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Communist Voice

Successor to the Workers' Advocate

Volume 2, Number 6

Dec. 15, 1996


Mexico & peasant socialism

Democratization, petty production, and the socialist vision

Cuban state-capitalist economy and SWP mythology

Targeting the Indonesian tyranny

The IWW and ‘union scabbing’

Blaming the rank-and-file workers or the union bureaucrats?

Also — how not to fight anarchism;

and correspondence with Red Star Rising Again

In this issue:

Did Castro steer Cuba towards socialism in the late 1980s? by Mark, Detroit


How SWP whitewashes the Castro regime by Mark, Detroit


Excerpts from two SWP articles on Cuba


Riots in Indonesia by Pete Brown


An action in support of the East Timorese freedom struggle, by Frank, Seattle


On proletarian tasks in the period of the crisis of the Mexican regime: Once again on peasant socialism by Joseph Green


The continuing crisis in Mexico by Sarah, Chicago Workers’ Voice


How not to fight anarchism by Joseph Green



The IWW and “union scabbing”


Correspondence: Red Star Rising Again



Did Castro steer Cuba towards socialism in the late 1980s?

by Mark, Detroit

Cuban state-capitalism on the way to private capitalism

Are recent market reforms a temporary retreat?

Was the Cuban "rectification" of 1986 a move toward socialism?

Behind the crackdown on free peasant markets

"Production brigades": a new form of semi-private business

Other brigades

The role of the rhetoric about "voluntary labor"

The fate of central planning under "rectification"

"Rectification", privatization, and imperialist investment

Does the "rectification" mark a fundamental change from before?

Socialism will only come with a fight against Cuban revisionism

In left-wing circles today, Cuba has been receiving renewed attention. In the past, the fake communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, or China were widely believed to be the socialist alternative. But with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and with Chinese state-capitalism looking every day more like market capitalism under a tyrannical rule, the enthusiasm for these regimes has waned. Even the opportunist left groups that continue to defend the Chinese revisionist rulers have to grit their teeth to do so. Meanwhile, the groups that used to tout the "socialism" of the Soviet Union are mainly reduced to hoping that the present remnants of the old revisionist "communist" party will restore the rotten system of state-capitalist oppression. Of the regimes that have been touted as communist, Cuba is the one that still garners some enthusiasm among the left.

But Cuban "communism" is not following some fundamentally different path than the collapsed Soviet Union or the Chinese revisionist rulers. In fact, what attitude to take toward the Cuban regime has long been a dividing line between communism and its opportunist counterfeit. A slew of reformist, petty-bourgeois nationalist and phony "Marxist" trends are promoting Cuban state-capitalism and its revisionist rulers. Some, like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), fawn over the rhetoric of the Cuban elite as the pinnacle of communist wisdom today. Others have any number of criticisms of the regime, but nonetheless hold that Cuba is "socialist", or at least a "workers' state", or hail its alleged "anti-imperialism". In contrast, our group, the Communist Voice Organization, feels that the promotion of Castroism and the Cuban state-capitalist system has nothing in common with a revolutionary class stand or genuine communist principle.

The Cuban revolution which toppled the U.S. -backed Batista regime was a liberating event. An extensive land reform was carried out, a social-welfare system reduced the gross inequities of the old system, and the domination of U.S. imperialism ended. But the revolution died long ago. The Castro regime, which was never guided by Marxism-Leninism, eventually came under the sway of Soviet revisionism and a state-capitalist order was consolidated. While the higher-ups among the party and management bureaucrats solidified into an elite, the masses scraped to get by as the social safety net became frayed by several waves of austerity measures. But what of Cuba's much-vaunted "anti-imperialism"? Having rid itself of U.S. imperialism, Cuba's eventual integration into the Soviet imperialist bloc meant the return of dependence on a foreign power. This dependence led to the extreme crisis confronting Cuba as the Soviet Union fell apart. Nor did the Cuban leaders maintain a revolutionary stand against the Western capitalist countries.

Cuban state-capitalism on the way to private capitalism

Indeed, it's notable that the opportunist left's promotion of Cuba comes at a time when the old state-capitalist forms, which at first glance may have appeared "socialist", are to a large extent being replaced by more naked "free-market" reforms. The economic disaster that was kicked off by the collapse of the Soviet Union left the official economy in ruins. The output of goods and services in the official economy subsequently took a dramatic drop.1 In this situation, the illegal black market economy has grown to huge proportions. With Cuban production way down, the peso does not have the ability to buy what the masses need. By 1993, the spread of black market trade in U.S. dollars was so large, that Castro decided to legalize the dollar market as there was no longer any way to police it.2

In similar fashion, other traditional private capitalist forces are being legalized. Small private businesses in services and manufacture are no longer black market activities and involve a sizable section of the working population. In 1994, various restrictions on the free-market sale of agricultural production from private farms were lifted. Judging from the size that these markets assumed when they were first permitted in the 1980s, it is quite likely that a majority of perishable agricultural products are sold in the free market.

The wide legalization of traditional capitalist forces also involves a big opening to outside capitalist investment. The Cuban authorities are offering up virtually all sectors of the state enterprises to joint ventureship with foreign capital, and offering very generous conditions to insure fat profits for the investors. Despite U.S. imperialism's long-standing efforts to strangle Cuba with an economic blockade, a significant amount of foreign capital is pouring in, and all indications are that it will grow larger and larger. Foreign investment has played a large role in elevating tourism to challenge sugar production as the most important sector of the economy.

But the market reforms of the last few years are not just a matter of giving wide play to the long-existing private capitalist forces at home and abroad. A process of privatization is well under way from within the state-capitalist enterprises. Some sizable state companies have been turned over to groups of top bureaucrats as their private property. Such companies operate outside of even the pretense of central planning, run on their own income, keep their own profits and even establish interlocking ownership/management relations with similar companies and foreign investors. In agriculture, the state farms which dominated agriculture have been divided up into competing co-ops who rise and fall on their own resources. These co-ops sell their production not only to the government, but also in the free markets. In essence, the success of some co-ops will be tied to the failure of others. In this manner, the laws of capitalist competition operate throughout Cuban agriculture in ways quite similar to ordinary capitalist countries. Meanwhile, in the economy in general, there are plans to shut down unprofitable state enterprises and carry out other rationalization measures that will result in widescale job loss. Supposedly the private sector will pick up the slack of the crumbling state sector and unemployment will be cured. Of course, the other revisionist regimes also promised salvation through the growth of the private sector and foreign capitalist investment, whereas the reality has been growing unemployment and widening gaps between the rich and poor.

Are recent market reforms a temporary retreat?

According to the Castro regime and its apologists, the market reforms that have been implemented since the collapse of the Soviet bloc do not discredit the Cuban rulers. They allege that such measures are just a temporary retreat and that the pursuit of socialism continues. Of course Marxist theory recognizes that to go from capitalism to communism involves a whole transitional period where various features of the old society will still have to be overcome, including some vestiges of the old economic order. Unexpected conditions, or wrong estimates about how quickly various remnants of capitalism can be abolished, may force retreats.

But such considerations cannot exonerate the Cuban revisionist rulers nor show that Cuba is really on the road to socialism. The history of Cuba since the revolution shows that the economy was long ago set up on state-capitalist lines heavily influenced by the Soviet state-capitalist policies of the mid-1960s. Cuba under Castro is not an example of a revolution temporarily employing some capitalist measures. Rather, the capitalist methods incorporated into the state sector were entrenched long ago. Despite various limitations on the market, these methods led to anarchic competition between enterprises, with the inevitable result of the growth of private interests within the state sector. Thus, such recent measures as turning state property outright over to members of the Cuban ruling class, or turning state farms into small-group property, are not a "retreat" from some alleged path toward socialism, but a partial transition from state-capitalism to private capitalism. In fact, in this regard, Cuba is following the policy of the last several years in Russia and other revisionist countries where officials of the state and party apparatus were able to lay claim to newly-privatized state enterprises.

Moreover, one cannot ignore the historic role of the black market economy in Cuba after the revolution when evaluating Cuban society. The issue isn't that the Castro government wasn't able to eliminate it at one stroke. But this has long played a significant role in the economy, and the government has, despite railing against it at certain times, generally tolerated the black market. The black market constituted another private capitalist sector in addition to the officially-permitted private farms and small businesses. Thus, what has long existed in Cuba is not a society on the way to socialism but a society where the general direction of the economy has been toward adopting more and more features of ordinary capitalism.

Was the Cuban "rectification" of 1986 a move toward socialism?

Of course, while a predominant state sector run with capitalist principles and a sizable illegal and legal market sector have been a constant for decades, there have been shifts in government policy. The emergency measures that have given wider reign to the market following the collapse of the Soviet Union is one example. But there have been periods when the Cuban leadership placed more limits on the private market and claimed it would rectify the capitalist practices that had been accumulating. Among a number of the American left groups that retain the outlook of the Soviet revisionist and trotskyite traditions, this has become part of their rationale for glorifying the Cuban rulers and pretending that they are defending socialism, or at least intend to get on with building socialism some time or other.3

One of the periods they point to with pride is the so-called "rectification" period that officially began in 1986. In this period, Castro began to bemoan a whole series of capitalist afflictions that had become widespread in Cuba. He traced their origin to the formal adoption in 1975 of the Soviet (state-capitalist) model. He decried the profiteering and corruption that was rife throughout the state sector and how each enterprise looked out only for itself and not for the good of society. And he ended the policy of allowing free peasant and artisan markets in the cities. At the same time, the Cuban rulers revived the name of the revolutionary martyr Che Guevara in order to chatter a lot about moving away from "material incentives" and toward more ideological motivations for the Cuban workers.

But what was really going on in this period? Did this period undo the state-capitalist system? Was Cuba now heading to a communist future? Was the talk against "material incentives" and for voluntary labor part of an overall revolutionary policy, or was it a cover to get the masses to accept austerity measures?

Behind the crackdown on free peasant markets

Let's look at the question of the crackdown on the private peasant markets. This is one of the most well-publicized features of the period. It is also widely argued by friends and foes of the Castro regime alike that this was an example of the Castro regime embarking on revolutionary measures.4 Yet, while private peasant markets were being reduced, the system of government-subsidized goods also continued its long-term decline as a part of total consumer spending. From accounting for virtually all legal consumer purchases in 1970, it declined to 25% by the late 80s.5 Meanwhile, official "parallel" markets played an even bigger role. These markets offer products not available through the ration system as well as goods that are available. But prices in the "parallel market" are several times higher than ration prices. The masses have to pay dearly for goods in the parallel markets, and a whole array of products are beyond their means altogether.

The various distribution systems for consumer goods in Cuba are a reflection of the class stratification that has solidified there. The masses have largely depended on modest allotments at government-subsidized prices. Those with higher incomes can afford to spend a lot in the parallel markets. And there are also the "dollar shops" for the fortunate few who accumulate enough U.S. currency to afford them. Of course, the black market has always available for those who can pay exorbitant prices.

The growth of the "parallel market" meant the growth of goods whose prices were essentially determined according to market principles of supply and demand. This took place at a time when the ration system allotments of such things as milk, sugar and kerosene were being reduced and when the prices of other basic necessities, such as public transportation and electricity, were raised. The government saved money by reducing allotments for the masses, and on the other hand, it reaped the income from high-priced goods sold in the "parallel market." In plain terms, while the government railed against profiteering in the private markets, it was assuming the role that the private profiteers had played. Thus, during the period of "rectification", the principles behind the distribution of goods to the population moved ever-closer to those typical of free-market capitalism.

"Production brigades": a new form of semi-private business

Another of the prominent features of the "rectification" of the late 80s was the creation of production contingents or brigades. By the end of the decade, about 37,000 workers were involved in 72 of these brigades, which were concentrated in the construction sector. It's notable that the initial experiments with this type of enterprise go back to 1981, in a period when market reforms were all the rage. It turns out these brigades operate much like private businesses. They were formed out of parts of state enterprises. The most gung-ho workers from the enterprises were chosen for the brigades. The brigade is self-administered and self-financing. It works on the basis of contracts from the enterprise, and it keeps the difference between the sum it is paid by the enterprise and its own costs. Since as much as 40% of wages in the brigade comes from profit-sharing bonuses, the workers' wages will drop a great deal unless the brigade turns a profit. Thus these brigades essentially operate very much like a capitalist business.

Allegedly, the "rectification" was supposed to combat the idea of "material incentives". But the whole point of these brigades is to dangle the promise of big bonuses in front of the worker. Moreover, the working class in the market capitalist countries is quite familiar with how such profit-sharing incentives can damage the conditions of the workers. Now it is true that workers in brigades often earned a good deal more in total earnings than other workers. But in order to do this, they had to endure workdays as long as 12-15 hours. In fact, the labor laws as a whole were waived for the brigade workers. When one considers this, the higher total wages don't look so great. Indeed, some statistics from an apologist of the regime suggest wages per hour may in a number of cases have dropped among these contingents.6

Other brigades

Other sorts of brigade-type units were established in this period as well that have been talked about as "voluntary labor." These brigades are variously referred to as "minibrigades", "microbrigades" or "social brigades". These brigades would also work on construction projects, such as housing or clinics. Some of these brigades were enterprise-based, with the enterprise paying the wages and the government compensating the enterprise for these payments. Others were community-based, with the government paying the wages and supplying construction materials. The labor code did not apply to these workers, either. Hence, they too worked extremely long work days. In addition, these workers were part-time labor who could be put out of work at any time and apparently were not entitled to unemployment compensation like non-brigade workers.7

Given these conditions, it is not surprising that worker complaints over miserable working conditions are reported even by ardent defenders of the system. As well, in 1991, there was a work stoppage by brigade members building facilities for the Pan American games. What angered the workers was the government's decision that after the games, the housing would be made available for tourists, not the workers. The government was forced to at least partially relent. Reportedly, shortages of materials has led to major problems retaining the overall brigade movement.

The role of the rhetoric about "voluntary labor"

Defenders of the Cuban regime try to paint the "rectification" period as a period when the regime was emphasizing communist principles. The regime's talk about "voluntary labor" and downplaying "material incentives" supposedly indicates moving away from capitalist methods and towards the ideal of working selflessly for the good of society instead of one's own direct benefit. A society moving on the road toward communism would certainly encourage instances of working in a dedicated fashion without regard to personal benefit. At the same time, Marxism recognizes that for the mass of workers to labor without regard for personal benefit, for this to be the rule and not the exception, certain material conditions have to be created. Only to the extent that material abundance is achieved, and society able to provide for the needs of the whole working population, regardless of their personal contribution to the total social output, will the mass of workers lose the habit necessitated by capitalism of expecting direct compensation for every minute worked.

But what was going on in Cuba during "rectification" was something quite different. As we have seen, some of the brigades were basically small business where typical capitalist methods were employed. As for the other brigades, the mere fact that workers volunteered for them does not show that they expected no material benefits for themselves, or their own brigade, in return. It seems that in a good number of cases, the workers simply wanted to get housing for themselves.8 Given the major housing shortage, this was reasonable enough. But getting housing in return for work is not eschewing material rewards and has nothing in common with communist methods. Moreover, the productivity of a brigade worker figured heavily into how the housing was distributed, a definite material incentive.

In fact, the brigades were emergency measures undertaken by the Cuban rulers to deal with certain crises. Some useful construction got done. But that hardly proves the Cuban regime was revolutionary. In fact, if the extension of such emergency measures became the general policy, this would have not represented a communist policy. It is not merely a question of whether or not the labor was done for personal gain or society's. If a society has to rely on 12-14 hour work days for the bulk of the workers, then it is not a society that can accomplish any of the measures necessary to achieve socialism. It is a society where workers are too worn out to concern themselves with anything but making it through the next day, or revolting against their plight, a condition typical of capitalist society. It is a society that cannot provide the working class the living conditions, time or training that would enable the class to be able to run society. It would mean that governing the new society would fall exclusively to those who were economically and socially better off. Such conditions would tend to indicate a society divided between a ruling class and the ruled.

During "rectification", Cuba was not purging itself of capitalist evils and moving closer to communist methods, but was a state-capitalist society trying some different measures to maintain itself. It used talk about "voluntary" labor much like in the ordinary capitalist countries -- as a way to get the masses to accept austerity. The "non-material" incentives policy of the Castro regime has more in common with Reaganite volunteerism than socialism. "Rectification" not only meant that brigade members worked like dogs. Measures were also taken reducing the conditions of the bulk of the working masses. Besides the already mentioned cuts in rations and the price hikes for necessities, wage-cutting and heavier workloads were imposed on the workers in most sectors.9 One way this was carried out was raising the "norms" that workers had to achieve before receiving bonus pay. The wage-cutting campaign was carried out with the hypocritical use of communist phrases about avoiding the dangers of wage disparities that could take place through a bonus system. But the attack was not carried out against a handful of very well-off workers, but against the majority of workers who were struggling to get by.10 Moreover, the idea of chasing bonuses was not ended, but merely made more difficult to achieve. As well, the "model" for this period was the aforementioned production brigades where bonuses were emphasized, and in general, certain limits on how much bonuses could total were eliminated. Likewise, the "left"-sounding words of the regime against the bureaucracy were largely chiding enterprise bosses for not cracking down hard enough against the workers. Anti-bureaucracy rhetoric was also a rationale given for ripping up the labor code.

This rationalization drive meant large-scale discharges of workers from many workplaces. Supposedly, workers could only be laid off if there was another job awaiting them. Yet, while unemployment was around 2% in the mid-70s, by 1989 it had grown to 7%. In fact, the unemployed were not being reabsorbed into the workforce.11

The fate of central planning under "rectification"

Try as one might, there is no evidence of the Cuban regime taking up the socialist road during "rectification." In addition to those already mentioned, in this period certain measures are taken that reflected how anarchy in the economy was undermining central planning. These provisions came from two opposite directions. From one side, the influence of central planning over individual enterprises was relaxed. From the other, a handful of top party bureaucrats gave itself the right to run the economy on the basis of emergency directives that circumvented the central plan. These methods were dubbed "continuous planning".

The extension of enterprise autonomy in planning was begun in 1988, and by 1990 it was being applied in 900 enterprises comprising almost half of Cuba's mercantile production and about 38% of all workers in the productive sphere.12 Cuban officials announced that the central plans would be no more than "general guidelines" "used to begin working out the economic plans."13 In theory, at least, central planning bodies still had final say in how the economy was to operate under both the old and new plans. But the new planning method was supposed to deal with the fact that in practice, the enterprises were unwilling or unable to carry out the plans. This contradiction was supposed to be overcome by having the enterprise draw up its own yearly output plans, cost and profit estimates, etc. These plans could then be approved by the central planners or they could pressure for changes. But the contradiction could only be overcome in this manner if the central plan conceded to what each of the hundreds of individual enterprises wanted to do. In other words, this was a concession to the anarchy of production in Cuba.

As for the circumvention of the normal planning bodies during this period, this was begun in 1984 by a select group of bureaucrats organized by Castro. Actually, some supporters of the regime consider this the beginning of "rectification." This was portrayed as striking a blow at bureaucracy, but it only meant one section of the bureaucracy managed to impose its will on the others. In 1984, the revisionist Communist Party Political Bureau announced it was taking direct charge of the economy, and later this task was assigned to the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers. An apologist of the regime describes the effect of these measures as follows:

"The new structure meant that while one-year and five-year planning continued through the Central Planning Board (JUCEPLAN) and other ministries, a more flexible day-to-day operation of the economy and use of resources would be sought by the Executive Committee."14

Thus, there was a plan, but in essence, it was admitted that this plan could not be carried out. The direct running of the economy by the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers reportedly ended in 1992, but the economy has been largely running on a series of emergency measures up to the present day. Thus, from 1984 to 1996, even the form of central planning has become a polite fiction. The further demise of overall planning is further evidence that "rectification" was not a period of socialist or communist measures.

"Rectification", privatization, and imperialist investment

While "rectification" was supposedly a period of anti-capitalist measures, this was actually the period when the role of privatization of state assets became more prominent. To get an idea of what these enterprises were like, one example is the Gaviota enterprise which catered to high-income tourists. The company began with an $88 million government loan. It issued stock purchased by the Cuban elite as well as foreign shareholders in Latin America, Spain, and France. Such businesses, known as sociedades anonimas, "behave as profit-maximizing entities and engage in joint ventures inside and outside of Cuba."15 Another such company, Cubanacan, was started in 1987 to be "the primary Cuban corporation that engages foreign capital in joint-venture investments in the Cuban tourism industry."16 Though the official government tourism agency, INTUR, was still much bigger than Cubanacan in terms of overall control of tourism, the Cuban government envisioned a huge growth in the significance of such firms. For example, INTUR statistics projected that by 1991, about a third of all rooms used by tourists would be under the control of Cubanacan and Gaviota alone.17

The growth of profit-oriented enterprises operating outside the state plan went hand-in-hand with the escalated courting of foreign capitalist investment during this period. Joint venture agreements were reached not only in tourism, but in an array of industries from electronics to petrochemicals and textiles. By 1990, Castro was letting foreign investors know that the Cuban government was willing to cut more generous deals with them than was apparent from the 1982 foreign investment code. Thus, while the emergency period following the collapse of the Soviet Union accelerated Cuba's drive to attract foreign investment, this drive to open Cuba up to foreign capitalist ventures was going on during the alleged "rectification" against capitalist influences.

In regard to foreign capital, it should be noted that austerity measures were in part undertaken to pay back huge debts to the Western imperialist countries. Slashes in textile allocations, sugar, and gas for motor vehicles for the masses meant more of these products were available for overseas sales. These sales were intended to get foreign currency for debt repayment and hard currency purchases from abroad. Likewise, cutbacks in electricity preserved more petroleum for foreign sale. It should also be noted that the Castro regime's long-standing reliance on foreign aid from the Soviet social-imperialists and their Eastern European allies also played its part in austerity. By the end of the 1980s, COMECON development aid, which had reached almost $900 million a year, virtually dried up. Cuba had relied on such aid to limit its need for the hard currency necessary for economic relations with the Western capitalist countries.

Does the "rectification" mark a fundamental change from before?

When the methods of the late 1980s are compared to the previous period, it suggests that far from "rectifying" the past evils of state-capitalism, the methods of the two periods are quite similar. In fact, in a number of important ways, the methods of the later 80s represent the formal acceptance of these evils. The past methods referred to in this article are those that began in the early 70s and were formalized with the 1975 adoption of the SDPE (System of Economic Management and Planning). (The first decade after the 1959 revolution, and its relation to the system in the 70s, is a complex issue meriting separate attention in later articles.) The SDPE system was the Cuban version of methods adopted by the state-capitalist Soviet Union in the 1960s. The idea behind it was that the crisis of state-capitalism could be overcome by widely employing market mechanisms throughout the state sector and giving further play to the private sector.

Under the SDPE system, enterprises were initially funded by the government, but thereafter were self-financing. The fact that they were supposed to meet state production quotas and the extent of price controls on consumer goods were features of the higher degree of state regulation these enterprises faced compared to those in the ordinary capitalist countries. But the fact that they had to rely on their own resources meant they were in a situation similar to businesses in ordinary capitalist countries. The primary interest of enterprises was not the good of society, but their own profits. As well, there was a built-in contradiction between government central planners and the separate enterprises. In such a system, the top managers do not own the enterprise, but since their success is tied to their enterprise, they assume the features of the capitalist manager of private property. In the "rectification" period, we do not see this situation reversed. Rather, we find the next logical step: state initiated enterprises that operate outside planning altogether, and that are controlled by a few top managers and shareholders.

Often it is argued that the end of the policy of allowing private peasant farmers to sell their goods in free markets in the cities showed how Castro was "rectifying" market methods. But, even if we ignore the fact that these markets were restored a few years later, this is not the case. As mentioned earlier, the Castro regime condemned the free peasant markets for profiteering. But because distribution of consumer goods had shifted to the government's "parallel markets", the market-style pricing remained while the government assumed the role of profiteer. The increasing role of parallel markets was a product of the SDPE period that was supposedly being opposed.

True, in the SDPE period, a series of measures that gave freer reign to small peasant farming, including on small plots by workers on state farms, were undertaken. But along with this, there are measures that appear to be in the other direction. For instance, there was a big effort to combine the small private plots into co-ops. From 1983 to 1989 the co-ops' membership roles increase from about 30,000 to over 80,000. Co-ops can play a role in a transition from small private farming to socialist state farms that are the property of all of society. But co-op agriculture has also been encouraged by a variety of capitalist regimes. In Cuba, despite the co-ops getting government assistance, the laws of competition that are typical under capitalism divided them between rich and poor. Thus, even apologists of the Castro regime admit that only about 40% of the co-op farms were doing well when "rectification" began while an equal number were buried under heavy debt.18 The solution offered by "rectification" was dividing the co-ops back into smaller self-financing brigade units. Thus, rectification actually utilized still more market competition and restored smaller farms!

During the SDPE period, Cuba accumulated massive debts to the Western capitalist countries. The Western loans dried up in the late 1980s. But that is not due to Castro's choosing, but because Cuba was defaulting on its debts. During "rectification" the Cuban leadership bled the masses in part to pay off these debts. And the pursuit of foreign capital continued in another form. Thus, the effort to woo direct foreign investment began to take off during this period. Today, Castro is even auctioning off parts of the state sector to international capital.

As for the domination of Cuba by Soviet social-imperialism, that was common to both the "rectification" period and the previous one (and before that). With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the phony communist regimes of Eastern Europe, Cuba paid dearly for its leaders' reliance on the Soviet bloc. The Cuban economy went into a tailspin. Another constant between the two periods was the influence of the Soviet Union on Cuba's domestic and international politics. For example, certain of the Soviet-style economic measures were adopted under the pressure of the threat of cutting off vital Soviet oil shipments. Likewise, Cuba backed the worst imperialist adventures of the Soviet Union. Soviet influence also played a role the Castro government taking a more conciliatory stand toward Western capitalist countries. Cuba's former reliance on the Soviet Union has ended, but now Castro is depending on Western capitalist investment to save the day.

Socialism will only come with a fight against Cuban revisionism

This brief look at Cuba before and after "rectification" shows that while both periods naturally have unique measures, these measures did not move Cuba an inch toward socialism. The recent misfortunes of the island since the collapse of the Soviet bloc have speeded up some moves toward market reforms. But the idea that Cuba was a socialist country rectifying a few errors before that is absurd. The period after the mid-80s "rectification" continued to lay the groundwork for the disaster of the 1990s. The state-capitalist economy was already in crisis before the overwhelming disaster that hit it in the 1990s. The more naked market forms proliferating in Cuba these days continues a trend started long ago.

An important task today is to inspire enthusiasm among the workers and activists for a future communist society. The revisionist and trotskyite trends who still glorify the Castro regime, or still consider Cuba a revolutionary society that just need some reforms, are doing the workers no favors. Pretending that socialism exists in Cuba might comfort some, but only the truth can really serve the interests of the masses. Prettifying Cuban state-capitalism is of particular disservice to the Cuban toilers. For it is only when they see that there is some alternative to both the market and imperialism, and state-capitalist oppression, that they can take the first steps to rebuilding the Cuban workers' movement on a really revolutionary basis.


1 According to a Cuban economist, the "gross social product" of Cuba declined by 24% in 1991 and another 15% in 1992. See the article "Cuban Politics before and after the 1991 Communist Party Congress" by Jorge I. Dominguez found on page 9 of the book Cuba at the crossroads: politics and economics after the Fourth Party Congress; edited by Jorge F. Perez-Lopez; University of Florida Press; 1994.

2 Castro's speech of July 26, 1993 quoted on pages 162-163 of the book, Cuba's second economy by Jorge F. Perez-Lopez; Transaction Publishers; 1995.

3 An example of the Soviet revisionist tradition is Marc Frank's book, Cuba looks to the year 2000; International Publishers; New York; 1993. Frank has spent a number of years in Cuba as the correspondent for the Soviet revisionist CPUSA's newspaper People's Daily World.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is one of the groups out of the Trotskyite tradition that glorifies the Castro regime. See, for example, the book Che Guevara, Cuba and the road to socialism which reprints articles from the magazine New International, #8, published in 1991.

4 The pro-Soviet revisionist, Marc Frank, offers a particularly revealing argument in this regard. He boasts that Cuba's "rectification" period actually was the forerunner of Gorbachev's "perestroika". That Cuban "rectification" and Soviet "perestroika" were largely similar, at least in the economic realm, is true. But Frank pretends that both reform efforts were attempts to rectify socialism. He turns a blind eye to the fact that both reform attempts extended capitalist methods and that the rhetoric against bureaucracy in both cases was both hypocritical and a cover for market mechanisms.

5 Eckstein, Susan Eva; Back from the future: Cuba under Castro; p. 66; Princeton University Press; 1994.

6 See Marc Frank's Cuba looks to the year 2000; p. 50. Frank does not mention the drop in per hour wages. But he does talk about how one brigade raised their salaries 20% by working 12-14 hour days. Assuming a pre-brigade standard work day of 8 hours, this means that it took 50-75% more hours to get the extra 20% of wages. If one also figures in that apparently the dispensed-with labor code included overtime rates, the lowering of wages becomes even more apparent. This book quotes the head of the "model" of the production brigade system, who happened to become a Politbureau member in 1991, arguing against overtime pay against Castro.

7 Eckstein; p. 77. Eckstein indicates that when the labor laws were lifted for the other types of brigades created in this period, "the government avoided the fiscal and political costs involved in laying off professional (non-brigade -- Mk. ) builders" who received "70 percent of their former salary" while unemployed.

8 Frank, Marc; p. 81. The author reports that brigades organized by labor unions involved "especially those (workers -- Mk. ) in need of housing" and that by 1991, 80% of the amount of housing units built by such brigades were distributed within the brigade.

9 The exception to general wage cutting was that the wages of the lowest-paid agricultural workers was raised. Difficult conditions in this sector were causing workers to abandon it.

10 Indeed, the complaint of the Castro regime was that almost everyone was surpassing the previous norms.

11 Eckstein; p. 101. The figure of 7% comes from an interview conducted by Eckstein with Cuban government economists.

12 In Cuban statistics, the productive sphere involves such things as industry, agriculture, and commerce. It is distinguished from the non-productive sphere which includes defense, education, health, government administration, etc.

13 Frank; p. 59.

14 Frank; p. 58-59.

15 Zimbalist, Andrew; "Reforming Cuba's economic system from within" in Cuba at the crossroads: politics and economics after the Fourth Party Congress; p. 233.

16 Maria Dolores Espino; "Tourism in Cuba: a development strategy for the 1990s?" in Cuba at the crossroads; p. 148.

17 Ibid. ; p. 153.

18 Frank, p. 115. []

How the SWP whitewashes the Castro regime

by Mark, Detroit

One of the foremost cheerleaders of the Castro regime is the trotskyite SWP (Socialist Workers Party). An important part of their efforts to paint up state-capitalist oppression in Cuba as socialism involves portraying the period of the late 1980s as one in which the Cuban party and state leaders undertook measures aimed at combating capitalist practices that had been spreading throughout Cuban society. In fact, Castro's reform efforts not only maintained the state-capitalist system that has long existed in Cuba, but instituted a number of additional market capitalist features into the economy. (See the article "Did Castro steer Cuba towards socialism in the late 1980s?" on pages 3-9 of this journal.) This article will briefly look at some of the ways the SWP fraudulently tries to portray the late 80s as a period when communist measures were introduced in Cuba.

The SWP arguments appear in two articles published in 1991 in issue #8 of New International. (See excerpts on pages 14-17 of this journal. ) New International is a journal of the SWP's international trend often publicized in the pages of the SWP newspaper, The Militant. The basic approach of these articles is that even if Cuba has been following a wrong course toward capitalism for the last couple of decades, this doesn't discredit the great "communist" leadership of Castro and his cohorts. In the SWP fantasy world, the policies Cuba has long been following are not the responsibility of the top Cuban leaders. Likewise, the SWP can maintain their view that Cuba is building socialism only by attaching little significance to how Cuban society has actually been operating since the 1959 revolution, or even some parts of their own analysis of the ills afflicting Cuba. In other words, the SWP does not bother the activist with the unpleasant reality of the Castro regime, but thinks it can pawn off most anything as communism. Not surprisingly, this method is also applied to the policies followed during the mid-1980s "rectification".

SWP's "communist" measures: profit-making and the 14-hour day

According to an article by the editor of New International, Mary-Alice Waters, Castro's "rectification" policies of the late 80s would "deepen the communist trajectory of the revolution." She contends that the "heart of the rectification process" of Cuba in the 1980s was the so-called "voluntary labor" brigades.

She pretends these brigades are enterprises based on communist principles. Allegedly, in the brigades profits aren't important and the work is undertaken without concern for any personal return for the workers involved. The labor brigades will supposedly become "a school for communist consciousness. " As well, they allegedly will help eliminate any privileges for management by fighting "the kind of division of labor that allows a layer that administers to derive a higher social status".

This description paints a very nice picture, but it has nothing to do with what's actually going on in the brigades. For instance, Waters is particularly excited about the so-called "model" construction brigades of the Blas Roca Contingent. But in fact these contingents operate on capitalist business principles. They must survive on their own resources and are profit-making enterprises. A good deal of the workers' wages are directly tied to the amount of profits through a profit-sharing bonus system. In some brigades, people join so they can acquire certain desperately needed commodities. For instance, workers who construct housing have the inside track on it. As well, brigade workers might also get other scarce consumer goods as bonuses in addition to their wages. It's good if there's some more housing, but once again, this is hardly a communist method which dispenses with material incentives as the SWP claims.

Waters really goes on about the alleged overcoming of the distinction between management and labor in the brigades. She claims that the brigades provide insight into "how should the working class organize social labor". Thus, she implies the brigades are an example of the workers running society. Actually, it was the regime's top bureaucrats, not the workers, who decided to establish the brigades and determined the principles on which they would be organized and the general projects they would undertake. Furthermore, the so-called merging of labor and management Waters refers to was modeled after certain labor-management cooperation schemes imported from Japan and the Western capitalist countries during "rectification. " In Cuba, as in the market capitalist countries, these methods are aimed at extending capitalist profit principles.

When the late 80s reforms began, Cuban state enterprises were already run on a profit-making basis. But the Castro regime was not satisfied with profitability based on the performance of the enterprise as a whole. Thus, the reforms aimed at creating subunits out of the state enterprises and agricultural co-ops, each of which had to be profitable in itself to survive. These subunits are the labor brigades. To reinforce the profit-motive, often a good amount of wages and other material benefits were tied directly to a brigade's profitability. The so-called elimination of the distinction between labor and management that Waters talks about consisted of mobilizing the workers to help insure the profitability of the brigade. The workers' role was basically to find more efficient means for their own exploitation. Indeed, by tying wages directly to profits, the workers were under tremendous pressure to work themselves to the bone and put the heat on their comrades who had difficulty keeping up. When all is said and done, far from being a forerunner of the classless communist society, the methods employed by the brigades helped pit worker against worker and encouraged them to think like the capitalists or, in the case of Cuba, like the capitalist managers of state enterprises.

In Cuba, just as in the West, the result of profit-sharing and labor-management cooperation are more difficult conditions for the workers. The "communist" methods of the brigade have resulted in tossing aside basic protections of the Cuban labor code and led to 14-hour working days with no overtime pay. Under such conditions, the idea of the masses participating in political life becomes a joke, much less them running society. Under such conditions only the privileged few will rule. Meanwhile, while Waters points with pride to the fact that there were evidently some cutbacks of administrative personnel during "rectification", this hardly proves that the gap between labor and management was being overcome. Indeed, in the West too, "downsizing" has hit these sections. But in Cuba, a well-off bureaucratic and management class not only continued, but during "rectification" some of them were assisted in establishing their own private large-scale enterprises. As the president of Cuba's Chamber of Commerce put it: "now we are looking to the West . . . to turn us into business executives. "1

SWP fights the just skepticism of the workers toward the reforms

While showing unbridled enthusiasm for the latest brigade schemes, it's quite interesting that even a shill for the Castro regime like Waters admits that the labor brigades organized in earlier periods in Cuba were not so hot for the workers. She states: "The volunteer brigades of the 1960s and early 1970s were transformed into their bureaucratic negation and then largely eliminated" and that they "became a thinly disguised program to increase the length of the compulsory workweek and the intensity of labor" as in the Soviet Union under Stalin. She even notes that this is why "many Cuban workers remain to be convinced that the minibrigades and construction contingents represent a qualitatively different political course" "even among those who support the minibrigade movement".

So why does Waters think it will be different this time? Instead of an answer, she simply assures the reader that "a revolutionary change of direction could be initiated, because a communist leadership and politicized working-class vanguard existed in Cuba. " She manages to "forget" for the moment that this same alleged "communist leadership" were the ones who ruled when, according to her account, brigades were basically a means to squeeze the workers. Similarly, it slips her mind that these great leaders were responsible for the period from about 1970-1985 that Waters condemns as a cesspool of capitalist corruption. While experience has taught the Cuban workers skepticism toward the regime, it has taught the SWP nothing.

Ignoring their own theory

Actually, if we take another of Waters' arguments seriously, even blind faith in Castro will not be enough to make the brigades into something wonderful this time around. Referring to the problems of the early labor brigades in Cuba that disappointed her, she says the following:

"If the minibrigade movement remains simply an adjunct to a system in which bureaucratic command planning dominates the organization of labor, then the inevitable result will be continued and increasing stratification, inequality, generalized corruption, the deadening of class consciousness, and the blocking of workers' control of production."

As Waters sees it, the only way to avoid these problems is for the present brigade movement to become the general way of doing things. But she apparently doesn't think this is possible now.(Let's forget for the moment that if the brigades being proposed during the late 1980s were extended everywhere, socialism would be no closer. ) Thus, after stating that it would be good if the brigades spread, she says "the minibrigades can ultimately play only an auxiliary role" and are "peripheral to the main organization of labor in basic industry, agriculture and transport. " Waters does not point to anything else besides the brigades that the Cuban rulers are doing about the rotten way the bulk of the economy is run. So the picture she creates is one where the economy as a whole is not being "rectified" but continuing along toward "stratification", "inequality", etc. In that case, by Waters' own logic, the present labor brigades are bound to turn into an assault on the workers. First we are told that this time the brigades will help advance Cuba toward communism. Then a theory is given that the brigades will rot on the vine. If Waters and her trend can, nonetheless, still swear that Cuba is really on the road to communism, it's because they don't even take their own theorizing seriously.

My revisionist party -- right or wrong

As noted above, one of the basic methods SWP uses to whitewash the Cuban regime is to pretend that whatever rotten policies were implemented, the party and state leaders are great revolutionaries. Sure, Cuba may have been mired in decay, even back to the 60s if we take seriously their condemnation of brigades from that time. But the SWP comes up with the most amazing excuses to exonerate Fidel and the party and state bureaucrats. For instance, the SWP rails against the ills that followed from the adoption of a whole system of reforms utilizing capitalist mechanisms in the economy beginning in the early 70s. They say these reforms were ruining the revolution. But does this mean there is something fundamentally wrong with Castro and the party? Oh no.

According to Waters, Castro all along desired to follow a different course, but didn't have enough clout in Cuba to have his way. Thus Waters writes that the reforms SWP doesn't like took place because "Che's--and Fidel's--communist political perspective lost ground to those who thought building socialism was primarily a matter of . . . skillful use of the law of value and other methods left over from capitalism. " But then in the mid 80s, "a new course was charted, the fight to win a majority to a communist perspective advanced, and a revolutionary replacement for the 'lame nag' [the bad reforms begun in the early 70s -- Mk. ] conquered. " Now even if we accept Waters' sanitized version of history, it is evident that Castro went along with a ruinous course for at least 15 years. In fact, Castro was enthusiastically promoting this course. It is also clear that the majority of the party was enthusiastic for this ruinous program. This is the sort of great "communist" leadership touted by Waters. It doesn't bother her that if Castro really was against this major threat to the revolution, he went along with it.

It's pure fiction to pretend that Castro was somehow fighting against the market-style reforms for the last 15 years. Nor did Castro suddenly convince the majority of party leaders or members to take up real communist policies. The truth is that the 80s "rectification" was acceptable to those who liked the old ways because, in fact, the old ways were not fundamentally challenged.

Then again, even the universally acknowledged advocates of the type of system that SWP denounces are held in high esteem by these spineless opportunists. One of the strongest proponents of a state-capitalist economy incorporating many market mechanisms has been Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, who during the 80s "rectification" was on the political bureau of the Cuban "Communist" Party and was a vice-president of Cuba's Council of State. Rodriguez has, since the early 60s, fought for the economic model that was allegedly "rectified" in the 80s. In the introductory article in New International (#8), Rodriguez is praised as "part of the central leadership that charted the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist course that has marked the Cuban government for more than thirty years. " Only those who will let anything pass for communism curse Rodriguez' policy for subverting the whole revolutionary process, but nonetheless speak adoringly of him for charting an anti-capitalist course.

To top it all off, in another article in the same magazine, SWP leaders Jack Barnes and Steve Clark offer the following gem. After going on and on about how allegedly it was the views of Che Guevara2 that represented the real communist policy, they announce that in the late 80s "Cuban communists will confront the necessity of doing what Fidel Castro correctly insists has yet to be tried in Cuba: a serious attempt to put Guevara's proposals into practice [italics as in the original -- Mk. ]. " So from 1959-1986, Castro and the other "communists" have not been following a communist policy. Surely, that would make the SWP doubt the Cuban "communist" leadership. Wrong! Their faith in the Cuban leaders is unshaken. They insist that now (after a mere 27 years!!) the Cuban leaders are about to "enter back onto the communist road" and say this "is a tribute . . . to the central leadership cadre of the government and the Communist Party." Really, this is a tribute to the SWP's ability to let no amount of evidence from before or after the late 80s cloud its judgment on the Cuban revisionist rulers.

SWP's "workers' state": socialism not required

The SWP's ability to dismiss the significance of Cuba not pursuing a path toward socialism for nearly three decades finds its roots in its version of the trotskyite theory of the "deformed workers' state". This theory is supposed to deal with the transition period to socialism following the revolution. It holds that once there is state property in much of the economy, a workers' state exists whether or not the society moves toward organizing on socialist lines. Supposedly, only when state property generally gets converted back to outright private ownership does the "workers' state" cease to exist and capitalism becomes restored. Thus, under this theory, a workers' state can exist no matter how little a role the workers have in running society and how oppressive its government is, no matter how many counter-revolutionary political stands it takes, no matter how entrenched class stratification has become, no matter if the state economy runs on capitalist lines -- in short, no matter if the workers' state represents the workers interests at all!

The article in New International (#8) by SWP leaders Barnes and Clark shows how they apply this theory. The article states:

"the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, and China remain workers' states, even if horribly deformed. None of them, however, can accurately be referred to as socialist. "

They are not considered socialist because they don't have "a government committed to organizing the workers and exploited farmers to reorganize economic production and distribution along the lines leading to socialism. " From this explanation, it's clear that the "workers' state" doesn't really have to be run in the interests of the toilers at all. Nor can the countries mentioned be considered as examples where there has been just a short-term interruption in the revolutionary process. The SWP would agree that the Soviet Union first went astray with the rise to power of Stalin in the 1920s. Thus, even 70 years of decay is not enough for the SWP to admit that their "workers' state" no longer exists. Clark and Barnes consider Cuba to be not merely a workers' state, but, in 1991 at least, also "socialist", since they pretend the Cuban "Communist" Party is advancing the country toward socialism. But the SWP's "deformed workers' state" theory shows how they can defend the Castro regime even when it spends decades pursuing a course toward capitalism.

Denying state-capitalism in Cuba

The SWP admits that the societies it touts as "workers' states" include those "laying the basis for the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism, as it reinforces the values and norms of bourgeois social relations. " But it refuses to see that the counter-revolution does not require the abolition of state property. The counter-revolution has long been accomplished in Cuba and their other so-called "workers' states through state-capitalism. If, as SWP complains, Cuban society has simply been running on capitalist principles for many years, if an elite of bureaucrats lives well off the labor of the masses by virtue of its position in the party or state, than this is capitalism even though state property exists. True, a real revolutionary workers' government will not be able to immediately overcome all the economic relations left over from the old capitalist order. But the SWP is talking about governments that are not even taking steps to overcome the old social relations. If a government is unable or unwilling to overcome the capitalist relations bequeathed to it, then these relations will flourish, and the formerly revolutionary ruling power will no longer be revolutionary. It will not be a workers' state, but a bourgeois state, even if state property continues to predominate.

Actually, the Barnes-Clark article concedes that even in the state sector in Cuba, "commodity relations among state enterprises is the meat and potatoes of growing layers of careerists in management". But the SWP leaders refuse to admit that the existence of commodity relations even within the state sector in Cuba implies that capitalist relations exist. Their arguments all boil down to one point -- that only pure market capitalism is really capitalism, a view that has more in common with Libertarianism than Marxism.

The SWP leaders correctly point out that commodity relations predate capitalism and that capitalism came into existence only "when commodity production and exchange began to be increasingly generalized and dominant on the basis of private ownership of industry, banking, and wholesale trade". But if, as they admit, commodity relations exist among the state enterprises, then commodity relations are dominant in Cuba altogether, too. After all, the state sector has been dominant in Cuba. And if commodity relations characterize the state sector itself, then all the more so do they characterize the co-op sector and the private farm, artisan, and service sector of the economy. Naturally, the black market, always an important part of the Cuban economy, reflects commodity relations as well.

Since it's clear that commodity production exists throughout the economy, all that's left of the SWP arguments is that there is state property in Cuba, not private property. But if commodity production is generalized in Cuba, than state enterprises must be functioning like private enterprises, even though legally they are state property. Indeed, Barnes and Clark admit that in the Cuban system "each enterprise functions increasingly on the basis of its own 'profitability' rather than in line with a centralized national plan to advance social and political priorities. "So not only is commodity production generalized, but the state sector operates like privately-owned enterprises. The SWP can only deny state-capitalism in Cuba by failing to take their own analysis seriously.

In fact, time and again the SWP's own description of what has been going on in Cuba comes back to haunt them. For example, they argue that Cuba's state economy can't be capitalist because it does not follow "the specific form of the law of value characteristic under capitalism. " Barnes and Clark then proceed to a list of features that one would find in a model free-market economy. Of course, why capitalism can only exist in one specific form is anyone's guess. Even among the "normal" capitalist countries, a "pure" free-market system no longer exists as there is monopoly domination, extensive government intervention in the economy, price controls and subsidies, etc. However, the idea that the bulk of the specific forms required by the SWP to admit the existence of capitalism don't exist in Cuba is contradicted by their own analysis of the effects of the existence of commodity relations within the state sector. For instance:

* The SWP says real capitalism means the law of value manifests itself in "the establishment of prices of production". In describing how the state sector operates in Cuba they say that "even after the expropriation of capitalist industry and banking, it is still possible for blindly determined prices of production to begin to be reproduced. "

* Barnes and Clark state that true capitalism involves the "competition of large capitals" but confess that Cuban enterprises "are forced into competitive markets" and must "find their own markets for the finished goods they produce".

* They argue that for capitalism to exist, the law of value must result in "anarchic competition".As for the economic system in Cuba, Barnes and Clark report that it is organized in a manner where "it is impossible to organize economic and social planning that diminishes the sway of the laws of motion of capitalism and leads to socialism. "

No matter how the SWP twists and turns to disprove the existence of capitalism in Cuba, capitalism confronts them at every turn.


1 Eckstein, Susan Eva; Back from the future: Cuba under Castro, p. 68; Princeton University Press; 1994.

2 Guevara's policies were not actually based on Marxism-Leninism. But regardless of how one evaluates his views, in the late 80's the Castro leadership simply used his revolutionary reputation as a cover for austerity measures for the masses and to justify certain economic emergency measures. []

Reference material for the article “How the SWP whitewashes the Cuban regime"

Excerpts from two Socialist Workers Party articles on Cuba

Below are excerpts from two articles from the New International #8. These articles give the stand of the trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, and are the subject of the accompanying article on pages 10-13 entitled “How the SWP whitewashes the Castro regime.”

From “Che’s proletarian legacy and Cuba’s rectification process” by Mary-Alice Waters

Heart of rectification

At the heart of the rectification process, volunteer labor as a social movement has been reborn — like a phoenix. During the early years of the revolution voluntary work was “the brainchild of Che and one of the best things he left us,” Castro noted on the twentieth anniversary of Che’s death.

Basing himself on some of Marx’s most profound insights, Che explained over and over why it is that “man-as-commodity ceases to exist” only through volunteer labor It is through voluntary work that social, collective labor becomes a school for communist consciousness and socialist administration, that work begins to change its character. Through volunteer labor man “starts to see himself reflected in his work and to understand his full stature as a human being through the object created, through the work accomplished.”

This materialist understanding of the place of volunteer labor in the construction of socialism and communism has once again come to the fore in the Cuban revolution, after more than a decade during which it withered in the face of a diametrically counterposed political perspective.

Voluntary work," Che explained, is “based on the Marxist appreciation that man truly reaches his full human condition when he produces without being compelled by physical necessity to sell himself as a commodity ”

As voluntary work becomes an increasingly weighty component of the organization of the labor of society as a whole, producing a growing portion of the product of this labor, the scope of the domination of the law of value — and of the modern fetish, the commodity fetish, that turns us all into objects — is progressively reduced.

The movement that began with the relaunching of the minibrigades in the city of Havana a little more than three years ago rapidly took on mass dimensions. Tens of thousands of men and women threw themselves full-time into the challenge of building hundreds of child-care centers, apartment complexes, family doctors’ office-homes, polyclinics, schools, bakeries, sports facilities, and more. The minibrigades have now been augmented by the expanding organization of volunteer construction contingents, a form of volunteer labor whose impact on the future of the Cuban revolution is potentially even more far- reaching.

In the last two years more than sixty labor contingents, averaging 500 workers in each, have been established. They are concentrated in the construction industry The largest and oldest of the contingents, the Blas Roca Contingent, now has some 2,600 workers organized in twenty-three brigades, building bridges, roads, airports, dams, hospitals, hotels, and similar major projects.

The numerous brigades of these contingents have been organized in the same way the columns of the Rebel Army in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountains were formed in 1957-58, when a few seasoned cadres of the first column divided off and organized a second column, and then a third and fourth column were created out of the first two. Each new column starts not from scratch but with the high level of norms and discipline already conquered by its founding cadres.

Participation in the contingents is voluntary, subject to being accepted. A flexible workday of ten hours or more depends on the work to be completed. There is a single wage scale with no overtime pay or bonuses. Room and board is provided. Work discipline is not imposed by a separate layer of management personnel but is organized and maintained by the contingent members themselves. Equipment is cared for and kept running by the workers who use it. Administrative tasks are more and more taken on by the workers themselves, instead of being delegated to a distinct group of specialists increasingly distant from the work itself.

The volunteer labor contingents, which have transformed the construction industry, are now being introduced in a few other industries in a measured way, in particular in the production of building materials. They are starting to have a broader impact on the organization of labor Their example is providing new experience and insight touching on the central question in the transition from capitalism to socialism: How should the working class organize social labor in order both to build a new economic foundation and in the process to transform itself and its social consciousness?

This was the question above all else that concerned Che.

If the minibrigades continue to spread and expand their role, this will advance the entire rectification process, which is above all a political process, a restructuring of social priorities to meet the need of workers and farmers, not professional layers.

Important as the minibrigades are, however, they are peripheral to the main organization of labor in basic industry, agriculture, and transport. The minibrigades set an example. They mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers from every layer of society to take on much-needed special projects. They cut across petty- bourgeois attitudes toward the working class and physical labor, and act as a giant school for learning to think socially But the minibrigades can ultimately play only an auxiliary role that spurs economic development and the growth of class consciousness and confidence.

If the minibrigade movement remains simply an adjunct to a system in which bureaucratic command planning dominates the organization of labor, then the inevitable result will be continued and increasing stratification, inequality, generalized corruption, the deadening of class consciousness, and the blocking of workers’ control of production. Under such conditions, volunteer labor on the scale of the minibrigades will not be a means by which the working class can school itself in economic management and transform itself in the process of transforming the economic foundations of society Instead, volunteer labor over time would be corrupted and turned into its opposite. It would become another administrative means to try to fulfill the bureaucratically conceived plan through work that is, in fact, neither voluntary nor productive. This is what happened in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, when the so-called Stakhanovite movement and its accompanying “volunteer” workdays became a thinly disguised program to increase the length of the compulsory workweek and the intensity of labor

Cuba has already experienced elements of this. The volunteer brigades of the 1960s and early 1970s were transformed into their bureaucratic negation and then largely eliminated with the argument that volunteer labor supposedly contradicts Marxist — in reality Stalinist — concepts of planning. Having experienced this kind of “volunteer labor,” many Cuban workers remain to be convinced that the minibrigades and construction contingents represent a qualitatively different political course and class perspective, the one advanced by Che.

Moreover, even among those who support the minibrigade movement in Cuba today, many express a degree of ambivalence about its future. They sense that the minibrigades alone cannot fundamentally alter the overall organization of labor and transform social consciousness. Other, more weighty changes must be made.

Thus the advance from minibrigades alone to construction contingents and minibrigades broadens the battle to reorganize labor on a new foundation. The heavy battalions of labor in the factories, mills, and fields are beginning to be touched on this level for the first time since the rectification process began.

The trade unions too will have to be transformed if rectification is to advance. This is not a matter of changes in leadership personnel alone, but of political reorientation. They must become organizations that are expanding workers’ control and making new strides toward workers’ management — organizations of a revolutionary working class that is transforming itself as it leads the building of a new society.

Nonproductive administrators and ‘witch doctors’

The advance of rectification poses a challenge to the middle- class pretensions and prerogatives of the grossly inflated ranks of nonproductive administrative and “professional” personnel. The introduction of the Economic Management and Planning System in the mid-1970s, largely copied from the Soviet Union, brought with it nearly a tripling of the number of administrators and officials, from 90,000 in 1973 to 240,000 by 1984. As Fidel Castro noted in a speech celebrating the second anniversary of the founding of the Blas Roca Contingent, there were some “enterprises with more people in the infrastructure than in direct work.”

With the inauguration of the contingents a revolutionary challenge has been taken up: to diminish the bloated ranks of nonproductive specialists; to increase the social and economic weight of the working class. At the beginning of August 1989, of the 28,000 workers incorporated in some sixty volunteer construction contingents, only 6.4 percent were carrying out primarily administrative responsibilities.

In 1988, while 55,000 new workers were incorporated into the work force, for the first time administrative personnel and other officials were simultaneously reduced by nearly 23,000.

This reorganization of the division of labor goes to the heart of another question that Che understood to be central to the transition to socialism: the withering away of a specialized, and inevitably to some degree bureaucratized, stratum of administrators and officials. The working class itself — if better educated politically and technically, better equipped technologically, and increasingly confident of exercising control over the administration of the economy and state apparatus — progressively incorporates more and more elements of the necessary administrative tasks into its division of labor

The anti-working class technocrats and administrators with all their pretensions to social superiority and functional irreplaceability — the “witch doctors," Castro has called them — are threatened by the revolutionary concepts of Marx and Che that are being applied by the contingents as they set an example for the reorganization of labor in Cuba. The kind of division of labor that allows a layer that administers to derive a higher social status could begin to fade away—and with it, the privileges and petty-bourgeois self-esteem they have come to consider their due.

The rectification course set by the leadership of the Cuban revolution must also be seen in relation to the profound crisis now shaking the bureaucratic castes and shattering ruling parties in Eastern Europe and the USSR. The roots of this crisis are to be found in the system of organization of labor that has been imposed for decades on the working classes of those countries by a petty-bourgeois caste akin to the witch doctors Castro denounces. It is a system that relies on bureaucratic planning and individual and material incentives, not increasing workers’ control, workers’ management, and collective and political incentives. It depends on and reinforces the demobilization, demoralization, and depoliticization of the working class, not heightened communist and internationalist consciousness. It reinforces capitalist values and social norms, not the self-transformation of men and women as they transform the economic foundations of society Ultimately this bureaucratic system — and the zigzag policies of the crystallized, petty-bourgeois social caste that promotes it — come into irrepressible conflict with nationalized property itself, because this anti-working-class political course is incompatible with building socialism. And these contradictions themselves deepen the crisis, as we are witnessing today

A variant of this system of organization of labor in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe — against which Che polemicized with such insight—was imposed throughout the Cuban economy in the mid-1970s as the Economic Management and Planning System. It rapidly began to produce the same social and economic consequences that have been institutionalized throughout the Soviet bloc for decades. It led to a decline in communist political consciousness and revolutionary perspectives in virtually every arena of daily social and economic activity

Alienation, cynicism, corruption, and political demoralization grew in the working class. Che’s — and Fidel's — communist political perspective lost ground to those who thought building socialism was primarily a matter of administration by a talented and privileged few, and of mechanisms that would bring economic growth as an automatic process supposedly guided by skillful use of the law of value and other methods left over from capitalism.

Those who though of workers as objects to be controlled, as incorrigible little animals capable of advancing only if tempted with a carrot or whipped by a stick, were setting more and more of the economic and social policy of Cuba. Those who, like Che and Fidel, believed in the revolutionary capacities of working people to take the organization of the economy in hand and build a socialist society — no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the odds, and to transform themselves in the process — were put on the defensive.

The party, said Castro in December 1986, started “to go to pot,” and the errors, if not corrected, could have eventually proved “irreversible," leading “to a system worse than capitalism."

Volunteer labor, as Castro put it, survived during this period only because it took refuge in internationalism and defense — in aid to Angola, Nicaragua, Grenada, and other countries, and in the birth of the Territorial Troop Militia in 1980 in the face of mounting imperialist military pressure following the revolutionary victories in the Caribbean and Central America.

Regardless of these weaknesses and problems, however, the party and government in Cuba remained qualitatively different from the so-called Communist parties in the rest of the workers’ states; thus, a qualitatively different road out of the developing morass was possible. A revolutionary change of direction could be initiated, because a communist leadership and politicized working-class vanguard existed in Cuba. The “lame nag," as Castro labeled the Economic Management and Planning System, could be kept working for a while as a new course was charted, the fight to win a majority to a communist perspective advanced, and a revolutionary replacement for the "lame nag" conquered.

From footnotes to “The politics of economics: Che Guevara and Marxist continuity” by Steve Clark and Jack Barnes

1 A workers’ state can be popularly referred to as socialist (as in the name Union of Soviet Socialist Republics adopted at Lenin’s suggestion, or the phrase “socialist Cuba") only if two conditions obtain: (1) the domination of capitalist property relations has been broken by the toilers; and (2) a government has arisen out of such a revolution that is headed by a communist leadership — a government committed to organizing the workers and exploited farmers to reorganize economic production and distribution along lines leading toward socialism, as part of the worldwide struggle against imperialist oppression and capitalist exploitation.

The Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, and China remain workers’ states, even if horribly deformed. None of them, however, can accurately be referred to as socialist in the above sense.

From “The politics of economics: Che Guevara and Marxist continuity” by Steve Clark and Jack Barnes

Depending on the caliber of its political leadership, on the size and experience of the working class, and on the pace of advances or setbacks in the world revolution, a workers’ state can go forward toward socialism and in the process establish new social relations; or — as in the case of the horribly deformed workers’ states in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China today — backward toward laying the social basis for the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism, as it reinforces the values and norms of bourgeois social relations. In fact, as the history of the past six decades has illustrated, these transitional societies can sink well below the highest points of human culture reached under bourgeois democracy.

What made it possible in Cuba to catch and attempt to rectify the dangerous and retrograde trends fostered by the policies adopted in the mid-70s is the fact that the central leadership in the government and Communist Party remains in the hands of a revolutionary cadre. The relatively privileged technocratic and petty-bourgeois layers that bloat the apparatus of state, party, and other institutions have proven unable to impose their anti-working-class perspectives and interests on the political course of the revolution — an outcome that could be achieved only by driving the workers and peasants out of political life and activity

This period culminated in 1970 in the failure of the all-out drive to harvest and process ten million tons of sugarcane. Moral exhortation and enthusiasm had been permitted to falsely parade as an application of Guevara's policies of voluntary labor and of organizing production and incentives to promote rather than retard communist consciousness and collective action by working people.

The strains inside Cuba as a result of these setbacks were among the factors that fostered the turn in the early 1970s toward greater reliance on methods borrowed from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the negative results of which are now being combated through the rectification process. This shift in course was ratified at the 1975 congress of the Communist Party of Cuba by adoption of the Economic Management and Planning System, based on the principles of the economic accounting system (increased reliance on enterprise profitability and other market-oriented criteria, individual money incentives, etc.). The Economic Management and Planning System — referred to as “a lame nag with many sores" by Fidel Castro in his October 1987 speech on Guevara— remains in effect in Cuba today.

The law of value continues to operate, above all in sectors of the economy where small-scale commodity production still exists (peasant farms in the countryside, agricultural and handicraft cooperatives, small shops), as well as in the exchange of consumer goods between individuals and state enterprises. "We consider the law of value to be partially operative because remnants of the commodity society still exist," Guevara wrote in the February 1964 article. “This is also reflected in the type of exchange that takes place between the state as supplier and the consumer."

Commodity relations, however, should not be equated with capitalist relations. Commodity relations and markets existed for thousands of years prior to the rise of capitalism, and to that extent the law of value operated during that entire historical period.

Industrial capitalism, however, came into existence only at the point in history (in the mid-1700s) when commodity production and exchange began to be increasingly generalized and dominant on the basis of private ownership of industry, banking, and wholesale trade — when crossing the bridge from manufacturing to machinofacturing became possible. Rodriguez [a top Cuban official — CV] slides over this decisive distinction between commodity relations and capitalist relations when he refers to the transition to socialism as “the period in which, while slowly leaving capitalism behind, we are building socialism as fast as we can” (emphasis added).

But it is not capitalism that is slowly left behind in a country during the transition to socialism. Capitalism can and must be abolished in order to create the conditions to even begin building socialism. That task of abolition is accomplished with the expropriation by a workers’ and farmers’ government of capitalist property in industry, mining, major transportation, banking, and wholesale trade, and the establishment of a state monopoly of foreign trade. Only these steps open the door to the kind of economic planning by the working class that can lead toward socialism. That door was opened in the Soviet republic in 1918 and in Cuba in the second half of 1960.

These revolutionary anticapitalist measures break the domination of the specific form of the law of value characteristic under capitalism: the establishment of prices of production through the competition of large capitals, determining an average rate of profit and apportioning a share of surplus value to particular individual capitals proportionate to their size. Under capitalism, these prices of production regulate the social allocation of labor, raw materials, and production goods among various sectors of the economy, and guarantee the growing together of industrial capital and banking and the reproduction and domination of bourgeois social relations, the inequitable distribution of wealth and income, and political rule by a relative handful of economically powerful bourgeois families.

Accordingly, when big capital is expropriated, the anarchic competition that determines such allocation under capitalism can be consciously replaced with planned production and distribution in line with social priorities and needs that have been discussed and decided by working people.

Even after the expropriation of capitalist industry and banking, it is still possible for blindly determined prices of production to begin to be reproduced and to determine — beyond any conscious decision and control by working people — the economic and social investment priorities of a workers’ state.

This tendency is inevitable if relations among state enterprises are conducted on a commodity basis — that is, if state enterprises (1) are forced into competitive markets to purchase needed raw materials, machinery, semifinished products, and other inputs, and (2) set the prices and find their own markets for the finished goods they produce. (To varying degrees, these procedures have prevailed for decades under the economic accounting system in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In Cuba they were generalized under the Economic Management and Planning System in the mid-1970s.)

If the allocation of labor time, raw materials, semifinished goods, machinery, construction materials, and freight transport is established in this way, it is impossible to organize economic and social planning that diminishes the sway of the laws of motion of capitalism and leads toward socialism. Under such conditions, each enterprise functions increasingly on the basis of its own “profitability” rather than in line with a centralized national plan to advance social and political priorities.

To the contrary, in order to continue to advance, Cuban communists will confront the necessity of doing what Fidel Castro correctly insists has yet to be tried in Cuba: a serious attempt to put Guevara’s proposals into practice.

Such an effort to enter back onto the communist road not followed since the opening years of the Soviet Union under Lenin’s leadership has not yet been posed by even a small political vanguard in any workers’ state other than Cuba. The fact that a serious discussion of Guevara’s course is under way in Cuba as part of rectification is a tribute not only to the central leadership cadre of the government and Communist Party, but above all to the internationalism, political commitment, and revolutionary consciousness of broad layers of workers, farmers, soldiers. []

[End of article group]


On proletarian tasks in the period of the tottering of the PRI regime

Once again on peasant socialism

by Joseph Green

"Bimodal" agriculture and the agrarian crisis

Preserving bimodalism

Eliminating bimodalism

Class differences among the peasantry

Distorted development

The class basis of socialism

The peasantry as such

Two visions of the socialist agriculture of the future

A measure of the progress towards socialism

Marxism on elimination of peasantry "as peasantry"

Peasant socialism gives a socialist coloring to democratization

Communist program for a period of democratization

Just be militant--a formula for subordinating the movement to the reformist wing of the bourgeoisie

Ejido socialism

The ejido

From Cardenas to Echeverría

The search for the perfect ejido reform

Keeping the peasantry on the land

Factories in the countryside

Women's rights

The reality of small-scale production

Reorganizing the proletarian movement

Mexico faces democratic changes with the ongoing crisis that is leading to the collapse of the PRI's political monopoly. Whether this change comes through a deal between PRI and the other bourgeois parties or takes place in the midst of exciting mass actions, there is not going to be a socialist revolution in Mexico at this time, but a liberalization of the bourgeois regime. If the workers and peasants are not just to be cannon fodder for a struggle benefiting the reformist section of the Mexican bourgeoisie, if they are to achieve some improvement in their situation and if the class-conscious workers are to prepare for a future socialist revolution, then the coming changes must not be dressed up in quasi-socialist colors. All around the world in the last few years, whenever there has been liberalization, the bourgeoisie has called on the workers to sacrifice now that the regime is a bit more democratic. But the working class movement needs democracy in order to carry out a wider and clearer class struggle, not to sacrifice for the bourgeoisie. The clearer the workers are about the real nature of the coming changes and the limitations of the general democratization movement, the more likely they will be able to achieve some real rights for themselves and to rebuild a proletarian party for socialism.

Sarah's article "The continuing crisis in Mexico" in the latest issue of the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal [in CWVTJ #11, Oct. 7, 1996] sketches her view of what a socialist program for Mexico would be. Instead of starting from the real features of what is going on in Mexico, she and other CWVTJ writers such as Anita and Jack Hill idealize the peasant movement and paint it in quasi-socialist colors. The peasant uprising in Chiapas and other peasant actions are important because they raise mass demands in the current crisis, rather than letting things be settled by deals between the bourgeois parties. They are also important because in them some of the poorest and most marginalized toilers are rising up and demanding their rights. But the peasant movement is not fighting for socialism; and even when it does talk of socialism, "peasant socialism" envisions it as the small peasant economy with lots of government aid and protection. The limited outlook of the radical peasants doesn't make their struggle any less heroic, but it does show that the class-conscious workers shouldn't restrict themselves to support for the peasant movement. A socialist movement of Mexican workers would, while supporting the peasants when they fight against the bourgeoisie, have its own program not just for the city and for Mexico as a whole, but for the Mexican countryside too, placing special emphasis on support for the rural workers and semi-proletarian section of the peasants.

The CWV speaks in the name of the working class, but its viewpoint on Mexico doesn't go much beyond idealizing the program of the radical peasant movement, such as the EZLN. It also supports the Mexican journal El Machete as the rallying center for the Mexican left although Sarah herself says that it tends to "equate communism with the communal forms which exist among the peasantry in Mexico."1 Anita, in the current issue of CWVTJ, denounces criticism of the EZLN or class analysis of the peasant movement as allegedly stabbing the real fighters in the back. The result is that CWV can't put forward a truly communist program for the present situation in Mexico. The main demand in their agrarian program is for the extension of the ejidos (agrarian co-ops with small-scale agriculture), and for state aid to them, and they dream of giving the ejidos a socialist character. They don't see why a communist agrarian program, while supporting additional land reform, must emphasize the decay of the ejido system and the growth of the class struggle within the peasantry. Nor do they see why the communist program must show the petty-bourgeois character of the peasant movement, rather than dreaming of the peasant movement giving up its inevitable vacillations.

Sarah's recent article tries to provide a theoretical backing for CWV's stand, and she ends up elaborating a theory of peasant socialism. In trying to give the ejidos a socialist coloring, she calls for the maintenance of small-scale agricultural production as a necessary part of socialism. She even denies the specifically working class character of a socialist society and instead views the existence of a distinct peasant class as eternal. She holds that the key to a socialist program is repudiating such ideas as that socialism involves transforming the peasantry into rural workers with the same elevated status as any other socialist worker. Sarah can only see the elimination of the peasant status as it is today--the ruining of the poor peasants and the driving of them off the land into shantytowns and sprawling slums, and not their elevation to the status of workers running the entire economy. So she holds that socialism must preserve the peasantry "as peasants", and she suggests preserving a vast system of ejidos, which are agrarian coops with small-scale agriculture. She admits that the ejidos are "individual communes which . . . compete with each other" but she thinks that eventually they can become part of "a highly integrated system of large and small scale, capital-intensive and labor-intensive agriculture".

Sarah's article begins by denouncing the present "bimodal" system of agriculture in Mexico, where large-scale, efficient producers dominate and exploit the mass of impoverished peasants in the ejidos. But what she proposes as "socialism" is "socialist" bimodalism, where the predominant agriculture will be efficient and large-scale but the peasants "as peasants" will be left in "highly labor intensive" ejidos. Her vision of the socialist countryside turns out to be an idealized version of the capitalist countryside, only her bimodalism is supposed to be "for the benefit of the masses".

Sarah fails to see that the existence of a special peasant class is a social condition that exists only during a certain period in history. She instead identifies the peasantry with those who work the land. She zealously denounces various unnamed "socialists" and "activists" for allegedly being prejudiced against the peasantry. But in denying the specifically proletarian character of socialism, she is opposing the Marxist view of socialism.


Sarah's analysis of the agrarian crisis in Mexico begins with the "bimodal or two-tiered structure" of agriculture, an analysis she takes from Tom Barry's book Zapata's Revenge. She uses the term "bimodalism" to describe the split of the countryside into large and small producers. It is a somewhat confusing term as used by Sarah and Barry because it mixes together several different types of splits in the countryside: between big capitalist farms and peasant production; between those who exploit labor and those who don't (many peasants exploit labor);between commercial and subsistence farming; etc. Thus, as used by Barry and Sarah, it seems to identify "commercial" farming only with large-scale capitalist farms, thus slurring over the crucial fact that most petty production is also commercial farming (albeit petty commercial farming), farming where at least some of the product has to be sold on the market. But it does give a dramatic expression to the idea that in the countryside there is a massive peasant lower tier on one hand and large-scale capitalist tier on the other.

Sarah describes how the lower tier of agriculture, that of petty production, is not a refuge for the peasants and does not protect them from large-scale agriculture. On the contrary, the lower tier is exploited by the big capitalist farms and by the industrial capitalists as well. The poor peasants provide a source of cheap labor for the large farms (and for the peasant bourgeoisie in the ejidos) and for industry; they grow the crops that aren't so profitable; and so forth. Indeed, one might add, much of the lower tier lives by selling its products to the upper tier, and selling at a disadvantage. One might say that the basic law of bimodal agriculture is that the large producers exploit the small.

Preserving bimodalism

But having described this system, Sarah can see no further than preserving this system, albeit with some reforms to help the petty producers continue to eke out a miserable existence. As far as demands under capitalism, Sarah doesn't demand the end of the bimodal system. The only way she sees bimodal farming ending under capitalism is if "the agricultural population is relatively small".2 And as far as socialism goes, she thinks it undesirable to end bimodalism.

Two-tier agriculture could be eliminated in one of two ways -- eliminating the upper tier, large-scale agriculture, or eliminating the lower tier, small-scale agriculture. Sarah holds that "Socialism is not possible if it is not superior to capitalism, and that includes being more efficient." Therefore she holds that large-scale agriculture has a place in socialism. But she also argues in favor of small-scale agriculture, making a point of preserving even "non-modern" and inefficient agriculture, although she often uses the euphemism "highly labor intensive" capitalism for the back-breaking drudgery typical of non-mechanized, small-scale agriculture.3 She thinks that preserving petty production in agriculture is essential for the well-being of the mass of peasantry, and indeed her article was written with the purpose of denouncing those socialists who wish to end bimodalism as prejudiced against the peasants.

Sarah's ideal countryside is "a highly integrated system of large and small scale, capital-intensive agriculture geared to the needs of the masses," something which she says is "highly unlikely under capitalism."4 In fact, large and small scale agriculture is already integrated in today's Mexico. The very facts Sarah cites about the peasantry's role in the Mexican economy, about their being a source of labor power for large farms and factories and about their selling goods to the large farms, shows that such an integration exists. What would be different under Sarah's plan is that this would "geared to the needs of the masses".

Nevertheless, no matter how much a government geared its policies to the benefit of the masses, as long as two distinct systems of production existed, as long as there was a two-tiered system, one tier would dominate the other. Once again, it will be large-scale production that will dominate small-scale production. The peasants would end up stuck in a system that provides them less income and less control over their lives. This is clear even in Sarah's description of her idea of socialism, for in her plan the small scale sector in socialist agriculture would remain a source of labor power for large-scale farming and industry. One of her proposals is that a socialist government should "locate a substantial amount of diversified industries away from the current large urban centers, not only providing employment to those who have been driven off the land, but a higher standard of living (higher wages). . ." So the peasants have lower incomes than the workers, and the two tiers are integrated by the peasants having to work in both. Sarah's bimodal socialism turns out to resemble capitalism, only with the government having more benevolent policies, such as "diversified industries" rather than what exists at present.

Eliminating bimodalism

Marxist socialism has a different vision of socialist agriculture. It intends to eliminate bimodalism altogether, thus radically eliminating the oppression and marginalization of the present-day peasants. It will do this by eliminating petty production in industry and agriculture, and thus having a one-tiered system in the entire economy. This cannot be implemented by a single decree on the day of the proletarian revolution, but will require a number of transitional steps, in which the artisans and peasants and petty-bourgeois who are used to individual and small-scale economy get used to collective methods of work. But socialism will be achieved only when bimodalism is gone. The large and rich will oppress the small and poor--that is just about the fundamental law of bimodalism. Socialism can only eliminate this oppression by eliminating bimodalism.

Of course, socialism won't have just any type of large-scale production. It will have large-scale production which is owned and run by society as a whole. The social direction of the economy in the interests of all isn't compatible with just any system of ownership. It doesn't mean just better government policies while private ownership remains. It requires replacing the private ownership of the means of production with social ownership by society as a whole. This is incompatible with a two-tiered system, which inevitably involves two quite different systems of ownership or control: large-scale enterprise run by society as whole (or society minus the lower-tier) and small scale enterprise owned and run by the individual or the small group.

Sarah presents the eliminating of bimodalism as the idea of giantism, of "bigger is automatically better".5 It is true that socialist farming will use collective workgroups, which are more efficient than individual farm labor and which also allow for a more humane way of life for the toiler. But she confuses the size of the workgroup with whether the toilers' livelihood depends solely on their own workplace, which they own or control, or whether the toilers' livelihood depends on the economy as whole, and they direct the entire economy. The exact size of a workgroup or an individual socialist farm will differ depending on a host of factors, such as changes in technology, the particular product or crop, etc. But the ownership of the farm or workplace is by society as a whole.

Class differences among the peasantry

The Marxist program also has a different attitude to bimodalism under capitalism than Sarah's. In discussing the peasantry, Sarah's attitude to the increasing class differentiation within the peasantry is simply horror. Her program in the countryside centers on retarding this differentiation as much as possible under capitalism, and then maintaining petty production under socialism. She does not put forward a program for rallying the semi-proletarian elements of the peasantry and for encouraging a section of peasantry to see that small production represents their past, not their future.

Sarah does occasionally mention different sections of the peasantry, but her "bimodal" analysis puts emphasis on the contrast between the peasantry as a whole with the large capitalist and landlord farms. The entire ejido peasantry, both the rich peasant and his neighbors who he hires to work on his field, are small peasants with respect to the large capitalist enterprises. But the Marxist analysis of the peasant coop, the ejido, notes that within the ejido, and among the small peasantry, there is a breakup into the better-off peasants who are exploiting other peasants as hired labor and in other ways; peasants who are just getting by; and peasants who are being ruined and who have to hire themselves out.

In this regard, the class analysis from El Machete which is reprinted in CWVTJ is of interest. At one point, El Machete describes the petty-bourgeoisie as divided up into rich, middle and poor sections, but it doesn't attach any political significance to this. The result of its analysis is simply that the petty-bourgeoisie is oppressed by the big capitalists too, as is the proletariat. It is this failure to note the significance of the class differences within the ranks of the oppressed people that helps prevent El Machete from being able to proclaim a program for the coming period that would encourage proletarian independence. After all, can it really be believed that the exploiters of labor and the hired hands will have the same views towards economic reform, to political questions, to revolutionary change, or to socialism?

El Machete's analysis goes as follows: After distinguishing the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, it refers to the "small petty-bourgeoisie", which itself embraces rich, middle and poor sections. They write of "the small rural and urban petty bourgeoisie with its rich, medium and poor sectors, which being subordinated to capital through the market, transfer value to capital for its own reproduction, for which they are plundered by businesses, creditors, functionaries, landlords, bankers and industrialists."6 Thus El Machete's recognizes different sections of the "small" petty-bourgeoisie, but they regard all of them as part of the downtrodden middle. They note that all these sectors are exploited by a variety capitalists and functionaries, and this is a more or less correct observation as far as the ejido peasantry is concerned. But this also indicates that talking about the small peasantry or contrasting the peasant tier to the large commercial tier doesn't necessarily indicate that one has a class analysis of the peasantry.

Similarly, Sarah does refer to the "differentiation" among the peasants, but she doesn't discuss the political and economic consequences of it. She doesn't discuss whether this affects their attitude to socialism and to the current changes in Mexico. The result is that she doesn't see that the answer to the misery of capitalist bimodalism must include attention to organizing the rural workers and poor peasants into a class struggle to obtain better conditions from the capitalists, but instead focuses her agrarian program solely on land reform and, in practice, on plans to prop up the ejido a bit longer.

Distorted development

Sarah not only ignores the significance of the division of the peasantry, but her most moving descriptions of the ills of present-day Mexico give a petty-bourgeois nationalist analysis of them. She begins by associating the "bimodal" structure of agriculture with particular government policies. She writes about how NAFTA is responsible for the marginalization of the small agricultural producers and the decline of Mexican production of basic grains. She neglects to mention that these ills began to develop long before NAFTA and the PRI's turn to "neo-liberalism". She mainly attributes the "bimodal" miseries of capitalist development in Mexico to a distorted or "skewed" or "truncated" form of capitalist development. It is this which she puts forward as responsible for the mass poverty and other features of the Mexican economy.

In fact, the growing split of the peasantry into rich and poor and the driving of peasants off the land is not a distortion of normal capitalist development, but is the general pattern of capitalist development. Mexico has had a good deal of capitalist development, especially since the administration of Lazaro Cardenas (president of Mexico from 1934-40), and this development has brought "bimodalism" with it. This development wasn't just because of conservative government policies: the very land reforms brought in by Cardenas accelerated capitalist development.

Thus the crisis of peasant small production is a consequence not of Mexico's lack of development, but of its development, although the inevitable poverty and distress is deepened and broadened by Mexico's subordinate position in the world capitalist system and by U.S. imperialist pressure. Similarly, the fall in Mexico's grain production began well prior to the neo-liberalism of the 80s and 90s. Mexico began the turn from a grain exporter to a grain importer in the 60s, and this transformation continued right through the presidency of Luis Echeverría (1970-76), although Sarah claims he strengthened and improved the ejidos.7 If one wants to understand what is happening in the Mexican countryside, one has to get beyond lamenting distorted development, and look more closely at capitalist development itself.

But, if pushing peasants off the land were really a "distorted" sort of capitalist development, then what would be the normal or undistorted form of capitalist development? The difference between Mexican capitalism and that of the most industrialized countries is that more of the Mexican population is on the land. Even in France, one of the classic countries of the small peasant, less than a tenth of the workforce is now in agriculture, and the figure is lower in such large wheat producers as the United States and Canada. Mexican agrarian development may be more painful than that of the major imperialist countries, but it is only "distorted" with respect to a petty-bourgeois ideal of a balanced and happy capitalism which has never existed.

Sarah does say in the latter part of her article that Marx "described what is now called the bimodal structure of agriculture as a feature of capitalist development".8 But she never applies this to the analysis of why the ejidos are in decay, or how the classes have developed among the Mexican peasantry. It mainly seems to mean to her that proposals to reform small production should be cast in a socialist light, as things that go outside the bounds of capitalism rather than as something only applicable to capitalism. This is turning Marx on his head.

The question of whether the decline of the ejido and breakup of the Mexican peasantry is due to distorted conditions has some important consequences. If abnormal conditions are at work, then there might perhaps be a basis for preserving petty production through demanding proper forms of development. But if the breakup of the peasantry is due to capitalist development itself, then this suggests that the communist agrarian program should orient itself to the class struggle and should not restrict itself to land reform.


Sarah backs up her view on preserving petty production in socialism by raising what she regards as an important theoretical difference between CWV and some unnamed other socialists. She holds that the peasants "as peasants", that is, the peasantry as a class, are part of socialism whereas unnamed other socialists are supposed to believe in driving all the peasants off the land into slums, shantytowns, and capitalist enterprises as a preparation for socialism. According to Sarah,

" . . . there still exists among many leftists a prejudice of sorts against the peasantry" which "leads to thinking that perhaps the peasants as peasants don't fit into a plan for socialism and/or that the countryside is too backward to organize and rebuild on a socialist basis." She says that these prejudiced leftists probably believe that "Food production would be taken over by large-scale farms run as state-owned enterprises or very large communes perhaps. Such plans would, of course, include the modernization of the countryside. . ." She claims that this would amount to demanding "that peasants be driven into the cities" and suggests it would result in something similar to capitalism with "the harm to society, especially to the farmers, . . . caused by the typical capitalist development of agriculture: slums and shantytowns from overcrowding in the cities, workers' wages lowered by increased competition and desperation, food shortages and/or price hikes, starvation in the countryside."9

In fact, it is Marxist socialism which holds that socialism is based on the proletariat and large-scale production. According to Marxism, not just any conception of society can be grafted onto any economic base. Large-scale production that provides the economic base for the revolutionary proletariat to eliminate the private ownership of the means of production, create a social control of all production, and ultimately build a classless society. Under socialist large-scale production, agricultural workers would have the same conditions as other workers, and they would not form a separate peasantry as such. Moreover, it is only the hegemony of the proletariat, and not simply of all working and oppressed strata, that can prepare conditions for the abolition of all classes and the advent of a classless society.

Marx showed that economic development under capitalism inevitably doomed small peasant land ownership, and that socialism too required the supplanting of petty production. This doesn't mean that the Marxists themselves drive the peasants off the land anymore than the Marxist analysis of how capitalism impoverishes the working class means that Marxists help the capitalists squeeze the workers and extract surplus value. Marx and Engels held that the proletariat could not promise to the peasant the indefinite continuation of small peasant land ownership and small production. However they showed that the proletariat could seek to influence the peasantry and win sections of it as a mass ally.10 And workers' rule could offer the small peasantry an easier path, including such transitional measures as collective farms, to the development of large-scale production than the desperate ruin facing them under capitalism. Nevertheless, Marxism held that the revolutionary transition to socialism didn't run through the joint rule of the proletariat and peasantry, but through the dictatorship of the proletariat. The peasantry as a whole does not by itself gravitate to socialism, and only insofar as the proletariat exercises predominant influence upon it would sections of the peasantry rally behind socialism. And so Marxism pays special attention to the class divisions inside the peasantry itself, including the development of farm laborers and semi-proletarians on one hand, and the development of peasant exploiters (kulaks) on the other.

The peasantry as such

Sarah identifies the elimination of the peasantry as a separate class with the removal of just about everyone from the countryside. But not everyone working the land is a peasant, anymore than anyone working in a trade is necessarily a worker. The modern worker is a creation of capitalism. Previously, there was also small-scale artisan work, and there was slavery. As far as agriculture, the peasant is marked as a petty producer with some type of personal ownership or rights (however tenuous) to the land. The owners and managers of large scale commercial enterprises and the landlords are not peasants, nor are capitalist farmers who run the farm as just another place to apply capital. Nor will communist workers of the soil be peasants: they will have all the advantages of science; they will be able to move back and forth between industrial and agricultural occupations; and they will take part in the collective ownership the means of production as a whole, and all this marks them not as peasants but as workers.

Peasant socialism, on the other hand, sees prosperity if only the large commercial interests are removed and proper government support given to the small peasants. Since it doesn't believe that a capitalist government would implement these policies, it envisions them as socialism. It doesn't see the need for the profound, revolutionary transformation of agriculture.

Two visions of the socialist agriculture of the future

So peasant socialism and Marxism have different visions of the agriculture of the future, with Marxism insisting on unprecedented changes rather than mere improvements or simply better government planning and aid. This difference appears in Sarah's critique of American agriculture as well as of Mexican. Sarah laments the small number of people left on the land as a result of modern large-scale agriculture. She doesn't see any alternative except to suggest that countries such as Mexico should seek an alternative development by preserving as much labor-intensive and even "non-modern" methods of farming as possible.

No doubt there are problems in modern capitalist agriculture that belie the image of continuous success that the media plays up. For example, American capitalism undoubtedly ruins large amounts of farm land, both through the anarchic spread of urbanization and through agricultural practices that rape the land in order to obtain the largest immediate yields with the least amount of money. Some practices have been reformed, but new environmental tragedies are in the making, in the U.S. and around the world. The destruction of the old-growth forest has awakened widespread protest. The overfishing of the oceans has resulted in even the capitalist government of Canada having to temporarily restrict or even ban fishing in some of the formerly most productive Atlantic and Pacific fisheries. And so forth.

How will these problems be solved? Will the solution be to bring back old practices and recruit a new peasantry? I think not. The solution lies through the further development of large-scale production, when it is employed under communism for the overall good, rather than for individual profit.

Yes, the land in the U.S. needs more attention. But what is needed is more attention to environmental issues, and not the restoration of the agricultural drudgery of the past. What is needed is also more attention to seeing how the land as a whole has to be managed: for example, consider the maintenance of wetlands. Draining wetlands may provide some farms that are quite productive taken in themselves, but attention has to be paid to maintaining sufficient wetlands on a regional and continental scale. This requires an overall view far beyond what small producers--bound by the need to make a go of it on their individual plot--can deal with; it requires a workforce that, unlike the peasantry "as peasantry", sees its ownership of the land as the ownership of the entire earth and not as ownership of this or that particular plot or locality.

What type of workforce can provide this type of attention to the land? One condition is that it have the leisure and the culture necessary to appreciate the scientific aspect of the matter. But only large-scale production can liberate the majority of agricultural workforce from the long hours that used to be part and parcel of agriculture. The bourgeoisie boasts about the long workdays with which the individual peasant works himself to the bone to keep the private plot or local co-op above water; the bourgeois economist actually regards this as an advantage and selling-point (so to speak) of peasant agriculture. The peasant, faced with ruin, may work harder and longer than the local wage-workers, and accept worse conditions. But eliminating long hours is necessary to provide a workforce that can manage the land scientifically (as well as have humane and enjoyable conditions of life). The workers must have the time to consider not just the immediate necessities of agricultural production, but also to cultivate the wide interests that will allow them to run society as a whole and be zealous supporters of the environment.

Moreover, since agriculture and industry are inseparably linked, the proper development of both requires a workforce which is not separated into industrial and agricultural sections, into workers as workers and peasants "as peasants". The more that workers have an overall picture of the economy and technology as a whole, the more that workers can move freely from one great sphere of production to another, the more possible will it be for a society run by workers to take proper care of the land. Moreover, the elimination of the distinction between worker and peasant will go in line with the inclination of people who have been liberated from capitalist oppression. The complete separation of one section of the people from the land (except for houseplants and small gardens) and the condemnation of others to always remain in agriculture divides up humanity in an unnatural way; it distorts and oppresses humanity. The ability to pass back and forth between different spheres of production, whether it is from agriculture to industry, or from production to research, or from producing material things to child care and teaching, according to one's inclination, which for most people changes at different times of life, will be one of the major joys of communist society. The bourgeoisie paints life under communism as a monotone grey, but in fact communism will create real possibilities for an infinite variety of life paths and will encourage a development of the human personality inconceivable in a class-divided society.

Even today, one can see that it is precisely the breakdown of barriers between city and countryside which is favorable to concern for the land. Most of the environmental movement is mired in the ideology of small-scale production. Yet it is notable that the American movement is full of students and cityfolk and people who look to the countryside for an alternative lifestyle, and is not mainly driven by small farmers. Unwittingly, despite the dominant ideology of the environmental movement, its development shows the importance of integrating the city with the country. And the solutions envisioned by most of the environmental movement shows that, unwittingly, the activists have taken up a view of social regulation that springs naturally from experience with large-scale production. The particular solutions the activists propose may or may not be realistic. There is, for example, the widespread idea of somehow bringing back small-production as the dominant system. But the movement's view of the possibility of social regulation shows the ideological influence, so to speak, of large-scale industry.

All the conditions favorable to environmental concern will be further accelerated by the integration of the countryside and the city. Once the barriers between agriculture and industry as occupations are brought down, it is quite likely that the many people will not want to face the alternative of either an entirely urban or rural life. This is particularly because modern technology (large-scale production and its products once again!) allows one to bring the benefits of city-life to the countryside. The technical basis for this has already been laid by modern transportation, by TV and telephone and computers (despite the dreck that now dominates the mass media), etc. At the same time, since the world population is too large to spread over the countryside the old way, for a vast multiplication of rambling villages and country housing would eliminate the fields entirely, a different way of living will develop. The result of integrating city and countryside, industry and agriculture, will not simply be supplementing the city with some factories in the countryside to soak up surplus labor, but the development of a new fusion of city and country life.

But these conditions -- the direction of agriculture and industry by the working population as a whole, the full development of agriculture as large-scale production, the equalization of conditions of agricultural and industrial work, the ability to plan the use of the land on regional and even the continental and global scale, the providing of human conditions of life for everyone--all speak in favor of the Marxist view of the elimination of the peasantry "as peasantry". Sarah may fear this elimination and the triumph of socialist large-scale production, but I look forward to the vast possibilities for human freedom and personal fulfillment which it will bring to the future denizens of communist society and the wonderful new look which it will give the earth. To me, this vista is one of the motivating factors in the struggle for communism.

A measure of the progress made in moving towards socialism

Perhaps it will be said that this is all fine and good for the communist future -- which seem so far away in this day of triumphant neo-conservative ideology, with its brazen money-grubbing by the rich and its hypocritical songs to the glories of small-scale enterprise for the masses--but what about the transition to socialism? After all, it will take a whole period of transition between capitalism and socialism, a period ushered in by a socialist revolution, before there is a Marxist socialist society. What will happen to the countryside during the transition?

But Sarah's peasant socialism not only gives a wrong picture of socialist society, but it gives a wrong orientation to revolutionary work during the transition period. In those countries which still have a large peasantry, there must be a major base for socialism among the peasantry. But one of the key measures of how far society has progressed towards the goal of socialism will be:how far is there still a division between the peasantry "as peasantry" and the workers? One of the key questions will be: how far has the communist-minded proletariat managed to win over sections of the peasantry not just to hatred of the big exploiters that have been overthrown, but for moving agriculture onto the path of large-scale production? And how far has the revolutionary society provided the peasantry with the material means necessary for this transformation?

A similar process will exist in the city. In simple contrasts, such as city versus country or industry versus agriculture, the city becomes identified with its dominant economic sector, large industry. But in fact urban areas have large numbers of petty-bourgeois in commerce, small businesses, and handicraft-style production, forming a huge pool of reserve labor for large-scale production just as the peasantry does. Indeed, in some countries these are to a considerable extent the same people, as landless peasants flock to sprawling urban slums. A major step in the transformation to socialism will be bringing these people into large-scale production with social ownership. Some will take this step eagerly, if only there is a job to offer them. But many of them are attached to petty commerce or petty production, and there will have to be a process of winning them over to the advantages of socialist production. Certain of the methods used in the countryside will have their parallel in the cities, such as forming collectives and associations of petty producers as a step towards socialism.

The only lasting solution to the development of a surplus population is not trying to preserve a lower tier of make-work production, but social production in which hours of labor are shortened rather than a large part of the population being marginalized. The transformation of the petty producers could be -- and will be, under socialism -- a process of liberation for the former peasants, providing them with many social, political, economic, and cultural advantages which they wouldn't even have dared to dream about in the past. It will be part and parcel of the improvement of the condition of rural labor, of the liberation of women from patriarchal conditions, the protection of the soil, the restoration of the countryside to the people as a whole, and the establishment of a great unity of all working people.

Marxism on the elimination of the peasantry "as peasantry"

There are some of the possibilities that are opened for humanity by the elimination in communist society of the class difference between the peasantry and the working class. Sarah says however that some unnamed socialists want to ruin the peasantry by ending their peasant status, and she claims to be defending Marxism against them. But it was Marx and Engels and Lenin who set forward the ending of the separate peasant status as a task of socialism, a task which they believed would liberate the peasantry.

Engels described the elimination of a distinct peasantry as one of the conditions of the communist society. In 1847 he wrote that one of the "principles of communism" was that

". . . the antithesis between town and country will likewise disappear. The carrying on of agriculture and industrial production by the same people, instead of by two different classes [the industrial workers and the peasants -- JG], is, even for purely material reasons, an essential condition of communistic association."11 Almost half a century later, in his famous work Anti-Duhring, he repeated this view.12

Marx and Engels stressed that the proletariat was the basic class force that stood for socialism, and described the revolutionary transition period between capitalism and socialism as the "dictatorship of the proletariat", not the dictatorship of the workers and peasants, nor of all the oppressed. The working class has to lead the oppressed masses and help transform them. In countries with a large peasantry, they pointed to the necessity of the urban proletariat rallying to its side the rural workers and as much of the poor peasantry as possible. But the object of socialist transformation was to equalize the conditions of the working class and peasantry and eliminate the class distinction between them. In 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, they said that the peasantry could be revolutionary against the bourgeois order only when defending

"not their present, but their future interests", when they "desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat."13

And half a century later, Engels still maintained this view in his article of 1894 "The Peasant Question in France and Germany". He wrote of the importance of winning peasant allies for the proletariat and stated, for example, that at that time "No lasting revolutionary transformation is possible in France against the will of the small peasant."14 But he opposed any attempt to water down the proletariat's program in the direction of peasant ideas concerning small production, and his article criticized deviations on this question in the European socialist programs of his day. Moreover, sketching possible ways in which the proletariat could, after taking power, gradually lead the peasantry towards socialism, he writes of the need to keep raising peasant cooperatives to "higher" forms so as to "equalize the rights and duties of the co-operative as a whole as well as of its individual members with those of the other departments of the entire community."15 This is a process of equalizing the situation of the peasantry and the proletariat, that is, of gradually eliminating the peasantry as a separate class. This is an essential part of socialist transformation. (Engels also considered the issue of the rural proletariat separately--the peasantry are not the only toilers in the countryside. Indeed, given the importance in Germany at that time of East-Elbe Prussia, he felt that it was "of vastly greatly importance to win the rural proletariat east of the Elbe than the small peasants of Western Germany or yet the middle peasants of Southern Germany."16)

Not just Marx and Engels, but also Lenin talked about the abolition of the peasantry as a separate class as an essential part of socialism. For example, he said in May 1919, in the midst of dealing with the difficult position facing the Soviet regime at that time:

"Engels was a thousand times right when he said that concept of equality is a most absurd and stupid prejudice if it does not imply the abolition of classes. . . .

" . . . we say our goal is equality, and by that we mean the abolition of classes. Then the class distinction between workers and peasants should be abolished. That is exactly our object. A society in which the class distinction between workers and peasants still exists is neither a communist nor a socialist society. True, if the word socialism is interpreted in a certain sense, it might be called a socialist society, but that would be mere sophistry, an argument about words.. . . The peasantry constitute a class of the patriarchal era, a class which has been reared by decades and centuries of slavery; and throughout all these decades the peasants existed as small proprietors, first, under the heel of other classes, and later, formally free and equal, but as property owners and the owners of food products. . ..

"Their social conditions, production, living and economic conditions make the peasant half worker and half huckster.

"This is a fact. And you cannot get away from this fact until you have abolished money, until you have abolished exchange. And for this years and years of stable rule by the proletariat is needed; for only the proletariat is capable of vanquishing the bourgeoisie."17

Lenin here refers to the dual position of the peasantry, facing both towards the workers and towards capitalist trade. He doesn't think that this dual position can be eliminated so long as the peasantry exists as a separate class. This dual position is why he held that only part of the peasantry would go forward with the proletariat as an ally in the socialist revolution. This was in line with the analysis he had given almost a decade and a half earlier in 1905, when he pointed out that the peasantry as a whole could only be a firm supporter of the democratic revolution, not the socialist revolution:

"The proletariat must carry to completion the democratic revolution, by allying to itself the mass of peasantry in order to crush by force the resistance of the autocracy and to paralyze the instability of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, by allying to itself the mass of the semiproletarian elements of the population in order to crush by force the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to paralyze the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie."18


"Peasant socialism" is thus a departure from Marxist socialism. But is this only a question of how best to picture the brilliant socialist future, and not something which affects politics today?

Not at all. It affects the program one adopts on the burning questions of today. It concerns whether one will help the proletariat organize as an independent revolutionary force, or whether one will merge in with the general bourgeois-democratic movement. Peasant socialism paints the general movement in socialist colors. It slurs over the different class interests arising among the masses in general and the peasantry in particular, interests which result in different stands among the masses toward the political tasks of the day.

The question of proletarian independence is coming up quite sharply in Mexican politics because Mexico is going through a period of democratization, and it is going through this at a time when the Mexican working class and socialist movements are disorganized. In the latter 1930s, president Lazaro Cardenas of Mexico carried out a series of reforms, such as the dramatic extension of the ejido system of agrarian co-ops, and simultaneously established the party which is today called PRI, the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution. For over half a century since then, the PRI has sought to suppress any independent action of the working class and the masses, combining repression with co-optation. This period has seen a major growth of industrialization in Mexico, the extensive development of commercial agriculture (both large-scale and within the ejidos), the vast expansion of the Mexican bourgeoisie, and continued depressed conditions for the masses. This is preparing the objective conditions for socialism, but the proletariat and the revolutionary movement is disorganized in Mexico, as elsewhere, and there is still a long way to go before a proletarian revolution will be imminent. Yet today the PRI's system of one-party monopoly is tottering. So what Mexico is facing in the immediate coming period is not social revolution, but a change in the form of bourgeois rule. The question then arises, what program should class-conscious workers and socialist activists in Mexico put forward in the situation where "democratization" is taking place, but socialist revolution is not an immediate possibility?

Sarah and the Chicago Workers' Voice don't know how to handle this situation. They aren't sure that one should support "democratization" since it will not bring socialism. The CWV has even carried some material which has denounced democratization in the most sectarian terms.19

But the period of crisis and the ongoing breakup of PRI's rule has brought exciting political events in its wake. In the Zapatista revolt, some of the most oppressed peasants in Mexico tried to put their own stamp on the current crisis. Various other civic and activist and trade union organizations in Mexico are also stirring. There will be demonstrations, revolts, mass marches, breakaways from PRI, and major changes in the mass movement. Sarah and the CWV, no matter what their analysis of bourgeois-democratic changes, aren't going to boycott all this action. Nor should they. But they have been unable to evaluate and support the mass action from a Marxist standpoint. Instead of enthusiastically supporting the Chiapas peasants from the socialist standpoint, they have insisted that support for the struggling peasants must include prettification of the peasant program. They have become something of a left fringe of the EZLN leadership, and they have backed the petty-bourgeois nationalist journal El Machete which carries out a similar policy. Since the CWV doesn't however understand how to handle a period of bourgeois-democratic changes, it must paint the movement as the prelude to an imminent socialist revolution. It can't admit that the EZLN's demands are for reforms fully within the bounds of capitalism, nor that the EZLN program glorifies democratization, for then the CWV would have to admit that skepticism towards "democratization schemes" must include criticism of the peasant program. So instead the CWV must paint the peasant movement in quasi-socialist colors. This is a betrayal of the real tasks needed to build up a socialist movement in Mexico.

The communist program for a period of democratization

Thus CWV's peasant socialism vacillates between denouncing democratization and painting democratization up as socialism. It looks forward to action and mass struggle but slurs over the inevitable class differences and different class demands in the movement. The result is not to help transform the current mass movement by developing a truly socialist section, but to paint up whatever happens as already sort of socialist. But what is the opposing program, the communist program, for the present period of the tottering of the PRI's political tyranny?

First of all, I should mention that I use the term "democratization" simply because it is widely used, indicates that the general movement doesn't aim at socialism, and indicates an analogy to events in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. I do not advocate that the class-conscious activists will necessarily emblazon "democratization" on their chief banner, only that they have to have a realistic assessment of the coming changes in Mexico and of the bourgeois-democratic nature of the general movement against PRI's political tyranny. Another term might be used for the struggle for political freedom, or since one of the key tasks of communist work will be to mobilize as many workers and poor peasants into struggle for their own social demands, and not only general democratic demands, their banner might well take the increasing economic devastation as a key characterization of the present period.

Does this mean that the class-conscious members of the proletariat and socialist activists should ignore "democratization" and denounce it as a diversion? Not at all. It is in the interest of the proletariat and all the working masses to achieve the maximum of democratic rights, and to destroy as far as possible the system of bureaucratic tutelage that the PRI has exercised over the masses for decades. The bourgeoisie would like to see the present crisis resolved with a miserable liberalization where the main change is simply that PRI alternates in power with some other respectable bourgeois parties, like the right-wing PAN or the reformist PRD. The proletariat must instead take every opportunity to break down the system of police repression and state tutelage that today dogs the mass organizations and struggles of workers, of peasants, and of all sections of the people.

But socialist proletarians cannot restrict their outlook to the general movement against PRI's monopoly. If a socialist movement is really to develop in this period, the communist activists must look to developing independent proletarian organization that will spearhead the class struggle today and the socialist revolution tomorrow. In doing so, they will also strengthen the struggle to topple the PRI regime and other general movements. Real militancy isn't created by a thousand sugary appeals for unity (or even fiery appeals for unity) but by showing the real interests of the different classes in the movement, and by exposing the class reasons why the movement is being restricted at every turn by the reformists.

With respect to the countryside, socialist proletarians shouldn't restrict themselves to support for the general democratic movement and for land reform and aid to the ejidos. They must lay stress on the class differences that have taken place even inside the ejidos, with richer ejido members exploiting poorer ones as laborers, with the ejido as a whole hiring wage labor, with the buying and selling of land having taken place whether it was legal or not, etc. They must pay special attention to encouraging any tendency among the mass of peasant laborers and poor peasants who can't make it on their own plot to organize in their own interest, separate from the forces that look to petty production for salvation.

With respect to the urban movement, the class-conscious workers and activists must bring to the fore the class differences between middle-class "civic society" and the proletariat. They must lay stress on building up independent trade unions and mass organizations, independent not only of the PRI but of the petty-bourgeois nationalists and bourgeois liberals.

The class-conscious activists must oppose petty-bourgeois nationalism, the dreams of all-class consensus, the view that mass poverty is a distortion of normal bourgeois development, and all other theories that slur over the reality of the class antagonisms that are growing sharper in Mexico. They must expose the petty-bourgeois "socialism" that sees something socialist in the Cardenista reforms, or that confuses democratic reforms and socialism, or that poses socialism in petty-bourgeois nationalist terms. The proletariat needs democracy because it provides a wider and clearer field for the development of the class struggle, while the petty-bourgeois democrats believe that democracy means a reconciliation of all the patriotic or nationalistic classes. It is necessary to expose which programs and demands are socialist, not in order to denigrate every non-socialist demand or movement, but in order to encourage the growth of an independent socialist movement.

To accomplish these tasks consistently will take the founding and growth of a communist party of the Mexican proletariat. Political organization is not a luxury, but an essential need for the working class. So the struggle for proletarian independence must include attention to reestablishing a proletarian party with a truly communist program. Today there is no such party in Mexico. All the Mexican parties and large political groups that speak in the name of the Mexican workers or of socialism are opportunist parties, ranging from reformists to Trotskyists and Maoists. Naturally, a genuine party cannot simply be proclaimed, but must arise from a combination of struggle for the communist theory with participation in the economic and political struggles of the working masses.

Just be militant -- a formula for subordinating the movement to the reformist wing of the bourgeoisie

. From all this, it is clear that seeing the exposure of the class basis for the demands and actions of groups as "something academic and sterile", as the CWV's Anita does, amounts to subordinating the class-conscious workers and socialist activists to the general democratic movement. It does so no matter how many times Anita and other CWV members swear their loyalty to socialism, as a number of supporters of Cardenista programs have always done.

These demands of Anita are expressed in her article in Mexico, which appears in the CWV Theoretical Journal immediately following Sarah's article. Anita entitles her article "An introduction to the ideological struggle in Mexico", but it denounces the ideological struggle to clarify the class nature of the peasant movement. She admits that it is true that the EZLN "is a petti-bourgeois peasant force with vacillations between reformism and revolution", but denounces those who take the class nature of the EZLN seriously as

"tend(ing) to treat revolutionary theory as something academic and sterile" and "miss(ing) the main point of the role of the EZLN and its trend, as well as that of active left organizations." The main point according to Anita is that all the active left organizations are fighting, and should unite. "The issue", she says, "is whether the peasant and indigenous movement can be won over to break completely with reformism, not just whether we can theoretically characterize that movement according to its class composition and inherent weaknesses."20

So here's a would-be socialist who doesn't see the need for class analysis, and regards it as something dry and scholastic. But moreover, it makes a mockery of the recognition of the petty-bourgeois character of the peasant movement to say that this movement can stop vacillating and break completely with reformism. This is the standpoint of peasant socialism, which sees no difference between the general peasant movement and the socialist movement. As we have seen above, Lenin believed that the movement of the peasantry as a whole might fight for democratic change, but only a section of the peasantry was a firm ally of the struggle for socialism.

And what does Anita mean by breaking completely with reformism? Does she mean an all-round break with reformism in matters of ideology, policy and program? Actually, behind her revolutionary verbiage, Anita's is only talking about the peasant movement splitting with the bourgeois reformist party, the PRD (the Party of the Democratic Revolution). The CWV's Sarah last year characterized a similar stand by El Machete as that the main tasks are just "splitting with the PRD and expanding the EZLN struggle."21 And although Anita would prefer the EZLN split with the PRD, she hasn't shown much concern with the EZLN's failure to do so. Her standpoint orients the activists simply to take part in the general peasant and democratic movements and make them more militant.

Yet the issue isn't only militancy, but the program and aims of the EZLN and of the peasant movement generally. Consider the evolution of the EZLN. In its first statement from the Lacandona Jungle, it talked of marching on Mexico City to overthrow the PRI. This proved impossible, and so the EZLN turned to reliance on the reformists, first to the possibility of electing a PRD government and then to building a broad "national liberation movement" led by Cuauhtemoc Cardenas (a PRD leader and son of Lazaro Cardenas). This might seem to represent a vacillation between revolutionary methods and reformism. But even in its first statement, the EZLN wanted to establish a consensus regime, which would -- whether the EZLN realized it or not--have been one of the liberal bourgeoisie. To reduce matters to whether the EZLN and other organizations can be won over to consistent militancy, is to close one's eyes to their political stance.

Another example can be seen in an earlier article by Anita, "News from Mexico", in the CWVTJ#10. Here Anita inspires the reader with a survey of militant developments in Mexico, but says little about the problems of orientation. She devotes just one sentence to the fact that the EZLN leadership has placed bourgeois reformists in the leadership of much of the Zapatista Front of National Liberation22, which is the national organization which the EZLN leadership wants the mass movement throughout Mexico to center around. All she says about the reformists is that they aren't very active, and she says nothing about why the EZLN supports them. She simply writes that it is not clear how well the Zapatista Front is going, and "One problem seems to be that Frente organizing outside of Chiapas has been placed in the hands of the more reformist CND23 and PRD leadership who may not be acting with great enthusiasm". But to gloss over the question of reformism threatens to reduce the role of the workers and peasants to that of shock troops for the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie.


. Now let's return to Sarah's picture of socialism in the countryside as the preservation of small peasant agriculture. This turns out to mean the preservation of the ejido through government aid. Jack Hill had written in the past in the CWV vehemently denying any particular attachment to the ejidos. Nevertheless, it turns out that Sarah describes the ejido as a part of socialism.

The modern ejido is a form of agrarian co-op in Mexico. In most ejidos the peasants engage in small-scale agriculture on their plot.24 While the land belongs to the government, the peasants get to use their individual plot it as if they owned it. As well, the ejidos have many ties to the Mexican state through various types of government regulation, credit agencies, planning bodies, official peasant organizations linked to the ruling PRI party, etc.

Creating more ejidos has been for some time the main form of land reform in Mexico. The Zapatista rebellion demanded further land reform and government aid to the peasants, and this and other demands would help the marginalized indigenous peasants of Chiapas to raise their heads. I and other comrades writing in the Communist Voice have vigorously supported the Zapatista rebellion and their demands for various reforms, but we have also pointed out the limitations of their demands. In particular, the ejidos do not provide an alternative to capitalist development in agriculture, but accelerate this development, which sooner or later leads to the disintegration of the ejidos. Better-off ejido peasants have been exploiting their neighbors as wage-workers or through usury for a long time now, and they also have been renting land from poorer neighbors. Moreover, the ejido itself employs poor peasants who don't belong to the ejido. One of the important parts of the communist agrarian program is to explain what history has revealed about the limitations of the ejido, and to support the semi-proletarian peasants who are being exploited by their neighbors.

Sarah won't talk directly of the decay of the ejido due to its own internal development. But some recognition of this peeks out in the many inconsistencies that appear in her proposals. Her article reflects the doomed attitude of the small peasant who is being crushed by capitalism, and yet doesn't see any alternative but to carry on as in the past. She proposes reforms to strengthen the ejido, and at the same time says they can't work. Her conclusion is to suggest that socialists should advocate them anyway. She proposes some reforms on the grounds that they will preserve small peasant agriculture, and fails to note that they will actually accelerate its decline (factories in the countryside or opening up jobs to women). She spends a lot of time implying that the cause for the devastation of the small peasant is NAFTA and government policies and the distorted development, but later on admits that the peasant is being devastated by the general forces of capitalism described in Marx's Capital.

Nevertheless Sarah won't say directly that the ejido is dying due to the natural evolution of petty production, nor that poverty and stagnation have been the main factors preserving the ejido. Nor does Sarah see any of the progressive aspects of the development of an agricultural proletariat and of the disintegration of the old patriarchal relations in the ejido. In the days of the Industrial Revolution in England, a number of romantic poets lamented the fall of the independent peasantry (yeomanry) and the rise of the factory in Britain, the first modern industrial country the world had seen. It was up to Engels, in his Conditions of the Working Class in England, to point out not only the misery and poverty of the working class, but its significance as the progressive class destined to overthrow the old society.

The ejido

Sarah for some time painted aid for the ejidos as a "socialist measure" among the peasant demands. Last year, she promoted that, with government aid and a proper planning of agriculture, the ejidos could stop the impoverishment of the peasantry and bring them into large-scale agriculture. In her latest article, she writes in a confusing fashion. At one point, discussing the socialist future, she says that "Ejidos will eventually be transformed into social property and not as individual communes which continue to compete with each other." (25) This seems to indicate that she thinks that the ejidos will be replaced by a countryside which is social property. But if this were so, then the toilers in that countryside would not be peasants any longer, and her view is that peasants must continue to exist "as peasants". So perhaps she is just saying that the ejidos will exist for some time under socialism, and later be replaced.

In any case, she goes on to draw a parallel to the ejidos from Soviet history. She says that the "socialist proletariat is not afraid if the peasantry breaks up large farms -- as for instance happened in the Soviet Russia to some extent." This refers to the land reform (the Land Socialization Act) adopted immediately after the Bolshevik revolution when the Soviet government adopted radical petty-bourgeois reforms in the countryside, rather than either socialist agriculture or collective farms as a transition to socialist agriculture. The land was mainly divided up into individual plots with each peasants getting an equal small plot. This was not yet the development of socialist agriculture, and Lenin pointed out,

". . . when enforcing the Land Socialization Act -- the 'spirit' of which is equal land tenure -- the Bolsheviks most explicitly and definitely declared: this is not our idea, we do not agree with this slogan, but we think it our duty to enforce it because this is the demand of the overwhelming majority of the peasants. And the idea and demands of the majority of the toilers are things that the toilers must discard of their own accord: such demands cannot be either 'abolished' or 'skipped over.' We Bolsheviks will help the peasantry to discard petty-bourgeois slogans, to pass from them as quickly and as easily as possible to socialist slogans."26

By comparing aid to the ejidos with the Land Socialization Act, Sarah implicitly admits that the ejidos are not collective farms, but something even further from socialism. They are somewhat similar to the Russian village "mir" or land association. The land is periodically divided among the members by the land association, and the peasants cannot legally buy or sell the land. However, the peasants cultivate their plots individually. Collective farms did not arise in Soviet Russia by gradually transforming the village community, but were a distinct form of agriculture. And yet, even collective farms under working class rule are not yet socialist agriculture, but only a transitional step (albeit a very important one) towards socialist agriculture. According to Lenin, the Bolsheviks should draw a contrast between the petty-bourgeois slogan of equal land tenure (i.e. of individual cultivation within the village land association) and socialist agriculture, rather than presenting that one sort of slides into the other. They should present collective cultivation of the soil, not the land association, as a transition "from small, parcellized farming to large-scale collective farming".

But Sarah has some doubts about large-scale collective farming. In her article, she argues for preservation of as much petty production under socialism as possible. She gives voice to the petty-bourgeois fear that becoming a worker under socialism means being ruined, means "being driven" to the city. She also hints that modern economic developments supposedly have resuscitated the role of small production in general. She writes that

"the current level of technology and new developments in manufacturing techniques and organization have brought capitalism from an era where gigantic factories ruled to an era where merely large factories rule."27 From this, she goes on to oppose the idea that "bigger is automatically better," which she attributes to some unnamed "advocates for socialism". She eventually gets to the point where she hints that while "small-scale non-modernized farming" may be losing out under capitalism, it should have at least some place in socialism.28

But how can the distinction between "large factories" and "giant factories" support the idea of agrarian petty production? If today a merely "large" auto factory produces as much, if not more, than a truly gigantic factory produced in the 30s, is this a victory for petty production? Sarah is confusing the size of individual factories, or workgroups, with whether production is socially planned and carried out on a large scale. She ends up with the absurdity of extrapolating from merely "large factories" -- which may employ robots and computers and be linked with a far-flung network of suppliers by fiber optic cable and satellite links -- to the idea of a place for the "small-scale non-modernized" production. This is truly an amazing feat of logic. The size of the individual workplaces and workgroups will vary from year to year under socialism depending on technology and new inventions as well as whether socialism has finally reached the stage of the communist, classless society. But the direction of the economy by society as a whole is utterly dependent on large-scale production.29 Sarah's denunciation of the supposed "bigger is automatically better" idea and her solicitude for preserving some of the numbing drudgery of small-scale production, which she delicately calls "highly labor intensive" work, is a reflection in the left-wing movement of the neo-conservative ideological climate of the present.

From Cardenas to Echeverría

The reduction of the agrarian program to land reform is actually not socialist, but something closer to Cardenismo. I have pointed out in the past, "the presentation of government assistance to the 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 30's in Mexico."30 Lazaro Cardenas pioneered the reconstruction of the Mexican bourgeois state, while radical peasants and socialists represent a very different class force. Nevertheless, the ideology of Cardenismo has continued to play an undermining role among radical activists in Mexico. Such radical peasant movements as the EZLN dream of democratization as the ideal social aim, in which all classes will come to a consensus, and the government will make the ejidos prosperous by implementing a better version of the old PRI policies of Lazaro Cardenas and Luis Echeverría.

The CWV has been infuriated at the view that their peasant socialism makes it difficult for them to criticize Cardenismo. They believe that since they denounce Cardenas as a person that they must be free of Cardenismo in their political views. And they do denounce Cardenas as a person. Sarah's recent article begins by ascribing many bad things to the Cardenista land reform, and apparently denouncing Echeverría to boot. She writes that "Some forces have talked of the reforms under Echeverría as developing a 'modern subsistence sector.'"31 Nevertheless, by the middle of her article, she reaches the point of citing Echeverría's agrarian program, the program of the "modern subsistence sector", as a positive example of aid to the ejidos. This occurs in the part of her article which asks "What about proposals for a general land reform which greatly strengthens the ejido system in Mexico?" She has been discussing various proposals, which she finds unrealistic to this or that extent. But she says, "a strengthening and improvement of the ejido system is possible" because "it was done under Echeverría".32 This is the only positive example she gives of aid to the ejido, and she doesn't distinguish her idea of aid to the ejido from his.

Now, far from me to say that anything done by Cardenas or Echeverría is necessarily bad in itself just because they did it. Cardenas raised the minimum wage, for example. But if Echeverría's agrarian policy focused on improving the ejido system, doesn't this suggest that it is Cardenismo or Echeverrismo to present aid to the ejidos or modernization of the ejidos as socialist? Doesn't it suggest that an agrarian policy that stakes everything on the ejido is Cardenismo?

Moreover, what actually happened under Echeverría? By Echeverría's administration, the PRI's ejido policy was in crisis. The expansion of ejidos and the money the PRI had put into agricultural infrastructure had resulted in a vast development of capitalism in agriculture (both inside and outside the ejido system). As a result, commercial Mexican agriculture had grown by leaps and bounds; some peasants had prospered and the mass was impoverished; many hired themselves out as laborers; and others flocked off the land to the cities or to the U.S. in search of work. Discontent was rife in the countryside. So the PRI put on a left face, with Echeverría posing as an anti-imperialist in foreign policy and a reborn Cardenista friend of the peasant in agrarian policy. His agricultural policy was discussed last year in Pete Brown's article "The decline of the small peasant continued: On Echeverría's ejido policy of the 70's".33 Many government planning agencies and bureaucracies were developed. And yet, for most peasants, there were only the most modest benefits. The overall stagnation of the ejidos continued, and so did the developing trend for Mexico to import basic grains. There were, however, many activists coopted into Echeverría's programs. While Lazaro Cardenas's program had at least resulted in a clear, if ultimately temporary, improvement for the peasants, Echeverría's lasting contribution was a big expansion of the government bureaucracies concerned with food and agriculture, such as CONASUPO (Compania Nacional de Subsistencias Populares).

Yet Sarah uses the Echeverría program as an example of the "strengthening and improvement" of the ejido system. She doesn't see that the experience of this period provides additional evidence that the communist agrarian program cannot be restricted to land reform. Her vision of the agrarian program remains with the ideological limits of PRI's old agrarian program of bimodalism, prior to the shift to neo-liberalism.

The search for the perfect ejido reform

Echeverría's ejido program is one of a number of proposals that Sarah considers throughout her article. They all focus on preserving petty production from being replaced by large-scale production. Some of the proposals that Sarah advises socialists to consider are those from Tom Barry's book Zapata's Revenge, Free Trade and the Farm Crisis in Mexico. Sarah is interested in Barry's proposals because he aims at "alternative rural development", which means the preservation of small-scale and "labor intensive" farming. Jack Hill, who reviewed Barry's book almost a year ago in an early issue of CWVTJ, describes that Barry is arguing "for sustainable development strategy based on the small farm sector".34 Sarah notes that Barry's plan is based on backing up the ejido by with "technical and financial support for agriculture" by the government and with protectionism.35

Both Sarah and Jack take an interesting attitude to Barry's plan. They proclaim it impossible and yet, at the same time, support it. This is truly typical of the outlook of the petty-bourgeois who are desperate to try anything, but sense that the larger forces will inevitably crush them. Jack Hill states that "Barry's ideal of a kinder gentler globalization of agriculture under monopoly capital is not possible."36 But apparently it is only Barry's ideal, not his reforms, which are impossible. So Jack concludes that "a determined struggle of the masses" can accomplish a good deal of Barry's program anyway.

Sarah also writes that Barry's plan of "a highly integrated system of large and small scale, capital-intensive and labor-intensive agriculture geared to the needs of the masses is highly unlikely under capitalism. This is the fundamental flaw in Barry's and in similar proposals."37

But Sarah thinks the plan should be considered despite this fundamental flaw. She writes that "Reforms such as those proposed by Barry might mean a less skewed and less dependent capitalist development in Mexico. They might improve Mexico's position in relation to other capitalist powers. They could improve living conditions for some of the population. It might mean a less truncated and skewed internal market."38

Well, that's certainly a long list of possible accomplishments for a plan that Sarah says is not possible (or at least, "very unlikely") under capitalism. Sarah seems here to identify improving living standards and achieving reforms useful to the masses with the struggle of national capital versus foreign capital. This perspective, however, contradicts what Sarah has told us several paragraphs earlier, where she wrote that such "less dependent" (more nationalist) capitalist development was impossible. She wrote that "in general I don't think a return to nationalistic politics [policies] which seek to protect and develop national capitalism are possible now." 39

Sarah also briefly consider proposals from other writers who were also looking for a way to save small-scale and highly labor-intensive agriculture.40 Sarah writes that "Barry and the writers from Food First represent different political trends. For instance, I think the writers from Food First are more in favor of breaking up the large scale highly capitalized estates. Barry's proposals are admitted within the context of neo-liberalism while the writers from Food First are more directly against neo-liberalism. However, the writers for Food First have proposals for agriculture which bear some similarity to Barry's. And the writers from Food First also think that their proposals would better the position of Mexican capitalism."41 Sarah seems to prefer Barry's proposals over the others, apparently on the grounds of realism since "no capitalist government is going to break up any significant portion of large-scale commercial farming and turn them over to the ejidos." Of course, Sarah has also told us that it is unlikely that any capitalist government could really implement Barry' ideals. But since Sarah has not really described any of these proposals, I will not try to compare them.

However, a socialist agrarian program should not focus on this search for the perfect ejido policy, but should focus on developing the struggle in the countryside. It is the desire to find a program to do the impossible--preserve the vitality of petty production--that makes it impossible to find the right program of reforms and help lead Sarah and Jack into many contradictions.

Keeping the peasantry on the land

Sarah does have a few suggestions of her own with respect to preserving the peasantry "as peasantry". The ironic thing is that her proposals would pull peasants off the land even faster than anything likely to have been proposed by the unnamed socialists who she accuses of driving peasants off the land. The problem is that it is impossible to increase the standard of living and the economic possibilities of the peasantry without increasing the speed at which the peasantry is disintegrating.

Factories in the countryside

One of Sarah's suggestions is that a socialist government

"might very well locate a substantial amount of diversified industries away from the current large urban centers, not only providing employment to those who have been driven off the land, but a higher standard of living (higher wages) and an accelerated development of the rural economies."42

Under socialism all workers, on the land or off, will have a similar standard of living ("from each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her work" -- or, under communism, "From each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her needs"). As well, the integration of the city and the countryside will go much further than simply moving a few factories around. So Sarah's proposal seems to envision either a reform in capitalist society or the very earliest stages of transition to socialism. But in any case, it is quite feasible to locate some factories away from the large urban centers.43

But what is surprising, is that Sarah believes that locating factories in the countryside will preserve the small peasant economy. Every indication is that this will accelerate the decline of the small peasant economy and draw peasants off the land in large numbers. If millions of Mexican peasants flee to sprawling slums around Mexico City, or even travel long distances to the U.S. in search of work, it can be imagined how fast impoverished peasants will fill up the jobs in nearby factories.

Many peasants, receiving a higher wage in the factory, may eventually decide to stay there--if they think the factory job is permanent. Sarah to the contrary, long hours of non-modern agricultural drudgery is not particularly attractive, and if the peasant finds a decent sort of factory job, higher wages, shorter hours, and more security, he/she may eventually ask: why work two jobs, one in the factory and the other trying to make a go of it in hopeless competition against large-scale agriculture or against richer peasant neighbors? But let's take the supposition most favorable to Sarah's case. Consider the peasant who works in the factory with the intention of staying on the land. Such a peasant will invest part of his/her factory wages in improving the land, buying better farm implements, modernizing the method of cultivation, etc. This is not an idle hypothesis--it is exactly what many Chiapas peasants who had gotten construction jobs in the energy industry did when they got back to their ejidos. And this influx of money resulted in disintegrating the ejido at an accelerated pace.

Indeed, Sarah herself recognizes that this is what happened in Chiapas. She writes that

". . . the authors from Food First write disparagingly of the employment in the oil industry of indigenous people in Chiapas. Peasants who had accumulated some savings from working in the oil fields (primarily young men) returned home and invested in 'Green Revolution' technologies. The authors conclude that this dramatically altered class and social relations in those villages. They seem to hope that such development of class differentiation can be slowed or even stopped."44

The effects on the rural class structure and social relations included the ejido peasantry dividing more and more into better-off peasants and exploited neighbors. It included some peasants buying trucks and going into the trucking business, other peasants becoming usurers, some peasants becoming more successful farmers while others fell further and further behind, and the all-round disintegration of the small peasant economy. It also included the breakdown of patriarchal relations which had kept young peasants dependent on their elders in all matters, including their marriage relations.45

It seems, the only way to preserve the old ejido is to preserve peasant poverty and misery. If the peasants get too miserable, they have to flee to find a job. But if the peasants get a bit of money from elsewhere, their very drive to make a go of it on the land results in the breaking up of the traditional village solidarity. Factories in the countryside may well have a progressive effect on the countryside, but one thing is for sure -- they will pull even larger numbers of peasants off the land and accelerate the decay of the ejido, just as the construction boom in Chiapas did.

Women's rights

Sarah wrings her hands over this problem. On one hand, she doesn't think that it is possible to avoid the class differentiation that follows from peasant employment in the oil fields. But when Sarah or Jack say that a proposal is impossible, that doesn't mean they are against it. So she immediately suggests that things might be better if, instead of employing young men, there were jobs for women instead. She writes that

"Perhaps the struggle of the peasants may alter how this process takes place so that effects are not so deleterious For instance, within the Zapatista revolt, women have demanded participation in small enterprises and more rights."46

The struggle of indigenous peasant women for their rights is indeed one of the inspiring aspects of the Chiapas rebellion. Last year I focused attention on this aspect of the struggle in a section of my article "The ghost of Lazaro Cardenas and the present crisis in Mexico."47 Women having an independent source of income will result in increasing their status and undermining the old social relations. Nevertheless, peasant women starting small enterprises will, over time, undermine the old ejido relations just as much as peasant men having more income will. The women's enterprises take them into the commercial economy. And it either takes them away from the land, or they will use the money to modernize agriculture. Women are likely to be especially aware of the problem of the drudgery of non-modern agriculture, because so many other drudgeries are forced on them. And if they wish to get the peasant men to participate in family tasks and take over some of what patriarchalism considered "women's work", they will no doubt see the value in eliminating as much highly labor intensive tasks on the small plot as possible. There are only 24 hours in a day.

In fact, it is not so easy to separate the "deleterious" effects of employment from the positive effects. Both the disintegration of the ejido and the destruction of patriarchalism are related to each other. They go hand in hand. The undermining of patriarchalism by the employment of young men in construction probably contributed to women rising up for their rights against the old patriarchal customs. And the fact that the women are demanding their own small enterprises itself accelerates the downfall of the old ejido customs.

Sarah herself, after suggesting that women's employment as a solution, then says that the differentiation of classes will go on anyway. (She can't quite get herself to say that the disintegration of the ejido will go on, because that would go against peasant socialist glorification of the ejido, yet the differentiation of the small peasantry into different classes and the decay of the ejido are the same process.) So her article ends up with the following four contradictory positions on peasant employment in outside industries:

a) factories in the countryside will help keep the peasants on the land and preserve the ejido;

b) however, a particular example of this, the employment of young indigenous peasant men in construction work in Chiapas, "dramatically altered class and social relations in those villages", i.e., helped accelerate the disintegration of the ejido;

c) the employment of indigenous peasant women in small enterprises will be "less deleterious" than the employment of indigenous peasant men in construction;

d) but the differentiation of classes (presumably including the exodus of peasants from the land) will continue anyway, no matter whether it is women or men who get supplementary jobs.

In fact, the employment of peasant women in small enterprises or in factories will accelerate the elimination of the peasantry "as peasantry". In order to endorse the struggle of the indigenous peasant women, Sarah has to support reforms which will have the opposite result from her goal of preserving a niche for petty production in agriculture.

The reality of small-scale production

This illustrates that small scale, non-modern agriculture is not the basis for liberation of women. At one time, the CWV itself wrote that "In additional to socialized medicine and education, adequate social security and pensions, and child care for every family that needs it, laundries, cafeterias and housecleaning services are needed to rescue women from domestic drudgery."48 Can it be imagined that a complete system of such services can be provided by ejidos populated with members bogged down in highly-labor intensive small-scale agriculture? Such agriculture provided a certain social safety net through patriarchalism, but that method isn't compatible with women's liberation or socialism.

Perhaps the answer by the CWV would be that, under socialism, the overall economy should provide these things as aid for the ejido. But this would be a picture of socialism as a glorified form of the PRI system--only the government agency, the new, supposedly socialist, CONASUPO, would really work "for the needs of the people" and provide everything necessary. But if the members of a work group are really to have a full voice in the provision of all the social services they make use of, then they have to be part of the overall system that provides these services. It can't be that these services are provided by the part of the economy that is large-scale and modern, and the lower tier of petty production is isolated off in a separate niche which receives services but doesn't provide much back for it. To have a full voice, the work group has to be part of the overall social production. Whatever the size of their work group, and whether it is in industry or agriculture, the members have to be workers with rights and responsibilities to the whole economy, and not just to their little niche.


Changes are coming to Mexico, and this presents an opportunity for the workers to raise their head and put forward their own demands, and for the poor peasants to fight marginalization and extreme poverty. Once again, mass struggle is rising. But for this struggle to be utilized by the socialist activists and workers to rebuild an independent proletarian movement, and for the working masses to achieve some of their social demands in the coming period, requires a clear assessment of the nature of the coming changes and of the various forces in the movement.

The CWV has lost its head in its excitement over the current Mexican movement. Its romanticization of the movement replaces the struggle to help orient the movement and to rebuild communist organization of the proletariat. The CWV can't face the fact that it is going to take years of struggle in Mexico, as elsewhere, to have the proletariat organize independently in its own interest and to establish an anti-revisionist Marxist party, So instead the CWV accommodates itself to whatever exists. The peasant movement rises up in Chiapas, and the CWV doesn't just ardently support it, but becomes peasant socialists. There is no Mexican anti-revisionist center to support, so the CWV backs a petty-bourgeois nationalist journal El Machete as the rallying center for the left. And the CWV paints all this in revolutionary and Marxist phrases.

Marx had a different attitude to revolutionary work. He sought to organize the proletariat as a revolutionary force. When a revolutionary upsurge, such as that of the European wave of revolutions of 1848-49 subsided, he did not renounce large revolutionary goals and reconcile himself to whatever existed. Instead he took up protracted work to organize the force necessary to make a new revolutionary assault. The Marxists did not retreat in front of the years of work needed to organize the proletariat as a truly revolutionary force. He wrote:

". . . While we say to the workers: 'You have got to go through fifteen, twenty, fifty years of civil wars and national wars not merely in order to change your conditions but in order to change yourselves and become qualified for political power,' you on the contrary tell them, 'We must achieve power immediately, otherwise we may as well lie down and go to sleep.' While we specially point out the undeveloped nature of the German proletariat to the German workers, you flatter the national feelings and crafts prejudices of the German handicraftsmen in the crudest way, which is of course more popular."49

The CWV is interested in the peasant movement, so it flatters and idealizes the peasant ejido. But real communist work consists not of glossing over the current crisis of revolutionary thought and the disorganization of the proletariat and the revolutionary movements, but in working to overcome it. It consists not in dreaming that the general democratic movement will become a socialist revolutionary movement if only the peasants and the left are militant enough, but in knowing how to promote the development of an independent socialist and proletarian trend right amidst the overall mass and class struggle. Only such work can both forward the long range interests of the proletariat and provide the greatest benefits to the masses from a fall of the PRI's political monopoly. Revolutionary activists are faced with proletarian reorganization and the rebuilding of the communist movement on the basis of consistent anti-revisionism. This is long-term work, but it is what is necessary to prepare the revolutionary proletariat to step forward once again as the force determined to turn the old world upside down.


1 "El Machete and the Mexican left" which appears in CWVTJ #7, p. 21, col. 2 and Communist Voice, vol. 1, #3, p. 46, col. 1.

2 "The continuing crisis in Mexico", p. 42, col. 1. This article can be found on pages 40-43 of this journal, but it first appeared in CWVTJ #11, Oct. 7, 1996. Page references to this article are to this journal, not CWVTJ.

3 Sarah notes that "Under capitalism, small scale non-modernized farming" is "being wiped out", and contrasts this to the idea of developing "some small and some highly labor intensive farming."

4 Ibid., p. 41, col. 2.

5 Ibid., p. 42, col. 2.

6 "Extra from El Machete, Elements of Analysis for the Current Political Situation," CWVTJ#11, pt. 2, emphasis added. This is the not just stand of one author, but of the entire El Machete collective.

7 Ibid., p.42, col. 1.

8 She goes on to say that bimodalism "will not change under capitalism except in situations where, similar to the U.S., the agricultural population is small." But the division between big and small, rich and poor exists in U.S. agriculture too. The basic Marxist description still holds true.

9 Ibid., p. 42, col. 2 --p. 43, col. 1.

10 These sections might well be a substantial majority of the peasantry, since the poorest peasants, the semi-proletariat, might well outnumber all the rest.

11 "Principles of Communism", Selected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 1, p. 93, Answer to Question 20.

12 Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science (Anti-Duhring) Part III. Socialism. III. Production. See the sections on the abolition of the division of labor and the abolition of the antithesis between agriculture and industry. International Publishers, pp. 320-5.

13 Marx and Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party", Selected Works, vol. 1, p. 118, near the end of Section I. Bourgeois and Proletarians.

14 "The Peasant Question in France and Germany", Selected Works, vol. 3, p. 468, at the start of section II.

15 Ibid., p. 470, section II.

16 Ibid., p. 476, near the end of the article.

17 Speech, entitled "Deception of the People with Slogans of Freedom and Equality," at the First All-Russia Congress on Adult Education", Section IV of Collected Works, vol. 29, pp.358-9, 361, italics as in the original, underlining added.

18 Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, near the end of chapter 12 "Will the sweep of the democratic revolution be diminished if the bourgeoisie recoils from it?"

19 See "CWV looks for Marxism without anti-revisionism" in CV vol. 1, #5 for a discussion of CWV's proud reprinting from El Machete of Tono Garcia's sectarian denunciation of democratization.

20 CWVTJ #11, p. 14, col. 1, col. 2.

21 CWVTJ #7, p. 19, col. 2. Sarah was characterizing El Machete's viewpoint. Anita is identified in CWVTJ #11 as having ties with El Machete (through her membership in a solidarity committee that backs El Machete), and her article in CWVTJ #11 just elaborates on El Machete's analysis.

22 The "Front" is a coalition, as distinct from the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, which is the EZLN itself.

23 A political grouping dominated by the PRD and other reformists.

24 There are some collective ejidos, but they are the minority. Moreover, capitalist relations have spread just as rapidly on the collective ejidos as the other ones. Indeed, some of the most famous collective ejidos, such as those in the Laguna cotton fields, are among those most deeply involved in commercial agriculture and exploiting outside laborers.

25 "The Continuing Crisis in Mexico," p. 42, col. 2.

26 See Lenin's pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, the middle of the section entitled "Subserviency to the Bourgeoisie in the Guise of 'Economic Analysis'", p.109, emphasis. as in the original.

27 "The Continuing Crisis in Mexico", p. 42, col 2.

28 Ibid.., p. 43, col. 1.

29 Of course, certain types of small-scale production or even individual production will always exist, such as various artistic endeavors. But large-scale production will not only be predominant in the production of material goods, but it will transform even the types of individual or artisan work that remain. The massive drudgery of the past will be eliminated as far as possible. This will free up human resources to allow not only far more attention to the environment, but also a resurgence of individual attention in fields such as teaching, medical care, child care, etc. However, even this will not be the same as Sarah's "highly labor intensive" sphere of the economy, because she is talking about a sphere with rather little resources and without the most modern equipment. But future education, for example, will be provided with far more material resources, as well as far more individual human attention, than the children of proletarians receive today. And education will be far more integrated into the actual experience of production, research, and other life experiences than today's education, so the students will simultaneously get more individual attention and be closer to the heart of the large-scale production than today.

30 "The CWV renounces anti-revisionism", Communist Voice, vol. 1, #3, p. 23, col. 2.

31 In context, I think Sarah probably intended this as a denunciation of Echeverría, since Sarah says that this strengthened bimodalism. But from Sarah's standpoint of preserving petty production, doesn't this say only that Echeverría modernized petty production? Interestingly, Barry says that Echeverría's "focus was on providing government services to campesinos producing for the market, while the 30 percent to 50 percent who existed on the margin of the market were ignored by Echeverría's populism." (Zapata's Revenge, p. 38)

32 "The Continuing Crisis in Mexico", p. 5, col. 2.

33 See Communist Voice, vol. 1, #3, Aug. 1, 1995.

34 "Reviews of two books on Mexican Politics", CWVTJ #9, p. 26, col. 2.

35 "The Continuing Crisis in Mexico," p. 41, col. 2.

36 Jack Hill, "Reviews...", p. 27, col. 2.

37 "Continuing Crisis...", p. 41, col. 2. It should be stressed that a highly-integrated system of large and small-scale agriculture already exists in Mexico. All Sarah is really saying is that it is not "geared to the needs of the masses" and will not preserve the ejido. But Sarah writes in a way that gives the impression that socialism is the integration of large and small scale production, something supposedly impossible under capitalism.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Some writers from Food First have interesting descriptions of the situation in the countryside, such as the disintegration of the ejido and the growing differences among the peasantry. It is quite reasonable for socialists to make use of serious work from writers of any point of view. Indeed, it is particularly notable when writers who favor petty production nevertheless describe its patriarchal features and its decay. But what Sarah and Jack Hill have done is grab onto the reformist program of these writers.

41 Ibid., p. 5, col. 1.

42 Ibid., p.43, col. 1.

43 Capitalists have their own reasons for moving factories out of the cities (and, for that matter, PRI agrarian policy under Luis Echeverría and Lopez Portillo was at times interested in it). They may be able to pay lower wages in the countryside, even while paying more than the prevailing local rate. If Sarah thinks it refutes the idea of eliminating the peasantry as a distinct class to point out how the capitalists drive them off the land and into miserable slums, then logically she would have to give up the idea of locating some factories in the countryside after noting how the capitalists do this to exploit cheap labor.

44 Ibid., p.42, col. 1-2.

45 My article "The ghost of Lazaro Cardenas and the present crisis in Mexico" refers to the description of this process given by George Collier and Elizabeth Lowery Quaratiello, from the Institute for Food and Development Policy, in their book "BASTA! Land and Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas". See Communist Voice, vol. 1 #5, pp. 30-2.

46 Ibid., p.42, col. 2 .

47 Communist Voice, vol. 1, #5. See the section "The struggle of the indigenous women against patriarchalism", which cites the actual demands put forward by the women .

48 From Baba to Tovarishch, The Bolshevik Revolution and the Emancipation of Women, p. xiv.

49 Marx and Engels, Correspondence, 1846 -1895, A Selection with Commentary and Notes, p.92. The passage is from the minutes of the London Central Committee of the Communist League, 15 September, 1850. []

The continuing crisis in Mexico

by Sarah, Chicago Workers’ Voice

The article below first appeared in Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal #11, October 7, 1996. It is criticized in Joseph Green's article "Once again on peasant socialism" on pages 22-39 of this journal.

The continuing crisis in the countryside of Mexico is a major cause of the Chiapas rebellion and the ongoing peasant struggles in Mexico. What are the features of this crisis and how is it shaping Mexican politics?

In the January 29,1996 issue of CWVTJ (number 9, pp. 23-27), Jack Hill reported on the book Zapata's Revenge by Tom Barry. This book discusses many features of the crisis in the Mexican countryside.

Bimodal structure of agriculture

Barry states that, especially after Lazaro Cardenas left office (he was the President of Mexico from 1934-1940), a bimodal or two-tiered structure developed in Mexican agriculture. Small farmers and ejiditarios farmed rainfed and less fertile lands where they mainly produced basic grains, especially com and beans. What he calls “commercial agriculture” was developed by medium and large-scale privately owned farms and by some ejidos located in irrigated valleys in the Northwest.

The Cardenista land reforms demobilized the peasantry and substantially reduced the number of landless peasants, averting a peasant revolt. But the small and medium peasantry created by this land reform were also a source of cheap labor for large-scale commercial farming. Then in the 1940’s the Green Revolution adopted by the Mexican government focused on assisting the large scale commercial sector. By concentrating resources on the large commercial farms, the Green Revolution accentuated this structure of Mexican agriculture.

While he discusses bimodal agriculture, Barry describes a trimodal class structure in the countryside.

1) capitalist producers, 2) medium- and small-scale farmers who are surplus-producing but rely primarily on family labor, 3) infrasubsistence or subsistence farmers together with the landless, many of whom regularly work as jornaleros or wage farmworkers.” (p.28)

He notes that because subsistence farmers don’t need to rely totally on wage labor for their basic needs, they work for low wages on the commercial agricultural enterprises. This provides a source of cheap labor needed for the development of large-scale heavily capitalised agriculture in Mexico and for other industries. As well, the commercial grains that these farmers produce, because the small farmers have other income, are commonly sold for prices below what it actually costs to produce them.

This helps to provide cheap grain to the working class in the cities of Mexico, also helping to keep overall wages low.

This bimodal structure is one of the features on which industrialization and development of commercial agriculture in Mexico was built. It was essential for the development of Mexican industrialization in the last period.

He notes that various policies followed by the Mexican government have developed and strengthened this bimodal feature of Mexican agriculture. For instance, he discusses how the agricultural reforms under Echeverria strengthened this bimodal structure of agriculture. Some forces have talked of the reforms under Echeverria as developing a “modern subsistence sector.” (See article by Food First, “Chiapas and the Crisis of Mexican Agriculture,” by Roger Burbank and Peter Rosset, Institute for Food and Development Policy, Box 160,265 S. 5th Street, Monroe, OR 97456)

This bimodal structure has meant rural poverty and displacement of peasantry from the land. And this has intensified with the changes brought about under neoliberal policies since 1982 and the policies that are part of NAFTA.

NAFTA means facilitating the opening of Mexican trade to cheap U.S. agricultural commodities. The opening to basic grains is especially important. Medium and small producers have relied on being able to sell com in Mexico. This was part of the bimodal system. Now with cheap U.S. grains in the marketplace, especially in the cities, the small scale producers are increasingly being marginalized and driven out. U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico increased by 24% in 1993-94. Further, rural starvation is increasing as the small farmers can no longer compete to supply basic grains. Yet, without income from selling these basic grains and living in isolated areas, they are not able to buy the food they need.

Secondary agricultural export market

The internationalization of the agricultural trade, besides the increase in export of basic grains to Mexico, has meant an increase in export of Mexican fruits and vegetables to the U.S.

Many of the big commercial farms produce for the export market, especially the U. S. Other large farms raise cattle, also targeting the U.S. market. To some extent, Mexican cattle are processed in the U.S. and then imported as processed or frozen meats for markets in the large cities of Mexico. Again the bimodal structure is seen, with many small and medium farms providing the calves (a risky part of the operation) to the large farms.

In the current economic climate profits in Mexican agriculture are maximized when production is geared towards making money for the big international corporations who dominate the scene. One area of high profits is producing exports for affluent foreign markets. Producing foodstuffs for low-wage domestic workers, however, is not highly profitable. The result is a very truncated type of economic development, typical of the distortions that imperialism inflicts on weaker or dependent countries.

A couple of factors are important. One is Mexico’s international debt and the forced development of economic policies aimed at ensuring payment on this huge debt. Another is the policies of neo-liberalism and the ending of all or most protectionist controls. These policies mean more imports of cheap American grains into Mexico and more exports of highly labor-intensive fruit and vegetable crops.

The result of this new import/export exchange is that producers of grains in Mexico are driven out of business by cheaper American grains. Small farmers who sold com on the domestic market and who relied on government guarantee of prices are the most affected. Since these are also the smaller farms, extreme poverty is created. So extreme, that starvation is increasing in remote areas where it is difficult and expensive to transport international grains.

Barry notes that the areas of Mexico where this system of agriculture is most advanced are those areas where mral poverty is the worst.

The above noted article by Burbach and Rosset noted the particularly severe effects of these overall economic policies in Chiapas. Chiapas contains about 3.8% of the land in Mexico and about the same percent of population. However, Chiapas is the largest coffee producer of Mexican states, the third largest in com production, the fourth largest in cattle production and numbers among the three largest in tobacco, banana, soy and cacao production. This exists in a situation where 54% of the land is controlled outright by ejidos. However, 19% percent of the state’s economically active population has no cash income and 39 percent earn less than the minimum wage. This shows the striking effects of the skewed nature of the Mexican economy.

Barry’s proposals and their feasibility

Barry thinks that there is no going back to earlier revolutions. While the demands of the Zapatista revolution and the Plan of Ayala still resonate (the current struggles in Mexico have picked up many of the slogans and symbols of the earlier Zapatista revolt), the conditions today are different. The earlier Zapatista revolt and the Mexican revolution brought the PRI to power. Today, of course, it is the rule of the PRI which is under assault. Further, capitalism is much more highly developed today than it was at the time of the Mexican revolution. The proletariat is much larger and more developed. The possibilities of the proletariat putting forward its demands and influencing the course of the struggle are better. The possibilities for a united revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and peasantry aiming at seizing power are better.

Barry further states that: “Given the mobility of capital and the country’s reliance on international financing, the options for pursuing nationalistic development strategies that shape production and consumption are limited.” In particular, “there is no returning to a world where national economies could be managed in relative isolation from the rest of the world.” He also says that he is not against highly capitalized and large scale farming in general. While I think all these points are controversial, in general I don’t think a return to nationalistic politics which seek to protect and develop national capitalism are possible now.

Barry admits his proposals are largely within the neo-liberal framework and are meant to reform that framework. He is generally in favor of “alternative rural development” which he says “would require that the government focus its technical and financial support for agriculture by the peasantry and protections against the influx of cheap imported grains.” He proposes that there should be methods of development which included a sector of labor intensive agriculture in the countryside. He talks of integrated agricultural plans so that the cities are not overwhelmed with peasantry driven out of the countryside and so that small and landless peasantry continue to be employed in the countryside.

Barry is sympathetic to the land demands of the Zapatistas. The Zapatista land demands include distribution of land ofgood quality to the peasantry, improvements in infrastructure - roads, irrigation systems, transportation, etc. - to those lands, support services to the peasantry and fair prices for their products. I am not suggesting that the Zapatista demands are linked to Barry’s proposals. Barry has studied the situation in Mexico and the history of various movements extensively. He thinks that some of the Zapatista demands are consistent with what he suggests in the realm of integrated systems of large and small scale, capital intensive and labor intensive forming.

I want to make a few points about Barry’s proposals and the implementation of such proposals within the context of the current capitalist system.

1. A highly integrated system of large and small scale, capital-intensive and labor-intensive agriculture geared to the needs of the masses is highly unlikely under capitalism. This is the fundamental flaw in Barry’s and in similar proposals.

The very nature of capitalist competition and drive for profit that is inherent in capitalism would undercut any plan to not make maximum profit. There is far too much at stake for the big capitalists to tolerate the government regulations, price supports, and public assistance that would be given to poor farmers. Further, the kind of integrated plan Barry is talking about would undercut capitalist competition. And Barry is not proposing to get rid of the profit system or capitalist competition.

2. Reforms such as those proposed by Barry might mean a less skewed and less dependent capitalist development in Mexico. They might improve Mexico’s position in relation to other capitalist powers. They could improve living conditions for some of the population. It might mean a less truncated and skewed internal market. And, in general, Barry holds this to be true about his solution.

(Barry and the writers from Food First represent different political trends. For instance, I think the writers from Food First are more in favor of breaking up the large scale highly capitalized farms. Barry’s proposals are admittedly within the context of neo-liberalism while the writers from Food First are more directly against neo-liberalism. However, the writers for Food First have proposals for agriculture in Mexico which bear some similarity to Barry’s. And the writers from Food First also think that their proposals would better the position of Mexican capitalism.)

Although the implementation of proposals along the lines that Barry suggests would not destroy capitalism, this does not mean that socialists should flat out oppose them. Of course, this does mean that we should not confuse proposals such as Barry’s with socialism.

Some thoughts on general land reform

l. What about proposals for a general land reform which greatly strengthens the ejido system in Mexico? Demands for this are very popular and the peasantry is going to war in some states in order to obtain it. The small and landless peasants in Mexico are in a very precarious position. Millions have flooded into the cities because there are no possibilities in the countryside. Starvation stares out at them every day. The poor peasants have no 107/96 choice but to fight. Otherwise, they will be wiped out in a very brutal fashion. Their fight must be supported by all revolutionaries.

I will note, however, that I think that no capitalist government is going to break up any significant portion of large-scale commercial farming and turn them over to the ejidos. A strengthening and improvement of the ejido system is possible. It was done under Echeverria.

Under capitalism and especially in the current context of global neo-liberalism, the implementation of such proposals will delay and shape the overall decline of the small peasantry and the increasing control of international finance capital and agribusiness over agriculture - if necessary, through a variety of forms. That is, such reforms probably make the decline of the small peasantry slower and less painful, but they do not stop it.

2. The overall bimodal or trimodal structure of agriculture will not change under capitalism except in situations where, similar to the U.S., the agricultural population is relatively small. That is, in the U.S. small farmers are not a ready supply of cheap labor for larger farms and nearby industry. Farmers small or medium may also work in industry or other occupations, especially in the wintertime. But to the extent that they are a supply of labor at all, it is hard to argue that they are cheap. Further, only on a very small scale do American small farmers work as employees of large farms or agribusiness.

In Capital, Karl Marx described what is now called bimodal structure of agriculture as a feature of capitalist development. Marx called it a common development as the growth of capitalism increasingly wipes out the small peasantry.

3. Some writers seem to think that the implementation of demands to greatly extend and strengthen the ejido system will halt the differentiation into classes in the countryside. For instance, the authors from Food First write disparagingly of the employment in the oil industry of indigenous peoples in Chiapas. Peasants who had accumulated some savings from working in the oil fields (primarily young men) returned home and invested in “Green Revolution” technologies. The authors conclude that this dramatically altered class and social relations in those villages. They seem to hope that such development of class differentiation can be slowed or even stopped.

I don’t think this is true. Perhaps the struggle of the peasants may alter how this process takes place so that the effects are not so deleterious. For instance, within the Zapatista revolt, women have demanded participation in small enterprises and more rights. However, even in cases where there was much more radical land seizure and re-distribution to the small and medium peasantry (such as the Soviet and Chinese revolutions), it did not halt the differentiation into classes, into rich farmers and poor farmers, into capitalists and proletarians and semi-proletarians in the countryside.


My perspective is this, only socialism can save the Mexican peasantry. Socialism means that the working class and other laboring classes such as the small peasantry take over the means of production and run them in the interests of all the oppressed. Land will be seized as social property to be worked by an association of land workers. Ejidos will eventually be transformed into social property and not as individual communes which continue to compete with each other. Today socialism fights for improved working conditions and wages of the agricultural proletariat and it aims for, not the general destruction of large scale farming, but that the working class runs it in the interests of the oppressed.

The socialist proletariat fights to improve the conditions of the small peasantry. It supports and develops demands to do this now. It is not afraid if the peasantry breaks up large farms - as for instance happened in Soviet Russia to some extent. However, the proletariat realizes that this is a problem. When the proletariat and allied classes win power, they will adopt measures that develop the smoothest possible transition to socialism.

It seems to me that some of the thinking in socialist circles is that it is inevitable and preferable that the rural population be reduced dramatically, that the best and only possible development would be a situation similar to the U.S. where the rural population is very small. Only, of course, this would be under socialism and therefore much better. I don’t think this is necessarily true or desirable. Many things have changed since the last revolutionary attempts to build socialism. For example, the current level of technology and new developments in manufacturing techniques and organization have brought capitalism from an era where gigantic factories ruled to an era where merely large factories rule. It is beyond the scope of this article, not to mention beyond my current knowledge, to discuss and debate the implications of current capitalist production methodology, but I do want to provoke some thought.

I believe that some advocates for socialism insist that bigger is automatically better. Moreover, there still exists among many leftists a prejudice of sorts against the peasantry.

This leads to thinking that perhaps the peasants as peasants don’t fit into a plan for socialism and/or that the countryside is too backward to organize and rebuild on a socialist basis. One might conclude that it would be easier or better or the only true Marxist-Leninist path to insist on moving a lot of the rural population to the cities where the peasants can become workers. Food production would be taken over by large scale farms run as state-owned enterprises or very large communes perhaps. Such plans would, of course, include the modernization of the countryside as Marxism does not allow for a socialism where the country is not developed along with the city.

But there is nothing in Marxism-Leninism that demands that peasants be driven into the cities in order to build a modern socialist economy. Capitalism demands this and the benefits to the capitalists are obvious. Equally obvious is the harm to society, especially to the farmers, that is caused by the typical capitalist development of agriculture: slums and shantytowns from overcrowding in the cities, workers’ wages lowered by increased competition and desperation, food shortages and/or price hikes, starvation in the countryside.

Socialism is not possible if it is not superior to capitalism, and that includes being more efficient. Under capitalism, small scale non-modernized farming can not compete with large scale. It is being wiped out. Under socialism, large scale efficient and modern farming will predominate. However, it seems the current levels of technology and possibilities for integrated systems of production would favor the development of some small and some highly labor intensive farming. The integration of possible styles of production in the countryside would mean that large-scale highly “capitalized” farming and smaller scale farming would be a part of an integrated plan, along with the development of manufacturing and other industries in rural areas (where a labor supply already exists).

Thus, a socialist revolutionary movement and a socialist government would have to look for ways not to drive all the small peasants out of the countryside and into the cities. A socialist government works to eliminate the division between countryside and city. Such a government might very well locate a substantial amount of diversified industries away from the current large urban centers, not only providing employment to those who have been driven off the land, but a higher standard of living (higher wages) and an accelerated development of the rural economies.

Linking the struggle of the proletariat with the struggle of the peasantry

Engels talks about linking the proletarian movement with the revolutionary movement of the small peasantry and that if this can be done, a socialist revolutionary movement can succeed.

How to do this requires thought. Today, in Mexico the proletarian movement is small and the peasant movement, while active in various areas, is not mass either.

Should it be done by building up the proletarian movement in the cities and supporting unequivocally the peasant demands at present, even while realizing that many of those demands do not strike at the heart of capitalism? After all, the EZLN has raised demands that come out of the small peasantry and has won their support. The struggle launched on January 1,1994 brought the demands of the peasantry onto the national political scene. And the struggles launched by the EZLN and others have opened political space for the proletariat and the left to have impact. It has helped to widen the impact of struggles such as the SUTAUR 100 strike. It has opened the situation where there is ferment and a general split to the left within the oppositional political movement. For instance, on May Day this year, the independent social organizations held a massive march of over 250,000. Various unions associated with the CTM broke ranks and marched in this action, although somewhat separately. The march was not dominated by the PRD.

At the same time the struggles of the SUTAUR workers, other struggles among the proletariat in the cities, the struggles in the neighborhoods and the growing shift of the oppositional movement to the left has given more space for the peasant movement and organizations like the EZLN to operate.

Should alternative demands be proposed to the impoverished peasantry? Should a combination of the two be done? Marx and Engels, in their writings on socialism and the peasantry, make it clear that the proletariat can in no way guarantee to the small peasantry that their small holdings and their rural isolation can be maintained. Revolutionaries and socialists have to think seriously about this.

Socialism is not an extension of small peasant economy or the peasant commune. That idea that it is has more in common with anarchism than communism. Marx and Engels, however, wrote extensively on various types of measures which might be implemented in order to bring the peasantry to socialism without driving them out in the way that capitalism does. And the types of proposals they made are very forethinking in light of current knowledge and concern about protecting the environment and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. The answers require intimate and detailed knowledge of how the revolutionary movement in Mexico is developing. At present, no one has such answers. I suggest, however, that these issues be considered seriously, studied, investigated and resolved. The science of Marxism-Leninism is an essential tool for this essential task of the Mexican socialist revolution. []

[End of article group]


Riots in Indonesia

by Pete Brown

Riots shook downtown Jakarta, Indonesia the weekend of July 27-28. Young political activists faced off with the local police, and thousands of youths then went on a rampage, burning buses, banks, car showrooms, and a six-story government building. Dictator Suharto then sent in the troops; when they were through "dispersing" the crowds, the protesters had lost five dead, about 30 seriously injured and hundreds arrested. There were also scores of protesters missing and unaccounted for.

What caused the riots was Suharto's attempt to impose his own choice of leader on the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), a party Suharto allows to exist but doesn't want to function independently of his control. The PDI leaders themselves didn't want anything to do with rioting or even directly criticizing Suharto. But the protests apparently became a focus for mass anger against the repression suffered by the Indonesian masses in decades under Suharto's dictatorial rule. This is the first serious riot in Jakarta in over a decade, and the first case of youth and students rioting in the capital since the 1970s. It indicates that the frustrations of languishing under Suharto's repressive rule for 30 years is beginning to reach a boiling point.

The masses beginning to get in motion

The riot was sparked by the government's attempt to clear demonstrators away from the headquarters of the PDI. The demonstrators, mostly young people, had been outside the headquarters for a month protesting against the takeover of PDI by a new leader in a "special" party election engineered by Suharto. The protesters were trying to prevent the new PDI leadership from entering and taking over the headquarters. At the same time, they were demonstrating in the streets. A constant, round-the-clock "democratic forum" was being held inside and outside PDI headquarters, with speeches by leaders of popular organizations and calls for "people power" reminiscent of the anti-Marcos movement in the Philippines.

The new leadership of PDI finally tried to force entry into the building on July 27, with the help of Jakarta police. But the demonstrators outside forced them back. The next morning Suharto sent in army troops backed by at least one tank. But still the young activists fought back. Thousands of them went on a rampage in the downtown area nearby, trashing a number of banks and government office buildings. Rioting went on throughout the day and night.

When push came to shove, Suharto's troops followed orders and dispersed the crowds. The army's firepower enabled the troops to scatter the protesters. But the protesters gained a certain moral victory just by standing up to the troops as long as they did and showing the world that there's a definite stratum of opposition to Suharto right in the center of his national capital. The Indonesian press, heavily controlled by the government, tries to create the illusion that everyone in Indonesia is united in love and respect for their great leader, Suharto, but events like this show that what unites the masses is actually hatred for Suharto's regime.

Suharto controls the parliamentary "opposition"

The July protests stemmed from Suharto's plan to rid the PDI of its leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Sukarnoputri is the daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia's leader during its independence struggle against the Netherlands (1945-49) and after 1950 the new country's first president. Sukarno was president until he was overthrown in a military coup led by Suharto in the mid-60s.

Sukarnoputri was elected leader of the PDI at a 1993 convention. Surprisingly, she made some effort to turn PDI into an opposition party. She highlighted exposures of Suharto's crony capitalism, especially the way he uses government contracts to enrich his own family members. The vote for Suharto's party has been dropping, and Sukarnoputri planned to run for president in next year's election. This would have been the first time PDI has put up an opposition candidate.(World Press Review, Sept.)

To forestall this, Suharto arranged to have a special convention of the PDI called in late June. This convention elected a new party leader, a man named Suryadi. So the issue was joined: do the parties outside Golkar (Suharto's party) have the right to elect their own leaders and run opposition candidates, or are they merely creatures of Suharto, extensions of Golkar?

As a matter of fact, all of the legal electoral parties in Indonesia are creations of Suharto. To help keep things under his control, in 1973 Suharto reduced the number of legally recognized parties to just three: his own party, based on the military -- Golkar; PDI, a merger of previously existing secular-nationalist and Christian parties (with any independent opposition trends submerged); and the United Development party, a similar "merger" of previously existing Islamic parties. In parliamentary elections Golkar regularly gets about two-thirds of the vote, while the other two parties get a little over 15% each. PDI and United Development are not allowed to campaign at all outside the cities, in the rural areas where the mass of the Indonesian population lives. So Golkar has a complete political monopoly on the rural masses. Aside from the seats won by Golkar in this lopsided electioneering, 20% of the seats in parliament are set aside for representatives of the military.

Voting for president is even more directly controlled by Suharto. The only people involved in voting for president are the 500 members of the presidential electoral college. Each of the parliamentary parties has some representatives in the college. But of course Golkar dominates;and many members are "special" electors directly appointed by the sitting president, Suharto. Theoretically any member of the college can nominate a candidate to oppose Suharto, and a vote would then be taken. But so far no member of the electoral college has ever had the temerity to oppose Suharto's insistence on consensus; so Suharto has been unanimously elected president since the system's inception.

To get an idea of how thoroughly the military dominates this system, it must be borne in mind also that many military officers wear many different hats, serving as political or economic leaders as well. This is in accord with the doctrine of "dual function" which goes back to the days of Sukarno. Military officers are often appointed or elected to regional or local political offices; they're also selected to head state-owned economic enterprises.

In recent years PDI has been chosen by some dissident elements to try and express their dissatisfaction with Suharto. We're talking here about members of the ruling class, bourgeois elements who are tired of Suharto dominating everything. Some of these are middle bourgeois anxious to expand their possibilities. Some of these are military officers who have been left behind by Suharto's transition to crony capitalism, a system in which Suharto and his close friends rake off millions and millions of dollars from government contracts and bribes. Among these elements Sukarnoputri and her younger brother, Guruh Sukarnoputra, are looked to as a possible alternative to Suharto's complete dominance of the political scene.

. Without outright banning PDI or its leaders, Suharto has been maneuvering to render them impotent. Sukarnoputri herself came to the leadership of PDI through a previous Suharto-engineered "special convention." During the 1993 elections Suryadi was head of PDI and was pursuing a fairly energetic campaign, by Indonesian standards. During that electoral season Sukarnoputra was also active and was being touted as a possible presidential candidate.So at that time Suharto insisted that PDI hold a special convention and rid itself of Suryadi and Sukarnoputra as party leaders. The party complied, but at the same time elected Sukarnoputri as new leader. Since then Sukarnoputri has emerged as a popular politician and possible presidential candidate in her own right. So this year Suharto arranged another PDI special convention to get rid of her. Again the party complied, and went back to Suryadi.

This maneuvering has been somewhat effective for Suharto. He's gotten the PDI leaders squabbling among themselves, and pretty well ensured another unanimous-consensus selection as president in the next election. But a lot of Suharto's success is due to the pro-establishment character of his ruling-class "opposition." PDI leaders would like to carve out more of a niche for themselves in Indonesian politics, but they accept the basic premises of Indonesian party politicking, with its domination by the military and its restrictions on democratic rights. Sukarnoputri, for example, still adheres to Suharto's calls for "unity and stability" above all else. She denies publicly that PDI is an "opposition" party, and her campaign of protest against losing her position in the PDI is limited to lawsuits against Suryadi. She has publicly disavowed any public campaign to oppose Suharto's engineering her ouster. When push comes to shove, she maintains that adversarial-style politics are unacceptable in Indonesia. (Far Eastern Economic Review, Aug. 15)

Redbaiting the social-democrats . . .

. Suharto is putting most of the blame for the riots on the Democratic People's Party (PRD), a new group of youthful activists. The military is hunting down PRD leaders and charging them with subversion, a possible capital-punishment crime. Government spokesmen are denouncing the PRD as "communist" and "anarcho-syndicalist" and say its politics are "incompatible with Indonesian reality."

PRD was formed just two years ago. It is avowedly social-democratic and has been active in supporting some labor strikes. For example, in early July PRD organized an agitational rally of workers in the industrial area of Tandes, East Java. This demonstration was notably successful, attracting over 4,000 workers from 10 different factories. Speakers at the rally were due to elaborate grievances common to workers at the factories. But the rally was broken up by the military when workers began chanting slogans that, according to the military, were "disrespectful of the state president."

Many of the demonstrators outside PDI headquarters were in fact mobilized by PRD, which is largely based among youth and student circles. PRD activists urged Sukarnoputri to behave as a genuine opposition figure. They hoped to win her over from establishment politics to supporting democratic causes. As events showed, this was a vain hope. Sukarnoputri had no interest in unleashing a mass movement of protest.

But as far as PRD itself goes, they too were embarrassed and upset by the rioting that took place. The leader of their student group says, about the violent outbreaks: "We tried to coordinate the masses so they would become calm, but we failed. . . . We don't need riots." (FEER, Aug. 8, p. 15) And PRD leaders are defensive about Suharto branding them as communists. They insist they're social-democrats, not communists.

This doesn't stop Suharto from persecuting them, however. Since July Suharto has been orchestrating a countrywide denunciation of the riots, with diverse politicians and military leaders speaking out about the dangers of a "resurgence of communism." This is a dangerous charge in Indonesia, where Suharto came to power on the heels of a countrywide persecution of the old Indonesian Communist (actually, revisionist) Party, a persecution that involved the massacre of hundreds of thousands of working class and peasant activists. When Suharto declares that a group is to be regarded as equivalent to the "communists" of the 1960s, he is giving carte blanche to anyone to hunt them down and wipe them out.

. . . and steamrollering the liberals

Not satisfied with rounding up youthful activists, Suharto also began rounding up more mainstream political organizers in the weeks following the riots. The military made a sweep of various civic organizations, arresting their leaders and charging them with an assortment of crimes such as "distributing illegal brochures." None of the charges are as serious as those lodged against the youthful PRD leaders, but the implications are clear: if you persist in contacts with groups like PRD, you run the risk of being totally smashed. Military leaders throughout the country are also calling in regional and local officers of PDI to pressure them to accept the party's special convention, its rejection of Sukarnoputri and replacement with Suryadi. Sukarnoputri herself has quietly accepted a high court's rejection of her legal protest, and announced that she plans no further legal challenges.

Suharto mobilized his political organizations to show popular support for the military's suppression of the demonstrators. A couple weeks after the riots, Golkar held a large rally in downtown Jakarta to denounce the rioters and to praise the military. Golkar is able to mobilize thousands by ordering every government bureaucrat, clerk, teacher, policeman, fireman, soldier, etc. to show up and bring their families. Anyone who shares government largesse through contracts, etc., was also expected to come. Teachers were ordered to bring their students. Leaders of United Development and other mainstream Moslem leaders gave speeches denouncing the rioters, and in interviews they refused to say a word against Suharto, instead praising the military for upholding "stability."

Suharto may not be able to keep the genie in the bottle, however. During June riots broke out again in East Timor, where Suharto's troops have been unable to suppress a movement for independence despite years of savage brutality. And the week after the riots in Jakarta, rioting also broke out in the province of Irian Jaya (western New Guinea). The riots in Jakarta take on added significance when seen in this light: not only are protests breaking out in far-flung parts of the archipelago against Javanese rule, but now, in addition, violent protests are beginning in the heart of Java itself. This may signify the beginning of serious cracks in Suharto's decades-old military dictatorship. []

An action in support of the East Timorese freedom struggle

by Frank, Seattle

December 7 was the 21st anniversary of the Indonesian militarists' invasion of East Timor.From this date in 1975 the East Timorese people have lived under the most brutal of fascist occupations. Scores of thousands of people have simply been mowed down by the US-supplied and supported Indonesian armed forces. Scores of thousands more have died (and continue to die) of the disease and hunger which are consciously built-in components of the genocidal policies of the racist Jakarta government. In fact "respectable" (i.e. non-communist or non-leftist) sources put the number of East Timorese murdered in these or other ways during the past 21 years as high as 200,000--one third of the population.

But the East Timorese people haven't just been passively dying victims which we should weep over. They've fought like tigers against the occupation forces in every corner of the country. Really large political actions have been organized and many, many armed battles against the occupation army planned and carried out. No one can say that the people of East Timor haven't more than earned the right to decide their own fate (except the Indonesian fascists and their friends around the world of course). But this is not all. The past two decades of struggle by the people of East Timor is filled with inspiring moments and important lessons (or potential lessons) for future battles. While it's true enough that their resistance has been choked off and driven underground by the very well equipped Indonesian death machine it's also true that it has never been stamped out. It remains a live ember, continuing to emit heat. In certain "atmospheric" conditions it flares up (as in June of this year in Baucau), and under just the right conditions it can turn into a raging firestorm. Lastly, the struggle of the East Timorese for liberation from the jackboot of the Indonesian militarists has won support among workers and other oppressed people around the world. It deserves this support, and more of it. We want to do our part in building an inferno which will fry the Indonesian fascists, their supporters and brethren in the United States, our common exploiters and oppressors.

This brings us to the December 7 action in Seattle.

On this anniversary date several dozen people participated in a spirited event at a downtown mall which was organized by the East Timor Action Network. Leaflets were distributed, guerrilla theater enacted (which included sharp political commentary by the narrator), and "Free East Timor!" vigorously shouted over and over despite the rain and cold. Most of the participants then marched several blocks to the new "Niketown" and there denounced the Nike Corporation's vicious exploitation of the Indonesian workers, including its employment of child labor.

This writer believes that there was much positive about this action which should be upheld. This includes the following:

(1) The spirit of denouncing not only the crimes of the Indonesian fascists but also the US imperialist government's role in them.

(2) The fact that the guerrilla theater drew out the point that both the Republicans and Democrats have always been in bed with the Indonesian militarists--and particularly the mocking attack on the utterly sham nature of Jimmy Carter's "human rights" verbiage. (Remember that Mr. Human Rights did absolutely nothing to defend the rights of the East Timorese when the Indonesian government launched its invasion and war.)

(3) The general spirit to go out and do something to educate and mobilize the masses.

(4) The fact that although the action was relatively small (scores of people rather than hundreds) it was made up of sincere and energetic people (most of whom were quite young) and therefore shouldn't be scoffed at in the slightest.

The old and tired and discouraged former radicals and former Marxist revolutionaries from the '60s and '70s today whimper about the gloominess of the political situation, belittle the present left-wing demonstrations, sneer about the size of the Communist Voice Organization, and so on. Their subjective despair blinds them to the existence of the new forces entering the movement and seeking ways to push it forward. These new forces provide the living basis for changing the situation (within certain historically evolved parameters) and are the hope for the future. And being someone who is old enough to remember, I should add that even in the '60s and '70s there were times when actions which were not widely promoted (and this one was not) were as small or even much smaller than this one was.

But besides just isolating some of the positive things about the Dec. 7 action it may be even more important to consider a couple things about the general agitational approach used in the short leaflets and articles which were produced that actually cut against the building of the kind of movement in support of the East Timorese people which can in the long run really assist them.

First of all, those who came to the event generally understood that both the Democrats and Republicans have supported Suharto and the Indonesian establishment since the mid-60s, they generally recognized that these ladies and gentlemen are representing the economic and political interests of US capitalism when they do this (i.e., it's not a question of their shipping arms and aircraft to Indonesia and having no idea of what they're used for), yet the organizers of the event handed them leaflets to pass out which contained appeals like "call your (?!) congressman and tell them not to sell F-16's to Indonesia" and "please contact your (?!) senators". True enough, the latter people may change their rhetoric, shift about, maneuver, may even vote for different policies (although still policies which serve the exploitative aims of capitalism) if a really mass and militant movement develops on some issue. But contacting or calling those who formulate the policies we oppose in the interest of a very definite social class (the class whose political representatives they really are, i.e., the US monopoly capitalist class) does not build such a movement. (Better that we spend our time writing or contacting our fellow workers and fellow students.) Worse, it undermines building it by propping up the naive illusion that the governing politicians really will represent the desires of the masses once they understand what those desires are. (And in this regard one could point out that these politicians understand well enough that the majority of the workers and poor people in the United States--the majority of the people--oppose the vicious round of attacks which were first launched on them in the late 1970s and which continue today. That doesn't prevent Congress from launching new and ever-worsening attacks with each session however. No, for there to be a change in this situation the workers and poor must take matters into their own hands by building up resistance struggles. And the more that hopes that some congressperson somewhere is going to do something are cast aside the more rapidly and successfully will this occur.)

Secondly, the same leaflets made a point of the fact that the Indonesian government's invasion of East Timor was in violation of UN resolutions. The implied premise of this agitational approach is that UN resolutions are formulated out some "universal" sense of goodness, justice, etc., (and therefore should be supported) rather than the cold economic and political calculations of capitalism--especially the calculations of the big imperialist powers which dominate the UN. Moreover, this approach leaves aside the question of why it was that the resolutions regarding East Timor remained toothless scraps of paper. (And the issue that other UN resolutions, such as resolutions on Korea or Iraq, have been backed up--backed up by the launching of brutal and reactionary wars---is conveniently forgotten about.) Finally, the facts that UN resolutions supported the Indonesian government's coercive annexation of West Papua and the UN has since been silent about the Indonesian government's vicious war against the freedom movement there, silent about the Indonesian government's racist and genocidal policies toward the Melanesian population, and so on, is forgotten about too (if it's known about).

God help us if we place our future in the hands of the UN! And God help us too if we guide the masses of people toward placing their trust in the activities of "our" senators and congresspeople!

In summation: The December 7 action was an encouraging and in some ways exciting event. The participants whole-heartedly supported "freedom for East Timor", "popular democracy for Indonesia", "stop US support for the dictatorship in Indonesia" (and similar slogans raised on a leaflet), and struggled to win others to these positions. But the literature they were given to pass out (which a good number of people did distribute) contained a harmful political orientation which should be actively opposed. []

[End of article group]


How not to fight anarchism

By Joseph Green

Today the proletariat and revolutionary activists face a period of disorganization and of skepticism about revolution or an alternative society to capitalism. In this situation, anarchism is one of the obstacles to proletarian reorganization. For one thing, anarchism denigrates revolutionary political organization, centralism and discipline, holding that they mean suppressing people's freedom and initiative. And it opposes the socialist vision of society running production as a whole, but instead looks toward each small group running its own section of the economy It’s no accident that the ultra-free market Libertarians have an anarchist fringe. But to fight anarchism, it is necessary to show that communist organization, far from suppressing mass initiative, is essential to allow the proletariat and oppressed masses to rise up in their own right as the makers of a new society

Barb has written a four-part series for the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal on Rosa Luxemburg and semi-anarchism, the last part of which appears in the CWVTJ #11. It is an example of how not to fight anarchism. Instead of refuting the anarchist counterposition of party and mass action, she herself revels in this counterposition. Moreover, she hasn’t taken the time to study her subject, and instead throws around the charge of anarchism here and there until anarchism begins to seem bigger than life. This seems to me more like promoting anarchism than opposing it.

The people’s state

The first thing that is notable in her new article is, although her series runs 70 pages or more, and claims to be based on thousands of pages of reference material, it blunders on the simplest facts. So, after her supposedly exhaustive study. Barb tells us that the anarchists advocate a “free people's state” This will no doubt come as news to both anarchists and their Marxist opponents around the world. Up to now, it had been thought that the anarchists were opposed to participation in politics and to the state, even to the revolutionary state during the transition period between capitalism and the classless (and hence stateless) society. But Barb has discovered that they propose instead a reformed state, the “people’s state”.

This revelation comes near the start of Part IV of her work. Barb, noting that the German social-democrats of the 1870s were being criticized for advocating a “people’s state”, assures us that the social-democrats made this error because they were under anarchist influence. She writes that Luxemburg’s views “brought her dangerously close to the anarchist ideal of the ‘free people’s state.’ Lenin mentioned this as an early program demand and catchword among the German SDs in the 1870s when the party was under anarchist influence.”1

To prove that the social-democrats got the “free people’s state” from the anarchists, she cites Lenin's book State and Revolution, where he quoted from Engels' letter to Bebel (March 1875) criticizing the draft of the Gotha Program of the German social-democrats. This letter stated that “The ‘people's state’ has been thrown in our faces by the anarchists to the point of disgust.”2 Barb evidently interprets this to mean that the anarchists were trying to force the “people’s state” upon the social-democrats, whereas what Engels was saying was that the anarchists were falsely charging him and Marx with being responsible for the reformist slogan of the “people’s state’. Barb thus interprets Engels’ remarks criticizing the slogan of the “people’s state” as a repudiation of anarchism, rather than a repudiation of reformism.

Barb could not have made this error if she had bothered to read what the State and Revolution was saying about anarchism and reformism, or if she had read Engels’ famous letter. Yet Barb is convinced that the “people’s state” was the anarchist slogan, and that the German social-democrats took it up under anarchist influence. And who are we to contradict such a careful scholar as Barb?

Luxemburg and Trotsky

Well, it might not be necessary to contradict her views, because Barb herself is so good at it. What Barb says in one part of her four-part article, she may well contradict elsewhere. For example, Barb started her series telling us that Luxemburg and Trotsky were quite close ideologically That’s why she entitled her series ‘Luxemburg, ‘Semi-Anarchism’ — And Trotsky’. She wrote that “Luxemburg and Trotsky had an undeniable affinity”, although noting that this was an ideological relationship, not one of personal friendship.3 But by the last article in her series, Barb ridicules Stalin for asserting that there was an affinity between Luxemburg and Trotsky.

Barb states in Part IV of her series that Stalin was wrong for identifying Luxemburg with Trotsky’s theory of ‘permanent revolution” because to do so ‘totally discarded her [Luxemburg’s] later evolution.4 Yet, in part one of Barb’s article, referring to precisely this later evolution, she opposed what she called ‘the Bolshevik consensus” that Luxemburg ‘had altered most of her negative views” and instead held that “what is indicated to me is that her [Luxemburg’s] views logically progressed in the direction of Trotsky’s.”5 And elsewhere in her series. Barb endorsed Trotsky’s claim that he and Luxemburg “took the same stand" on "the question of the so-called Permanent Revolution.” Barb, while denouncing permanent revolution in sharp terms, went to say that

the essence of permanent revolution’ did underlie much of Luxemburg’s theory and accounted for many of her inconsistencies. It informed her views on the self-determination of nations, her revision of Marx and her concept of imperialism; her assessment of the Bolshevik Revolution, particularly in matters of the transitional period related to democracy and the peasantry; and her program for revolution in Germany "6

However, by Part IV of her series. Barb states that

". . . Luxemburg always disavowed connection with his [Trotsky’s] theory of 'permanent revolution’ and, moreover, insisted that she didn’t even understand it."7

Since Barb regarded Luxemburg’s affinity to Trotsky as important enough to be an overall theme of her article, it seems a bit odd that she can’t decide whether there was such a close relationship or not. We will have to leave it to someone else to determine exactly what this relationship is.

Barb as authoritarian

To give Barb her due, however, there are some things that she is consistent on. All through her series, she regards any reference by Luxemburg to the role of the masses in revolution or in socialism as negating the role of the party She thus paints the Leninist party in the same lurid colors as the anarchists do, only she praises the resulting picture, while the anarchists denounce it. Thus her series will probably reinforce the anarchist campaign against the party, rather than dampen it. In order to really fight both the anarchist disruption of proletarian organization and revisionist praise of oppressive state-capitalist regimes, it is important to understand the relationship of real communist party-building to mass initiative. There are parties that suppress the masses, and there are parties that are built up as the highest expression of the independent action of the masses. It might be understandable for an anarchist to forget this difference, which is incomprehensible to anarchist theory, but no one who wants to really oppose anarchism or to understand where Luxemburg made contributions and where she grievously erred, can afford to forget this. Lenin in his famous book ‘Left-Wing' Communism, An Infantile Disorder and a number of other works made a point of explaining this. I wrote on this question in “The concept of the party — in the days of Lenin and Luxemburg and today" (Communist Voice vol. 2, #1, Jan. 15, 1996)

But Barb proceeds differently If the anarchists are anti-authoritarians, Barb insists on being the biggest authoritarian. She holds that the revolutionary proletarian dictatorship must be as authoritarian as possible, not simply in accord with the necessities of the struggle, but as a matter of principle. She wrote that:

After the [Bolshevik] Revolution, it (the Soviet state) had been quite lenient, allowing freedom of expression to other parties and granting the bourgeoisie every opportunity to cooperate. It was only after the opposition became outright counter-revolutionary, allying itself with the foreign imperialist invaders and disrupting the new economic relations, i.e., the food supply during the horrible famine, that the Bolshevik state really assumed the militant authoritarian character of Marx and Engels' conception."8

Moreover, where does the militant revolutionary character of the proletarian dictatorship come from? Do the masses exercise it? There is some doubt about Barb’s view of this. For example. Barb is upset at the idea of workers’ taking over factories, and counterposes it to state and party action. She writes about something that Luxemburg proposed about how to push forward the German revolution of 1918 that had overthrown the Hohenzollem monarchy that:

"the way it is stated sounds like the workers in the ‘2nd stage' take over the capitalist enterprises and run them, which is close to an anarchist concept. Whereas Lenin’s idea was that socialism is only gradually achieved through the progressive substitution of new economic relationships for the old bourgeois relationships, and that this is coordinated through the Party and State organs."9

Now, Barb doesn't cite the passage from Luxemburg about the takeover of the factories. But Barb appears upset at the idea of the workers taking over factories in the revolution, and immediately shouts anarchism and insists that this is something for the Party and the State organs.

But the party and the state apparatus, if they are to be revolutionary, must be built upon the mass activity of the proletariat. In the midst of a profound social revolution, in order to break the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to carry out radical reforms in a democratic revolution or to pave the way for socialism in a proletarian revolution, the masses might well seize the factories. This is not an anarchist ideal, unless the idea is to maintain the factories as autonomous collectives. The communist view is that after the seizure of the workplace, the tasks is to run the factories by the working class as a whole and not just by individual groups of workers. But again and again Barb sees any reference to mass initiative and mass activity as contradictory to party and state activity

Moreover, it’s odd that Barb worries that mass action in seizing the factories would have negated the gradual transformation of the economic base by the state, when Barb had earlier stated that the existing government “was a purely bourgeois government, and not a liberal one at that."10 Barb doesn’t see that measures like taking over the factories would help undermine this government. Instead her viewpoint on this issue is that of a pedantic bureaucrat, who can see no further than proper administrative action.

Barb’s conception is hardly revolutionary. In the name of fighting anarchism, she detaches the party and the revolutionary socialist state from the masses. In doing so. Barb does a major service for anarchism. Fighting anarchism requires showing how the Leninist communist party of a new type is based on promoting rather suppressing the revolutionary action of the masses. And it requires knowing something about the subject, which can’t be said about anyone who thinks that the “people’s state" was an anarchist slogan.


1 CWVTJ #11, “Rosa Luxemburg, Semi-Anarchism — and Trotsky, Part IV — Conclusion”, p. 27

2 Lenin, State and Revolution, Ch. IV Sec. 3. "Letter to Bebel”, and Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, 1864-1895, A Selection with Notes and Commentaries, International Publishers, New York, 1935, Letter 161, Engels to Bebel, London, 18-28 March, 1875.

3 CWVTJ #8, p. 29.

4 CWVTJ #11, p. 41.

5 CWVTJ #8, p. 29.

6 CWVTJ #9, p. 48, col. 2.

7 CWVTJ #11, p. 41, col. 2.

8 CWVTJ #1l, p. 28, col. 2.

9 CWVTJ #11, p. 34, col. 1.

l0 CWVTJ #1l, p. 33. col. 2.

About the stand of the IWW

Denouncing the rank-and-file workers for “union scabbing” or organizing against the union bureaucracy?

A controversy over the attitude to strike solidarity broke out at the IWW General Assembly this year The October issue of the Industrial Worker, the IWW paper, reported that “While the proceedings were generally amiable, two questions sparked some passion." One concerned balancing their budget, but the other issue was the one of concern to us. It concerned the policy of the Industrial Worker to denounce the workers for “union scabbing” when their union failed to go out on strike or to boycott products in solidarity with the strike of another union. The IWW tends to denounce the ordinary workers of the offending union for “union scabbing”, rather than showing how the union bureaucrats are betraying the workers. As a result, their agitation sometimes creates bad feeling among the workers, rather than mobilizing them against the union bureaucracy.

The article in Industrial Worker described the controversy as involving

the editorial policy of the Industrial Worker. Delegates from the San Francisco Bay Area General Membership Branch objected to an article on the Los Angeles truckers strike which prominently mentioned ILWU scabbing. Bay Area Wobs said the article undermined their organizing efforts among maritime workers, and suggested the editor contact affected branches for guidance before running such stories. FW [Fellow Worker] Bekken insisted that so long as he was editor he would continue to hit union scabbing just as hard as he could. Several fellow workers from the construction industry joined in, arguing that union scabbing was one of the most pressing problems facing the labor movement and that the Industrial Worker coverage of it aided their organizing efforts. FW Arthur Miller suggested that if anything the paper was letting union scabs off easy, pointing to Boeing where Seattle union workers (just back from their own strike) were helping the company break a strike by Boeing workers in Canada (see report in this issue).”

The lack of class-wide solidarity among the pro-capitalist unions is indeed a major issue. The reformist union leaders are completely immersed in wheeling and dealing with the capitalists and the bourgeois politicians, and they continually betray the workers’ interests. The phrase “union scabbing” could be a vivid condemnation of the fact that the treachery of the reformist union leaders, and their role in actually undermining the struggle of the workers. And these reformist leaders have to be criticized sharply in front of the workers. Unfortunately, when the IW uses the phrase “union scabbing”, likely as not it is blaming the workers for the scabbing. Instead of directing the workers’ anger at the reformist officialdom and organizing a workers’ political trend against this officialdom, the IWW tends to moralist denunciations of the workers. I don’t know from what angle the San Francisco Bay Area delegates to the assembly opposed the articles on “union scabbing”, but there are serious problems with the IWs way of denouncing “union scabbing” in various articles I have seen.

Take the report on the Boeing workers strike in Canada, which is in the same issue of Industrial Worker as the report on the IWW assembly, and which is referred to in that report. There is no reference to the stand of the pro-capitalist union leaders at all. The rank-and-file workers themselves are the ones being denounced as union scabs. The summation paragraph in that article goes as follows:

The Winnipeg strike follows an earlier strike by Boeing workers in Seattle, during which workers from other unions scabbed on the strikers while production continued uninterrupted at Boeing plants elsewhere. Now the Seattle [Boeing] workers have returned the favor, undermining the efforts by their Canadian fellow workers to hold onto their jobs and improve their lot in life. The result of all this union scabbing is that Boeing workers everywhere are losing ground. Why not give One Big Union solidarity a try instead?”

The article on Boeing makes no distinction between the rank-and-file workers and the union bureaucrats. It is the rank- and-file workers and strikers at other workplaces who are being condemned as scabs. The IWW doesn’t recognize the obstacles placed in the way of the oppressed workers carrying out solidarity actions, but thinks that any worker can just act as he or she pleases at any time. If the IWW doesn't see the need to develop solid political and economic organization of the working class, and thinks that basic union solidarity suffices to form “the structure of the new society within the shell of the old”, it is based on their view that all it takes to win a struggle is the workers to realize that scabbing is bad.1

One pattern for all

Thus the IWW has a general pattern that all strikes could be won if only there were industrial class-wide action. A strike at one plant could be extended to a strike of the entire industry If this didn't suffice, then workers in all industries should refuse to handle any product made in a struck industry There is nothing wrong with any of these proposals, all of which are used by workers as far as they can. But the IWW doesn't judge what are the concrete conditions for the struggle. For them, it simply a question that if all workers followed simple proletarian morality and avoided scabbing, then all the strikes would be won. And if the facts don't fit this theory, then the IWW declares it’s because the workers are scabs.

This leads to the IWW sometimes denouncing ordinary workers for not carrying out unrealistic plans. And it can lead the IWW to a glorification of boycott tactics, which in fact cannot replace the need for mass strike tactics, and this amounts to nothing but ordinary reformism. Both of these things will be seen in their stance towards the Staley strike (more on that in a moment).

Blaming the workers for the failure of simplistic plans is typical of the way that anarchists handle the contradiction between their theory and the facts. The last issue of the Communist Voice discussed the anarchist experience during the Spanish Civil War. When the way the anarcho-syndicalist CNT union had organized the industry and economic life of Barcelona didn’t work properly, the CNT didn’t reexamine its own anarchist theory but instead blamed the rank-and-file workers for having “a utilitarian and petty bourgeois spirit."2

The example of the Staley struggle

Further insight into the IWW position on union scabbing can be seen from the comments of IW editor Jon Bekken on the Staley struggle, a major event in the recent workers’ movement and a several-year-long struggle which ended in defeat last December. The Staley workers were faced with ruinous demands for concessions and with a lockout; the only chance they had to win their struggle was through mass strike tactics. This would have been a difficult struggle, but they had the support of other workers and would have had a fighting chance. The IW, however, didn’t emphasis the need to organize the rank-and-file workers independently even of the local union officials if there were to be mass strike tactics. No, the IW used the term “union scab” for ordinary workers from outside Staley for not engaging in a solid, national boycott of Staley products and for not being able to individually respect informational picket lines in defiance of their own unions and employers. (Staley refines sugar and makes other sweeteners.) This meant denouncing the mass of workers for betraying the Staley workers, when actually there was a good deal of sympathy and support for the Staley workers. And it meant focusing attention away from the key issue of whether there would be mass strike tactics right at the plant. What need, indeed, would there be for such tactics if it could be expected that all workers elsewhere could simply refuse to handle Staley products?

In the Staley struggle, the local reformist union leadership opposed a strike, threw cold water on a possible militant blockade of the plant, and supported the “corporate campaign” tactics recommended by the AFL-CIO. (This consisted of hoping that subsidiary tactics, like consumer boycotts, informational demonstrations, etc., could replace mass strike tactics rather than serve as a means of mobilizing support for them.) Despite this, the AFL-CIO international leadership sold the local union down the drain, undermined the workers’ struggle at every turn, opposed even the local union leaders, and helped force the workers to capitulate to the company In this situation, the reformist and opportunist groups in the left went along with the local union leaders. For example, the Chicago Staley Workers Solidarity Committee had various activists from the reformist left, the Trotskyists, and others. The CSWSC did organize material support for the Staley workers and carried out civil disobedience actions and other propaganda actions in support of the Staley workers, but they basically supported the reformist strategy of the local union leaders. Even according to Jack Hill, the CSWSC members most closely connected with the Staley workers agreed with the local union leaders in opposing mass strike action.

Meanwhile despite everything the international AFL-CIO bigwigs did against them, the local leaders wouldn’t directly criticize the AFL-CIO until after the struggle was over The local union leaders banked on the top AFL-CIO leaders, and the CSWSC banked on the local union leaders. The CSWSC provided some material support for the strike but it did not help the workers organize independently of the labor bureaucracy nor did they tell the truth to the workers about what was happening to their struggle in the absence of mass strike tactics.

What was the attitude of the IWW? With Bekken’s militant rhetoric against “union scabbing” and the IWW’s stand for “direct action”, you might think that the IWW would have been in the forefront of denouncing the AFL-CIO and criticizing the local leaders. But that’s not the case. No doubt Bekken would have loved to see a militant blockade of the plant, as would any leftist, but that’s not what the IWW put its emphasis on. Their main point was that if all workers boycotted Staley products — if Teamsters refused to deliver these products, if all workers refused to use sweeteners made from Staley products, etc., etc.— then the struggle would have been won. The workers all over the country are supposedly “union scabs” for not carrying out this boycott on a scale which is impossible at this time, but when it comes to the role of the local union leaders who opposed mass strike tactics or a militant blockade of the Staley plant, Bekken writes off their role as unimportant and throws cold water on the criticism of their reformism. The IWW may think it was opposing the "corporate campaigners", but in fact the IWW simply had a more militant version of the "corporate campaign”

Thus, for all the IWW’s talk about "union scabbing", it pretty much acted like the CSWSC. Both the IWW and the CSWSC tailored their strategy to that of the local union officials. True, the November 1996 issue of IW, which carries a big article on Staley entitled "Business union betrayal”. This however is an open letter of protest from the local union leadership to the national AFL-CIO leadership about its further treacherous actions against the Staley workers since last December's defeat. Now that the struggle is over and the local leaders replaced, the former local union leaders will publicize such a letter. Even now, however, these leaders do not go further than demanding that the AFL-CIO live up to its own reformist strategy. The Industrial Worker carried this letter without criticism of its authors’ viewpoint and without comment on what the local leaders themselves had done during the struggle. For all the IW’s shouting against business unionism, such coverage of Staley as in the November issue doesn’t get beyond the CSWSC strategy of backing local reformist union officials, if only they are involved in some action.

In early July, I circulated an article on e-mail criticizing the summation of the Staley struggle by a member of the CSWSC, namely, Jack Hill of the Chicago Workers’ Voice group. I opposed his empty optimism concerning the accomplishments of the lost struggle at Staley, and his reformist perspective that a militant workers’ movement could be built by uniting reformist local union officials against the top AFL-CIO bigwigs. (See the August issue of Communist Voice for these articles and more on the Staley struggle.) Bekken wrote me about my criticism, and we corresponded for awhile on the issues involved. Bekken emphasized that the loss of the Staley struggle was due to "union scabbing”, but his letters show that he aimed this denunciation mainly at the rank-and-file worker. He went so far as to deny that the pro-capitalist union leaders, conservative or reformist, organize "union scabbing" or put pressure upon the rank-and-file worker. He wrote that "Union officials do not precisely organize union scabbing, at least on an ordinary basis, they simply do nothing to oppose it." As far as the Staley struggle he failed to recognize that the local union officials didn’t simply "lack any sense of how to proceed”, but were taking a definite reformist stand.

Below I reproduce excerpts from this correspondence relevant to the issue of "union scabbing”3.


1 That unionism alone suffices to form ‘the structure of the new society within the shell of the old' can be found in the preamble to the IWW Constitution, a preamble reproduced in every issue of IW

2 ‘Reply to the Open Letter of the Black Autonomy Collective: The experience of the Spanish anarchists shows that autonomous collectives can't overcome the marketplace”. Communist Voice, vol. 2, #5, p. 25, col. 2.

3 What is left out is mainly a discussion on issues arising from the preamble to the IWW Constitution, a preamble which is reproduced in every issue of the Industrial Worker. The overall titles to the letters have been added.

The IWW concentrates on the issue of union scabbing

From Jon Bekken

To Jos. Green,

July 4, 1996

Re: On Jack Hill’s empty optimism about the Staley strike

I have not read Jack Hill’s original article, nor am I familiar with the CWV group’s evolution since it emerged from the wreckage of its former party, so my brief comments are in no way intended to speak to either. I simply wanted to note that in the Industrial Worker, at least, there was a sustained attempt to raise critical questions central to whether the Staley struggle would succeed or go down to defeat. Specifically, we hammered away at the question of union scabbing. When the "corporate campaigners” tried to build a consumer boycott against Miller Beer and Pepsi, we asked why unionized workers were hauling Staley’s scab sweetener to these plants and why unionized workers were putting the scab sweeteners in their products, and why unionized workers were putting the scabby beverages on the shelves. While the Staley local was appealing for more relief funds from the AFL central coffers (something to which they were certainly entitled) we pointed to the daily picketline crossing by the IBEW, Laborers, Teamsters, rail workers, etc. And in covering the large marches and protest demonstrations, we raised the question of why these workers were not using their numbers to shut down the plants.

At the same time we supported and contributed to efforts to raise relief funds, to build solidarity demonstrations, etc., recognizing that the Staley workers had immediate needs which had to be met before the question of rebuilding the labor movement along proper lines could be implemented.

By posing the question of union scabbing and the need for direct action on a classwide basis in solidarity with our fellow workers at Staley, we pointed to the very real power that remains in the working class’ hands and counterposed the need for a class struggle as distinct from the narrow sectoral struggles and the appeals to the conscience of capital (a conscience that does not exist) favored by the AFL-CIO and its cheerleaders on the "left.”

This, it seems to me, is far more practical and revolutionary than standing on the sidelines making speeches about the need for revolution and far more likely to help workers connect their immediate struggles to the broader need for social reorganization. Had their been broader forces working around the issues of union scabbing and industrial action the struggle could have been won, and workers could have learned anew the power that rests in our hands.

Jon Bekken

Industrial Workers of the World

A question on the IWW’s perspective on union scabbing

To Jon Bekken

From Jos. Green

July 6. 1996

Dear Jon,

Thanks for your reply to my article on Jack Hill’s views on the Staley strike. 1 appreciate the feedback. In case you’re interested, I append below Jack’s two articles. Meanwhile, I read the preamble to the IWW Constitution, as reproduced in "Industrial Worker", as well as your reply I’m curious about some aspects of your position, perhaps because I don’t have sufficient information about what the "Industrial Worker" did during the Staley struggle.

You seem to regard your position as quite different from that of what you call the so-called "left”, which you characterize as appealing to “the conscience of capital” Yet Jack Hill did not appeal to "the conscience of capital”, and he also held that the struggle could be won if all the unionized workers of the Midwest made this struggle into their own. This is basically the same as what you outlined in your reply to me, although you say it in your own way.

You denounce the “left" for being on the “sidelines” because they made speeches about revolution. (Did they do that? Jack doesn’t seem to have done so.) But the "left” mainly carried on support work for the local Staley union, which is what you did too. What they failed to do was to carry out a struggle against the reformist trend. Your reply also avoids this issue. I would however be interested in any additional information concerning how you handled this issue during the Staley struggle.

True, your reply [also] states that the Staley struggle would have been successful if only there were no "union scabbing” and if there was classwide industrial action. But this is not much different from some of the “left” groups who call for a general strike as the way to win any struggle. And it’s not much different from Jack who also sighs that if only the ‘full potential strength of the unionized workers in Illinois and nearby midwestern states could have been concentrated on Staley”, the struggle would have been won. You, for your part, say that the Staley struggle could have been won if only there had been "broader forces working around the issues of union scabbing and industrial action." What is your perspective? That, if only "broader forces” had campaigned on these issues, the AFL-CIO would have stopped scabbing and become militant industrial organizers? Or is that the AFL-CIO and all reformist trade unions would have been eliminated and replaced by industrial organization, which then would have waged classwide direct action? Either perspective was unrealistic for the Staley strike. The working class is faced with a long period of reorganization. The revolutionary workers are facing with organizing militant action under these conditions, and this must include rallying the mass of workers against the reformist stand of the pro-capitalist unions, and doing this in conditions of ‘union scabbing” The working class is rising in this or that struggle despite the lack of solidarity from the reformists, and real leftists must know how to support this struggle and how to help it break out of the reformist straitjacket. It is abandoning this task to be content with contrasting the great days of the future classwide action with "narrow sectoral struggles”

So much for now.

Yours in struggle,


Union scabbing” refers primarily to the workers, not the officials

From Jon Bekken

To Jos. Green

Date: July 8, 1996

Re: Reply

Some quick notes in reply to your latest.

First, it seems clear to me that the officials — corrupt and reformist as they are — are not the fundamental problem. They dominate the unions only because workers have not organized to toss them out on their ears and make them work for a living. Certainly, having gained control of the business unions, they use their positions to enrich themselves and to channel workers struggles into relatively ineffectual and harmless channels. But there is no reason to believe that if one took the same business union structures, with a rank-and-file with the same level of consciousness, and replaced the current sell-out officials with revolutionaries that it would make any significant difference.

Union officials do not precisely organize union scabbing, at least on an ordinary basis, they simply do nothing to oppose it. Yes, there are instances where the officials intervene to discourage solidarity; but in general they have no need to do so. And whether they do so or not is not really important to the question of whether union scabbing occurs. If we can bring the issue clearly to the attention of the rank-and-file and focus their energy upon it, workers have the ability to stop union scabbing whatever the officials do. We were not of course able to do so. The IWW had one member in Decatur (a Staley worker, he joined during the lockout) and several other people (certainly less than a dozen) who read our press on a regular basis. Our Chicago branch is composed of actual wage slaves, and so their ability to go down to Decatur was limited.

But once we learned of the extent of the union scabbing (and this was not made clear in any of the literature from union sources or the solidarity movement; we learned about it only by walking the picket lines and speaking with Staley workers), we did what we could to make it an issue.

Dave Watts [local union president during the Staley struggle — JG] was neither the problem nor the solution. Yes, he fed illusions about the corporate campaign and especially about Rogers (whose work I criticized sharply in the context of the Hormel strike several years ago, noting that Rogers’ famous "victories" were actually all defeats when measured by any objective measure such as whether workers were left any better off). But the problem was that once the in-plant campaign — which was a fairly sophisticated approach — was defeated by the lock-out he AND THE REST OF THE MEMBERSHIP lacked any sense of how to proceed. The labor movement is misorganized in such a way that they could not appeal to workers at other Tate & Lyle plants to shut down the company Union scabbing and the ADM link meant that even the Staley operation was able to keep functioning reasonably well, and they were left without industrial power

We ran articles about the mass demonstrations they organized. noting that while these were inspiring they also symbolized the problem. Few of the marches, for example, actually mobilized more people than were on strike or locked-out in Decatur, despite the fact that thousands of workers came from throughout the Midwest. The unions never effectively mobilized their membership, largely because they are not structured as genuine unions but rather as service bureaus so that workers are not accustomed to taking charge of matters themselves and exercising responsibility for their fate. There were enough workers in Decatur to shut down the scab plants, had the consciousness been there (only the Staley workers had any substantial degree of involvement, much of it frittered away in the silly State Farm campaign). But they were not organized and so were unable to do it.

There is precedent for workers refusing to engage in union scabbing. That could have made a real difference. And while you reject this point, I maintain that when workers honor picket lines, refuse to handle scab goods, etc., that that action is important — not only in the immediate struggle, but as a declaration of class solidarity that implicitly rejects the limits of sectoral struggles for a broader class approach and struggle.

Jon Bekken

Solidarity requires organizing a conscious trend against the reformist bureaucracy

To Jon Bekken

From Joseph Green

July 12, 1996

Thanks for your recent letter, which was much clearer about what the IWW did in Decatur and which explained several points to me about the views of the IWW. I would like to raise some points that came to mind as I studied your letter.

You say that the union officials are not the fundamental problem. I agree that the key issue is to organize the rank and file. The object is not to “convince” the reformist officials, but to organize the mass of workers into the class struggle. But the struggle against the union officials is essential to organize the workers. This is for several reasons. For one thing, I cannot agree with your presentation of the union officialdom as basically passive, and with putting the blame for “union scabbing” on the ordinary workers. I think there has to be much more sympathy with the position of the rank-and-file worker, and a much more realistic view of the reformist unions. You write that the pro-capitalist union officials “do not precisely organize union scabbing, at least on an ordinary basis, they simply do nothing to oppose it. Yes, there are instances where the officials intervene to discourage solidarity; but in general they have no need to do so.” This statement of yours astonishes me to the point that I wonder how much experience the IWW really has with the mass reformist and pro-capitalist unions. It goes against everything I have known about American unions from when I heard my father’s stories about his union to what I have seen myself about the unions or learned about their past.

The unions organize and channel workers’ actions. How the unions are organized, what the officialdom does, is extremely important. At times the reformist unions have organized workers to respect some picket lines of other workers, and have waged various fights. And other times, and especially today, as the reformist unions fall apart, the union officials are much more likely to

a) negotiate contracts which include provisions forcing workers to cross picket lines;

b) refuse to defend workers who are facing retaliation from the capitalists;

c) use the prestige of the union to warn the mass of workers against the actions of the militants;

d) in the case of certain unions (the Teamsters were notorious for this) even use goons against dissidents;

e) in the case of Staley, Dave Watts — at one mass demonstration — warned the workers that they were on their own if they took militant action;

f) fight against revolutionary agitation among the workers; etc.

I could go on. But to me, to say that the union officialdom aren’t the ones behind the union scabbing is like saying that the real problem with war was the privates, because the generals and the big financial interests don’t actually do the shooting.

Even when it is a question of some workers lacking class feeling, isn’t there an issue of whether the union did anything to help inform the workers of what was going on in other industries and with other workers and anything to involve them in struggle? The unions have a responsibility towards their members. In general, it seems to me that recognizing the features of reformism and engaging in a conscious struggle [against] it is one of the vital and necessary things for the growth of class consciousness.

In your presentation, you describe that, with respect to Staley, “the problem was that once the in-plant campaign — which was a fairly sophisticated approach — was defeated by the lock-out, he (Dave Watts) AND THE REST OF THE MEMBERSHIP lacked any sense of how to proceed.” (emph. yours) Now I don’t know Dave Watts personally, all I know is some of his actions. It is possible that Dave personally is an activist who simply didn’t know what else to do except follow the prescriptions of reformist unionism. But follow them he did, and fight to enforce them he did. When this is waved off by saying that no one knew what to do, I have a hard time with this. Reformist unions know something about the strike, and if they are consciously avoiding strikes today, it is not because strikes are a mystery to them. Instead, in the Staley struggle, they mobilized the workers consistently against a strike. The in-plant strategy included a number of union tactics which have their place (the slow-down, etc.), but it was also promoted as an alternative to strikes. The overall idea guiding it wasn't to prepare the workers for a strike, but to show the workers that there was an alternative to the strike. This of course is why the local union officials had no idea of what to do when faced with the lock-out. (I emphasize that this doesn't mean that the slowdown and other features of the in-plant strategy were bad in themselves. It simply means that one has to also note what general ideas were being presented to the workers around the in-plant strategy.)

As to the rest of the membership, when they did have alternate ideas to the local leadership, the local leadership threatened them or demoralized them. Even Jack Hill's articles trace out this process. If it is true that the militant workers didn't know what else to do, a good deal of the blame for this has to lay with the failure of the left to discuss the nature of the reformist officialdom and to encourage independent organization. Instead the rank-and-file worker activists seem to have been taken by surprise by the treachery from the local leaders; and they weren’t even mobilized concerning the treachery of the top AFL-CIO officialdom. What they needed was not just more appeals to class solidarity in general, and not only more material support, but discussion of what to expect from the unions and what should be organized. Without this, suggestions for action would often be simply pie-in-the-sky

Well, perhaps we are slowly getting closer to understanding each other’s approach and where we differ In any case, I appreciate your replies and be assured that, despite my disagreement, I have pondered them.

For solidarity against capitalism,


[End of article group]

Correspondence: Red Star Rising Again asks what is Marxism today?

The third issue of “Red Star Rising Again!” appeared on Oct. 26, 1996. Its table of contents is:

1 What is marxism anyhow?

2. The Socialists

3. The Anarchists

4. Slipping away from cyber-space

The first article is the longest, and discusses its view of Marxism, the revisionist regimes, and of Communist Voice. Many groups claim to be critical of Stalinism, and the RSRA gets a lot of their literature. But it was Communist Voice and the literary magazine Struggle that sharply posed to them the issue of which side are the revisionist regimes really on.

The first article in from RSRA #3 follows:

What is marxism anyhow?

Why has this question come about about? We are a communist zine and you would think we knew We had a good idea for starters, but as we learn more it gets more complicated. In “Factionalism and the Need to Chill Out” we compiled a list of buzz words found in red writing. As we read, the list grows. We have no idea what many of them mean. Some we do get but might be off a little on our call.

We give a brief outline of how we interpret some of the common ones. We are backing off a little on the term buzz words. They are actually modifiers.

We suppose that revisionist and reformist are about the same. If we are wrong and there is a difference, we would like to know about it right away The obvious spin to these two words is that if you reform or revise anything you change the original. There is also implied a certain guilt for being outside the group.

The meaning of opportunist is harder to grapple. On the face of it you are somehow taking advantage and using it to your gain. But the way the word is used indicates hidden agendas, being phoney to hide true interests. We get the sense that it is used to refer to a kind of secret cover-up of the trilateral commission. If you’re going to be “opportunists” you have to get something. What do they get.

We see the vanguardists as the small group so far in front of the others that they cross the line out of the group. The group doesn’t like it. Nobody goes out on their own.

With these words defined from our perspective, we would like to give a description of and our comment on how marxism seems to be defined by two communist publications.

Communist Voice wants to rebuild a “genuine communist party in this country ” Good, so do we. For a quarter of a century (300 months) they have “opposed the pro-soviet ’Communist’ Party and other opportunist organizations as travesties of marxism and betrayers of the working class."1 We think we understand their position, but we are not yet in agreement with it. The problem is that the very people they are bad-talking were the heroes of our youth.

As our education broadens at RSRA, we have become more aware that a serious drift from Karl Marx’s thought took place early in the Soviet era and was exported from there. This schism is about capital and how you deal with it. We call it the money deal. This matter is at the heart of all factionalism on the left. What we have to say about this early move to state- capitalism is: That was then and this is now. Too much time has elapsed. You cannot go back to pre-Stalinist times and start over pure. Modern thought must be based on modern times.

There is a world economy and has been for a long time. It can almost be seen as collective. The world economy is made up of countries; to be in it. you have to be one.

Exploiting the working class? It takes several things for exploitation; you must have an exploiter and an exploitee. To exploit you must be on the other side and to be exploited you must have something to be taken from you. This can be the value of your labor, or your share of a supposed common ownership, or both. So if the exploitee lives in a collective society the exploiter, one way or another, has to be himself. And if the exploitee lives in a capitalist society, the exploiter has to be the capitalist. If these stodgey old communist groups the Communist Voice has been dogging all these 300 months are really exploiting the working class, it can only be true in a limited way for workers living in collective societies. But these groups do not exploit workers in capitalist societies; the capitalists do. We must always be on guard not to double exploit the workers. It’s hard enough as it is.

Communist Voice came to us out of the zine world. Prior to that we had to laboriously take things off the net. Communist Voice is solid material. While we have criticized their self-description on their back cover page, we are grateful to have this serious thought in front of us. They use the hammer and sickle without a modifier We think they are our kind of people.

Struggle is a marxist literary zine/joumal. It is a treat, fresh red stories and poems, nice art work. Their self-descriptive editorial policy is about the same as Communist Voice, with an emphasis on literature and art.

We have had some correspondence with the editor, Tim Hall, and quote at length from his note on Struggle's guiding principles:

We believe that the central issue facing all marxists is the repudiation of all revisionism in all its forms. Basic Marxist theory has been revised in fundamental ways by so-called Marxist leaders from Stalin to Khrushchev to Mao and Castro and these leaders have pursued state capitalist policies when in power and have spread reformist theories and practices among the revolutionary workers worldwide. This has resulted in a widespread discrediting of the idea of socialism among the revolutionary class, the proletariat, and caused major confusion on theory and tactics for those who still believe in socialism and communism. We believe that the central task of all communist revolutionaries is to critique these false theories, demonstrate that they do not represent Marxism but in fact represent a complete departure from Marxism, and revitalize the Marxist theory so that the workers’ revolutionary parties can again be built with a clear and consistent guiding philosophy, strategy and tactics.”

We thought about this carefully While we actually agree with much of its stand, we have differences, and they are central. He says that the central task of all communist revolutionaries is to critique these false ideas. RSRA says the central task is to get on with the task. A poem from Struggle is in this issue.2 We appreciate his correspondence and take his advice to 'take all the time you need.' Our education is just beginning."

Reply to Red Star Rising Again: Anti-revisionism is central to what revolutionary Marxism is today

Dear comrades,

I read the third issue of RSRA with interest. In your article "What is Marxism anyhow?" you discuss the issue of the relation of communism and Marxism to revisionism. In this respect, you center on the program of the Communist Voice. You differ from Communist Voice in an assessment of regimes like those of Cuba and China today and the Soviet Union under Stalin and his successors. You talk of a serious drift of these regimes from Marxism, but you see it simply as imperfections in a communist movement which embraces both activists here and those regimes. You view is that "You cannot go back to pre-Stalinist times and start over pure. Modern thought must be based on modern times."

I heartily agree that we must base ourselves on modern times. We must examine the experience of the world movement, even if this means reconsidering cherished ideas from the past activity of the movement or reevaluating cherished heroes of our youth. This may be painful, but it is also liberating.

And one of the most notable features of our times, of the 20th century, is the existence of regimes that developed state capitalism in the name of communism or Marxism. In some of these countries, mass revolutions of great importance overthrew the old capitalist order The lessons of these revolutions will be studied for a long time. But for many reasons, the revolutionary initiative of the masses petered out, and new bourgeois orders were established. The problem wasn't that these regimes weren't pure, like some mythical earlier period of the movement. There has never been a pure period in the revolutionary movement. Never. And there never will be. The problem is that these regimes ended up as the rule of a new bourgeoisie over the masses.

You write; "To exploit you must be on the other side and to be exploited you must have something to be taken from you."

True, and in these countries, a ruling bourgeoisie lives well on the basis of the labor of the masses.

In these countries, the working class have also lost their political rights. They are not allowed to organize in their own right or even to express an independent political opinion.

In these countries, the ruling classes themselves are moving to Western capitalist forms.

So the apologists for these countries end up justifying a rule over the masses. Take Cuba, a country which does not allow political debate in its elections. Various of the defenders of the current Castro regime defend this practice, arguing that the masses cannot be allowed to determine affairs because of the pressure of U.S. imperialism.

We have to look this reality of our times in the face. This is our responsibility to the proletariat today and to the mass revolutionary movement of the future. Every generation of revolutionaries has been faced with overthrowing cherished ideas from the past and renovating itself. Marxism developed originally in the 19th century only on the basis of overcoming cherished traditions from the bourgeois-democratic revolutions, and it did so while bourgeois-democratic transformations were still continuing in various countries. And then the mass socialist parties of the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century went further and developed mass socialist political agitation in a way that had never been done before, and developed a new idea of what a political party was. History marched on, and the Communist or Third International only developed through a break with the Second International, which had once been revolutionary but which had degenerated into bourgeois politics. This was not a matter that the Second International became impure—the Second International had never been pure. But it was a matter of crossing a dividing line, and the bourgeoisie would itself soon entrust various government ministries to politicians of the Second International. Was it not difficult to break with the old Second International parties, and were there not many workers and activists who had lionized the leaders of the Second International, most of whom refused to leave and join the Third International? Leaders and theoreticians such as Karl Kautsky and G. Plekhanov had produced many works that are still of value today, but to build up the communist movement activists had to stand against them at any cost.

To revolutionize the work, the proletarian movement must also revolutionize itself. We must be willing to stand up against worn-out movements and former revolutionaries, out-dated traditions, and practices that have proved bankrupt.

Or has this nature of revolutionary work changed today? Have we reached the happy age when we can replace the harsh light of reason by simply adhering to the ideas of the past or the banners that we once marched under? If Marxists don't set an example in being willing to abandon what has proven false, how can we appeal to the masses of workers to abandon the cherished ideas they have held in various movements and ideologies and instead embark on the course of independent political organization?

Today we see the collapse of the revisionist regimes. Most of these regimes have fallen, and the remaining ones — from China to Cuba — are taking up private market forms. Experience has shown that a privileged strata in these countries became a new capitalist class that ran the state-owned section of the economy as its own property The fact of state ownership by no means proves that an economy is socialist or "collective" or that exploitation didn't exist. From Marx and Engels to Lenin, communism had never held that state ownership alone made a society into a socialist society We must see that when the revisionist regimes collapsed, what was collapsing was not socialism, but a sick parody that had lasted far too long.

You argue against this tragic lesson of our times, saying that, if these societies were "collective", then there could be no exploiters. Who would exploit whom, you say? If all the workers rule, and yet exploitation exists, then wouldn't the workers be exploiting themselves?

But who says that the workers actually rule in Cuba and China today or the Soviet Union yesterday? These regimes are embarrassed by the question of political rights. It is a harsh fact that, say, the Chinese regime—at one time the expression of a profound revolutionary movement that swept China for decades before coming to power—has reached the point when it drowns protests in Tienanmen square in blood. Is it really so hard to discover the fact that a bureaucracy exists in these countries that lives far better than the masses and that makes the decisions in these societies?

So it doesn't look like the workers are exploiting themselves at all. Yes, if these societies had been socialist, then there would have been no exploiters. But these societies weren't socialist, and there were exploiters.

I will not here reproduce the analysis given in a number of articles on the revisionist economy The last issue of Communist Voice, for example, contained an overall article tracing some features of present-day Cuban economy, and the next one will continue its analysis of this economy We can't answer the question of the nature of the Cuban economy by falling back on the hopes of yesterday We can't answer it by general argumentation about collective economy in general. We can only analyze the present-day "communist" party in Cuba, the present class position of Castro, and the nature of Cuban society, by following the lesson from Lenin which you cite on the inside back cover of RSRA #3 — proceed from the actual, not from the possible. We must proceed from the actual, and not from our wishes.

Some political forces sigh after the old revisionist regimes which have collapsed. Most Trotskyists, although they pose as the biggest critics of Stalinism, shed tears over the collapse of revisionism, and in one way or another still argue for defense of the remaining revisionist regimes. A number of other trends as well are nostalgic for the old regimes. But either one relies on the revolutionary movement of the working class, or one becomes just an attachment to some ruling force. Is it really too hard for the working class movement to oppose capitalism in all its forms, both Western capitalism and revisionist state capitalism? Should we choose one oppressor or the other, or shouldn't we rather fight against the entire system of oppression? And if it is thought that the movement is too weak to fight all the different sets of bourgeoisie, both the western-style bourgeoisie and the state-capitalist bourgeoisie, then wouldn't it follow by the same logic that the movement was also too weak to have strength to oppose both parties at the same time, both Democratic and Republican?

You also raise that opposing revisionism means ignoring the main tasks of reconstructing the proletarian movement. Not at all. We oppose revisionism in the course of taking up the tasks of the proletarian movement. I think that is why you take our analysis of revisionism seriously — you see that are carrying out positive work. But this work of us is absolutely dependent on our stand against revisionism and other backward theories. In one sphere of work after another, whether it is analyzing the current state of imperialism or maintaining a revolutionary attitude to culture or denouncing neo-conservatism, there is no way to maintain a Marxist stand without opposing the revisionist caricature. It is anti-revisionism which opens up wide prospects for revolutionary activity And if we hadn’t opposed revisionism, we would have followed the majority of the late Marxist-Leninist Party into passivity, or the Chicago Workers Voice group in floating aimlessly among the left.

More generally, how can we ensure that the red star will indeed rise again? What will help restore communism to the banner of the militant proletariat? We must encourage the spirit of independence in the proletariat. What good are stories about the great struggles of the past against the reformists and the capitalists, if the proletariat sees the activists of today bowing down before the corrupt politicians of state capitalism or regretting their fall from power? Can one carry out positive work among the proletariat to organize a socialist movement without encouraging in this proletariat a contempt for the revisionist regimes and their apologists? After all, the collapse of revisionism is one of the major, defining moments of the latter 20th century How is this to be presented to the masses? If these regimes really were socialist or "collective”, then doesn’t the collapse of such a socialist system spread over a large part of the world show that socialism is indeed flawed and mistaken? Or is it all to be blamed on the masses, who are to be condemned for allegedly failing "socialism"? Or is it all to be blamed on the strength of U.S. and world imperialism? But if a huge movement with the resources of many countries and supposedly following a basically communist course couldn’t withstand this pressure, then what possibility is there for the proletariat to stand up today in communist revolution without these resources? Logically, either we must find the source of revisionist collapse in the flawed nature of revisionism, a flawed and corrupt nature that we can and must avoid, or else the cause of socialism itself is what is flawed and must be abandoned.

I look forward to subsequent issues of your journal including your further consideration of the issue of communism and revisionism, and I appreciated your article which raised your present views on these issues. I hope that you will follow the stand of looking of what actually exists, not what one might wish would exist. If the red star is to rise again around the world, then we activists have to stand together and look closely at the lessons of modern times.

Communist greetings,

Joseph Green


1 The Communist Voice is two years old. RSRA is referring to the CVs description that it is continuing the cause of the late Workers’ Advocate, which raised the anti-revisionist banner for a quarter of a century — CV

2 "I Own Therefore I Am” by Tom Jones — CV