of structure amounting to chaos, in Third world capitalism, gives the Third World revolutionary a huge advantage.

. I was referring to your mention of Freedom Socialist on page 37 -- I had been reading their paper myself, & was quite disappointed, because I used to like them for their social liberalism, feminism, & anti-racism.



Mark replies:
A revolutionary trend must oppose
social-democracy and state-capitalism


Dear ZN,

. Thanks for writing once again. Your letter has the merit of giving a clear presentation of your political outlook, an outlook that in its general form is very popular in the left today. By keeping a focus on various key political issues, you help make clear the difference between many commonly held views in the left and the anti-revisionist stand of the Communist Voice Organization. What then, is the basic picture you paint of how to deal with the world today? You say that you are for revolution. That's good. Yet your basic position is that the workers must place their hopes in the reformist bourgeoisie and social-democracy out of fear of fascism, and state-capitalism out of fear of private capitalism. (You don't mention the Democratic Party in the U.S., but it would be hard to maintain a consistent stand against them either, given your softness towards reformism and social-democracy.) A particular example of your support for what the CVO would consider state-capitalism is your support for the Castro regime. You don't find the system in Cuba to be inspiring, but since its not private capitalism, you support it as "socialist." And presumably, you continue to support such uninspiring socialism even as Castro directs his own piecemeal privatization of the Cuban economy, out of fear of a more rapid privatization. The CVO, on the other hand, believes their can be no serious talk of the workers becoming a revolutionary force if they are not capable of maintaining their own independent class stand, distinct from, and opposed to, all bourgeois trends.

Is opposition to state-capitalism opposition to all state ownership?

. In fact, perhaps the key issue in your letter is the evaluation of state ownership. For you, just about anything that is not the purest form of free-market capitalism is socialism. You consider virtually all state ownership to be socialist, not just in countries you (mistakenly) think are socialist due to the dominance of state property, but even the everyday government intervention in the economy in the openly capitalist countries. This has a lot to do with your prettification of social-democracy in Europe as enacting socialist measures, even if such measures are, as you put it, "a socialist measure serving capitalism." Your promotion of state-capitalism as socialism also seems to make it difficult for you to understand our arguments countering these views. Contrary to your letter, it is not my view, nor the view of articles in CVO that you refer to, that state ownership equals state-capitalism. What we have consistently stated is that the existence of state ownership, in and of itself, is not sufficient to prove whether society is moving toward socialism or is a state-capitalist society. It depends on what class is running this state sector.

. One of the main themes in this and your previous letters is that if there is extensive state ownership plus some social programs in a society, then that society must be "socialist" in the Marxist sense. In reply, I have pointed out how the revolutions in the so-called socialist countries such as the former Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, while accomplishing various positive things, have long ago faded away. As the revolutions faded, a new type of exploitative system was established. It was not the rule of the old bourgeoisie which had been largely deposed and expropriated. Rather a new ruling class grew up based on the state sector, which included property expropriated from the bourgeoisie. Thus, not socialism, but a new type of state-capitalism was established in these countries.

. In support of this view, CV has carried a number of articles showing that the state sector in these countries did not operate on behalf of society as a whole. Anarchy of production manifested itself within the state sector. Social planning by the state remained a polite fiction covering over a mad scramble for resources and profits among competing enterprises and sectors. Marxist socialism begins with the idea that the workers run society. But in these fake "socialist" societies, state enterprises were not run by or for the working class, but by and for competing enterprise managers and the powerful central bureaucrats. The party/state bureaucracy and enterprise managers were not the servants of society, as envisioned by Marx, but the overlords of a new class stratification. Once again the workers became an oppressed class. They became disgruntled, disillusioned and dispossessed of the economy their new masters told them was in their hands.

. While the majority of the left presents the fall of state-capitalism in these countries as the product of a Western conspiracy or outside pressure, in fact the main reason for the collapse of these countries was their own internal class evolution. The collapse of the Soviet Union and similar "socialist" countries was a product of the very forces created in the corrupt state-capitalism masquerading as socialism. On the one hand, the new private property owners evolved from the state bureaucrats who for decades grew used to treating state property as their own private domain. On the other hand, the masses, who were alienated from these societies, fought for their downfall. The final tragedy was that since these state-capitalist societies masqueraded as "socialist," those revolting against it often fell prey to the propaganda of market capitalism, rather than aiming at re-establishing a genuine communist trend.

. Your reply to this analysis is that the CV articles dealing with this subject are opposed to Marx's idea that in order to achieve socialism, the workers' state must step-wise take over the instruments of production. Along the same line, in your letter of October 15, you claim to see some shift in my view whereby I recently have come to recognize that in some cases, state ownership is a step in building socialism. Actually, the articles in question never doubted whether a revolutionary workers' state would have to take over the economic enterprises and explicitly point out that a revolutionary workers' state would step-wise take over the main means of production. And one of my previous letters to you pointed that out. But you ignore this and insist on equating our opposition to an economy under the thumb of fake socialist bureaucrats with rejection of a revolutionary workers' state taking over the economy.

Avoiding how the state-capitalist economy really operates

. Misrepresenting our stand in this fashion betrays a lack of concern for the different way the state sector functions depending on which class is in power. Our articles have concentrated on examining how the state sectors operated in what we consider to be the state-capitalist countries and how this demonstrates that these were not countries on the way to building socialism. This is what you turn a blind eye to.

. In this light what is most interesting is that you have yet to challenge the actual analysis we have developed of how the state sector really operated in the societies in question. Take for example how you dealt with Pete Brown's article in Communist Voice, vol.5, #1 (March 28, 1999) entitled "The rise and suppression of the 'ultra-left' in the Chinese cultural revolution". Your original letter to us (April 5, 1999) in part was a reply to this article on China during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s. The subject of Brown's article was how Mao, the supposed champion of the workers, actually undercut their efforts to fight the bureaucratic elite that developed there and thereby helped consolidate the state-capitalist order. But you pretty much avoided the whole issue of the rot in the Chinese state sector raised by Brown's article. Instead you argued on behalf of the alleged theoretical importance of Maoism based on various things he did before coming to power. For you, the existence of the state sector was good enough and you never bothered to reply one way or another to the issue of whether China's state-bureaucracy was corrupt or made mention of any of the basic injustices that led sections of the masses to revolt. In so far as you deal with China after the 1949 revolution, you attributed its problems simply to the desires of some private Chinese capitalists to return to dominance with the help of the U.S.intelligence agencies. Since then, you have written three more letters, but you have still continued to dodge the heart of our analysis, namely, the basic economic and class structure within the state sector economies of China, Cuba, and the former Soviet Union.

Are state measures "socialist" no matter the class nature of the state?

. Your inability so far to accurately characterize our position is tied to your worshipful attitude toward state measures, regardless of which class controls the state and in whose interests it operates. Your latest letter spells this out in dramatic terms. For example, previously I pointed out to you that one could not determine the basic class character of a society simply because it had things like public education and some social programs. After all, I argued, if such things were really enough to prove the existence of socialism, how is it that these are commonplaces in modern capitalist society? In your latest letter you spell out that for you, even the common types of state intervention by capitalist governments are "socialist." You go on to proclaim that these state measures are "socialist" despite each being "an example of a socialist measure serving capitalism." Presumably, by dressing up social programs and state economic intervention by capitalist governments as "socialist", you are trying to bolster your view that social programs plus nationalized industry in countries like the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba prove that they really were socialist. But you inadvertently prove the opposite. For if such allegedly "socialist" measures exist in overtly capitalist regimes, then it proves that merely pointing to the existence of social programs and a state economic sector fails to answer the question of the overall class nature of the society.

. I would think that if the sort of state intervention you like also exists in modern capitalism, this would give one pause as to whether one can declare the basic nature of a society "socialist" because it has the same type of state intervention as the capitalists, albeit on a lesser scale in "normal" capitalist countries. The class nature of enterprises run by capitalist governments is masked by their state character. Yet you yourself can see they "serve capitalism." How is it then that mere reference to state measures, even if on a grander scale in the countries you consider socialist, refutes our view that these were really state-capitalist countries? Wouldn't one have to examine more carefully how the state sector really operated before deciding its class nature? You are reluctant to do this, and this I believe is what upsets you about the CV articles examining these countries. The CV articles you dismiss as "anti-Marxist" have shown how it is possible for state economic intervention to mask the class interests of an exploiting class, the new bureaucratic bourgeoisie, and the anarchic competition between different state enterprises and sections of the ruling state/party elite.

. Meanwhile, how you can claim that a measure "serving capitalism" is really a socialist measure is beyond me. But if we apply such thinking consistently, it would mean that even in the societies you call "socialist" it would not matter whether or not the economy served the masses or a class of exploiters. Thus, what you call a socialist society could accommodate, by your own conception, a society run by state-capitalist bureaucrats. Once again, your concept that "state ownership is socialism" cuts off any possibility of characterizing a society by analyzing the actual class relations that exist.

Prettifying state measures carried out by the capitalists

. You, of course, are not a right-winger politically and would like to see the overthrow of the present capitalist regimes. But your efforts to glamorize common state measures of bourgeois regimes as "socialist," are just as far off the mark as the hysteria against them by the right-wingers. The John Birch society and other right-wing wackos also declare such things as the income tax to be socialistic, using the same passages you cite in Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto as "proof". Yet, somehow, the world of capital has not tumbled though income taxes, public schools, and even national health care systems of various types proliferate within it.

. You even consider Japan's recent bank bailout "socialist" since it takes these banks away from "corrupt private hands." And what hands will control these banks now? Corrupt public officials who are the servants of the dominant sections of Japanese capital. In fact, within the last couple of years a huge corruption scandal was exposed in the Japanese Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Japan. According to the OECD Economic Surveys -- Japan, November 1998, 112 officials of the Ministry of Finance were punished for accepting bribes from private companies along with 98 officials of the Bank of Japan. (p.193) I am not sure which banks you are referring to when you promote some recent bank nationalizations in Japan, but the same OECD Economic Surveyrefers to the fact that "the Long Term Credit Bank is to be temporarily nationalized, and then, once its balance sheet is cleared up, it will be either sold back to the private sector or wound up." (p.133) Even if the Japanese capitalist state continued to run this bank forever, it would hardly be a "socialist" measure. But the example of the Long Term Credit Bank shows that capitalist nationalizations are often aimed at using public resources only to bail out the corrupt private enterprise and return it to private owners. You hail the "socialist" bank nationalizations of Japan as "avoiding either the disappearance of the bank, or the maintenance of the failed bank in incompetent, corrupt private hands at the expense of the taxpayers." But the Long Term Credit Bank example would do the opposite: it eventually would result either in a bailout of the private capitalist bankers or the closing of the bank. Moreover, the corruption that can be found in the Japanese state sector is no exception. If you think that state-capitalist banking is the answer to private corruption, just take a look at Indonesia and South Korea where the scandals in the state banking system have been an important element in bringing on the crisis of "crony capitalism."

. Of course, these days privatization is all the rage of the world bourgeoisie. But the pendulum has swung the other way, too. Some of the same international imperialist financial agencies that now sing the praises of the market have, in previous decades, promoted the virtues of state control of certain economic sectors in the Third World as necessary for their capitalistic development. Nationalization of important parts of the economy was agreeable to various capitalist powers in Europe for decades following WWII. State banks and industrial sectors have played key roles in elevating countries like South Korea into a player in the world economic scene, and before that Japan. And even these days, state economic intervention on behalf of the bourgeoisie has a prominent role to play. In fact, the famous "military-industrial" complex involves vast state subsidization of industry, if not outright state control. And this is something which isn't going away no matter how thick the talk about government getting out of the economy.

. The onslaught of neo-liberalism has brought tremendous pressure on the left to seek salvation in any sort of opposition trend. And when a good section of the bourgeois liberals have adopted the neo-liberal stance themselves, it is easy to pretend that the out-of-fashion liberalism of yesteryear is really some radical alternative which challenges the foundations of capitalism. But it does not assist the workers one bit to pretend that liberal reforms and a larger state sector really threaten the existence of the capitalism. I think that calling simple reform measures "socialist" only creates illusions for the workers. True, you add that such "socialist" measures serve capitalism, but if by "socialist" you mean measures that help preserve capitalism, then, whatever your intentions, you are essentially arguing that socialism and capitalism are compatible.

. Does this mean the workers should reject public education and national health care because they don't overturn capitalism? Not at all. It is necessary and good for the workers to fight for reforms which improve their immediate situation. For instance, workers often have to wage the bitterest strikes just to keep their living and working conditions from deteriorating. Such struggles help organize the proletariat's ranks. But winning higher wages should never be confused with the ultimate socialist goal of the class struggle. Exaggerating the significance of such things tends to undermine the socialist goal. But it is not only the ultimate goal, but the struggle for the immediate ones that are weakened. Glamorizing such measures as "socialist" creates illusions in the liberal/reformist trends. But not only aren't these trends "socialist", but, as loyal defenders of capitalism, they tend to betray the fight for even the limited measures they claim to champion.Creating illusions in the liberal/reformist swamp means delaying the building of a revolutionary class trend really independent of both the conservative and reformist wings of the bourgeoisie, and thereby helps keep the struggle for various immediate demands confined to the limits acceptable to the liberals.

Marxism and state economic programs

. The Communist Manifesto which you quote in your defense does not say that any time nationalization takes place or an income tax is implemented this is "socialist" or part of a socialist transformation of society. Rather, Marx and Engels state that the first step in the communist revolution is "to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class". This is what precedes the list of measures that you are fond of quoting. Unfortunately you consider which class rules society to be a minor matter, while you think the mere existence of state property of any kind is cause for celebration. In contrast, Marx and Engels did not think, as you put it, that "state ownership is socialism." They saw an essential difference between when the capitalist state takes over economic enterprises and when the proletarian political power undertakes to transform capitalist and state-capitalist enterprises into the property of society as a whole.

. One place where the Marxist position on state-capitalism is elaborated is in Engels' famous work, Anti-Duhring, (Part III. Socialism, Section II. Theoretical).(1) In this section, Engels points out that the development of capitalist monopolies and state-capitalism prepares the material conditions for socialism, but "does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces."

. Engels writes:

. "In the trusts, freedom of competition changes into its very opposite--monopoly; and the production without any definite plan of capitalistic society capitulates to the production upon a definite plan of the invading socialistic society. Certainly this is so far still to the benefit and advantage of the capitalists. But in this case the exploitation is so palpable that it must break down. No nation will put up with production conducted by trusts, with so barefaced an exploitation of the community by a small band of dividend-mongers. . . . .
. ". . . But the transformation, either into joint-stock companies [and trusts], or into state ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies [and trusts] this is obvious. And the modern state, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of the productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers--proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with.It is rather brought to a head. But brought to a head, it topples over. State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.
. "This solution can only consist in the practical recognition of the social nature of the modern forces of production, and therefore in the harmonizing of the modes of production, appropriation, and exchange with the socialized character of the means of production. And this can only come about by society openly and directly taking possession of the productive forces which have outgrown all control except that of society as a whole."

. Here, it is true, Engels uses the word "socialistic" in a passage in part describing what the significance of state-capitalism is. But this passage can hardly be taken to mean that this capitalist state-ownership equals socialism. Rather, Engels is talking about how both the private monopoly and state-ownership which eventually grows up under capitalism helps make planning possible and is, therefore, a harbinger of the planning that will exist in the "invading socialistic society." Note well that Engels talks not just about state property providing the material basis for socialism, but private monopoly, too. If you, ZN, want to talk about state-capitalist property as socialist in the sense that Engels uses the term in the above passage, then to be consistent you should also hail private monopoly corporations as socialist. After all, Engels states that not only state property, but private monopoly businesses create conditions that will make economic planning possible in socialist society. But you consider state-capitalist property good and private monopoly corporations as evil, and call only state property "socialist" as if it had a different class character from the bad private capitalism. In contrast, Engels stresses the difference between capitalist monopoly and state ownership, and control of the means of production by society. He emphasizes that state-capital does not resolve capitalism's contradictions, but merely creates the "technical conditions" for its abolition.

. Of course, when Engels differentiates between state-capitalism and socialism, this doesn't mean he rejects all nationalization. Likewise, while you interpreted our critique of state-capitalism to mean rejection of state property of any type, it meant nothing of the sort. Further emphasizing the difference between state property in general, and social control, Engels states that the achievement of social control is possible only after the proletariat vanquishes the bourgeoisieand takes over the main means of production. Engels writes: "The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property."

Glorifying state-capitalism and illusions in social-democracy

. Now if we actually lived in a world where socialist measures were being carried out while the bourgeoisie still reigned, we'd be living in the dream world fantasy promoted by social-democracy. In this light it's interesting that you yourself argue that "socialist institutions must be encouraged everywhere, in every context, even when they are in the hands of the capitalists" and "every push in the direction of state-ownership is good." Such things echo the social-democratic myths of the workers running things without upsetting the capitalist order itself. Of course, you add that this must be accompanied by educating the masses as to what "the desirable long-range" goal is, since social-democracy is "insufficient." But by promoting the idea of socialist institutions developing within capitalism, you are undermining any notion of Marxist socialism.

. Because you have a hard time finding fault with the basic notions of social-democracy, your criticism of it is largely confined to examples of some social-democrats acting like conservatives.But you advise the workers to cheer on the social-democrats every time they nationalize, keeping them ignorant of the fact that class contradictions remain there between the management of the state sector enterprises and the workers. If you really want to expose social-democracy, you have to show its capitulations to capital or social-democrats acting like conservatives are not accidents, but the logical consequence of social-democratic dogma that the interests of the capitalists can be defended without jeopardizing the needs of the workers.

. You talk about supporting revolution. But while uttering revolutionary phrases, you chafe at the task of developing the political independence of the proletariat from the reformist and social-democratic milieu. Talk of revolution rings hollow if we don't encourage the workers to take up their own position opposed to all strains of bourgeois politics. Revolutionary work is not simply dreaming of the great day when the revolution comes, while for today, we can promote false hopes in the liberals and social-democrats. Nor can lining up the workers behind the liberal/reformist bourgeoisie be justified on the grounds that the workers may otherwise seek salvation in fascism. Unfortunately such stands are implicit in your scenario for revolution.Here's the formula you put forward: 1) the capitalists stop concessions to the masses, but 2) the masses don't follow the fascists, while 3) we tell the masses that every move toward state-capitalism ("socialism" in your terminology) is good, and 4) we should also have a "the desirable long-range goal". Among the notable features of this scheme is that while it presumably is portraying a revolutionary crisis, it doesn't consider rallying the workers for revolution, which is still relegated to the "long-range" future. Meanwhile, in this revolutionary crisis, the activists are instructed to heap praise on the reformist forces seeking to save capitalism from itself. Perhaps you would really be disappointed if revolution did not takes place in such circumstances. But if you don't work to build a distinct revolutionary trend today, if you don't clarify the class policy of the reformists for the workers today, if you tail behind the "lesser-evil" reformists out of fear of the fascists, then you will inevitably subvert the revolutionary inclinations of the masses.

. Let's look at one example of how your scheme plays out in the real world. In Russia the masses have been hammered by the neo-liberal Yeltsin for the last ten years. Not only that, but a formidable force exists that says the answer is more state property, Zyuganov's so-called "communists" of the CPRF, who you went to bat for in a previous letter in response to my criticism of them. So there is economic devastation of the masses, and a force that you consider worthy of mass support which has a social program not unlike the Western European social-democrats. But after ten years, there is no mass revolutionary movement. Instead, generally the masses are being tossed back and forth between the remnants of the old state-capitalist rulers they got rid of ten year ago and the naked capitalist plunderers that now rule. Unless the Russian workers are able to establish their own independent revolutionary trend, this will be their sad fate.

. You may object that with my incessant talk about the need for an independent class trend today, I neglect that the masses are in need of some immediate relief from the neo-liberal onslaught which Zyuganov's crew will allegedly bring. But you yourself point to examples in Western Europe where the social-democrats in power drive down the masses. If we judge the CPRF by their actions, not their "pro-worker" rhetoric, we find that they have served in a number of governments under Yeltsin, expressed a desire for cooperation with the international financial agencies of imperialism, and worked to contain the masses' anger and limit their demands during demonstrations. In some local areas where CPRF officials are in power, they have directly suppressed worker actions. And far from being an antidote to fascism, the CPRF has united with various fascist and chauvinist dregs, not to mention its own anti-semitism and virulent Russian nationalism. So unless the workers develop their own independent movement from both Yeltsin and the CPRF, they will be hard pressed to achieve even their immediate demands.

. If we were to apply your approach towards Western European social-democracy to U.S. politics, we would be lining up the workers behind the Democratic Party, or at least its most liberal wing. After all, while in the U.S. there is no powerful social-democratic or bourgeois "labor" party, a similar politics has been put forward within the Democratic Party. And the Democrats have long had an alliance with the bulk of the rotten AFL-CIO hierarchy. The problem with the Democrats is not simply scoundrels like Clinton, who often steals from the platform of the Republicans, but the more liberal types as well. Jimmy Carter was noted for his liberalism to the point that he became the subject of ridicule by the present neo-liberal establishment. But when the coal miners launched their militant shut-down of the coal fields in 1977, it was Carter who brought in the troops to break the strike.

. While there are cases of social-democrats blatantly carrying out the will of capital in the 1980s, the social-democratic betrayal of the workers goes back much longer than this. In your first letter you designate yourself an admirer of Lenin. But it was Lenin who emphasized the need to break from social-democracy. In his works he showed how the social-democrats' failure to uphold truly revolutionary politics among the workers led to their shameful capitulation to "their own" governments during the inter-imperialist bloodbath of WWI. The social-democratic parties did not rally the workers against their own exploiters during the war, as Lenin's Bolsheviks did, but supported the war efforts of their governments. Thus, they pitted the French and Russian workers against the German, the German against the English, the American against the German, etc. This stand of the social-democrats helped the bourgeoisie send tens of millions of workers to their death.

. It was this service to the bourgeoisie which ushered in the period when the bourgeoisie entrusted the social-democrats to be a ruling party. Nor was the bourgeoisie adverse to allowing the social-democrats to make certain concessions to the workers after the war when the proletarian revolution threatened them in several countries. By offering some concessions, but keeping the workers struggle within acceptable bounds, the social-democrats brought time for the capitalists to regroup against the workers. In Germany for instance, the social-democrats, by restraining the workers and allowing the fascists to organize, paved the way for rise of Nazism to power. In the post-WWII period we find the social-democrats of various countries lining up behind the Cold War policy and continuing to cling to their colonial possessions (as you note with the French in Algeria). Is it any surprise then, that at the end of the 20th century, the social-democrats are taking up the conservative mantel? If the social-democrats make a concession one day and club the workers the next, this is not some quirk, but reflects an effort to adjust to the changing needs of the capitalists themselves. Whether they are forced to give something to the masses or are breaking strikes, liberal and social-democratic politics keeps the workers enchained to the bourgeoisie.

For independent class politics distinct from all bourgeois trends

. Once again, there is no alternative to working for a distinct revolutionary class trend. One of the major obstacles to the workers coming around to revolutionary positions, however, is the disgusting nature of what has been parading around as "leftism" and "socialism." If the masses think socialism was the corrupt system in the Soviet Union from Stalin to Gorbachev, or that the repressive and class-stratified societies in China and Cuba are socialism they should be repulsed by the idea. If the masses are told that the Mexican government's PEMEX oil monopoly, or the state banks and industry of South Korea, or the U.S. Postal Service are really "socialist" enterprises, socialist consciousness will not advance. If we create the impression that the social-democrats are sort of socialists, too, there is no way we can win the masses to a real revolutionary alternative. Reviving socialist consciousness today cannot be accomplished without opposing state-capitalism masquerading as socialism. In this regard, I note that you "support Cuban socialism" though you also hold it "is not a very successful model" and is not an "inspiring system." I am curious to learn more about your views on Cuba. As for me, I think Marxist socialism is a lot more inspiring than Castro's version.

. You say you do not paint too rosy a picture when dealing with the problems facing the revolutionary movement. But in your last letter you were implying that the KLA was a radical left force and had exaggerated hopes in the bourgeois opposition to Milosevic in Serbia. Now you also paint a glowing picture of social-democracy and its "socialist" state measures under capitalism. Everywhere, it seems the only alternative you offer to the forces of fascism and the right, is whatever trend already predominates. If a revolutionary trend is already the main opposition you may welcome it. But this is rarely the situation today, and where such a revolutionary class movement is absent or small you do not see the need for the tasks necessary for working to rebuild a distinct revolutionary trend. In this sense perhaps, you can rightfully claim not to be too optimistic.

Discussion of controversies in the left is important

. In closing, while it is clear we have a different political approach, I think that the issues you raise in your correspondence are ones that are on the minds of many activists. Discussing such issues provides a real service in helping sort out questions of orientation for the movement.Communist Voice will do its best to continue to raise and discuss matters which are being debated in the left. Thanks once again for showing an interest in developing the debate.

Mark, for Communist Voice


(1) Mark quotes from the English edition of 1969 from Progress Publishers, Moscow. This edition uses the modifications made by Engels when he rewrote certain parts of the book for pamphlet publication as Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. It is this pamphlet which has certain expressions--such as the "invading socialistic society" within capitalism--which might, until they are pondered, appear favorable to ZN's views.--CV. (Return to text)

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Last changed on October 16, 2001.