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Communist Voice

Successor to the Workers' Advocate

Volume 2, Number 2

Mar. 15, 1996

$1 .00

The U.S.-Cuba conflict . . . . 4

Papua New Guinea and imperialism . . . . . . . . 5

On the trade unions:

The Staley/CAT strikes . . . . 22

Transitional program and the zigzags of LAWV. . . . . 24

The middle strata and the workers’ movement . . 30

In this issue

Marxism and the right of nations to self-determination by Joseph Green


Detroit Workers' Voice: The U.S.-Cuba conflict


Papua New Guinea and imperialism by Frank, Seattle


10 answers to Oleg on struggle in Mexico by J Green


The working class movement:

DWV -- Why were CAT and Staley workers defeated?


55,000 government worker on strike in Ontario


The trade unions, the Trotskyist “transitional program”, and the zigzags of the LAWV by Mark, Detroit


Misunderstanding the middle strata by Pete Brown


Theories and evolution of the salaried middle strata by Joe, BCSG


Introduction to the debate on Marxism and right of nations to self-determination


From the debate




Marxism and the right of nations to self-determination

by Joseph Green

One of the issues debated in this issue of Communist Voice is the right to self-determination of nations. It wasn't so long ago that most activists eagerly supported the national liberation movement in Africa and Asia and elsewhere. Today however most of the old colonial empires have fallen, and the main national movements seem to be fanatics massacring each other in the Bosnia and the Balkans. Does this mean that the right to self-determination is obsolete?

Some people think so. They have become "socialist"-colonialists who regret their support in the past for liberation movements. They hold that Marx and Lenin's support of the right to self-determination is outdated. They think that the national question is just a harmful diversion. The only struggle they will support is the straight struggle, direct to the future classless society, with no account taken of the twists and turns through which any real revolutionary movement develops. They don't see that a rebellious working class--confident in itself and eager to take on the heavy load of socialist revolution -- can only come into existence and steel itself through taking part in struggles of all types, whether for women's rights, or in defense of the environment, or against national oppression, and so on. The pure and narrow revolution that turns aside in disdain from so many "diversions" is a revolution that will never take place.

The new (and old) socialist-colonialists point to Bosnia, which is bogged down in national hatreds. But a closer look at Yugoslavia shows that it is the denial of the right to self-determination which has turned the national problems into an inferno. When the old state-capitalist regime associated with Tito began to fall apart, most of the republics that composed Yugoslavia wanted, for better or worse, to separate. The Serbian state-capitalist ruling class denied the right to self-determination, and threatened force against all the neighboring republics. Slovenia, which suffered only minor Serbian military interference, separated, and is now calm. But when Bosnia separated, the Serbian and Croatian bourgeoisies moved rapidly to divide it up. And Kosovo, an Albanian-nationality region of Serbia, which is not allowed any national rights, may well be the next flash point, even if the Bosnian crisis recedes.

To avoid the bloodletting and setting of worker against worker as has happened in Bosnia, the workers must fight the bourgeoisie in order to ensure recognition of the right to self-determination. The more successful they are in this, the more they will calm national hatreds and preserve their unity across national lines. They must fight:

* for recognition of the right of a nation, when its people so desire, to secede; and

* against the discrimination and oppression of the national or ethnic minorities within a country.

Defense of the right to self-determination is not the sum total of the proletariat's stand on the national question. The proletariat also stands for building organizations--trade unions, its political party and other mass organizations, schools, etc.--that embrace workers of all nationalities that live in the same country. It stands for building links between workers across national boundaries and building up a truly international workers' movement and a truly international class struggle. It works for a future socialist society in which national differences gradually disappear. Its ideology is proletarian internationalism. But without a struggle for the right to self-determination and against oppression, unity between the workers of different countries threatens to become a Sunday school phrase which convinces no on. People show that they have overcome national prejudices not when they are indifferent to national oppression and forcible annexations, but when they fight against all national oppression.

Today there are still nations fighting for their right to exist -- such as the people of East Timor fighting Indonesian annexationism, or the Palestinians, who are penned-up in a Bantustan-style separate area. The denunciation of all "separatism" would mean supporting the annexationism and colonialism of Indonesia, of Israel, and of the stronger bourgeoisies in the world. There are other places where whether a nation separates from another country or joins with it may or may not be advisable, but is not of overriding importance. But here too, denial of the right to self-determination means supporting -- not the fraternal unity of the workers of different lands -- but the annexationist desires of the strongest bourgeoisie. There are many other situations with respect to the national question. And of course the ruling bourgeoisie everywhere tries to justify its oppression of the masses through national phrases. But in all cases, it is necessary for the workers to recognize which cases involve national oppression, and to advocate that it is a basic democratic right that the people who live in a definite territory comprising a nation be allowed to decide for themselves which country that territory is part of or whether the territory is independent. This is the only way the proletariat can demonstrate that it is not national borders, but freedom, and the fight against the bourgeoisie, that is uppermost in its mind. In this way, the workers pave the way for the merger of nations by insisting that this merger must be voluntary.

Stalinism perverted Marxism-Leninism on this question as on all others. Stalin, and later the whole trend of Soviet revisionism, negated the right to self-determination in practice, despite hypocritical claims to support Marxism. During Brezhnev's rule, the theory of "limited sovereignty" was his justification of Russian annexationism. The intervention in Afghanistan by both the Soviet Union and the U.S.; the bloody wars by the revisionist "Dergue", the one-time rulers of Ethiopia, against the Eritreans, Tigrayans and others; and other examples showed that negating the right to self-determination means bloodshed and fomenting divisions among the working people.

But it is no better when it is the "left communists" who negate the right to self-determination. These phrasemongers are to the "left" of Marxism, but what does this turn out to be? The "left communists" think that they are the most consistent opponents of Stalinism; why, they even are skeptical of political parties for fear of seeing a Stalinist party. Yet the various theories put forward--sometimes by "left communists", sometimes by left Trotskyists--that negate the right to self-determination end up providing a "socialist" cover for annexationism. Some say that the right to self-determination only applied in the 19th century. Others say that there will be no right to self-determination under socialism, because national differences will be immediately abolished. But in fact, national differences will only die out gradually. In all cases, these theories end up providing a glorified "left" cover to the revisionist socialist-colonialism.

Part of the debate centers on the assessment of the collapse of the old colonial empires in Africa, Asia, etc. The "left communists" think that since this did not lead to socialist countries but the growth of capitalism, therefore it was a nationalist blunder. All they can see is that the now-independent countries are capitalist, and that the ruling class -- like as not -- is oppressing the local national minorities or harassing the neighboring countries. They apparently think that if the workers and toilers had consented to be ruled by foreign overlords who regarded them as half-human, they would have been fit to rise in strikes for better conditions, protests against persecution of the minorities, and socialist revolution against the entire bourgeoisie. They don't see that by blaming all the tragedies of Africa on the national liberation movement, on "separatism", they are in fact duplicating the neo-conservative mood of the present. They are prettifying world imperialism, no matter how much they shout about "imperialism".

If the colonial peoples were ever to be anything but beasts of burden for the more industrialized countries, they had to overthrow the political rule of imperialist countries which regarded them as uncivilized. The proletariat and the downtrodden provided the basic force, and they fought for their social rights and improvements in their conditions, and for the best outcome of the national struggle. The small size of the proletariat; the ideological confusion in the world revolutionary movement; the military and economic pressure of imperialism and revisionism; etc. meant that the struggle only went so far; the democratic revolutions in Europe in the 19th century had also seen zigzags, bitter defeats and long periods of stagnation. Nevertheless, for the proletariat, participation in the overthrow of the colonial empires would be one of a series of dress rehearsals for future revolutionary activity, and help provide evidence to the workers of what can be expected from other classes. And as result of independence, the struggle against the local bourgeoisie as well as world capitalism came more to the fore. The countries in the industrializing world have, in a general sense, the same path to socialism as those of the industrialized world: through the growth of a proletariat, and its steeling in the struggle against all the crimes and pains of capitalism. There are no short-cuts. And if the "left communists" and Trotskyists and anarchists think that this requires too much patience, too much perseverance, too many sacrifices, too many different struggles, and want quick victory, then they are showing once again that they do not have the ability to lead the proletariat to victory.

Typical of "left communism" and Trotskyism is a contemptuous attitude to theory. They convert Marxism into a cardboard caricature. They don't understand the need to study the situation facing the proletariat carefully, but substitute absurd general rules. Some say that Marx's inspiring call "the workers have no country" means that the workers should be indifferent to national oppression, rather than fighting against it. Some say that the national question, trade unions, partial demands etc. became reactionary in the 20th century. Some even are upset at the term "people", saying that to recognize the rights of the people is contradictory to basing oneself on the working class. And most agree with the reformists that the struggle against national oppression means supporting the local bourgeoisie.

Indeed, what nonsense hasn't been said to deny the importance of opposing national oppression? Some claim that supporting one struggle for independence should logically mean supporting them all, as if supporting one political movement logically meant supporting them all, left, right or center. Some say that the principle that any one democratic right (including the right to self-determination) is subordinate to the interests of the overall revolutionary movement, as the part is subordinate to the whole, means that one needn't really be too concerned about these rights. They think that a revolutionary movement should support or reject these rights solely on the basis of whether it helps them to seize power, and don't see that such cynical manipulation would result in a movement being justly hated by the masses. All these simplified dogmas have nothing to do with Marxism; and they are a cover for the renunciation of any serious theoretical work.

Marx, Engels and Lenin all stood for the right to self-determination--not just under capitalism, but even under socialism. The critique of Stalinism and Trotskyism and left phrasemongering can draw inspiration from Marxist views on the national question. The Marxist theoretical standpoint, combined with the study of the new conditions of world imperialism, provides the firm basis for building up an anti-revisionist communism. It is this that will provide guidance for the rebirth of a militant proletarian movement--a movement that not only knows what the future society will be like, but that is capable of fighting against all the injustices of the present society.[]

No to U.S. imperialism’s bullying of Cuba!

Castro’s state-capitalism is no answer for the Cuban workers!

This article first appeared in Detroit Workers’ Voice #9, March 6. 1996.

At the end of February, three planes belonging to a reactionary Cuban exile group in the U.S. entered Cuban airspace. Cuban jet fighters shot down two of the planes after the Havana control tower warned them they were in danger if they did not leave the area. In response, the U.S. imperialist government has applied more economic sanctions against Cuba and hinted at military actions, too. Meanwhile, the capitalist media is taking every opportunity to crusade against "communism” when, in fact, Cuba is not communist but a repressive state-capitalist society that has been slowly adapting more “free market” economic reforms.

But this is a drama without heroes. The Cuban-American outfit flying planes over Cuba is reactionary to the core. They talk of “liberating” Cuba, but are out to impose U.S.-style capitalism on the Cuban masses and a government that will be closely aligned with U.S. policy They say they merely want the Cuban people to decide for themselves what government they want, but their leaders include veterans of the 1961 U.S.-organized Bay of Pigs invasion which attempted to forcibly overthrow the revolution which had brought popular changes for the masses. Today, too, these right-wing Cuban exiles press Clinton to leave open the military option against Cuba. So much for their pretensions of “freedom. ”

As for U.S. imperialism, it has spent over three decades trying to re-impose its will on Cuba since the 1959 revolution forced the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship to flee. American capitalism’s anger at Cuba found its source in the revolution’s expropriation of bloodsucking U.S. business interests and big landholders, the elimination of Cuba as a Mafia-run playground for the rich, and reforms that improved the lot of the poor. U.S. hatred of Cuba intensified when Castro formed an alliance with the now-defunct imperialist Soviet Union, then the U.S.’s main rival for world domination. After several plots to forcibly topple Castro failed, the U.S. relied mainly on severe economic sanctions against Cuba.

The Clinton administration came into office claiming it would change the hard-line policy of the Reagan-Bush administrations toward Cuba. Instead the economic blockade has been maintained And while the right-wing wackos among the Cuban exiles are often unhappy with Clinton, the administration has maintained the U.S. policy of providing a safe haven and certain assistance to the reactionary Cuban-American groups. With the shooting down of the planes, however, Clinton has reached new lows in his efforts to curry favor among the ultraright. Reversing his previous position, Clinton is now supporting a bill sponsored by super-bigot Jesse Helms with new measures to punish foreign companies that do business with Cuba. Clinton wants to win the friendship of the right-wing Cuban leaders by showing them he is every bit as chauvinist as the conservative Republicans.

Meanwhile, U.S. imperialism feigns horror over the shooting down of unarmed civilian aircraft by Cuban pilots. This is hypocrisy at its best! The U.S. government has slaughtered unarmed civilians in endless military adventures from Viet Nam to Panama. Who can forget the “video game” mentality of gloating U.S. generals as their bombs wasted the civilian population of Baghdad to make the world safe for U.S. control of world oil resources? And can anyone doubt the fate of an unarmed Cuban plane flying over Washington, D.C. and dropping leaflets for the overthrow of the U.S. government?

Finally, there is the Castro regime that rules Cuba. The Cuban masses don’t want to be subjugated by the U.S. and the right-wing Cuban business community in the U.S. It should be up to them to decide what sort of society exists in Cuba. But the interests of the masses are not served by lining up behind the Castro regime. The shooting down of the planes appears to have little to do with saving Cuba from an imminent invasion from the U.S. Nor can one be enthusiastic about Castro's efforts to repress those who want “free market” capitalism in Cuba when the repressive apparatus in Cuba is a tool for the Cuban-state capitalist elite to maintain their exploitation of the Cuban masses and a big obstacle in the way of the workers and peasants organizing in a revolutionary manner True, their are still certain social reforms worth defending in Cuba. But the defense of social reforms also requires a fight against the Cuban rulers who themselves impose austerity measures against the masses.

What then should be the attitude of workers and progressive activists in the U.S.? First, we must oppose the hysteria of U.S. imperialism against Cuba and all measures to suffocate that country We must expose U.S. aims and hypocrisy and use the occasion to build the anger of the masses here against the American capitalist ruling class.

Secondly, it is important to clarify that the repressive society in Cuba has nothing in common with genuine socialism or communism, but is a form of state-capitalism. Cuba is a class society where a bureaucratic elite rules over the workers, not a society where the workers rule. Therefore, we must encourage the building of a revolutionary trend in Cuba that opposes not only Western-style imperialism, but the phony “communism” of Castro. Such a trend will provide the best opportunity for the Cuban workers to maintain themselves in the midst of the present economic debacle in Cuba and orient them toward a real socialist future. []

Imperialism and Papua New Guinea

by Frank, Seattle, CVO

The following article is the second in a continuing series on Papua New Guinea and, more generally, on APEC, the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. It was written by Frank, who says he was aided by “thoughtful comments from a couple other CVO comrades” The article is divided as follows:



Some particularities Bribery

Indonesian influence

Indonesian annexationism vs. the Free Papuan Movement Australian “aid”


II SOME REALITIES OF IMPERIALIST “DEVELOPMENT”- Some origins of the “surplus population”


Clearing the land of villagers Communal plantations spur capitalism Commercial fishing Myths about employment The myth of “tribal fighting” in the highlands Political reaction



The previous article in this series exposed that the Papua New Guinean government fiercely opposes the struggles of the people against environmental poisoning and rape by the multinational corporations (see Communist Voice #2). In this article I will examine how the government’s stand is bound up with its being dominated by imperialism. I will also lay bare more of the bitter realities of imperialist “development” in Papua New Guinea.

Of course today in the USA we exist under a constant barrage of capitalist propaganda to the effect that the US or other rich and industrialized countries aren’t imperialistic at all. Why the monopoly capitalist ruling classes of these countries would never brutally dominate, exploit and oppress other countries. And if there are problems in the world — like hunger, a growing gulf between rich and poor countries (and a growing gulf between rich and poor within even the richest countries), lack of rights for the masses of people, wars, militarization, the threat of new wars, etc. — the expansion of “free trade” and the unfettered rule of the allegedly benign capitalist marketplace will eventually solve them all, or so we’re told. Implicit in my article then is an attack on such propaganda. Furthermore, the article will explicitly deal with an attempt to prettify imperialism and wrongly attribute wondrous things to it — an attempt made in recent years by a former US Marxist-Leninist. The examination of Papua New Guinean realities below shows just how wrong some of this prettifying theorizing is.

I Imperialist domination of Papua New Guinea —


The independent Papua New Guinean state which came into being in 1975 was composed of politicians, civil servants, military officers and police whom had been nurtured by the old Australian colonial system. Most of these people had in fact been part of the old colonial administrative structures. The more radical elements among them had complained about the overtly racist and domineering features of the old set-up but they didn’t depart from the U.N. and Australian-established framework in their struggle against these features. Their political orientation was one of a mild national reformism which worked together with Australian colonialism to found an independent state to rule a country which would remain oppressed by and dependent on world capitalism in general and Australian imperialism in particular.

The first post-independence government (the Michael Somare government of the Pangu Pati) was led by “radical” politicians like those just mentioned while the more recent governments have been even milder in their criticism of domination from abroad. Meanwhile the House of Assembly has always been composed of a majority who were outright capitalists (often referred to as bisnismen by writers on Papua New Guinea), and this has been even more the case for provincial governments. By world standards these are very small capitalists but their presence underscores that the government indeed does represent Papua New Guinean capitalism.1 But being a new and very weak capitalism operating in a world dominated by experienced and very powerful monopolies and cartels means that its opportunities are severely limited. And, as we shall see, the reality of the national independence of the political state this capitalism supports is also very limited.

The independence of the Papua New Guinean state is similar to that of other small and weak countries which have achieved it in a reformist way and often live in fear of annexation by more powerful neighbors.2 But this does not mean that such independence is not without value to the Papua New Guinean masses. And perhaps its greatest value is that it helps to open the eyes of the new working class to the fact that if it and all others being exploited and oppressed by world capital are to free themselves from its burdens then they need to also fight its domestic partners. (And the PNG state and the PNG capitalists are more and more revealing themselves as being such partners.) Independence has in this way been a most favorable factor for the development of a class-wide independent political movement of the workers. This movement may in fact have to go through several stages. Nevertheless independence has also in this way been a favorable factor for the advanced elements from the working class adopting an anti-imperialist politics and struggle with a profoundly revolutionary content, a politics and struggle aimed at tearing up the capitalist roots of imperialist exploitation and oppression, i.e. a socialist orientation. Such an orientation is the surest basis upon which to work out a strategy and tactics for the working class to achieve its eventual liberation as it fights against its exploiters at each mm in the movement and in each stage of the revolutionary process.

Today the people of Papua New Guinea suffer more exploi tation by the multinationals than ever before. The capitalists of the richer and more powerful states dominate the country and in many ways make “the law” This domination is systemic. It involves political, military, economic and other means and no one aspect can be separated out and used to describe the whole phenomenon. Moreover, a Chinese wall cannot be erected between economic and political means of domination — nor should the these two means be counterposed against each other So when we next look at some of the particular ways the multinational corporations, other organizations of capital, and the states of the imperialist countries dominate the Papua New Guinean state (and through this state, the masses of people) we must remember that these are just some of the cogs in a complex machine.

Some particularities Bribery

I’ll start with one that’s widely discussed by writers on Papua New Guinea, and one that is not complicated. This is that the multi-national corporations just buy votes in the House of Assembly or bribe government officials responsible for enforcing policies which might infringe on their profit-making.

Obviously no politician or government official admits to having been bought in this way but the issue has been a constant subject of public discussion throughout Papua New Guinea’s twenty-year history none-the-less. It won’t go away Charges are made, exact figures produced, trials are conducted, people are banned from holding public office, etc. And with the political distinctions between the country’s contending political parties and personalities fairly indistinct, charges of accepting these kinds of bribes is a favorite weapon used to down political opponents with. But with the bourgeois politicians’ (and the particular sections of the capitalist press lined up behind them) grinding axes in this way it’s difficult to judge from afar the veracity of many of the particular charges. Nevertheless, on the general issue I think it’s no exaggeration to say that where there’s smoke there's fire. (And to support this I note some recent news regarding another small country' the Toronto Globe and Mail is reporting that the Boeing Company officials are being charged with giving $786,000 in bribes to Bahamian government officials in order to get them to buy Boeing/de Haviland planes for the Bahamian national airline.)

Certainly the bourgeois politicians of Papua New Guinea are no more bribed or corrupted than their counterparts in “civilized” countries like the US.3 But they’re also less experienced than their counterparts in the rich countries. Hence they’ve at times been very “indiscreet” in their affairs with big capitalists from Asia (and elsewhere), in their acceptance of gifts from them, etc. They’ve lost their “reputations” to such an extent that almost every writer from the imperialist world comments on their disgrace. (Naturally some of these writers are out to justify imperialist exploitation and oppression and they take racist and national chauvinist glee in digging up dirt on Papua New Guinean government officials, while maintaining silence on the infamies of the politicians of their own countries.)

Secondly there’s been the more indirect bribing political parties through campaign contributions. For example in 1977 the party which won the elections (Pangu) spent over $264,000 (US) in the campaign. Most of this came from expatriate (mainly Australian) capitalists. Of course, just as in the US, the political parties deny that such contributions influence what they do in the legislative bodies or in government. Yet the workers in the mines or sweatshops of Papua New Guinea and other poor and oppressed countries know full well how tight-fisted such foreign businessmen are when it comes to loosing up money for living wages or improved safety conditions. (For example, in the late ‘60s Gough Whitlam himself said that Papua New Guinean plantation workers were “the worst paid in the world”.4 And at that time capitalists from the richer countries owned 60% of all export crops.) Hence only the most naive individual could imagine that these capitalists would just give money to political parties on any basis other than getting a big return on their investment.

Thirdly there’s the issue of the states of the dominating countries being used by the capitalists of those countries to achieve their aims. Here I’ll discuss a few of their methods as they relate to Papua New Guinea.

Indonesian influence

(a) Perhaps the biggest scandal to rock the Papua New Guinean political establishment during the ‘80s revolved around money and gifts being bestowed on the former commander of the Papua New Guinean Defense Forces (PNGDF), Ted Diro, who’d become a politician and deputy prime minister. And a similar scandal broke out concerning the next commander of the PNGDF as well. In both cases the men were said to have received the money or gifts from a top general of the Indonesian military dictatorship in exchange for political\military favors to the Indonesian fascist regime.5

Now an interesting aspect of these scandals (perhaps more interesting than trying to sort out whether Ted Diro really did receive $139,000 from Indonesian General Murandi) is that the “favors” given the Indonesian establishment by the two members of the Papua New Guinean establishment alluded to very rapidly became the dominant policy of this establishment vis-a-vis the Indonesian state. This leads directly to our next method, military pressure.

Indonesian annexationism vs. the Free Papuan Movement

(b.) When discussing military pressure on the Papua New Guinean government we must discuss the pressure of the Indonesian militarists in particular

The Indonesian ruling establishment is notorious for its brutal annexationism and chauvinism—particularly toward Melanesians. On East Timor and in West Papua (the Indonesian-annexed “Irian Djaya Province”, more of which below) it has sent troops to slaughter scores of thousands of Melanesian people—to rape, plunder and bum—in order to carry out its expansionism (which in the case of West Papua, has been an US-Australian-UN-supported expansionism). Hence throughout its existence the Papua New Guinean government has been forced to find a way to deal with the hundred-times more powerful bestial regime to the west. (Indonesia has a population of 186 million while Papua New Guinea’s is only 4 million. Indonesia has an experienced and well-equipped armed forces of 283,000 whereas PNG fields less than 5000 personnel, mostly light infantry Etc., etc.) And in examining its dealings we find that it has repeatedly capitulated to the wishes of the Indonesian fascists.

Take the attitude of the PNG government toward the struggles of the Melanesians in West Papua as an example. (Due to the settler-colonialist and genocidal policies of the Indonesian government Melanesians now comprise only one half of the population of West Papua.)

The masses of West Papuan people have been heroically resisting their annexation by the Indonesian state since the 1960s. This includes the continuing armed struggle led by the Organisasi Papua Merddeka, the Free Papuan Movement or OPM. Tens of thousands of Melanesians have been killed in this almost secret war by the Indonesian government while the big US, Australian, German and other oil and mining companies plunder West Papuan natural resources (including very rich oil and gas reserves) and pollute the land. In fact one of the focuses of many battles has been the destruction of the peoples’ livelihoods by the mining and drilling operations, the resulting starvation and disease, etc. And, not surprisingly, the masses of people across the border in Papua New Guinea have given their Melanesian brothers and sisters support in their struggles. But during the past two decades the PNG government has more and more opposed the struggles of the West Papuan people. In its first year it was already warning students in Port Moresby not to give support to the OPM and by the late 1980s it actually formalized the previously existing arrangements it had to collaborate with the Indonesian military against the OPM fighters through coordinated military operations along the border And finally, in 1992 it signed the Papua New Guinea-Indonesia Status of Forces Agreement which legally allowed Indonesian troops to enter the country (Prior to this they had made raids into Papua New Guinea to attack OPM supporters without worrying about legal niceties.)

That this evolution was connected to the military pressure of fascist fiends is undeniable. Let’s now examine a few particular related matters.

In 1975, when Port Moresby students trampled the Indonesian flag in the mud to protest the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, the Indonesian government demanded (and got) an apology from the PNG government. This demand in itself was a display of bullying and arrogant interference in Papua New Guinean internal affairs and the PNG government appeased it. But Michael Somare went much farther than this when he said the following: “I can understand the frustration in Indonesia that no action was being taken to correct a progressively deteriorating situation on their doorstep. I want to make it absolutely clear that Indonesia had been prepared last week to strongly support the motion in the United Nations for United Nations intervention to supervise an orderly decolonialization of Portuguese Timor. Indonesia took unilateral action after a United Nations decision on the matter was postponed because of intervention of countries outside the region." This was nothing less than giving public political support for bloody annexationist invasion and war.


Several writers say Somare did this because the Papua New Guinean establishment was frightened (which it undoubtedly was). Further, some of them lay this fright to Papuan New Guinean government calculations that the Australian government wouldn't come to its aid in the event of an attack by the Indonesian military. The latter, if true, would have seemed to have been a very reasonable calculation. The Australian capitalists (including the giant Broken Hill Propriety Co.) have many investments in Indonesia and have consistently gone out of their way not to offend the Indonesian regime themselves. In fact, in the 1980s the PNG government tried to get the Australian government to give formal guarantees that the Australian military would come to its defense if there were an attack on Papua New Guinea. Now the Australian bourgeoisie likes to praise Papua New Guinea for being a democratic state while it knows full well that the Indonesian state is fascistic and aggressive. Hence, since the Australian ruling class champions itself as being democratic, against aggressive wars, etc., one might assume that it would give its democratic neighbor a commitment of military support. But no, it seems financial calculations overruled its falsely proclaimed "principles”. The Australian government refused to give any guarantees to Papua New Guinea. (Meanwhile, from the early 1970s the Australian government had actually been slowly increasing its military aid to the Indonesian state. Although this aid was a drop in the bucket when compared to that of the US imperialists — a yearly $10.5 million (US) compared to half a billion dollars yearly in the early 80s — it again reveals the hollowness of the Australian ruling class's democratic rhetoric.)

Thus while the Melanesians of West Papua (and East Timor) heroically fight and die in a struggle against the colonial barbarism of the Indonesian elite the policy of their comfortable “brothers" in Port Moresby has evolved into signing agreements to help the Jakarta murderers in their campaign to wipe out the West Papuan freedom struggle. And while this has not been popular among the Papua New Guinean people it’s been very popular with the multi-national corporations exploiting West Papua and all of New Guinea.

But this again raises the issue of the class nature of the Papua New Guinean government. It has bowed to military pressure, true enough, but this bowing is also connected to its class inclinations. For example the OPM in West Papua has both sabotaged mining operations and formulated demands on behalf of Melanesian workers in the mines as well as on behalf of the village people whom are either being completely driven from their traditional lands or are being allowed to stay on lands which can no longer support them because of environmental destruction and poisoning. Yet the Papua New Guinean government fiercely opposes such acts and demands against the multinational mining companies when they come from the people at home. And some of the companies it sides with are the very same companies which the OPM is fighting against in West Papua. Of course it’s conceivable that a capitalist PNG government could oppose the fight against Broken Hill Proprietary (for example) at home while giving some lip service to supporting struggles against this same company in West Papua. But in the present political conditions, and with its class sympathies with the capitalist exploiters in West Papua plus the military pressure of the Indonesian regime, it opts for what is a less deceptive stance. And it exposes that its true brothers are the heads of the multi-national corporations, and even the Indonesian militarists.

Besides the direct pressure of the Indonesian regime it’s important to recall the more indirect military pressure (or threat) which constantly hangs over the heads of the regimes in poor and weak countries such as Papua New Guinea. This is that if they get out of line in asserting their independence, if they adopt economic policies or take political/military actions which go “too far” in undermining the prerogatives of the monopolists of the rich countries, then the imperialist overlords will employ every dirty means to either force them back into line or to overthrow them.

Australian “aid”

(c.) Next there’s the very big issue of Australian aid to the Papua New Guinean government. At the time of independence (1975) this amounted to 40% of PNG’s budget receipts. The Australian government’s plan was to slowly reduce this aid over the years and the Papua New Guinean government tried to make up the difference through royalties from the multi-national corporations’ mining operations, or through the share of profits it received as part-owner of a mine. (For example, in early 1989 nineteen per cent of its revenue was coming from just one mine, the Panguna mine on Bougainville. When this mine was sabotaged in the Bougainville rebellion6 later in the year an immediate budget crisis resulted.) These plans didn’t work and when the Papua New Guinean government began to run up budget deficits in the 1980s the Australian government slowed its planned aid reductions. Later, when the Papua New Guinean government launched its costly military campaign to crush the Bougainville rebellion from 1989 through today, the Australian government responded by initially doubling its military aid.

Of course the Australian government, like all capitalist governments, likes to pretend that there are no strings attached to its foreign aid, that this tax money is a gift from the good people of Australia to the backward people to the north rather being an investment by exploitative Australian capitalism, an investment made in order to ensure that much more money returns to the Australian ruling class. Moreover, it’s important to remember that today’s aid packages are a direct continuation of the same aid program the Australian government instituted in the days it was the direct UN-sanctioned colonial master of Papua and New Guinea. In fact its grants were even higher then, with the greatest amount given being $90 million (Aust.) in the year 1950. But in June of that same year Percy Spender (Australian Minister for External Affairs and External Territories) gave a revealing speech outlining the Australian governments aims in its colony. These revolved around two issues:

(1) Australia’s military strategy, and

(2) building up the colonial economy through investments by Australian capitalism and Australian settlement which would “complement" the Australian economy (i.e. be a vehicle for its enrichment).7

So even according to one of its “finest”, helping the people of Papua and New Guinea (“the Territories”) was never Australian government’s basic aim. Aid was given in order advance the military/strategic interests of the Australian ruling class and further enrich it. And after 20 years of following a program discussed by Spender in 1950 the mainly Australian expatriates (who were often just the frontmen for Australian corporations) owned 98% of the manufacturing goods, most of the mining output and construction and service industries, and 60% of all export crops in Papua and New Guinea. Moreover, expatriates accounted for 95 % of the professional and managerial personnel and 75% of the technicians, subprofessionals and middle-level managers. Furthermore, 2.5 million Melanesians earned 30% (at most) of the monetary sector income while only forty thousand expatriates grabbed 70% (or more).8

These then were a few of the legacies of Australian colonialism’s allegedly gratuitous foreign aid. Similar legacies had provided tinder for powerful anti-colonial rebellions throughout Asia, Africa and elsewhere during the preceding decades. Knowing this, and being under international pressure to abandon its colonial system, the Australian government embarked on a program to grant an independence which would preserve as many of the prerogatives of Australian capitalism as possible. And part of this program, one of the places Australian aid- money went, was to train, support, or co-opt an indigenous elite to rule the new state. Thus even in colonial times the Australian grant was also a “political investment” And here I should add that Percy Spender’s 1950 speech also took up the political theme of fostering a “loyal people” in the colonies.

This then was the stage upon which the many discussions on continuing the Australian grant took place during the last years of the colonial administration — both within the Australian government and between the government and the Papua New Guinean politicians it had groomed. Both the colonialists and the new Papua New Guinean bourgeois politicians and capitalists wanted the aid to continue. Of course the latter wanted more say over where it went. And although this was often motivated by the desire to personally grab more of it for themselves. for their growing businesses or government departments, etc., taken as a whole it represented a struggle between the new and weak Papua New Guinean bourgeoisie and the old and much more powerful Australian ruling class.

Now the political representatives of growing PNG capitalism realized, in their way, that this aid was a tool for dominating them. In fact during the immediate pre-independence years Australian government officials used the threat of withholding aid as a club against those political forces in PNG who opposed the Australian bourgeoisie’s idea of what their colony should look like after independence (i.e., would there be a single Papua

New Guinean state or two or more smaller states?).9 Further, several of the politicians who were soon to form the first Papua New Guinean government publicly complained that the Australian aid package was a tool for political domination. But this complaint was generally left on the level that the Australian government officials acted like racist and colonialist overlords (which was certainly true) in making their particular threats to reduce or cut off money in order to achieve their political objectives. It avoided the issue that even if there were no threats to cut off or reduce aid, the annual Australian grant still had the objective of furthering imperialist exploitation and domination of Papua New Guinea. Even the more “radical” politicians of the new PNG political establishment said little about this because they (and the class they represented) were hell-bent on being junior partners in this exploitation and domination. They weren’t going to bite the hand that had been feeding them because:

(a) The bourgeoisified intelligentsia which turned to politics and government service for a living, the officer corps of the military, the capitalists of town and country — all had to some extent fattened themselves from this aid and wanted more of it. And the new political and military elite in particular had been direct beneficiaries of it in terms of education, training, etc., human products of the Australian crash program for PNG independence. Neither they nor the growing capitalist class of town and country could maintain their newly acquired lifestyles without it for the domestic tax base was quite small. In the final analysis it seems the Australian imperialist method wasn’t complicated at all: finance the building of a social strata that becomes used to money and privilege and which will therefore return again and again for more money (while jumping through all the right hoops on the way).

(b) Both the domestic capitalists and foreign capitalists needed infrastructure like roads, electrical power stations, port facilities, communications systems, etc., in order to expand their operations and exploit the country’s riches. But where would the money to pay for these things come from? Rather than lay out the money themselves the capitalists favored the traditional method of having the state do so with the money it raised through taxing the people (in this case both the people of Australia and the Papua New Guinean people). The capitalists would then use the government structures (as well as using other methods) as the battleground for fighting out both how the money was distributed and how the taxes were raised. Naturally wealth means power within these structures and since the Papua New Guinean capitalists have little wealth themselves the big capitalists from abroad have the advantage in determining what kind of infrastructure is built. Hence roads to the multi-national-owned mines get built while the small capitalists in the countryside languish because of there are no roads to transport crops to the cities or ports.

(c) Of course not all of the Australian aid goes to directly feathering the nests of the new Papua New Guinean elite, building infrastructure for multi-national exploitation of the country, etc. Capitalism needs trained workers and administrators, an educated bureaucracy, etc., so some of the money goes to education. The demands of the masses for a better life lead to a little of the money being spent for health care and other social needs (which also indirectly benefit the capitalists). And to build a judicial, police, and military systems to suppress strikes and other forms of mass resistance to exploitation and oppression, i.e., to maintain capitalist “law and order”, requires still more money.

Yet, as already mentioned, the Papua New Guinean elite has few domestic resources it can rely on for taxes. But both it and the capitalists from Australia and the other countries which exploit PNG’s resources need to raise money for reasons like those just listed. Were there little in Papua New Guinea to exploit (or no pressing political or military/strategic reason for a rich country, or countries, to pour money into the country) Papua New Guinea would get little aid. The new Papua New Guinean bourgeoisie would be left twisting in the wind and begging for loans with many hard-to-meet conditions attached to them. But since Papua New Guinea is rich in resources and world imperialism has learned that direct colonialism is a risky business (i.e. it can lead to revolts that get out of control, infringe on the profit-making of the imperialist financiers and multi-nationals, and even revolts which take a socialist direction) aid is given. Thus in the earlier ‘80s half of the PNG government expenditures were accounted for by money from abroad (mainly the Australian grant). That may seem like a lot of money, and in Papua New Guinea it is a lot of money But for the rich countries it’s not very much. In the early ‘80s PNG’s entire budget was around $826 million. Half that amount is $413 million. This is a small investment compared to what was being taken out of the country.

(Much that has been said above about Australian aid is also applicable to the IMF loan to Papua New Guinea. Of course an important difference is that the IMF loan has more explicit strings attached to it, and it must be paid back.)


Fourth, there’s the issue of the activity of spooks from the imperialist intelligence agencies. Everyone knows they’re active throughout the world working to control or overthrow governments which displease the capitalists of their mother countries, that bribery of government officials (or aspiring officials) with a little cash is one of their tried and true methods of operation and so on. But since Papua New Guinea is a country whose leaders have thus far been quite subservient to the imperialist overlords, and where the anti-imperialist movement of the people has been weak, one might suspect that spook activity there would be on a low level. Then again, given PNG’s great mineral wealth, the rivalries between multi-nationals from many countries to grab it, the sabotage of the Bougainville mine and the North Solomons independence movement, the various forms of resistance by the people to their exploitation by the multinationals and the wrecking of their environment, etc., this activity might not be on such a low level after all. At any rate it’s always been a reality of the country Only a year after independence an Australian intelligence officer (and former tutor at the University of Papua New Guinea) was caught spying. And of course spying is just a small part of the work of such officers.

II Some realities of imperialist “development”—

In an attempt to disprove the basic Marxist-Leninist analysis of the political and economic relations of the contemporary world one of the vanguard leaders of liquidationism in the late Marxist-Leninist Party (Fred from Seattle) said that imperialism “gave rise to unprecedented economic growth and political and cultural transformation of regions” (particularly in the post- World War II era). Well true enough, taken as a whole, capitalism in its imperialist stage is bringing faster economic growth than it did earlier. But this is an uneven growth which brings with it an expansion of poverty and “surplus population”, a growing gap between rich and poor, environmental ruin and other realities which Fred downplayed. And a brief look at how capitalism has been transforming Papua New Guinea gives lie to the rosy picture which Fred tried to paint up.

It used to be, back in the 1970s, that visitors to Papua New Guinea often remarked on the lack of poverty there. Unlike in much of Asia, Africa and Latin America, mass hunger and want were almost non-existent. Shanty-towns didn’t surround the towns and cities and “good folks” from the imperialist metropolises weren’t surrounded by beggars on the streets. But ah, what a difference two decades of capitalist development and the mining boom have made! Now both visitors and PNG and Australian government officials alike can only talk of roaming “hooligan gangs” in the cities and towns, rootless poor people, squatters, a level of unemployment which grows every year, and so on. Suddenly there’s a “surplus population” and everyone remarks on the culture of barbed wire, security systems and armed guards which has arisen with it. Meanwhile the dominant theme in bourgeois politics has become “law and order!”, “law and order!”, “law and order!”

Some origins of the “surplus population”

But where have all the “surplus” people have come from?

Well, if we leave population growth aside, growth which has never before given rise to a “surplus population” in this way, we must say that these people have always been there. What’s changed is that they’re leaving the land at such a rate that the labor force grows 10% a year (i.e., much faster than could possibly be attributed to population growth).

Now some writers on Papua New Guinea attempt to explain this migration simply on the basis that the masses, and especially the young men, are attracted to the bright lights of the cities, are enamored by the possibility of somehow getting the consumer goods which they see everywhere there, etc. And undoubtedly there’s an element of truth in this. Even at their best, the traditional cultures didn’t provide much abundance. And in many of them class divisions had arisen to such an extent that some gained a considerably larger share of this abundance than others. Hence it would seem that the new capitalist society would have an allure. But this approach doesn’t address the fact that expanding capitalism (and the PNG state) is also “helping” the people leave the land in many different ways.


The first article in this series discussed one of the ways this helping is being done: massive pollution by the multinational corporations. Various research teams—including teams commissioned by the Papua New Guinean government itself — have described this pollution using such terms as “shocking”, “on a scale not permitted on any river in the western world”, “a disaster”, etc. And after a landslide wiped out the tailings dam at the Ok Tedi mine in 1984 the government report said the concentrations of cyanide, suspended sediments, and other heavy metals in the Fly River (PNG’s largest river) were 10,000% over “reasonable criteria” and 7,500% over predictions for the original tailings dam. Hence the government let mining begin knowing that it would pollute this important river at a rate of 33% over “reasonable criteria” and now that the tailings dam is gone it’s let the river be polluted at 75 times that rate for 12 years. Meanwhile the many thousands of villagers who once depended on the river for fish, prawns, turtles, crocodiles, etc., who once depended on the dying forests along its banks for food and other natural products, and who once farmed the now poisoned land beside it, can’t possibly live in the old way They naturally and rightfully demand compensation, but meanwhile they have to eat. Thus they’re forced to leave.

Clearing the land of villagers

A second issue is that more and more land is being made legally off-limits to the traditional farming, fishing, hunting and gathering way of life. Although the acreage taken up by mining sites, plantations, and other capitalist enterprises may not seem to be that great, the effects are actually quite large. This is because the traditional subsistence production required a large land base in order that the fragile balance which had been struck with nature could be maintained. Not only did hunting and gathering require a fairly large land base but the traditional agricultural methods required that gardens be moved around a lot. If this were not done production rapidly declined. Hence, because of the delicate balance with nature required by the traditional methods of production, the blocking of access to just part of the land often has devastating affects.

Communal plantations spur capitalism

But the actual banishing of the traditional villagers from large tracts of land has often been carried out in seemingly fair (i.e., bourgeois-democratic) ways. For example, the government has supported and helped fund the establishment of communal plantations. And since the actual members of a commune often come from other areas than the one to be cultivated, it has given the original inhabitants cash payments and promises of royalties from the profits of the plantation in exchange for their previous right to use the land. (The original inhabitants are then supposed to use these royalties to buy the necessities of life on the market, develop capitalist enterprises, etc.) Yet it often turns out that this is nothing but a formula for impoverishment of the people both on and off the plantation, and a formula for uprooting part of them from the land entirely This is because the plantations must compete with high-tech, highly mechanized agribusiness on the world market: they must contend with vertically integrated monopolies; and they also exist in a country where the backward transportation system adds greatly to the cost of their product when it reaches its destination. Hence they often either fail outright or they drag along for years making little profit. But this means that there are few if any royalties. Thus the original inhabitants of the land find themselves in a desperate situation. They’ve in effect been swindled out of their land.

Meanwhile, the members of the plantation commune can’t eat most of the crops they grow. Thus they must drive themselves harder, cut costs, squeeze money from somewhere in order to up-grade technique and equipment, etc., if the plantation is to succeed and bring in money with which to buy food. Of course sometimes they opt for abandoning cash-crops and returning to subsistence agriculture. Sometimes this works, that is, they can eat and live a little better. But sometimes it’s not feasible. The destruction of the forests and several years of mono-crop culture so weaken the soil that many years (and considerable money) may be needed to build it up again. And hungry people can’t wait years for food, nor do they have cash.

Finally, the successful communes also “help” people from the land and into the army of unemployed.

Communes (or collectives) have perhaps been the main organizational form through which domestic capitalism has developed in Papua New Guinea. And from early on the state promoted and supported the development of cash-crop, fishing and other types of communes as a very important way to develop the “money economy” (capitalism) within the country Further, in arguing for this the leading Papua New Guinean politicians (and bourgeois ideologues in the University) spun many myths about the alleged wonders of the traditional communal societies. But what their history lessons consciously sloughed over was that in varying degrees these societies were already developing internal inequalities and exploitative relations even before colonialism had made inroads. This was especially true of the “big man societies” on the islands in the northeast. The introduction of iron axes and new crops from abroad during the past several hundred years sped up the class differentiation and exploitation, and with the organization of many cash-crop communes in the 1950s and ’60s a definite rural bourgeoisie and rural proletariat came into being. In fact many of the bisnismen who fill the House of Assembly come from this young rural bourgeoisie. And they in particular are well informed on how to use a communal enterprise for purposes of personal enrichment by turning the majority of it into an exploited working class.

Now I haven’t studied all the particularities of how this is done. But there’s no doubt that it’s been taking place for several decades. Be it in official government reports, in studies written by pro-government professors, or in books by government critics, there’s a common acknowledgment that the communes have for years been dividing into small class of rich and powerful people and larger class of proletarians, wage laborers, or landless peasants — the terminology varies. Further, it’s often pointed out that the traditional “big men” have often manipulated the old system of clan or village obligations in such a way as to become capitalists. (Of course not all “big men” become capitalists. In fact, some fight hard against the spread of capitalism. Moreover, class differentiation and exploitative relations develop by other pathways than just manipulation of the old traditions. But that must be a subject for another day.)

But to return to the question we’ve been discussing: capitalist relations of production within the communes plus the establishment of private businesses employing wage labor by those who grow rich in the communes (which is very common) means that the rural areas are increasingly subject to all the laws of capitalist production. Among these are that an army of unemployed people inevitably develops.10 Among them also is the fact that agricultural wages lag far behind those in the industrial sector of the economy So these combine to give rise to another tributary to the stream of people migrating to the cities.

Commercial fishing

Commercial fishing is also having the effect of “helping" the people leave the villages. Papua New Guinea has its own commercial fishing fleet and the giant fleets from the United States, Japan, China (Taiwan) and several other countries have been legally depleting Papua New Guinean marine resources for many years now Moreover, the fleets from the countries listed have also been caught poaching on many occasions. (And since PNG has almost no navy, has no coast guard, etc., it’s almost impossible to catch poachers even when there’s a will to do so.)

Needless to say that the village people who once depended on fish and other marine life for their livelihood now suffer privation.

Lastly, I would like to return to the question of the state swindling villagers out of their land and leaving them poorer than before.

Myths about employment

One of the ways the latter has been done is by promising the traditional peoples jobs and a better life in order to pacify protests against the opening of mines (which screw up their traditional way of surviving). But this has repeatedly turned out to be a lie (and in West Papua as well as in PNG). What happens is that the villagers get jobs (as unskilled laborers) for the few short years during which the mine and related infrastructure are being constructed, and then 99% of them are permanently laid off. And this completely conforms to the plans worked out by the monopolies from the imperialist countries. In fact, the multinational corporations, in collaboration with the PNG government, have worked out detailed plans for developing mines, including for who is going to be employed in them. The Papua New Guinean workers in general are given short shrift in these plans, and the villagers who once held the mining sites are given even shorter shrift.

Once a multinational determines a prospect will be profitable to mine, a consortium is usually set up (often with the PNG government as a “partner”) and one of the huge multinational construction companies is brought in to do the preparatory work. The two which have generally been used are Bechtel- Pomeroy (San Francisco) and a subsidiary of the US AMOCO corporation (Standard Oil of Indiana). The construction company brings in its management personnel, planners, technicians, etc., from its home country It likewise brings in construction boomers from its home country to fill the highly, skilled job categories. Many other skilled jobs are given to Asians. (On the Ok Tedi project 30% of the budget for manual workers went to Asian workers in 1983.) Papua New Guineans are left with almost all of the casual labor type jobs plus a few skilled jobs. And the displaced villagers are almost exclusively relegated to the former category

Thus opening a mine does give employment to Papua New Guineans. (Up to 10,000 worked during the construction phase of the Panguna mine for example.) But the jobs are the most unskilled ones and they only last a couple years. Further, once a modem mine is in production it doesn’t require many workers. Hence, even though billions of dollars worth of gold, copper, silver and other minerals are being taken from the Papua New Guinean earth, only a few thousand workers are employed in the mines of the entire country And among these few thousand workers the already-mentioned hierarchy between American or other Western workers, Asian workers, and Papua New Guinean workers is maintained. The latter situation has given rise to protests and strikes by Papua New Guinean workers as well as other Papuan New Guineans. And the government has responded by “expecting” that foreign companies will “give preference" to the local workers. But beyond issuing empty statements it does very little. After all, it has staked its future on getting a piece of the profits garnered by the multinational mining corporations, and these same corporations’ studies apparently show that it’s more profitable to bring in already-trained (and unemployed) workers from Asia, the United States, Australia or elsewhere than to train Papua New Guineans. Furthermore, the currency-strapped Papua New Guinean government doesn’t have serious job-training programs on its agenda either. As a matter of fact one of its current priorities is to squeeze the masses in order to pay off its “obligation” to the IMF.

The myth of “tribal fighting” in the Highlands

For the past two decades one of the generally accepted ‘’realities” of Papua New Guinean society has been that there has been a “resurgence of tribal fighting” in the Highlands11 or, as a well-known Australian journalist puts it, the Highlands “has sunk back into the pre-contact situation of constant tribal warring”. This view, when coming from abroad, is often connected with racist views toward Papua New Guineans. And within PNG it is often connected with racist views toward Highlanders. But it’s the justification under which the Highlands are being turned into a militarized zone.12 It’s also a myth.

True enough, there has been an increase of fighting since the ‘70s. And it’s often been along the old clan lines. But the basis of it has not been a “sinking backward” by the people, a “resurgence of the past”, etc. Its basis is 30 years of growth of capitalist agriculture in the Highlands. The disputes are almost always over commercial agricultural resources, with competing “big men” or clan leaders mobilizing unemployed youths from their village or clan to be the front-line fighters. Moreover, according to Kenneth Good13, it’s the relatively poor among the new bourgeoisie of the countryside who tend to lead these fights. This may partially explain the government’s interest in suppressing them (i.e., they have the potential for getting out of control and infringing on the interests of the bigger and more powerful capitalists in the Highlands).

But the PNG government has other reasons for sending troops to the Highlands than just this. Capitalist development is accelerating class divisions. And with the widening gulf between rich and poor a section of the poor has turned to highjacking trucks, particularly trucks laden with coffee, and selling the produce for cash in order to survive. (This is often what the politicians are referring to when they speak of “banditry” in the Highlands.) The hiring of armed guards has not been able to stop this.

A third reason the government is sending troops to the Highlands is that the Ok Tedi and other mines are located there. Since the 1980s it has used troops to suppress strikes and protests by the mineworkers and it greatly fears sabotage of the mines as well. Already mass struggles against pollution and environmental degradation, against the seizure of land by the mining companies, etc., have been accompanied by major sabotage elsewhere in PNG as well as in neighboring West Papua. And with struggles around similar demands developing for several years now in the Highlands the government is preparing for any eventuality.

Political Reaction

In his waxing enthusiastically over the “political and cultural transformation of regions” which imperialism allegedly brought with it, Fred forgot to mention that political and cultural progress, where it’s been made, has been fundamentally the result of fierce struggles by the masses of working people. Economic growth does not automatically bring political and cultural progress with it. In fact both economic growth and political and cultural progress are connected to the class struggle. Moreover, capitalist expansion can be accompanied by growing political reaction. This is certainly true for the region consisting of Indonesia and the island of New Guinea, a region populated by more than 190 million people.

Now the capitalist mode of production has been expanding in what is now Papua New Guinea for most of this century In the 1950s and ‘60s, under colonialism, this expansion rapidly accelerated. And it continued after independence. Meanwhile, even though the new state continued to have many personnel from the former colonial master connected to its structures, it was relatively democratic. It held elections, allowed the workers to legally organize and strike, allowed a contentious press, used a lot of maneuvering and co-optation of leaders rather than jailings and violent repression when dealing with mass struggles, the micronationalist movements, and so on. Its constitution was similar to many of those of the industrialized countries of the West, and the governing politicians generally followed it. In fact a lot of writers pointed to the PNG government as a sort of beacon of hope in a gloomy “third world” sea characterized by military and other types of dictatorial regimes (while often ignoring the connections of these regimes to the “civilized” democracies of the West).

But politics and the class straggle don’t stand still. Today the reality of Papua New Guinean society is that for more than a decade the political direction of the ruling class has been toward reaction (or a more “controlled society” as Ronald J. May puts it in his 1993 book).14 Notable features of this tendency include the following:

*** Calling out the troops to suppress the masses and transforming the military into a domestic “law and order” force—

From the mid-1980s the Papua New Guinean Defense Forces (PNGDF) have increasingly been used to suppress the masses. And in the 1990s the Papua New Guinean government, in collaboration with the Australian government, has been transforming the PNGDF into an organization whose stated purpose is now “internal security, including law and order” (Previously the PNGDF had the stated aim of defending the country from aggression, and in the early days something like 75% of its training was more or less in that direction.) The police forces had proven to be inadequate for these tasks. In 1988 PNGDF suppression began to include the shooting of farm animals, looting, beatings and rape when soldiers were sent to the Highlands to suppress the mass struggles there.15 And by 1989, on Bougainville, torture and cold-blooded murder were added to the list.

The leading bourgeois politicians were all “appalled” by the latter events when they were exposed. But at the same time many of these same gentlemen had tried to cover them up. Further, they tried to lay everything to lack of discipline while ignoring that this was a professional army in which 90% of the officers had trained or studied in Australia. And they also sloughed over the fact that they had been whipping up an ideological climate which supported brutal suppression of the masses for months or years in advance. Thus today even the “respectable” opposition in Papua New Guinea (church leaders, leaders of non-governmental organizations, etc.) writes of “an increasing and dangerous trend towards the militarization of society.”

*** Fanning a right-wing political atmosphere—

Above we saw some of the ways which expanding capitalism and the PNG government are working to drive people from the land. Theoretically, this is providing an essential condition for the further expansion of capitalism in that there is a growing army of people who can only live by selling their labor power But this growing army of unemployed people has to eat now It can’t wait for jobs which might come decades in the future (and even then it would be almost unimaginable that there would be full employment, even for a short period of time). Thus the army of landless and unemployed people struggles to live today.

This includes mass actions aimed at getting relief from the government as well as actions which violate the private property rights of the rich (expropriating goods or money, squatting, etc.).

But while the impoverished masses fight to live in these and other ways, a fight which is worthy of the greatest respect, the “highly cultured” multinational corporate big-shots and PNG government officials can only slander them as “hooligans”, “bandits”, etc. Moreover, the PNG public officials have been revealing something of their vision of the “law and order” future they have in mind in the public discussions they’ve been engaged in during recent years. They’ve already organized bloody campaigns of suppression in the North Solomons, in the Highlands, etc., but this isn’t enough. Now they’re looking abroad for some finer models to follow in establishing capitalist law and order Thus, at the time of Prime Minister Namaliu’s so-called “National Summit on Crime” (in 1992) the country’s defense minister was saying the following at a seminar in Australia: “We may be able to learn from Malaysia on handling domestic security and from Indonesia on civic action. ”

Learn from racist and militarist butchers who have annexed West Papua and practice well-worked-out genocidal policies against the Melanesian masses there, particularly the masses confronting the multinational mining and petroleum corporations. What a cultured vision of the future this is! (Meanwhile some politicians preach fondness for the Singaporean government’s methods of establishing “social control”.)

*** Reactionary measures—

Rather than beginning to meet the demands of the masses which the capitalist enterprises and the capitalist system of production have displaced and impoverished in the first place, the capitalists and their state string up barbed wire, hire gun-toting security guards, turn the PNGDF into another domestic police force and use it in bloody campaigns of suppression, etc. Moreover, they have passed legislation to organize young people into paramilitary “crime-fighting” units and passed police-state laws modeled after those of Malaysia. And more such legislation is being proposed.

So we see that for more than a decade the Papua New Guinean rulers, supported by the Australian and other imperialists, have been on a reactionary path. For there to be a reversal of this process, or a progressive “political and cultural transformation” of the country, requires a further development of the class struggle of the workers and other oppressed people.


In this article (as well as in my previous article) I have been discussing several aspects of imperialist domination and oppression of one of the smallest — and certainly the poorest and weakest — of the APEC-member countries. In today’s world there are dozens of other similarly poor and weak countries being oppressed by imperialism. Their peoples’ histories vary widely Their governments range from relatively bourgeois-democratic (as in Papua New Guinea) to military or other forms of a more terroristic bourgeois dictatorship (or bourgeois/semi-feudal dictatorship). And the methods used by the imperialist bourgeoisies of the rich and powerful countries to dominate also vary Yet common to all is that the dominating and monopolistic essence of imperialism — economic as well as military/political — is everywhere weighing down and ruining the people. Also common to all is that this has given rise to anti-imperialist struggles of greater or lesser size, and with demands and politics representing the interests of various classes (or sections of classes).

Today the workers and communists in countries like Papua New Guinea face many daunting tasks. Even though they’re sometimes a very small percentage of the population the workers need to build up a class-wide movement to defend their immediate interests. In PNG these interests include the fight for better wages, safety conditions, continued rights to legally organize trade unions, etc. Defending these interests also includes pushing forward struggles which may be of vital concern to other oppressed people as well, i.e., the traditional villagers, the “surplus population”, petty-bourgeois elements, etc. (the majority of the population). These include the struggles to defend or improve social insurance, health services, education, job-training, etc., and the struggle against the militarization of society (i.e., the struggle for democracy). Furthermore, to build a class-wide movement in Papua New Guinea requires overcoming divisions based on regional, ethnic or clan origins, etc. Chauvinism toward Highlanders must be fought against and an orientation and tactics toward the several micronationalist movements developed.

In their struggles today the PNG workers are already confronting the multinational exploiters, the effects of various IMF-orchestrated policies (which are implemented by the PNG government), etc., as well as the domestic exploiters. Hence they’re already fighting imperialism and as a class-wide movement develops this fight will sharpen. But a broader anti-imperialist movement of the people exists, and of particular import in this regard are the struggles of the village peoples against pollution by the multinational mining corporations and for compensation for lands usurped from them. Thus, as one of its political tasks, the working class must work out tactics to pursue in the broader anti-imperialist movement of the people.

Naturally, to write of tactics in this way implies that the working class should be following an independent political agenda, and that this agenda should help it in achieving its historic mission as a class. From this framework one can see that the Papua New Guinean workers (and workers of all countries) should support the struggles of the villagers against pollution and impoverishment because neither bode any good for the future of the working class either, because it widens possibilities for building alliances for more struggles against the common enemy, etc. But this is not all. As I discussed in the first article, the demand of a clan leader that “mining has to be done properly to save the environment and protect the people” points toward struggling against the most exploitative and devouring features of capitalism. Such struggles have historically played the role of willy-nilly bringing into being a more “civilized” capitalism, spreading of capitalist relations of production and increasing the numbers of proletarians. If you want “development” like that discussed above, one with environmental and human devastation in all its glory, then you can turn your back on these struggles. But if you want a different kind of development then you must support them heart and soul. Moreover, through the traditions of organization and struggle built up today, through the victories, defeats and the political lessons learned by the masses, and through the growth of the proletariat, a favorable groundwork is being laid for the eventual development of a mass movement to attack the capitalist foundations of imperialism, a conscious movement to overthrow its monopoly capitalist source through a socialist revolution.

True enough, for the workers in economically backward and weak countries such as Papua New Guinea the possibilities of leading a socialist revolution may lie many decades in the future. But even so, if they take Marxism-Leninism as their guide to action, the most class-conscious workers in these countries will be able to better assist the workers today in standing on their feet against the exploiters and in fighting in the broad movements of the people, such as anti-imperialist movement, the movement against militarization and reaction, etc. They will also be preparing conditions for the quickest and most painless final liberation of their class and of all the people oppressed by world capitalism.

The struggle for socialism has to be international if it is to ultimately succeed. In this regard, it’s particularly important for the most class-conscious workers in Papua New Guinea to strive to forge links with their counterparts in Indonesia. And the workers in the richest and most powerful imperialist countries have a crucial role to play in the struggle for socialism as well. It’s often our multinational corporations that are ruining the environment here and ruining people’s lives. We face the same enemies as the people of Papua New Guinea, and the test for revolutionaries in countries like ours is to maintain and develop careful work aimed at preparing conditions for eventually overthrowing US monopoly capitalism here at home. In this way — and only in this way — can we be of real political value to the workers of every country, and to all of oppressed humanity.


1 Obviously the direct participation of capitalists or business-people in a government is not the determining issue in assessing its class nature. In the more developed countries professional politicians generally fill the legislative bodies, although at times military officers may also assume this function. From there they legislate in the interests of the capitalist class.

2 This reformist path to independence involved a lot of “gradualism" Thus after Independence Day in 1975 the government continued to have many Australian “advisors” attached to its ministries, the armed forces, the civil service, etc. Their number was only gradually reduced (and sometimes only after heated protests by PNG officials that the former Australian colonialists were still running things). For example in the military the number of Australian officers and NCO's was reduced from 490 in 1975, to 141 in 1979, to 30 in 1988

3 But just as in the United States, the Papua New Guinean elected politicians are well known for their looting of the public trough for personal gain. In fact the bisnisfolk in the House of Assembly made quick work of Michael Somare’s 1978 proposals to limit this. This was one of Somare’s first big defeats. And the Australian capitalists are said to have sided with the bisnisfolk dominating the House to ensure that the old ways would continue.

4 Whitlam became Australian Prime Minister shortly after this.

5 Related to this, a reading of the exposures of the CIA made by Philip Agee and others shows how far just a little bribe- money can go in buying politicians of poorer countries. In a country like PNG it only takes a few thousand dollars to buy what it takes millions of dollars to buy in “civilized” countries like the United States.

6 To adequately deal with the Bougainville rebellion would require at least an article in itself. It would require an analysis of the several contradictions which led up to it as well as an analysis of the demands which have been raised in it. The latter would show what stand the workers should take toward these demands (including independence) as well as toward the various political forces pushing them. Here I’ll only give a partial overview.

Bougainville is a large island of the North Solomons group which lies to the east of New Guinea. Historically its peoples have had many ties with the peoples of the rest of the North Solomons (which includes many islands now united into an independent country) and during World War II it was the site of huge American military installations. Capitalist relations of production developed earlier (and went further) there than in most of the rest of Papua New Guinea.

In the 1960s Australian-owned Conzinc Rio Tinto (CRA) began moves to open what would become the huge Panguna copper mine. At that time both CRA and Australian government officials arrogantly told the Bougainvilleans that they would get few economic benefits and this caused discontent and protests from the get-go. When the AMOCO corporation (US) brought thousands of laborers from the Highlands to construct the mine this added to the discontent and protests. When pollution and environmental degradation began to impact both the peoples practicing the traditional farming-hunting-gathering way of life as well as capitalist farmers growing cash-crops the movement began to explode. It had different class forces in it pushing their own demands, one of which was independence from PNG. Yet during most of the 1970s and '80s the leaders of the PNG government used tact, a policy of co-opting leaders, making concessions, etc., in order keep the movement within certain bounds. But in 1989, with the eruption of relatively minor violent incidents and the sabotaging of the Panguna mine the government sent troops to violently suppress it. The murderous acts they carried out only fueled a bigger movement, a section of which took up arms and founded the Bougainville Liberation Army (BLA). For the past seven years the government has been unable to crush this rebellion and reopen the mine.

7 Naturally the Australian ruling class has continued to advance its strategic thinking during recent decades. In this it has increasingly concentrated on maneuvering to cash in on the booming Asian economies and Asian labor and resources. (And recall that it was the original driving force for the founding of APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum). In regard to Papua New Guinea it now seems to encourage Japanese imperialist aid and investments and hopes that it can use its long-standing monopoly positions in the country to grab a share of the wealth accumulated by Japanese capital. It is also quite happy to have the Japanese imperialists share the cash outlays needed to build infrastructure.

8 These figures are from Papua New Guinea — A Political History by James Griffin, Hank Nelson and Stewart Firth (Richmond, Victoria, Australia — 1979).

9 This raises the issue that the PNG state has always had to deal with micronationalist movements. These movements have often included just demands of the masses coupled with opportunist raving by super-nationalist leaders who have only wanted to get economic benefits and more power within the PNG system for themselves. Moreover, they’ve often been centered in regions which weren’t particularly economically oppressed and where capitalism had developed furthest (Papua, the northern islands, etc.) The oppressed Highlands has never been the center of such a movement.

10 Karl Marx, in his study of the development of capitalism in Europe, observed that the accumulation of capital led to the creation of what he called the industrial reserve army as well as a surplus population. This is a general law of capitalism which remains very much in effect today And it seems to be what’s at root of why it is that in Papua New Guinea the accumulation of capital during the past two decades has only led to a slow increase in total employment and a more rapid increase of unemployed and “surplus” people. According to IMF statistics employment increased 21.4% from 1978 to 1989. But then from 1989 to 1993 it went down by 8.3%. Thus in 15 years employment grew by 13.1%. The average growth per year is therefore 0.87%. Meanwhile the same IMF says that the unemployed population grows at a rate of 10% per year.

11 The Highlands is Papua New Guinea’s most populous region as well as being the original home for tens of thousands of mostly unskilled laborers who now work in other parts of the country These workers are often subjected to racial abuse and discrimination in the regions they travel to. (Highlanders have racial characteristics which set them apart from many other Papua New Guineans.)

Further, despite the development of mines, coffee plantations, etc., the capitalist inroads into the Highlands economy are newer than for most of the rest of PNG. In fact it’s an oppressed region of the country which receives a disproportionately lower level of government funding for programs which benefit the masses of people.

12 An indicator of how far this militarization has gone is that in the 1990s troops are called out as a regular item of business when it comes to holding a national election. This was not so in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Thus on the eve of the 1992 election 1300 police and SO soldiers marched through Mt. Hagen, an important Highlands town.

13 One of the conclusions in Kenneth Good’s Papua New Guinea: a false economy.

14 Ronald J. May’s book is The Changing Role of the Military in Papua New Guinea.

15 Among these struggles was a strike by workers at the Ok Tedi mine. The mining consortium responded to the strike by proclaiming it had a “law and order” problem, and the government sent troops and police to the mine. (It also evacuated the families of the white workers and managers from the area.). []

Regarding the struggle in Mexico:

10 answers to 10 questions from Oleg

by Joseph Green, CVO, Detroit

Oleg (Jack Hill) replies to criticisms of the Chicago Workers' Voice in his article "Regarding Mexico, Some Points in Reply to Mark and Joseph" He complains there are 10 points on which he and Julie, the main writers about Mexico in the CWV Theoretical Journal, have been misrepresented. He never describes the overall issues being fought over.

The articles that have attracted Oleg's ire were part of a discussion of whether land reform is socialist, and of what is needed if the left is to break out of the reformist framework called Cardenismo.1 Communist Voice #5 contained several articles on this subject. There was Oleg's own article "Does the CWV support Cardenismo?" and two replies: Mark's article "Chicago Workers Voice continues to abandon anti-revisionism: Peasant socialism or proletarian politics", and my article "The ghost of Lazaro Cardenas and the present crisis in Mexico. ” But Oleg doesn't think that any of the analysis of Mexican politics that appeared in these articles is worthy of mention. It's all simply a case of misrepresentation, he says.

We reprint Oleg’s statement from CWVTJ #9 below, putting it in italics, and following each point with a refutation.

Oleg's 10 points

In issue number 5 of the Communist Voice, Joseph and Mark make all kinds of charges against me. I don't have time to reply in detail to all of their charges, nor do 1 think most of the readers of the CWVTJ would be that interested in long polemics. Nevertheless I did go through that issue and note a number of points where they are wrong about my stands on issues of Mexican politics.

1) They keep raising that Julie (Sarah) or I are for more aid to the ejidos. In fact I didn't tie the issue of demanding and fighting for relief for the poor peasants to the specific form of the ejido. As far as I understand it the ejidos are rapidly dying. The ‘reform' of Article 27 did that.

In her article "El Machete and the Mexican Left", Julie called for "a vigorous working class struggle linked up with the poor peasant revolt" to achieve such aims as "ASSISTANCE TO THE EJIDOS in such a way that the peasantry working there can make the transition to large-scale agriculture without being driven off the land."2 So much for the claim that the CWV doesn't demand aid to the ejidos. She goes on to call for "a planning of large-scale agriculture in such a way that the peasantry is not pauperized" She regards these demands as part of "a series of democratic and socialist measures” that the toilers should try to achieve as a reform under capitalism. Thus she not only called for aid to the ejidos, but believes that such aid can keep the peasants from being driven off the land by capitalism, and provide a sort of quasi-socialist large-scale agriculture.

But there's more.

In Oleg's article "Crisis in Mexico" in the same issue of the CWVTJ, there is a section entitled "What About the Zapatistas' Program?" In it, Oleg lauds the Zapatista agrarian program, which centers on aid to the ejidos. Oleg doesn't mention that EZLN program calls for such aid to the ejidos, but simply says that the EZLN "has voiced the demands of the indigenous people and the poor peasants for land, for a right to a livelihood, ... " (p. 11, col. 1) But whether Oleg hides the fact or not, the EZLN does in fact call for aid to the ejidos.3

As well, Oleg prettifies the ejidos with his view that it is the changes to Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution that is killing these agrarian coops. The reform of Article 27 allows the legal breakup of the ejidos. But a number of careful observers of the Mexican countryside, of varying political views, have noted the tendency of the communal solidarity of the ejidos to disintegrate as wealthier ejido members exploit poorer ones. Pete Brown and Mark have discussed the real history of the ejidos in previous issues of Communist Voice, provided some statistics on the class structure of the countryside, and reviewed various studies of the "ejidos" by several observers, none of whom agrees with our anti-revisionism communism, but who all note that the process of class differentiation in the "ejido" The breakdown of the "ejido" is proceeding faster or slower in different areas, but it is the general trend throughout the Mexican countryside. For example, the former legal prohibitions against "ejido" peasants renting or selling their land to other "ejido" members or other rich peasants have long been flouted in practice. The reform of Article 27 simply brings out into the open and accelerates a trend that has already existed. Not all the ejidos will die immediately, as Oleg hints, but they will continue to disintegrate.

It's typical that Oleg starts his point #1 by making a show of disassociating from the ejidos, but ends by attributing the decay of the ejidos simply to a recent neo-conservative government policy It only takes him a couple of sentences to end up lamenting the institution which he supposedly is indifferent to.

2) Who said that reforms to alleviate the plight of the Mexican peasants are socialism? I don't think I said any such thing.

I have quoted above Julie describing such reforms as "a series of democratic and socialist measures." (CWVTJ #7, p. 15, col. 3)3 Apparently Oleg doesn't read what his fellow CWV members write.

3) Joseph and Mark continue to claim that the EZLN program is basically the same as that of Lazaro Cardenas. I don't think they have proven this, and I don't think you can prove that much about the EZLN by showing that Lazaro Cardenas was no good. The EZLN program is not a program for socialism, but it is also not the program of L. Cardenas. It is not a program to co-opt the peasant movement into the structure of the party-state. It is a program to return democracy to the local level. You may not think this is possible or good, but it is not Cardenas's program.

I hold that the political movement led in the past by the late Lazaro Cardenas and that is led today by the EZLN are quite different, since Cardenas was a leader of the Mexico bourgeoisie and the Zapatistas are at the head of a movement of impoverished peasants. The Communist Voice firmly supports the struggle of the rebellious peasants, but opposes the Mexican bourgeoisie. Nevertheless the ideology of Cardenismo is important precisely because it is not restricted to the bourgeoisie but influences large numbers of activists and toilers. One of the basic problems facing Mexican activists is breaking out of the ideological framework of Cardenismo. And in fact some of the key features of both the EZLN's program and the CWVTJ's agrarian program amount to a glorified version of the ideology put forward by the late Lazaro Cardenas. In my opinion, "The presentation of government assistance to ejidos, the development of some communal forms, and better government planning as a sort of socialism that can save the peasantry is in line with the rhetoric of the late 30's in Mexico." (CV #3, p. 23, col. 2)

What is Oleg's response? He doesn't compare the Cardenista and Zapatista view of the ejidos. He doesn't compare what they expect from better government planning. He doesn't discuss their attitude to national consensus of different classes. Instead he says that the difference between Cardenismo and the program of the EZLN is that Lazaro Cardenas organized everything from the top ("coopt(ing) the peasant movement into the structure of the party-state"), while the EZLN is a movement of the people at the bottom ("a program to return democracy to the local level"). Thus — to put it in a somewhat simplified way — Oleg doesn't raise any difference in their programs except their methods. So Oleg's complaint actually verifies what I have said about the relationship of Cardenismo to the EZLN and the CWV.

Oleg repeats his view that the programs of the EZLN and Lazaro Cardenas differ mainly in their methods elsewhere in CWVTJ #9. Criticizing the social-democrat La Botz, Oleg says: "However, La Botz lavishes praise on the programs of Cardenas and doesn't mention any of the actions that Cardenas took against workers or peasants." (p. 26, col. 1) Oleg doesn't go on to criticize La Botz's view of the various Cardenista programs; Oleg is unable to give an alternative assessment of these programs. Instead, Oleg's criticism of Cardenas again centers on his methods.

In his review of La Botz, Oleg also denounces Cardenas for supporting the bourgeoisie, but once again, this is not connected to an assessment of the particular programs of Cardenas. Oleg's viewpoint thus essentially reduces to: If L. Cardenas supported ejidos, he was bad because his motive in supporting the ejidos was to support the bourgeoisie and to preserve the exploitative system of capitalism; if Oleg supports the ejidos, however, he

is good because his motive is to support the peasants and achieve one step on the road to socialism. This type of criticism is powerless to help free activists from the influence of Cardenismo. There have been many left activists in Mexico who worked honestly, sincerely, and in a truly admirable and self- sacrificing way to fight the bourgeoisie and help emancipate the toilers, but who were confused about one or another militant form of Cardenismo — Cardenismo from below, or Cardenismo with better ejidos, or some other idealized form of Cardenismo. Oleg's method of criticizing Cardenas tells them not to worry -- only sell-outs and burn-outs or repressive bureaucrats or people with bad motives have the Cardenista program.

A militant program for the Mexican countryside should be different from that of Cardenismo. It shouldn't deny the importance of a number of the reforms that the Chiapas peasants are fighting for, including land reform, and it should render enthusiastic support to the mass actions of the indigenous and poor peasants against oppression. But it should also lay stress on such points as the class differentiation in the countryside; the inability of any system of ejidos or cooperatives to stop this class differentiation; the necessity to organize the agricultural proletariat and semi-proletariat as distinct class forces which don't simply merge into the general peasant movement in the countryside; and the fiasco that faces any attempt to have a "national consensus" of rich and poor. To go beyond Cardenismo, it is not sufficient to simply advocate a better land reform; it is necessary to look at the class differentiation in the countryside and at what is necessary for proletarian reorganization. Neither the EZLN program nor that of the CWVTJ do this. Nor has Oleg ever done this. That is why the CWV in general, including Oleg and Julie in particular, have a hard time dealing with Cardenismo. Oleg for example seems to think that if he is not "tie(d) to the specific form of the ejido" but finds some other form of land reform, then he will have gone beyond Cardenismo. He hasn't grasped that this search for the perfect land reform and perfect forms of aid to small peasant agriculture, rather than supplementing such demand by a sober look at the class differentiation among the peasantry that has been proceeding for decades inside the co-ops, is one of the reasons he still has not freed himself from Cardenismo.

4) Neither can you dismiss the EZLN on the basis that the son, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas is no good. Does the EZLN try to make deals with and use the PRD? Yes. Have they got much out of this? Not really. C. Cardenas maintains a distance and submits to the right wing in his own party.

Mark and I have never dismissed the EZLN, but have instead vigorously supported the peasant struggle in Chiapas. What Oleg is saying is that criticism of the EZLN program is incompatible with his idea of support for their struggle. It's the old story — in the excitement of an oncoming struggle, there are always some people who will demand that the proletariat and the communists activists put away their own ideology and simply applaud whatever is going on. We, on the contrary, believe that a realistic assessment of the EZLN's program and activities, their strengths and weaknesses, is a crucial part of fraternal solidarity with the activists and toilers of Mexico and with the revolt in Chiapas. We think that abandoning one's communist convictions is of no help whatsoever to the Mexican toilers, and it will weaken any attempt to inspire the workers here with the lessons of the struggle in Mexico.

Oleg also denies the significance of the EZLN's overall view of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and of the different forces in Mexican politics. He presents it as if the EZLN is just making a few deals with Cardenas, which may work or may not work, but which aren't such a big deal. They are just trying to "use" Cardenas. As Oleg put it earlier- "I think that the Zapatistas know full well what rotten opportunists the PRD are and decided for strategic reasons that they needed to try to use them. "5

But these supposedly minor deals are a key part of the orientation set forward by the EZLN for the overthrow of PRI rule, and were proclaimed in their second and third "Declarations from the Lacandona Jungle" The Second Declaration called on the Mexican people to rally around the National Democratic Convention, whose basis was the alliance of the reformists led by Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and various left-wing and activist organizations. The Third Declaration called for a forming a movement for national liberation, and called on C. Cardenas to be its leader. (These declarations may be examined in CV #2. The CWVTJ, however, has never presented the actual words of the EZLN on these questions.)

The attempt to forge an alliance with bourgeois reformists such as Cardenas has been a central feature of EZLN strategy, and they have called on all the people of Mexico to rally around it. The EZLN's talk of national consensus, and their appeals to "civil society", are also linked to their view of what can be expected from the bourgeoisie. "Civil society" is made up of people from various classes, with a large role played by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois activists.6

Am I making too much about the EZLN embrace of "civil society"? Apparently not, because even the CWVTJ's Julie admits that "The Zapatistas seem both to bank on the within the Mexican bourgeoisie and its desires for a more standard bourgeois democratic political system and to bank on the radical left." This refers to the EZLN wanting to unite the discontented sections of the bourgeoisie with the radical left. Moreover, this is not just a passing deal, but something they are committed to, even to the point of joining the reformists in certain campaigns against the radicals. She writes that the EZLN "seem to have a definite reliance on the very real splits in the bourgeois parties. Thus also the call for a transitional government to be led by Cardenas. And, it seems that in the current campaign of the PRD [the party of the Mexican reformists — Jph.] against the radical left, they may be standing at the side of the PRD. "7

5) Mark makes a generic call. 'The revolutionary education of the workers and activists in the U.S. who want to unite with the Mexican toilers requires a discussion of the stand of the various political trends and important issues in the Mexican movement." I don't disagree with this as a general statement. However, I think a serious discussion is more than just saying that every political group in Mexico is fatally flawed."

Oleg says critical discussion is fine, so long as it doesn't deal with the EZLN or any group the CWVTJ is enthused about. He seeks to discredit criticism by saying that it is the same as calling activists or struggles "shit"8 or "fatally flawed"

The fact is that a new trend has to be built in the left, both in Mexico and the U.S. This is the trend of anti-revisionist Marxism. Oleg and the CWV have abandoned anti-revisionism and instead seek to find some section of the left to glorify — such as the EZLN and El Machete in Mexico. That is why Oleg sneers at the thought that there is something wrong with all the big trends in the left today.

6) Joseph implies that I think that land reform "can guarantee that poor peasants can prosper on their small plots" (p. 24) This is an outrageous distortion of my views. He doesn 't give a quote for this because he can't. This is typical Joseph, give a wildly distorted interpretation of your opponents' views, disprove that and think you have done something.

I have repeatedly given the quotes. In this article, for example, I have already quoted the CWV's Julie demanding "assistance to the ejidos in such a way that the peasantry working there can make the transition to large-scale agriculture without being driven off the land." (CWVTJ #7, p. 15, col. 3) It follows that Julie regards— correctly — both small private plots and most of the present-day ejidos as small-scale agriculture. A program centering on the ejidos is a program based on small-scale agriculture.

There were some “collective ejidos” — their period of greatest extension was under Lazaro Cardenas — but they are a small minority. Julie asks for support for what’s left of “some of the communal forms in the indigenous areas” {Ibid.), but also talks of the ejidos as a whole making the transition to “large-scale agriculture.” Such vague dreams of transforming the ejidos glamorizes a system which is based mainly on small peasant agriculture and dreams of its conversion into a quasi-socialist countryside (“large-scale agriculture” for the benefit of the peasants, rather than “large-scale agriculture” as it really is under capitalism) in a capitalist country.

And such dreams are an idealized form of the program of Lazaro Cardenas. He aimed for a certain integration of the ejido into large-scale agriculture, the development of some collective ejidos, government planning to keep many peasants on the land, etc.

So Julie’s statements verify what I said about my disagreements with CWV "on whether land reform can succeed in overcoming the limitations of small-scale peasant agriculture under capitalism — on whether it can guarantee that the poor peasants can prosper on their small plots, and on whether it can provide these peasants with the advantages of large-scale agriculture." (CV, p. 24, col. 2.)Yet Oleg tells the world that I have outrageously distorted the CWV's views.

But perhaps Oleg disagrees with his fellow member of the CWV? Perhaps, the reader may say, Oleg feels that I may have correctly assessed Julie’s position, but is objecting that I erred in attributing the same position to him? But Oleg has never expressed such a disagreement with Julie. On the contrary, he has defended Julie's views alongside his own. (See both the start and the conclusion of Oleg’s article "Does the CWV Support Cardenismo?")

Not only that, but what Oleg now writes suggests that the peasants could be saved by the ejidos. I have referred above to his view that it's the recent changes in Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution that have destroyed the ejidos. But the changing of Article 27 is a mere government decree. If it is simply this decree that has killed the ejidos, as Oleg thinks, then doesn't it follow that all it would take to stabilize the remaining ejidos— or any future ones formed during a new land reform — is to restore the full Cardenista Article 27? And isn't this exactly the view that land reform (with a proper Article 27) can prevent the peasants from being ruined and guarantee their livelihood on their small plots?

What's outrageous is not my characterization of CWVs views, but that the CWV can hold so tightly to what are basically Cardenista ideas and yet pose as Marxists.

7) Joseph puts words in my mouth. ‘Oleg would be careful to say that these measures [reforms in agriculture— Oleg] are not the full liberation of the working class and peasantry, nor can they provide a permanent solution. But he seems to think these measures are not an impulse to capitalism, but a step in the other direction." (p. 27) Same technique as I mentioned above.

The question here is: what exactly is Oleg objecting to except that I have the audacity to discuss his views? In the passage above, three points are made about Oleg's views:

a) he would be careful to say that land reform and aid to the ejidos is not the full liberation of the working class and peasantry;

b) he would be careful to say that they aren't a permanent solution, either; and

c) he seems to think that these measures are not an impulse to capitalism, but a step in the other direction.

Oleg implies that these amount to a "wildly distorted interpretation” of his views, to use his words from his question #6. Really? Aren't these rather a careful and even generous interpretation of his views?

Let's see. "a" and "b" grant Oleg that he doesn't think that land reform and aid to the ejidos are the final goal. I could cite many places where Oleg says precisely this, but I don't think it's necessary in this case. All Oleg objects to about "a" and "b" is that I pointed out that he said it. Anything I say about Oleg -- even if I were to compliment Oleg — is now taken as a smear. The proof that it’s a smear, an "outrageous distortion ”, is — that I said it.

Apparently it's point "c” that Oleg is worried about. I have discussed this already under Oleg's point #2 and in footnote 4. Here let's just recall Oleg was shocked when I reiterated the Marxist view that land reform and aid to the peasantry "would in the long run accelerate capitalist development among the peasantry even faster than now”, and his challenge to me on this point was the central theoretical point of his article "Does the CWV support Cardenismo?"

8) Joseph says I am against Cardenas because those reforms give rise to capitalism. Joseph proves that these reforms inevitably give rise to intensified capitalist relations and differentiation. In fact, my point is the top down political control by Cardenas and the PRI, the stifling of the independent movement of the workers and peasants.

Oleg had two complaints against Cardenas. One was the top down political control which Oleg refers to in question #8. The other is that Lazaro Cardenas's reforms gave an impulse to capitalist development. Oleg wrote that "He [Lazaro Cardenas] did distribute a lot of land to peasants, but he gave a big impulse to the development of modern capitalist agriculture in Mexico. "9 It is clear that Oleg regarded the distribution of land as a good thing, and the impulse to capitalist development as the fly in the ointment. Oleg, when he wrote this article, clearly believed that a proper land reform would not have given an impulse to capitalist development.

Has Oleg changed his mind? Does he realize that one has to do a bit more analysis than simply saying that Cardenas gave an impulse to capitalist development? Probably not, because all Oleg now says is that Cardenas's reforms give rise to capitalist relations — which Oleg always said — and not that the land reform that he and Julie advocates would also "inevitably give rise to intensified capitalist relations and [class] differentiation [among the peasantry]".

Perhaps one day Oleg will venture to express an opinion on this issue. But for now, it seems that Oleg would rather avoid the issue of the class differentiation and the growth of the peasant bourgeoisie that occurs after land reform.

9) Another distortion by Joseph, "The CWV glorifies its own program by implying that, if it were carried out on a large- enough scale, it would bring prosperity." (p. 29) He can't give a quote for this because this interpretation of our stand is a figment of his imagination.

In the passage Oleg is discussing, I referred to "the various measures of government aid to the peasants and better planning of the ejidos which are demanded by CWV" I have quoted above a number of statements from the CWVTJ that this program would prevent the ruining of the peasants, stop them from "being driven off the land", and ensure "that the peasantry is not pauperized"

But don't hold your breathe waiting for Oleg to apologize for saying that these quotes are a figment of my imagination. Oleg can’t defend these claims by the CWVTJ, and so he instead pretends that they don't exist. This shows that these claims were not based on any materialist or Marxist analysis, but just on the CWV's embellishment of the EZLN program.

10) The thrust of Joseph's article is to try to prove that I am wrong because my stand is as in no. 7

This is just a repetition of Oleg's point #7 I guess he needed a filler to reach the magic number of 10. []


1 The late Lazaro Cardenas was the reformist president of Mexico in 1934-40, and he gained a lot of support for his vast expansion of the Mexican agricultural co-ops or ejidos, his nationalist stands, etc. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the founder of today's reformist PRD party, is the son of Lazaro and basks in his father's prestige.

2 CWVTJ #7, p. 15, col. 3, emph. added.

3 Oleg himself, in commenting elsewhere on a book by La Botz, reproduces a summary of the EZLN program which identifies "renewal of the ejido" as the Zapatista demand of "land to the tiller" or land reform. (CWVTJ #9 p. 28, col. 2)

4 Oleg won't criticize Julie's statement but he prefers vague, general statements which leave everything indefinite. Nevertheless, when I pointed out that land reform and other reforms to aid the peasants tend to accelerate the development of capitalism and of class struggle, Oleg got upset, and told everyone that I must be opposed to these reforms if I thought that not just Lazaro Cardenas' reforms, but the reforms demanded by the Zapatistas, would give an impulse to capitalist development among the peasants. (See Oleg's "Does the CWV support Cardenismo" and my reply "The ghost of Lazaro Cardenas.. ” )

But it is a basic point of Marxism, that has been verified repeatedly, that bourgeois-democratic reforms — not just land reform, but also the abolition of slavery, the breakup of colonial empires, the elimination of patriarchal oppression of women, etc. — will provide such an impulse to capitalism. Indeed in the long run, the more radical these reforms, and hence the more benefit they are to the toilers, the more they clear the way for further capitalist development, and hence for the development of the broader and clearer class struggle which is necessary for the overthrow of capitalism. Unless such reforms are immediately followed by a socialist revolution, they push forward capitalist development. They are not the partial realization of socialism, although they may be carried out as part of a revolutionary movement that is building up towards socialism.

This has important consequences for socialist tactics. The socialist stand isn't simply to stand for a more radical and consistent land reform than that carried out by the bourgeoisie. The socialist program points to the class differentiation in the countryside and the need to organize the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat in its own interests. It points out that socialist agriculture differs from the ideal of stable peasant petty- bourgeois production which the reformists believe that a proper land reform will achieve. (See "Marxism on peasant and proletarian demands" in Communist Voice #1, which gives extracts from the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin on land reform, co-ops, and socialist agriculture.)

But Oleg believes that it would be wrong to advocate land reform and aid to the peasantry if they give an impulse to further capitalist development. Thus the land reform he advocates wouldn't, in his view, have anything to do with capitalist production. In other words, such a land reform and such agrarian co-ops (or ejidos) would really be quasi-socialist or somewhat socialist. And in fact, Oleg refuses to look at the class differentiation in the co-ops, and at the rise of a rural bourgeoisie inside the ejidos.

5 Letter of Jan. 4, 1994, in the CWVTJ special issue of March 7, 1995, p. 19.

6 Oleg quotes La Botz saying that "Civil society in Mexico came to mean a non-partisan, multi-class movement fighting for human rights, civil rights, political reform and social justice against the domination of the one-party state." (p. 29, col. 2, emph. added) It refers to the politically-active citizenry, and contains both exploiters and exploited. It sees itself as "non- partisan", so that the voice of the proletariat and peasantry is mixed in with the reformist bourgeoisie.

Oleg goes to state that "The Zapatistas have looked to such movements for potential allies, as well as the PRD, and the Mexican left." But instead of criticizing the belief in the "non-partisan, multi-class" movement of the exploited and the exploiters, Oleg enthuses that "These movements can be very militant, involve large numbers of people, and pose a serious challenge to the PRI." He doesn't see any connection between the EZLN looking towards a "non-partisan, multi-class movement” and their call for merging the left with C. Cardenas in a common movement.

A page later, Oleg seems to criticize La Botz for relying on civil society. He cites La Botz talking about "a radical movement from below fighting for socialism" and apparently identifying this with "a broad, multi-class movement" Oleg writes that "activists must deal with the fact that these existing oppositional movements contain political forces who are dedicated to maintaining the rule of capitalism and imperialism in Mexico political struggle has to be waged against those who undermine the movement from within." (p. 30, col. 2) Oleg doesn't get any more specific about who these forces are. But what is really typical of Oleg is how he treats La Botz and the EZLN differently when they both give the same view towards the broad, multi-class movement: Oleg is willing to make a vague criticism of La Botz, but when it is a matter of the EZLN's orientation, the same non-partisan, multi-class movement is simply "a serious challenge to the PRI".

7 Julie’s quotes in this paragraph are from “El Machete and the Mexican Left”, reprinted in CV#3, p. 41, col. 1

8 Oleg's letter of Jan. 25, 1995, CWVTJ Special Issue, March 7, 1995, p. 35.

9 "Does the CWV oppose Cardenismo?" reprinted in CV #5, p. 18, col. 1

The working class movement

Why were Caterpillar and Staley workers defeated?

Struggle isn't hopeless, the union bureaucrats are!

(From Detroit Workers' Voice #9, March 6, 1996)

The long struggles of the workers at the A.E. Staley corn processing plant in Decatur, IL and Caterpillar plants in Decatur and elsewhere have ended in defeat. These defeats were by no means inevitable, but were facilitated by the union bureaucrats who strong-armed the workers to surrender. Staley workers were forced to accept a rotten settlement in January and the CAT workers suffered a similar fate in December 1995. In both cases, workers have been forced to swallow huge concessions. There have been big job cuts, many strikers have not been rehired and working conditions have been gutted. All this comes on the heels of the concessions forced on Decatur's Bridgestone/Firestone workers in a settlement in the spring of 1995.

Workers show determination

Do these setbacks show that it is pointless for workers to take on the juggernaut of employer concessions in recent years? Do they show that struggle is hopeless and all workers can do is hope the capitalists show some mercy on them? Not at all. The workers showed tremendous courage and capacity for struggle. They fought for months and years on end against corporations determined to crush them. They braved the police forces of the capitalist government who protected scabs and assaulted strikers. Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of Staley's lock out of workers and their hiring of scabs as permanent replacement workers. Nevertheless, the strikers had potential to deliver hard blows to the companies. They numbered in the many thousands, they were very determined and they enjoyed wide sympathy from workers around the country.

Bureaucrats sabotage struggle

But the potential power of the workers was squandered by the union officialdom. The leaders of the United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU), involved in the Staley struggle, the United Auto Workers (UAW) who led the CAT strike, and the United Rubber Workers (URW), who were in charge of the Bridgestone struggle, did their best to sap the strikes of militancy. When it came to the employers, these bureaucrats confined themselves to timid measures. But, after their policies had helped wear down the workers, they exerted brutal pressure against the workers to force them back to work under terrible terms.

In the case of Staley, the workers eventually voted 280-220 to return to work, but this was only after a big pressure campaign for settlement by the national level bureaucrats. The case of the CAT workers was even more shameless. New UAW head Steve Yokich ordered strikers back to work despite their recent rejection of the company's latest offer by a whopping 81%. So much for Yokich's posturing as a militant defender of the workers. Meanwhile, the new "reform" national AFL-CIO leadership under John Sweeney proved themselves to be just as worthless as the sellout Kirkland-Donahue regime they replaced. Like the old AFL-CIO leadership, the Sweeney crew gave only token support to the workers efforts. The Sweeney leadership's attitude was expressed well by new AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Rich Trumka, former United Mine Workers leader, who tried to smooth over Yokich's sellout at CAT by proclaiming it a mere "change of tactics."

Where do the dissident bureaucrats stand?

Confirmation of the huge damage done to the struggles by the union leaderships has come not only from militant workers or revolutionary activists. Even the mild reformist local union bureaucrats note this. In the wake of the naked betrayal of the top bureaucrats, certain local union officials have hurled bitter accusations at the national sellouts. For instance, some Staley UPIU Local 7837 officials have condemned the flimsy support given their strike by the UPIU national bigwigs. There is justice in their charges. But during the strike, these same officials kept the struggle within bounds acceptable to the top union hacks and kept their complaints to a minimum. These officials now rightly point out how the top union officials sabotaged a possible victory. But even today the dissident officials' main complaint was that the top leaders were not enthusiastic enough about implementing weak "corporate campaign" tactics that scarcely differ from the policy of the top officials. The so-called "corporate campaign" tactics were actually developed as an effort to contain the workers by channeling their energies away from the most effective militant actions, such as using mass pickets to shut down plant production, a major issue in these strikes. The corporate campaigns revolve around activities like publicity campaigns to show how mean the companies are and boycotts of products. Workers are kept somewhat active. But by themselves, such activities seldom have much force, and their mobilizing power is greatly restricted without powerful mass strike actions to rally around. Despite their quarrels, the dissident local bureaucrats share with the top sellouts a fear of the type of struggle that would really mark a break with national labor traitors.

New Directions offers old "solutions"

The New Directions Movement trend provides another example of the views of the dissident bureaucrats. They consider that the policies which led to the recent debacles were mere "mistakes," not the inevitable by-product of the basic class collaborationist stand of the mainstream officials. NDM holds that the "mistakes" can be overcome if only the top leaders have more consultation with the rank-and-file. They write, concerning the CAT strike, that everything would be fine if only "the International . . . be guided by the commitment and vision of the membership."1 In other words, the very bureaucrats that have just shown their bankruptcy are now supposedly going to turn around and become rank-and-file fighters! Indeed New Directions was only yesterday expounding on the wonderful possibilities for the workers under the new UAW leader Yokich.2 Now, after Yokich bludgeoned the CAT workers into submission, the New Directions trend is still holding out hopes in Yokich, stating: "NDM will support any efforts that the Yokich team makes to promote open dialogue in all the union's Locals."3

What way forward?

If the workers are to defend themselves from the onslaught of employer concessions, they must not confine themselves to the limits imposed on them by the union officials, but develop their own militant policies and organization. Proletarian reorganization does not simply mean strong rank-and-file formations, however. Revolutionary workers and activists should strive to build a class political party that can help the workers build the strongest possible movement for their immediate defense as well as guide them toward their ultimate liberation through the overthrow of the whole capitalist system.


1 The Voice of New Directions, UAW National Edition Jan. 1996, p.8.

2 See Communist Voice, vol.1, #5, p.12, for an example of their illusions in Yokich.

3 The Voice of New Directions, UAW National Edition Jan. 1996, p.3. []

The trade unions, the Trotskyist “transitional program”, and the zigzags of the Los Angeles Workers’ Voice

by Mark, CVO, Detroit

In recent months, Neil of the Los Angeles Workers’ Voice (LAWV) group has been tossing around a lot of very “left”- sounding phrases against the trade unions. He hurls a few curses at the union bureaucracy that strives to keep the rank-and-file struggle in check, but the tough talk is mainly aimed at myself and others supporters of the Communist Voice Organization (CVO) who work to thoroughly break the workers from the stranglehold of the bureaucracy and encourage their independent motion and class consciousness. Two things are notable about Neil’s efforts. First, his “left” phrases cover over his promotion of trends that have a soft, reformist attitude toward the union bureaucracy Secondly, Neil has not bothered to explain what his supposedly superior stand on the trade unions is, nor put forward a single coherent idea that would “improve” the allegedly dreadful stand of the CVO.

Neil lies about my position

Neil levels many accusations against myself on the question . on the trade unions. He implies that I am hiding the class nature of the present trade unions, that I have no materialist analysis of them, that I have not made clear that the present trade unions accept the rule of capital, and that I deny that the unions are integrated into the capitalist state. Neil charges the CVO and myself with believing that “it’s not the unions’ class nature — you just need some communist leaders, probably elitist saviors a la Mark maybe?”

As honesty and Neil are not on speaking terms these days, let me begin by giving an example of my stand which Neil feels obscures the nature of the trade unions:

One of the hallmarks of opportunism in the U.S. left is promoting the trade union bureaucracy as the true defenders of the workers’ interests. Some trends with this view go so far as to portray the present leaders of the AFL-CIO as great class heroes. Others have any number of criticisms of the way the present leaders behave, but hold that with some tinkering, the pro-capitalist union hierarchy will function as the genuine class organization of the workers. Both views glamorize the real situation with the present trade unions, however. Workers go into the unions because they want to defend their immediate interest against the onslaught of the employers. But the unions today are not under the control of the workers. They have long been under the thumb of a solidly-entrenched bureaucracy that defends capitalism and constantly undermines the workers’ struggle. As well, the union officialdom has come to terms with the tons of regulations of the capitalist government to greatly restrict the worker’ movement. Thus, the rank-and-file must be made clear that the workers’ struggle is bound to encounter obstacles from the trade union leadership. Creating illusions in the present union administration means downplaying the need for workers to develop their own independent class policy and organization.” (Communist Voice, vol. l, #5, Nov. 15, 1995. p. 11)

Such views, according to Neil mean I “want a more ‘militant’ form of the semi-company unionism that exists." Neil seems a bit confused here. He evidently thinks denouncing the union bureaucracy as pro-capitalist and calling on the workers to organize independently and in their own class interest is the heart of company unionism! And my warnings against the idea that the unions will become the genuine class organization of the workers with some tinkering? Why this clearly means that I believe that if only I am elected to the union leadership than the unions will have changed their nature!

Neil’s accusations are hypocrisy

Now let’s see what Neil’s stand on the unions has been. His most systematic public presentation of the question was his article on John Sweeney, the new head of the AFL-CIO.1 Here we learn a lot of bad things about Donahue, the old leader and Sweeney. The history of Sweeney’s treachery as head of Service Employees International Union Local 99 in Los Angeles and the anti-worker machinations of some other union leaders are useful to educate the workers. This is why the CV carried the article, despite other disagreements with its approach. But these are exposures of individuals, not an assessment of the AFL-CIO as a whole. So what is the article’s assessment of the AFL-CIO as a whole? We learn:

1) they have “pro-capitalist politics and tactics”;

2) the AFL-CIO is “decaying”;

3) the AFL-CIO opposes “solidarity” among workers and are “official scab herders always at the beck and call of the Democratic Party — and the capitalist status quo. ”;

4) the union apparatus “polices the workers”; and

5) workers must sweep the union bureaucracy aside and “find forms of organization and revolutionary politics and tactics that can move the class struggle to the fore once again. ”

Thus, in terms of a general description of the unions, Neil says nothing that I have not said in the paragraph quoted from myself. So, by the criterion Neil uses to judge me, we must agree that Neil himself thinks the basic class nature of the unions will change merely because a leftist gets elected to a union post. Neil chides me for allegedly hiding that the unions are integrated into the capitalist state machine. But Neil’s article makes no mention of this. Meanwhile my article calls attention to the fact that the AFL-CIO leadership has subordinated the unions to the anti-worker rules and regulations of the capitalist state. Neil is consistent in one regard — he is consistently hypocritical.

How Neil glorifies those who merely criticize the worst bureaucrats

But the hypocrisy of Neil extends well beyond this. While we may share some general phrases in common on the question of the trade unions, in fact there are important differences. In the quote from myself, I call attention to the opportunist left-wing trends who think the unions can be transformed with some tinkering. And in my articles on the Detroit newspaper strike I have gone into great detail about the various ways such views have manifested themselves. Now let’s look at Neil’s article on the new AFL-CIO leadership. Neil promotes Members for Union Democracy (MFUD), a group of activists in SEIU Local 99, as organizers of a “class struggle alternative” and a “new militant rebel union”. But from the description Neil gives of this group, all one can tell is that it is opposed to some particularly corrupt union bosses. In fact, if one examines the leaflets of the dissidents that were offered by Neil, it is striking that the opposition is, at best, of a very limited type. The leaflets are against individual bad bureaucrats but don’t even raise the question of mass mobilization of the rank and file or present any particular picture of what attitude to adopt to the union bureaucracy as a whole. (It does appear, however, that their main concern is making a few reforms in the union to make it a bit more democratic, the very thing Neil claims to be so against!) The members of MFUD may be honest workers just awakening to political activity as opposed to case-hardened opportunists. And this would be important to evaluate in terms of what attitude to adopt toward this group. But Neil doesn’t explain what the expectations of the workers in this group are nor what political trends exist in it. He simply describes criticism of certain corrupt bureaucrats (and maybe a few minor reforms in union structure) in the most glorified terms.

Maybe Neil thinks the mere fact that the dissidents have spent several years appealing to the California state authorities to have the bus driver section of SEIU Local 99 severed off from that union is itself indicative of a really sound policy But can the new union really be a “class struggle alternative” if it presents no class struggle policy? Neil evidently thinks so. Meanwhile, it is far from obvious that splitting the Local 99 workers into two unions would be helpful to developing the class struggle. For instance, how would it affect the ability of the militant workers to carry out work among the workers who would remain in Local 99 under the thumb of the worst bureaucrats? Such an action cannot be judged without considering such matters. In-and-of itself, splitting off to another union can represent just about any policy, good or bad. Even the bureaucrats themselves have been known to engineer raids upon each others’ unions, often taking advantage of the real grievances felt by workers against their own bureaucrats.

When the CVO clearly exposes the class nature of the AFL-CIO, Neil goes into hysterics against us. But when, according to all the evidence offered by Neil, some dissidents are merely opposed to the most sold-out elements in the unions, Neil labels this as the “class struggle alternative” But that’s typical for Neon Neil — his principles flash on and off at convenience.

Neil paints the Trotskyists as staunch opponents of the labor fakers

One’s attitude toward the trade unions is not determined merely by having the general statements that the trade union bureaucracy is rotten and clamps down on the workers’ struggle. Any number of left opportunist trends may recognize this in general form. And any number of trends will talk about the great revolutionary organizations that they would like to see exist. One thing that distinguishes real revolutionary work however is a consistent stand in practice against the trade union bureaucrats. Without this there can be no talk of the workers having their own independent stand and forms of organization. It is here where Neil fails, not because Neil loves the bureaucrats, but because he can’t tell the difference between trends that phrasemonger against the bureaucrats and those that resolutely oppose them.

In this regard, it’s quite revealing that Neil can’t tell the difference between the “left”-phrasemongering Trotskyite-Cliffite milieu and a Marxist-Leninist stand on the unions, as enunciated by the CVO and before that by the Marxist-Leninist Party (whose attitude was well spelled out in the documents of its Second Congress). For instance, Neil says the stand of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the Spartacist League (SL) is no different than mine because they too are for a “telling the workers to be more militant” and encouraging them to “break from the treacherous leaders.” (Neal’s e-mail message of February 1, 1996) But Neil doesn’t seem to notice, or care, that ISO does NOT have a consistent stand against the union bureaucrats. When they came into being in the late 1970s as a split off of IS, they never made a clean break with IS policy of trailing behind various dissident union bureaucrats. Then they began to retreat from the industrial working class altogether, advancing the thesis that the problems of IS politics were in large part due to the idea of organizing among the industrial proletariat. But according to Neil, the ISO is really organizing workers to break with the union bureaucrats! As for SL, they criticize the bureaucrats to some extent. But their “super-militant” calls for the unions are not based on the level of motion or independent organization developing among the rank and file, but on wishful thinking about what unions under the thumb of the labor bureaucrats will do. Moreover, SL’s notorious sectarianism against the mass movements only discredits the left and plays into the hands of the labor traitors and assorted reformists.

Another example. When I criticized Oleg of the Chicago Workers' Voice group for touting certain stock phrases of Labor Notes, a group heavily influenced by IS, and for his fascination with the Spark group, another trotskyite outfit that bows before the bureaucrats, Neil was very offended.2 He offered no criticism of Oleg’s infatuation with Labor Notes. Instead he tried to bury the real issues with the hysterical accusations that my lack of urgency in attending a particular Labor Notes meeting (at $75 admittance fee) was equivalent to refusal to ever attend any events called by other groups! Of course, Oleg’s learned friends at Labor Notes are greatly influenced by the IS trend, craven supporters of the trade union bureaucrats. (One local Labor Notes supporter, who edits a Detroit area postal union paper, just wrote against the idea of a strike when the new contract expires four years hence. This was in reply to some union stewards who wrote in the union paper in favor of a strike.)

Neil hails the LRP’s stand on the union bureaucrats

In addition to Neil’s portraying the ISO and the Spartacist League as consistent opponents of the union bureaucracy, Neil’s LAWV recently wrote to the trotskyite League for a Revolutionary Party where, among other things, he complimented them not only on their exposure of the union bureaucrats but on their ideas for building up the workers’ movement.3 But if LRP’s stand on the Hormel strike struggle in the mid-80s is indicative, they are prone to glorifying various union bureaucrats. They noted how Local P-9 of the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) leaders “never wanted to openly challenge the International’s strategy” which was to sabotage the meatpackers’ struggle against concessions. However, this did not prevent the LRP from relying on the P-9 leadership instead of adopting a really independent strategy Despite misgivings about the local union leaders, LRP created the impression they would lead a powerful movement. For example, the wrote: “the Guyette leadership” [P-9’s leaders] “face the real job of mobilizing workers for mass action in Austin, in Minnesota and throughout the country ” Then there is LRP’s stand on the present Detroit newspaper strike which consists of mocking rank-and-file militance while calling on the timid bureaucrats to lead the struggle. Yet LRP, which creates illusions in the dissident bureaucrats, is, in Neil’s view, worthy of compliments for their stand on the bureaucrats.

LRP will criticize the weakness of the bureaucrats in the struggle for the immediate demands of the workers. But they themselves believe the fight for improvements in wages and working conditions is a futile venture. Thus their criticism of the bureaucrats becomes a justification of the sabotage of the bureaucrats. LRP writes: “the union leaders know how dubious such reforms are — that is why they work overtime to avoid fighting for even their own absolutely minimal demands". And they add that in contrast to militant rank-and-file workers, “the bureaucrats have already learned the futility of fighting for a minimal program.” (Proletarian Revolution, Winter 85-86, p.23)

LRP, the ‘transitional program’, and Neil

When Neil praised LRP’s stand on the labor bureaucrats he did offer the criticism of LRP that they should not oppose reforms that help the workers’ immediate situation like the demand for “taxing the rich” in certain budget battles. On this particular point, Neil was right. But to Neil, this LRP stand is an incidental oversight that in no way contradicts his overall evaluation that “agrees with very much of what you [LRP — ed.) say about building up a real mass movement on the working class, exposing labor fakers ” (See footnote 2) But in fact such views reflect a basically wrong orientation for the workers’ movement and the trade union officialdom. In fact, the LRP stand is no incidental oversight, but arises from LRP’s version of the trotskyite Transitional Program that, among other things, considers demands for reforms suspect. In particular, the LRP considers the Transitional Program a central feature of their union strategy Thus LRP writes:

A central axis of communist work in the unions is the Transitional Program written by Leon Trotsky in the late 1930s.” (Proletarian Revolution, Winter 1985-86, p. 21)

The Transitional Program, according to LRP,

is a “substitute for the reform program” because it means “doing away with the old division between the minimal (reform) program and the maximal (socialist) program." (p.22)

According to trotskyite dogma, this supposedly helps the workers see the need for socialist revolution. But blurring the distinction between a struggle for some immediate demand and a revolutionary onslaught blurs the actual distinction that exists, a distinction the worker must be made aware of. It is awareness of this distinction that is necessary for the development of revolutionary consciousness. Contrary to what LRP presents, it is not the fight for some partial demand that dooms the workers to reformism, but the idea that any partial demands can abolish the root cause of their suffering. LRP thinks that by declaring an end to the minimal demands, they have transformed the day-to-day struggles into something else; into a struggle approaching the socialist revolution. Thus they help create the very illusions in the present-day struggles they claim to be overcoming.

Let’s look at this in a bit more detail. LRP says that the Transitional Program

challenges the unions and their misleaders to fight for what the workers need even though they accept capitalism. But these demands — the sliding scale of wages to combat inflation, dividing the necessary work among the available workers to end unemployment, expropriation of industry without compensation to maintain vital production during crises, etc. — would undermine the capitalist system.” (Proletarian Revolution, Winter/85-86, p.27)

First of all, it’s notable that the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy is supposed to carry out the demands that will lead to socialism! Secondly, the question isn’t what LRP thinks these demands mean, but how they will actually be understood by the mass of workers in the present situation when the question of a socialist revolution is not around the corner, i.e., when we are not in a transitional period to socialism. Whatever LRP means by it, the “sliding scale of wages to combat inflation” in the present situation can only mean such things as COLA or government wage-indexation while “dividing the necessary work” can only mean various corporate or government work-sharing plans. But it’s just not true that wage-indexation or some form of work-sharing is “incompatible with capitalism,” and for LRP to claim such a thing is reformism. It’s true that all reforms under capitalism tend to be limited, are subject to being reversed, etc. But in that case, it is absurd to single out some reforms as implying the overthrow of capitalism and others not.

Take a demand for a wage increase. Can any Marxist believe, or anyone with some sense, believe that a wage increase is impossible under capitalism and thereby implies socialism? No. But it is certainly true that wage increases under capitalism are limited, are subject to being gutted, usually require hard struggles and do not alter the basic relationship between capital and labor Consistent and lasting increases for all workers’ living standards is only possible under socialism. By LRP’s logic, “higher wages” equally deserves to be a demand which implies a struggle for socialism. When all is said and done, the Transitional Program of Trotsky and the LRP simply amounts to arbitrarily dividing various reforms into some which are “reformist" and some which themselves imply the end of capitalism. This is essentially reformism covered over with a lot of left-sounding mumbo-jumbo. This is the sort of nonsense that Neil and the LAWV announce is a good stand on the labor fakers as compared to the alleged “company unionism” of the CVO!

But what of the demand for “expropriation of industry without compensation”? Without the mass movement on the verge of revolution, a revolution that would expropriate the capitalists, such a slogan is just a idealized way of describing some sort of bourgeois nationalization. Nationalization by no means implies socialism as LRP pretends. It means that certain enterprises are no longer run for the benefit of a particular owner, but for the interests of the capitalist class as a whole. If, on the other hand, LRP is talking about a situation where industry is really being expropriated by the workers, then it is talking about a revolution. Or are we to believe that the capitalists will just peacefully watch their factories, production plants, and banks taken over by the workers? But to pretend something that can only be accomplished by revolution is about to happen in normal circumstances perpetuates reformist illusions among the workers.

Indeed, it’s even sheer fantasy to think that a Clinton-Gingrich government that is excited about privatization of present government functions is going to be forced to undertake a general nationalization of industry without a national upheaval rocking the country. But the actual conditions and level of the mass movement don’t figure into LRP’s choice of slogans to advance the mass struggle. For example, LRP argues that slogans like “Tax the rich!” are no good to deal with a particular budget crisis today but must be replaced by the “transitional” slogan “Expropriate the banks and corporations and repudiate the public debt!”4 So at a time when developing mass motion on the budget crisis is difficult even behind limited demands like shifting the tax burden for a budget crisis onto the rich, LRP proposes that the mass demand should be tantamount to revolution! LRP thus bounces between dressing up some reform, like wage-indexing, as implying the downfall of capitalism, and pretending that demands that can only be won at the onset of a revolution, like widespread expropriation of industry, might be won at any time by an ordinary strike, like those waged all the time over working conditions.

It is beneath the dignity of LRP to try to find the slogans and methods of struggle that can begin to get the masses in motion in this time of a relative lull. For them, it is just a matter of imposing a few cut-and-dried demands in any situation, regardless of the level of struggle and consciousness of the masses. This is a parody of revolutionary work. To advocate that every partial struggle must be based on demands far beyond what the masses are now willing to fight for just means artificially narrowing down the movement and isolating the class-conscious workers from the less conscious mass.

Rather than scoff at reforms, real revolutionary work in this relatively quiet period includes viewing the partial struggles as opportunities to bring revolutionary clarity and strengthen class organization among the workers and poor These struggles are not going to soon give birth to the revolution, but they keep the masses from being ground down and prepare it for the big struggles of the future. Does this mean hiding the broader goals from the masses, then? Not at all. Revolutionary work also means explaining that there is no salvation within the capitalist system, promoting communist society as distinct from revisionist state-capitalism, encouraging study of Marxist theory and support for a proletarian party, and directing the workers attention to all the important political questions of the day But to advance slogans that essentially require that workers take up the ultimate goals of communism as a condition of participating in their immediate struggles, artificially walls them off from taking their first steps on the path of class struggle.

Of particular importance at present is the building of a trend consciously opposed to opportunism. The LRP is not building a trend of this type, but banks on a section of the bureaucrats and excuses itself with talk about the alleged automatic exposure of the bureaucrats if they don’t live up to LRP’s demands. Meanwhile, from Neil’s still unexplained vantage point, the work of CVO to build a trend opposed to the bureaucrats is of little significance.

Should revolutionaries participate in reactionary trade unions?

Neil mocks me for allegedly suggesting that if only a few communist leaders like myself got elected to a union post, the unions would immediately undergo a revolutionary transformation. Nothing I have ever said even remotely implies this, but Neil swears it must be so. What I do think is that it is a mistake for revolutionary-minded workers not to participate in the present AFL-CIO unions despite their domination by a reactionary trade union bureaucracy. I also think such trade union work should be subordinated to building direct ties between the workers in the unions and the party of the class-conscious workers (or, where no such party exists, groups oriented towards re-establishing such a party). The purpose of a revolutionary running in a trade union election is not to get a cushy post and reconcile with the bureaucrats, but to fight against them and foster the independent motion of the workers.

Neil, as usual, fumes about my views, but so far has refused to tell us what he thinks about these matters. We do know he promotes as Marxist the International Communist Current group (ICC) which believes trade unions of any kind are no good in the present epoch. Does Neil fancy that since I do not agree with boycotting the unions, or agree with his friends at ICC that the very form of trade unions is out of date, I must necessarily harbor illusions in them? Is this why he invents tales about me believing acquiring a few union posts will solve everything?

Neil’s great discovery about the unions

The only other clue from Neil as to why he imagines I have illusions in the present trade unions is that he goes into a big song and dance about my alleged failure to acknowledge that there is a material base to the class collaborationist policy of the present unions. And what is this great key to really understanding the trade unions according to Neil? It’s that the trade union bureaucrats invest union funds in capitalist institutions.5 Wow, Neil, what a fantastic discovery! Everyone vaguely familiar with the trade unions knows this, of course. But I must confess I never thought a materialist analysis of the trade unions could revolve around the fact that union officials invest in capitalist institutions. This analysis is worthy of a reformist do-gooder who imagines that a few restrictions on union fund investments will clean up corruption in the unions. And I have also seen similar ideas bandied about by semi-anarchists scrambling for any reason to boycott the unions. Or maybe Neil is saying that if a union sticks its funds in a bank, it is guilty of investing in capitalism, and is thus condemned by that mere fact to be a reactionary agent of capitalism? Of course, in that case, all workers with bank accounts or IRAs must stand similarly accused!

But in fact the corruption of the trade union bureaucracy in the U.S. involves an entire system of privilege. Not only are there shady investment schemes with union funds like those of the Teamsters over the years, but also high salaries for officials, access to soft jobs and all manner of direct bribery by employers, lavish union junkets, straight pocketing of dues money, etc., etc. A Marxist materialist analysis would not arbitrarily single out one aspect of this system, i.e., how union funds are invested. Moreover, the mere fact that union officers have access to union funds does not explain why these funds are misused. Both reactionary and militant unions need funds to function. So in and of itself, access to funds can’t explain corruption.

The material basis of the union bureaucracy is the vast profits that accrue to our own capitalists from their position as a giant imperialist power exploiting the masses across the globe. This allows the capitalists to placate a top crust of the workers, the labor aristocracy, by providing them with conditions of life that separate them from the bulk of workers. The sold-out labor officials are part of this stratum. The practical importance of this is that it means there are no grounds for thinking that the trade union bureaucrats are just misguided and can be reformed.

But what does Neil think follows from the fact that there can be no hope that the union bureaucrats will become class warriors? He shrieks about this issue as if it were the key to everything and then goes quiet as to what the implications are.

If Neil thinks the unions should be boycotted, he should at least have the guts to say so. If not, he should take back the crap he has thrown at myself and the CVO who have not created illusions in the bureaucrats or an easy path to the revolutionary trade unions of the future, but don’t believe boycotting the unions will solve anything.

The trade unions and the revolutionary workers’ party

Neil has taken to being as hazy as possible about what sort of organizations he thinks the workers need. He announces they should be “new” organizations, both “political” and “industrial” And they should be “decisively hostile to the interests of capital.” Does this include a party of the class-conscious workers and activists based on Marxism-Leninism? If so, it is odd that Neil indiscriminately lumps all organizations together as “mass organizations.”6 Even if a communist party grows large, its goals and principles, the level of consciousness and activity of its members, etc., distinguish it from broader class organizations. However, the main issue isn’t that Neil is having trouble uttering the word “party,” but that in his views and actions, he belittles working in the direction of establishing one.

For several years, Neil belonged to a revolutionary communist party, the Marxist-Leninist Party, which dissolved in November 1993. This party actually represented a distinct trend from the opportunists trends parading around with Marxist or communist labels and it vigorously fought these trends to defend Marxist-Leninist principle. But since the MLP dissolved Neil and the LAWV have grown more and more skeptical about the re-establishment of a communist political party When attempts were made to unite remnants of the former MLP in various cities into a Marxist-Leninist trend that was oriented toward the rebuilding of a genuine communist party, LAWV rejected this in solidarity with the Chicago Workers' Voice group which had begun to take up semi-anarchist “anti- hierarchy” theories against the party concept. These days, LAWV's own theorizing has become critical of the role of the party, counterposing the party to the workers’ initiative.

The LAWV no longer sees the need to build up a genuine Marxist-Leninist trend, but has discarded Marxist theory. The mocking of Leninism is open while there is some pretense of still upholding Marx and Engels. But in fact Neil’s “disagreements” with Lenin are from anti-Marxist positions. And they have turned basic Marxist theories to hash, such as Neil’s stand that everything from the abolition of money and commodity production, to the abolition of the state and distribution of social production along the principle “to each according to their needs,” can occur immediately after the workers take power

Today, the LAWV finds “Marxism” in the semi-anarchist theories of the “infantile leftists” whose views Lenin fought against in his day And they heap praise on bankrupt trotskyite theories on building the workers’ struggle. In short, instead of taking up the task of anti-revisionist communism of rebuilding a true Marxist trend, the LAWV thinks that the problems of revolutionary theory will be solved by gathering together a hodgepodge of ideas borrowed from the more “left”-phrase- mongering opportunists.

But if the LAWV is not taking up the tasks needed to reestablish an anti-revisionist communist trend, than all its talk about the great revolutionary mass organizations of the future is empty For if the most class conscious activists cannot form a party with a revolutionary class policy, then what are the chances that the broader mass of workers, whose class consciousness is only beginning to develop, will find their way to a sound revolutionary policy? Not very good. Those who want to see the mass organizations of the future take up a resolute stand against the capitalist system, must today work to build up a Marxist-Leninist trend that can provide guidance to the wider masses today, so that when future upsurges come, the new mass organizations that are created by them are influenced by communism. []


1 Neil’s article appears in Communist Voice, vol. l, #5, Nov 15, 1995, pp. 14-16.

2 Oleg’s note and my reply appear in Communist Voice vol. 1, #1, April 15, 1995, pp. 11-13.

3 The LRP’s journal Proletarian Revolution, Fall 1995 issue, carries a letter from Neil on page 5 which begins:

Our LAWV group is studying your PR#49 and we agree with very much of what you say about building up a real mass movement based on the working class, exposing labor fakers, poverty pimp charlatans, bourgeois political influence, etc.”

4 See the reply to LAWV in Proletarian Revolution, Fall 1995 issue.

5 Neil’s e-mail message of December 5, 1995 raises the criticism that I allegedly have no material criticism of the union leaders. His only argument to back up this charge is that

the union institution’s goals are to reconcile the workers with capitalism” in part because “the leadership. have most [of] the UNION funds invested in other capitalist enterprises!!” (caps as in the original)

6 Neil’s description of new mass organizations can be found in leaflets of the LAWV such as their leaflet of Jan. 18, 1996.[]

Neil’s “left” stand on the trade unions

The following excerpt is from Neil’s letter of Feb. 1, 1996 2:01 AM EST (Jan. 31. PSD, entitled “RE: Detroit CVO — Still for State Capitalism/Stalinism ”)

On the unions. Let’s look at your views. Your articles amount to telling the workers to “Be more militant. Break from the treacherous leaders.” Well, bully for you! I got that from the Sparts and the ISO! That’s a start. What about the class nature of today’s unions? Would not a genuine Marxist point to this? You have no materialist analysis here either. Get to the core of it, Mark. Are the unions for capitalism or workers’ class struggle & against the rule of capital? Are not the unions integrated into the capitalist state? Of course they are, the old MLP said they were too!

Will not the unions collaborate with the companies and the cops and confound and derail the workers struggles, especially if they get hot and begin to spread? Of course, they do it all the time & they police the workers for capital, do they not? And they do so whether they have rightist or “leftist” demagogues heading them. This has been their record, Mark.

Look at the Staley workers (UPIU union). Clobbered by the capitalists and the state, the UNION has just contracted the mother of all betrayals! Hundreds of militants have been fired and blacklisted and the UNION apparatus has called the police to keep them form their union hall. Why don’t you expose this, Mark?

Look at Caterpillar (UAW union). Workers vote to continue their struggle. The union sees union investments and profits threatened by further striker payouts. Union apparatus despotically & unilaterally ends the strike. They never planned to win it, Mark. That’s why only the angry 12,000 were sent to strike, while 17,000 other UAW workers kept up production going—with the scabs hired in too!! Workers will probably lose 2,000 jobs, families will scatter U-haul business is booming. But Mark and CVO will tell us, it’s not the unions’ class nature— you just need some communist leaders, probably elitist saviors a la Mark maybe?

What about the Detroit newspaper strike? How about when the union “strike” paper writes articles calling for freedom for two murderous Detroit cops who bashed in a black man’s (Malice Green) skull after arresting him in 1992? That will surely build up strike support with oppressed nationalities!! The cops were convicted in 1993. The Workers ’ Advocate exposed these cops’ lies and fabrications in this racist murder in 1993. But, for today, with CVO, mums the word on nailing the so-called union strike paper! This is because CVO has gone backwards on opposing bourgeois trade unionism with instead supporting the building of class struggle workers’ groups from below They have nothing to say about how all the craft unionism divides the workers and helps the bosses, their state and the hacks set them up for more defeats and demoralization either They want a more “militant” form of the semi-company unionism that exists. Their critique is both milquetoast and tailist in practice. CVO has a retrograde stand. []

[End of article group]

Misunderstanding the middle strata

by Pete Brown, CVO, Detroit

In his article, “Theories and evolution of the salaried middle strata — part I”, Joe of the Boston Communist Study Group gives an example of how not to theorize about the middle strata.1 As in other articles written since the demise of the MLP, Joe expresses his fascination with the professional/ managerial strata and continues to put them at the forefront of his hope for future society.2 What distinguishes his latest article is Joe’s deepened pessimism about the future. Joe continues to look at the middle strata as the politically important strata, but now he sees no chance of anything positive coming from them. So the result is, he’s in a funk. He’s given up on the working class, and doesn’t see much to hope for from the middle class either

Together with giving up on the working class, Joe’s given up on Marxism as a framework for analyzing social change. Instead of trying to incorporate facts about today’s society into the framework of Marxism, Joe instead uses facts mixed with fantasies and confusions to throw out Marxism.

Joe’s numbers game

A good example of Joe’s approach is in the first section of his article, with the subtitle “Changes in class structure. ” This is a perfect example of mixing up various facts with various prejudices and half-truths to produce a general impression, or mood, of pessimism.

The section begins: “The twentieth century has seen huge changes in the class structures of the U.S. and the other Western capitalist countries.” Joe throws out statements like this to indicate he’s thrown out the Marxist framework and adopted something new. But he doesn’t give any factual arguments to indicate why Instead he meanders around and plays games with numbers, as in the next sentences: “The industrial workers reached the zenith of their weight in the economically active population about mid-century in the U.S. Since then there has been [a] sharp decline in the weight of the industrial workers while the weight [of] service workers and workers in retail trade have grown dramatically.”

Now, apparently by the “weight” of industrial and service workers. Joe simply means their relative numbers. Joe is telling us that employment in services and retail trade have grown, in the past few decades, while employment in manufacturing has remained about the same. So the proportion of workers involved in manufacturing has declined. This is an interesting fact about the changing occupational structure of the working class. But this has nothing to do with the overall class structure of society. There is a shift in the type of jobs performed by the majority of proletarians. But this doesn’t mean the elimination of the proletariat. On the contrary; the rapid growth of jobs in services and retail trade means a rapid growth of the proletariat in those areas. It means a number of former manufacturing workers have been shifted to lower-paid, less-benefit jobs; it also means a number of former non-workers (e.g., housewives) have entered the workforce. It does not mean that masses of factory workers have gone middle-class, become doctors and lawyers.

There was a large working class in the U.S. in the 19S0s — largely manufacturing. Today there’s also a large working class in the U.S. — largely trade and services. In between there’s been a shift in the economy and a change in the occupational roles of many workers. But this doesn’t mean any huge change in class structure.

The overall class structure of today’s society is what Marx predicted — a rich bourgeoisie, a growing proletariat, and middle strata in between. And the same capitalist economic laws are still at work. If the capitalists are going to expand, profitably, into new fields like fast-food restaurants, home services, financial and information services, etc. they have to do it the old-fashioned way through exploitation of a mass of workers. So the capitalists are condemned to create and expand the class of their own gravediggers. This is why the working class has expanded pretty steadily, both in absolute terms (numbers) and relative terms (proportion of the population) since its inception.

Joe likes to spread gloom-and-doom agnosticism by pretending that today’s society is too complex for anyone to understand. But in fact overall class structure has been simplified considerably since the days of the Communist Manifesto, just as Marx and Engels predicted it would be. Most notably, the class of slaves was abolished, and then in the 20th century the class of sharecroppers disappeared (mostly). The vast bulk of the African-Americans became wage workers in an integrated working class. This simplified overall class structure and made it easier for black and white laboring people to wage common battles against big capital.

Similar processes in other countries have seen the elimination of the class of serfs, landlords (a landowning class independent of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie), and in many cases also the peasantry. Joe himself shows that many old middle strata (small farmers, shopkeepers, etc.) have been eliminated. These processes have confirmed Marx’s view that modem society more and more divides into the two major classes, proletariat and bourgeoisie, facing each other and contesting for power.

Mixing up white collars

But Joe covers up this process. Instead, his emphasis on the importance of middle strata lends support to the philistine lie that we live in a middle-class society For him the working class doesn’t matter — after all, it has “declined.” And for Joe the bourgeoisie, apparently, doesn’t exist at all. It’s missing from his demographic analysis of occupations. Joe talks about “white collars” as if they were simply one large, undifferentiated mass of middle-class (and “weighty”) people. Joe takes the fact that modem society has developed a new middle class, a fact that can be fit into Marx’s overall framework, and converts that into a negation of Marxism.

Look at the second paragraph of Joe’s article. Joe points out that the percentage of farmers has shrunk dramatically since 1900. OK. And “the white collar workforce has grown to 60 per cent.” Well, OK; depending on how you define “white collar”, that may be correct. But then he says that the stratum of “managerial/professional employees” accounts for “25 percent of the workforce” and forms “the bulk of the modem middle strata.”

Now, wait a minute. In this paragraph “white collar” seems to be synonymous with “modem middle strata”, this “60% of the workforce.” And according to Joe the managerial/ professional employees are 25% of the workforce. So clearly there is some 35% of the workforce (60-minus-25) that is white collar (i.e., middle strata) but not managerial/professional. So why are the managerial/professional employees called “the bulk of the middle strata”? From Joe’s own numbers, the bulk of the middle strata are not managerial/professionals.

This paragraph shows Joe's trick with numbers he has been pulling since 1994. His aim is to inflate the size and importance of the professional/managerial stratum, to show it has “weight.” Relative to the workforce as a whole, the middle strata are “60%”, and the professional/managerials are “the bulk” of that! Wow, they must be important! The fact that his numbers don’t add up doesn’t faze Joe in the slightest.

Actually, many of the white collar strata Joe’s talking about are low-paid clerks and service workers. These strata are proletarians. They are part of the expansion of the working class. Yet here Joe throws them in with managerial/professional strata to make it look like the working class is declining!3

Objections to Joe’s playing with numbers have been raised before.4 He’s had a couple years since then to consider these objections. But instead he just sloughs over them and insists on maintaining his position. In fact, he’s gone downhill. At least, in 1994, Joe admitted that the great bulk of new white-collar jobs were low-paying semiskilled or unskilled jobs.5 And he discussed the impoverishment of unskilled and semiskilled workers. From these admissions it seemed that Joe might still be leaving the door open for communist organizing in the working class.

But no. The problem is, Joe sees the middle strata as all-important. There are masses of new workers, workers who are sorely oppressed by capitalist profit-making. But that means nothing compared to the fact that there is a new stratum of yuppies whizzing around in BMWs. For Joe this is the exciting new social fact of the last couple decades. So in 1994 Joe maintained that the first step in organizing workers has to be to effect a marriage between them and the middle strata — i.e., to tie the workers to the apron strings of the professional/ managerial strata, to get their approval before attempting any revolutionary organizing.

The difference between today and 1994 is that back then Joe had hopes that some of the middle strata would participate in progressive movements. He thought they would be affected by continuing economic stagnation and might develop some interesting politics. But now he’s disappointed. According to him, the middle strata have turned out to be nothing but racists and reactionaries. Joe doesn’t spell out exactly what phenomena he’s referring to, so it’s hard to know how to judge such statements. But his mood of disappointment and gloom comes through clear enough. He warns us that the middle strata vacillate, but always connects that to “rightism” (One wonders: if they only vacillate to the right, can that be called “vacillation”?) And while he previously said we couldn’t begin revolutionary work without the middle strata, today he says the middle strata won’t join in until the day of revolution [if ever].6 Of course that doesn’t mean we should begin without them — oh no, he’s not advocating that; he’s simply deepening his previous sense of doom.

Joe's pseudo-objective analysis has gotten him into an ever- deepening funk. He began his re-analysis of class structure with the assumption that Marxism is wrong, that it’s failed, and that organizing the working class for revolution has proved a deadend. And he looked for the alternative of tying the working class to the coattails of the middle strata. Since then he’s enlarged and elaborated his view that the middle strata are crucial, giving us loads of quotations from Bernstein and German academics on the issue. But it’s just led him to more of a dead-end.

Note that the point here is not to simply criticize Joe’s sense of gloom. As the Staley and Caterpillar strikes show, there’s no reason to think that the immediate future holds prospects for easy victories for the working class. But it’s one thing to feel bad about the present; it’s another to try and raise theoretical objections to the building of any future movement. “We must rely on the professional/managerials, but also they are hopelessly conservative — I guess we should just pack it in!”

Joe stabilizes capitalism

Joe’s dead-end is explored more in the section entitled “Middle Strata As Stabilizer of Capitalism.” The title says it all. Back in 1994 Joe thought that some middle strata might be hard hit by continued unemployment, and that this might radicalize certain sections.7 But today he’s concluded they can only have a conservative influence. Why this is, he doesn’t explain, except to cite some of their vacillations from German history. But from the facts he cites it would be hard to draw general conclusions, much less particular conclusions about today.

This is especially true since, in talking about today, Joe doesn’t tell us which strata, in particular, he’s talking about. The German academics analyzed different strata (low-paid clerks, engineers, managers, etc.). But Joe doesn’t give a similar breakdown. This is a cardinal mistake, as pointed out decades ago by C. Wright Mills.8 Mills reviewed some of the theorizing that had been done about the new middle class, and then pointed out that the crucial thing in any such theorizing is to clarify what sections you’re talking about. In separate chapters of his book Mills described the low-paid office and retail clerks, supervisory employees, business executives, professionals (doctors and lawyers), and others. He emphasized that there’s a lot of difference between these sections, and you cannot make any generalizations about the politics, outlook, income status, etc. of “white collar” or “middle strata” in general.

The working class comes unglued, according to Joe

Joe’s “objective” method is exemplified in the next section of his article, entitled “The Effect of the Growth of the Professional/Managerial Strata and White Collar Work in General on Working Class Cohesion” And what is this effect, according to Joe? Just this: “ thus dramatically blurring class boundaries and undermining the workers’ sense of being a hereditary class.” The new middle class is not only a “stabilizer” in its own right; its growth also breaks up working class solidarity and so undermines the workers’ sense of being a united, revolutionary class.

Now, here Joe discusses a phenomenon that could be of real interest to communist organizers. How do workers see themselves and the rest of society? And how can the reality of class divisions and class struggle be brought home to workers? The basic problem, we might say, of communist organizing is precisely this “blurring of class boundaries” and how to clear it up. Consider the Manifesto, where Marx and Engels were careful to distinguish proletarian socialism from other so-called socialist trends, trends that actually expressed other classes’ viewpoints.

In this section Joe raises class mobility — in particular the mobility experienced by some American workers in the couple decades after World War II — as an issue in blurring class lines. But his argumentation is so one-sided and distorted it doesn’t amount to a contribution on the subject. For example, he says, “The rapid relative growth opened up opportunity for probably the majority of the best and brightest young workers to move on up into the managerial or professional ranks in the post-WWII period. ” What’s the point of such overgeneralized statements? Apparently Joe’s trying to develop a theory of class “brain drain”. There’s no way the working class could build, or even maintain, class organization, because their “best and brightest” moved into professional/ managerial ranks. The fact that the bourgeoisie in the U.S. combined savage repression (McCarthyism, Taft-Hartley, Smith Act, etc.) with extensive bribery of the trade union officialdom — that wouldn’t have anything to do with it, of course. Joe is so far off base here, he doesn’t even say those moving into professional ranks were the ones closest to that class already, culturally and financially I guess that would be too “Marxist” an explanation. He has to insist on an individual-personal factor, that of being “good” and “smart”. As to the industrial workers who remained in their jobs during this period, the black workers who were largely proletarian, the women workers who were just joining the workforce in this period — I guess they were just bad and dumb.

Here’s another aspect of Joe’s one-sidedness. Joe says the growth of white collar strata strengthens that section of society, gives it “weight.” And yes, those strata were growing rapidly in the period after World War II. But so were the industrial occupations. Auto, steel, rubber, electrical, transport, construction — all these industries were growing, and adding new jobs, even though automation led to the elimination of many old jobs. Black workers emigrated from the South and were able to find employment in cities of the Northeast, Midwest and other areas. Many women joined the ranks of the proletariat, not just in clerical jobs but also in factories and health-care institutions (among other places). And young baby-boomers found jobs readily in the 1960s.

So did this influx of numbers add “weight” to the proletariat, as the growth of middle strata increased their “weight" according to Joe? Oh, no; it declined, it lost its best and brightest. If the industrial proletariat doesn’t grow, then it declines; and if it does grow, then it still declines. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Another thing: if social mobility can blur class lines, then the expectation of social mobility can also lead to rising expectations and angry disappointment when these expectations are not met. This was a factor in the extensive strike movement of the late 60s/early 70s. But Joe’s mechanical view of things doesn’t take this into consideration.

The horrors of urban proximity

Now let’s look at another aspect of Joe’s one-sided argumentation in this section. This is his view that rubbing shoulders with the professional/managerial ranks somehow undermines working class solidarity. Joe says, “In addition, unlike the small farmer the members of the professional/managerial class live in close proximity to the worker, and they work in the same large- scale industry, trade, and services as the lower worker ” So in addition to the best and brightest workers leaving the working class for higher ranks, those left in the proletariat are still living in proximity to the professionals, and somehow this also blurs class boundaries and undermines the workers’ sense of class solidarity.

This is another example of one-sidedness. Why would coming near “middle strata” elements make workers lose their sense of who and what they are? If anything, in many cases, the opposite is true: rubbing shoulders with other classes will increase the workers’ sense of being a distinct class. It’s all very well to hear about the capitalists, to know they exist, theoretically; but when you actually see them in their new cars, see their palatial residences, etc. — no way does this proximity decrease your sense of class distinctness. And the same goes for proximity to the professional/managerial ranks.

Throughout his paper, Joe only sees one side of things. If some workers are deproletarianized, it’s a loss of the best and brightest. But if some middle strata are proletarianized, is this a gain of “good and smart” elements for the working class? Oh, no, again it’s a loss, because these new workers bring alien, middle-class thought patterns with them. Heads we lose and tails we lose.

Who influences whom?

Next sentence: “Moreover, unlike the small farmer or small shopkeeper, they [professional/managerials] have superior education, and they make a lot more political noise in the urban areas.” Joe’s point here is that the professional/managerial ranks swamp the working class politically due to their superior education and close proximity But again this is one-sided; if other urban strata are close enough to the proletariat to influence it, no doubt the opposite influence can also be exerted. And in general, it’s hard for me to see why this is such a disadvantage for the working class, to be surrounded by other urban, educated, large-industry strata rather than to have only small farmers as possible allies.

Now, whether the working class can actually exert this influence — that depends on a number of factors. In promoting their distinct viewpoint, as Joe points out, the professional/ managerials have the advantage of superior education. And as he neglects to point out, they also have more leisure time, less direct (personal) economic pressure, and extensive contacts with influential members of their own strata (journalists, political careerists, etc.).

But if you’re going to seriously discuss political influence, then you have to add a few things to Joe’s analysis. Like the bourgeoisie. Joe has left them out of the equation, making it sound like the struggle for power in urban areas is a conflict between the proletariat and the middle strata. But both these sections are in fact dominated by the big capitalists. This is important for understanding the middle strata and their political viewpoint. For though their viewpoint is unique, what makes it unique is that it’s a contradictory mixture of proletarian and bourgeois elements. On the one hand, the middle strata are subordinate to (and some of them employees of) the capitalists, and in this regard their interests coincide somewhat with the working class. On the other hand, they’re wealthier, are shy of mass struggle, and have some hopes in sharing the benefits of property ownership.

This brings up another thing missing in Joe’s analysis: the connections between his “salaried middle strata” and the “small shopkeepers.” Joe draws a sharp line of demarcation between these strata. In doing so he draws on the distinction between “old middle class” and “new middle class” elaborated by Mills and others before him. And there’s a certain use to this distinction. But Joe pushes it to the point of throwing out a Marxist framework, because supposedly Marxism can only deal with the old middle class and has nothing to say about a new middle class.

This is wrong. We still today have a dominant bourgeois class and an exploited working class. And we still have various middle strata, as there were a century and a half ago. It’s useful to point out differences in these strata, how they have changed. But Marxism still provides the basic framework of analysis.

There are cultural differences between old middle class shopkeepers and new middle class professionals. This can be seen in urban areas today- look at the small restaurant and comer store owners, and compare them to the doctors/lawyers/ engineers. Very different strata, it would seem. But money dissolves these differences over time. The more successful comer store owners can afford to send their kids to college and give them leisure time and resources to settle into a professional-type occupation, if they choose. And going the other way, successful professionals often split off from their employers and establish their own business and thus become a new breed of “shopkeeper” or small-capitalist entrepreneur Thus they merge into a petty-bourgeois stratum with a viewpoint similar to that analyzed by Marx and Engels. Successful professionals who do not simply squander their money invest in some sort of capitalist enterprise, either their own “practice” or “consulting firm” or some other; but in any case they inevitably become petty- bourgeois or even regular bourgeois, and the Marxist analysis of their position and viewpoint remains relevant.


1 See pages 34-46 of this issue of CV for Joe’s article.

2 Joe wrote a report, “The changing composition and stratification of the working class”, for the 4th Congress of the Marxist-Leninist Party held in fall 1992. This report was published in the Workers ’ Advocate Supplement of March 20, 1993. After the dissolution of the MLP in fall 1993, Joe reworked his research, not coming up with any new facts but giving a different class orientation to it. This was sent out to the ex-MLP e-mail network as “Boston #5: Statement of the Boston Communist Study Group”, dated February 5, 1994. See especially the section entitled “Questions of class structure.”

Joe repeated his new orientation on class structure in an e- mail missive to Ben of Seattle dated March 26, 1994. This was also circulated on the ex-MLP e-mail network and published in the Chicago Workers’ Voice Theoretical Journal, Issue #3 of June 1, 1994. See especially the section, “On some issues of class structure.”

3 Note that Joe exaggerates the importance of the middle strata from the other end, also, by not recognizing that many of the occupational strata called “professional/managerial” are in fact bourgeois.

4 Objections to Joe’s methods were raised in my article, “On Class Structure: Reply to Boston #5”, published in Chicago Workers’ Voice Theoretical Journal, Issue #2 of March 30, 1994; also in Gary’s article, “Flaws in Boston’s Study of the Composition of the Working Class”, published in CWVTJ, Issue #5 of December 1, 1994. Our objections were briefly summarized in my article, “Study of working class composition”, published in Communist Voice, Vol. 1, No. 1, of April 15, 1995.

5 See p. 24, col. 2 of CWVTJ #3.

6 Near the end of the section, “Research and Debate in German Academic Circles, 1900-1940”, Joe asserts: “Bringing even the lower majority of this section with [into? in line with? to work with?] the movement of the lower mass would require an extremely strong movement of the lower mass and the disintegration of the bourgeois order. ” (emphasis mine)

7 CWVTJ #3, p. 24, col. 3.

8 For a look at Mills’ views, see my review of his book. White Collar, published in Communist Voice, Vol. 1, No. 2, of June 1, 1995.

Theories and evolution of the salaried middle strata

part 1—

by Joe, BCSG, Boston

The following article is by Joe of the Boston Communist Study Group. The BCSG comes from the former Boston Branch of the Marxist-Leninist Party which dissolved in November 1993. It issued an report on July 17 of last year, which tried to explain why it hadn’t done much in the year and two-thirds since the MLP dissolved. It blamed objective conditions. But the following article from Joe accompanied this report, and its pessimism about the working class and socialism, and its abandonment of Marxism, give a better picture of why the BCSG never accomplished much. The BCSG report and our comments can be found in the last issue of the Communist Voice (Vol. 2, #1, pp. 5-9). Joe’s article is based on research he did while in the MLP, and we have corrected some typos. Pete Brown’s comments on this report, “Misunderstanding the middle strata”, appear on pages 30-33 of this issue of CV.

Introduction Changes in Class Structure

The twentieth century has seen huge changes in the class structures of the U.S. and the other Western capitalist countries. The industrial workers reached the zenith of their weight in the economically active population about mid century in the U.S. and 15 to 25 years later in other advanced capitalist countries. Since then there has been sharp decline in the weight of the industrial workers while the weight service workers and workers in retail trade have grown dramatically. Meanwhile there has also been a change in the composition of the middle classes and strata in advanced capitalist societies.

In 1900 small farmers were the majority of the middle classes and strata in the U.S. accounting for about 28 per cent of what the Bureau of Labor statistics calls the “workforce’’ today. The categories of managers, professionals and office clerical workers accounted together for about 15 per cent of the workforce, (the figures on managers and professionals include small owners who manage their own business and self-employed professionals. In 1900 of course the small owners and self- employed professionals constituted a much larger portion of this middle strata than today.) Today the small and not so small farmers are less than 2 per cent of the workforce, while the white collar workforce has grown to 60 per cent. But this growth has been accompanied by a proletarianization and feminization of the office and retail clerks on one hand and the steady growth of a strata of managerial/professional employees who account for about 25 per cent of the workforce and who form the bulk of the modem middle strata.

Today the middle strata produced within large-scale production, within wage labor constitute the bulk of the middle forces in society as compared to the decaying classes of small producers.

In 1992, I wrote a report on the changes in class structure in the U.S. and the changes in stratification of the working class for the 4th Congress of the Marxist Leninist Party This report was published in the Workers’ Advocate Supplement of March 20, 1993. This current effort is a continuation of that effort which focuses on new middle strata which has emerged during the past century. Other members of the Boston study group which was founded to continue research after the demise of the MLP are working on other aspects of the changes in class structure.

Middle Strata as Stabilizer of Capitalism

Analysis of the new middle strata is important for a number of reasons. First the development of this strata has major implications for the stability of capitalism. While its emergence shows the capitalist owners have become superficial to production, its conservatism is a factor for capitalist stability and theoreticians of reformism from Bernstein on have pointed to this strata as a factor proving that Marx’s prognosis for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat was wrong.

The Effect of the Growth of the Professional/Managerial Strata and White Collar Work In General on Working Class Cohesion

Secondly the huge growth of this strata relative to the industrial workers has had a major impact on the working class itself. The rapid relative growth opened up opportunity for probably the majority of the best and brightest young workers to move on up into the managerial or professional ranks in the post-WWII period, thus dramatically blurring class boundaries and undermining the workers’ sense of being a hereditary class. This avenue of upward mobility has narrowed in recent years but it has far from disappeared. In addition unlike the small farmer the members of the professional/managerial class live in close proximity to the worker and they work in the same large- scale industry, trade, and services as the lower worker Moreover unlike the small farmer or small shopkeeper, they have superior education, and they make a lot more political noise in the urban areas. As sections of this strata sink lower into proletarian status as the clerical workers have, they continue to work in occupations that have vestiges of middle class prestige, ways of doing things and thinking. Even after they have given up fighting to maintain their former privilege they do not yet think like factory workers. Thus this middle strata has enormous impact on the mood and cohesiveness of the working class. (Note the growth and decay of the middle strata is not the only objective factor affecting the mood, cohesiveness and confidence of the proletariat by any means. The welfare state, the changes in the structure of world markets, fragmentation of the workers due to the change from manufacturing to service and retail trade, etc. have at least as great an impact.)

The Effects of the Salaried Middle Strata on the Political Mood and Movements

Finally with the relative quiescence of the working class in the post-WWII world, members or aspiring members of various sections of the middle strata, working intelligentsia, have largely dominated and populated most of the oppositional movements in the West from the ecological movements to the women’s and gay rights movements. In the U.S. major exceptions to this rule were the later stages of the movement against the Viet Nam war and the peak of the black and Latino movements where the energy and class instincts of the lower masses showed a certain influence (though not dominant) for a while. In large part the narrowness of today’s movements and lack of any class edge or theme unifying them into a movement for a new society is due to this situation of weakness of the lower mass and the political features of the middle strata.

At the same time this strata has shown differences from the old middle strata in that it has a greater interest in democratic questions affecting lifestyle, intellectual freedom, etc. than the old small producers. It worries more about global questions such as environmental issues, but it still tends to see itself above a class struggle for desired changes.

In mainstream politics a large section of this strata has tended toward economic conservatism (squeeze the lower masses) and social liberalism (abortion rights, gay rights, opposition to book burners), the Liberal Democratic Party in Britain, the Clinton to Weld spectrum in the US. In present situation of economic insecurity it has provided the main support to Perotism.

As the stagnation of Western capitalism continues significant numbers of the lower sections of the professional, managerial strata as well as sections of the formerly more privileged white workers who are seeing their privileges and security erode have been attracted to racist and right-wing movements in a desperate attempt to cling to their former position.

Hence an analysis of the dynamics of this strata, how it is evolving, how its different strata can be expected to react to economic and political changes, what influence it brings into the political climate, and what influences the lower layers it sheds into the working class proper bring with them, are important issues facing any future class politics and movement in the Western world (and the third world countries too as they evolve into more complex capitalist societies).

What this Paper Covers and Where Investigation Needs to Go

Having looked at the statistical and occupational breakdown of this strata and being familiar with the political life of the U.S. we felt it necessary to deepen our understanding of this question by carrying out a review of the historical theoretical literature on this strata from Marx to the present, and a review of the motion of this strata as reflected in that literature. The present work will review the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Bernstein, Kautsky, and the debate and social investigations carried out by German academic circles on the nature and extent of the new middle strata. We have also done some work reviewing the Post WWII research and debate on class structure and the middle strata in British and American academic circles as well as the attempts of the academic Marxists, Poulantzas, Carchedi, Carter etc. to develop a theory on a New Middle Class based on various pieces [of] Marx’s views on the role [of] the capitalist in production and in society We also feel a complete investigation of this field would require dealing with the literature that is emerging cm the “knowledge economy” and “knowledge workers” and the role of knowledge in the creation of wealth as well as the insights of Marx on the question over 100 years ago. At what pace and whether we will finish and publish these other parts of investigation of historical literature on the middle strata we cannot guarantee. Our time is limited and we are pulled in many directions in analyzing the changes in class structure. But we offer this part of what we have accomplished so far in hopes that it will be useful to those who feel a need to update a class analysis of modem society.

The views of Marx and Engels

Marx and Engels actually had very little to say on the subject and quite understandably since this strata was very little developed in their day. The process Marx and Engels were observing and dealing with was the transition from small-scale patriarchal production of goods to large-scale industrial production of goods. They saw that the greatest social product of this economic revolution was the industrial proletariat which they saw must inevitably seize power, abolish capitalist private property and build socialism. They saw the development of industry leading to the demise of the old middle classes, the peasantry, the handicraftsmen, the small urban shop keepers, the small producers, the classical petit-bourgeoisie and the growth of an overwhelming proletarian majority which at some point must realize that it was the majority and could easily dispense with the capitalist parasites. But in fact they saw that the crises of capitalism would most likely lead to an even earlier overthrow of capitalism, forcing the proletariat to act earlier with the greater or lesser support of sections of the ruined old middle classes to overthrow the rule of the industrial bourgeoisie.

The Communist Manifesto and Engels’ Conditions of the Working Class in England most clearly outline the above scenario.

But assuming that England retained the monopoly of manufactures, that its factories perpetually multiply, what must be the result? The commercial crises would continue, and grow more violent, more terrible, with the extension of industry and the multiplication of the proletariat, the proletariat would increase in geometrical proportion, in consequence of the progressive ruin of the lower middle class and the giant strides with which capitalism is concentrating itself in the hands of the few; and the proletariat would soon embrace the whole nation, with the exception of a few millionaires. But in this development, there comes a stage at which the proletariat perceives how easily the existing power may be overthrown and then follows the revolution”.

Neither of these supposed conditions may, however, be expected to arise. The commercial crises, the mightiest levers for all independent development of the proletariat, will probably shorten the process, acting in concert with foreign competition and the deepening ruin of the lower middle class.” F. Engels Condition of the Working Class in England, p. 331-332, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1973.

Marx and Engels clearly expected the process of industrialization going on before them to culminate in socialist revolution. They did not expect capitalism to last beyond the point where industrialization of the production of goods was the main thing going on and the growth of the weight of the industrial proletariat in society had reached its peak. As prophets in the narrow sense they failed. Of course they never claimed to be prophets, but rather social scientists and revolutionaries. And the tendencies they observed in society have been confirmed — the replacement of petty production with large-scale production, the conversion of the majority of society to wage workers, the rise of the proletarian movement which reached its peak with the Russian Revolution and proletarian movements between the two World Wars and into the late 40’s.

In Marx and Engels epoch the main issue of middle forces was the small producers and peasants, handicraftsmen, the classical petit bourgeoisie. And they paid considerable attention to the forces pushing this old middle force in various directions and the tactics that should be used toward it. They spoke much less about the small strata of professional/managerial/clerical employees who where then emerging.

Yet it cannot be said that Marx and Engels were oblivious to the emergence of this strata. As early as the Communist Manifesto they say

"... a new class of petty bourgeoisie has been formed, fluctuating between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and ever renewing itself as a supplementary part of bourgeois society The individual members of this class, however, are constantly being hurled down into the proletariat by the action of competition, and, as modern industry develops, they even see the moment approaching when they will completely disappear as an independent section of modem society, to be replaced, in manufactures, agriculture, and commerce, by overlookers, bailiffs, and shopmen.”

In this quote the new petty bourgeoisie that Marx and Engels are talking about is actually what we would refer to as the old petit bourgeoisie—the small producers and shopkeepers. They will be replaced by supervisory employees of the bourgeoisie (bailiff here does not refer to the court officer who handles the prisoners and ejects people from the courtroom, but to British farm manager and overseer.) Thus Marx and Engels see in the future the replacement of the old petit-bourgeoisie with trusted employees of the bourgeoisie.

During Marx and Engels lifetime the joint stock company emerged and the owners of capital began to hire managers to administer their enterprises. This was still a far cry from the massive managerial and professional organizations of today, but Marx and Engels took note of this development. Primarily they noted how this signified that the capitalist were losing any useful social function.

Now the economical function of the capitalist middle class has been, indeed, to create the modem system of steam manufactures and steam communications, and to crush every economical and political obstacle which delayed or hindered the development of that system. No doubt as long as the capitalist middle class performed this function it was, under the circumstances, a necessary class. But is it still so? Does it continue to fulfill its essential function as manager and expander of the social production for the benefit of society at large? Let us see.”

To begin with the means of communication, we find the telegraphs in the hands of the Government. The railways and a large part of the seagoing steamships are owned, not by individual capitalists who manage their own business, but by joint stock companies whose business is managed for them by paid employees, by servants whose position is to all intents and purposes that of superior, better paid work people. As to the directors and shareholders, they both know that the less the former interfere with the management and the latter with the supervision, the better for the concern. A lax and mostly perfunctory supervision is, indeed, the only function left to the owners of the business. The social function of the capitalist has been transferred to servants paid by wages; but he continues to pocket in his dividends, the pay for those functions though he has ceased to perform them.” (F. Engels “Social Classes—Necessary and Superfluous” 8/1-2/81 as quoted in On Historical Materialism — Marx, Engels, Lenin Soviet edition.)

Thus Engels notes the emergence of a strata of managerial employees — “superior, better paid workpeople”, “servants paid by wages” who perform the “social function of the capitalist”

In volume III of Capital Marx makes a number of points,

a. ”The labor of supervision and management, arising as it does out of an antithesis, out of the supremacy of capital over labor, and being therefore common to all modes of production based on class contradiction like the capitalist mode, is directly and inseparably connected, also under the capitalist system, with productive functions which all combined social labor assigns to individuals as their special tasks. The wages of an epitropos, or regisseur, as he was called in feudal France, are entirely divorced from profit and assume the form of wages for skilled labor whenever the business is operated on a sufficiently large scale to warrant paying for such a manager.” (Capital: Volume III, p. 386, Progress Publishers, 1966)

Here Marx notes that labor of management combines exploitation with necessary productive functions. Here Marx also seems to be saying that managerial work is simply a form of skilled labor at least economically speaking. However as we shall see Marx also points to another social dimension.

b. "The industrial capitalist is a worker compared to the money capitalist, but a worker in the sense of capitalist, i.e., an exploiter of the labor of others. The wage which he claims and pockets for this labor is exactly equal to the appropriated quantity of another’s labor, and depends directly upon the rate of exploitation of this labor, in so far as he undertakes the effort required for exploitation; it does not, however, depend on the degree of exertion that such exploitation demands, and which he can shift to a manger for moderate pay ” (Capital: Volume III, p. 387, Progress Publishers, 1966)

Here Marx in the course of refuting the argument that profits equal wages of supervision, brings out the aspect of management that is the exertion of effort necessary to realize a certain rate of exploitation thus bringing out the second side of the work of management whether done by the capitalist or by skilled labor hired by him

c. "The wages of management both for the commercial and industrial manager are completely isolated from the profits of enterprise in the cooperative factories of the workers, as well as in capitalist stock companies. In a cooperative factory the antagonistic nature of the labor of supervision disappears, because the manager is paid by the laborers instead of representing capital counterposed to them. Stock companies in general have an increasing tendency to separate this work of management as a function from the ownership of capital the functionary remains and the capitalist disappears as superfluous from the production process.

It is manifest from the public accounts of the co-operative factories in England that—after deducting the managers’ wages, which form a part of the invested variable capital much the same as the wages of other laborers—the profit was higher than the average profit. ” (Ibid. p. 387-388)

The point of interest here is that Marx says the wages of the managers in the cooperative factory come from variable capital rather than being deducted from surplus value. He seems also to be suggesting that the same is true in the joint stock company although this is not entirely clear with regards to the whole of the payment of managers as he has drawn out the distinction of cooperative factory being one where the antagonism between the workers and the manager as a representative of capital disappears.

d. ” This was further promoted by the apologetic aim of representing profit not as a surplus-value derived from unpaid labor, but as the capitalist’s wages for work performed by him. This was met on the part of socialists by a demand to reduce profit actually to what it pretended to be. And this demand was all the more obnoxious to theoretical embellishment, the more these wages of supervision, like any other wage, found their definite level and definite market price, on the one hand, with the development of a numerous class of industrial and commercial managers,(78) and the more they fell, like all wages for skilled labor, with the general development which reduces the cost of production of specially trained labor power. (79)” (Ibid. p. 388-389)

For our investigation the most important point here is the reference to managers as a class. One might take it to mean that Marx was referring to managers loosely as a category with the term class, but footnote 78 indicates that he views them as a social class with a special contradictory position between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In footnote 78 he quotes from Hodgskin:

Masters are laborers as well as their journeymen. In this character their interest is precisely the same as that of their men. But they are also either capitalists, or agents of the capitalists, and in this respect their interest is decidedly opposed to the interests of the workmen.” (p. 27). (Hodgskin, Labor Defended Against the Claims of Capital, etc.,, London, 1825.)

The second point of somewhat less interest is the assertion that the general social development including especially the spread of education in the working class tends to reduce the wages of managers. (In actual fact this narrowing gap between the wages of the mass of skilled workers including managers and the unskilled has been long term development of capitalism. Since the late 70’s there has been some reversal of this. But the differential is still far lower than 70 or 100 years ago. Generally you can gauge a country’s level of capitalist development by looking at the differential between skilled and unskilled laborers’ wages. And of course here we are eliminating the upper managerial levels from consideration who frequently share in the surplus value through stock options and bonuses and extremely high wages and who merge with the bourgeoisie.

So we have the beginnings of an analysis of the vast managerial strata by Marx and Engels but what did they say about the specialists, the professionals etc. who have no direct managerial role? Here we find less detailed observations.

In the Manifesto Marx and Engels say

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers. ”

Note here that Marx and Engels are referring here mostly to the pre-existing “free professions” but indicate a tendency to proletarianization.

In Volume II of Capital Marx discusses the role of the commercial clerk who is involved in wholesale buying and selling of the product of the industrial or agricultural capitalist. (While we are considering the issue of the professional strata, I have included this observation because many of the people who are considered professionals would share the same level of status as clerks in Marx’s time. And clerks in Marx’s time were universally considered part of the middle strata)

Marx says:

The commercial clerk produces no surplus value directly. But the price of his labor-power, its exertion, expenditure, and wear and tear, is as in the case of every other wage laborer by no means limited by its value. His wage therefore is not necessarily proportionate to the mass of profit he helps the capitalist to realize. He creates no direct surplus value, but adds to the capitalist’s income by helping him reduce the cost of realizing surplus value, in as much he partly performs unpaid labor The commercial worker in the strict sense of the term, belongs to the better paid class of wage-workers to those who labor is classed as skilled and stands above the average labor ”

Thus from the economic stand point Marx includes these skilled clerks of his day in the working class. But he seems to qualify this with the statement “in the strict sense of the term” Thus there are other factors to examine to look at the outlook of this strata.

Certain sections of the professional strata such as engineers, computer programmers in the software industry, registered nurses, etc. play a role in production, produce value and surplus value while their managerial functions of helping exploit other workers are often very small. (With nurses and engineers this varies according to their use by the employer from nil to quite large. Thus a large section of professional workers would fall under the category of skilled members of the working class, technically speaking. As producers who are exploited and whose higher wages are a result of their higher skill and the higher value of their compound labor Yet while Marx and Engels clearly see proletarianization as trend for the future and the underlying economics already taking place for this strata, they are still “technically speaking”. There is more to the relationship of this strata to the workers and the capitalists that Marx and Engels did not examine in the detail that they examined the role of the worker and the capitalist.

In addition to these brief passages giving some partial glimpses of an economic analysis of the professional strata there are some comments giving an overall assessment of the strata at particular times.

The patronizing and errant lecturing of our so-called intellectuals seems to me to be a far greater impediment. We are still in need of technicians, agronomists, engineers, chemists, architects, etc. it is true, but if worst comes to worst we can always buy them just as well as the capitalists buy them, and if a severe example is made of few of the traitors among them — for traitors there are sure to be—they will find it to their own advantage to deal fairly with us. But apart from these specialists, among whom I also include school teachers, we can get along perfectly well without the other 'intellectuals’ The present influx of literati and students into the party, for example, may be quite damaging if these gentlemen are not properly kept in check.” Engels, Letter to Otto von Boenigk, August 21, 1890.

In order to take possession and set in motion the means of production, we need people with technical training, and masses of them. These we have not got, and up till now we have even been rather glad that we have been largely spared the ‘educated’ people. Now things are different. Now we are strong enough to stand any quantity of educated quacks and to digest them, and I foresee that in the next eight or ten years we shall recruit enough young technicians, doctors, lawyers, and schoolmasters to enable us to have the factories and big estates administered on behalf of the nation by Party comrades. Then, therefore our entry into power will be quite natural and will be settled up quite quickly — relatively If on the other hand, a war brings us to power prematurely, the technicians will be our chief enemies; they will deceive and betray us wherever they can and we shall have to use terror against them but we shall get cheated just the same. It is what always happened, on a small scale, to the French revolutionaries; even in ordinary administration they had to leave the subordinate posts, where the real work is done, in the possession of old reactionaries who obstructed and paralyzed everything.” F. Engels, Letter to Bebel, October 24, 1891.

From these quotes from Marx and Engels we can develop a general impression of their view that they saw a long-term epochal tendency in capitalism to turn the professionals and educated people into proletarians, but that it by no means had yet happened. The educated specialists were still part of a bourgeois or petit-bourgeois intelligentsia. A section of this strata they felt would be won over to the side of the proletariat and Engels in his letter of 1891 even expresses wild optimism at the immediate prospects for such a thing happening. Nevertheless it is clear that in the concrete, the present Engels regards even the working intelligentsia with caution as something separate from the proletariat. With regards to the managers Marx and Engels show in the production process a basis for their contradictory social position. But nowhere is such analysis developed to any extent for the non-managerial professional strata.

This may partially be due to the fact that even by Engels’ latest writings on the subject the conversion of the mass of professionals into employees was still little developed. Doctors and lawyers were still independent professionals. A large portion of engineers were junior partners of the capitalists or capitalists themselves. The mass engineering schools that produced the engineer employees were just coming into being in Germany and U.S.

Kautsky and Bernstein

Nevertheless within a few years of Engels death a discussion did develop in German socialist circles of the position and role of professional and office workers. Such was the pace of capitalist development.

Karl Kautsky was the first Marxist to deal in any extensive matter with the question of the salaried professional, managerial, and clerical workers. He wrote a series of articles on this emerging strata and its significance in Neue Zeit in 1895. We have not been able to find this original work but we have found his summary of those ideas in his polemic vs. Bernstein as published in Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings by K. Kautsky, Jr

Kautsky assigned the rapid growth of the intelligentsia, the new middle stratum, to the fact that the functions of the dominant and exploiting classes were increasingly being taken over by paid skilled workers, who sell their services either piecemeal like doctors and lawyers or for a salary, like officials of every kind. Kautsky points out that while the clergy and the aristocracy which had carried out the functions of state and culture in the Middle ages had been pushed aside, the tasks of the state, of the municipal authorities and of science and culture continued to grow with the complexity of capitalist society and a salaried labor force to carry them out also grew from year to year Kautsky after Marx and Engels also noted that the growth of this strata was connected to the capitalists handing more and more of their functions in industry and commerce over to paid skilled workers, tradesmen and technicians. Initially, Kautsky noted, these people were only assistants to the capitalist, entrusted with organizing, initiating and supervising the labor process, with purchase of the means of production and sale of products: in other words, with functions which, due to the growing demand for specialized skills the capitalist is incapable of carrying out himself. Eventually even the management of the firm is handed over to a subordinate and the capitalist himself becomes superfluous. The development of the joint stock company contributes to the growth of this strata — by creating greater demand for employees to run larger-scale businesses, not as Bernstein was arguing by splitting up the capitals. The white-collar worker is a wage laborer not a capitalist. Private property in the means of production is not important to this strata.

But Kautsky noted, it would be equally mistaken to regard this new middle class as part of the proletariat. Kautsky distinguished the new middle class from the proletariat on the following grounds.

1. It has emerged from the bourgeoisie, and is connected to it through family and social ties and shares similar values.

a. Certain sectors such as managers have taken over the functions of the capitalists, are extremely close to the bourgeoisie, and share its values and hostility to the proletariat.

b. Other professions require a specific political stance, such as political journalists, legal officials, policemen. The state, capitalist publishers and the clergy will employ only those people who share the outlook of their employers or are willing to adopt an alien outlook for money That is another reason why the intelligentsia is generally opposed to the proletariat.

2. The greatest contrast between the intelligentsia and the proletariat is that the former constitutes a privileged class, due to the fact that it has the privilege of education.

Kautsky noted that the intelligentsia favored enough education for the masses [so] that they could understand what the intellectuals were saying and stand in awe of their knowledge, but that they vigorously fought extension of access to professional education to the masses as part of their fight to maintain their privileged position. In this sense Kautsky says that this strata was more backward than the bourgeoisie itself which needed to expand professional education to meet its needs in production for skilled professional employees. But Kautsky says that with the advance of capitalism professional education will expand, various artificial barriers will be broken down and one layer of the new middle strata after the other will be forced to recognize its proletarian position no matter how much they may resist their decline. Thus eventually one layer after another will take an interest in the proletarian movement and eventually join it.

Kautsky pointed out that those who use the growth of the new middle strata to tout the stability of capitalism are failing to see that its growth is accompanied by proletarianization of increasing strata.

In between the strata most closely linked to the bourgeoisie and the strata being proletarianized is a broad section that views itself above narrow class interest, as alone capable of expressing the interests of the whole society This strata vacillates like the old petit-bourgeoisie between sympathy for the proletarian and his condition and denouncing the bourgeois greed one day, and condemning proletarian bad manners the next.

Kautsky notes however 2 differences between the old petit-bourgeoisie and the new intelligentsia.

a. on the positive side it has a far greater intellectual culture.

b. on the negative side it in comparison to the old petit-bourgeoisie it lacks fighting ability Kautsky says, “ Few in number, with no unified class interests or proper form of organization, without any property, but nevertheless demanding a bourgeois standard of life. The middle strata of the intelligentsia, the cultural aristocracy, could afford to be in the opposition so long as the bourgeoisie itself was; but now since the bourgeoisie has established itself it has become submissive and lost its capacity and desire to fight. Certainly there are some genuine supporters of the proletariat among the knights of the spirit, but they do not come out into the open until the proletariat is actually victorious. It cannot expect the intelligentsia to provide it with reinforcements for the struggle, but it need not fear any fierce opposition from them either ”

Kautsky held that the growing intelligentsia is a class that the proletariat could not ignore. It would be asking too much according to him to convert the intelligentsia to the proletariat, but an even greater mistake to lump them in with the propertied classes. Kautsky held that the new middle strata held in concentrated form all the contradictions of capitalist society, yet even in this microcosm the proletarian seed was growing. Kautsky developed his views on this strata very early in its development as the modem new middle strata. It was very small and was still mainly recruited from the bourgeoisie. Much of the way he characterizes the various sections of this strata still rings true today Yet with nearly 100 years of hindsight he seems overly optimistic about the pace of proletarianization of this strata. Nor does he deal with the problem of what sort of sector of the proletariat the proletarianized sections of the new middle strata become, what characteristics they bring with them and what influence this has on the character of the working class, its class consciousness and fighting capacity, especially as these sections have now become the largest sections of the working class. (Here I am speaking of clerical workers, and technicians and possibly the very lowest levels of professionals.)


The issue of the new middle class was part of the debate with Bernstein.

Bernstein, reflecting the criticism of Marx in academic and Fabian circles, argued that capitalism was not polarizing as Marx had predicted in the Manifesto. Mainly he cited the continued existence of the small farmer, the growth of retail trade and small shop keepers and the spread of share-holding to a larger section of the population. He stated:

Social contradictions have not reached the acute tension which the Communist Manifesto had predicted. Not only would it be useless, it would be the height of folly to conceal this from ourselves.

The enormous increase in social wealth is accompanied not by a shrinking number of capitalist magnates but by a growing number of capitalists of all ranges of wealth. The middle classes change their character, but they do not disappear from the social scale.” (Bernstein, Evolutionary Socialism, 1899)

Bernstein prefigured many subsequent attempts to refute Marxism with his emphasis on shareholding and the growth of income levels. In addition he added a theoretical argument for the growth of middle classes under capitalism. He argued that the vast increase in productivity and hence wealth meant that the capitalists could not consume it all. Nor could it be exported. Hence he argued:

Where does this mass of commodities go which is not consumed by the magnates and their stooges? If it is not to go to the proletarians in one way or another, it must be absorbed by other classes. Either relative decrease in the number of capitalists and increasing wealth of the proletariat, or a numerous middle class—these are the only alternatives permitted by the continuous increase of productivity ” (Bernstein, Evolutionary Socialism, 1899)

In a certain way Bernstein prefigures the Left wing of the Socialist movement and the Bolsheviks on the issue of bribery of certain strata of society, except Bernstein actually gives it a reverse reformist twist as we shall see in a bit. He also gives an under-consumptionist theory in the process, but that is not the issue we want to deal with here.

It should be noted that mainly Bernstein is talking about small proprietors, small to mid-sized capitalists, and upper independent professionals, i.e., doctors and lawyers when he speaks of middle classes. But he also notes the growth of the number of technical, office, and sales personnel and government employees whom he sees as developing ‘a strong community of interests with the workers’ He argued that ‘the majority of them identify more and more with the working class and should be added to it along with their dependents.”

Now this view on the new middle class is not so different from Kautsky’s except that it is a bit more optimistic about the pace of change. But Bernstein draws different conclusions from tendency toward proletarianization of the new middle class of office and professional workers. He argues against the idea that the unity of the two classes could or should be achieved by the acceptance of the new middle class that they were sinking to the level of the proletariat and hence joining its movement. Instead he argued that:

Social democracy does not wish to dissolve this society and make proletarians of all its members. Rather it labors incessantly at lifting the worker from the social position of the proletarian to that of a bourgeois and thus to make bourgeoisie or citizenship universal.” (The above quotes of Bernstein from Carter’s book, Capitalism, Class Conflict and the New Middle Class. Carter cites Peter Gay’s book The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism as the source. We have been unable to get this book as of yet. Although we have read Evolutionary Socialism, we have not yet looked into any other works from Bernstein of this period.)

Essentially Bernstein’s view on how the interests of the proletariat and the new middle class would merge was by a process of proletarianization of the new middle class and embourgeoisement of the workers and a tendency to intermarriage between the two classes. Thus Bernstein’s view were a system of views for a reformist path for the workers and socialist movement. The near future was to prove Bernstein quite wrong. Society was indeed heading for great class upheavals. In the long run social development has wiped out a very large section of the small property owners. But in the prosperity of the post-World War II world an outcome of embourgeoisement of large sections of the working class combined with a great degree [of] proletarianization of sections of the office and technical workers has materialized. However over the last 15 to 20 years embourgeoisement part of the equation has again been undermined. But the fact of blurring of the line between the new middle strata and the proletariat by the dual action of the process of proletarianization of the lower layers of the new middle strata and the relative embourgeoisement of the latter, the process of intermarriage between the two sectors and upward mobility from the proletariat still remain although each of these factors has been undermined to a degree by the continuing stagnation in the west. A certain aspect of Bernstein’s predictions has been verified for the time being, but of course his main point of evolving to socialism has not been proved at all. In fact the opposite.


Lenin is the other great Marxist who has influenced views of the Left on the question of the new middle class. Lenin supported Kautsky in his debate with Bernstein’s views on the question.

In the 1890’s Lenin had carried on a debate with the Narodniks on the role of the intelligentsia. He gave [the] classical view that the Russian intelligentsia as a strata was a bourgeois and petit-bourgeois intelligentsia. Thus Lenin wrote:

It was a mistake that arose naturally at a time when the class antagonisms of bourgeois society were still quite undeveloped and were held down by serfdom, when the latter was evoking the unanimous protest and struggle of the entire intelligentsia, thus creating the illusion that there was something particularly democratic about our intelligentsia, and that there was no profound gulf between the ideas of the liberals and the socialists. Now that economic development has advanced. The composition of the “intelligentsia” is assuming just as clear an outline as that of society engaged in the production of material values; while the latter is ruled and governed by the capitalist, among the former the fashion is set by the rapidly growing horde of careerist and bourgeois hirelings, an ’intelligentsia’ contented and satisfied, a stranger to all wild fantasy and very well aware of what they want. ” (Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969 vol. 1. pp. 294-295)

In responding to the Kautsky-Bernstein debate Lenin endorsed Kautsky’s views on the middle nature of this strata as well as the tendency to proletarianization.

The chapter on the ‘new middle estate’ is likewise extremely interesting and for us Russians, particularly instructive. If Bernstein had merely wanted to say that in place of the declining petty producers a new middle estate, the intelligentsia, is appearing, he would be perfectly correct, says Kautsky, pointing out that he himself noted the importance of this phenomenon several years before. In all spheres of people’s labor, capitalism increases the number of office and professional workers with particular rapidity, and makes a growing demand for intellectuals. The latter occupy a special position among the other classes, attaching themselves partly to the bourgeoisie by their connections, their outlooks, etc., and partly to the wage workers as capitalism increasingly deprives the intellectual of his independent position, converts him into a hired worker and threatens to lower his living standard. The transitory, unstable and contradictory position of that stratum of society now under discussion is reflected in the particularly widespread diffusion in its midst of hybrid, eclectic views, a farrago of contrasting principles and ideas, an urge to rise verbally to the higher spheres and to conceal the conflicts between the historical groups of the population with phrases, all of which Marx lashed with his sarcasm a half century ago.” (Note: The above quote is from a review of Kautsky’s book: Bernstein and the Social-Democratic Programme, a Counter Critique, Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 4, pp. 201-202)

Lenin on Bribery

Lenin’s further contribution to the analysis of this strata was his view that the office, professional workers along with the upper section of skilled workers and the classical petit-bourgeoisie were bribed out of the superprofits the big imperialist bourgeoisie made on its monopoly position and its plunder of the colonies and poor countries.

"Firstly chauvinism and opportunism in the labor movement have the same economic basis: the alliance of a numerically small upper stratum of the proletariat and the petit bourgeoisie—who get but morsels of the privileges of their own national capital—against the masses of the proletarians, the masses of the toilers and the oppressed in general.” (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 21, p 244)

The bourgeoisie of an imperialist ‘Great’ Power can economically bribe the upper strata of ‘its’ workers by spending on this a hundred million or so francs a year, for its superprofits most likely amount to a thousand million. And how this little sop is divided among the labor ministers, ‘labor representatives’ (remember Engels’ splendid analysis of the term), labor members of war industries committees, labor officials, workers belonging to narrow craft union, office employees etc. etc. is a secondary question.” (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 23, p.115)

Lenin has a major point here, the connection of imperialism to the new middle strata and to the upper sections of the working class. But it seems an overstatement to assign the political stand of these strata so strongly to bribery from imperialist superprofits. That such bribery exists and is a factor there is no doubt. But the market position of skilled and mental labor, the historical prejudices in favor of mental and skilled labor, the fact that the professional and managerial workers perform functions with a contradictory class role have a profound impact on the class outlook of the middle strata regardless of superprofit bribery It would seem Lenin here was speaking as an agitator in the middle of a big fight emphasizing the fact that was important, not trying to be theoretically all sided.

The main point Lenin was making of the upper sections of the working class, the office workers and the petit-bourgeoisie forming the social base of opportunism in the socialist movement has been borne out many times. An interesting statistical confirmation of this was provided by Schorske in his classic study of the split in the German Social-Democracy (German Social Democracy, 1905-1917, The Development of the Great Schism. Harper Torchbooks, 1972, pp. 136-145) which showed that opportunist voting patterns at German Social-Democratic Party Congresses came from the districts with a large peasant and small proprietor electorate and from the largest cities which in Germany were commercial and administrative centers with a large white-collar workforce (which at that time was very much a middle strata) and white- collar membership in the party The medium-sized cities was where the mass production factory workers were located and they were staunch centers of the German Left.

Lenin overestimates the lower office workers

In the period just before the October revolution Lenin put forward views on the office workers that emphasized the aspect of proletarianization. In fact it was a high estimate of the degree of proletarianization of this strata that was a major part of the basis for Lenin’s confidence in the feasibility of running the economy through workers’ control plus soviets.

The chief difficulty facing the proletarian revolution is the establishment on a countrywide scale of the most precise and most conscientious accounting and control, of workers' control of production and distribution of goods.

If it is the proletariat, if we are speaking of a proletarian state, that is, of the proletarian dictatorship, then workers control can become the country-wide, all embracing, omnipresent, most precise and most conscientious accounting of the production and distribution of goods.

The big banks are the ‘state apparatus’ which we need to bring about socialism, and which we take ready-made from capitalism; our job is to lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus, to make it even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive.

Quantity will be transformed into quality. A single state bank with branches in every rural district, in every factory, will constitute as much as nine-tenths of the socialist apparatus. This will be countrywide book-keeping, countrywide accounting of the production and distribution of goods, this will be, so to speak, something in the nature of a skeleton of socialist society.

We can ‘lay hold of and ‘set in motion’ this ‘state apparatus’ (which is not fully a state apparatus under capitalism, but will be so with us under socialism) at one stroke, by a single decree, because the actual work of book-keeping, control, registering, accounting and counting is performed by employees the majority of whom themselves lead a proletarian or semi-proletarian existence.

By a single decree of the proletarian government these employees can and must be transferred to the status of state employees

As for the higher officials, of whom there are very few, but who gravitate toward the capitalists, they will have to be dealt with the same way as the capitalists, i.e., severely.

We can do this, for it is merely a question of breaking the resistance of an insignificant minority of the population, literally a handful of people, over each of whom the employee’s unions, the trade unions, the consumers societies and the Soviets will institute such supervision that every Tit Titych will be surrounded as the French were at Sedan. We know these Tit Tityches by name: we have only to consult the lists of directors, board members, large shareholders, etc. There are several hundred, at most several thousand of them in the whole of Russia, and the proletarian state with the apparatus of the Soviets, of the employee’s unions, etc., will be able to appoint ten or even a hundred supervisors to each of them, so that instead of breaking resistance it may be possible, by means of workers’ control to make all resistance impossible. (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 26, pp. 104-107)

But Lenin it turned out was overly optimistic in these passages about the degree to which the office workers, even the lowest sections would, actively join the proletariat. In actual fact they did not. Even the telephone operators opposed Soviet power and refused to cooperate. As a result to get the cooperation of this strata, the Bolsheviks had to bribe the upper strata of experts and managers. Workers’ control and red terror was able to break the resistance of the upper managers and bourgeoisie, but it was unable to render all resistance impossible and thus secure cooperation without high salaries, etc. And these concessions to the experts made maintaining a high level of mass involvement all the more difficult.

After the seizure of power, there are numerous quotes in Lenin’s works about the vacillating nature of the working intelligentsia who are willing to cooperate with the Soviet power when it is strong and who swing to the counterrevolution or whine when things go badly in the civil war.

It is most unfortunate that any serious work by organized Marxist parties on the question of the middle strata or even changes in class structure stops after the World War I, October revolution era. From this point as far as we can gather the theoretical work on this question is left to the academic sociologists, of Marxist, social-democratic, neo-Weberian and other ideological persuasions. From here we will review some of the highlights of this research, theorizing and debate.

Research and Debate in German Academic Circles: 1900-1940

Some of the most useful and interesting research and debate took place in German academic circles between the turn of the century and the 1930’s. This debate is useful not only for the ideas developed (many of which were proved wrong by subsequent developments) but for the picture of development of the middle strata and its role that the research and debate gives.

Prior to World War I German non-Marxist academicians emphasized the importance of the peasants, artisans, shop keepers and independent professions, i.e., the old classical Marxist petit-bourgeoisie. After 1918, this concern with non-proletarian elements, focused increasingly on the roles of the middle class in salaried employment. Important in this shift of emphasis were Oswald Spengler, Ernst Niekishch and numerous contributors to the periodical Die Tat. The “Tat” circle published numerous investigations into the position of the new middle class, including their relationship to fascism and to the working class.

What united the theorists of the right was their conception that the new middle class would act as a check against the polarization of society. They saw the salaried workers as a third force, independent of both capitalists and workers. Mediating between increasingly concentrated capital on one hand and labor on the other, the new middle class would bring an end to the instability of the social system.

Within this perspective the position of the salaried worker was considered to be fundamentally different from that of the manual worker, because the former performed what were seen as delegated entrepreneurial functions. The influence of this view was very widespread among German white collar workers. The DHV, by far the largest and most right wing of the organizations of salaried workers, was particularly active in promoting this view

The debate on white collar workers was also reflected in academic sociological circles. One of the most interesting of the characters in the debate was Emil Lederer. In 1912 Lederer wrote a book part of which was later translated into English under the title of The Problem of the Modern Salaried Employee: Its Theoretical and Statistical Basis. (WPA Project no. 165-6999-6027, New York, 1937 Cited by Carter in Capitalism, Class Conflict and the New Middle Class.)

In The Problem of the Modern Salaried Employee Lederer shared the judgment of Bernsteinians that Marxism over-simplified the stratification of classes. He admitted that there was a process of concentration of capital going on which reduced the number of employers and increased the number of workers. But that the process had other consequences as well, namely emergence of a class of technicians and who could not categorically be classified as proletarians or as employers. In addition a socially analogous strata or salaried workers had emerged in commerce and in government.

Lederer defined membership to this strata as people who although wage laborers had work which was more intellectual than manual but more definitive for Lederer was their middle position between the industrial proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

This middle position between the two classes — a negative characteristic rather than definite technical functions, is the social mark of the salaried employees and establishes on their own consciousness and in the estimation of the community.”

Lederer did not deny that the salaried workers were far from a homogeneous lot or that there was a tendency on the edges for this strata to be absorbed into the proletariat on the bottom and into the bourgeoisie on the top. Nevertheless he felt that these tendencies did not preclude by any means the possibility that salaried employees would more and more become an independent group, not only on account of their increasing numbers, but as a result of their growing consciousness of their special interests.

Thus Lederer’s original views coincided a great deal with those of Die Tat.

Then in 1926 Lederer together with Jacob Marschak wrote another work “Der Neue Mittelstand" in which while repeating much of the earlier analysis stressing the common social position between the two major classes of the time, proletariat and bourgeoisie, Lederer and Marschak this time give a different description of where these strata are going. Lederer was very much influenced in this second work by the radicalized mood in German society following 1918 and the early Weimar Republic.

Lederer and Marschak noted that prior to 1918 the salaried workers had primarily come from the “bourgeois strata”— small proprietors, independent professional strata, ruined businessmen, etc. According to Lederer and Marschak

"... [until] recently, it was possible for the salaried employee to attain a position consistent with his abilities or to become himself an independent. Such considerations foster among the employees those tendencies which seek to check the material and social degradation of their class and aim at the preservation of their middle class standards of living and prestige.” (from Carter: Capitalism, Class Conflict. p. 58)

As the salaried employees began to organize, they had to acknowledge their status as employees, as wage laborers. Thus the demands of the group had to take the form of a labor policy but with a distinctly middle class character — such as a demand for a separate salaried employees’ state pension system, abrogating clauses in contracts prohibiting people from going to work for rival firms, safeguarding employees’ property rights to their inventions, etc. Lederer noted a wide variation in the degree to which various sections organized separately for their interests as a middle class or strata, but pointed out that even the technicians who were most influenced by the labor movement staunchly rejected any cooperation with the manual workers’ trade union movement as well as socialist ideology

But after the War and the crisis of 1918 the economic and social conditions that had underpinned this separate middle class movement were dramatically undermined.

Proletarianization of the middle-class strata, which went on at an unprecedented pace, and the raising of the social status of the ’manual’ worker, which brought him steadily closer to the employee, proved stronger than any class tradition. The economic conditions, the political changes, the recognition of the trade unions and the abolition of all traditional conceptions of the social order forced the employee organizations to adopt the aims and methods of the labor unions.

The transformation of the whole employee movement after 1918 had the additional effect of shifting the balance of power to the more radical employee associations and of causing further changes in their policies. Such changes were the replacement in associations of the policy of ‘harmony’ by a trade union policy, and the infiltration of the formerly rejected socialist doctrines into the radical organizations. What is still more important, activities characteristic of the policy of labor unions — such as collective wage agreements and ‘organized labor’s last resort’, the strike — were finally adopted and practiced in the manner of labor organizations. (Der Neue Mittlestand by Lederer and Marschak, 1926, cited in Bob Carter’s Capitalism, Class Conflict, and the New Middle Class.)

Lederer did not regard these changes as temporary effects of the immediate post-war period, but regarded the allegiance of the office employees to the working class movement to be part of a long-term developmental process.

An intermediate position between the classes is no longer possible and the fact of being employed in a dependent capacity triumphs over all class and traditional restraints. The adoption by the salaried employees and public officials of the aims and methods of labor are expressive of the fact that a single stratum of gainfully employed (if not a single organization) is in the process of formation.’’ (Ibid.)

No sooner however did Lederer and Marschak make such predictions than the new middle strata swung more than any other strata in society behind the Nazis. In 1940 Lederer wrote another work in which he returned to his original position of seeing the new middle strata as a stabilizing force for capitalism. Lederer’s flip flops in assessment of the new middle strata mirror the swings of this strata with the balance of class forces in Germany His errors highlight the dangers of taking any transient position of any middle strata as its permanent trajectory The most prominent characteristic of a middle strata is its propensity to vacillate to go with those who appear to be winning.

Probably the most balanced of the German academic theorists was Hans Speir who pointed out that while economically the salaried employees were members of the working class, i.e., wage laborers, they were separated form the manual workers and played a middle contradictory role. Speir was an academic who sympathized with the Social-Democratic Party in the 20’s and 30’s.

His work German White Collar Workers and the Rise of Hitler written in 1933 and published in English in 1986 by Yale University Press, is very useful for getting a picture of the development of various sectors and strata of the white collar workers and of the dominant psychology of German society in which these developments take place. As well, Speir traces the changing political, economic and ideological attitudes of different sections through the first three decades of the century

Speir raises a number of things that tend to separate the white collar workers from the manual workers:

1. The privilege of superior education, though how superior varies greatly.

2. Sharing in the authority of the employer As capitalism developed, the role of the capitalist in production and commerce was replaced by organizations of employees. These employees to one degree or another share in the authority and prestige of the employer. There is of course a tendency with the growth of the white collar employee strata for its proletarianization that more of the functions become routinized, the employees become extremely replaceable and their wages fall to the level of the manual workers and sometimes below Speir also points out that this tendency to proletarianization is generally associated with feminization as well. Thus with proletarianization for the lower section this authority and prestige becomes hugely diluted. Meanwhile however, he points out that there is a significant countertrend: that the growth of the white collar strata creates new opportunities to rise into managerial, specialist or supervisory functions for male employees usually of more middle class backgrounds. (At this time the lower strata of the white collar workers were being heavily or even predominantly recruited from the working class, e.g., retail clerks, office machine operator, somewhat smaller degree among stenographers, technicians, and higher level clerks. But engineers, professional employees and government bureaucrats and higher managers were still overwhelmingly recruited from bourgeois, independent producer or professional, or official classes though less so than when Kautsky wrote 30 years earlier.)

3. Masked class membership. Whereas the factory production worker feels clearly that the capitalist and his management organization are the ones exploiting him or her and can see that his or her fellow workers are in the same condition, the situation is much less clear for the majority of white-collar workers. The white-collar worker Speir points out is part of capitalist management organization that is hierarchical in nature. Not only does this organization in part organize the exploitation of the manual workers with different degrees of participation in this process of exploitation by different sections of the white-collar workers, many of whom may be quite far removed from that aspect, but within the white-collar workforce the hierarchical organization makes it so that the workers experience their own exploitation and oppression from the strata immediately above while helping control, exploit and oppress to one degree or another the office workers below them. In many official and non-official ways, Speir says that this extends quite far down in even the clerical workforce even to stenographers in his day In big offices he says he found only the office machine operators and messengers to be entirely free of this contradictory position and to have the clearest, most objective assessment of the system of exploitation.

Speir pointed out that the situation was different for retail clerks. They were not so much ensnared in a hierarchical system. But most of their social activity on the job was acting to one degree or another as a representative of the employer to the buying public which they dealt with on a non-class basis, i. e., the customer does not act as a worker or a capitalist in the act of purchasing retail goods. This aspect of their work experience tended to slow the growth of class consciousness among this section although they were usually very exploited and oppressed and very heavily working class women especially in the cities and in the “one price stores” (apparently department stores).

1. The privilege of their nationalism. This seems a strange formulation by Speir but it speaks of a phenomenon that was very pronounced in Germany and exists to a degree in other countries. In pre-1918 Germany, the dominant Junker aristocratic prejudices defined the limits of the German nation at the border of the manual proletariat. The proletariat was considered a dangerous class, a class without national loyalty by definition, not just because of the influence of Marxism, a class outside the German nation and as such was segregated to great extent physically and in the electoral system from the other classes. (No doubt this clumsy policy contributed mightily to growth of socialism among the German workers.) The white-collar workers as wage-laboring employees existed just on the other side of that border and to be forced over the border would be a great loss of prestige and privilege.

Speir also chronicles the motion among different sectors of the white-collar workers. And this history verifies the analysis of a middle strata with its lower edge merging with the proletariat and its upper section with the bourgeoisie and a vast middle section which vacillates.

Before 1918-1919, the vast majority of white-collar workers were not organized. To the extent that they organized they joined professional and office worker organizations that admitted employers as well. The exception being a small section of factory technicians and retail clerks who were organized into unions affiliated with the SDP. There was also a section of technicians who were organized into a union which believed in strikes and collective action but also wanted to maintain its distance from the unions and movement of the manual workers. But generally in this strata there was not only hostility to the manual workers but to the idea of collective strike action as being too proletarian a weapon. The majority of office workers, to the extent that they were organized, belonged to the DHV, a reactionary pro-capitalist, anti-Semitic extreme nationalist organization dominated by the upper sections. As well the stratification within the middle strata was also reflected organizationally. When the technicians formed their unions the engineers formed a society to distinguish themselves from the technicians and so on.

World War I brought a tremendous fall in standard of living for white-collar workers who actually fell to a lower standard of living than a large section of the manual workers. General disenchantment with the imperialist war grew as the suffering grew When the proletarian movement broke out in the last years of the war the office workers were impressed and there was widespread sympathy among the lower sections of white collar workers. With the end of the war and the revolution of 1918-1919 there was a huge wave of unionization among the white-collar workers. Initially these workers streamed into the unions affiliated with the USDP (which in this period was an alliance between the centrists and the Communists). They were attracted to radical politics. But as the height of revolutionary fervor ebbed the affiliation with these unions fell off. The base of the more left white-collar unions remained among the technicians, the female retail sales clerks and the lower level mostly female office workers and did not expand beyond this. But through the early 20’s white-collar workers continued to join various unions but mainly the conservative and liberal unions. There was a sense among the mass of especially male professional and middle and upper clerical and accounting and managerial workers of being caught between two large forces: the proletariat proper and the bourgeoisie. The conservative and liberal unions appealed to this sense of being in the middle and organized for the interests of the middle as opposed to joining the lower mass. Even the DHV, by far the largest white-collar union federation was compelled to recognize the need for strikes, but it was opposed to the idea that the office workers and manual workers were of the same class or should have solidarity with the manual workers’ struggle, unions or parties. The DHV and GDA representing 75 per cent of the white-collar workers fought bitter battles for separate representation of white-collar workers on factory councils, for separate social insurance for salaried workers and so on. They continued to push a nationalist male chauvinist and anti-Semitic line (the DHV much more so than the GDA).

As the SD-led Weimar republic fell into deeper crisis in the late 20’s and as the Communists were unable to rally the working class decisively behind a revolutionary policy away from the SDP, the majority of the white-collar workers moved to the right. They faced growing uncertainty in life and yet they had no confidence that the proletariat could lead society out of its crisis. So they turned to the Nazis and the right in general. The Nazis had enormous appeal to this strata. They recruited from the upper and middle sections of the white-collar workers per capita more than from any other section of the population — 2 times the rate as from the small farmers and almost 4 times the rate among the manual workers, even though the latter faced astronomical unemployment more than twice as high as among the office workers. By the late 20’s and early 30’s the DHV leaders were all Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. The GDA too moved to the right. Only the Alpha Bund unions of technicians, and retail clerks and lowest female office workers stayed to the left or center They were affiliated with the SDP but actually maintained positions to the left of SDP and the SDP unions of manual workers. (There were no [communist] unions of office workers but then there were only 35,000 manual workers in red trade unions.)

This history should give pause to anyone who gets excited about the pace of proletarianization of the middle strata. We can see in Germany only the lowest level of clerical, technical and retail trade workers went very far to the left and stayed there while the professional, managerial upper and middle clerical may have temporarily moved somewhat to the left but as the crisis deepened and the proletariat proved incapable of winning went to the extreme right. This strata resists its proletarianization with frequent detours into right-wing politics a la Hitler or Perot or Reaganism. Bringing even the lower majority of this section with the movement of the lower mass would require an extremely strong movement of the lower mass and the disintegration of the bourgeois order.

It should also be bom in mind from Speirs’ points on contradictory class position and masked class membership what the sinking of sections of the middle strata into the proletariat means for the composition, attitudes and consciousness and cohesion of the proletarian lower mass, i.e., what influences from their previous middle strata existence they bring as a mass into the consciousness of the proletariat as a whole. Thus, future work will have to pay particular attention to the post-World War II social research on the condition and outlooks of the clerical and lower technical workers and their role in the political and economic struggles in which they have participated.

Some concluding thoughts

The materials reviewed above cannot help us have a definitive answer on whether the new middle strata form a separate class, form variegated strata between the working class and the owning bourgeois class or form a house servant labor aristocrat type section of the working class. Yet the materials from Marx, Kautsky, Lenin and the German authors do give us a basis to understand the contradictions in the social position of the segments of this strata which give rise to its conservative and vacillating political positions. As well the history reviewed should give pause to any illusions of straightline proletarianization and left radicalization of these strata or sections of them. In fact vacillations and right-wing politics are frequently to be expected.

The insights of Marx, Kautsky and the documentation of Speir give us some idea of the factors giving rise to the growth of this strata, the growing complexity and scope of capitalist production, distribution and finance, the management of the contradictions in society, etc. At the same time they also point out a trend of routinization and proletarianization of functions and sectors of this strata. Thus both a tendency for a growth of the middle strata and a tendency for its bottom layers to get proletarianized and sink into the proletariat. As pointed out in the introduction, in 1900 white-collar office workers — managers, professionals and clerks — accounted for 15 per cent of the economically active population. Today they account for over 50 per cent. But most clerical workers are now women and their position has become very proletarianized and most certainly their jobs are no longer a route to management. But meanwhile the more clearly middle strata professional/managerial occupations have grown to 25 per cent of the economically active population. The same trends will continue within this middle strata. For example, the functions of the engineer are increasingly being broken down into more routine, less responsible functions performed by technicians and the more professional/managerial functions performed by graduate engineers. Thus the technician occupations are growing twice as fast as engineer jobs. A similar differentiation is taking place in the registered nurse occupation. Thus it would seem that at a certain point the process of the growth and of middle strata core and the process of the shedding of the lower layers of the middle strata should reach an equilibrium.

Such a stabilization has great importance for the development of class consciousness of the lower strata. So long as the middle strata grows above its internal replacement rate, there is considerable room for upward mobility out of the working class. And that factor has great effect on consciousness of the workers of their position as a hereditary class. (Engels pointed out a similar circumstance as a major factor inhibiting the emergence of a proletarian movement among the pre-industrial proletariat in Britain.) In fact there has been considerable narrowing of the channels for upward mobility out of the working class over the last 15 years. Moreover even the position of a large section of professionals has become much more insecure with the restructuring of industry and government. How far this will go is an open question. There are already politicians and even business leaders expressing concern over the effect of restricting access to education and elimination of the higher paying jobs on social stability At certain point resistance from the poor, from sections of workers, from, many interests is bound to come up.

But the policies embodied in Gingrichism, restructuring, etc., are not just a whim. To a certain extent they are being forced on American and other Western capitalist establishments by the changes in the world economy These include a decades long real stagnation of Western economies and much of the third world combined with the rapid growth of industrialization in Asia, which is causing intense price and wage competition and forcing up unemployment throughout the West. We have previously seen this competition from Japan and the Asian Tigers, but now China and even India and Indonesia are growing at phenomenal rates and their weight in the world economy is becoming major According to World Bank estimates, China’s economy will be larger than the U.S. economy in just 9 years (The Economist, October 1, 1994). This change in the world market is bound to keep up intense pressure on wages in the higher wage countries and not just on industrial and nonprofessional wages for several decades. In addition the tighter world market, the nearly instantaneous flows of capital around the world, and the changing relations of power among the various capitalist-imperialist powers make for great problems for capitalism to maintain its stability. Thus although the finding of a delicate balance that will maintain sufficient stability cannot be ruled out, there are major factors at work for the hardening of social stratification and for the eventual reemergence of working class political movements.

But it should not be considered that such a process will be quick or even. It will take a number of decades for the lower mass to become conscious that they are a class and a force. It will take time for the masses to shed the illusions of the post- World War II prosperity, to shed the “we are all middle class” illusions, for the more dispersed office, service and now even industrial workers to find new centers, forms and hooks for organizing. Meanwhile we can expect a great deal of pain and suffering from right-wing movements of hysterical members of the middle strata and upper sections of the working class who strive to maintain their previously relatively privileged position by attacking the lower mass of workers and the poor by falling for various race-baiting schemes and vicious national chauvinism. Indeed capitalist policies world wide is playing this right- wing card to divert the growing anger in society And yet unless the capitalists can find some way to stabilize their system sufficiently to stop the deterioration of conditions for the lower middle strata and the upper sections of workers, race baiting, and scapegoating in general must eventually get pretty hollow One way or another the fight against racism and rabid nationalism will play a major part in the reemergence of a new working class movement. []

From the pages of the debate on the right to self-determination

The debate on Marxism and the right to self-determination

This section of the Communist Voice contains excerpts from an ongoing exchange on e-mail between the Communist Voice Organization and the Los Angeles Workers ' Voice on what is Marxism. There is too much material to include, so we focus on a single subject: the right to self-determination, which the LAWV’s Neil is now denying.

The LAWV has been rapidly changing its views. A year ago, Neil referred to the prospect of a journal from the comrades who would later form the Communist Voice Organization. He praised the “excellent” work in “many areas of Marxist ideas and theories” he had seen among them and said that, if these comrades would produce a journal, the LAWV would not mind at all contributing to -- and distributing such a journal” (E-mail of Feb. 16, 1995). But Neil and the LAWV would soon change their minds about what Marxism is, and they opposed the Communist Voice when it began publication on April 15. Neil eventually explained that, in his opinion, other journals had the real Marxist work, were “keep(ing) up the red flag on the theoretical front”, and that it “would be a disaster” if these other journals didn’t exist. (E-mail of Oct. 8, 1996) But Neil refused to say which journals these were. After request after request, he finally listed a few of these journals. He included the International Communist Current (ICC) as among those with “interesting and insightful Marxist literature”, and the LAWV has also looked towards Trotskyist and semi-anarchist sources as well.

In an e-mail of Jan. 31 (Detroit #101), Mark reproduced the “Basic positions of the ICC” from their journal, and criticized them. The ICC dismisses trade unions, the right to self-determination, all struggles short of socialism, etc. as reactionary on the grounds that this is the 20th century and capitalism is now decadent. Was Neil happy that someone else was looking at the journal that he held was “interesting and insightful”? Did he thank Mark for doing the work to allow others to join in pondering the stands of the ICC?

Not at all. Neil was intensely annoyed. Just as Neil opposed criticism of the Chicago Workers’ Voice group as a violation of “proletarian justice” last year (e-mail of Feb. 24, 1995), now he is opposing critical examination of the ICC. So on the very same day that he received Detroit #101, Jan. 31, Neil wrote a note venting one lie after another about the Communist Voice Organization as retaliation for our criticism of the ICC. Neil dealt with three issues in particular in his letter: the national liberation movement, the trade unions, and anti-revisionism. The polemic on the trade unions is dealt with by Mark elsewhere in the section of Communist Voice on the working class struggle ( see pp. ). The material below deals mainly with the right to self-determination and the national movement. (We don’t include earlier material on Neil’s skepticism about anti-revisionism, and the waffling of the LAWV and the CWV on Castroism.) It deals with such questions as the following:

whether to study Marxism or to be content with simplified formulas, such as that either every national struggle is good or they are all bad; whether to uphold the denial of the right to self-determination, or to denounce all struggles for independence in the 20th century as reactionary; and whether it is Stalinism to take part in a national movement, or it is Stalinism to deny the right to self-determination under all sorts of “socialist” pretexts.

One notable feature of Neil’s part of the debate is that he piles insult after insult on the CVO in general, and me in particular. It’s typical that most of these insults relate not to any stand of the CVO, but to stands from 15 or 20 years ago of the predecessors of the late Marxist-Leninist Party. I haven’t bothered refuting most of these charges, since they are simply an attempt to avoid dealing with the issues at stake. Neil really isn’t interested in the history of the revolutionary movement, but simply raises these points whenever he feels on weak ground. Moreover, Neil himself worked with the MLP long after various of the stands he lists. Presumably he felt then that the MLP had learned from its experience and come to a worthy overall stand.

Moreover, his description of history is fanciful. He relies on rumor and gossip and doesn’t bother checking for himself and reading old issues of the Workers' Advocate, the journal of the organizations he is criticizing. Typical of this is his constantly repeated charge that the Workers' Advocate called Pol Pot a proletarian revolutionary in 1985 and tried to justify the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime. The article in question was actually entitled “The lesson of the Kampuchean tragedy' The peasant revolutionary movement needs the leadership of the proletariat” (The Workers' Advocate, March 1, 1985). It called the Khmer Rouge a ”peasant populist” movement and traced how a mass revolutionary movement against the oppressive Lon Nol regime could end up in a bloody fiasco. It showed that the tragedy didn’t just stem from excesses of the Khmer Rouge but from various of their basic views, and contrasted their stands to those of Marxist communism. It advocated that the Kampuchean tragedy bore on proletarian tactics to peasant revolutionary movements elsewhere. I typed up the key parts of the article and circulated it on e-mail, along with the reference to this and other articles for those who wanted to read more from the old issues of the Workers’ Advocate.

So it turned out that Neil had never actually read the article, and was basing his charge on gossip from malicious sources. Even more surprising, Neil still repeats his charges about the MLP’s attitude to Pol Pot. Moreover, Neil has learned nothing about peasant movements from the Kampuchean tragedy, and doesn’t see any connection to the issue of today’s peasant movements.

But Neil’s main charges center on support for African liberation movements in the 197os. He is incensed at this. He makes absurd charges such as that the national liberation movements were regarded as socialist and Marxist; or that the tyrant of Zaire, Mobutu. was part of them; or that support for these movements required supporting the capitalist governments of the resulting states.

What actually was the stand-well, not of the MLP, which didn’t exist in the 70s -- but of the COUSML, its predecessor?

It had several parts:

* it sought to support the most revolutionary elements of the liberation struggle;

* it held that national liberation movements were part of the world revolutionary front along with the struggle for socialism;

* it advocated that true support for African liberation meant organizing for socialist revolution in the U.S., and

* it organized workers in the factories to take up political issues such as support for the African liberation movement.

The COUSML faced difficulties as well, such as the following:

* The COUSML would try to support the revolutionary groups and positions in the disputes over the path of the liberation movements, but it had limited knowledge of the situation and was just starting to develop its own views of what orientation was needed, and there were mistakes.

* Although the COUSML passionately embraced anti-revisionism, it didn’t realize that China was state-capitalist nor the real nature of Maoism until the late 705; and the MLP didn’t start major criticism of Albania until the early 80s.

* It believed the immediate world and domestic situation was more revolutionary than it was.

The MLP advanced further than the COUSML, while maintaining the passionate belief in anti-revisionism and the support for the right to self-determination. However, at the end, the MLP majority lost its belief in anti-revisionism, and the MLP dissolved. Neil has taken to ridiculing anti-revisionism and Marxism, and it has led him to ridicule the support of the movement of the 70’s for African liberation. So he denounces the birth pangs of the MLP, and he ignores altogether the actual analysis of the CVO.

Meanwhile, what was the history of the trends that Neil and the LAWV regard as “keeping up the red flag” of Marxism? Well, the ICC for example denounces the struggle of the Chinese people against Japanese occupation in World War II, and the uprisings of the Central American toilers against the local U.S.-backed tyrannies. If it never supported a movement that wasn’t pure, it is because it never supported a movement.

But the key thing is that Neil’s chatter about the errors of the 70’s is not for the sake of fighting the opportunism of today, but to defend it. Neil isn’t raving against old errors of the MLP and COUSML in order to set a high standard for today’s groups, but to argue that the CVO should stop criticizing the opportunists of today He isn’t denouncing mistaken assessments of the popular revolutionary movements of the 70s in order to promote sober assessments of the mass movements of today and their leaderships, such as the Zapatistas, but to help the CWV silence such a discussion. He doesn’t keep repeating that the anti-revisionists of the past were mistaken about China and Albania in order to encourage criticism of revisionism today, but to excuse his friends at the Chicago Workers’ Voice for their waffling about Cuban revisionism, and to excuse the LAWV for not opposing revisionism among the masses.

All in all, Neil isn’t making the mistake of denying the right to self-determination because he is taking the criticism against opportunism too far. He is taking up anti-Marxist theories as a replacement for fighting opportunism and to avoid the hard work required for a serious study of revolutionary theory. And he is using the anti-Marxist theories to denounce the CVO which is actually criticizing reformism and revisionism right among the masses. []

Neil’s reaction to criticism of the ICC

Re: Detroit CVO — Still for State Capitalism/Stalinism Dear Mark,

RE: Detroit #101

Whoopie! You have quoted the Positions of some left- Marxist journals of the International Communist Current (ICC) that we are studying and then, using your “anti-revisionist” McCarthyite brush, you attribute all their views to me and/or the Los Angeles Workers’ Voice. Notice comrades, Mark does not quote any LAWV’ers documents or speeches to allegedly “nail” us as he doltishly thinks he has done. He quotes the positions of the ICC, some of which we have some sympathy for, others we think are quite out of whack and contradictory There are others that we are still thinking about in relation to the deep changes in the present epoch and we are still in limbo. We do not have the method of CVO it is true, the many old state-capitalist and neo-Stalinist dogmas of Joseph Green, newly dressed up as 90s chic “anti-revisionism”

But let us look at the main “evidence” dealing with what are key issues in the Marxist and workers’ movement. Mark accuses us of not just blindly supporting so-called national liberation movements and putting them in communist clothes as does Mark and the CVO, apparently even today!

The issue, Mark, is the nature of these movements in our epoch, not a hundred years ago. Mark, can you please name any “national liberation movements” in this epoch that got anywhere near real “independence” from the rule of capital, national or international?

Your accusations Mark, almost make YOU look the revisionist, why almost even Maoist. If you support the bourgeois nationalist movements, then it looks like YOU back some 2-stage theory of revolution, and it is you that supports capitalism in the “nationally-liberated” countries because that was their programme and that is what the workers there are saddled with, a new ruling class in league with the big imperialists!

As I have already shown a couple months back, you are hiding your real views from the other comrades. You and your CVO supported and rather uncritically for years the following movements and regimes, Mao’s China, Hoxha’s Albania, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Joseph Savimbi’s UNITA in Angola, Rev Sithole in Zimbabwe, etc. and these you hailed, and apparently still do, as not only liberatory as they were national liberation movements but as SOCIALIST AND MARXIST movements as well!!! Mark, these ARE the BEST of YOUR precious “support for the national movements” Why, Mark, do the great national liberation struggles all end up controlled by some wing of revisionism?? Can you, Mr “anti-revisionist” #2 name any of these movements that you crave that are not headed by bourgeois nationalists and/or revisionist state caps?

And why do you so hypocritically slander Chicago Workers’ Voice for their alleged softness toward the state caps ruling in Cuba? Under your rubric, is not Cuba headed up by a nationalist movement that all real “anti-revisionists” with the CVO logically, if you had any consistency or principles, would support?

I thought CVO said they were through with Stalinism. Apparently you are cheating. You claim you don’t back butchers and state caps any more! Really, Mark. If you back up the living nationalist movements of today, let us see what can we support? How about Ruanda? Liberia?, Ghana? Maybe the CVO can take us back to North Korea or Vietnam? So what’s it going to be Deon? Croatia, Bosnia, maybe BOTH!!! CVO is sounding like that pizza commercial.

We have shown again that behind a vaunted “anti-revisionist” cloak is the revisionist CVO views of the old movement on the national question. They have been proven both outmoded by capitalist development and the development of the working class struggles and in practice your views are pretty backward. Who needs you guys anyway? We can get the same notions from WWP, SWP, CPUSA, etc. without the false bravado of “anti-revisionism’ either!

Your line on national liberation is a variant of the Trotsky absurdities of “support” as well. On the bourgeois- nationalist movements, apparently you give “military” but NO “political” support!!!! Quite an absurdity for Marxists as you have pointed out with the Spans and other trots. Why is it anti-Leninist for them, but OK for Detroit CVO to use this methodology? Fact of the matter is you have supported secretly all along (and by the views expressed in your sally on LAWV for being critical of the bourgeois nationalist movements and exposing their capitalist (at best) nature), both bourgeois nationalism, 2-stage revolutions, and a whole bevy of state capitalist regimes both in and out of power

You claim to be Marxists, but your views are out of sync and stale. You support what is at best a reactionary oxymoron today—Proletarian Nationalism!!! LAWV supports the proletarian internationalism of Marx and Engels and the real communists and revolutionary workers up to the present. You can’t cover up! Support for any “nation building” today is support for the bourgeoisie—as your previous track record has shown with China, Albania, UNITA in Angola and also Pol Pot in Kampuchea! You need to rethink your views and method. It’s backward, exposed and is not proletarian today! Marxists go with Marx. “The workers have NO country” Not with the CVO’s theory and practice — “Maybe the workers have a few good nations to build”!

On the unions. Let’s look at your views. Your articles amount to telling the workers to “Be more militant. Break from the treacherous leaders. ” Well, bully for you! I got that from the Sparts and the ISO! That’s a start. What about the class nature of today’s unions? Would not a genuine Marxist point to this? You have no materialist analysis here either Get to the core of it, Mark. Are the unions for capitalism or workers’ class struggle & against the rule of capital? Are not the unions integrated into the capitalist state? Of course they are, the old MLP said they were too!

Will not the unions collaborate with the companies and the cops and confound and derail the workers struggles, especially if they get hot and begin to spread? Of course, they do it all the time & they police the workers for capital, do they not? And they do so whether they have rightist or “leftist’’ demagogues heading them. This has been their record, Mark.

Look at the Staley workers (UPIU union). Clobbered by the capitalists and the state, the UNION has just contracted the mother of all betrayals! Hundreds of militants have been fired and blacklisted and the UNION apparatus has called the police to keep them form their union hall. Why don’t you expose this, Mark?

Look at Caterpillar (UAW union). Workers vote to continue their struggle. The union sees union investments and profits threatened by further striker payouts. Union apparatus despotically & unilaterally ends the strike. They never planned to win it, Mark. That’s why only the angry 12,000 were sent to strike, while 17,000 other UAW workers kept up production going—with the scabs hired in too!! Workers will probably lose 2,000 jobs, families will scatter U-haul business is booming. But Mark and CVO will tell us, it’s not the unions’ class nature— you just need some communist leaders, probably elitist saviors a la Mark maybe?

What about the Detroit newspaper strike? How about when the union “strike” paper writes articles calling for freedom for two murderous Detroit cops who bashed in a black man’s (Malice Green) skull after arresting him in 1992? That will surely build up strike support with oppressed nationalities!! The cops were convicted in 1993. The Workers’ Advocate exposed these cops’ lies and fabrications in this racist murder in 1993. But, for today, with CVO, mums the word on nailing the so- called union strike paper! This is because CVO has gone backwards on opposing bourgeois trade unionism with instead supporting the building of class struggle workers’ groups from below They have nothing to say about how all the craft unionism divides the workers and helps the bosses, their state and the hacks set them up for more defeats and demoralization either. They want a more “militant” form of the semi-company unionism that exists. Their critique is both milquetoast and tailist in practice. CVO has a retrograde stand.

And as concerns your critique of the ICC, Mark, we are not the ICC, if you were honest and had the balls, you should send Detroit #101 to the ICC and let them see it. That would be the up-front way of dealing with your “guilt by association” methods debate and polemic.

This is not the first time your sloppy polemics have hit the wrong target either You say WWP is Trotskyist. Absurd! That’s why Kim Jong Il recognizes them, right, Mark! Last year you also attributed views to the Trotskyist Socialist Action outfit they don’t even hold. Accuracy has not been a strong suit in your polemics. You score high points for the slander aspect though!

If you want to critique LAWV, fine, but at least use our own statements and writings.

NC []

The Los Angeles Workers’ Voice versus Marxism

Part one of “The LAWV versus Marxism” was Detroit #102, Feb. 1, 1996. It was entitled “Neil in arms against the serious discussion of theory” It is omitted to save space.

Neil replied on Feb. 3, 2:29 AM EST (Feb. 2, PST), in an article entitled “RE: Detroit #102 (& #101 continued) — On CVO evasions/smokescreens” This is also omitted.

To: All

From: Joseph Green Detroit #103 February 3, 1996

The LAWV versus Marxism Part 2: The national liberation movement

A. Some preliminaries

Nothing shows Neil’s departure from Marxism so flagrantly as his denunciation of the national liberation movement of the 20th century Both his stand towards national liberation and his theoretical reasoning shows that he has departed from the views of Marx and Lenin totally He just doesn’t disagree with them on this or that conclusion, but no longer agrees with the Marxist approach to these questions.

To avoid misunderstanding, it should be stressed that Neil and the LAWV have the duty to advocate any position they consider correct and necessary, whether it is Marxist or not. Indeed, they have the duty and obligation to polemicize honestly and openly against Marxism if they consider the stands of Marxism harmful for the movement and the source of its degeneration. A strategy or a tactic, a theoretical view or a political position, isn’t right or wrong because it’s Marxist, but because it is a correct or false analysis of the world; Marxism itself is to be judged on whether it is correct or not. I am upholding Marxism against Neil’s views because, in my view, the experience of the world struggle and the current changes in the world show that Marxism is correct. Marxism-Leninism is, in my view, the only theory that can provide proper guidance and orientation for the rebuilding of the revolutionary proletarian movement.

Neil however will not engage in an open and principled discussion of these issues. His last two messages are tirades against anyone who wishes to compare what Marxism says and what the anti-Marxists of the ICC say He just boils over with abuse whenever anyone points out that the issue of Marxism itself is at stake. It’s interesting that Neil shouts repeatedly about smokescreens and evasions, because this is Neil’s own method. He is a diehard stonewaller, who stubbornly refuses to deal seriously with the theoretical issues, ignores the answers given to his wild charges, and just repeats the same lie over and over. To deal with his lies, I would have to repeat my articles “LAWV’s scorecard” (Detroit #94), “Neil on superstructure and base” (Detroit #95), “The LAWV and the LRP” (Detroit #96), and “A peek at the views of the LAWV” (Detroit #97).

This time Neil is upset at any criticism of the anti-Marxism of the ICC. That is why he denounced Mark’s article of Jan. 31, which simply reprinted the ICC’s own statement of principles, and commented briefly on them. But Neil doesn’t let his left hand know what his right hand is doing — he pontificates that “CVO would do political honesty a service if they did openly polemicize against the ICC.” Neil writes this on Feb. 2 — after having denounced Mark on Jan. 31 for doing precisely that, for having openly discussed the views of the ICC.

With these preliminaries over, I will return to my main theme. At the direct request of Neil in his note of Jan. 31 — who however seems less than pleased at how attentive I am to his every word — I will discuss, not mainly the ICC, but Neil’s views. And the first issue to deal with is national liberation.

B. Marx and the national liberation movement

The first issue is that Neil’s views on the national liberation movement are a denunciation of Marxism. There is nothing in common between Neil and Marxism on this issue. As I have said above, to show that these views aren’t Marxist isn’t the same as showing that they are wrong. But in fact, his views are also wrong and go against the experience of the 20th century, experience which has verified Marxism to a tee on the issue of national liberation. But let’s do things step by step. First—do these views have anything to do with Marxism?

Neil believes that it suffices to wave a few curses against “two-stage revolution” (a mantra he got somewhere from his wanderings among Trotskyist, anarchist and “left” communist literature), to thunder that these struggles did not break away from the rule of capital, and to say that if you support one national liberation struggle, you must support every nationalist demagogue anywhere in the world. His key statement is his challenge, “Mark, can you please name any ‘national liberation movement’ in this epoch that got anywhere near real ‘indepen­dence’ from the rule of capital, national or international?”

But only socialism, not any democratic measure, can break the bonds of capital. The political independence of an oppressed country from its oppressor does not in itself involve “independence from the rule of capital”, but in fact may accelerate capitalist development. So, from the theoretical point of view, what view of the tasks of activists is Neil’s challenge based on? It is the belief that it is treachery to support any demand of a bourgeois-democratic nature. In this regard, Neil’s views on national liberation have something in common with the CWVs view—not of the national liberation movement (which CWV supports), but of land reform. Oleg and Julie can only support land reform by painting it as some sort of socialist or quasi-socialist step. They refuse to recognize the bourgeois-democratic nature of land reform, and Oleg indignantly challenged me as to how I could support land reform if it was bourgeois- democratic in nature.

Neil does leave open a loophole. His challenge applies only in “this epoch” Thus he leaves open that in a previous epoch that either (a) there may supposedly have been an example of a national liberation struggle bringing independence from the rule of capital, or (b) it might have been all right to support a national liberation struggle back in the bad old days even though the rule of capital remained.

To back up his views, Neil thinks it suffices to cite Marx’s ringing declaration in the Communist Manifesto that “The working men have no country” (Section II. Proletarians and communists) Neil interprets this in a simplified fashion. He apparently thinks this means that the workers should be indifferent to all national issues, rather than that they should approach them from their own internationalist angle. But Marx, in approaching the national question from the standpoint of workers’ internationalism, held that the proletarians should oppose national oppression, not that they should be indifferent to it. Thus, in the very same Communist Manifesto where Marx wrote that the workers have no country, he underlined his support for Polish independence. Marx declared that “In Poland they [the communists] support the party that insists on an agrarian revolution as the prime condition for national emancipation, that party which fomented the insurrection of Cracow in 1846.” (Section IV - The Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties) That’s clear Marx didn’t say forget about the national issues. Nor did he say that the national oppression of Poland was just another crime of world capital that would be resolved by socialist revolution. Instead he vigorously supported an insurrection for Polish independence — and this was a bourgeois-democratic, not a socialist insurrection. He supported the party that organized it, laying stress on that it stood for agrarian revolution, which refers to a bourgeois-democratic revolution rather than a socialist revolution.

And yet, did the independence of Poland, when it came, cut the bonds of Polish dependence on capital? Did Marx and Engels think Polish independence would accomplish this?

Marx and Engels also supported Irish independence. Marx wrote in 1870 that

... it is the task of the International everywhere to put the conflict between England and Ireland in the foreground, and everywhere to side openly with Ireland. And it is the special task of the Central Council in London to awaken a consciousness in the English workers that for them the national emancipation of Ireland is no question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment but the first condition of their own social emancipation. ” (Letter to S. Meyer and A. Vogt, April 9, 1870)

And yet, did the independence of part of Ireland, when it came, cut the bonds of Irish dependence on capital? Did Marx or Engels think that it would?

Engels also wrote to Kautsky on November 12, 1882 discussing what would happen to the British colonies after a socialist revolution. He stated that they should be “led as rapidly as possible towards independence”—independence from a proletarian revolutionary Britain. He said that “How this process will develop is difficult to say India will perhaps, indeed very probably, produce a revolution” against the socialist metropolis, which should just accept that fact and let India go. And Engels thought — based on the social conditions in the colonies— that the independence of India, and a similar breakaway of other overseas colonies from European countries that had carried out socialist revolutions, “would be the best thing for us" (Engels’ emphasis). He stated, with respect to these colonies,

as to what social and political phases these countries will then have to pass through before they likewise arrive at socialist organization, we today can only advance rather idle hypotheses, I think. One thing alone is certain: the victorious proletariat can force no blessings of any kind upon any foreign nation without undermining its own victory by so doing. Which of course by no means excludes defensive wars of various kinds"

Did Engels think that it would bring independence from the rule of capital over India for India to separate from an England that was in transition to socialism? And isn’t Engels here describing not simply a “two-stage” revolution in the colonies, but a process with many “social and political phases”? Neil — who doesn’t feel comfortable counting beyond the number one — is upset at the thought of a two-stage struggle, but Engels strove to master all of political arithmetic, even if it required studying processes that went through, say, three or four “social and political phases”

Thus Marx and Engels supported certain struggles, insurrections and revolutions for national independence, even though these were not socialist revolutions and would not bring independence from the rule of capital. And Engels thought there would be a complex situation in the colonies even after the socialist revolution in the metropolis. Marx and Engels did not believe that the interests of freeing one nationality took precedence over the general emancipation movement — there is not a single bourgeois-democratic reform that might not come into conflict with more general proletarian interests under some particular circumstances. But they oriented the proletariat to fight national oppression and not to brush it aside because it was a mere bourgeois-democratic issue.

C. Lenin and the national liberation movement

Lenin polemicized for the right to self-determination, and he supported most vigorously the national liberation movement that was stirring “in the East” He did this in the era of imperialism. Neil claims insistently that if you support one national liberation movement you must—to be consistent—support every national movement and moreover every “nationalist” government. Lenin polemicized extensively on this and other questions, and refuted it repeatedly in detailed works. He showed, among other things:

a) the right to self-determination does not mean advocating that every oppressed nation separate; it implies however accepting the right of the oppressed nations to decide for themselves whether to separate;

b) a widespread national liberation in the colonies would be one of the most important features of the world revolution of the immediate period;

c) the bourgeois-democratic nature of the right to self-determination and of national liberation;

d) distinctions have to be made among the movements in the oppressed countries;

e) and that it was important for proletarian internationalism for the proletariat of the oppressor country to support the right of self-determination of the oppressed nations, a responsibility which included active support for various national liberation movements — only this would reinforce the proletariat of the oppressed nations in its duty to right bourgeois and petty- bourgeois nationalism and support proletarian unity with the workers of the oppressor countries.

Lenin had a lot to say about the right to self-determination, the proletarian stand to the national struggle, the national liberation movement, etc. I think these were vital points for communist activists in the 20th century in dealing with national oppression, and that the Stalinists were known for their betrayal of these views. It would behoove Neil to study such views before discarding them as “stale old movement views” and as Stalinism. In fact, Lenin long ago answered Neil’s basic objections in detail, and did so repeatedly Perhaps Neil—who is so indignant that anyone would doubt his Marxism—would care to actually read and ponder a few of Lenin’s key articles on the issue and say what he rinds right or wrong in them?

D. The bourgeois-democratic nature of national liberation

Thus with respect to the national liberation movement, Neil’s present position turns out to have nothing in common with Marx and Engels and Lenin’s views and a great deal in common with the ICC’s views. Neil and the ICC both hold that, whatever may have been true in an earlier epoch, that any national liberation movement in the present “epoch” is reactionary. And to return from Marx and Lenin’s views to those of Neil, let’s look again at Neil’s central theoretical point:

Mark, can you please name any 'national liberation movement’ in this epoch that got anywhere near real ‘independence’ from the rule of capital, national or international?”

But why should we have to show that national liberation brings “real ‘independence’ from the rule of capital, national or international”? Along with Marx and Engels and Lenin, the CVO comrades believe in the bourgeois-democratic nature of national liberation. It is not Marx or Engels or Lenin or CVO, Neil, but you and the ICC and the CWV, who either paint up bourgeois-democratic demands as sort-of socialist (CWV on land reform) or who denounce national liberation (Neil and the ICC). Marxism, on the other hand, doesn’t have any qualms at all about supporting demands that help the toilers’ position but do not abolish the domination of capital; instead of having qualms, Marxism shows how to utilize such struggles in the interest of proletarian organization and to bring closer the socialist revolution. Indeed, precisely because Marxism recognizes openly the bourgeois-democratic nature of these demands, it is able to help the proletariat develop its independent organization in the midst of these struggles—neither boycotting important struggles simply because they are bourgeois- democratic, or dissolving away into the all-class movement.

E. The CVO and the national liberation movement

But back in December Neil had already made the same theoretical point as in his current challenge to Mark. I had answered Neil on Dec. 6, 1995 in Detroit #97. Neil doesn’t discuss my answer because he has no serious interest in discussing Marxism. Instead of studying the theoretical issues involved, Neil is satisfied with the simplistic formulas of the anti-Marxists.

Neil had challenged me as follows:

As with the state-cap regimes, you [Joseph] put forward NO material analysis of why ‘national liberation’ movements after the tremendous sacrifices of millions of toilers, end up with capitalism, and as proxies of one imperialist group or another ” (Neil’s note of Dec. 4, 1995)

I replied that Neil not only didn’t see the necessary for a transition period after the socialist revolution, but “it seems that Neil holds that the abolition of money etc. should also immediately follow the victory of the national liberation struggle.” I answered Neil’s challenge about why the national liberation movements didn’t result in socialism by pointing to their bourgeois-democratic nature. I said that

he [Neil] seems to believe that the basic character of a national liberation movement would be expected to be socialist.

Marx, Engels, and Lenin held a different view — they all pointed to the bourgeois- democratic nature of the national liberation struggle. All profound social revolutions — anti-feudal, national liberation, socialist, etc. — have always involved mass initiative and heroic (and painful) mass sacrifice. But only the revolutionary class struggle leads to socialism.

True, in particular cases national liberation can be connected to socialist revolution in various ways. But you can’t seriously discuss the experience of the national liberation movement without dealing with the Marxist theory of the social character of revolution, its different stages, the role of the peasantry, etc.”

Neil was silent. Neil prefers to spout personal abuse rather than discuss a theoretical point.

But the CVO prefers to deal with theory The same point under dispute with Neil occurred earlier in a polemic between CVW’s Oleg, and myself. It came up in the discussion of their stand on land reform and their difficulty in breaking away from the legacy of Lazaro Cardenas, president of Mexico from 1934-40. The CWV prettified land reform as basically socialist, because they had qualms about supporting a bourgeois-democratic demand. And by painting land reform as socialist, they actually retarded socialist agitation with respect to Mexico, hid the class differentiation among the “ejido” collectives in the countryside, and fell back towards Cardenismo. In explaining this point, I not only dealt with the theoretical basis of CWV’s error, but used national liberation as an example.

This occurs in my reply to Oleg’s article, “Does the CWV support Cardenismo?” Oleg had pointed to my view that “ the most radical democratic measures in the countryside, measures that eliminate the marginalization of the indigenous people, provide maximum state aid to the countryside, etc., would in the long run accelerate capitalist development among the peasantry even faster than now ” From Oleg’s viewpoint that land reform is somewhat or vaguely socialist, he could only interpret the Marxist view of the bourgeois-democratic nature of land reform as a repudiation of land reform. He challenged me: “Is he [Joseph] saying that in the countryside the struggle should be straightforward and only for socialism? Joseph should clarify ” (This article from the CWVTJ is reprinted in Communist Voice #5, Nov 15, 1995.)

I replied in CV #5 in the article “The ghost of Lazaro Cardenas and the present crisis in Mexico” Starting with the section “Oleg’s main theoretical point — on the impulse to capitalist development”, I discussed this issue. I reiterated the Marxist position on the bourgeois-democratic nature of land reform and the impetus it gives to capitalist development. And I showed that the Marxist view has been verified by experience not only in Mexico but in China. I showed that many other struggles that were clearly important and necessary also were of a bourgeois-democratic nature. And I showed how Marxism’s recognition of the bourgeois-democratic nature of a struggle resulted not in Marxism tailing behind the struggle but the very opposite, in Marxism stressing the need for independent organization of the proletariat and not simply merging into the common struggle.

These are key theoretical points. Neil has never dealt with them.

But let us continue. One of the examples I used was the national liberation movement. I wrote of it as follows:

* Consider the national liberation movements around the world. Haven’t these struggles been vital for overthrowing brutal colonial oppression and allowing whole peoples to begin to rise their heads? Yet who can deny that these movements have dramatically accelerated capitalist development in the newly independent countries? Africa for example has seen an astonishingly rapid development of capitalist economic relations, and it has borne the brunt of all the evils and disasters of capitalism.

National independence, even if it is achieved by a revolution, gives an impulse to capitalism.

This is inevitable unless there is a socialist revolution. And recognition of the bourgeois economic nature of national liberation is important for the proletariat. If the independence struggle was regarded as vaguely socialist—or socialist if it is carried out in a revolutionary way—then the proletariat might simply merge into the radical wing of the general all-class liberation movement. But when the bourgeois-democratic nature of the struggle is understood, it encourages the proletariat — however small or inexperienced — to develop its independent organization even as it takes part in the independence movement. ”

In reply, Oleg was silent. And Neil is silent too.

Neil refuses to deal with these views. He issues the same challenge over and over, and never deals with the answer He refuses to deal with, and apparently even to read, Marxist sources on these issues. He instead repeats by heart one or two stock ways of denouncing people, whether these denunciations make any sense or not. Thus, in reply to the analysis that the national liberation movement is of a bourgeois-democratic character, he asserts that Mark and! “apparently” present the national liberation movements as “SOCIALIST and MARXIST” movements. I can only conclude that either Neil doesn’t take theory seriously; or that he believes in lying as a method of settling political differences; or that he has become a mouthpiece for the gossip from various anti-Marxist circles.

If I have time, I shall continue on the issue of national liberation. But in the meantime, I’d like Neil to answer the following two basic questions:

Do you recognize that Marx, Engels and Lenin, both in the imperialist epoch (Lenin) and the previous one (Marx and Engels), supported various national liberation movements even though they didn’t expect these movements to bring “independence from the rule of capital, national or international’’?

Was this stand of theirs based on correct revolutionary principles and did it aid the socialist organization of the proletariat or not? []

Neil’s reply

Feb. 5, 1996, 3:31 AM, EST

Re: Reply to Detroit #103

Dear Joseph,

You and Mark of CVO would not give me an honest point-by-point response to the numerous concrete examples that I gave to back up my contention that socialist support for so-called national liberation groups in our epoch is support for the bourgeoisie with the workers still massively exploited by capital, their class organizing usually savagely repressed and restricted and workers press ganged into forces to repress other workers for capitalist interests. But I shall reply now directly to a number of your outmoded and semi-Stalinist concepts about “support for nationalist” struggles which in your part A. you try to smuggle in as the correct “stands of Marxism”

Also, a scientific qualifier against your secular religious view about verifying a theoretical view and political position. It isn’t proven right because CVO declares it Marxism. It is proven correct based on the experience of the world struggle of the workers fighting exploitation and for socialist liberation.

You also say I am a ‘stonewaller”! This accusation coming from a man who feverishly supported state capitalism (off a “national liberation” movement) in Albania, etc. for over 20 years and to this day still won’t do a serious self-criticism or political analysis in this! Give us a break.

Part B.

Your own meanderings about the need to back up capitalist development in our epoch against the workers interests means you back schemes for 2-stage revolution. Whether this “mantra” came from another political milieu is irrelevant. You admit that so-called political independence of an oppressed country does not in itself involve “independence from the rule of capital but in fact may accelerate capitalist development” This is a Maoist argument and not really a Marxist one.

In Part D, you and Mark then try to distort a very sensible question I pose: name any national liberation movement in this epoch that got anywhere near real “independence” from the rule of capital, national or international. ” You try to distort this into an absolute. Your reply in essence states that you don’t need to show that national liberation brings real” independence from the rule of capital” but that it “may accelerate capitalist development” But you bury the “anywhere near” part of my original statement — quite a distinction! Nice trick bagging but it won’t work!

Part B.

On the Marxist slogan “The workingmen have NO country” True or not, CVO? Is Marx wrong about this? The vaunted “national liberation” groups all even end up exploiting other nationalities within their own borders as soon as they can lay hands on them. I can cite you a plethora of examples of this in practice.

Marx and Engels’s support for national struggles was in a period of ascendent capitalism & was historically contingent on complex concrete circumstances and was never once presented as a timeless principle of absolute support for all national liberation movements. In your cited case of Poland, etc. in the 1850s-60s, they wanted to see the breakup of the huge reactionary bloc of Tsarism and the Hapsburg Empire and supported some national movements specifically because they contributed toward this goal (and other valid goals which accelerated and deepened the overall balance of revolutionary forces, etc.) or others.

Yet Marx (and Engels) opposed national liberation movements when they felt they detracted from this goal. Joseph, why don’t you quote Marx’s views welcoming California being annexed away from Mexico. He also issued a disparaging remark about “lazy Mexicans”. Of course, Marx’s concern at that time was the economic development of the productive forces such a land grab of this region would bring. He shows not a shred of concern for national liberation as a oh-so-holy sacred principle in that assessment.

So it was with every concrete example of their support for national movements—in some cases support was retracted and extended again, again dependent on what was happening as a whole. You can study Nigel Harris’ S-page chapter on Marx and Engels varying views as it is an authoritative and most unbiased description of what their actual views were (with all their contradictions) in their actual lifetimes.

Your approach to this issue is a mockery of scientific method. You say you uphold “Marxism-Leninism” But your method is analogous to one who denounces the advance of scientific discoveries by Ashley Montagu, or Huxley or Dr. Leakey in the field of anthropology in the 20th century and shouts "I only uphold the writings of Morganism-Darwinism. You are against evolution!”

Also you cite Engels’s favorable statements on the Indian nationalist struggle. Today the nationally-liberated Indian ruling class not only shares with big imperialists handsomely in the booty of hundreds of millions of impoverished Indian workers, but has become a junior imperialist country in its own right. In many lesser developed 3rd world states, the “nationally liberated” juntas have not even come close to carrying out the vaunted basic bourgeois democratic tasks that the CVO gushes about!

Your approach to quoting Lenin is an unscientific approach as well. You treat it as a veritable “gospel of St. Nick” Lenin was a great human being but not the final arbiter of truth! You turn his teachings into a secular religious dogma. Your readings from the “Book of Lenin” will bring us to salvation?

Part E.

You use the un-Marxist non-class terms to claim the gain of the national movements paving the way for “allowing whole peoples to raise their heads” But millions of workers have in fact had their heads lopped off by your national capitalist liberators in country after country All you can do is give the local capitalist exploiters (and imperialism) your CVO official “anti-revisionist” camouflage to hide under The actual record shows that time after time the socialist & workers forces in the national movements have been terribly repressed and/or literally decapitated by a whole bevy of “national liberator” exploiter classes.

I have shown a whole handful of nationalist movements that the CVO leaders have put into socialist and Marxist clothes over the years. Albania, Kampuchea, UNITA/Angola, etc. Your attempted cover-ups of this are quite disingenuous. A perusal of past Workers’ Advocates would show quickly who is really covering up!

The answer to your questions on Pg 9 [at the end of Detroit #103 above].

As I have shown in my replies to your Part B, you have totally fudged the question. Marx and Engels’s support for the nationalist movements was historically contingent on the complex and concrete circumstances and they never once presented it as a timeless principle of absolute support for all national movements everywhere. I have given concrete examples of this fact for you and I will try to find more.

You seem to be engaging in a Maginot line “Marxism” erecting many rigid and outlandish defenses to avoid real critical discussion. Yours was for the most part a secular religionist response—all you need now is the garlic and the cross to ward off the imaginary demons!


Once again on Marxism

To: All

From: Joseph Green February 6, 1996 Detroit #104

The LAWV Versus Marxism

Part 3: More on national liberation and Marxism

In Detroit #103, I asked Neil the following two questions:

Do you recognize that Marx, Engels and Lenin, both in the imperialist epoch (Lenin) and the previous one (Marx and Engeis), supported various national liberation movements even though they didn’t expect these movements to bring “independence from the rule of capital, national or international”?

Was this stand of theirs based on correct revolutionary principles and did it aid the socialist organization of the proletariat or not?

In his reply of Feb. 4, Neil does not give a direct answer But you can extract his basic attitude from his torrent of curses. I’ll do my best. I invite Neil to put forward any corrections where I have missed the subtlety of his thinking:

1 — Neil is opposed to Lenin’s support of the national liberation movement and regards this as semi-Stalinism, a crime against the workers, lopping off their heads, press-ganging them into wars with other workers, etc. In general, he regards Leninism as flawed and obsolete, and holds it is a waste of time to read Lenin’s articles on the national question. He regards the gross opportunist errors of past movements as stemming not from revisionism, but from Leninism.

2 — Neil is willing to put up with Marx and Engels’ support of national liberation movements, but denies that Marx and Engels had any principled basis for this support. Neil points to Marx and Engels opposing some national movements, and he concludes that there are no principles involved in the national question—it is basically just a question of cynically maneuvering the people for ulterior motives. All this was supposedly acceptable in the epoch of “ascendant capitalism”, but not today

3 — Neil does not speak directly to whether Marx and Engels thought that these movements would break the bonds of capitalism, or come near breaking the bonds of capitalism.

4 — Neil holds that national liberation movement did not accomplish anything of use for the workers and toilers of Asia, Africa and Latin America, or anywhere, and that it has only further oppressed and massacred them.

The modified questions

Neil excuses his refusal to directly answer my questions because he says I misstated them. I should not have asked whether Marx and Engels and Lenin expected that national liberation would bring “independence from the rule of capital, national or international”, but whether they expected it would bring “ANYTHING NEAR REAL independence from the rule of capital, national or international.” (emph. added) But does this change make any difference? Would you answer the questions directly if I made this change, Neil? So here they are. I direct the following two questions to you, Neil:

Do you recognize that Marx, Engels and Lenin, both in the imperialist epoch (Lenin) and the previous one (Marx and Engels), supported various national liberation movements even though they didn't expect these movements to bring “anything near real independence from the rule of capital, national or international"?

Was this stand of theirs based on correct revolutionary principles and did it aid the socialist organization of the proletariat or not?

While I’m waiting for Neil’s reply (it’s likely to be a long wait), I would point out that Neil’s “correction’’ to my questions actually implies a reformist tinge in his thinking. The implication of his view is that socialist revolution is the total breaking of the bonds of capital, while the proletariat should only support those struggles or demands prior to revolution that are a partial snapping of those bonds. Thus he would judge whether national liberation can be supported by whether it comes close to breaking the rule of capital. This sounds more revolutionary than realizing that various reforms actually extend capitalist relations. But in fact, it is a reformist theory The bonds of capitalism cannot be gradually broken by a series of reforms. There has to be a socialist revolution. True, the revolution inaugurates a transition period before the actual abolition of money and commodity production. But the actual assault on capital has to be started by a revolution. Higher wages, industrial unions, the abolition of slavery, the extension of education, rights for women, land reform, agricultural co-ops, etc. do not constitute the gradual weakening of capital. The proletarian movement can be gradually strengthened in struggle, but this is not the same thing as the gradual breaking of the bonds of capitalist production. Neil’s formulation about “anything close” to breaking the bonds of capitalism opens the way to petty-bourgeois democratic illusions about the role of reforms and of bourgeois-democratic transformations. In practice, such illusions hinder realization of the real tasks of socialist organizing that must be done. For example, we have seen that the Chicago Workers Voice’s belief that land reform is somewhat socialist in itself has stopped it from dealing with the class differentiation in the Mexican agricultural co-ops and from formulating a real socialist program for the countryside.

Neil and Leninism

Now let’s look a bit more closely at Neil’s stand towards Leninism. Neil, as usual, stonewalls a direct reply to the question of Lenin’s support for various national liberation struggles. But he implied that it was a semi-Stalinist crime and subordination of the workers to the local bourgeoisie.

But how does Neil deal with Lenin’s explanations of his tactics? How does he handle, for example, Lenin showing what role national liberation plays in cementing the internationalist unity of the workers of oppressed and oppressor countries? How does he deal with Lenin’s views on how the socialist proletariat advances its organization as it takes part in the national liberation struggle?

Actually, Neil doesn’t deal with Lenin’s views at all. Believe it or not, Neil holds that it is a violation of principle to read any of Lenin’s works on the national question. That is Neil’s answer to my pointing out that Lenin wrote extensively on the national question and dealt with many of the issues Neil is raising. Neil says that the suggestion that one should actually read something by Lenin is “analogous to one who denounces the advance of scientific discoveries by Ashley Montague, or Huxley or Dr Leakey in the field of anthropology” in the name of upholding Darwin and Morgan.

I think that speaks for itself.

Neil and Marxism

While Neil denounces Lenin, he makes a half-hearted attempt to present himself as a follower of Marx. That’s a hard task for him to accomplish, since Lenin upheld Marx’s stand on the national question. So it’s not too surprising that Neil really isn’t that enthusiastic for Marx either The principles Neil sets forward on the national question just don’t have anything to do with Marxism.

For example, Neil stated a few days ago what he thought followed, if one “had any consistency or principles” He said that, if one supports some national liberation struggle, then one must support all national liberation struggles, all national movements, and even all nationalist demagogues (e-mail of Jan. 31). But what about Marx? Neil says that Marx supported some national movements and opposed others. Did Marx have any consistency or principles, Neil?

Also, Neil stonewalled the issue of whether Marx and Engels felt that the national movements they supported would break the chains of capital or come anywhere close to doing so. He refused to answer this directly His implication however is that Marx and Engels just used these movements for this or that purpose, knowing that the movements weren’t of any value in themselves.

Neil’s denunciation of “two-stage revolution” also amounts to opposing Marx’s view of revolution. Neil doesn’t agree with the democratic revolution. He doesn’t agree that the type of revolution varies depending on the internal conditions of a country He doesn’t agree that there are a lot of phases and stages in the process of a country moving towards communism. Neil only avoids denouncing Marx and Engels on these questions by setting aside their views as irrelevant for the present because they supposedly only applied to a past epoch.

Neil denounces support for any national liberation movement in the 20th century as help for the bourgeoisie in massively exploiting the workers, repressing their organizing, and press ganging the workers into squashing other workers for capitalist interests. However, if Neil sees this as the only possible meaning of socialist support for national liberation, it means that he thinks that Marx too supported the bourgeoisie in massively exploiting the workers, repressing them, press ganging them, etc. After all, the bourgeoisie also exploited and repressed the workers in the 19th century as well as the 20th.

Neil denounces me for pointing out the bourgeois-democratic nature of national liberation, land reform, the anti-slavery struggle, the struggle against patriarchal oppression of women, etc., and pointing out that they accelerate capitalist development. Neil presents this as “backing up capitalist development in our epoch against the workers’ movement,” as if I were advocating tax breaks for businesses or abandoning the class struggle against the capitalists. In reality, Neil’s demagogy about how talk about “capitalist development” means siding with the capitalists against the workers is a denunciation of the Marxist view of where socialism will come from. Marxism holds that the development of capitalism paves the way to its overthrow: through creating a proletariat; through creating first large-scale industry, and then even larger-scale industry; through bringing women into the work force; through the development of a clearer and more open class struggle, etc. This is a fundamental difference between Marxism and petty-bourgeois democracy, which holds that reforms keep capitalism and the class struggle in check and feigns horror at Marxism’s frank acknowledgment of what socialism grows out of.

Neil’s studies Marxism from Nigel Harris

So it’s not too surprising that Neil not only doesn’t care to read Lenin, he really isn’t too excited about studying Marx’s views either. He is satisfied with a five-page description by the reformist academic scholar Nigel Harris. (This is the same Nigel Harris whose views on the world situation were promoted by Michael (ex-Detroit) of the CC majority. A review by Pete of one of the works of Nigel Harris appears in CWVTJ #2) 1 SUGGEST THAT NEIL PUT THESE FIVE PAGES ON E-MAIL SO WE ALL CAN SEE WHAT NEIL THINKS MARXISM REALLY IS. After all, Neil apparently believes that Lenin is horribly distorting Marx’s views on the national question and isn’t worth reading. So let’s see what Neil regards as “an authoritative and most unbiased description of what their [Marx and Engels) views were”, an exposition which is supposedly far superior to Lenin’s and purged of semi-Stalinist errors.

The working class has no country

While we wait for Neil to put the work of Nigel Harris on e-mail, let’s look further at what Neil has learned from Harris. Neil presents that Marx had no particular theory about the national movements, but just winged it from one situation to another.

Neil feels that this attitude to the national movement is consistent with, and presumably flows from, Marx’s statement that “the working men have no country” He asks triumphantly if I support this statement of Marx’s. Of course I do. Like many comrades, I find proletarian internationalism one of my main inspirations. But I find that Neil’s current standpoint is opposed to Marx’s view about proletarian internationalism. For Marx, “the worker has no country” means, in part, that the workers oppose the oppression by their country of other nationalities, not that they are indifferent to that oppression. It is chauvinists and bigots who are unmoved by the oppression of other nationalities. This type of “indifference” does not mean transcending nationality, but is par for the course for bourgeois nationalists.

Neil thinks the statement that “the working men have no country” means that workers shouldn’t take part in a struggle for national independence. If this were so, it would logically mean that the workers should also not take part in opposing racial discrimination, or in struggle against any form of oppression of their own nationality. (Do the workers have a nationality or an ethnic background any more than they have a country?) But did Marx really hold this? Did Marx believe, for example, that the Polish workers shouldn’t take part in the struggle for Polish independence? There are three possibilities:

a) The Polish workers — even if they felt that a national insurrection was important, and Neil leaves open whether it really was important — should have left the insurrection to someone else, because the workers have no country.

b) The Polish workers, while having no country in the bourgeois sense of the word, should still have taken part in the national insurrection.

c) The third possibility is that Neil’s real view is that Marx was inconsistent, and sooner or later Neil will denounce Marx for having violated the principle that the workers have no country.

So let’s examine the Communist Manifesto, and see how Marx himself viewed the question. Let’s look at the very paragraphs where Marx declares the workers have no country, and see if they give us some guidance. Marx wrote:

The Communists are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality.

The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.”

After examining this statement, in conjunction with Marx’s views on Poland, can there be the slightest doubt about whether Marx thought the workers could take part in a struggle for national independence without violating the principle of “having no country”?

Marxism deduces from internationalism that the workers’ movement is an international movement, a world movement. It also deduces that the workers of all nationalities should cooperate and merge together in the same country. It also deduces that there should be struggle against racial discrimination, national oppression, etc. And it deduces that “no nation can be free if it oppresses another”. But Neil believes that Marx meant that there were no principles concerning national issues, and that national movements could be manipulated for pragmatic purposes, independent of any overall principle.

Neil proves this by Marx’s opposition to certain national movements. But Marx didn’t denounce these movements on the grounds that a struggle for political independence violated proletarian internationalism or that it must inevitably enchain the workers to the bourgeoisie. Instead, Marx believed that certain movements contradicted the progressive movements of much larger masses of toilers. To judge whether Marx’s concrete judgment on the merits of any particular case was correct, might require a good deal of historical work. But the general principle involved, which is what we are concerned with, is clear.

This point was discussed repeatedly by Lenin. One of the places Lenin deals with this is in the article “The discussion on self-determination summed up.” (July 1916) Some Polish comrades were arguing that the right to self-determination (the right to political independence if the people of a country so desire) couldn’t be a principle, and said that Marx didn’t uphold any such right because Marx supported the right to self- determination for some countries but not, at times, for others. Part of Lenin’s reply reads as follows:

By way of an exception, our Polish comrades parry our reference to Marx's attitude towards the separation of Ireland directly and not indirectly. What is their objection? References to Marx’s position from 1848 to 1871, they say, are 'not of the slightest value.’ The argument advanced in support of this unusually irate and peremptory assertion is that Marx ‘at one and the same time’ expressed opposition to the strivings for independence of the ‘Czechs, South Slavs, etc.’

The argument is particularly irate because it is particularly unsound. According to the Polish Marxists, Marx was simply a muddle-head who ‘at one and the same time’ said contradictory things! This is altogether untrue, and it is certainly not Marxism. It is precisely that demand for ‘concrete’ analysis that our Polish comrades insist on, but do not themselves apply, which makes it necessary for us to investigate whether the different attitudes Marx adopted towards different concrete ‘national’ movements did not spring from one and the same socialist world outlook.

As is generally known, Marx was in favor of Polish independence in the interests of European democracy in its struggle against the power and influence — or, it might be said, against the omnipotence and predominating reactionary influence — of tsarism. That this attitude was correct was most clearly and practically demonstrated in 1849, when the Russian serf army crushed the national-liberation and revolutionary-democratic insurrection in Hungary. A simple reference to what Marx and Engels wrote in 1848 and 1849 will prove to anyone who is interested in Marxism not merely in order to brush it aside that Marx and Engels at that time drew a clear and definite distinction between ‘whole reactionary nations’ serving as ‘Russian outposts’ in Europe, and ‘revolutionary nations,’ namely, the Germans, Poles and Magyars. ... in 1848 revolutionary nations fought for liberty, whose principal enemy was tsarism, whereas the Czechs, etc., were actually reactionary nations, outposts of tsarism.

What is the lesson to be drawn from this concrete example which must be analyzed concretely if one wishes to be true to Marxism? Only this: (1) that the interests of the liberation of a number of big and very big nations in Europe stand higher than the interests of the movement for liberation of small nations; (2) that the demand for democracy must not be considered in isolation but on a European — today we should say a world — scale.

Nothing more. Not a hint of repudiation of that elementary socialist principle which the Poles forget but to which Marx was always faithful — that no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations. ... Particular demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchical intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement. But it would be ridiculous to delete the demand for a republic from the program of international Social-Democracy on these grounds. ” (From Section 7, “Marxism or Proudhonism”, emphasis as in the original)

Thus Lenin claimed that Marx’s different stands on the struggle for independence actually flowed from a consistent set of principles concerning national freedom. It wasn’t a matter of manipulating a popular demand that one knows to really be a fraud. I believe that Lenin’s presentation of this matter is correct.

Neil however doesn’t. He particularly refers to the example of California. Here Neil hints that Marx was a racist. The issue concerns the division of large parts of North America between Mexico and the United States. This was settled by force. Mexico and the U.S. both used force on the indigenous peoples, and the U.S. used force to take the “American” Southwest away from Mexico. With respect to this, apparently, Neil says that Marx opposed the national liberation movement of California. But in fact no national liberation movement developed in California. And there were reasons no such movement existed, and that the present “national liberation movement” of the Southwest backed by the Mexican journal El Machete is a petty- bourgeois nationalist farce. From the point of view of Neil’s present polemic, the only way he can oppose this farce is by saying that national liberation belongs to a past epoch. Marx, by way of contrast, presumably had some view of what he thought the social and economic conditions were in California. His expectation that there wouldn’t be a national liberation struggle in California was correct. If such a movement had developed, he might have re-examined his views, as he did on other questions, and determined whether this movement deserved support. Neil can’t deal with this issue because for him there is no objective basis for judging what is a movement for national emancipation and what is something else. So for Neil, any nationalist phrase is as good as any other, and so ethnic cleansing in Bosnia = the national liberation movement of California = Nazi Germany = Poland = Ireland = India = etc. The only difference Neil can see is whether they took place in the 19th or 20th century.


How consistent Marx and Engels were in their view of the national question can be seen in Engels’ views about what a socialist Britain should do about its colonies, such as India. I raised this issue in Detroit #103. Engels, as if slapping Stalin in the face, showed that the principle of national freedom remained in a real socialist revolution. The anti-Stalin shouter Neil, however, is upset with Engels precisely on this point.

What does Neil say in reply to Engels’ view that a socialist Britain should lead such colonies as India to independence as fast as possible, and should simply let India go if the Indian people wouldn’t wait but rose immediately in a revolution for independence? Neil as usual stonewalls a direct answer. But when his reply consists simply of denouncing Indian independence, the answer is loud and clear Neil just can’t imagine why a socialist should support India becoming independent from the socialist revolution. He believes that Engels was wrong. He doesn’t bother trying to see what social conditions made Engels believe that India was not ripe for socialism at that time, but had first to go through various social and political phases. But if Engels’ assessment of Indian conditions was correct, “socialism” could only have been imposed on India at that time by jackboot and by bludgeon. And of course, socialism imposed by the bayonet, by national oppression, by the rule of the minority (Britain) over the majority (India), is no socialism at all. It means that Neil’s theories, for all Neil’s cursing of Stalinism, would have lead a socialist Britain to Stalinist methods and Stalinist denial of national freedom.

But what can Neil do? If he admits that independence from a SOCIALIST Britain would have been a good thing, then wouldn’t all his theories about the harmfulness of independence from a capitalist oppressor country fall to the ground?

Meanwhile, Neil’s denunciation of Indian independence leaves out what must be for him a few trifles. He doesn’t consider whether Indian independence has brought India forward several steps on the scale of social and political changes necessary in preparation for socialist revolution. He doesn’t consider whether the change in much of the popular struggle — from colonial subject versus British overlord to Indian toiler versus Indian capitalist — is a tremendous historical advance. He doesn’t study the actual conditions facing the Indian workers and peasants and compare them with colonial days. He simply tells us that the Indian masses are exploited — as if they wouldn’t be under colonialism. []

Neil on stopping secession

Neil replied to Detroit #104 on Feb. 9, with his “RE: Detroit 104 — Marxist science vs. Bible-quoting” This is not included.

Detroit #105 (Feb. 12) was Part 4 of “The LAWV vs. Marxism”, entitled “More on national liberation and on Neil’s reformism, and on East Timor”. It is also omitted.

Feb. 14, 1996, 3:06 AM, PST

Re: Reply to Detroit 105: Twilight of CVO’s neo-Maoism — Part 1 (excerpt)

Dear Joseph,


Marx was dealing with a different historical epoch when national self-determination was progressive as it could lead to the revolutionary destruction of backward feudal relations and helped free the chain so the modem productive forces could advance via capitalism. Sure, capitalism developed, but Marx thought that in the bourgeois-democratic republic, the class struggles could develop quicker and clearer But Marx/Engels never anywhere, unlike the CVO bible-thumpers, never recognized any natural “right of national self-determination” They gauged their support based on the best interests of the workers.

Lenin and Luxembourg lived to see the beginnings of the modem epoch. They saw capitalism traverse from a progressive into definitively a reactionary force. Really, this meant the change from national capitalist revolutions to international proletarian revolutions in the world’s class struggles. Clearly we can see now via the specific cases (I will give more examples in Part 2 of this reply tomorrow) where the proletariat gets bloodbath after bloodbath from following an erring path, one which CVO/Joseph’s semi-Maoist approach only continues today — yesterday a tragedy, but today a farce and a tragedy for workers!

Lenin, in his day had to deal with the vexed problem of fighting the Great Russian chauvinism, but he bent over too much in seeing national self-determination as a right. Today’s struggles need to rise quickly to the terrain of unity with workers fighting in other lands as a tactic and strategy. National borders today are clearly a weapon almost always of bourgeois reaction. Non-proletarian masses should be integrated into the vanguard workers battles on a territorial basis—eschewing national border divisions. Maybe we won’t be able to stop some secessionist nationally-oppressed groups. But we don’t have to hail it either We should call for these workers on the peripheries to align themselves with the battering rams of the workers’ mass struggles in all countries which is the force that can eventually united — pound down the fortresses of capitalism — on a world scale. We need class consciousness, not the CVO-style of bourgeois nationalism wrapped up in a “socialist” guise. If you want to really fight imperialism, you have to build up the forces of the international workers of all nations to fight against exploitation and reaction, recognizing capitalist labor skinners come in all nationalities too.


2/15/96 3:08 AM

Re: Reply to Detroit #105 — part 2: Twilight for CVO’s neo-Maoism [excerpt]

Dear Joseph,

METHODOLOGY/Reason — dialectics vs. CVO’s Talmudic approach

CVO/Joseph’s methodology is not very rational. Marx and Engels (M-E) made numerous overall positive pronouncements on the nature of social-democracy in their epoch. If Joseph were consistent concerning his dogmatic (and eclectic) promotion of Marx/Engels views on nat-lib, by parity of reasoning he would still be singing the praises of social democracy in our epoch as well and demanding we all do so to prove ourselves true-to-the- book “revolutionaries”! One (Talmudist a la Joseph) could just rip out some M-E quotes out of context praising the work of the social democrats and just proclaim, as the Joseph logic would demand, that M-E would have us support social democracy today!! But Joseph does not back social democracy because the 1914-20 period settled this matter. Both Lenin and Luxembourg were key in recognizing that the role of changed historical circumstances qualitatively changed the nature of social-democracy itself and it became a major tool and prop for sustaining the capitalist system, a role it plays to this day. Yet if Joseph allows for this, then why can’t the same scientific critical evaluation be made about nat-libs. For CVO, this is because once this happens, much of its Maginot-line Marxism crumbles fast because all sorts of uncomfortable realities such as the CVO leaders hailing of Pol Potism, UNITAism and Chinese and Albanian state capitalism start to slither out more in the open where the workers can see it.

What were some of the concrete results of the CI (Joseph) line that workers and communists back the nat-libbing movements. Well there is Finland. Finland after being granted self- rule by the Bolsheviks (under militarist Mannerheim) immediately lined up with the allies intervening against the Russian Revolution

Then there is China, where under the CI advice to the workers and communists to build a “united front’ with the national bourgeois Kuomintang aided by Russian military and economic assistance led to the Chinese bourgeois under Chang Kai Shek turning on the Chinese revolutionaries and slaughtering the Chinese proletariat in the bloodbath that began in April, 1927.

This happened because nat-libs were no longer a progressive force as it once had been in the days of M/E. Where in the world today are there feudal and absolutist regimes to be undermined and capitalist social relations to be introduced? Today the world is capitalist from continent to continent (excepting a few grouplets of islands + the Gobi desert). This means in practice increased capitalist competition, imperialist rivalries, both large and small and ipso facto, that all the newly “liberated” countries inevitably end up as pawns in the chess board of various imperialisms. This fact is amply shown by the nat-libs developing after the imperialist World War 2. There is no possibility of real independence. Indigenous bourgeois factions cannot fight the domination of one imperialist power without relying on others. This is why the track record shows so clearly today, that far from weakening imperialism, they end up reinforcing it and the workers’ (still with Joseph’s blessings) are mobilized and propagandized to be slaughtered in the interest’s of the rival imperialist groups disguised by the national-lib bourgeoisies’s fig leafs (and CVOs apparently) in wars for national independence or “peoples states” which end up the bootlicking and IMF-managed nationalism we see today.

Joseph, what about Bangladesh, backed by India and Russia in its “national liberation” war against Pakistan (backed by China) in the early 70s? Where in this case were the productive forces developed, feudalism overturned and/or conditions for an independent proletarian organization laid?? Joseph, how about the Horn of Africa, where each or the pawns (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, etc) switched sides so frequently and at dizzying speeds? These vaunted nat-lib struggles never got in the way of the nat-libbing capitalist rulers from brutally slaughtering and oppressing their “own” internal minorities, Tigrayans, Eritreans, etc. Then we still await Joseph’s ceasing of this political hide and seek game he has been playing on his once precious Pol Pot and state-cap Albania. What is wrong Joseph, is it that only us mortals must answer to the Detroit/CVO ukase?!

Your slanderous charges against the LAWV border on political paranoia (as well as providing you clever cover-ups). Over the past few months, you have charged us with anarchism. Trotskyism, Stalinism(!!!), etc.

Nothing stops you even today from sugarcoating capitalist oppression. Take India, which you alibi for. Joseph, India today is still capitalist, it has its caste system, child labor, ruthless oppression of women, religious pogroms, the Black Hole of Calcutta, mass poverty and starvation for the working masses. This is the concrete reality that Joseph glorifies in his det#105.

Joseph has “forgotten” the ABCs of Marxism as well. He absurdly thinks that there will be the “right of self determination under socialism” Joseph, err, under socialism there will not be any of your precious capitalist borders any more! Sorry ...


On socialist-colonialism

To: All

From: J Green

Detroit #106

February 15, 1996

The LAWV vs. Marxism Part 5: Neil’s socialist-colonialism

Neil has revealed his standpoint bit by bit, complaining all the way. His latest two-part reply (Feb. 13 and 14) brings things further into focus. Neil is opposed to the right to self-determination and to any national liberation movement in the 20th century, in any country, under any condition. He thinks the liberation of the colonies and oppressed countries has only brought disaster, and he repeats this over and over. The examples he uses include Africa, India, Indonesia, East Timor, and Finland. He sees the task of the communist movement as preventing national liberation if at all possible, and denigrating independence if it is impossible to prevent it. As he said in part one of his reply, “Maybe we won’t be able to stop some secessionist nationally oppressed groups. But we don’t have to hail it either.”

And that is his answer to discussion of the experience of the struggle against national oppression in my last article. I had pointed out that the collapse of colonialism in Africa meant a wider field of the class struggle and brought Africa closer to the socialist revolution. Neil of course stonewalled a direct reply He won’t say directly “things were better when the Africans were slaves to the British, French, Dutch, and the Boers.” Instead he says that it is reactionary to seek independence in the 20th century; that independence brings one disaster after another; that it means mobilizing the workers into the plans of the bourgeoisie; and that it means support for all the crimes of capitalism. He simply lists one problem after another afflicting Africa and attributes it to independence.

Oh yes, Neil is willing to bang his fist on the table and shout the word “imperialism” (just as Jim was even in the midst of his polemic denying that the concept “imperialism” had any meaning). In his article on Bosnia in the CWVTJ #9 (Jan. 29, 1996), Neil says: “The real historical track records of France and Britain should be discussed too. What about their ‘civilizing’ role in Africa and Asia? There these worthies perpetrated one slaughter after another in their quest for plunder and empire.” (p. 9, col. 1) The reader might think this meant that Neil thinks that the workers should oppose colonial “plunder and empire” But Neil opposes the national liberation movement that broke up the empires. He is a shame-faced apologist for colonialism who can denounce its crimes from one side of his mouth and then add, from the other' “separatism” is always wrong. He shouts about “plunder” and “genuine liberation”, but he doesn’t see that the replacement of old-style colonial plunder with the more sophisticated plunder of Africa by world capitalism brings the class struggle more to the fore. And he doesn’t see that if the African peoples had accepted colonialism, if they had agreed to be ruled by overseas overlords who regarded them as half-human, they would have been “broken wretches past salvation”

In CWVTJ #9 Neil writes that “The fighting unity of a united socialist working class against racialist/separatist gangs and imperialist plunder is what we should support, linking it up with working people for class combat in all countries.” But he doesn’t point out that he opposed the “fighting unity” to break up the colonial empires. Instead he just slips in that he is also opposed to “separat(ism)” He wrote some months ago that his article on Bosnia wouldn’t just be an article on some topical issue, but was to set forward a new general viewpoint on nationalism. So here it is: his supposedly new standpoint is that supposedly all “separatism” is just ethnic cleansing, fascism and mass murder Instead of Neil saying openly that he believes that struggle against the empires became reactionary in the 20th century, he just hides behind the codeword of “separatism” And let’s return to the example of Indonesia and East Timor, which Neil himself raised a few days ago. Isn’t it the fascist Indonesian government which could support a “fighting unity” against the “separatists” in East Timor or in Western New Guinea (“West Irian”)? If you recall, according to Neil the Indonesian oppressors are the ones who are in the midst of a national liberation movement, although Indonesia has been independent for almost half a century, while Neil was discretely silent on what his denunciation of national liberation meant with respect to the “separatists” on East Timor.

And Neil has the same socialist-colonialism for India. I had asked Neil whether independence hadn’t been justified by the very the criterion. Neil claimed to uphold, that of “helping eventually to pave the way for open struggle against the rule of capital by the workers” Neil stonewalled the question, of course. He simply shouts in horror at how bad capitalism is in India. Why, he says, an independent India “is still capitalist. It has its caste system, child labor, ruthless oppression of women, religious pogroms, the Black Hole of Calcutta (?—JG), mass poverty and starvation for the working masses.” Yes Neil, capitalism is bad in India as well as elsewhere. But isn’t there any change from the old days of British empire? Isn’t that change laying the basis for a sharper and clear class struggle? By failing to note this difference, Neil has become a socialist-colonialist.

And the collapse of the old colonial empires has not made the right to self-determination into a historical question which only has relevance to a few isolated struggles. The right to self- determination is important for resolving a whole host of national squabbles and promoting the unity of the workers of different nationalities. Neil to the contrary, supporting the right to self- determination does not mean advocating secession as the answer to all national questions; but it is incompatible with socialist-annexationism that denies the people the right to make their own decisions on the national question.

Denial of the right of self-determination under socialism

Neil not only denies the right of self-determination under capitalism, but he denies it under socialism as well. The LAWV, in the “Where we stand” section which it has started putting in leaflets, talks about how the workers under socialism “must begin to make all decisions regarding such important issues as: What will be produced? Under what conditions of safety, both for the workers and the environment, ? What is the appropriate length of the workday?” But Neil doesn’t think they should have the right to decide whether their country should be part of a larger country or should leave it.

Neil says it’s just obvious that the people don’t have this right. He writes that:

Joseph has ‘forgotten’ the ABCs of Marxism as well. He absurdly thinks that there will be the ‘right of self-determination under socialism’ Joseph, err, under socialism there will not be any of your precious capitalist borders any more! Sorry. ”

And note that Neil is not just talking about the future classless society, but about the situation immediately following a revolution. He is, in fact, replying to Engels’ view that India had to become independent to continue its economic and social evolution, and that if Britain had a socialist revolution, the revolutionary British proletariat should lead India to independence as fast as possible.

Nope, says Neil. As soon as there is a revolution, all national rights are over Why, Neil says, there are no more capitalist borders, no more money, no more commodity production.

Strange that Engels didn’t realize this when he was discussing the relationship of Britain and India, Neil, isn’t it? Marx and Engels and Lenin all held that there would be no money, no commodity production, no state apparatus, and no national boundaries in the future classless society, and yet all still believed that there would be a right to self-determination in the socialist society that would pave the way to the classless, communist future.

But Neil thinks he is much more revolutionary than they are, because he, Neil, doesn’t recognize any transition period between the socialist revolution and the classless society, or between the revolution and the abolition of commodity production; in essence, he doesn’t recognize the dictatorship of the proletariat. Neil believes that money, commodity production, the state apparatus, and national distinctions can just be abolished by decree. And then the problem’s solved. Neil’s holds that the problem of revisionism and state capitalism could be solved the same way just abolish money and commodity production and introduce the socialist society by decree on the day of the revolution. It would indeed be very, very simple and very, very revolutionary, if it were possible. But since it isn’t possible, Neil’s theory amounts to that the supposedly “socialist” country will abolish all national rights by decree; that’s quite possible, and a number of governments have done it, and the results have been very, very ugly.

And Neil really does mean that national rights are abolished on the day of revolution. He is upset that Finland was “granted self-rule by the Bolsheviks”, although this happened a couple of months after the revolution. There was still money and commodity production and a state apparatus in Russia and still national borders in the world. But the government could have refused to recognize self-determination, and by a stroke of the pen it could have sent in troops to forcibly suppress separation. And this is what Neil thinks should have been done. He says that the failure to do this was a result of “the Cl (Joseph) line that workers and communists back the nat-libbing movement”

It turns out that Neil’s denial of the transition period doesn’t mean that his theorizing is more revolutionary than Marxism; it instead turns his theorizing in the direction of Stalinist solutions and of the ideological justifications used by various regimes for their oppression of the local “separatists” For example, Neil cites the example of the relationship of Ethiopia and Eritrea as support for his stand, since it is one of the areas where “nat-libbing capitalist rulers brutally slaughter(ed) and oppress(ed) their ‘own’ internal minorities. ” Excuse me, Neil. This example shows quite clearly your error The old Ethiopia regime (the “Dergue”) wasn’t waging a national liberation struggle; it didn’t come to power in one; nor could its suppression of Ethiopian minorities be described as an act of national liberation even if it had come to power in an independence struggle. Moreover, and this is the key point, it was aided in “brutally slaughtering and oppressing” the people by any theory that denigrated the right to self-determination The Dergue, which styled itself socialist, denied the right to self- determination to Eritrea, while you would have a socialist Britain denying it to India, and you would have had a socialist Russia denying it to Finland. What difference is there in the theoretical framework which allowed the butchers of the now-fallen Dergue to denounce secession, and your denunciation of “separatists”? Couldn’t the Ethiopian regime have used the exact same reasoning you use — something like “if we grant self- rule to Eritrea (Finland), then it will use this self-rule to oppose our plans?” And if the Ethiopian regime was going to deny the right to self-determination, how else do you think it could be done except by fire and sword? Unlike you, Engels didn’t shrink from pointing to the truth about what denying national rights meant — denying the right to self-determination to India meant waging a colonial war. You, Neil, raise your hands in mock horror at colonial wars, and then you call for a “fighting unity” against the “separatists”! It’s amazing, but true.

Neil also talks smugly about how he has gone beyond the social-democrats of the 2nd International. But his socialist- colonialism moves him towards the imperialist chauvinism that appeared when the 2nd International went corrupt. The 20th century social-democratic politicians have had no scruples in heading European governments which ruled over colonies, and why should they, if Neil is right in his explanation that the right to self-determination is now reactionary?

From the theoretical point of view, Marxist communism holds that, after the socialist revolution, the state withers away when the changed economic and social conditions step by step render it superfluous. Neil holds that it is simply abolished by decree. Similarly, Engels wrote in 1847 that the answer to the question of “Will nationalities continue to exist under communism?” was that “The nationalities of the peoples who join together according to the principle of community will be just as much compelled by this union to merge with one another and thereby supersede themselves as the various differences between estates and classes disappear through the superseding of their basis—private property ” (“Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith”, June 9, 1847, Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 6, p. 103) Engels points to a process, and this suggests that the communists should not declare that the nationalities are abolished, but should be attentive to what actually happens among the people as a new social system comes into being. Neil would just settle matters with a stroke of a pen — and if people disagree, what does it matter to him, since they don’t have the right to self-determination?

Marxism is incompatible with socialist-colonialism

Thus Neil’s socialist-colonialism reflects his departure from Marxism on a whole series of issues, and not just the national question and the ways of forging a “fighting unity” of the world’s workers. Next time I shall go into a few of Neil’s most recent tricks in trying to find justification for his socialist- colonialism in the words of Marx and Engels. It turns out that this requires turning Marx and Engels on their heads. []

On national liberation in the 20th century

Feb. 18, 1996

From: Phil [Seattle, CVO]

Subject: Some views on national liberation struggles in the 20th cent.

Joseph, 1 think many of your points against NC are right on, and I am glad you are exposing him as a socialist-colonialist blow hard. We discussed your polemics with him today in our study group and decided that since there was quite a bit going on here already, we should suspend our study of Capital, Vol. III, and go into some of the works on the tactics of the proletariat in the democratic and national liberation struggles, such as the “Junius Pamphlet" and “Two Tactics".

However, for myself I would like to raise some points in this discussion without seeming to “horn in** on a discussion which is very illuminating as it is right now. Specifically, it seems to me that the point where Neil is getting confused is that many of the national liberation struggles of the 20th century used Marxist catchwords and phraseology to arouse the masses, even though they were being led by forces in league with the rising bourgeoisie of these nations. National liberation benefits both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and peasantry; it may even benefit the bourgeoisie more in the short run than it does the proletariat. Yet why do we Marxist-Leninists support these struggles? It is because (as you mention) these struggles act as a “school for revolution"; they teach the masses how to fight for their own interests against the bourgeoisie later, and they clear the field for the class struggle and make it wider, broader, and more profound, and make the ultimate victory of the proletariat more likely and more rapid. In this sense, national liberation struggles can benefit the proletariat in the long run more than the bourgeoisie, aside from such short-term benefits as better wages, freedom from repression, higher employment, etc. And, as members of the proletariat of an oppressor country, we can build solidarity and international unity with the people of these nations, which would not be possible if we were to view these struggles with contempt, as NC would. As far as the peasantry goes, when they win control of more of their land in such a struggle, they only begin to learn that they have no future as peasants, and that their only route forward is in alliance with the proletariat, and ultimately in a cooperative form of agriculture which rids it of backwardness and overcomes the blind alley which the peasantry faces. It is this perspective that Neil and CWV fail to see, and it is why they both cling to their short-sighted sectarian illusions, as we have seen.

Yet the rhetorical signboards of 20th century national liberation movements which posed as Marxist or socialist has fooled and ultimately disillusioned many of their erstwhile supporters. In some cases, even the leadership of these very struggles acted and spoke very sincerely while the struggle was going on, only to later be superseded by class traitors who revealed that the socialist signboards still covered up state capitalism, and that it was not as easy (maybe not even possible, under current conditions) to break the bonds of capital as was thought. In truth, Marxist-Leninists have no copyright or patent on such catchwords; they are in the public domain, and can be used by charlatan and sincere revolutionary alike. And sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. Also, the masses may be fighting for just and valid goals, and deserve our support, while the leaders of the movement may be opportunists waiting for their chance to betray the struggle. Does this mean we should not support these struggles? No, for even if they are betrayed tomorrow, they still can win valuable gains for the masses today and teach them new practical lessons which will serve them in good stead later.

It must be said in this context that we, as revolutionaries, have not always been clear on whether we support the leaders or the masses in such situations. It is hard to express your doubts about seemingly sincere leadership which is desperately in need of support (frequently against the military might of our “own" bourgeoisie), while supporting the struggles of the masses who follow them by default, because there is no other avenue open to them. The course of world history does not always work out straight and true the way we might wish. And in the case of such 20th century struggles as the Russian or Chinese Revolutions, these struggles proclaimed socialism as their immediate goal, and concessions to capitalism were only tactical maneuvers made necessary by a backward economy, devastation due to war and civil war, foreign encirclement, etc. Yet in every case, betrayal quickly followed on the heels of such seemingly wise justifications. Is it any wonder that simple-minded types such as NC seek a simpler world with more straightforward methods of producing a Utopia? It is true that NC condemns history because it has not gone according to his prejudices, but what can we, who do not condemn history, but who seek to understand it and participate in the movements of the future, say to the masses who fmd the signboards of the past confusing and the pattern of defeats and betrayals demoralizing? These are some of the questions which come to my mind in the context of the current debate.

Finally, it should be pointed out that revolutionary Marxist-Leninists do not support national liberation in the abstract, as it might be applied to every little ethnically distinct community or to peoples who differ by right of religion or dialect from a larger community. The pattern of economic and social development overall tends towards assimilation and the formation of larger groups, and the larger the nation, the more the masses of that nation will be able to forge their own path and raise their level of material well-being. That is why Lenin proclaimed the RIGHT of self-determination, not the duty, and advised revolutionaries in an oppressed nation to work for UNITY with the workers of the oppressor nation, while revolutionaries in an oppressor nation must demand that their governments permit oppressed peoples to secede IF THEY WISH TO, not in every circumstance. At the same time, he thought it was perfectly consistent for revolutionaries in the oppressed nation to advocate political independence from the oppressor nation while maintaining joint organizations with the workers of the oppressor nation.

Certainly, in the case where the demand for secession is not a mass demand, but solely the program of small clique of bourgeois adventurers who have happened to gain power by terror or trickery, we Marxists would have no obligation to support national liberation as an abstract principle. And NC would not be able to see the distinctions here, and would condemn this son of reasoning as cynical calculation, because that is all he sees.

With warm revolutionary regards,

Phil []

[End of article group]


Open letter to the “minority”

Chris Alferitz/H-20188 ‘MUD-6821-U/P.O.Box 2000 Vacaville, CA 95696-2000

Feb. 9, 1996 Dear Joseph,

This is an open letter to elements of the ‘Minority’ faction of the former MLP,USA, and is being distributed to Ben (PIX/Seattie), Jake (CWVTJ/Chicago), Neil (LAWV/LA), and you. In this document I would like to share my thoughts on the following issues:

1. Vanguard Party

2. Morality

3. Future Socialism

4. Joseph and His Brothers.

I am asking Ben to post this letter on the Net, with the hope this shall ensure the widest possible distribution among those who are interested. This document will probably by my last major letter to the current dialogue until I parole to the SF Bay Area on 05/15/96.


For several years while in prison, I read many (about 24!) different Left-Progressive publications. The goal was to renew my thinking, and prepare for the future. As I near the end of this cycle, and reflect on the lessons of the past five years, the greatest influence on me during this process were gift books and publications supplied by the RCP,USA. I think Mao made major positive contributions to the development of M-L ideology, and his ideas are worthy of a second review In particular, the history and ideological lessons of the Cultural Revolution should be studied. I am limiting my remarks to conditions in the USA. The format is question/answer Each section is numbered for easy future reference.

The ideas in this document are presented only for comments and/or reflection. The content of this letter DOES NOT imply any intent to plan the violent overthrow of any branch of the government, or to engage in any act of domestic terrorism.


1.1 Are the Masses able (under their own efforts) to gain revolutionary consciousness? If the answer is yes, then there is not any need for a Marxist-Leninist Vanguard Party (MLVP). Other sources influence the masses in a positive direction. If the answer is no, then there is still a valid need for a MLVP

1.2 Is the primary purpose of a MLVP to obtain political and economic power? If the answer is yes, then all ideological thoughts, words, and deeds of a MLVP should focus on this primary goal. If the answer is no, then there is not a need for a MLVP (In my various reading, I found only the RCP,USA to be focused on this goal.)

1.3 Do the Masses truly want to be free from oppression? (This question assumes the Masses already know they are in trouble.) If yes, then a MLVP has a valid mission, and plays a positive role. If no, then a MLVP is not necessary

1.4 Any discussion of a MLVP should first answer these three key questions.

1.5 What is the relationship of a MLVP to the Proletariat and the Lumpen Proletariat?

1.6 How can the Masses prevent a MLVP from becoming the new Ruling Class?

1 7 Does the MLP only represent and act in the “best interests” of the Masses?

1.8 My vision of a MLVP is of a “missionary” group of people who (at a minimum):

1.8.1 Have broken the chains of social control and oppression in their own lives.

1.8.2 Are able to share this good news with other people.

1.8.3. Have a vision of a society free of oppression

1.8.4 Have developed a plan to implement this vision.

1.8.5 Are honest in admitting and correcting past mistakes.

1.8.6 Are able to risk working with other people/groups who have the same goal/vision, but different implementation plans.

1.8 What is the correct relationship between a MLVP and various Nationalist groups?


2.1 This is one of the key foundations of social control in our culture. Any valid MLVP should have the courage to openly reflect and debate on this issue. This is not a “private” topic because the personal is political, and the political is personal! A new standard of morality is vital to the positive transformation of all areas of society on the road from Capitalism, to Socialism, and beyond.

2.2 A MLVP should develop a new model of Socialist Morality. Marxists have always recognized that conventional social morality is deformed in all class societies, and have never attempted to prescribe what is natural, unnatural, healthy or unhealthy A valid MLVP should fight for an expansion of human freedom in all spheres, and against all attempts to restrict this freedom in any area by the bourgeois state.

2.3 One example of this new model is the Spartacist League (SL/FI). The Sparts in their publication Spartacist, Autumn 1994, Number 51, The Post-Soviet World (Feminist Anti-Sex Crusade, page 23), clearly defines the relationship between “Politically Correct” Feminism, and the Radical Religious Right Wing of the GOP. This unholy marriage has now become a major force for moral repression and censorship by the bourgeois state in our society.

2.4 Trotsky (if I may dare to be so bold to use his name in this document!) talks about the three basic tragedies (hunger, morality, and death) facing man. Marxism has made an attempt to deal with the first problem, but has ignored the other two. This lack of broad vision may account (in part) for the failures of past Marxist attempts to renew society (I know I will probably burn forever in a Communist Hell for not properly denouncing Trotsky, so please forgive this ideological lapse!)


3.1 Ben has made a positive effort to build one possible model of society on the road to Socialism and beyond. However.

I think his vision (while a good attempt) is naive and ignores too many objective conditions. The RCP.USA in their document New Programme/Constitution developed a future model for a Socialist society which may be closer to reality (however grim this reality may appear).

3.2 My vision of a future Socialist New Society is of a culture which develops in uneven stages, and includes:

Stage I

3.2.1 Mass destruction after a long and bloody Civil War. The need to re-build all political, judicial, economic, transportation, health, education, and communication structures of society requires a Central Planning administration.

3.2.2 The need to contain and battle elements hostile to the New Society

3.2.3 The danger of allowing Capitalism to regain a toehold under the pressures of another NEP to quickly feed, clothe, shelter, heal, educate, train and employ the population.

3.2.4 Various political parties trying to widen their authority by controlling more people and territory

3.2.5 Arming and training the entire population as a People’s Militia, in place of a regular Army, and Police Force.

3.2.6 The need of the MLVP to keep a close watch on developments in the New Society.

Stage II

3.2.7 The objective conditions allow for the MLVP to relax the guard of society

3.2.8 Central Planning increases to expand land reform, and speed industrial development.

3.2.9 The standard of living improves.

3.2.10 The shifting of more responsibility from the MLVP to Mass organizations.

3.2.11 Advances in technology, and the re-establishment of the Internet.

Stage III

3.2.12 major struggle against Capitalist elements in the MLVP and the new society

3.2.13 New political and economic models are developed as a result of this struggle.

3.2.14 The Central Planning Administration shifts major responsibility to other Mass organs.

3.2.15 Major leaps in technology, standard of living, industrial and cultural development.

3.2.16 People’s Militia begins to disarm and stand-down.

Stage IV

3.2.17 Transformation from Socialism to something new and beyond.

3.2.18 (I do not know for how long each stage will last.)



I trust all is well with you and yours. I greatly appreciate your continued support, and hope to hear from you soon. Think kindly of me, and keep up the good work.

I send you my greetings,

Chris Alferitz []

Reply: On differences in the left

Dear Chris,

It was good hearing form you again. And I thank you for taking the effort to systematically present your viewpoint, which will be of interest to those who have been following your letters.

Your viewpoint seems to be that the various left groups should all unite on some basic principles—the people want to be free; the support of socialism; the building of a party; and agreement to work together despite differences in the idea of how to achieve the socialist goal. The various differences in the left seem irrelevant, since you hope that all can unite in support of maximum freedom. After all, after looking at 24 groups, one might well naturally sigh: can there really be that many truly different shades of opinion? And so Stalinists and Trotskyists on one hand, should unite with anti-revisionists on the other; left-Libertarians and anarchists with socialists.

This has been tried various times, and it has never worked. One has to examine the reasons for the left being fragmented, and for its crisis. One has to look at the history of how Marxism developed, and of how the workers’ movement developed. One has to examine the political and economic realities of today, and the crisis in revolutionary theory.

In this regard, it is notable that you don’t refer to the differences on many issues that have divided the groups or that have been dealt with in our previous correspondence. You write at a time when the debate over what is Marxism and what is anti-revisionism is strong; at a time when the question of what attitude to state-capitalist regimes such as Cuba is still an issue; at a time when the attitude to ejidos, towards peasant movements, towards planned production, towards the glorification of small-scale production (Libertarians on the right, and most streams of anarchism on the left); at a time when there are different attitudes to how to organize at the workplace and different views towards the union bureaucrats and the crisis of the unions; is very strong, and you don’t address any of these questions.

As it is, you address a letter to the “minority’’ faction and include “Ben”, who is a member of the “majority” who helped liquidate the Workers' Advocate. Indeed, Ben’s idea of free discussion was that the prerequisite for this was the silencing of all critics of his ideas and those of his friends and allies. But the political alignments of people may not even be so clear until one examines deeply what they are really saying.

With respect to the party, I think it is a mistake to connect it too much to the issue of people being models of liberation in their lives today You write that the party should contain people who “have broken the chains of social control and oppression in their own lives” In a very real sense, this is impossible. One can break the chains of social control in the sense that one begins to fight back against capitalist oppression, but one cannot live the free and happy life of the future while still living in this society The moment one enters the workplace, or sees one’s children watching TV, or sees the police patrol the streets, or looks at the mass media, one will be irresistibly reminded that one lives in a definite society One can fight oppression or be broken by it, and that makes a big difference to one’s mental state, but only the working class as a whole, by revolution, can break the chains of that oppression. If it were possible to free oneself from this oppression individually, it would raise serious questions as to why we need a party or a revolution. In the 60’s, there were many people who formed communes and hoped to have a liberated life under the present system. Their sentiment was often commendable and they often supported many worthwhile causes, but the experience of the times showed that you cannot simply drop out of the present system; you must fight to change it while it still bears down on you.

Your identify the personal with the political to the point of saying that "the personal is political, and the political is personal". This is, I think, connected to your view of the party being a model of socialist morality with members who illustrate the new life to others. But I believe it would be a very mistaken theory for a political group or for a revolutionary society to identify the personal and the political. It means that all private and personal matters should be subject to the same scrutiny as one's political stands, and this would create a busy-body society at best. One of the ideological prerequisites for society as a whole consciously directing the economy and eliminating the rule of the marketplace is that it knows how to separate the private and the public. Indeed, one of the prerequisites for raising the working class in revolution as a class, one of the prerequisites for building a mass communist workers' party, is learning the distinction between private and public. (And for a different but related reason, the distinction between the discussion of personalities and that of political line, I have omitted the section of your letter on “Joseph and his brothers". I do thank you for your supportive remarks in that section, but the CVO is a collective enterprise and it is important, in building a revolutionary trend, to keep oriented towards the political issues.)

I think that what is needed is not general principles — which are unavoidably abstract — about whether the masses want freedom, but a study of any of the vexed questions of today’s revolutionary life.

Without such a study of the issues that have arisen over and over in revolutionary work, it is hard to find an objective standard to judge groups. Some do seem more revolutionary and exciting than others on the surface, but what is the content of their work and their theorizing? The RCP certainly has a paper which seems the most revolutionary of various left papers. Yet in practice, they can’t connect their revolutionary sentiments to organizing a communist working class movement, and end up appealing to liberalism and establishment personalities and organizations. Similarly Ben puts his vision of a future society into shiny communist and Libertarian phrases. But when you examine what his society really is, it is the rule of the marketplace forever. Articles in earlier issues of the Communist Voice have already shown that his idea of future society is one of reflections of the current neo-conservative atmosphere inside the left movement.

I can sympathize with that, when one reads 24 left papers one after the other, the phrases seem to dance around. The only way to make progress is to take some issue, and look beneath the phrases to a materialist basis. This is the only way to penetrate beneath the rhetoric of various groups to the heart of revolutionary theory You have written before about your views of different issues and controversies, and I look forward to more of your letters. And I wish you well in your coming emancipation from prison.

Best regards,

Joseph Green, editor. Communist Voice []

An objection to continuing the anti-revisionist cause of the Workers' Advocate

Letter to Joseph Green and the Communist Voice Organization from Jake, Chicago Workers ' Voice March 7, 1996


Please note that the 5th and Final Congress of the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA voted that there would be no successor. You were at this Congress and at that time you agreed with dissolving the MLP and having no successor (I did not). Further, the Final Congress voted down the proposal for a temporary journal. We didn’t agree with it and we fought against it, but the Congress voted that no press succeeded the Workers' Advocate or the WA Supplement. Why then do you now call your journal the “Successor to the Workers' Advocate"!

The Workers' Advocate, as you well know and as, hopefully, your readers will recall, was the newspaper of the Central Committee of the MLP. Since the MLP has no successor, how can the newspaper of it’s Central Committee have a successor? (Are you also claiming to be the successor of the Central Committee of the MLP?)

The truth is that the Communist Voice is not the successor to the Workers' Advocate. And not because the 5th Congress said so. The fact is that your journal is not what the Workers' Advocate was, not in its purpose, not in its practice, not in its format, not in its politics.

You yourself point out that CV is quite different from WA in the article “What is Communist Voice? (CV #5, p.2):

The Communist Voice continues, in a different form, with fewer resources, and with more focus on the theoretical task, the struggle of the Workers' Advocate to contribute to the organization of the revolutionary proletarian party".

So the form and content of your journal is very different from the Workers' Advocate. But, you state, you share the same goal as did WA. Even if it were true that CVs aims are the same as the Workers' Advocate, that would not justify your claim to be its successor. []

Reply: Revolution doesn’t ask for permission

Dear Jake,

The heart of the Workers' Advocate was what trend it wanted to build — it was dedicated to building up the anti-revisionist trend and contributing to the building of a genuine communist party The CVO continues this cause. The Chicago Workers' Voice group, of which you are a member, has abandoned anti-revisionism. The CWV waffles on the nature of Cuban revisionism; it fights against a realistic assessment of the Zapatista leadership of the peasant rebellion in Chiapas; it supports the petty-bourgeois nationalist journal El Machete as a possible center for the left movement in Mexico; and so on.

You complain that the Communist Voice does not have the authorization of the 5th Congress of the MLP. But the 5th Congress majority followed the liquidationist leaders, who had abandoned Marxism and anti-revisionism. These leaders had aimed at the destruction of the Workers' Advocate for some time, because the WA never abandoned its Marxist convictions. The 5th Congress itself had no connection to the views advocated for 25 years by the Workers' Advocate. The hostility of the liquidationist majority to our work since the 5th Congress is in fact a sign that we are indeed continuing the cause of the Workers' Advocate.

The CWV group also has displayed hostility to the trend of the Workers' Advocate. In the inner-party debate in 1991-2, it was the continuing revolutionary agitation in the Workers' Advocate — agitation that upheld communist principles while various leaders step by step abandoned them — against which you and the CWV polemicized. And now you hold that there is no right to continue the cause of the Workers' Advocate since the liquidationist leaders won’t like it. At the same time, the CWV's Julie, in her statement of March 5, 1996, has recently appealed to Jim, one of the main liquidationist leaders at the 5th Congress, to write for the CWVTJ.

As for us, we claim the right of revolution as justification for taking up the cause of the Workers' Advocate. The proletariat does not ask the permission of the bourgeoisie in order to begin the class struggle. The anti-revisionists in World War I did not ask the permission of the socialist-chauvinists in order to begin a struggle for communist principle. And we will not ask the permission of the liquidationist leaders or of the CWV.

If we claimed to represent the majority of the late MLP, we would of course be guilty of misrepresentation. But every issue of the Communist Voice points out that we spring from the minority at the 5th Congress. Our explanation of why the Communist Voice is the successor of the Workers' Advocate does not claim authorization of the 5th Congress, but the exact opposite: it points to the hostility of the 5th Congress to the Workers' Advocate and its cause, and our opposition to the 5th Congress majority We are continuing the communist cause abandoned by the 5th Congress majority, and indeed, we hope to take that cause beyond the point at which the Workers' Advocate left it.

So we are the successors to the Workers' Advocate by the right of revolution, not by private property rights in the name “Workers’ Advocate”granted by the 5th Congress. But, as a matter of historical fact, you are wrong when you assert that the 5th Congress took a stand on what should follow the MLP, and you are prettifying the liquidators with this lie. The 5th Congress did not make any assessment of what the political significance of dissolving the MLP would be; and it did not recommend what should be done following the party. It refused to support a “temporary journal”, and that was all. Tim Hall (Detroit) wrote at the time denouncing the “stampede” to dissolve without any assessment or any plan.

You claim that you did not agree with dissolving the Party. But in fact you did, and you only voted “no” as a symbolic protest against the Congress majority. That’s why later you began to ridicule any proposal for the “minority” to form an organization -- however loose and rudimentary -- as “the MLP Part Deux” (see your letter of Feb. 18, 1995 in the CWVTJ Special Issue of March 7, 1995, p.72) Moreover, prior to the 5th Congress, the CWV comrades, although they had their own grievances, were equivocal about the ongoing ideological struggle against the liquidationist leaders. For example, on the eve of the Congress Julie still wrote (Chicago #8, Nov 17, 1993) that she “didn’t find anything particularly demoralized or untoward about Michael’s report to the last plenum”, and yet Michael’s report was the rallying point of those CC members who wanted to liquidate the Workers' Advocate.

But even if the 5th Congress had expressed a view on what would follow the MLP, the opinion of a congress of liquidation hardly has much authority. Any communist worthy of the name would proudly flout it. When you, Jake, appeal to this Congress, it means that you are appealing to the “authority” of the liquidationist leaders and trying to help them complete their work of stamping out the anti-revisionist cause once championed by the Workers' Advocate.

Beyond that, Jake, you simply have one legalist quibble after another You argue that Communist Voice doesn't have the exact same form as the Workers' Advocate. Big deal. Was it the form of the Workers' Advocate that defined its political trend and its significance? Indeed, the Workers' Advocate itself changed form many times.

You argue that the CV is not the organ of a Central Committee. Big deal. The general standpoint of the CV is, however, determined by the democratic vote of the CVO, while you and the CWV forced a split in the minority because you refused to allow the CWVTJ’s editorial board to be elected by the “minority” which it was supposed to represent.

The CV continues the anti-revisionist communism of the Workers' Advocate. Should you dedicate yourself once again to taking up this cause, you will be welcome as an activist in the ranks of the anti-revisionist Marxists. But if you continue to oppose this cause, you should stop hiding your political stand behind legalistic double-talk and instead present your analysis of the crisis of the revolutionary left and of how to overcome it.

Joseph Green, editor, CV []