(CV #33, March 25, 2004)
. Our last issue carried a comradely exchange between the FRP (League for the Proletarian Party) of Sweden and the Communist Voice about Trotskyism. The FRP had previously supported Trotskyism and the League for the Revolutionary Party in the US. Its resolution "Back to the classics of Marxism-Leninism" put forward a criticism of some of the dogmas of Trotskyism. This gave rise to a discussion of communist theory. Their resolution, our views on it, and some other material appeared in our last issue. In this issue, we carry FRP's reply to our views about their resolution, and our further comments. Since then, the FRP has replied further in another thoughtful letter which we will carry in the next issue of CV.
"Perparim Besniku" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Box 190 15
161 19 Bromma
. FRP may contacted at <email@example.com> or at
Box 190 15
161 19 Bromma
Letters from the FRP of Sweden:
discussion on the resolution "back to the classics of Marxism-Leninism"
23 November 2003
Dear Communist Voice,
. Here is the first part of our reply to your mail of September 11. The reason why we divide it into two parts, is that we would like to avoid too much delay in proceeding with the discussion. We begin with some general remarks and then dwell somewhat longer on the question of program. Meanwhile, we are preparing the part dealing with united front tactics, permanent revolution and the question of "socialism in one country". Here the two last-mentioned subjects are mentioned only in by-passing, among the general remarks.
. You speak of Trotskyism as "Stalinism in reverse". Yes -- if we by that don't mean Trotsky's intentions, as he obviously fought to save the revolution, but his limitations, the framework to which he confined himself, then we agree. In Trotsky's actions, as in his writings, there is a kind of ever-present tension between these aspects, which makes him very contradictory. While Stalin, on the one hand, was the representative of the rising bureaucracy, Trotsky, on the other, tried to counteract that development, because he could see that it was harmful; he did it in what appears like a rather groping manner, because he didn't really know how. He acted as something of a "revolutionary conscience", but his understanding of what happened, and why, was far too shallow (compare with Lenin, who on his death-bed sought to initiate a struggle which Trotsky then still refused to wage). You have called Preobrazhensky an "ideologist of state capitalism", which is quite true and Trotsky, himself a weak economist, seems to have been content to lean on Preobrazhensky's ideas. Why? The framework to which Trotsky confined himself, is indeed to a great extent shared with Stalinism. It is a methodological heritage from the various shades of old revisionism prevalent in the Second International, and constitutes the basis of modern revisionism. While Lenin was the one who stood for the most far-reaching and decisive breaks with the traditions of the Second International, it seems that neither Trotsky nor others ever really made these breaks to the same extent, but rather in mere form. That is, just as there must have been a wide gap between the understanding of Marx and Engels, on the one hand, and that of their followers, even of very prominent ones, on the other, a wide gap existed, as matters turned out, also between Lenin and all the rest of the Bolshevik leadership.
. If so, then the theory of "socialism in one country" is not the essence of modern revisionism, as we suggested in our resolution, but the other way around: it is one of its fruits. Modern revisionism can and does exist even without that theory.
. In the theory of permanent revolution there are frequently conclusions similar to those of Stalinists, even though in a roundabout way which makes it seem more radical, but the content of which is objectivist. For instance, while later-day Soviet revisionism (Khrushchev and onwards) came up with ideas about "non-capitalist paths of development", which were allegedly something in-between socialism and capitalism, most Trotskyist trends had the concept of "deformed workers' states", and some of them also a further out-stretched designation: "workers' and farmers' governments". Both the Soviet and the Trotskyist theories were based on things like sealing off from the division-of-labor imposed by the imperialist world order, nationalizing key industries, imposing a monopoly on foreign trade, and so on and so forth, although Trotskyists usually demanded more things for their labels to pass. Thus only a very few of the Trotskyist trends were prepared to go as far as to declare Syria, Libya, Burma and former South Yemen (and Iran in case the Hizbollahi faction of the Islamic Republic had carried out extensive nationalizations) workers' states or workers' and farmers' governments; most other trends couldn't really determine what these countries were to be called. The Soviets could be much more "generous" in handing out their blessing, as much less far-reaching measures were required; if we are not mistaken, even Nasser's Egypt was, for a period of time, held by their ideologues and propagandists to be an example of "anti-capitalist development", simply due to its dependence of Soviet aid and to ambitious development projects like the Assuan dam. The reason for this difference is obvious: why, the Trotskyists didn't represent the big-power interests of the Soviet Union, who used "Marxist theory" in its diplomatic game for influence. Anyway, on this question, most Trotskyists are or have been, actually worse than such Stalinist trends which historically have criticized the late Soviet ideas and held that all countries without (what they considered to be) a Marxist-Leninist party in power are by definition capitalist, in one form or another.
. The same with the fact that Trotsky advocated the theory of productive forces as the prime motor of history (rather than class struggle); so did Stalin, too, as he in On dialectical and historical materialism relegated class struggle to being merely a midwife as the development of productive forces have grown beyond the limits of the relations of production.
. Or take the Transitional Program: despite all other differences, there is one basic similarity with Stalinist concepts of transition, like "people's democracy", or "anti-monopolist democracy" etc. in the sense that certain key measures are in themselves supposed to make a decisive turn in the fundamental power relations in society.
. Now let's go into your comments on transitional demands. As mentioned in our resolution, we have seen that the concept was launched, for the first time, by Comintern in the early 1920's, in connection with united front tactics. We know very little, however, about how they were used then. Again, they are mentioned in the program adopted by the 6th congress of Comintern; there it is stated explicitly that they are to be used in revolutionary situations only and that they would get a completely different, opportunist character if put forward under other conditions. What is your general, or overall, view on transitional demands? Are there circumstances under which such can be useful, or was Comintern's discussions about them more of an experiment which has proven to be a sidetrack? Our view is that transitional demands are not wrong in themselves.
. The point is to be able to show a line of action which opens a path forward, so that the struggle can move on towards more and more centralized and politically advanced forms of struggle until the labor bureaucracy is overwhelmed: let there be a whole "hierarchy" of partial demands some of them fairly simple and immediate, perhaps defensive; other ones with are to be applied in a bigger scale and offensively, and still others of a more advanced kind, and so on and so forth, until finally, on the top, the most advanced slogans are of transitional character, to be applied in a revolutionary situation. For instance, let's say there is a struggle against concessions, for wages, job conditions and other things, and then the plant is moved away somewhere and the workers fired while the labor hacks will say "we told you so", "you're banging your heads against the wall of reality", etc. It seems that in such case we need somehow to step up the scale of the demands, e. g. to demand state investments to keep up employment and production. That, in turn, would raise the question as to how to achieve it legally and financially, and then we could demand confiscation of capital not invested in socially useful enterprises. And so on and so forth. Yet, this doesn't mean that we at present are clear about exactly how this should be formulated. It is one of those things that we are "wrestling" with.
. In the Trotskyist world of concepts, there is a definition of "program" which encompasses almost everything that has to do with strategical aims, regardless of whether there is an actual program or not. There is a certain fetishism, which not only encourages beliefs to the effect that the perfect program can solve everything, can secure what actual struggles, party organisation etc. cannot grant, but which also tends by definition to reduce all matters to program, like in the famous statement by Trotsky: "The program is the party". In this way, Trotskyists can close down their organisations, engage in various entryist projects or "diplomatically" negotiated amalgamations, etc. , and still claim that there is nothing liquidationist about that since "the program" is allegedly still at the forefront of their activity! The Transitional Program is, we think, to be understood in the same reductionist and substitutionist context. A crucial difference between 1938, when the Transitional Program was written, and later times, is that then there was a situation in which Trotsky expected a big, broad labor party to come into being in the U. S. , and also that in the wake of the coming war there would be a huge wave of revolutions once again, just as in 1917-19. As mass consciousness generally lags behind mass action, and the Trotskyist organisations were just recently founded, small, and relatively unknown, Trotsky saw a wide gap opening up between the objective conditions and the ability of first building up strong revolutionary parties. So, the idea was to put the Transitional Program forward as a kind of "general workers' program" in a so-called "algebraic" way, i. e. seemingly open-ended; then the broad masses of workers and toilers would be able to actually wage a revolutionary struggle even if they didn't have any such intentions. That's the "bridge": you're fighting as if you fought in just a more advanced manner for your immediate demands, but in fact you're fighting for socialism! It is thus not merely an action program with partial demands at the most advanced level, when they become transitional, but is rather an entire revised conception of what a revolution is.
. Trotsky said, on the one hand, that the Transitional Program shows the way only to the threshold of socialist revolution, but, on the other hand, that it is revolutionary since none of its demands can be realized under capitalism. This is a logic which, if extended, leads to conclusions like those of the Lambertists (a French Trotskyist current; its U. S. affiliate is the group around the paper The Organizer), who hold that the path of reformism is nowadays closed due to the capitalist crisis and that, therefore, even classical reformist mobilizations might serve as a "battering ram". Beyond the "leftist" phrases, there is opportunism. The same thing, only less crudely, with demands like, say, "workers' inspection of state finances", put forward in a situation which is not revolutionary. Who is going to make that inspection, concretely, and what happens with the result of it? To put the demand to the established reformist leadership? But what, under tense revolutionary or pre-revolutionary conditions, might have challenging and exposing effects, will otherwise just channel off any militancy and support class collaboration.
. With many currents, the Transitional Program has became a dogma to be applied just as it is, regardless of actual conditions and with little concrete explanation except for pious repetitions of what was said in 1938. Most groups, even very small ones, put forward the Transitional Program on all occasions, probably not serving any other function than as a criterion of "orthodoxy", or, possibly, as a means of displaying some "attitude", looking bigger than they actually are. As for those who hold that it might be used at certain times and at other times not, they differ over when. The LRP-USA say (although they are not entirely consistent on this) that transitional demands are to be used only under conditions of much sharpened class struggle; otherwise it wouldn't be able to serve as a "bridge". In their view, it is rather the general strike that plays the role of elevating workers' struggles up to the level in which it becomes sharp and advanced enough.
. However, we don't believe, as you do, that Trotsky's motivation was directed primarily against the minimum program. If it had been, then he would rather have said that "instead of the old division into maximum and minimum programs, we'll now have a maximum program and a transitional one". Why didn't the Fourth International adopt a maximum program? Especially given the struggle the Trotskyists waged against the Stalinists, the attention Trotsky paid to the question of "socialism in one country", etc. , it should have been absolutely imperative to concretize these differences by writing a maximum program. Yet it wasn't done! All that was said was that the Transitional Program is that of the Fourth International, and period. This makes sense only if viewed in the light of Trotsky's ideas about the workers' state: the reason, according to him, why Stalinist counterrevolution can deform or halt a transition towards socialism but not restore capitalism as long as private property is not restored, is that once a workers' state is established, then it's not just the bourgeoisie, but capitalism, that has been overthrown. If so, then the Transitional Program would be more than a program for taking power it would be the program for the abolishment of capitalism! Trotsky said that Stalinism arose because of the isolation and backwardness of Soviet Russia and in 1938 he expected an immanent wave of revolutions in the advanced countries, and so there would be no material conditions for a new Stalinist degeneration to take place. Does this mean that he thought the transition towards socialism would run on straight tracks, propelled more or less by its own dynamics? We can't tell, we simply don't know for sure, but given his pre-1917 spontaneism and the similar picture he drew up in 1930's in his article If America Would Go Communist, the question is not unreasonable. So, we maintain that Trotskyism must be, first of all, a rightist deviation, not a "leftist" one.
. As for the criticism you make about the way in which we spoke of the maximum program, it is
justified. Obviously, we couldn't really see through programmatic fetishism yet and therefore
replaced the Transitional Program just by an alternative, more radical concept: a supposed
maximum program, as if that would solve the matter. As you point out, we still wouldn't get
away from the question of how to relate to the actual day-to-day struggles. Methodologically, it
seems to us that what we did resembles, at least to some extent, the superficial and
neat-penstroke manner in which Trotsky frequently dealt with Stalinism. In our case it would
lead either to "left communism", as you suggest especially the Bordigist brand or, perhaps, to
something like petrified propaganda groups of the American SLP or the British SP type. And
since we wouldn't like to sit on the sidelines with folded arms, or, worse still, approach strikers
by delivering abstract patronizing lectures about the need to immediately abolish wage labor, all
that would remain for us would be to paint the daily struggles in flaming revolutionary colors (as
a good many Trotskyists do well with their Transitional Program!).
With Communist regards
From FRP: Second part of the discussion on the resolution
December 11, 2003
To Communist Voice.
. Thank you for your notification of December 11. Here is the second part pf our reply to your comments on our resolution. We are sorry for the long delay.
. First, to the question of permanent revolution. As we have noted, we think Trotsky from the very outset differed much less than Lenin from the established Second International set of concepts. Trotsky did, to be sure, take a position far to the left of the Mensheviks, but he was a prisoner of the same method that they used; in that sense, he represented merely the extreme left wing of Menshevism, and his centrist, conciliationist position on the struggle within the RSDLP was thus no accident and can not be separated from his overall strategy as Trotskyists try to do. Both Lenin and Trotsky wanted to find an alternative to tailing the bourgeoisie, but Trotsky had to imagine the revolution as socialist (through its "permanence") to conceive of the possibility of workers overthrowing the bourgeoisie; if what he saw as the absolute precondition for a socialist revolution the spread of the revolution to West Europe -- would not materialize, then only the Menshevik tail-ending behind the liberals would remain. Since Lenin, on the other hand, held that although the revolution was still at the bourgeois stage, the bourgeoisie itself could be overthrown nevertheless and a democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants be established, he didn't have to choose between either tailing bourgeois forces or painting actual struggles in flaming socialist colors. So, as we see it, he and not Trotsky was the real innovator and the one who was furthest to the left. Trotsky's claim to the contrary was false; after all, even the Mensheviks made some demagogical attempts to attack the Bolsheviks from the left, comparing the idea about workers taking power with Millerandism!
. Methodologically, we think the essence of Lenin's view, as opposed to those of the Mensheviks and Trotsky alike, is that he regarded class struggle as the prime motor of history, instead of reducing it to the role of a midwife for the productive forces; therefore, once it had been established (already in the 1890's) that Russia was a capitalist country (even if with strong feudal and other vestiges), the overall relations of strength within that framework became decisive in determining the stages of the revolutionary struggle. We expressed ourselves in a very muddled way about that in our resolution, which appeared rather voluntaristic. You are right that "the economic structure of society and the extent of development of the various classes is crucial for grasping the possible relations of strength"; what we mean is that since these factors remained essentially the same before and after the point, in early 1917, when Lenin changed to call for a socialist revolution, his previous slogan about the democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants was approximate and had to do with the constellation of forces rather than with an abstract overview of the degree of Russian backwardness.
. And we believe that, for precisely this reason, that slogan may still carry validity in many cases -- it is by no means outdated, but a matter of concrete assessment in each case. (By "anti-imperialist united front", referred to in our resolution as something quite different, we mean the term used by Stalin and Bukharin in mid-1920's as a cover for their assessment of Kuomintang in China, for instance -- a term nowadays used also by certain Trotskyist trends, notably Lambertists and Morenoites, who downplay the concept of "permanent revolution" in favour of support for petty-bourgeois nationalism in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere).
. As for the original concept of permanent revolution, used by Marx in 1850, you are right in your criticism of how we refer to it in the resolution. Yes, Marx did mean that there were different stages, which would be following one after the other like an ongoing process. And we believe that if any line in early 20th Century Russia could be compared to it, then it's Lenin's line, not Trotsky's, since Marx spoke of backing up the proletarian struggles by what he called a second edition of the peasants' war. In Trotsky's underestimation of the role of the peasantry, there is the same mechanical view of history that Kautsky and the Mensheviks held: the peasants' struggle for land is a struggle for private property, thus it is petty-bourgeois, and is backward in relation to the historical tasks of the proletariat, and so it is not an ally to the struggle for socialism.
. You write that one of the main errors of Trotsky's theory is that it obscures the changes in class alliances which takes place between the democratic and socialist revolutions. We agree, and, as you also point out, we, too, make this error. The reason is that we have not understood exactly how the decisive changes in the relations of strength in Russia through the February Revolution worked -- the changes which made it possible to leave the slogan of the democratic dictatorship and call for the socialist revolution. We can see fragments of it. There was the establishment of village soviets, which meant the peasants were emulating the workers' method of organizing dual power. And we can see that the Bolsheviks managed to seize the overall initiative by putting forward the call for land -- in itself a democratic rather than socialist slogan, but which obviously helped strengthen the lead role of the working class to such an extent that instead of preserving the democratic stage it made the transition to the socialist stage possible and made the democratic tasks its auxiliary. It seems to us that the difference between the October Socialist Revolution and the scenario envisaged by Lenin before 1917 is that in the latter case there would have been a soviet government but acting within the framework of such more unfavourable relations of strength that the possibility of socialist measures would have been very limited. We think the October Revolution could not abolish capitalism right away, but it could and actually did start a process in that direction, which -- had it not been halted -- would have led to a socialist society.
. Thus we now arrive at the question of "socialism in one country". Here, too, our resolution spoke in terms of general slogans, and, obviously, what we said about that theory in our last mail was a step forward, but insufficient. Why? Because there still was no clarification as to what we mean by socialism -- and so the sweeping Trotsky-style assessment was not altered, just modified. And now we can see the problem with Trotsky's argument. With him, socialism referred only to the first, or lower, phase of communism -- the one in which bourgeois rights in distribution remain in force ("to each according to work performed" instead of "to each according to needs"). That "socialism" may refer also to the proletarian socialist revolution, to the process of transition that moves society forward from capitalism, i. e. the sense in which it was correct to call the Soviet state "socialist republic" -- this understanding he obviously lacked. We have taken a new look at the discussion of "socialism proper" vs. "weak socialism" in Workers' Advocate Supplement of early 1989, and it seems to us that the points of view expressed there is correct. We believe Trotsky was right in considering "socialism proper" impossible in one country alone -- it must require such a big-scale development of the productive forces that only the joint efforts of the proletariat in at least several of the advanced countries can achieve it. So far, he defended the original Marxist view of that society against Stalin's revisionism -- that socialist society is the extension of state ownership to all spheres of industry and trade plus collectivization of agriculture, plus a state plan to supposedly administer and direct it all. Likewise, he was certainly right in his warnings that there was a connection between Stalin's more and more narrow national perspective already in mid-1920's and his cynical maneuvering on the international scene. But with his lack of understanding of "weak socialism" and his very general, abstract internationalism, Trotsky failed to grasp how it could be possible for one workers' state to take concrete in the direction towards "socialism proper" -- just as he in 1905 hadn't been able to conceive of workers' power without world revolution -- and so he thought everything bad flows from the theory of "socialism in one country". In our resolution, we wrote that Trotsky methodologically, instead of concrete analysis, frequently indulged in a kind of single-factor assessment, picking out one form of appearance and declaring it to be the all-decisive one -- but we applied this insight poorly, as we didn't see that Third International after Lenin is an example precisely of that method.
. Moreover, since Trotsky, at the same time, regarded the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, the
establishment of monopoly on foreign trade, etc. , as the abolishment of capitalism, the workers'
state is put somehow in a limbo neither capitalism, nor even "weak socialism" -- the
transitional stage gets its own life, becomes a social formation in its own right: the transitional
society. There we have a connection with the idea of his successors: that the existence of the
"degenerated" and "deformed" "workers' states" could continue on and on so long as there were
no overturns of the system of state ownership. To reject these ideas and at the same time uphold
the way in which Trotsky criticizes "socialism in one country" is thus illogical.
In awaiting your response, Communist regards
From Communist Voice: Transitional issues, the economic base,
and socialism in one country
From Communist Voice: Transitional issues, the economic base,
January 9, 2004
Transitional issues etc. -- intro
. I hope the new year finds all the comrades of the FRP well, and your work proceeding
vigorously. Following this note, you should immediately receive my reply to your notes of
November 23 and December 11. . . . it is divided into the following sections and subsections:
-- TRANSITIONAL DEMANDS --
On the objective basis for slogans
Bourgeois-democratic and socialist demands
Why Trotsky developed his Transitional Program
-- THE TRANSITIONAL ECONOMY --
-- THE ECONOMIC BASIS OF REVOLUTIONARY STRATEGY AND TACTICS --
-- ON SOCIALISM IN ONE COUNTRY --
Can there be socialist revolution in one country?
Can Marxist socialism be achieved in a single country?
"Socialism in one country" and world revolution
. . . .
. Sorry for the delay in my reply. But we have pondered your views here, and look forward to
continuing the discussion. I deeply appreciate your serious attitude to re-examining revolutionary
theory and practice. In turn, I have tried to focus on some of the basic theoretical issues which
might lead our discussion forward.
Transitional issues etc
. Your replies of November 23 and December 11 are very helpful. They give a more extended exposition of your views. You have important passages on the similarity of Stalin and Trotsky's frameworks, on Trotskyist fetishism of the concept of the "program", on the need not to reduce matters to the maximum program alone, on various of the rightist practices of the Trotskyist trends, etc. And I appreciate your openness to changing past views, and to re-examining past practice.
. Your replies focus on the transitional program, the issue of socialism in one country, and your view of the basic methodological error of Trotskyism. But in some places they look at these matters too much through the mirror of how the various views and slogans were used in the various factional battles among the Russian communists, or how various later Trotskyist trends interpreted them. The problem with this is that we need to know what various strategies and slogans mean in and of themselves. One can't always find this from the history of what various trends and individuals thought about these slogans. It requires a broader theoretical analysis and a broader view of revolutionary experience. It is possible, and it has happened over and over again, that this or that individual or trend may apply a theory in a mechanical or distorted way, or misuse a slogan. This history is important in evaluating these individuals and trends. But such a historical account is not the same thing as a theoretical analysis of the problems of revolutionary work.
. I think that, insofar as we succeed in isolating -- for a time -- some of the major issues from the
immediate back and forth of factional battles in the Soviet leadership, and deal with them in their
own right, we will be able to gradually clarify some of the key issues of communist theory. In
particular, I will deal with the issues of transitional demands, the relationship of demands and
tactics to the economic base, the issue of the nature of the transitional economy which exists after
the socialist revolution but prior to the achievement of a fully socialist economy, and with the
nature of the controversy over "socialism in one country".
-- TRANSITIONAL DEMANDS --
. Your views and ours on transitional demands are moving closer. Trotsky wanted to replace the division between the minimum program (demands which might conceivably be achieved under capitalism) and the maximum program (demands which are incompatible with capitalism and are part of the demand for socialist revolution) with a "Transitional Program". We both are agreed on the rightist consequences of the "Transitional Program", but you had advocated that the mistake was that communists should base themselves solely on the maximum program. You now write that it is wrong to simply have a maximum program, and that this would lead either to "left communism" or to something of the nature of a "petrified propaganda group". So you accept the division into day-to-day struggles and the maximum program of the socialist revolution and the eventual achievement of communism. This is a very important theoretical point, and I'm glad that you have taken this step.
. You ask about my overall views on transitional demands. In this, I strongly agree with you that "transitional demands are not wrong in themselves". You referred, among other things, to the section of the program of the 6th Congress of the Communist International which referred to transitional demands. And you point out that"it is stated explicitly that they are to be used in revolutionary situations only and that they would get a completely different character if put forward under other conditions." This is indeed an important point. And the brief passage from the CI program is pretty good:
. "When the revolutionary tide is rising, when the ruling classes are disorganized, the masses are in a state of revolutionary ferment, the intermediary strata are inclining towards the proletariat and the masses are ready for action and for sacrifice, the Party of the proletariat is confronted with the task of leading the masses to a direct attack upon the bourgeois State. This it does by carrying on propaganda in favor of increasingly radical transitional slogans (for Soviets, workers' control of industry, for peasant committees for the seizure of the big landed properties, for disarming the bourgeoisie and arming the proletariat, etc. ) and by organizing mass action, upon which all branches of Party agitation and propaganda, including parliamentary activity, must be concentrated. . . .
. "In passing over to new and more radical slogans, the Parties must be guided by the fundamental role of the political tactics of Leninism, which call for ability to lead the masses to revolutionary positions in such a manner that the masses may, by their own experience, convince themselves of the correctness of the Party line. . . .
. "When the revolutionary tide is not rising, the Communist Parties must advance partial slogans and demands that correspond to the everyday needs of the toilers, and combine them with the fundamental tasks of the Communist International. The Communist Parties must not, however, at such a time, advance transitional slogans that are applicable only to revolutionary situations (for example workers' control of industry, etc. ). to advance such slogans when there is no revolutionary situation means to transform them into slogans that favor merging with the capitalist system of organization. Partial demands and slogans generally form an essential part of correct tactics; but certain transitional slogans go inseparably with a revolutionary situation. Repudiation of partial demands and transitional slogans 'on principle,' however, is incompatible with the tactical principles of Communism, for in effect, such repudiation condemns the Party to inaction and isolates it from the masses. United front tactics also occupy an important place in the tactics of the Communist Parties throughout the whole pre-revolutionary period. . ." (Program of the CI adopted by the Sixth World Congress, Chapter VI "The Strategy and Tactics of the Communist International in the Struggle for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat", Sec. 2. "The Fundamental Tasks of Communist Strategy and Tactics")
On the objective basis for slogans
. You also gave an example of how struggle proceeds from "a whole 'hierarchy' of partial demands. . . until finally, on the top, the most advanced slogans are of transitional character, to be applied in a revolutionary situation." But I have some doubts about this formulation concerning the hierarchy of demands. It seems to me that on this question, you still are under the influence of some of the Trotskyist formulas, which see the advance of the struggle one-sidedly as simply a progression along a series of slogans. It seems to me that, instead, one has to judge the advance of the struggle through the increase of the fighting spirit of the masses, of their class organization, and of their consciousness. It might be seen in the spread of strikes and other struggles, or in the extension of trade union organization in countries where the workers are mainly disorganized, or in the change in the way unions are organized and in their leadership in countries where most workers are organized. And the creation and growth of an independent political trend of the workers, and of a mass communist party, are key measures of the development of mass proletarian consciousness.
. Now, it might be asked, wouldn't such changes also manifest themselves in better and more militant demands? In general, yes. But, for example, a broad extension of struggle from one workplace to many workplaces might also take place on very basic demands. In this case, it is the extension of the struggle to a broader or even class-wide struggle, and not necessarily the place of the demands in the hierarchy of demands, that would mark a major advance.
. Also, the workers at an individual workplace or industry have to wage their struggle in the context of the mood of the workers overall. Thus, when they are successful in obtaining certain demands, there is a limit to how far they can escalate them. They have to consider the situation of other workers, and what demands can be spread among them, or else the militant section of workers may find itself isolated.
. You gave the example of a struggle against concessions in which the plant is eventually moved elsewhere and the workers are fired. You raised that "it seems that in such case we need somehow to step up the scale of the demands, e. g. to demand state investments to keep up employment and production. That, in turn, would raise the question as to how to achieve it legally and financially, and then we could demand confiscation of capital not invested in socially useful enterprises."
. Now, whether one would put forward the demand for state investment depends on a number of things. It might make sense in a particular struggle. But in and of itself, in times such as the present, this demand is not revolutionary. Indeed, reformist trade union officials here in the US often demand state aid for "their" capitalists, and they use this demand to blunt class consciousness and militant struggle. One might try to formulate the demand for aid to an industry as something different from aid to the capitalists, and you raise the issue of the confiscation of certain capitalists. But such confiscation can usually only take place at time of great ferment. So in the present situation, in most cases, it would create illusions to present that such aid might be provided by confiscating the capitalists. This doesn't mean that the demand for state aid is always wrong, but it does mean that such a demand, at the present time, shouldn't be presented as inherently more militant than other demands.
. You raised, in your remarks, the significant point that the Trotskyists have a certain fetish concerning the concept of "program", and that this "encourages beliefs to the effect that the perfect program can solve everything". I think that you have put your finger on an important issue, and you raised various ways in which this fetishism manifests itself. It seems to me that this fetishism may also encourage the Trotskyists to measure struggles simply according to their own ladder of demands. This appeared in Trotsky's writings about the transitional program, where he sketched progress as moving from one demand to another, and lost sight of the conditions needed for moving from one demand to another. He substituted a ladder of demands for the idea of the working class increasing its organization and consciousness. Instead of emphasizing that the working class develops its ability to fight on a variety of different issues, and develops its organization through all these struggles, he encouraged people to see a transition from one demand to the next higher demand. He thus saw the class struggle developing through moving the masses from one demand to another, rather than the demands changing in accord to the progress of the class struggle.
. The idea of a hierarchy of demands has a certain plausibility, because there are times of upsurge in which one demand after another gives way to another more militant demand. Aside from transitional demands in a revolutionary situation, there are increasingly radical demands in many situations in which a significant section of the workers are swept up in struggle. But programmatic fetishism distracts from examining the actual conditions of the struggle, and thus determining which slogans are most suitable, and instead encourages the idea that the slogans alone will pull the struggle further and further.
. Thus, returning to your example of the struggle at a workplace against concessions and plant-closing, I think that one has to consider a number of concrete circumstances before considering the slogan. There is the issue of how far the other workers in the country are involved in struggle, or might be on the verge of going into struggle. There is the question of whether the country is near a revolutionary upsurge, or whether this is a period of protracted work in a nonrevolutionary situation, or even in a situation of stagnation. There is the question of what organization already exists in the working class, and its relation to this situation. These considerations help determine the objective conditions for this struggle, and thus the possibilities for this struggle. They provide the basis for searching for slogans which might provide correct orientation to the struggle.
Bourgeois-democratic and socialist demands
Bourgeois-democratic and socialist demands
. There is another aspect to the question of the distinction between the minimum and maximum program which is of some importance. Both the extract from the CI Program which I have cited above, and your remarks, distinguished between the maximum program of the socialist revolution and the day-to-day struggles. But strictly speaking, there is yet another possibility. Not just the day-to-day struggles, but the democratic revolution is part of the minimum program. This can be seen in, for example, the pre-1917 program of the Russian communists. As this revolution would not, in itself, go beyond capitalism, it was part of the minimum program. Under certain circumstances, a democratic revolution might prepare the way for and develop into, or be immediately followed by, a socialist revolution, but in itself it has a different social character.
. Trotsky tended to present this distinction between the social and bourgeois-democratic revolution as a matter of the past, obsolete in the age of imperialism. But in fact, it is impossible to analyze the experience of the revolutionary movements of the 20th century without coming up against this distinction.
. Moreover, this casts transitional demands in another light. Transitional demands aren't simply demands intermediate between the day-to-day struggles and socialism. They are demands that facilitate the dissolving away, and direct assault on, the ruling class and its state apparatus. But such a revolutionary situation exists in a democratic revolution as well as a socialist one. Indeed, it may sometimes be hard to tell the difference between a democratic and a socialist revolution. A democratic revolution, if it is also a profound social revolution brought about by mass initiative, may at its height dispossess much of the old big bourgeoisie, carry out social measures in support of the working masses, and see a spectacular level of activity from the lower masses. It may be hard to tell the difference between simply uprooting the old bourgeoisie and proceeding on the path of uprooting capitalism as a whole. At such a time, if the communists are to maintain their political independence and stay distinct of even the most extreme bourgeois-democracy (which may manifest itself as radical petty-bourgeois democracy), if they are to be able to judge the likely course of the revolution, if they are to have the chance of helping the proletariat maintain its political independence and its own socialist organization, they need an understanding of the Marxist view of the different types of revolution.
. Moreover, the distinction between bourgeois-democratic and socialist movements generally don't appear today in a straightforward way. Currently, perhaps the most common situation is where there is no longer any basis for a radical bourgeois-democratic revolution, in that the country in question has become mainly bourgeois, but socialist revolution remains a thing of the future.
. Back in the days of the Marxist-Leninist Party, we tried to analyze the revolutionary program for a number of countries. In the particular countries we looked at, we often found that bourgeois development had proceeded far enough that there was no longer the basis for a democratic revolution overthrowing a pre-capitalist class, and in that sense, the country faced socialist revolution. But we also started to worry about situations where, even if a political revolution took place and the masses were in the street, it was unlikely that they could carry out a socialist revolution at this time. If I recall properly, I don't think that this question was posed very clearly, and it wasn't answered, but it began to bother some comrades.
. Later, after the dissolution of the MLP, in the early days of the Communist Voice Organization, we were involved in a controversy with the Chicago Workers' Voice group over the assessment of the Zapatistas and of the struggle in Mexico. The one-party monopoly of PRI (the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution) was on the verge of breaking up. There was the possibility of an explosive situation. The peasants in Chiapas rose up; PRI's neo-liberal reforms were undermining the workers' conditions and causing strains in PRI's domination of the unions; PRI showed signs of breaking up, and some top PRI leaders were being assassinated by other ones; etc. There was an increase, to varying extents, in the political activity of all classes. The CWV and some left forces in Mexico, such as the journal El Machete, gave a socialist coloring to the movement. We argued that, given the conditions of the time, the breakup of PRI's domination would take place via a liberalization or democratization, not a socialist revolution. We also held that while there should be firm support for the peasant movement, it was not a socialist movement. We held that only recognizing the bourgeois-democratic social character of the overall movement would allow Mexican activists, while taking part in the ongoing democratic struggle, to also take up specifically socialist tasks, such as ensuring the political independence of the working class.
. We did not hold that Mexico faced a two-stage revolution -- it was simply that the working masses were too disorganized and the economic situation too undeveloped to provide the conditions for an immediate socialist revolution. The working class was faced with developing an independent class movement, and thus preparing the ground for an eventual socialist revolution. But this preparation was going to take place, in part, through working class participation in various movements of a bourgeois-democratic character, such as the struggle to break-up PRI's one-party state.
. As it turned out, the liberalization in Mexico has proceeded by the slowest, the most conservative, and the most miserable path. The Mexican bourgeoisie has managed to prevent any radical changes. The presidency of Mexico didn't even pass to the liberal-bourgeois PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), but to Vicente Fox of the conservative PAN (Party of National Action). I don't think that this meant that it was wrong to struggle for a more thorough change in Mexico: there were certain conditions for such a change, and a more radical change would have immensely benefited the class organization of the workers. But even if a radical change had occurred, the overall movement would not have been of a socialist character. Unfortunately, our call remained barren, in that few if any activists took up the struggle for proletarian independence that we called for. But I think that our call was a step towards working out the correct tactics for such a situation.
. The reason Mexico faced democratization or liberalization, rather than socialist revolution, was not that the opportunists were unwilling to talk about socialism. On the contrary, some opportunists, such as the petty-bourgeois nationalists and Castroists around the journal El Machete, advocated an immediate socialist revolution. But to present the ongoing movement as having a reasonable chance to carry out such a socialist revolution, they had to paint non-socialist and petty-bourgeois forces, such as the Zapatistas, in socialist colors. Their stand amounted to advocating that left-wing activists should simply be the most militant shock troops for the liberalization, rather than showing the activists the class contradictions within the ongoing movement. But they did this in the name of socialism.
. I think that communists are faced with dealing with similar situations in many countries.
Analyzing such situations requires dealing with the distinction between movements of different
Why Trotsky developed his Transitional Program
Why Trotsky developed his Transitional Program
. In your remarks, you raise the issue of why Trotsky developed his transitional program. You raise that Trotsky wasn't mainly aiming to oppose the minimum program, but the maximum program.
. From the theoretical point of view, whatever Trotsky's motivation, the main issue is that he negates the division between the minimum and maximum program.
. From the point of view of motivation, I think -- I'm not sure, as I haven't yet re-examined enough of the relevant writings and history -- that perhaps you're right about his immediate motivation. While he argued directly against the minimum program as obsolete, this is in line with what he had been arguing for a long time. So what's new about his Transitional Program is that the transitional demands are supposed to replace the direct demand for revolution.
. The Transitional Program was written in 1938, and he was faced with the problem of adapting his rhetoric to the problems posed by the fight against fascism. His own predictions about the fight against fascism in France in the mid-1930s, although still regarded as brilliant by Trotskyists, had in fact proven wrong. For example, in November 1934 he wrote that "If the revolutionary proletariat does not take power, Fascism will inevitably take it!", and "it is not a question of years but of months."(Whither France?, Sec. 14, Nov. 1934, see the pamphlet by Merit Publishers with the overall title Whither France?",pp. 46, 47). This didn't happen. He then repeated such predictions in June 1936, writing that "events can unfold only either toward revolution or toward Fascism" while pretending that only some immature followers of his had made such predictions in 1934: "Following February 6, 1934, certain impatient comrades were of the opinion that the denouement would take place 'tomorrow,' and that on this account it was necessary immediately to perform some sort of miracle. Such a 'policy' could produce nothing but adventures and zigzags that have retarded in the extreme the growth of the revolutionary party." ("The Decisive Stage", June 5, 1936, in the pamphlet Whither France?", both quotations are on p. 146) But once again, Trotsky's prediction was wrong.
. Trotsky needed a way to avoid the fiasco of declaring that the situation was immediately revolutionary, and there was presumably a limit to how many times he could hypocritically blame these predictions on errant followers. Moreover, even during the 1934-36 period, he had instituted the "French turn", in which he demanded that Trotskyist groups join the social-democratic parties. This would probably also require an adjustment of rhetoric. The "Transitional Program" may well have been designed to accommodate these changes. The immediate appeal for the maximum program was to replaced, as you say, by the transitional demands. At the same time, he did not abandon his theoretical crusade against the minimum program either. I presume that different Trotskyist trends and individuals interpret the "Transitional Program" in different ways. If the "Transitional Program" was designed to accommodate a certain rhetorical shift to the right, it was also the case that Trotsky's left-sounding rhetoric could only be maintained if it were somewhat adjusted.
. You raise that this shows that "Trotskyism must be, first of all, a rightist deviation, not a 'leftist' one." Actually, what it shows is that Trotskyism leads to many rightist political results. But for that matter, so does "left communism". So does anarchism. Sooner or later, if they take part in mass political life, the left-phrasemongering trends always reveal their rightist side or essence. Trotskyism is no different from the others in this. At the same time, Trotsky's Transitional Program maintained a left-phrasemongering style as well as basing itself on some key views reminiscent of "left communism". This left-phrasemongering wasn't the new feature of the Transitional Program, but it was part of its basic structure and theoretical underpinning.
. You are right to point to the many rightist aspects of the Transitional Program and to many
rightist consequences of it in Trotskyist practice. It would be a mistake to regard Trotskyism
simply as a leftist deviation, and no doubt much of time we are faced with fighting rightist stands
of Trotskyism. But I think it is a mistake to regard Trotskyism as primarily rightism. I don't think
this corresponds to its overall theoretical structure, nor does it deal with its appeal to certain
activists. In part one of my outline of Trotskyism, I tried to point to both its rightist and leftist
sides. Indeed, when certain Trotskyist trends sneer at ordinary demands as reformist in favor of
putting forward a panacea of "workers' militias", and they may base this on Trotsky's
"Transitional Program", can we present this as rightism? And even when they give "military but
not political support" to tyrants and oppressors, do they not present this in flaming
anti-imperialist colors? From your and our point of view, the disgusting rightist treachery of their
stand is very clear. And we should strive to make this clear to others. But does Trotskyism not
clothe itself in leftist phrases and theories, a supposed leftism which still has credibility as such
among many activists?
-- THE TRANSITIONAL ECONOMY --
. I was interested that your remarks refer to the article by the Marxist-Leninist party on weak socialism in the Workers' Advocate Supplement of January 15, 1989 ("On the Party-Wide Study of the Marxist-Leninist Concept of Socialism: Speech at the Third Congress of the MLP, Fall 1988"). This article opposed the view that state ownership on industry plus collectivization of agriculture suffices to achieve socialism. It was an important step in the evolution of the MLP's views on both Soviet history and on socialism, and I think it still is useful. But subsequent theoretical work concerning the transitional economy provides a much clearer picture of the transitional period between the socialist revolution and the achievement of Marxist socialism than does the concept of "weak socialism".
. Our theoretical views have evolved since 1989. There is a certain shift between the views presented in the article on "weak socialism" and those in my articles in Communist Voice on Preobrazhensky and on the issue of "state-capitalism under workers rule". The later theoretical work brings out more clearly the nature of the transitional period. Although there is not yet full agreement in the Communist Voice Organization on the nature of this period, I think that we are moving towards a more concrete way of discussing the transitional economy than has previously existed. I think this new way is superior to such formulations as "weak socialism" and "state capitalism under workers rule". It provides a clearer framework to the tasks of revolutionary transformation after the socialist revolution, and it makes it easier to distinguish a society moving towards socialism from revisionist state-capitalism.
. You write, in criticism of Trotsky, that for him, "the workers' state is put somehow in a limbo--neither capitalism, nor even 'weak socialism'--the transitional stage gets its own life, becomes a social formation in its own right: the transitional society." In my view, though, it is a mistake to think that Trotsky had a serious analysis of the transitional society; he did not seriously study it as a formation in its own right, and he confused Stalinist state-capitalism with a transitional society. The theoretical existence of a revolutionary transitional formation was, at most, granted grudgingly: Trotsky tended to think that there wouldn't need to be much of a transition period if only Russia had received aid from Western Europe, if only revolution wasn't restricted to a single country, if only, if only, if only. At most, it was regarded as a simple mixture of capitalism and socialism as, for example, in Preobrazhensky's analysis of the "commodity-socialist economy", which is simply a patchwork of capitalist and supposedly-socialist sectors. Thus Trotsky repeatedly identify the state sector with socialism, rather than seeing what the overall nature of a transitional society would be.
. I think that the transitional society really should be taken as a social formation in its own right. To do this, one would have to study its fundamental features and contradictions, which Trotsky never does. As you point out, Trotsky never got beyond regarding the expropriation of the former bourgeoisie and the development of the state sector as a workers' state. This means that his analysis of the supposed workers' state left out the essential feature of the transitional society -- the process of increasing control by the working class of the economy, and of the entire society. He confused Stalinist state-capitalism with a transitional society (his definition in Section IX. 3 of The Revolution Betrayed being that it is "a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism" with revolutionary "property relations" but bourgeois "norms of distribution").
. You are worried that to take the transitional society as a formation in its own right would lead, among other things, to "the idea of his [Trotsky's] successors: that the existence of the 'degenerated' and 'deformed' workers' states' could continue on and on so long as there were no overturns of the system of state ownership." I think that, on the contrary, a good analysis of the features of the transitional society would show the hollowness of the Trotskyist identification of Stalinist state capitalism with workers' states. It's the Trotsky's idea of the state sector as essentially socialist in itself, an idea which goes against considering the transitional society as a formation in its own right, that has been maintained by most of his successors.
. You implicitly regard that the article on "weak socialism" doesn't really develop the idea of the transitional society as a formation in its own right. I think you are right about that. That article does mention the word "transitional", but its basic idea is that of a period, "weak socialism", which has some socialist features and some capitalist features. It is concerned in large part with comparing the system of distribution (wages) to those under capitalism and socialism, rather than in seeking the fundamental economic structure of this period, the structure which will determine, among other things, the basic framework of the system of distribution. And it implicitly mixes together the issue of the transitional period, which is an inevitable feature of revolution, with that of the degeneration of the Soviet revolution.
. By way of contrast, a series of articles in Communist Voice regard the transitional economy as something distinct, whose fundamental basis and whose laws of evolution have to be examined in their own right. The economy of this period, which is created sometime after the socialist revolution and lasts until the achievement of Marxist socialism (the elimination of commodity production, of classes, etc. ), is not simply a mixture of carry-overs from capitalism that get weaker as capitalism recedes, and new features that grow stronger as socialism gets nearer. Instead it also has its own distinct features, some of which are different from those that exist under either ordinary capitalism or under Marxist socialism. For example, in part one of my article on Preobrazhensky, in considering his view of the "commodity-socialist economy", I objected to the views that the transitional economy simply combines capitalist features that are decaying and socialist features that are growing stronger and that the transitional economy differs from socialism mainly through the quantitative strengthening of the socialist features. For example, I pointed out that "the characteristic features of the transitional economy that pave the way for socialism won't themselves exist, or will have started to wither away, in what Marxism considers a socialist society", because their purpose was to fight capitalist conditions that no longer exist. (See the section "The commodity-socialist economy" in "Preobrazhensky -- ideologist of state capitalism (Part 1)" in Communist Voice #17, April 20, 1998. )
. The transitional economy still has commodity production, money, and so forth. In this respect, it is still capitalism. If one were to reason that an economy is either capitalism or socialism, then the transitional economy would have to be described as capitalism, indeed, as state capitalism. And that was how I briefly reasoned in an article in the Workers' Advocate Supplement where, in passing, I supported the formulation of "state capitalism under workers rule". ("Some notes on theory (2)" in the WAS, July 1992, under the subhead "Where to look". ) But soon afterwards, I decided that such reasoning was wrong, although I didn't have the opportunity to publicly explain why until the article "The question of 'state capitalism under workers' rule'" (Communist Voice, #14, August 10, 1997)
. It is true that the transitional economy has a capitalist economic frame, but it also has an increasing workers' control that is incompatible with any stable capitalism. Thus the transitional economy is, in some sense, economically unstable. Its capitalist frame clashes with workers' control of the economy and the politics. It is only under particular conditions, ushered in by the socialist revolution, that this economic formation can exist. It must, generally speaking, keep moving forward or degenerate backward. Perhaps this is characteristic of transitional situations in general, which are temporary (they might last many decades, but this is still -- historically speaking -- temporary), special, and in some sense unstable. This instability gives a certain credence to the description of the transitional economy as "weak socialism", in the sense that its economic structure won't spontaneously evolve towards socialism, but requires the conscious development of workers' control, the proletarian dictatorship, etc. It is perhaps "weak socialism" in the sense that one might say that, if it weren't for the existence of a conscious revolutionary movement, the workers' control and other revolutionary features would succumb to the capitalist framework. But in another sense, "weak socialism" is a misleading term, just as it would be misleading to describe a fetus as a "weak adult", a pupa in a cocoon as a "weak butterfly", an explosion as a "weak equilibrium", or revolution as a period of weak stability. For that matter, the transitional society is not necessarily weak in the ordinary sense of the word. This is the society that is in revolutionary transformation, the society that is building on the political overthrow of the traditional capitalist class by carrying out the economic transformations that will lead first to the removal of the economic functions of the previous capitalists and managers, and then to the complete elimination of the foundations of capitalism as a system.
. The particular contradiction at the base of this system is distinct from that of either ordinary capitalism or socialism. It is the clash between this system's capitalist frame and the increasing workers' control. This results in the specific features of this period, such as the proletarian dictatorship, the role of the workers party, and the new nature of the class struggle, which the workers can now wage from both above and below. It differs from both ordinary capitalism, where the bourgeoisie controls the economy, and Marxist socialism, where they aren't classes any more. It is not simply a mixture of these two, but something distinct, transitory, exceptional -- and profoundly important. And of course the transitional economy is different from revisionist state-capitalism, which is not a transitional economy at all but the rule of a new bourgeoisie over the working class.
. Let me give one example of the how the difference between the standpoint of "weak socialism" and that of the transitional economy as a distinct stage helps in opposing revisionist state-capitalism. The WAS article on "weak socialism" devoted, as mentioned, a good deal of attention to the issue of distribution. It recognized that full socialist principles can't be applied right away, but it didn't bring out the underlying factors that determine what type of distribution will take place. Probably the idea one would get is that wage inequality is simply a capitalist carry-over, an idea which is correct as far as it goes, and that the progress to socialism can be directly measured by the system of wages, an idea which is misleading.
. In practice, changes in system of wages are not, in themselves, the measure of how close one is to full socialism. For example, the Castroist government has changed from one form of wages to another over the years. Throughout all these changes, the gap between the ruling, privileged bureaucracy and the masses has always remained, and the bureaucracy developed into a new bourgeoisie. But the Cuban regime would, for this or that period of time, claim to be coming closer to communist principles regarding distribution among the working masses, or even to be using "voluntary labor", and it periodically restricted private markets. Even though many of these changes involved a good deal of deception, they did affect distribution among the working masses. Yet these changes, which were implemented by decree and detached from the actual control of the workers over production, had nothing to do with getting closer to socialism. Instead, as the new bureaucratic class consolidated in Cuba, the economy moved further and further away from socialism, indeed further and further away from being a transitional economy, and became a full-fledged state-capitalist economy. A series of articles in Communist Voice trace this evolution.
. What is crucial to measuring the approach to socialism is the actual control of the workers over production, and over the economics and politics of the society as a whole. Thus the continual development of the Cuban bureaucracy and the passive position of the Cuban workers are far more important criteria than the precise norms of distribution. Thus a truly revolutionary society might be moving closer to socialism even if occasionally the system of distribution seemed to go backward. For example, if more and more of the laboring population becomes workers, and if these workers become active participants in directing the economy and society, this moves the society a few steps closer to socialism. It does this even if the system of distribution moves somewhat backward in order, say, to accommodate a large influx of the petty-bourgeoisie into the working class. The continued existence of wage inequality shows the strength of capitalist carry-overs, and is one illustration of the gulf that still separates the transitional economy from socialism. But, assuming the wage system stays within certain limits, the extent of that gulf is not directly measured by the system of wages.
. The standpoint of the transitional economy focuses attention on the key issues dividing the
transitional economy from either capitalism or revisionist state-capitalism, such as whether the
working class is actually exercising control. It provides a basis for understanding the features of a
revolutionary economy from a scientific, class point of view, and not simply as an accidental
jumble of capitalist carry-overs and socialist decrees. I think it thus helps distinguish between
revisionist economies and revolutionary ones.
-- THE ECONOMIC BASIS OF REVOLUTIONARY STRATEGY AND TACTICS --
. In your remarks, you say "once it had been established (already in the 1890's) that Russia was a capitalist country (even if with strong feudal and other vestiges), the overall relations of strength within that framework became decisive in determining the stages of the revolution struggle." I think that this formulation still underestimates the continuing importance of the economic factor. It reduces the economic factors to simply a decision on whether a country has entered in force upon capitalist development. After that, it counterposes the economic factors to dealing with the class struggle, rather than seeing that careful analysis of the economic factors remains vital to understanding and giving guidance to the class struggle.
. I shall in a moment give a number of examples of the continuing importance to the Russian revolution, after the 1890s, of judging the economic factors. But first I will want to deal with some general considerations which stand behind your formulation. You are influenced in denigrating the need to analyze the economic base by the desire to contradict the argument of reformists that there couldn't be socialist revolution in Russia because the productive forces weren't sufficiently developed. You therefore write: "we think that the essence of Lenin's view. . . is that he regarded class struggle as the prime motor of history, instead of reducing it to the role of a midwife for the productive forces. . ." You also write that Stalin saw the productive forces "as the prime motor of history (rather than class struggle); . . . he in On dialectical and historical materialism' relegated class struggle to being merely a midwife as the development of productive forces have grown beyond the limits of the relations of production."
. But the relationship of the political superstructure, and of class struggle itself, to the economic base is a fundamental point of Marxism. Without this point, historical materialism vanishes. No doubt, reformists have given wrong assessments of what is possible in any particular economic situation. No doubt they have also denigrated the class struggle, and some may replace the tasks of revolutionary politics with simply facilitating industrial advance in the manner that any bourgeois might. But to their wrong assessment one must counterpose a correct assessment of the economic base, and of the revolutionary politics that it gives rise to, rather than cast aside materialist assessment of the economic factors. Lenin talked about the reformist "subserviency to the bourgeoisie in the guise of 'economic analysis'" (this is a chapter heading in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky), but he continued to uphold the need for materialist analysis of the economic base. Reformists may talk about the economic base in order to promote passivity and surrender, but Marxism analyzes this base in order to understand how to change the world.
. The idea that the class struggle and profound revolutions serve as midwife to the development of the productive forces first arose, not from the Mensheviks or the reformist social-democrats, but from Marx. He wrote, in a passage that has been cited--not just by Stalin in Dialectical and Historical Materialism--by Plekhanov and Lenin as one of the foundations of materialism, that
. "In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces.
. "The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. . . . At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or--what is but a legal expression for the same thing--with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. . . . In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic--in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out." (from the Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy)
. In his article Karl Marx: A brief biographical sketch with an exposition of Marxism, Lenin quotes this passage more fully in the section "The Materialist Conception of History". The next section of this article is "The Class Struggle". In it Lenin stresses that Marxism is "the theory of the class struggle", and he cites Marx's well-known dictum from the Communist Manifesto that "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". He doesn't see any contradiction between the view that an epoch of social revolution arises when that the productive forces have outgrown the limits of the relations of production, and championing the class struggle.
. Similarly, these views on the economic base and its relationship to the class struggle are developed at length by Plekhanov in Chapter 5 of his book The Development of the Monist View on History. He too cites and explains Marx's view on the development of the productive forces, and he too regards it as a firm basis for the theory of class struggle and revolution.
. You write that Trotsky "advocated the theory of productive forces as the prime motor of history (rather than class struggle)". Actually, Trotsky cast aside as obsolete much of this basic Marxist theorizing that required one to pay attention to the economic base. Thus he believed that the division between the minimum and maximum program may have been acceptable in the past, but it was no longer in his day and age. Similarly for the Marxist theory with regard to different types of revolution (e. g. , bourgeois-democratic and socialist). Similarly for the particular class roles of the peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie. The world was supposed to have reached a certain stage of economic development as a whole, and he tended to denigrate the need for further economic analysis. He was fond of global considerations that, he believed, sufficed for determining the general strategy of revolution. This may be obscured somewhat by the fact that he had to take account of local peculiarities in his practical activity, but it manifested itself in his overall theorizing, from the theory of "socialism in one country", to his transitional program, to his view that the peasantry could simply be regarded as on the side of either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie, and so forth.
. In your remarks, you point to Russia reaching a certain stage of capitalist development by the 1890s. From then on, you say, the class struggle ("the overall relations of strength within that [economic] framework") is decisive. Actually, the class struggle was the mainspring of Russian politics even previously, while the evolution of the economic base remained important for determining "the overall relations of strength". Let me give a few examples.
. One of the key issues of the Russian revolution was the struggle in countryside. This was important in order for the Russian proletariat to have an ally, and the nature of the agrarian struggle also had a lot to do with the social character of the Russian revolution. But the material conditions in the countryside continued to evolve after the 1890s, and this evolution had to be taken account of. Thus, in discussing whether there was a basis for a democratic revolution in Russia, Lenin even took account of such issues as the progress of the Stolypin reforms, by which tsarism sought to dissolve the communal system. He believed that it was possible that the Stolypin reforms might change the nature of the economic base in the countryside, and if so, this would eliminate the basis for a democratic revolution.
. Thus Lenin wrote in 1908 that:
. "To proceed. What if, in spite of the struggle of the masses, Stolypin's policy holds good long enough for the 'Prussian' way [of the bourgeois development of the Russian countryside] to succeed? Then the agrarian system in Russia will become completely bourgeois, the big peasants will grab nearly all the allotment land, agriculture will become capitalist, and no 'solution' of the agrarian question under capitalism--whether radical or non-radical--will be possible any more. Then Marxists who are honest will themselves will straightforwardly and openly throw all 'agrarian programmes' on the scrap-heap altogether, and will say to the masses: 'The workers have done all they could to give Russia not a Junker but an American capitalism. The workers call you now to join in the social revolution of the proletariat, for after the 'solution' of the agrarian question in the Stolypin spirit there can be no other revolution capable of making a serious change in the economic conditions of life of the peasant masses. '
. "That is how the question of the relationship between a bourgeois and a socialist revolution in Russia stands today . . ." (On the Beaten Track!, April 16(29), 1908, in Collected Works, vol. 15, p. 45, emphasis as in the original)
. In the above statement, Lenin did refer to the relation of forces between the peasantry and tsarism. This relationship would be important in determining whether the Stolypin reforms would continue. But the main point of the above passage is that there is an issue of assessing what is happening to the economic base. And this assessment is decisive for determining revolutionary strategy. It was not sufficient to simply note that capitalism was in general developing throughout Russia, and had been doing so for several decades.
. Now, perhaps it will be said that after the February revolution in 1917, Lenin turned to the task of socialist revolution, despite the fact that the bourgeois transformation of agriculture hadn't been finished. So, it might be asked, what happened to the issue of the economic base? But Lenin wrote:
. "Before the February-March revolution of 1917, state power in Russia was in the hands of one old class, namely, the feudal landed nobility, headed by Nicholas Romanov.
. "After the revolution, the power is in the hands of a different class, a new class, namely, the bourgeoisie." (Letters on tactics, April 1917, in Collected Works, vol. 24, p. 44, emphasis as in the original)
. This is an objective change in class relations. I suppose it might be said that this is simply a consideration of changes in relations of strength of various forces, namely, that the bourgeoisie had achieved power in the country. But it is also a basic change in the underlying situation upon which the alignment of forces takes place. And so it raised the question of re-examining the character of revolutionary movement.
. Still, it might be insisted, the rise to power of the bourgeoisie didn't solve the question of landlordism in the countryside. True, but this had consequences for the class character of the revolution. Lenin held that, while the overall revolution was socialist, it was not, at first, such in the countryside. He maintained, in October-November 1918, that
. "All who are familiar with the situation and have been in the rural districts, declare that it is only now, in the summer and autumn of 1918, that the rural districts themselves are passing through the 'October' (i.e. , proletarian) revolution. A turn is coming. The wave of kulak revolts is giving way to a rise of the poor, to the growth of the 'Committees of Poor Peasants. ' . . . at the very time that this imbecile [Kautsky] regarded the secession of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries as a 'narrowing' . . . of the circle of those who support the Bolsheviks--at that very time the real circle of supporters of Bolshevism was expanding enormously, because scores and scores of millions of the village poor were freeing themselves from the tutelage and influence of the kulaks and village bourgeoisie and were awakening to independent political life.
. . . . . . .
. "A year after the proletarian revolution in the capitals, and under its influence and with its assistance, the proletarian revolution began in the remote rural districts, . . .
. "Having completed the bourgeois-democratic revolution in conjunction with the peasantry as a whole, the Russian proletariat passed on definitely to the socialist revolution when it succeeded in splitting the rural population, in winning over the rural proletarians and semi-proletarians, and in uniting them against the kulaks and the bourgeoisie, including the peasant bourgeoisie." (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, pamphlet edition, pp. 101-3, in the chapter "Subserviency to the bourgeoisie in the guise of 'economic analysis', emphasis as in the original)
. Thus, the fact that the peasants may be an ally of the socialist insurrection, doesn't allow one to disregard the particular social conditions in the countryside. The nature of the peasant struggle remains important, and it explains a lot about what steps the revolution will have to take. The fact that the peasants followed the proletariat in October 1917 in overthrowing the Provisional government did not mean that the peasants would follow the proletariat into socialism. This required another struggle. And the need for this struggle is explained by the economic base in the countryside.
. Unfortunately, the Poor Peasants Committees didn't live up to Lenin's expectations, and began
to decline. Thus, while the Bolshevik regime maintained itself, the socialist revolution in the
countryside was delayed. In the Civil War, the peasants supported the Bolsheviks mainly in order
to keep the achievements of the revolution against the landlords. So, subsequently, the question
remained of how to spread socialism into the countryside. This would plague the Russian
revolution right through to the time at which it died and degenerated into Stalinist
-- ON SOCIALISM IN ONE COUNTRY --
. You write that "the theory of 'socialism in one country' is not the essence of modern
revisionism, but the other way around: it is one of the fruits. Modern revisionism can and does
exist even without that theory." This moves us closer together, as it poses this question more as
an issue in itself, rather than a general term for revisionism. However, perhaps you haven't yet
recognized the full extent of the empty, rhetorical nature of the Trotskyist theorizing on socialism
in one country. Such theorizing doesn't deal with determining the necessary economic and social
conditions for socialist revolution in any country, nor with determining the social character of the
revolutionary movement in various country. It replaces concrete attention to the problems which
the revolution faces in any country with general formulae that are supposed to apply to every
country in the world.
Can there be socialist revolution in one country?
. The most direct meaning of a controversy over socialism in one country would be whether there can be a revolution in a single country, or whether the revolution must take place simultaneously in some or most of the major countries. For example, when on the eve of the European-wide revolutionary wave of 1848 Engels discussed the question of whether there can be a proletarian revolution in a single country, he said that the communist revolution must take place "at least simultaneously in England, America, France, and Germany". (Principles of Communism, Question 19). The question would arise, therefore, of whether there can be a profound revolution in a single country today (or, historically, in the 20th century), and whether that could be a socialist revolution.
. Today this involves, among other things, two questions. One is whether either the neighboring countries, or the main guardians of the imperialist world order, would smother a particular revolution. The other is the question of the social character of the revolution in particular countries at particular times, for example, would it be bourgeois-democratic or socialist. These questions require assessing the particular situation of each country. This involves a careful examination of the local economic base. It also involves assessing what type of pressure this country can expect from others, as well as what type of support it can expect from revolutionary classes in other countries. It also involves the size of the country, since clearly there is a vast difference between mini-countries and countries which are almost continents in themselves, such as China, the US, the Soviet Union yesterday (and perhaps still Russia today), and India, while there is also a whole range of countries of intermediate size.
. It is quite possible, for example, that the proletariat in some countries might really regard socialist revolution in their country as quixotic without either immediate close coordination with a similar revolution in its neighbors, or some other favorable world factor that paralyze neighboring reactionary governments and world imperialism from strangling the revolution economically or by direct intervention. Therefore the revolutionary party of such a country might seek to put off any immediate uprising, if at all possible, until its neighbors were also ready for revolution. Such a party might make the greatest sacrifices for the sake of ensuring a common movement of several countries. The issue of revolution in one country would, for such a party, not an issue of what vision inspires party leaders, but a direct question of revolution strategy and timing.
. This, however, is not what the Trotskyist theory is concerned with. Instead it asserts that it is impossible to achieve socialism in any single country, whatever its size or circumstance. However, this impossibility isn't supposed to stop revolutionaries of any country from organizing a socialist revolution in one country, or even to seriously affect the timing of such a revolution. Moreover Trotskyism asserts that, to determine the character of the revolution, it isn't necessarily to look closely at the economic base of any particular country. It is automatically socialist revolution, whatever the particular conditions in the country, because the Trotskyism believes that the world in general reached a sufficient level of development at least a century ago. All this leads the Trotskyists to the view that the socialist revolution will establish a workers' rule or proletarian regime, which will call itself "socialism" but will not be socialism in one country, but might be a workers' regime in a single country.
. All this makes theorizing about the possibilities of revolution into an empty game. It rules out
concrete considerations of either the nature or timing of revolution as supposedly Menshevik or
social-democratic opportunism, and substitutes empty rhetoric. It teaches activists to engage in
empty phrasemongering and to disdain serious consideration of the problems of revolution in
individual countries or groups of countries. It sounds very leftist, but it's a "leftism" which is
unable to connect with the practical problems of the revolutionary movement.
Can Marxist socialism be achieved in a single country?
. I think that your conception is while socialist revolution can take place in certain individual countries, they will not, so long as they remain the only revolutionary country, be able to achieve "socialism proper" -- that is, communism. You write that "'socialism proper' [is] impossible in one country alone -- it must require such a big-scale development of the productive forces that only the joint efforts of the proletariat in at least several of the advanced countries can achieve it." Your conception appears to be that the revolution can achieve a good deal of social transformation, but it won't be able to reach the stage of a classless society without commodity production until "at least several of the advanced countries" have united in socialist revolution.
. Now, strictly speaking, the issue wouldn't be whether one or several countries are involved, but how large an area of the world is involved. The Soviet Union, for example, encompassed the area of what are now a dozen or so countries. There are several countries which can probably boast of producing more industrial goods today than the entire world produced back in 1917, and certainly far more than dozens and dozens of other countries produce today. Presumably the practical issue would be whether most of the world has to join together before there could be Marxist socialism, or whether a fraction of the world would suffice. For example, would Europe alone be sufficient for this? Or North America?
. But how likely is it that this issue would be a major dividing line among the communists activists of a country that carried out a socialist revolution? The issue facing the revolutionary movement is when there can be socialist revolution, and what economic steps the revolution could and should take. A revolution can't be regarded as socialist simply because of the intentions of some leaders or ideologists or even of an entire ruling party. It must actually carry out definite economic steps that construct a new economy and provide an increasing workers' control. It is important, therefore, to look into what the transitional economy would be. But how far the revolution goes towards socialism proper will be determined by history. So long as revolutionaries were agreed on the steps towards socialism, and so long as the transitional economy provided an alternative to the old capitalist system, time itself would show when socialism proper would be achieved. The revolutionary activists might have different expectations about how fast this process would take place, but such differences would seem secondary ones that shouldn't interfere with revolutionary unity.
. Indeed, it is possible, and perhaps even likely, that there won't be any new socialist revolutions
-- except some short-lived attempts that may, however, have a tremendous influence on the
thinking of working people -- until a revolutionary ferment has spread throughout much of the
world. The socialist revolution that ushers in the transitional economy is likely to require either
some giant country, or a number of intermediate and smaller ones. Thus by the time that any
revolutionary country has been able to develop a transitional economy for any period of time,
there will likely be a significant section of the world rising in revolution. So it's not clear whether
there ever will be an occasion to test whether a small section of the world can pass by itself from
the revolutionary transitional economy to "socialism proper" (Marxist socialism, or communism).
This is especially because the transitional economy is likely to last for a substantial period of
time, even if the entire world rose in revolution simultaneously. I think this lengthy preparation is
required by the profound nature of the economic changes which are needed for socialist
"Socialism in one country" and world revolution
. Trotsky presented "socialism in one country" and support for the world revolution as two polar opposites. Belief in the possibility of building a socialist society in a single country, even if a giant one like the Soviet Union, was supposed to lead to betraying the world revolution by subordinating the world movement to the interests of the revolutionary country, Belief in Trotsky's formulations was supposed to ensure loyalty to the revolutionary cause in other countries and support for the correction proletarian policies. Unfortunately for this theory, Trotsky himself practiced subordination of the interests of the world revolution to Soviet interests or even more restricted interests.
. Naturally, of course, the entire revolutionary proletariat of the world will support, and justly so, countries that have risen in socialist revolution. In this sense, there is no opposition in principle between support for world revolution or for particular revolutionary countries. But while, in the long-run, anything that advances the revolution in one country aids revolution elsewhere, in practice one is faced with balancing the needs of different sections of the world movement. For all his rhetoric against national narrow-mindedness, Trotsky didn't do particularly well at this. Indeed, he often subordinated the interests of the world revolution to crass factional interests.
. Take the dispute over revolutionary policy in China. Trotsky subordinated this matter to his factional maneuvering inside the Soviet leadership. According to the ardent Trotskyist historian Isaac Deutscher, from 1924 until March 1927, Trotsky raised his misgivings on China only sporadically and only to the Politbureau of the CPSU, not even to the Central Committee, and certainly not publicly. Deutscher thinks this is because he couldn't find support for his position in the Party leadership. (The Prophet Unarmed: 1921-1929, pp. 321-4. )
. It wasn't until May 1927, after Chiang Kai-shek carried out his anti-communist massacres, that Trotsky began his campaign about China. This can be seen in the Declaration of the Eighty-four, which, among other things, laid stress on differences about Chinese policy. But this document protested against the idea that the Opposition demands a "break with the Kuomintang", and said
this is part of the "systematic distortion of the Opposition's views". (See the collection of Trotsky's writings entitled The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27), Pathfinder Press, p. 226. ) Trotsky, who wanted a break with the Kuomintang, signed this document anyway, and he did so without adding any qualification. This is despite the practice, in some of the past statements of the opposition, to append reservations by various signers. By hiding his view on what he took to be the basic error of communist policy in China, Trotsky subordinated the interests of the Chinese revolution to a temporary political maneuver -- unity with Radek and Zinoviev. (I will leave aside the content of Trotsky's views on China for another time. )
. The Declaration also stated that "A defeat in China could have direct repercussions on the future of the USSR. If the imperialists unite for a long enough period of time to 'pacify' China, they will then march against us, the USSR. The defeat of the Chinese revolution could bring war against the USSR much, much closer." Thus it pointed to the dire consequences for the Soviet Union of setbacks in China, just as much of Trotsky's earlier arguments on the importance of the German revolution pointed to the need for support for the Russian revolution. This may not be wrong in itself, however the Declaration of the 84 overstated the issue and also omitted the other side of the question -- the sacrifice that, in the event of a victorious Chinese revolution, the Russian revolutionaries would have to make to support the Chinese comrades. Thus the "Declaration" pointed to the national needs of the revolution in one country, so to speak. Trotsky may claim that consideration of the national needs of the Soviet Union required revolution elsewhere, while claiming that the Stalinists saw those national needs as requiring the abandonment of revolution, but Trotsky raised the national needs of the Russian revolution as insistently as anyone else. Stress on those national needs is supposed to follow from a belief in "socialism in one country", and here we see it follows just as easily from adherence to Trotskyist "permanent revolution".
. This is not simply an unfortunate passage in a single document. To this day, the Trotskyists have often subordinated various interests of the world revolution to the defense of supposed workers' states. The Spartacist League was notorious in the 1980s for its slogans that put forward that the struggle in Central America was the front lines for the defense of the Soviet Union, and such ideas were current among many other Trotskyist groups with respect to the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and other events.
. It is also true that Trotsky showed little interest in the dramatic events in Indonesia in the mid-20s. In both China and Indonesia, the communist parties had at first grown rapidly in size and influence, and then faced disastrous setbacks -- in China, with the KMT's turn against the communists, and in Indonesia, with premature insurrections for socialism. Both from the point of view of revolution in Asia and from that of testing communist policy, it would be important not to restrict one's sight to China. But it would have been hard to present the Indonesian events as support for Trotskyist politics; it wouldn't have served Trotsky's factional interests to discuss Indonesia; nor could one imagine that the Indonesian revolution would provide much support for the Soviet Union.
. From this and many other examples, it appears that Trotsky's rhetoric against "socialism in one country" doesn't have much to do with avoiding national narrowness. Indeed, the stand on "socialism in one country", for or against, clarifies just about nothing about past disputes on revolutionary policy. One might connect one policy with another on the grounds that Stalin advocated "socialism in one country" and also advocated a certain policy on united fronts, anti-colonial revolutions, etc. (although precisely which policy Stalin advocated varied from time to time), and Trotsky opposed "socialism in one country" and advocated some other policy. But it is much more difficult to find an inner connection between being for "socialism in one country" and this or that policy. Thus Trotskyist narrative often amounts to that so-and-so advocated this at one time, and then that at another, and attention is focused on the history of the fights rather than on the content of the issue.
. This comes up even with respect to the mid-20s. You remark that, even though you now see the issue of "socialism in one country" as not the cause, but just one of the symptoms of revisionism, still Trotsky "was certainly right in his warnings that there was a connection between Stalin's more and more narrow national perspective already in mid-1920s and his cynical maneuvering on the international scene." But doesn't this type of connection, promoted by Trotsky, influence one to search for the psychological motivations of different leaders, whereas in fact there were objective reasons for certain issues arising in the mid-1920s? The decline of the post-World War I revolutionary wave certainly centered attention on whether Soviet Russia could hold out on its own. It also helped focus the attention of communists around the world on the issues of united front tactics, alliances, etc. Revolutionary experience was gained through painful experience and many wanderings, and unfortunately the Soviet revolution itself was lost to Stalinist state-capitalism. But our concern has to be with what lessons these events holds for communist theory. In contrast, Trotsky's method of reducing the matter to the controversy over whether socialism proper could be achieved in one country was empty, as it actually explains nothing; was hypocritical, as noted above; and obscured the fact that the immediate issue in the Soviet Union was not the possibilities for obtaining socialism proper, but for the creation and maintenance of the transitional society.
. There are other important issues raised by your remarks, but my reply has been delayed far too
long and has grown too lengthy. So I will these to another time. I look forward to the
continuation of our discussion.
Joseph Green <>
Last modified: April 13, 2004.