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Communist Voice

Successor to the Workers' Advocate


Volume 3, Number 3

Aug. 10,1997

Vs. dependency theories of Andre Gunder Frank and Samir Amin 32

Che, the armed struggle, and revolutionary politics 5

Leninism & "state capitalism under workers' rule" 11

Also — science versus creationism, Detroit newspaper workers’ demo,

Malice Green killer cop case, and Marxism in a free-market era

In this issue

Che, the armed struggle, and revolutionary politics by Mark, Detroit


The question of "state capitalism under workers’ rule"

(Part 3 of State capitalism, Leninism, and the transition to socialism) by Joseph Green


Workers need science, not religion, for liberation by Pete Brown


Thousands march to support Detroit newspaper workers by Pete Brown and Mark


Rank-and-file action or union leader sellouts? from Detroit Workers’ Voice #l4


Marxism in an era of free-market capitalism: on the crisis of left-wing thought, from DWV #14


Conviction of racist killer cop overturned: the Malice Green case in Detroit

from Detroit Workers’ Voice # 15


The twilight of dependency theory


Dependency theory and the fight against imperialism: on Samir Amin and Andre Gunder Frank (part one) by Joseph Green


On pseudo-Marxist apologies for imperialism — a review of Bill Warren’s Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism, by Joseph Green


Communist Voice through the eyes of others

from Politica Operaria of Portugal


Red Star Rising Again & the anti-revisionist pledge


The twilight of dependency theory

In the half-century since World War II, nearly all the colonies have gained independence. Yet the world has remained divided into rich and poor, the powerful and the humiliated. Some countries remain subordinate and-even marginal, while the big powers remain supreme. Dependency theory was an attempt to explain the survival of imperialism into the post-colonial world. Despite many Marxist-sounding words, it basically held that Marxism was inadequate to explain the world polarization. Capitalism in the Third World was supposedly essentially different from capitalism in Europe, America and Japan, and so the principles of Marx and Lenin were supposedly Eurocentric and obsolete.

Dependency theory saw the painful features of life in the independent countries of the Third World as proof that development was not taking place. It opposed the capitalist gospel that development would solve all the problems of the Third World. But it didn’t do this by pointing out that capitalist development takes place through vicious exploitation and deepening inequalities, but by claiming that the imperialist system would not let the Third World develop. The radical dependency theorists therefore said that the Third World would have to have a socialist revolution in order to develop, but they didn’t see this socialist revolution as based on the proletarian class struggle, regarding such a type of socialism as only suitable for the developed countries of the “West."

The last half-century of world history since World War n has played a cruel joke on both the bourgeois ideologists of development and the revolutionary pretensions of dependency theory Unlike what the bourgeois ideologists held, the expansion of the capitalist market and of certain types of industry throughout the Third World, has not meant the end of imperialism. It has seen increasing splits between rich and poor countries, between the Third World countries themselves and between rich and poor inside each country It has seen debt crises, brutal IMF-dictated economic restructurings, and zigzag developments. There are still wars; imperialist spheres of influence; a U.S. global cop; and the big powers are dictating world policies. But unlike what the dependency theorists held, capitalism has developed extensively inside the Third World, and industry has spread. Moreover, dependency theory has turned out not to be a blueprint for Third World revolution, but an apology for existing regimes.

As we approach the 21st century, it turns out that only Marxism can analyze what the world has become. The end of colonialism has brought the spread of capitalism and a vast increase in economic development, as Marxism always held that bourgeois-democratic changes would. But, as Marxism has also stressed, such development means the sharpening of class conflicts, the creation of a vast reserve army of the unemployed (now on a global basis), the crushing by giant capitalist exploiters (such as the multinational corporations) of a multitude of small capitalist exploiters, and escalating environmental ruin. The Third World is developing, but it is developing according to Marx and Lenin, not according to capitalist enthusiasts such as Milton Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs, and not according to dependency theorists such as A.G. Frank or Samir Amin.

What are some of the wrong perspectives of dependency theory on the world situation?

* It denied the dramatic changes in the Third World economies, and tried to explain them away as not “real" development, as at most "growth without development” It compares present-day development not to capitalist development as it has always been, but to a supposed normal capitalist development that would bring the Third World rapidly up to the level of the advanced countries. It failed to see that the perpetuation and intensification of inequalities and suffering does not prove the lack of normal capitalist development, but is in part the result of it. It failed to see that in the advanced countries themselves life would become more and more insecure and living standards would start falling. And by minimizing or denying the actual development taking place, it showed its inability to recognize that real development paves the way, not for the myth of universal capitalist prosperity, but for a vast increase of the working class in Asia and elsewhere, a working class that will someday overthrow the capitalist system.

* The dependency theorists misunderstood the nature of the state-capitalist (Stalinist or fake socialist) regimes. They regarded these revisionist regimes as proof of their views about how to achieve growth and social progress, so they resolutely closed to their eyes to what these regimes really represented. As their hopes in other Third World regimes were frustrated, the state-capitalist regimes were left as the last way to give some credence to their ideas. They thus regarded the state-capitalist bloc of the east as "delinked” from world capitalism rather than one of the two great capitalist blocs of the post-war period. Dependency theory thus gave a wrong analysis of one of the most important issues for the revolutionary movement of our century, confusing the question of who is the friend and who is the enemy of socialism. Indeed, it thus abandoned the millions of Third World workers and peasants in the state-capitalist countries to the tender mercies of the new ruling classes. This made dependency theory useless for emancipating the working masses from revisionism. The ongoing collapse of the state-capitalist regimes is not the collapse of socialism, as these regimes were a travesty of socialism, but it is certainly a collapse of dependency theory.

* It regarded the distinction between democratic revolutions (that establish independence or overthrow tyranny or eliminate feudal landholding but don't establish socialism) and socialist revolutions as an old-hat, obsolete feature of Marxism. Supposedly any sharp struggle in the Third World could, if successful, be taken to socialism. To talk about the different characters of different struggles was supposedly opportunism and advocacy of giving up leadership to the bourgeoisie. The experience of struggles all over the Third World, such as the ongoing struggle to topple the political monopoly of the PRI in Mexico, shows that it is failure to understand the nature of different struggles that is opportunist and that results in dressing the bourgeoisie in socialist colors.

* It failed to recognize the continuing importance of the rights of national and ethnic minorities and of the right to self- determination of nations. This Marxist principle has been held to be somewhat old hat, now that most of the colonies are liberated, or even a nuisance that distracts from building up large Third World states. Yet the continuing birth of many new countries, the nationalist tragedy in Yugoslavia, the national issues in India and other Third World nations, and the intense ethnic wrangling in the world today shows that the national issue can't simply be shunted aside. Recognizing the right to self-determination does not mean advocating the secession of every nation and creating as many small countries as possible, but it does mean supporting the right of the populations concerned to decide the issue for themselves democratically and opposing the use of violence against them. And it meant vigilant concern for the feelings of national minorities living among majorities of other backgrounds. For the working class to be able to unite across national lines, it must overcome national divisions by insisting that national questions (such as whether a country will split into two) be settled on democratic principles. Each section of the working class must show in practice that it will not let itself be used to suppress the national freedom of other workers. In this the working class will show that it puts solidarity with the working masses of other backgrounds above the issue of where state boundaries fall.

* Dependency theory downplayed the key role that the proletariat has to play in building a truly socialist movement and leading all the exploited masses. Instead of paying special attention to the problems of organizing independent movements of the workers in the dependent countries, it instead thought that any impoverished and exploited strata could take the leadership of the anti-capitalist struggle. In line with this, it refused to look at the real nature of the different demands of various strata of working people. Instead it grouped them all together as socialist. For example, it misunderstood the nature of land reform: if land reform was a progressive step of value that was supported by impoverished peasants and often bitterly opposed by reactionaries, then dependency theory thought that it must in itself go beyond capitalist relations. That is the simplified way in which dependency theory settled the issue of the nature of various demands. It never understood the real conditions needed for all the poor to unite and overthrow their oppressors, and that these conditions included the development of a revolutionary proletarian movement.

* Its view of socialism often amounted simply to the overthrow of conservative ruling circles and the development of ‘‘autonomous" economic development with policies of a genuine ‘national and popular character.' Since the old-guard bourgeoisie and military dictators opposed these policies, and the U.S. imperialists often were infuriated by them, these policies looked like socialism to the dependency theorists.

* As their hopes for radical change were disappointed, dependency theorists repeatedly adopted the point of view of advisers to the bourgeois governments, state-capitalist governments, or any government with some populist rhetoric. They have repeatedly failed to help the working masses organize independently of any left or anti-imperialist sounding ruling class, but instead often served as apologists for various Third World exploiters.

Thus dependency theory is in disarray because it cannot deal with current world developments. It is important to assert the existence of an imperialist system, but dependency theory gives a wrong and mistaken picture of this imperialism.

The Communist Voice was established in the struggle to uphold Marxism-Leninism and its view that imperialism exists. In past issues, we have dealt with a few of the world mechanisms by which the imperialist bourgeoisie seeks to exploit the whole world, the nature of the struggle in such an important dependent country as Mexico, the anti-working class nature of the state-capitalist regimes, the importance of the right to self-determination, etc. We are denouncing dependency theory as part of deepening the study of what world imperialism will look like in the 21st century. In studying imperialism, it is important to also examine more closely some of the general conceptions of imperialism that have been dominant in the left.

This is the twilight of dependency theory. Even its more serious advocates have for some years had to deal with the fact that its predictions about Third World economy have been wrong, and that its particular plans for revolution in the Third World have gone up in smoke. Moreover, it has inadvertently paved the way for those who deny the reality of imperialism because it identified imperialism with a total stagnation of “real” Third World development.

But it is not enough to recognize that dependency theory is in disarray. It is necessary to see that world development has once again put revolutionary Marxism on the agenda. The task of communist activists is to help reorganize the proletariat for a new struggle for socialism in the 21st century. This requires upholding the basic concepts of Marxism, long discarded by dependency theory And it requires dealing with the key experiences of our time, from the anti-working class nature of the revisionist regimes to the results of development in the Third World.

Joseph Green, Detroit

Che, the armed struggle, and revolutionary politics

by Mark, Detroit

Often activists think by supporting militant action they can shove to the side the theoretical confusion and important controversies that are pervasive in the movement today. Dealing with contending political-theoretical views is often seen as just so much useless bickering that is holding back struggle against the oppressors. But even where groups are waging the armed struggle, having clear theoretical views is vital. Yes, militant mass movements, armed or otherwise, should be given every support. Revolution is the only means to liberate the world's toilers. But it is precisely for the sake of building the revolutionary movement that we must look beyond whether a group is using militant means of struggle. Just because a trend fights militantly does not mean it necessarily has a clear idea of how to bring an end to the exploitation of the working masses, or that the changes it envisions even aim at that. Nor does it automatically follow that armed struggles have a sober appraisal of what to expect from the various class forces in relation to their immediate demands and ultimate goals. In fact, it is often the case that revolutionary work has little or nothing to do with focusing one's immediate efforts on developing armed struggle. Indeed, when the armed struggle is undertaken without a correct appraisal of how much participation and sympathy it will get from the masses it usually leads to disastrous setbacks.

The legacy of Che Guevara provides an example of why revolutionary theory, and not just a commitment to the armed struggle, has to be taken seriously. This example has particular relevance today, because there is something of a Che revival going on. For one thing, a major campaign invoking Che's name has been undertaken by the Castro regime in Cuba. This campaign has the purpose of covering over the fact that for decades there has been nothing revolutionary about the Cuban government, which is in the midst of transforming their oppressive state-capitalist system more along the lines of private capitalism. They are using Che's name to cloak their system in "communist" garb while they ram austerity measures down the throats of the Cuban masses.

Despite the fact that the Cuban revolution died long ago, there is no doubt that the Cuban revolution of the 1950s was a progressive struggle and that Che exhibited personal bravery in this revolution and other struggles. As well, Che was adept at expressing the heroism of the guerrilla fighters and eloquently proclaimed many high ideals about liberating humankind from exploitation and oppression. Because of this, Che continues to inspire activists with the idea of self-sacrificing struggle on behalf of the downtrodden.

But today's promotion of Che generally avoids seriously examining the fact that Che's views have not provided a path to achieve the noble ideals he proclaimed. Instead, since the mid-60s, Guevarism has often been promoted as an alleged alternative to the bankrupt policies of the phony "communist" parties led by the state-capitalist leaders of the former Soviet Union. These revisionist parties mutilated Marxism into formulas justifying reformist reconciliation between the exploiters and the exploited. In line with this, in countries where a powerful revolutionary movement and/or the armed struggle was breaking out, they worked to tone them down. In much of the 60s, although the leadership in Cuba was already heavily tied to Soviet revisionism which they wrongly considered to be socialism they were still interested in promoting the virtues of armed struggle in Latin America and elsewhere. Che was the most "out-front" spokesperson for this position among the top Cuban leaders. But despite this contradiction with Soviet revisionist views, Che could offer no coherent alternative to these views, had great illusions in Soviet revisionism, and at times even denounced the efforts to expose Soviet revisionism.

Thus, while Che has inspired many activists about revolution in general, the realization of those high ideals requires rejecting Che's views as a viable revolutionary doctrine. Moreover, to the extent that Che and others have paraded his views as communist theory, they have undermined Marxism-Leninism, the most valuable guide to revolutionary action yet devised.

"Focoism": the mythological role of small guerrilla bands

One of the best-known legacies of Che is his views on armed guerrilla struggle. This is a form of struggle that has proved valuable under certain conditions. It played an important role in the Cuban revolution. But Che, Castro and the Cuban leadership of the mid-60s created a whole mythology about the role of small guerrilla bands ("focos"). Much of this mythology was codified in the theories put forward by the French intellectual Regis Debray in his book Revolution within the revolution? which was pushed heavily by the Cuban regime at that time. This does not mean that every formulation of Debray was endorsed by Che or Castro. As well, Debray's conclusions were not always based on an accurate understanding of what had happened in Cuba. That aside, there is little doubt that generally Debray's work represents a semi-official theory approved by the Cuban leadership at that time.

According to "foco" theory, the creation of small guerrilla bands in the countryside was not merely a useful form of struggle appropriate at certain times and under certain conditions, but was the only task worthy of the attention of revolutionary activists in Latin America. Some day other types of organization might be needed, but that would have to wait until the guerrilla bands themselves organized them.

One of the underlying premises of this theory was that the establishment of the guerrilla focos would themselves create the conditions for an insurrection. About the only precondition Che recognized as necessary for starting the armed struggle was that a country have a government which relied on dictatorial methods. As for a country with a bourgeois-democratic government, Che apparently did not see what revolutionary work meant in such a situation. In Che's theorizing, either there was armed struggle against a dictatorial rule or there was peaceful work within a reformist framework.

Such rigid formulas are fairly useless, however. The mere existence of a dictatorial regime is not sufficient grounds to decide that a successful armed insurrection can be launched. For instance, it ignores the "minor" matter of whether or not there is a high tide of struggle or if the revolutionary activists have sufficient influence and organization among the masses to carry off such types of actions. Under conditions when not only the armed struggle, but mass organizing in general is illegal, finding ways to develop varied forms of illegal organization of the masses (underground political groups, strikes, demonstrations, etc. ) is of the utmost importance and requires great determination and courage. Moreover, just because legal avenues of struggle may be very restricted does not mean that such forms can be ignored. Nor does the existence of a parliamentary regime preclude an intense class struggle, fierce clashes, militant (and sometimes armed) tactics, and the need to provide revolutionary class orientation even in relatively peaceful times.

The "foco" theory's lack of concern for carefully evaluating the objective conditions in a country was reflected in its downplaying of political organizing among the exploited. Che and Debray spread the dogma that the universal pattern for struggle was that the armed struggle must first develop in the countryside.1 Yet Debray went out of his way to belittle political work and organizing among the peasantry in support of the revolution and the armed units. He mocked efforts of other Latin American guerrillas who attempted such things. In Debray's view, the guerrillas should basically avoid the peasants until such time as they made the surrounding region militarily secure. Then, organizing among the peasantry could begin. Thus, he ignored the inherent military weakness of an armed band without popular support. Che and Debray based their views on the armed struggle on the assumption that revolutionary conditions were imminent, yet these "revolutionary" conditions were such that it was considered premature to make an approach toward the peasant masses!2

Guevarism and proletarian organization

Even less of a priority was organizing the working class. The Guevarist guerrilla theory did not see revolutionary potential among the urban proletariat. Che (like Fidel) theorized that revolutionary struggle was doomed to defeat in the city. Meanwhile he argued that armed guerrillas in the countryside were the proletarian force, having allegedly become so through a guerrilla existence.3 Debray agreed and considered the movement in the cities to inevitably be riddled with corruption and "bourgeois". Elaborating on this, Debray argued that either there was the armed struggle in the countryside, or the political corruption of "obsessive pursuit of alliances . . . from which the ruling classes have so far reaped all the benefits . . . unity at any price, regardless of revolutionary principles and interests. . . ".4

They rejected the idea that a revolutionary proletarian party was vital in organizing the revolutionary struggle. To some extent this was a reaction to the actual corruption of the allegedly "communist" parties that were part of the Soviet revisionist trend. But revulsion at the antics of those betraying proletarian principles cannot be an argument against a truly revolutionary workers' party. Debray and Che talked about a continental socialist revolution in Latin America. But these self-proclaimed Marxists didn't recognize that the socialist uprising is the culmination of a high tide of the workers' class struggle. Che and Debray paid homage to the bravery exhibited by workers in some powerful class battles in Latin America, but did not see this as evidence of the potential revolutionary power of the workers. Instead they considered the workers' struggles as basically futile and reformist.

That focoist theory did not focus on the workers reflected the fact that this stand was largely an attempt to turn into general laws the petty-bourgeois views that dominated the leadership of the Cuban revolution. Castro's July 26th Movement, the main revolutionary front in the revolution, was not a socialist movement. Its ultimate goals did not go beyond parliamentary democracy, modest social reforms, and a relationship with the U. S. on terms more favorable to the domestic exploiters. It was not oriented toward the class struggle nor was it opposed to capitalism as such. Hence, while the July 26 Movement had some organization among the workers, it was limited to the needs of the moment of the petty-bourgeois leadership and their ideas of a reformed capitalism.

The fact that after a couple of years in power the Castroite leadership supposedly embarked on the path of socialism did not mean the end of their petty-bourgeois outlook. Genuine socialism cannot be built unless the workers are mobilized to be the masters of the new society. Instead, Castro relied on a bureaucratic apparatus where the workers merely took orders from Castro's clique. Despite carrying out some reforms helpful to the masses, the basis for a new type of class rule over the toilers was created. The type of workers' initiative and organization that would be needed if the proletariat was to put its stamp on the revolutionary process was not in the plans of the Castro leadership. The petty-bourgeois outlook was reborn in pseudo-communist colors.

Despite theorizing against urban movements, the guerrilla struggle in Cuba was in fact supported from the cities and Castro's July 26th movement had organization there. But as the petty-bourgeois leadership of the July 26th movement relied on a coalition with various bourgeois forces who were prone to curtailing the revolution and using it to place themselves in power, and as the allegedly "communist" PSP had an overall reformist orientation, it was not surprising that that particular urban movement proved lacking in various ways. An example of this problem was the attempted general strike in April 1958. Castro agreed with the urban wing of his movement on attempting a general strike. It was not well-considered or organized, failed to materialize, and the urban underground suffered heavily at the hands of Batista's repressive apparatus. Some pro-Castro Cuban sources claim that the ill-conceived strike was pushed by bourgeois figures in the urban wing of the July 26th Movement who thought they could force a coup that would propel themselves to power. They argue that Castro felt a lot of pressure to go along with this because these bourgeois elements could funnel lots of funds to the Movement. Yet the theoretical conclusions drawn from this were mainly opposition to stronger organization in the cities. But such a conclusion does not make sense. The solution is not theorizing against the movement in the cities, but in building revolutionary proletarian organization which seeks the most resolute struggle and is guided by the most thorough-going revolutionary perspective.

Such conflicts between Castro's guerrilla forces in the countryside and the urban wing of the July 26th movement were also the basis of the idea that armed guerrilla bands could carry out all the functions of a revolutionary political party, which was, therefore, not necessary. Again, this theorizing missed that in Cuba the urban movement, whatever its shortcomings, was not organized from the hills of the Sierra, but in the cities itself. The organization of the proletariat and urban poor cannot be carried out by isolated guerrilla bands. Moreover, since the focoists belittle proletarian organization, political parties, other forms of struggle besides guerrilla bands, don't see the need to seriously evaluate the conditions, etc. , there is nothing much left of their party concept except armed bands. As well, if the proletariat is to unleash all its potential strength, its organization cannot be left in the hands of reformist or radical petty-bourgeois trends. Theories that reduce the party concept to armed guerrilla bands do not eliminate the need for organization in the cities and among the workers in particular. Railing against a proletarian political party and neglecting the class struggle in the cities in general, does not eliminate the armed guerrillas need to have support from the cities. Rather, it pushes the guerrillas to rely on the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois trends in the cities. It's not surprising then that in practice, "foco" theory often winds up forcing the armed units to rely on the corrupt forces the theory purports to avoid.

Che in Bolivia: focoism in practice

Che puts his views into practice with his attempt to set up "focos" in Bolivia in 1966-67. The results were tragic. Che's diary of the events admits that the bands of several dozen guerrillas were unable to garner support from the local peasants. Meanwhile, after a few minor military successes by the guerrillas, the Bolivian armed forces, with training and support from the U. S. , were able to corner the guerrillas and then brutally wiped them out. Che was captured alive and then murdered in cold blood. Debray, who was summoned to the guerrilla focos, was earlier captured when he tried to leave the guerrillas and was sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

This disaster can be traced to a number of features of foco theory. Che showed no particular concern for the mood of the Bolivian peasantry, since he wrongly assumed that winning some military skirmishes would automatically rally them to the rebel's side. No preparatory work or organizing was done among the peasantry before the guerrillas started fighting. Thus, the government had free reign of the villages to isolate the guerrillas politically and successfully recruit informers. Though foco theory held that all the other types of organizations would magically develop from the armed bands, in fact, they relied heavily on the pro-Soviet revisionist party in Bolivia, which mainly opposed Che's efforts and is widely suspected of collaborating with the Bolivian dictatorship to do Che in. Meanwhile, while the conditions for the armed units among the countryside did not exist, Bolivia copper miners had a long history of powerful struggles which included their owned armed militias which boldly clashed with the government. Government troops had put down a recent miner's revolt. Despite this setback, clearly there was a lot of potential in organizing among such workers, but this violated foco dogma. Che's forces had drafted an appeal to the miners, but it basically urged the workers to abandon their militant struggles and join the guerrillas, where they supposedly could avoid crushing blows from the government. Before the appeal was issued, the guerrillas were crushed.

Belittling the need for theory

The Guevarist disregard for a serious analysis of the concrete conditions has gone hand-in-hand with a tendency to belittle the need for revolutionary theory. In direct response to the well-known statement of Lenin that "without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement", Che argued that "one can make a revolution if historical reality is interpreted correctly and if the forces involved are utilized correctly, even without knowing theory."5

Such reasoning ignores that revolutionary theory is what allows for a thorough analysis of reality. Marxist theory permits the attentive observer of reality to make sense of their perceptions. Thus, revolutionary theory must be based on the most all-sided information about historical reality. It is no coincidence that Guevarism downplays theory while basing its strategy and tactics on the most shallow estimate of the social conditions.

Debray ran with the anti-theoretical tone of the Cuban leaders. He goes so far as to argue that it was a good thing that (allegedly) the Cuban leaders were ignorant of other revolutionary experiences, since this only would have clouded their ability to adopt a correct path under Cuban conditions. Thus, for Debray, the narrower the knowledge of world historical reality, the better. Debray equates such knowledge with "preconceived ideological constructs" that only bog down the revolutionary activist.6 Debray's distorted notion of revolutionary ideology is that it means dogmatically repeating each and every feature of a previous struggle, thus ignoring the new conditions. In fact Marxist theory considers an examination of the particular economic and social conditions in a country to be mandatory for deciding how its general theory will manifest itself there. The flip side of Debray's notion of theory is his idea that each and every feature of the Cuban revolution is automatically elevated into a universal principle, or at least a cookbook recipe for Latin America.

Attitude toward Marxism and revisionism

But if Che didn't think revolutionary theory was a necessity, why did he portray himself as a Marxist? Che certainly did read some Marxist works, but he did not accept Marxism as an integral theory. Instead he picked up on certain features that he could reconcile with his overall petty-bourgeois revolutionism. A clear example of this is his statement that "the Cuban revolution takes up Marx at the point where he put aside science to pick up his revolutionary rifle."7 In this instance, Marxism is reduced to the notion that armed struggle is good.

Che did not draw a fundamental distinction between Marxism and revisionism. For him, even the likes of traitors to communism like Khrushchov were Marxist, and he considered the Soviet revisionist bloc to be socialist. It's true that Che had some disagreement with the Soviet revisionist leaders. For example, in the mid-60s the Cuban leadership was developing guerrilla groups in other Latin American countries which clashed with Khrushchov's efforts to reconcile with U. S. imperialism. Che also had some criticisms over how aid was dispensed by the Soviet bloc although in general he highly praised the Soviet revisionist aid. He also had objections to certain features of Soviet economic planning, even while holding that it was socialist. But these objections were not based on anti-revisionism. Rather, certain features of Che's petty-bourgeois radicalism were in contradiction to some corrupt revisionist views.

In fact, in the main Che openly disagreed with the ideological struggle to unmask revisionism. When, in the early 60s, the Maoist leaders of China (who themselves had developed another variant of revisionism) along with a wave of revolutionary activists all over the world began to question Soviet revisionist doctrine, Che criticized this as senseless bickering that detracted from the cause of fighting U. S. imperialism. Thus, he wrote: "That big controversies are agitating the world that is struggling for freedom, all of us know. . . " but "it is time to moderate our disputes and place everything at the service of the struggle."8 Thus, Che's concept was not to fight revisionism, but reconcile with it. For Che, the revisionist leaders were really revolutionary fighters who had gotten sidetracked in minor disputes.

Illusions in third world bourgeois development

While Che supported the armed struggle, this did not mean he was able to break out of the overall outlook of fashionable revisionist doctrine. When we go beyond the question of guerrilla tactics, it turns out there is a great deal of similarity between Guevarism and the Soviet revisionist doctrine of so-called "non-capitalist development. " The Soviet revisionists theorized that if only the capitalist regimes in the developing countries tied their development plans to Soviet aid, then they would be departing from capitalism and could head toward socialism. The need for the class struggle in the developing countries was buried beneath fairy tales about these regimes being staunch opponents of imperialism and bastions of social progress.

Che's views were very similar. He didn't see socialism as the product of the class struggle of the proletariat. Instead, he imagined that many of the developing countries in Asia and Africa that had won their political freedom from the colonial powers merely had to adopt the right economic policies to put them on an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist course. He considered extensive economic aid from the revisionist Soviet bloc and the Chinese revisionist leaders as a key factor in these plans which would allegedly lead to abolishing exploitation. True, for Latin America, Che had no faith in change being brought about by the regimes that had come into existence by the 60s. In fact, he denounced the Latin American bourgeoisie as entirely reactionary and declared that the whole continent was ripe for socialist revolution. But Che's idea of the measures the new governments (installed by the hoped-for revolutions in Latin America) should carry out were similar to those he envisioned for many of the newly-independent Asian or African regimes. Thus, for Che, if a regime took up some measures against U. S. imperialism, he considered it something apart from the bourgeois regimes he railed against.

An example of Che's approach to many of the developing countries is his speech of February 24, 1965, delivered to representatives of 63 African and Asian governments and representatives of various groups in the national liberation movements of the day. In it, he includes many of the regimes of exploiters he was addressing as allegedly having "a common aspiration [that] unites us in our march toward the future: the defeat of imperialism."9 He added that this march would lead to "a new society of justice and plenty." What was needed was:

"that socialist countries [i. e. , mainly the Soviet revisionist bloc -- Mk. ] should help pay for the development of the underdeveloped countries. . . . But the underdeveloped countries must also steel their forces to embark resolutely on the road of building a new society whatever name one gives it where the machine, an instrument of labor, is no longer an instrument for the exploitation of man by man. "

Che then goes on to describe particular measures for the bourgeois leaders of the underdeveloped countries to take which will allegedly bring about socialism. Don't use aid from the revisionist countries as leverage to get aid from the Western imperialist bloc, "the means of production should preferably be in the hands of the state, so that the marks of exploitation may gradually disappear," have planning, and make sure investments are done in such a way that developing countries don't wind up competing against each other in the market. In essence, Che here concocts a formula for capitalist development which avoids all the inevitable features of capitalism like anarchy of production, competition for markets, being tied to the world imperialist system, and, finally, class oppression. Various measures like developing state-run industry and ties with the Soviet Union were commonly adopted by the exploiters in the third world. But it didn't lead to the wonderful, harmonious, and imperialist-free development anticipated by Che.

When referring to Latin America as opposed to some other developing countries, Che took on a harsher tone toward the regimes in power. The following quote, where the first part is referring to Latin America, illustrates this point:

"On the other hand, the indigenous bourgeoisies have lost all capacity to oppose imperialism if they ever had any and are only dragged along behind it like a caboose. There are no other alternatives. Either a socialist revolution or a caricature of revolution.

"Asia is a continent with different characteristics. The liberation struggles against a series of European colonial powers resulted in the establishment of more or less progressive governments, whose subsequent evolution has in some cases deepened the main objectives of national liberation, and in others reverted toward pro-imperialist positions."10

Thus, while Che thought all the Latin American regimes must go, for Asia there was merely fretting that some regimes are aligning with imperialism. As concerns the Asian countries, his judgement of the post-independence governments was confined to how far they are independent from the big powers. Che supported the regimes that are less tied to Western imperialism, overlooking that independence did not end class oppression, but generally deepened the field for domestic capitalist development and the class struggle. Also overlooked is that aid from the revisionist countries was not going to bring the glorious development imagined by Che, but was merely another variety of imperialist aid.

Although Che talks about "socialism" being the immediate stage of the revolution throughout Latin America, the content of this "socialist" struggle is similar to the path he advocates for many of the bourgeois regimes in Asia. Take the issue of Che's reasoning for calling the revolutions in Latin America "socialist. " Here we cannot attempt to analyze what the actual stage of revolution was in each Latin American country in the 1960s. But according to Che, the decisive issue was that the Latin American bourgeois rulers were flunkies of U. S. imperialism. No doubt the Latin American ruling classes were closely tied to the U. S. capitalists. But the socialist character of the revolution is not determined merely by the degree to which these countries were tied to a big imperialist power. To define a socialist revolution that way is to paint independent development as sufficient for socialism. Indeed, we have seen above how Che and the Cuban leadership preached that if the bourgeois regimes in the developing countries stopped taking Western imperialist aid (while taking Soviet social-imperialist aid) their societies would evolve along socialist lines.

Che's tendency to turn independent capitalist development into something like socialism is reflected in his attitude toward certain bourgeois reformist regimes in Latin American history which took a few mild measures which antagonized some U. S. interests. Thus, he was an ardent supporter of the Arbenz government in Guatemala, which he called "revolutionary democracy."11 As well he highly praised the Lazaro Cardenas government that came to power in Mexico in the mid-1930s. He cited it as an example of the economic independence that he admires since the regime nationalized U. S. and British oil companies. He praised it as an antecedent to what was needed in Latin America and declared "Cardenas is recognized as the greatest president the republic has had."12 Unfortunately, Che failed to mention that Lazaro Cardenas, in assisting the development of Mexican capital, assisted in the brutal exploitation of the masses and rigged up the infamous repressive PRI machine that for decades has been a dead weight on the workers and poor peasants.

Che's legacy

This brief analysis of some of Che's views shows that they cannot be considered a guide to action today. For all Che's personal fortitude and activity in the revolutionary movement, his views do not offer us a guide to achieving the elimination of capitalist-imperialist oppression. Rather, Che's legacy offers a cautionary tale that militancy alone is insufficient for building a revolutionary movement. That task also requires theoretical clarity, not belittling theory. It requires casting away all illusions about revisionism, not trying to tone down the fight against it. On these matters, and on the question of political orientation as a whole, the movement of today is served by rejecting the legacy of Che.


1 The first chapter of Che's famous pamphlet Guerrilla warfare states that "In underdeveloped Latin America the arena for armed struggle must be basically the countryside" and argues against the idea that "the struggle of the masses is centered in urban movements. " This section can also be found in various collections of Che's works such as Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution, pp. 76-77, Pathfinder/Pacific and Asia, 1987.

2 While the conditions for armed struggle were supposedly ripe everywhere in the Latin American countryside, in Debray's opinion the conditions there were such that they "should rid a given group of armed propagandists of all hope of remaining unnoticed, 'like fish in water' " because "a stranger inspires distrust" while "the army, the guardia rural, the latifundista's private police, or nowadays the 'Green Berets' and Rangers, enjoy a prestige. " Therefore, he considers premature "going into villages, holding meetings, speaking here and there, in order to explain the social goals of the Revolution, to denounce the enemies of the peasantry, to promise agrarian reform and punishment of traitors, etc. " Also premature is the idea that "cells, public or underground, will be organized in the villages". (See pp. 47-51 of Debray's book Revolution in the revolution?, Monthly Review Press, 1967. )

3 According to Che, "the [Cuban] Rebel Army was already proletarian in its ideology, and it thought in terms of the dispossessed class. " (See Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution, p.191.) Here Che simply ignores that the armed guerrillas' social program of the time was not proletarian nor were they based in the proletariat or composed of proletarians, and that even as regards the dispossessed peasantry, their program of land reform was very modest.

4 Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution, p. 103, Pathfinder/Pacific and Asia, 1987.

5 Ibid. , p. 133.

6 Debray, Regis, Revolution in the revolution?, p. 21, Monthly Review Press, 1967.

7 Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution, p. 135.

8 Ibid. , p. 358.

9 Ibid. , p. 337. In similar fashion, Che's December 11, 1964 speech to the U. N. refers to the bourgeois regimes of the so-called "non-aligned movement" as "the group of Nonaligned countries that struggle against imperialism, colonialism and neocolonialism. " (p. 321)

10 Ibid. , p. 351-2.

11 Ibid. , p. 34.

12 Ibid. , p. 101.

State capitalism, Leninism, and the transition to socialism (part 3):

The question of "state capitalism under workers' rule"

By Joseph Green

Different types of state capitalism

State economy

Lenin's formulations


"State capitalism under workers' rule" is widely said to be the Marxist-Leninist view of the path from capitalism to socialism. Yet it is doubtful that this term was Lenin's definition of a transitional economy, rather than being an attempt to describe certain of its features, with Lenin pointing out that he was not using the term state capitalism "in the literal sense". However, whether it was Lenin's definition or not, I think the term actually retards grasping various aspects of the Marxist-Leninist theory on the transition to socialism that are important today as part of completing the anti-revisionist critique of doctrines that have passed as "Marxist" for decades.

Part 2 of this series of articles, "The Anarchy of Production Beneath the Veneer of Soviet Revisionist Planning", analyzed several of the most basic features of Soviet economic performance, noted by observers of varying political points of view.1 Based on this, it established that the revisionist state sector does not establish the social control of production because of, among other things, the multitude of private revisionist interests that exist under the facade of uniform state ownership. The development and growth of these private or small-group ownership interests right within the state sector is one of the main things distinguishing revisionist economy from a transitional economy. In moving towards socialism, the point is to bring all production under social control. For Marxist socialism, nationalization is only a step to this aim, and not the definition of this process. Thus, the growth of a type of state sector that does not establish social control is fundamentally different from the Marxist path to the classless society.

Thus the fact of extensive nationalization does not in itself show that a regime is socialist. In the case of the revisionist regimes, it only helps establish their state capitalist character. As well, outright capitalist regimes may carry out a certain amount of nationalization, and this does not create a socialist but a state capitalist sector of the economy. A workers' regime on the path towards socialism will also undertake nationalization, which in this case functions as a step towards the social control of production. The nationalized industry will be run by workers' institutions and representatives, but moreover, it will be more and more run by the masses of workers (and not only by replacing the former top executives of nationalized industry with revolutionary representatives), and a separate managerial class will fade away. This is part of the transitional process, by which the working class, after seizing power in a socialist revolution, transforms the economy in the direction of socialism. The raises the question: Does the existence of a nationalized state sector in this transitional economy, but this time under workers' control both in the sense that the ruling party is truly a party of the working class and in that the masses take over more and more of the administration of the state sector, mean that the transitional system can be characterized overall as state capitalism, but a "state capitalism under the workers' rule" or "state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat"?

There has been a good deal of discussion on this issue, a few of the positions being as follows:

* Some sources simplify it to that the path attempted by Lenin was simply "state capitalism" as a transition to socialism. The academic historian E. H. Carr basically characterized Lenin's theory that way, and so did Maurice Dobb, a historian sympathetic to the Soviet revisionists.2

* The first part of the article "State-capitalism, Leninism and the transition to socialism", which appeared in CV on June 1 of last year, discussed Jim's report "Lenin's views on state capitalism review". Jim sought to discredit Leninism, and he concentrated "on the celebrated question of 'state capitalism' under workers' rule". In the body of the report he claimed that Lenin laid the basis for revisionism. To do so, he tried to prove that Lenin equated state capitalism with the transitional economy or even with socialism itself. He went on to imply that Stalinist state capitalism was simply a consolidated form of the state capitalist road allegedly set forward by Lenin.3

* The Chicago Workers' Voice group talks of "arriving at socialism through a form of state capitalism under the hegemony, however, of the proletariat, and guided by a Marxist-socialist party which represented the interests of the proletariat and the other working masses. "4 It seems however to see this as mainly a political difference from ordinary state capitalism, and to have little idea of how the underlying economic structure of such a system would differ from ordinary state capitalism, and instead judges by the rhetoric of the government, by whether it has contradictions with U.S. imperialism, or whether it has some leftist social policies. Thus, to judge the nature of the Castro regime, the CWV group does not examine how the state-sector and the economy as a whole are run, but is instead influenced by the fact that many leftists like this regime, that it incessantly drapes itself in socialist talk, and that U. S. imperialism is confronting this regime. As a result, the CWV group vacillates on the nature of the Castro regime in Cuba, saying on one hand that it has a "state-capitalist economy" and is not a "model" of socialism, but on the other hand holding that the Castroist regime should be defended in the name of anti-imperialism and refusing to call on the Cuban proletariat to build its own class movement independent of the Castroist bourgeoisie.5 Taken to its logical conclusion, the CWV's stand might mean that they recognize, say, "state-capitalism under anti-imperialist rule" as something that isn't quite the model road to socialism, but isn't quite capitalism either. In any case, a number of apologists for this or that nationalist regime in effect hold to such a conception of third world state-capitalism.

* A thoughtful CVO comrade I have talked to believes that "state capitalism under workers' rule" might describe the economy at a certain point in the transition to socialism, although it would not describe the whole course of the transition to socialism.

* In 1992 I wrote the following, which identifies the transitional economy with state capitalism right up until the achievement of socialism (the lower stage of communism):

"A classless society means the people as a whole run the entire economy. The only way to get there from a capitalist society is through a revolution after which the working people as a whole take over the economy. I don't know how this is possible except through a period of state ownership, as Engels describes. And so long as the economy isn't yet socialist, this is presumably state capitalism, albeit a state capitalism that is in transition towards socialism."6

I think this states the case in favor of the term "state capitalism" albeit under workers' control or in transition towards socialism with a certain consistency and force. However, right after writing this, I became convinced that the last sentence was a mistake, although I have had to wait five years to have the occasion to write an article on this subject retracting this view. 7

Different types of state capitalism

As these varying viewpoints show, the term "state capitalism under workers' rule" relates to a number of different issues. So in discussing it, one has to take account of the fact that Lenin and others use the term "state capitalism" to refer to several different things:

(A) There is the state-capitalism that can be found in most present-day capitalist economies. This exists both in the developed, industrial economies and in "developing" countries, including many with avowedly capitalist regimes. They regulate private capitalism to a certain extent, as well as having a "public sector", which can be quite substantial, of state-owned companies. Indeed, especially after adding on the military, the health, education, pension and social welfare systems, subsidies to private companies, etc., overall state intervention in "free-market" countries can sometimes be quite extensive.

(B) There is revisionist state-capitalism. This actually is a variant of the first type of state-capitalism, since it also takes place under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, albeit a new bourgeoisie that has usually supplanted in whole or in part the previous ruling class. It differs from Western state capitalism in generally having a much more bureaucratic state and far greater restrictions on open market mechanisms. The revisionist model, besides being applied in fake "communist" countries, had at one time an even wider influence among third world regimes.

(C) There is state capitalism run by a revolutionary-democratic government of the toilers. In the midst of any revolution where the struggle is severe, the regime may infringe on the marketplace and introduce state regulation. In the case of a revolution where the toilers themselves seize power, they will undoubtedly use state regulation of the economy to sweep away the old ruling classes, accomplish a number of reforms, ameliorate economic distress, etc. This may take place both through state regulation of private capitalism and through state enterprises. It does not in itself go beyond the bounds of capitalism. Unless the revolution moves forward to a socialist stage, the revolutionary regime will eventually either be succeeded by, or degenerate into, an ordinary bourgeois regime.

(D) There is private capitalism regulated by a proletarian government. Even after a socialist revolution, it is unlikely that the proletariat can take control of all production at once. For one thing, the bulk of the small producers in countryside and city have to be gradually moved towards large-scale production. Thus there will be, for a time, capitalist and petty-bourgeois enterprises and trade regulated by the government, with various enterprises amalgamated into large enterprises. In Lenin's terminology, capitalism regulated by the state is "state-capitalism". And so this will constitute a state-capitalist sector of the economy. However, it would be only one sector of the economy.

(E) As well, even in the state sector of an economy in transition towards socialism, certain capitalist methods persist. Money is still used, and the business accounting methods used by state enterprises inevitably affects, and profoundly so, the relations of the proletarian state with the workers. It takes time for the masses to organize themselves to really run all aspects of the state and the economy and replace all the old capitalist methods. And it takes time to build up the base of material abundance necessary for socialism. The transition period is when all these processes are taking place, a period marked by presence of bourgeois carryovers as well as the development of new ways of doing things. The bourgeois methods used in the state sector can themselves be referred to as state-capitalist methods.

State economy

How does this apply to the overall characterization of what the economy looks like when a country is genuinely on the way to socialism? The following conclusions are my views, and not necessarily those of any other member of the CVO.

In my opinion, the use of the term "state-capitalism", or even "state-capitalism under workers' rule", as an overall characterization of the transitional economy is not right. Such a term reduces the economic base of the transitional period to capitalism and negates some of the most profound changes going on within the economy. If the economy is actually moving towards socialism, if the proletariat is controlling and transforming the state sector, then despite the existence of bourgeois carryovers and money, the nature of the economy should not be reduced solely to capitalism. Yet "state-capitalism" literally means a form of capitalism; this is why Lenin, when he is talking most generally about the character of the whole economy, says that he is not referring to it as state-capitalism "in the literal sense". By way of contrast, "state-capitalism under a democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants" really is a form of capitalism, albeit the form of most use to the toilers. But the transitional economy is supposed to represent something that is breaking through the bounds of capitalism, although it will not become a stable and completely distinct system until socialism itself is achieved.

* The term "state capitalism under workers' rule" suggests that socialism divides into an economy on one hand, and a separate type of government on the other. It can suggest that disparate elements can simply be melded together, or even that the difference between revisionist state capitalism and a transitional economy is only the political policies of the government. One can't simply merge a proletarian head (government) onto a capitalist body (economy). The relation between the two is much more intimate than that. In the long run, if there isn't substantial motion towards socialism, if there isn't some transformation of the economic base, a proletarian government can't survive on top of a capitalist economy.

The article "The anarchy of production beneath the veneer of Soviet revisionist planning" (CV, March 1, 1997) showed that the nationalized sector in a revisionist country isn't simply an obedient machine following the policies set by the ministries, but is heavily influenced by the various "private interests" of the new bourgeoisie. In an ordinary bourgeois country, the state sector has a thousand links with the market bourgeoisie, and in a revisionist country it has a thousand links with both the overall class interests, and the "private interests", of the new bourgeoisie. In a country actually moving towards socialism, the state sector has to be developing more and more links with the masses -- which means not just that individual workers join the administration, but organizational links as well. Any term for the economy that weakens the conception of this connection is flawed for the current needs of the revolutionary workers' movement, in which comparisons between different systems of state direction of the economy are very important.

* If economies with an extensive or dominant state sector are called, say, "state economies" or "state-dominant economies"8, then one can compare different "state" economies. One can ask if a country with a "state economy" has a state capitalist economy or a transitional one, and if it is transitional, one can discuss which features are similar to, and which distinct from, state-capitalism. Try to express such questions under the old terminology! You end up with such formulations as "How far does state-capitalism under workers' rule resemble state-capitalism?" The question looks so absurd that one is forced to try to reformulate it: "How far does state-capitalism under workers' rule resemble state capitalism in the literal sense"? For example, Lenin said such things as

"our state capitalism differs from state capitalism in the literal sense" or that our state capitalism "does not agree with the usual conception of state capitalism"9 or that "state capitalism in the form we have here is not dealt with in any theory, or in any books".10

So one is forced to distinguish between state capitalism in two senses, the full, Western sense and the sense under workers' rule. Thoughtful communists with Marxist convictions may be able to handle such a distinction, but it plays havoc with how the issue is discussed by anyone else. One would normally think that if the system isn't state-capitalism "in the literal sense", this means that it really isn't state capitalism, but is something different which has certain similarities with it. A terminology which allowed this to be expressed more directly and easily, which helped people see the point at issue rather than confuse it, would be preferable.

* One of the key features of the 20th century is the existence of the fake communist or revisionist regimes. Marxism will only survive as a living doctrine if it throws off all the reformist and revisionist distortions that have been attached to it for so many decades and becomes anti-revisionist Marxism, which bases itself on the distinction between Marxism and revisionism, between the revisionist economy and the transitional economy, etc. This is true not just for theoretical work, but also in order to rally the millions of workers who have been shackled by revisionism and who are sick to their stomach at the sight of revisionist crimes and the sound of revisionist platitudes. Marxism must show that it is the sharpest tool for tearing asunder all the apologies about and illusions in the revisionist regimes. Revisionist bureaucratic state capitalism, and the transitional economy have something in common--the large role of the state, even larger than in Western monopoly capitalism. But they nevertheless are quite different, and the terminology must highlight and not slur over this difference.

At present, the strongest socialist attack against the overall nature of the revisionist economies is characterizing them as state capitalism. However, the term "state capitalism under workers' rule" suggests that a socialist regime is also some sort of state capitalism, even though one explains that this is not so "in the literal sense". Some people might conclude that the difference between revisionism and socialism is between "state capitalism under an oppressive government" and "state capitalism under workers' rule". This suggests that they have the same economic base, with the executives simply having different policies. While whether the government is really a workers' government is an important part of the distinction between revisionism and revolutionary socialism, it is fundamentally wrong to see the economic base of revisionist society as the same as that of a transitional economy, as our research on Cuba and the Soviet Union has shown. Others may take the issue to be that revisionism is simply the transitional form towards socialism, since the transitional economy is "state-capitalism"; this widespread viewpoint amounts to apology for revisionism. Or people might think that one is simply saying that a regime one likes is good state-capitalism, and a regime one doesn't like is bad state-capitalism. (Indeed, this is in essence how the CWV group distinguishes among state-capitalisms.) When the opposition to these viewpoints has to be summed up by saying that the transitional economy is not state-capitalism "in the literal sense", then the terminology has definitely gotten in the way of political clarity.

* Of course, if the transitional economy really is another variety of state capitalism, then it should be so labeled. For example, the sector of the transitional economy which is private capitalism under state regulation really is a state-capitalist sector in the literal sense. But if the economy is mainly this type of state capitalism, then the revolution has not yet gone beyond revolutionary-democratic transformations and, it seems to me, is not yet a transitional economy. A socialist revolution has to accomplish all sorts of democratic tasks in passing, and thus might in some cases have to pass relatively briefly through such a period. But until the revolution gets beyond it, it hasn't fundamentally challenged capitalism and set out onto the transition towards socialism.

However, I don't think that the persistence of certain capitalist features in the transitional economy prove that the overall transitional economy is state capitalism. So long as money and other financial accounting is necessary, so long as actual socialism (the first stage of communism) has not been achieved, there are in fact capitalist carryovers of all sorts in the economy and its state sector. But if it's really a transitional economy and is being increasing run by the workers, then it is not really state capitalism, but a form of "state economy" which has certain features in common with state capitalism. However, if this hasn't occurred, if the transformation of the state sector doesn't begin very soon in the revolution, and if the capitalist carryovers remain so extensive that the economy can overall be characterized as state-capitalism, then it is hard to see how one can talk of a transitional economy or, after awhile, of an ongoing socialist revolution at all.

* It should be clear that I am not saying that the transitional economy can be defined simply as "state economy". "State economy" embraces a range of different economies, including both state-capitalism (in the full, literal sense) and the transitional economy. By having such a term, one can discuss the similarities and differences of the different types of state economy. But this is not a new name for the transitional economy; such an economy is just that, a transitional economy, a name that will do just fine. Saying that it is "state capitalism under workers' rule" may seem satisfying, but actually only identifies certain features of it -- at the price of blurring the distinction between the transitional economy and other state economies. Suppose one tried to imitate the term "state capitalism under workers' rule" by saying that the transitional economy is a form of "state economy under workers' rule". Such a statement would at least have the advantage of being literally true, but it too would not be an adequate definition. For one thing, it would not include any indication of those particular features (other than the proletarian rule over the state power) in which such a state economy differs from state-capitalism, no indication that it is not any type of economy that can be combined with workers' rule, nor any direct reference to capitalist carryovers.

It might seem that the term "state capitalism under workers' rule" has the advantage of encouraging vigilance against the strong capitalist carryovers that still exist in the transitional economy. It is necessary to recognize both the need for a number of carryovers and the struggle to keep them in check and eventually eliminate them. But in practice, the term "state capitalism under workers' rule" always was most effective in showing the need to utilize certain capitalist carryovers; I'm not sure it ever had much power in encouraging vigilance against these carryovers, even though Lenin stressed the need for vigilance. By now, this term seems to have been perverted by long use by the revisionists into a wet blanket on vigilance. If asked why their economies look capitalist, they, or their friends, can reply that the transitional economy is, of course, state-capitalism under workers rule. Moreover, when one has to describe "state-capitalism under workers' control" as state-capitalism of a type that is either not literally state-capitalism or that is not the same as that known in the past, this itself tends to blunt any power that the analogy to state-capitalism might otherwise have had.

Lenin's formulations

Lenin used such formulas as "state capitalism" and "state capitalism under workers' rule" in a somewhat different fashion than how these terms are understood today. Today state capitalism brings to mind countries with a predominant state sector, and the discussion of state capitalism is mainly focused on the state sector. After all, the analysis of revisionist countries is never far from one's mind nowadays, and even the state sector of market capitalist countries grew tremendously during the 20th century. But Lenin did not deal with these issues: the flourishing of revisionist economy took place after his death; and he mainly used the term "state capitalism" not about the directly state-owned sector, but to refer to the regulation of private capitalism by the state. For example, when he talked about learning from German state-capitalism, he was talking about the way German industries were amalgamated into monopoly associations, still under private ownership, that had close relations with the government. When he talked about the state capitalism in the Bolshevik regime, he was mainly referring to the amalgamation and regulation of private trade, petty-bourgeois production, and capitalist enterprises.

It's not that Lenin didn't also talk about the use of certain bourgeois methods in the state sector. He stressed both the impossibility of eliminating all bourgeois methods at once, and the fact that these methods did in fact mean a compromise with capitalism. For example, he bluntly pointed this out with respect to high pay and privileges for bourgeois experts. And during the New Economic Policy (NEP) he wrote some dramatic things about the effects of adopting business-accounting in the state sector and the need for the working class to defend itself against the "bureaucratic distortions" that this would bring.11 But he didn't describe the state sector as state-capitalist, and continued to contrast it to capitalist and state-capitalist enterprise.12

But, it may be asked, what actually characterizes a transitional economy: state-regulated capitalism or the state sector? I don't think Lenin looked at the question this way. He held instead that

"Theoretically, there can be no doubt that between capitalism and communism there is a definite transition period which must combine the features and properties of both these forms of social economy."13 In one of the major works in which he raised the issue of state capitalism under workers' rule, he wrote that "No one, I think, in studying the question of the economic system of Russia, has denied its transitional character. . . . But what does the word 'transition' mean? Does it not mean, as applied to an economy, that the present system contains elements, particles, fragments of both capitalism and socialism? Everyone will admit that it does."14

I think that the combination of different elements, the fact that the system was not fully here or there, is how Lenin regarded the characterization of the system. In this work, he went on to list the various different economic formations still in Russia, such as patriarchal petty production, petty-bourgeois (or commodity) petty production, private capitalism, state capitalism, and socialism.15 To then say that he really means that this mixed system is overall state-capitalism seems to go against the clear sense of the passage. As to what the nature of such an economic system is, he remarked once that it had

"left the rails of capitalism, but has not yet got on to the new rails". 16

It's not that Lenin was at all hesitant about raising the issue of state capitalism. He did so repeatedly and emphatically in the early period of the Bolshevik Revolution prior to the Civil War, and then once again later in the period of the New Economic Policy. But look at the content of his talk about state-capitalism. For example, from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 through early 1918, Lenin wasn't for an immediate nationalization of the entire urban economy, but advocated a gradual approach. There would be workers' control, but the capitalists would still own many enterprises. Why not simply nationalize all industry at once? Was it because the capitalists were too powerful and could block this? Not at all.

Lenin discussed the issue as follows. He pointed out that the "Left Communists" were denouncing his gradual policy and demanding extensive nationalization which they took to be "a most determined policy of socialization". As we have seen earlier in this article, the social control of production is the key question of reaching socialism. How did Lenin respond to this? He distinguished between actual socialization and what could be achieved at the moment by nationalization. He wrote:

". . . The misfortune of our 'Lefts' is that they have missed the very essence of the 'present situation', the transition from confiscation (the carrying out of which requires above all determination in a politician) to socialization (the carrying out of which requires a different quality in the revolutionary).

"Yesterday, the main task of the moment was, as determinedly as possible, to nationalize, confiscate, beat down and crush the bourgeoisie, and put down sabotage. Today, only a blind man could fail to see that we have nationalized, confiscated, beaten down and put down more than we have had time to count. The difference between socialization and simple confiscation is that confiscation can be carried out by 'determination' alone, without the ability to calculate and distribute property, whereas socialization cannot be brought about without this ability. "17

Lenin concentrated on the need to develop the organization of the masses, their ability to establish national accounting and control, their ability to actually run the enterprises, etc. As he stressed:

"In every socialist revolution, however -- and consequently in the socialist revolution in Russia which we began on October 25, 1917 -- the principal task of the proletariat and of the poor peasants which it leads, is the positive or constructive work of setting up an extremely intricate and delicate system of new organizational relationships extending to the planned production and distribution of the goods required for the existence of tens of millions of people. Such a revolution can be successfully carried out only if the majority of the population, and primarily the majority of the working people, engage in independent creative work as makers of history. "18

Lenin discussed the petty-bourgeois predominance in Russia, which was mainly a small-peasant country, and how to overcome the anarchy and disorganization brought by petty production. He believed that state-regulation of capitalism (involving not just workers' control over industrial enterprises, but also consumer and producer cooperatives and other means of developing mass accounting and control of production and distribution) could be a means for bringing the masses into the job of directing the economy. If the more class-conscious workers weren't to be swamped by the mass of Russian petty production, it would be necessary for their efforts to be amplified by that of the largest mass of working people. In this sense, it was preferable to proceed gradually, if possible, rather than immediately seek to nationalize everything.

In practice, this plan was cut short by the capitalists challenging the very existence of a socialist regime and beginning the Civil War. The result was that widespread nationalization was carried out rapidly; the workers had to learn as best they could in the resulting situation; and the Bolsheviks set up an extensive state sector as best they could. However, after the Civil War, Lenin again returned to the issue of finding ways to overcome petty-bourgeois disorganization in the situation where simply relying on government decrees would be unavailing.

Thus Lenin's "state-capitalist" plans were based on the idea of the necessity to involve the masses in the constructive work of running the economy. It was based on the idea that communist decrees alone could not bring socialism, and that nationalization could not bring a real socialization of production if there wasn't yet mass national accounting and control, labor discipline, etc. It was part of his effort to stress the need for transitional measures including co-operatives, state regulation of trade, etc. And yet the phrase "state-capitalism under workers' rule" probably would bring to most people's minds the idea that the transitional socialist economy can be created simply by nationalizing everything possible and creating a large state sector. It is of course possible that a correct phrase can be widely misinterpreted and distorted, as many Marxist principles have been by the revisionists. But in this case, I think the phrase is theoretically mistaken as a description of the overall transitional economy, as well as a source of misunderstanding in practice.

There is another aspect of the matter besides Lenin's theoretical conception. The New Economic Policy of the 1920's in the Soviet Union was the furthest extent of the state-capitalist methods that Lenin conceived of. How did this function in practice? Did the Soviet economy remain a transitional economy and verify Lenin's conception, or did it become a state-capitalist economy in the full sense of the word, and why? I think that by the end of NEP, the Soviet Union had already decayed quite far into a state-capitalist country. Moreover, even while Lenin was alive, there are still a number of questions about NEP. One issue is that the Bolshevik government may have already irretrievably lost sufficient mass support to be a revolutionary government near the beginning of NEP, which would have doomed any economic policy. Lenin never dealt with the issue of the degeneration of the regime and loss of its character as a revolutionary representative of the masses. The regime might be overthrown, but he assumed that if it could hold power, that it could maintain its status as the voice of the masses. Whether the regime had become permanently detached from the masses while Lenin lived, or only after his death, in any case he didn't theorize on the issue of what communists should do in this case. I don't deal with the practical assessment of NEP here; however I believe that the sounder theoretical framework about state-capitalism sketched in this article should be helpful for such a study.

While I think that it's doubtful that Lenin regarded the term "state capitalism under workers' control" as an overall description of the transitional economy, my objection to the term isn't based on that. For that matter, I came to the conclusion the term was a mistake at a time when I thought Lenin did use the term as an overall characterization. But it is up to us present-day anti-revisionist activists to assess the experience of the Bolshevik Revolution and evaluate the pluses and minuses in the ways the Bolsheviks discussed the transition period. I think the term "state capitalism under workers' rule" gets in the way of examining some of the key issues Lenin raised about the transitional economy, some of which I outlined in part one of the article "State capitalism, Leninism, and the transition to socialism", and that it holds people back from dealing with some of the additional problems concerning state-capitalism that affect us today. The basis of Lenin's talk about "state capitalism" was a fierce struggle on behalf of the need for transitional measures which involve the masses in actually running the economy, and not just attempting to establish communist economic norms by decree. Many of the particular measures tried in the revolution failed, and Lenin modified his plans a number of times to deal with the rapid changes of a revolutionary period. But there is a theoretical legacy that the Bolshevik revolution left us, and I think that criticism of the formula of "state capitalism under workers' rule" will help preserve the revolutionary core of that legacy, facilitate the critique of the revisionist regimes, and encourage better theorizing on the transition period.


1 See Communist Voice, vol. 3, #1, March 1, 1997.

2 E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, vol. II, pp. 88-93, 137-138, 362; Maurice Dobb, Soviet Economic Development Since 1917, pp. 145-6.

3 See Communist Voice, June, 1, 1996, vol. 2, #3 for both Jim's report (pp. 43-57) and my comment on it (pp. 26-42). Some of the particular references to Jim's claim that Lenin equated state capitalism and socialism include p. 35 col. 2 - p. 36 col. 1; p. 38, col. 2; p. 39 col. 2 - p. 40, col. 1.

4 From Baba to Tovarishch: The Bolshevik Revolution and Soviet Women's Struggle for Liberation, Overview, p. xix. This book was prepared by the CWV group.

5 A number of articles in Communist Voice trace the CWV's stand on Castroism, from "On the CWV agitation on Cuba: Should we build an anti-revisionist trend among the masses?" in vol. 1, #1, April 15, 1995 to "How some former anti-revisionists reconcile with Cuban revisionism: Apologizing for the Castro regime or supporting the Cuban workers?" in vol. #3, #2, May 8, 1997, which also contains Sarah's (CWV) review of the movie Che.

6 "Some Notes on Theory (2)", The Workers' Advocate Supplement, July 25, 1992, vol. 8, #6, p. 13, col. 2.

7 My first concern about the term centered on the artificial difficulties that it created for the serious study of the economic bases of socialism and revisionism that I was involved in. I bent the ear of a few comrades about this, and I wrote in Sept. 1994 to the CWV's Sarah on this issue when reviewing a draft of the "overview" from the CWV's book From Baba to Tovarishch prior to its publication. The CWV decided to stick with terms like "state capitalism under the hegemony of the proletariat" (see for instance p. xix of the final "Overview" as published).

8 I am using such awkward terms as "state economy" or "state-dominant economy" for lack of anything better.

9 "Report to the Fourth Congress of the CI, Nov. 13, 1922", Collected Works, vol. 33, pp. 427-8.

10 "Political Report of the CC of the RCP(B), March 27, 1922," Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 278.

11 For example, "The Role and Functions of the Trade Unions Under the New Economic Policy", Jan. 12, 1922, Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 184-196.

12 Naturally, there is no hard and fast dividing line between bourgeois methods in the state sector and state regulation of private capitalism, since for the state to regulate private capitalism rather than replace private capitalism can be described as a bourgeois method. But for our purposes today, if possibly not Lenin's, it is important to distinguish between the organization of the state sector in itself, and its connection with private capitalism, that is, to distinguish between state-capitalism in the forms (D) and (E) above. In the main, Lenin is emphasizing (D) when he talks about state-capitalism.

13 "Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat", Collected Works, vol. 30, p. 107, Oct. 30, 1919.

14 "'Left-wing' childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality", Collected Works, vol. 27, p. 335, May 5, 1918, emphasis as in the original. What these different particles of different systems are will deserve a closer look at another time. Various capitalist fragments are easy to see. But the socialist fragments, the increasing role of the working class in running the entire economy, takes more effort to judge. It isn't as easy as simply tracing the growth of the state sector or the expansion of free services. Socialism doesn't come into existence in fragments, but the fragments create the conditions for it.

15 Ibid. , pp. 335-6. It is the state sector that Lenin identifies as "socialism" (which is only true in a certain sense, similar to the way in which one calls a country which has of yet only embarked on the transition to socialism a "socialist" country). The main point here is that Lenin lists the state sector separate from the state-capitalist sector, which is state regulation of private capitalism.

16 "Political Report of the CC to the 11th Congress of the RCP(B)", Collected Works, Vol. 33, p. 278, March 1922.

17 "'Left-Wing' Childishness . . . " pp. 333-4, emphasis as in the original.

18 "The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government", Collected Works, vol. 27, p. 241, March-April 1918.[]

Letter to a fellow worker:

Workers need science, not religion, for liberation

The following article was written as a workplace discussion document in response to the religious proselytizing carried on by R— a Jehovah's Witness. Thanks are due to other workers who read a first draft of this article and gave me suggestions for sharpening up the arguments. Members of the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group also gave me suggestions for further research. The article has been circulated among workers and has helped spark further discussion over the question of what sort of general ideological framework is needed by workers. The article has been very slightly edited for publication. — Pete Brown

May 10, 1997

Dear R—:

Thanks for letting me review the book. Life — How did it get here? By evolution or by creation? (copyright 1985 by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, International Bible Students Association). It’s interesting to see a lengthy exposition of a view that has some influence in society and political debates of today

Science vs. religion: two opposing viewpoints

The interesting thing about this book is that it poses the issue of science vs. religion in a fairly stark manner, compared to the mainstream trends of modern-day Christianity. Mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches try to ameliorate the conflict between science and religion by interpreting Biblical stories as metaphors. Jehovah’s Witnesses, the religious group behind this book, gives a more strictly fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, and so takes up the challenge posed by modern science in a more direct way. It insists that life was directly created on earth by God, and that man was also directly created by God, on earth, no more than about 6,000 years ago.

This poses the question of science vs. religion in a direct way. Millions of churchgoing people (including some working scientists) tell themselves, week after week, “There is no fundamental conflict between science and religion.” And they devise various schemes to try and reconcile these two opposing outlooks. A fairly typical attitude is to say, “Yes, man evolved: everything I learned in public school biology class about evolution is true. But also man was created by God in the Garden of Eden: everything I learned about this in Sunday school must also be true.” And many people are left with these two conflicting accounts unresolved in their minds.

But posing the question in a fairly direct way doesn’t mean that this book has resolved it in a correct way. In fact I think the book’s authors (whom I will call “Watchtower”) are far away from any approach to truth. Furthermore, note that Watchtower, although posing the issue of science vs. religion in a straightforward and fundamental way, compared to mainstream churches, also follows the mainstream Christian approach of covering over this conflict in various ways. Watchtower doesn’t use the phrase “science vs. religion,” and at all times tries to argue that its fundamentalist/dogmatic approach is “in accord with facts,” thereby trying to put itself on the side of science. But this won’t wash, as long as its basic message is anti-scientific.

Scientific evolutionism is not social Darwinism

In Chapter 1 (p. 7) of Watchtower’s book, the issue is squarely stated:

"Earth is packed with life so abundant and varied as to stagger the imagination. How did it all start? . . . More particularly, how did humankind get started? Did we evolve from apelike animals? Or were we created?” Then, continuing on page 8: “Perhaps you feel that these questions do not really affect you. . . . [But] our entire attitude toward life and the future is influenced by our viewpoint on the origin of life.”

I agree with the latter statement, which is why I think it’s of interest to examine Watchtower’s book. But Watchtower has its own peculiar idea about the two different viewpoints involved:

"In the view of many who accept the theory of evolution, life will always be made up of intense competition, with strife, hatred, wars and death. Some even feel that man may destroy himself in the near future. A prominent scientist stated: ‘We may have only another few decades until Doomsday . . . the development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems will, sooner or later, lead to global disaster ’ ' (The scientist referred to here is Carl Sagan in his book, Cosmos.)

So according to Watchtower, the two different viewpoints involved are: the evolutionist viewpoint, which is that life is nasty, cruel, brutish and short; and the creationist view, which is that life holds out the possibility of something better Watchtower doesn’t spell out its entire worldview at this point but the idea is that creationism holds out the possibility of something higher, more civilized, more divine (if you will) than the evolutionist’s animalistic view of human nature.

But does belief in evolution really commit one to a ‘‘brutish'' view of human nature? Evolutionism maintains that humankind developed from previously existing life forms, from ‘‘lower”, more “brutish” types of animals. That is our background. And Darwinism holds that the mechanism for this development is natural selection, which operates as an intensely competitive struggle for survival. Overemphasizing these features of evolution might mislead one into adopting a ‘social Darwinist' view of human nature. This is the view that human life is nothing but a harsh struggle for survival of the fittest. There are some biologists who have adopted such views, and such views have also been taken up by some historians, social scientists, and popular-science writers. But in taking up such views these writers are motivated more by ideological/political motives than by adherence to biological science.

Evolutionism teaches about emergent qualities of life, that new levels of development exhibit new phenomena. In fact, one may say this is the whole point about the evolution of new species — that new life-forms are developed. That the modern horse is evolved from eohippus (an ancient mammal) does not mean that the modern horse is identical to eohippus. On the contrary, it’s much larger, with a larger brain, larger jaws, has a different diet, and has hooves instead of toes. Man is evolved (distantly) from gill-breathing aquatic life forms (fish); but that doesn’t mean that man is a fish, or that men must spend all their lives in water

Evolutionism stresses a scientific approach to things. This involves close observation and constructing theories that stick close to the facts. And for one thing this involves recognition of the immense variety of life and the way the struggle for existence goes on. Look at ants, for example: they are involved in a struggle for survival. But this isn’t carried on in an individual way; ants are highly socialized, and the individual ant’s life is only valuable as part of the colony.

The life of man is more than an individual struggle for survival. Since the beginning of mankind, humans have lived and worked in groups of various sizes. Our apelike ancestors probably lived in small bands. But as men evolved and grew more intelligent, their cooperative struggle for existence came to involve larger and larger groups. This led to the growth of tribal villages, cities, territorial states and eventually nations. Today man’s struggle for existence involves a worldwide network of commerce and communications, and along with these goes international cultural ties. Living in civilized groupings with a well-developed division of labor enables humans (some of them, at least) to lead more interesting, diverse and productive lives than our evolutionary ancestors. This indicates that man is not necessarily brutish, and the evolutionary standpoint doesn't necessarily commit one to social Darwinism. The main thing it commits you to is taking a scientific approach to questions.

The social Darwinists would remind us that the advance of civilization has been accompanied by intense struggles, and that war has remained a major feature of human life right up to today That’s true. And Carl Sagan was right when he said that nuclear doomsday is a serious threat to human (and all terrestrial) life. The fact that man has evolved into a civilized being does not answer the question of whether humans will be able to solve the struggle for survival in a civilized way But — and this is the main point — this question can only be solved in a practical way. No amount of speculation on ‘human nature” will solve the question of future wars. The only way to solve such issues is to examine soberly, scientifically, what are the causes of war? What are the social and economic forces driving nation-states into war? How can these forces be ameliorated and (hopefully) eliminated? Coupling such analysis with practical activity can bring about a new type of society with new, emergent qualities — a society not based on the struggle of all against all, but a truly human and civilized society.

Evolutionism does not commit you to social Darwinism, but it does insist on taking a hardheaded and realistic view of the facts. Scientifically minded people feel this is the only way the problems of human existence can be solved. And what about the alternative viewpoint, the religious viewpoint of the creationists? Watchtower tries to indicate that this viewpoint holds out the promise of "something better.” (This is spelled out more in Chapter 19, "An Earthly Paradise Soon to Come.") But on the practical question, the question of how this paradise is to be brought about, their view is: we can’t. Man can’t do anything. We are incapable of it. We’re too stupid, too evil, too backward, too uncivilized and immoral. That’s our nature. Can our nature change? No. Man was created a certain way, and that’s the way man remains. So, far from holding out the promise of ‘something better," Watchtower’s religious viewpoint actually denies the possibility of something better for mankind — at least as far as human effort can achieve. Of course, then they bring in God, and say God can bring about something better. But it’s stressed that this is entirely up to God, not man, and that man by himself can do nothing.

Watchtower’s conservative viewpoint is similar to the social Darwinists’

So when all’s said and done, Watchtower’s religious viewpoint actually has more in common with the social Darwinists than it has against them, even though they may come at this common position from different angles. Social Darwinists are motivated by defense of the social/political status quo. They think it’s fine that masses of people are ground down, exploited and oppressed, by a small minority of rich, and they justify this by saying ‘The rich belong in their position because they won the struggle for survival of the fittest. We can’t have it any other way; that would be to deny natural evolution.” Watch- tower’s religious viewpoint also justifies the status quo by saying that as long as we are in the era of ‘man’s rebellion” (post-Garden of Eden and pre-Armageddon), nothing can be done: ‘History has shown that, on their own, humans just cannot bring about such ideal conditions.” (p. 232. Included in their list of ideal conditions are things like the end of poverty and war.)

Unlike the social Darwinists, Watchtower talks about a different era after this one, an ideal world brought about by God’s intervention in history But this is just fluff, a sugarcoat- ing to make the bitter pill easier to swallow On the practical question — What can real, live human beings do, today, to bring about an end to poverty and war? — their answer is the same as the social Darwinists: "Nothing.” Even though Watchtower promotes conscientious objection in wartime (p. 229) and would no doubt take a kindlier attitude to the poor than would social Darwinists, they are at one with them in condemning the mass of real, live, historical human beings to an unending cycle of repression, poverty and war They disavow enthusiasm for present governments, but they’re also uninterested in reforming them, and they insist that rebellions against them are contrary to ‘God’s plan” In fact, they view present governments as “God’s instruments” to keep unruly, "rebellious" mankind under control. So their ideology ends up with the same basic practical/political consequences as social Darwinism.

Science liberates, religion stifles

Both social Darwinism and Watchtower’s religious viewpoint stand in contrast to a scientific approach to mankind and history Various individual scientists may be skeptical about overall improvement of the human condition, but in practice they are all involved in the enterprise of helping mankind gain greater knowledge and hence greater control over the world (physical, biological, and social). The main function of conservative ideologies, on the other hand, is to oppose, or at least retard liberating practical activity This leads them, sooner or later, to also oppose scientific knowledge.

Of course religions of today deny any opposition to science, due to its immense present-day prestige. The Catholic church has gone so far as to raise evolution from the sums of “hypothesis” to “theory”, and has even deigned to admit that it may have made some slight errors in its brutal treatment of Galileo (though it still blames Galileo for intemperance). And in the same vein Watchtower, after criticizing the evolutionist standpoint, immediately adds a section (pp. 9-10) titled “Science Not at Issue”, where it praises modern science and technology. Watchtower demarcates itself from the supra-literal religious fundamentalists, the creationists who maintain that the earth is only 6,000 years old (pp. 8-9). No, Watchtower is not going to try and maintain that absurd position; they recognize that modern geology and cosmology have thoroughly beaten down that view

But religions can only bend so far; at some point they always come out in opposition to a thoroughly scientific world view (this is what makes them “sects”). The pope kindly allows us to believe, today, that the earth goes around the sun; but he disallows any theorizing about how the Big Bang took place. For its part Watchtower will graciously allow us to believe that the earth is more than 6,000 years old. But as for mankind — forget it, mankind cannot be more than 6,000 years old!

Watchtower denies the existence of prehistoric man

Watchtower’s sectarian/dogmatic approach comes out strongly when they deny the antiquity of man. But again, they try to appear oh-so scientific when they do this. On p. 112 Watchtower innocently asks, "Which fits the facts, evolution or creation? The columns below show the evolution model, the creation model and the facts as found in the real world.” The chart on this page supposedly shows that creationism is more in accord with facts than evolutionism.

But let’s look at the last entry, where it compares the two viewpoints on the time of man’s appearance.

The evolution model predicts, Watchtower says, "Appearance of man millions of years ago.” The creation model predicts, Watchtower says, “Appearance of man about 6,000 years ago.” And what are the facts as found in the real world? They say: “Oldest written records date back only about 5,000 years.”

This is an outrageous trick. The question is supposed to be, What is the time of man’s appearance on earth? And Watchtower answers: ‘Written records date back only 5,000 years.” That’s true — but what has that to do with the time of man’s appearance? All you can conclude from this is that man has been on earth at least 5,000 years. This sets a minimum time for man’s existence, but doesn’t at all address the question of a maximum timespan. Obviously, to get at the time of man’s first appearance on earth we need to investigate other, nonwritten records.

Apparently what Watchtower is asserting, without openly saying so, is that we can’t rely on nonwritten records. For some reason they don’t count. But why not? We know that non-literate peoples exist — they live, work, create art, build homes, fight wars, bury their dead, etc. — and all of these activities leave material remnants behind: stone implements, cave paintings, brick walls, arrowheads, skeletons, jewelry, etc. Are we supposed to ignore all these artifacts because the people who left them had not yet developed a writing system?

Let’s look at another entry in Watchtower’s table, on the time that civilization arose.

As prediction of the evolution model they give: “Origin of civilization gradual, arising out of crude, brutish beginnings.” As prediction of the creation model they give: “Civilization contemporaneous with man; complex to begin with.”

And what are the “facts as found in the real world”? They say -- "Civilization appears with man; any cave dwellers were contemporary with civilization.”

This point just underscores the absurdity discussed above; Watchtower is actually asserting that there was no such thing as pre-civilized human society

Now, as a concession Watchtower appears willing to admit that some ‘cave dwellers” may in fact have existed. So apparently they’re willing to admit that artifactual remnants of pre-civilized societies have been found. But their interpretation of this evidence is: none of it goes back before the time of civilization’s beginnings about 6,000 years ago.

This chronology is way off from the facts, as shown by radiocarbon dating of artifacts. But even before radiocarbon dating was discovered, in the mid-20th century, archeologists of the 19th century had devised means of dating ancient artifacts which showed that some of them went back well before 6,000 years ago. For example, the ancient Egyptian chronologies (written records of the reigns of kings) themselves place the beginnings of their first dynasty at about 3,000 B.C. So, 5,000 years ago the Egyptians had established a state with separate classes. And there are archeological remnants of this early period. But at closely related sites, within Egypt itself, there are sites further down in the soil that show the existence of a primitive agricultural society existing prior to the first dynasty. And deeper below this there are evidences of human settlements and leftovers of the beginnings of agriculture. Given the superposition of these sites, some thousands of years must have passed between the time of the first settled semi-agricultural sites and the establishment of a monarchy around 3,000 B.C. And the superposition of these sites clearly show a development from crude beginnings up to civilized society

Similar sites exist in Sumeria, where writing was first invented. Long before writing and a Sumerian state existed, evidence further down in the ground shows us the beginnings of agriculture and settled housing. From study of such sites it’s clear that mankind did not simply begin, right from the get-go, with civilization (i.e., with agriculture, urban settlements, class divisions and a state). Archeological finds in various parts of the world show us what preceded permanent settlements: before then humans lived nomadic or semi-nomadic lives as hunter/gatherers. And yes, some of them were cave dwellers.

Watchtower denies that civilization began with ‘crude'’ beginnings, but archeological artifacts clearly show a development of tools and implements. Before the discovery of metallurgy mankind made stone tools, beginning with simple chipped tools and leading up to finely polished ones. There was also a development in tools’ purposes, beginning with simple all-purpose tools (scraper/cutter/pounders) and evolving into a wide variety of tools (knives, arrowheads, hand axes, pounding tools, grinding stones, sewing needles, etc.). Considerable time was required for this evolution to occur

Watchtower asserts that cave dwellers were contemporaneous with civilized society But many caves have been found with stone tools, some of them buried deep in the earth, indicating that these caves must have been occupied by humans many thousands of years before the rise of civilization. Some sites reveal human tools such as arrowheads and scrapers right in amongst the bones of animals that are now extinct, animals that have not even existed within the past five or six thousand years. There are also cave paintings of humans hunting now- extinct animals such as mastodons.

Watchtower gets itself bollixed up on this. On one hand they deny biological evolution and insist that modern men could not have evolved from any previous life forms. This leads them (p. 95) to insist that Homo erectus and Neanderthal man were just humans, like us; this dogma saves them from considering the possibility that modern humans evolved from these forms. But clearly these are ancient ‘humans”, forms that have been extinct for many thousands of years, forms that lived at a time prior to the development of agriculture, towns, social classes and a state. So if these were humans — how can Watchtower then deny the existence of pre-civilized human beings? Here Watchtower’s dogma against biological evolution clashes with their dogma against cultural evolution.

Watchtower tries to present its dogmas as “in accord with the facts”, but the truth is Watchtower doesn’t care a fig about facts. All the evidence of prehistoric man — bones, axes, arrowheads, the geologic strata these are found in and the radiocarbon dating used to construct chronologies — all this is nothing as far as Watchtower is concerned. This shows the absurdity of their claim to value science and technology.

Watchtower’s supematuralist dogmas oppose the scientific method

Watchtower’s anti-evolutionism is basically an attack on science, the scientific method and viewpoint. Without understanding this a reader of Watchtower’s book might get bogged down in a lot of details. The book is filled with all kinds of assertions about the shortcomings of evolutionary theory, some of which are quotes from evolutionists themselves such as Charles Darwin and Steven Jay Gould. Without an extensive knowledge of the various scientific fields and without knowing the context of all these quotations, it might be possible for someone to get snowed under. To prevent this it’s sufficient to keep in mind Watchtower’s overall viewpoint, the alternative they are proposing to scientific evolutionism.

Anyone who studies biology will become aware of the limitations in present-day knowledge of this field. And scientists attempting to push forward this knowledge will, naturally, openly discuss these limitations. A famous example is Charles Darwin’s discussion of the limitations of fossil evidence in his book The Origin of Species. Watchtower is chock full of such statements. It seems anyone who ever said anything about gaps in the theory of evolution or disputes among evolutionists is quoted here.

But there are two ways to approach such limitations. One is the natural-scientific approach, the attitude of trying to help science clear up mysteries. This is the way working scientists argue among themselves. For example, one scientist may feel that modern humans are definitely descended from Australopithecus, an ancient pre-human apelike being that had erect posture. Another scientist may feel that Australopithecus is only related to man’s ancestors, not directly in the line. Scientists argue out such questions by giving evidence, citing features of the fossil bones, the time and place these beings were alive, etc.

Another way of approaching such questions is Watchtower’s way, to use controversies in science to promote supernaturalism. Watchtower approaches these questions (as in Chapter 5, “Letting the Fossil Record Speak") to promote skepticism about any scientific answer to mankind’s beginnings. Their basic view is: There are questions about man’s exact descent; therefore there is no descent of man! We don’t know everything about how man developed out of nature; therefore man cannot have a naturalistic foundation — mankind must have been created! From the standpoint of scientific integrity, this is a wild jump (to put it mildly) from the frying pan into the fire.

And again, this approach gets Watchtower into logical trouble. They dogmatically insist (in Chapter 4, "Could Life Originate by Chance?") that inanimate matter could not have given rise to living things. Living/Nonliving: these are two absolutely, eternally distinct categories, according to Watchtower. But they also refuse to believe that man could have evolved from previously existing life forms. So where did man come from? Apparently man just popped into existence from nothing, or — following the Bible — he was created out of dust. Dust!? A handful of inanimate matter! Doesn’t this violate the dogma about a living/nonliving dichotomy?

It’s beyond Watchtower’s comprehension how man could have evolved, over millions of years, from apelike ancestors. To go from a mammal somewhat like a chimpanzee or gorilla to another, similar mammal, only standing more erect and with a larger brain, in some millions of years — this is beyond Watchtower. But to go from a handful of inanimate dust to a living, breathing, thinking, civilized man in a matter of seconds -- oh yes, this makes much more sense! Watchtower considers open-ended scientific debate a “frying pan” of uncertainty; but from this “frying pan” they jump into the raging inferno of supernaturalism.

Of course we know how Watchtower resolves their logical puzzles: “God can do anything." Nonliving matter could not give rise to living things, but God can do whatever he likes, at any time. This explains everything. The trouble is, it explains too much. Once you bring in God as an explanatory principle, you can explain anything and everything by saying "God wills it so.” This explains everything, hence explains nothing. It doesn’t help us one bit in furthering our scientific (naturalistic, materialistic, historical) understanding of the world; and it does nothing to help us gain control over natural processes. It actually destroys our attempts to understand the world scientifically. For if we are going to bring in God as an explanatory principle, then we can forget about trying to establish uniformities in nature. How did mankind arise? "God did it.” How? “By being all-powerful, by suspending normal physical laws and producing a miracle." So nature and history become the arbitrary playthings of an omnipotent being who may intervene at any moment and interrupt the workings of the universe. This is what Watchtower preaches, and this is why Watchtower is led in the end to a position of absolute passivity towards science, society, government, and history.

Watchtower argues one-sidedly

One of the notorious features of Watchtower’s book is its one-sided style of argumentation. For example, Chapter 6 is entitled “Huge Gulfs — Can Evolution Bridge Them?” One by one the “huge gulfs" separating fish from amphibians, amphibians from reptiles, reptiles from birds, reptiles from mammals, and mammals from mankind are examined. Supposedly these gulfs are so huge that they could not have been bridged by evolutionary processes.

Granted, there are major differences between the major groups of animals cited here. But Watchtower neglects to mention that there are also major similarities — similarities of structure, types of internal organs and their arrangement, etc. All of these animals are vertebrates: they all have a backbone of vertebrae terminating at one end with a skull that encases a brain, the locus of the central nervous system. Most of these animals have two pairs of locomotive extremities (fins, wings, legs), one pair attached near the top of the vertebral column and the other pair attached near the bottom. (A major exception is snakes. And man’s upper extremities — arms — are no longer used for locomotion.) His other major internal organs (besides the brain) are arranged along the underside of the vertebral column, protected by the backbone and bones extending from it (ribs). Ingestion takes place at the from of the head (through the mouth); food is processed and then waste is excreted through the rear, at the bottom of the vertebral column. Etc., etc.

These similarities of structure and organization, contrasted to other types of animals, show that the vertebrates as a whole are related. There are different kinds of vertebrates, yes; but they are all based on a common type. Similar comments could be made about the animals in general, and indeed about plant and animal life as a whole. Watchtower likes to wax poetic about the complexity of life, but they fall silent when it comes to mentioning the essential unity of life on earth. They mention how complex DNA is, for example (p. 142), to argue that it could not have arisen "by chance events.” But they forget to mention that the same DNA underlies plant and animal life on earth, including humankind. We have a right to ask, then, is this just chance? Or doesn’t it indicate that all living things are related, biologically?

Other kinds of evidence for evolution is simply ignored by Watchtower. They don’t even mention the evidence from embryology, that embryos from different groups of animals develop in similar ways. For example, human embryos at different stages develop gill slits and tails. Is this just an accident? A "perfect Designer” of humans would have no reason to give them such a growth process. But it makes perfect sense if you consider that humans have evolved from other forms of animal life. There is also the evidence of vestigial organs, such as the appendix in human beings. This has no function in today’s humans, and so makes no sense if you postulate a "perfect Designer” of humans. But it makes sense if you consider it a leftover from a previous stage of development, when humans (or their pre-human ancestors) needed an extra digestive organ to process the raw natural food they scavenged.

Watchtower also overlooks the evidence tor evolution from geographic distribution of animals. Why is it that certain groups of animals occupy certain territorial areas? In this regard mention should be made of Darwin’s finches, which Watchtower does discuss. They say (p. 110):

"The matter of variation within a kind explains something that influenced Darwin’s original thinking about evolution. When he was on the Galapagos Islands he observed a type of bird called a finch. These birds were the same type as their parent kind on the South American continent, from where they apparently had migrated. But there were curious differences, such as in the shape of their beaks. Darwin interpreted this as evolution in progress. But actually it was nothing more than another example of variety within a kind, allowed for by a creature's genetic makeup. The finches were still finches. They were not turning into something else, and they never would.”

This is a famous example Darwin used of geographic distribution. Apparently some finches were the first (or among the first) types of birds to reach the Galapagos, which are relatively isolated islands. These finches were free to spread into ecological niches that in South America are inhabited by other types of birds. Without competition they could develop into feeders of seeds, insects, etc. — different types of food requiring different types of beaks. Watchtower grudgingly comes close to admitting this much. But then they gloss over the main point by saying “the finches were still finches." Yes, they were still finches; but they were different species of finches. They weren’t just variants, like blonds and brunettes; they had evolved into different, new species — 14 species of finch that exist nowhere else in the world!

Watchtower also overlooks the evidence for evolution from microbiology and genetics. This is a major omission. Research of today is mapping the human genetic structure and discovering precisely where, and by how much, this structure varies from that of other animals. Researchers are finding, for example, that humans are much more closely related to chimpanzees in genetic structure than they are to fish. No big surprise; but it confirms what evolutionists have been saying since the time of Darwin.

Chance vs. design” — Watchtower’s distortion of the issue

Watchtower presents much of the difference between evolutionism and creationism as a debate between “chance” and “design." Watchtower’s Chapter 11 is entitled “The Amazing Design of Living Things”, and here they wax enthusiastic about the amazing way organisms are adapted to living. And throughout the book they ask.

Could the human eye have been produced by chance? Could the human brain be simply an accident? Could complex DNA be produced by blind chance? Etc., etc.

In this way Watchtower tries to turn the tables on the evolutionists. Watchtower makes it sound as if evolutionism simply writes off everything as due to “chance.” Since scientists explain phenomena by reference to underlying, deterministic causes, this appeal to “chance” would put evolutionists outside the camp of science. On the other hand, Watchtower tries to claim the mantle of scientific reasonableness for themselves by saying that they can account for well-designed living systems by reference to a “Designer.”

But this is a big distortion of the issue under debate. Evolutionism doesn’t just assert the transmutation of species, but tries to explain it in various ways. The basic mechanism seems to be Darwin’s natural selection.

Darwin took it as a given that biological variation occurs — i.e., that when living things reproduce they don’t do so exactly (as clones), but with varied traits. Some of these traits turn out to be favorable to survival, while others turn out to be unfavorable (and others may be neutral). Natural selection will reinforce and spread (through a species, or gene pool) the favorable traits while eliminating the unfavorable ones. The individuals with favorable traits flourish and reproduce vigorously, while those with unfavorable traits die off.

In a sense this process is “blind”, because it isn’t specially directed by some Designer. But that doesn’t make it simply a matter of chance. It’s not just “accident” that vertebrates living in water have fins instead of (say) feet or wings; it’s a matter of survival. Nor is it just an accident that vertebrates living on land no longer (as adults) have gills, but instead have developed air-breathing lungs. The environment or ecological niche that organisms live in acts as a control mechanism guiding and directing evolution, even though there is no conscious Designer intervening in the process. (At least there wasn’t until the rise of civilization. The development of mankind brings forward the possibility of consciously directed biological evolution. Domestication of plants and animals at the beginning of civilization and modern-day research in genetics are parts of this.)

This gets us back to microbiology In Chapter 8, “Mutations — A Basis for Evolution?”, Watchtower argues that mutation of genes could not account for evolutionary change. They say this is impossible because mutations occur very infrequently, and more often than not produce unfavorable changes. Then they bring up their usual objection, that mutations are “chance” events.

This is Watchtower’s only discussion of microbiological events, so a reader might get the impression that evolutionism is a theory of random, chance mutations. Actually Darwin didn’t know anything about mutations, and his theory never depended on them. The only thing Darwin postulated was variation, and this is an undeniable fact about living things — especially those that reproduce sexually Offspring are not simply copies, or clones, of one of their parents; their genes are combinations of their parents’ genetic material, and so are different than any one of their parents. Even different individual offspring of the same parents, though they may have many close family resemblances, will still have different combinations of genes. One is a boy, one a girl; one a blond, one a brunette; etc. All this is common sense. But it’s been made more precise with the development of the modern science of genetics.

The point here is that genetics is not a theory of random, chance events. It’s the science of deterministic laws that underlie inheritance, the laws that determine what sorts of traits the offspring of a given set of parents will have. These laws may be stated in probabilistic terms — what are the odds, say, that the child of certain parents will have sickle cell, or a disposition to colon cancer — but that doesn’t mean that inheritance is a matter of random chance.

Evolutionists try to account for the transmutation of species the same way that other natural scientists account for change — by reference to underlying causes that work in deterministic ways. This recalls the point about Watchtower’s jump from frying pan to fire. If the mechanisms of species development are not, at present, all worked out, how does that justify the grand leap to belief in a Designer who intervenes in history through miracles and suspends all physical laws? How would that help us explain and/or control anything in nature? Such a leap is nothing but a skeptical gesture of despair.


Anyway, R—, thanks again for letting me review this book. I hope that by looking at the arguments on both sides we will be able to advance discussion of these issues to a higher level. I think the main point to come out so far is that different viewpoints on evolution (man’s background and history) are connected to different viewpoints on contemporary mankind. Watchtower, the authors of this book, notice certain features of the present crisis facing mankind — social degeneracy, poverty, war, etc. In response to this they opt for a policy of "hunkering down”, adopting a conservative lifestyle, playing it safe and hoping for better days to come. Apparently they feel that this gives a certain structure and direction to their lives.

The trouble is, a dogmatic "play-it-safe” policy actually plays right into the hands of the corrupters and warmongers who are only too happy to see segments of the working class paralyzed by inaction. This leaves them free to go on exploiting workers, buying off politicians and judges, and dividing the masses by racial, ethnic and national groupings.

In trying to justify conservative ideology while at the same time giving certain minimal credence to scientific facts Watchtower gets itself mixed up and involved in anti-scientific trains of thought. The opposite orientation — much more straightforward and realistic — would be to try and deal with scientific issues in themselves independent of ideology. Deal with the facts as they are, and try to contribute something to our understanding of man’s development on earth without appeal to any special authority.

Then, in dealing with the present crisis of mankind, take a similar scientific approach to the issues. To grapple with social problems such as corruption, poverty and war we need a historical understanding of these issues. How did poverty develop? What were the causes of this century’s wars? When we understand the causes of these phenomena, we can begin to change society and eliminate these evils. The key to understanding such phenomena is provided by historical materialism (Marxism), the science of classes and class struggle.

Yours sincerely,

Pete Brown

Thousands march to support Detroit newspaper workers

by Pete Brown and Mark

Thousands of workers and other activists marched in Detroit on June 21 in support of the struggle of the newspaper workers. The march was part of two days of events called "Action! Motown '97" organized by the AFL-CIO leaders to try and maintain credibility among the newspaper employees, despite the fact that they forced the newspaper workers to officially call off the strike last February. That tens of thousands of workers showed up for the march demonstrates that the newspaper workers continue to enjoy sympathy and support among wide sections of the working class despite the bureaucratic strangling of their strike by the AFL-CIO leaders.

Union leaders destroy the strike

The mild legalist tactics pursued by the union leaders hamstrung the newspaper workers' struggle from day one, nearly two years ago. These sellout tactics reached their culmination in February when the national AFL-CIO bureaucrats ordered the local unions to call off their strike with an "unconditional offer to return to work. " But to cover up their capitulation the bureaucrats declared this to be a "new tactic" and at the same time announced plans for a national labor march in Detroit. (See the article, "Union leaders declare their failure a victory", in Communist Voice, March 1, 1997. )

Calling off the strike did not get the workers their jobs back. Detroit Newspapers, Inc. had long since replaced them with scabs and announced they would only call back the strikers "as needed." As of late June only a couple hundred had been called back. So the strike is now converted into a lockout. But the bureaucrats' lame tactics continued to dominate.

Workers show solidarity

Despite the severe setbacks brought by the AFL-CIO's tactics, news of the labor march brought workers from around the country. Various local unions sent representatives, and some unions sent contingents of hundreds. It was inspiring to see masses of workers turn out to support those in struggle. At the same time, it must be admitted that the size of the demonstration on June 21 was smaller than the 35,000 predicted by the union bureaucrats before the march or the 60-100,000 marchers they claimed afterwards. The actual number of participants was probably a good deal less than that, somewhere closer to 20,000. It was notable that despite that fact that there are numerous large UAW locals throughout Michigan, it appeared that in only a few locals did the bureaucrats make a push to turn out large numbers of workers for the event not even close to the numbers they turn out every year for their tame Labor Day marches.

During the march many workers showed their anger against the newspaper bosses. Every newspaper box along the march route was smashed up by demonstrators. At the Detroit News building marchers loudly denounced the scab security personnel peering out of upper-story windows. Surrounded by thousands of like-minded comrades from a variety of places and occupations, workers could get some sense of the power of our class.

Trends among the participants

The event was a good opportunity for workers to gain political experience because activists from around the country and diverse political trends participated. Of course the main events were dominated by the top national AFL-CIO leaders like John Sweeney and Richard Trumka, Teamster head Ron Carey, various phony "friends of the workers" from the Democratic Party like Representative David Bonior of Michigan, and Joseph Lowery, president of the black bourgeois organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. These were the main figures speaking at a rally that followed the June 21 march. They tried their best to sound militant and fool the workers into thinking that there really was a part of the capitalist establishment that they could rely upon. Hardly anyone in the crowd was listening anyway.

Discussion among the rank and file was stimulated by activists who distributed literature. A notable feature of this literature was that even several of the left-wing groups that promote illusions in the trade union bureaucracy were forced to admit that the labor bureaucrats had screwed up a potentially powerful strike. Even Detroit's local entertainment guide, the Metro Times, carried articles with such a position.

As usual, even such limited criticism of the AFL-CIO leadership was too much for the likes of the old-time revisionist "Communist Party, USA. " Their paper, People's Weekly World, simply offered quotations from the bureaucrats about how calling off the strike was "a new tactic. " Likewise, The Militant, newspaper of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers' Party, as usual offered no criticism of the bureaucrats in their article in the June 25 edition of their paper which summed up the June 21 actions.

Other left groups had at least some critique of the bureaucrats' handling of the strike. But most of them had a soft attitude towards the AFL-CIO bureaucracy overall. For instance, the Trotskyist publication The Organizer moaned about how the bureaucrats failed to shut down the production plants. But they, like the union bureaucrats, condemned any new actions not approved of by the bureaucrats as allegedly jeopardizing the union's legal maneuvers with the National Labor Relations Board. The paper Socialist Action crowed about the need for militant action while promoting Teamster boss Ron Carey, whose Teamster bureaucracy has directly intervened to end the strike. Still others to one degree or another raised the key issue of the workers building their own independent trend which doesn't wait for the bureaucrats to act. Even here, however, there was a strong tendency toward having exaggerated expectations of what can be accomplished through the union bureaucracy and in trends led by some mildly dissident local union leaders such as the Unity-Victory caucus that arose at one point during the newspaper strike.

Meanwhile, the anarchist paper The Fifth Estate, which earlier in the strike was debating whether they could support the strike at all since it violated their principles against "class struggle," promoted an article from a writer who published another version of the article in the Industrial Workers of the World publication, Industrial Worker. This article condemned the bureaucrats' tactics, but also the idea of shutting down the production and distribution capabilities of the newspaper corporations. Instead, this article made wild claims that some unknown committee was organizing a general strike and that the real issue was to cause disruptions in Detroit, like occupying the Ambassador Bridge leading to Canada. This would allegedly pressure the Detroit city government to force the corporations to settle with the strikers. Of course militant protests in Detroit would be helpful. But since the article contends that the workers are so weak that they have no hopes of winning against even one corporation, it's hard to see how a general strike is going to soon materialize. While the article tosses around phrases like "general strike" its practical suggestions amount to having some protests around the city every so often while ignoring the key task of shutting down newspaper production and distribution facilities. This reasoning is actually just a "left"-sounding version of the tactics of the bureaucrats who themselves have organized any number of protests around the city as a diversion from the key task of shutting down plant production and distribution. The results speak for themselves.

Agitation of Detroit Marxist-Leninists

Local supporters of Communist Voice participated in the June 21 march. The Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group (DMLSG) produced a leaflet with two articles, one on the newspaper strike and one on the general question of reviving revolutionary communism. (These articles are reprinted below. ) This was distributed at workplaces and helped spark discussion among workers there.

The leaflet was also distributed at a June 20 teach-in on the newspaper strike at Wayne State University in Detroit. The teach-in drew some students and professors as well as hundreds of striking workers. During the distribution of the leaflet, a good deal of discussion centered around the prospects for the revival of communism, the importance of fighting revisionism, and (state-capitalist) Cuba.

At the June 21 march, comrades of the DMLSG distributed the leaflet before and during the march. A few friends also marched with us and participated enthusiastically. After the march we stayed at the rally site for quite a while, distributing the leaflet and Communist Voice, and talking to other participants. Again, our article on reviving Marxism sparked some interesting discussion, some of it (with Trotskyists) quite heated. The Trotskyists like to pose as oh-so militant opponents of the Stalinist regimes, but when we clarify the bourgeois nature of these regimes they fly into a frenzy and fall back on their "military, but not political" support for these regimes. On Cuba, for example, the Trotskyist dogma against "socialism in one country" presumably would imply that Cuba, a small island country surrounded by capitalist states, could not possibly be socialist. But just try to clarify this by pointing out the state-capitalist nature of the Castro regime; suddenly the fierce "anti-Stalinists" turn into the most die-hard defenders of Castro's neo-Stalinist state. Such discussions show the importance of popularizing the struggle against revisionism, and confirm what our leaflet pointed out: "Trotskyism = revisionist twin. "

Judge rules in unions' favor

A court ruling on June 20, the day before the march, gave the labor bureaucrats something to crow about at Action! Motown events. A U. S. administrative law judge ruled in favor of the unions' charge that Detroit Newspapers, Inc. had engaged in unfair labor practices that provoked and prolonged the strike. The judge ordered the corporation to immediately reinstate the strikers, to give them their jobs back even if this meant firing the "replacements. " The unions made their offer to return to work in February, and the judge ruled that the corporation owes workers back pay from that time until the time they are reinstated.

Union leaders immediately proclaimed this a great victory and claimed that it vindicated the legalist tactics they have been pursuing for the past two years. They shouted, "Detroit Newspapers, Inc. stands condemned for all to see," as if this somehow resolved the strike/lockout. But even if the workers are called back, this does not change the fact that the strike was lost. The union bureaucrats can crow all they want, but the newspaper bosses have seen that no matter how provocative their attacks on the workers, the AFL-CIO officials are afraid to unleash militant mass actions to shut down scab production.

The legal maneuvers in the wake of the defeated strike are not going to yield wonderful results either, even if successful. And success in the courts is far from guaranteed. For one thing, the corporation brushed aside the judge's ruling, saying they will appeal it. And those in the know say this appeals process could easily take many years.

The AFL-CIO leaders have countered by getting the NLRB to agree to file for a "10(j)" injunction to enforce the judge's ruling while the appeals process goes forward. A hearing on this matter is scheduled to come before U. S. District Judge John Corbett O'Meara on July 31 and August 1. It is possible the judge will grant the injunction, but that remains to be seen. But the top bureaucrats are still proclaiming they expect workers to be back on the job "within a matter of weeks. "

We shall see. But it should be pointed out that, even if all these things are resolved according to the bureaucrats' plans, that still leaves many strikers left out in the cold. In the first place, there are the 300 workers fired by newspaper bosses for strike-related activities. The judge's ruling does not address their situation, so they would remain fired. Secondly, there is the question of how many jobs will be available to ex-strikers even if they replace all the scab replacements. A good many of the original 2,000 or so jobs have been eliminated by the company since the strike began. Even the striker-produced paper The Detroit Sunday Journal admits that "limitations of a 10(j)" includes that "the companies will not have to call back all workers if they can prove production needs are reduced. " That's a potentially huge loophole because, using scab labor, the company has reduced its workforce by at least 600 employees. So there's a question of how many jobs are left to come back to even if the injunction is granted.

This raises another limitation of relying on the legal apparatus of the capitalist government to solve the workers' problems. The boycott has cut circulation a good deal since pre-strike levels. Thus, the companies could argue that they have a need to reduce their workforce in proportion to their reduced circulation. This doesn't mean that the boycott, insufficient as it is, should be rejected. But it does mean that confining the workers' struggle to the means officially recognized by the courts inevitably weakens the struggle against the employers.

And for those who did get their jobs back, conditions would be hellish. Going back under court order does not mean victory for the strikers. They would be going back to the same work rules and restrictions that provoked the strike two years ago, with various economic issues unresolved. Indeed, if the courts find, as they well might, that many hundreds of workers are no longer needed due to the elimination of their positions, the companies will have won one of their central demands that provoked the strike, the reduction of the workforce.

Of course the union bureaucrats argue that once the workers are back on the job (well some, anyway) they will continue to fight for a good contract. But even the brief being filed with the judge by the NLRB states that there are "obvious indications from the unions that they will grant major concessions in order to bargain over reinstatement. " (Detroit Sunday Journal, July 13, 1997, p. 7) Evidently the AFL-CIO leaders' idea of a good contract is one that caves in to management demands. After two years of sacrifice and struggle by the rank and file, the union misleaders are preparing to bargain away their working conditions and jobs.

Getting a good share of the workers their jobs back, at this point, would be a good thing, but in no way can the bureaucrats claim any kind of victory. In fact, their tactics have produced a series of defeats. Since they liquidated the mass actions at plant gates in September 1995, the strike went downhill. The issue remains, today as before, for the rank and file to get organized for militant mass action independently of the labor bureaucrats.

March in support of the Detroit newspaper workers!

Detroit Workers' Voice #14 (June 1, 1997) supported the demonstration in support of the newspaper workers which was held on Saturday, June 21 in Detroit. This demo was organized by the AFL-CIO unions, but the AFL-CIO leaders did not tell the workers the real story of the newspaper strike. DWV called on workers to go to the demonstration and contained two articles, one on the newspaper strike and one on the crisis of left-wing thought,. They follow below:

Rank-and-file action or union leader sellouts?

Detroit newspaper workers and many others in solidarity with them have fought hard for nearly two years. Untold sacrifices have been made in the fight against the corporate media giants, Gannett and Knight-Ridder. But despite the efforts of the rank and file and their supporters, the truth is that the struggle has been derailed. The efforts to shut down scab production have ended. The mass plant rallies were dismantled. The strike itself has been called off. The handful of workers that have returned to work face worse conditions then when the strike began. Meanwhile the union leaderships are promising the newspaper bosses more concessions if only they hire back the former strikers. The goals of the struggle have been reduced to hoping that some year the National Labor Relations Board will order the newspapers to take back some more workers, with all the issues that led to the strike still unresolved, and with hundreds of workers never called back.

The leaders of the AFL-CIO are pretending that the struggle is stronger than ever, but in fact it has suffered severe defeats. They present this rosy picture to cover their responsibility for the dilemma the workers now face. The reasons for these severe defeats were not just because of the financial power of the companies. Nor was it merely that the capitalist bosses, as usual, have had their facilities protected by court orders and the Detroit and suburban police, in addition to their own private goon squads. The truth is that the struggle has been subverted by the national and local leaders of the AFL-CIO unions. In the face of powerful enemies, these alleged champions of labor have gone all out to prevent the type of struggle that could have kept the company reeling. Right from the beginning they have worked to contain the militant strivings among the workers and solidarity activists. They undermined the most effective mass actions that proved it was possible to shut down scab production. If the police wanted to escort scabs through plant picket lines, the union bureaucrats were there to help the cops. If the courts banned plant actions, the union misleaders would counsel the workers to comply. While the NLRB banned effective forms of worker protests, the AFL-CIO leadership assured the workers that if only they obeyed these restrictions, this same NLRB would allegedly save the workers from being devastated. While cowering before the cops and courts, the union leaderships only got tough when it came to putting down rank-and-file militants and activists who wanted to go beyond their timid tactics.

Of course, the AFL-CIO bureaucrats promise they will never betray the workers. Indeed, each time they have toned down the struggle, they bragged about how the strike would now be more powerful than ever. Now, they are patting themselves on the back for having organized the thousands-strong June 21 march. But the bureaucrats are not suddenly reversing their opposition to militant mass action after two years. Even with thousands of workers gathered for June 21, they are not calling for plant blockades. Indeed, it's notable that the national AFL-CIO leaders refused to agree to the march until after instructing their underlings at the local level to call off the strike and make an unconditional offer to return to work.

Using corporate boycotts to subvert militant action

The failure of the union leaders to put up a serious fight is a national disease rendering the workers weak in the face of the corporate offensive. Time and again the workers have been channeled away from powerful actions that could really shut down scab production, such as the mighty plant blockades at the Detroit newspaper plant in Sterling Heights in September 1995. Instead the union officials tell the workers that all they need do is have a boycott campaign against the scab product. Boycotts have their place. But as a substitute for militant mass action, they are a recipe for failure. Look at the evidence. The AFL-CIO heads touted the corporate boycott as the answer for the major strikes of recent years. The results? The bureaucrats wound up swallowing rotten settlements leaving many strikers jobless and working conditions gutted. The workers at Staley, Caterpillar, and Bridgestone/Firestone are among those who have suffered this sad fate thanks to the bankrupt ideas of the so-called "corporate campaign. "

Aren't the Detroit newspaper workers being led to the same slaughter? The union leaders can dress up their meek tactics with fiery slogans like "shut down Motown", but they are not even willing to shut down one single newspaper production plant! They can proclaim offering to return to work under slave conditions (already some returned workers have been fired!) as an escalation of the battle. But the fact remains that the lame AFL-CIO tactics have led to the strike being abandoned.

Build rank-and-file initiative

If workers are not to suffer more bitter setbacks, the rank and file must take the initiative. The potential power of our class is enormous. Just look at how the plant blockades of September 1995 shut down the Sterling Heights plant. These actions became quite powerful not because the union bureaucrats were more militant then. The bureaucrats had organized for a pacifist action where workers would be peacefully carted away by the cops. Instead the workers fought back and defeated the police efforts to break the picket lines. But for the workers to carry out a consistent policy of militant action, the rank and file must develop its own organizations of struggle. Such organizations must not only develop mass militant tactics, but encourage a struggle against the union bureaucracy.

Working class politics vs. Labor Party politics

For the working class to become a real force, it must have its own class politics. The trade union bureaucrats tell us that political activity means voting for the Democrats as the alternative to the Republicans. But in fact, both of these parties are in the pockets of the wealthy. Others claim the recently founded Labor Party represents the workers' political trend. After all, the Labor Party has said that both the Republicans and Democrats are representing the rich. But the Labor Party does not stand for developing independent working class organization, but relies on the very same AFL-CIO hierarchy that is betraying the workers. In fact the main leaders of this party are case-hardened union bureaucrats. They point out how the Democratic Party politicians have failed to deliver on their promises to the workers, but then promote such two-faced liberal politicians as former Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown. Their failure to really stand for building an independent class movement means undermining the fight for any useful reforms they might support. In this way, they mimic the traditional stand of the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Workers must oppose such politics if they are to begin to establish their own independent trend.

For the workers to make a clean break with bourgeois politics requires more, however. The current corporate onslaught not only requires strong resistance, but raises the question of the root cause of the problems facing the workers and poor today. The capitalist system is behind the current attacks on the workers' livelihood. As long as a handful of corporate bloodsuckers rule, the workers will always be subjugated. As long as the profit system exists, even when workers win a bit of relief, the next day they will be under renewed attacks. Nor can we expect that as long as the wealthy corporations remain, the political system will be freed from their grip and converted into the protector of the exploited.

Revolutionary class politics points to the need for a political party opposed to the capitalist system itself. As an opponent of the capitalist system, it fights for the most resolute struggle for the workers' immediate interests. Part of this involves winning workers away from the influence of the AFL-CIO leadership and exposing the two capitalist parties and the reformist "third parties" that trail in the Democrats' wake. As well, in the struggles of today, it works to demonstrate that the liberation of our class requires the overthrow of capitalism. It puts forward the perspective of a revolutionary workers' rule which eliminates class oppression and exposes the fake "communist" regimes that have existed in the Soviet Union, China and Cuba. []

Marxism in an era of free-market capitalism

Today the bourgeoisie is crowing that the free market has won the world contest. Its politicians and economists are shouting that Marxism is dead and the revolutionary working class movement is dead and capitalism will last forever. According to them, there is nothing for the workers to do but pull in their belts further and further so that the CEOs and yuppies can get richer and richer. Perhaps a few crumbs will trickle down to the workers of the country that is farthest ahead in the competitive race.

But what has died was not socialism but more-or-less authoritarian regimes with extensive state ownership. The attempts at socialism in the 20th century didn't succeed, but were replaced by state-capitalist regimes. It is this that has died. And there must be no tears for such regimes if a truly militant working class movement is to rise again.

And rise again it must. Free-market capitalism is triumphant, and so poverty is growing throughout the world. The more the world economy grows, the more "safety nets" are removed and the poorer are millions of people. Asia is one of the boom areas of capitalism, yet it has unprecedented numbers of child laborers and child prostitutes. The U. S. boasts of producing more jobs than any other Western industrial economy, and each year wages drop and more people are on the street. Meanwhile, despite pious declarations from Clinton and UN conferences, the world environmental crisis gets worse and worse. If this is capitalism at its height, then capitalism is bankrupt.

The crisis of revolutionary theory

The class struggle will come back. But it will not come back on the old basis. All around the world, left-wing movements and workers' organizations are in crisis. The collapse of the fake "socialist" regimes abroad and the shrinking size of the reformist trade unions in the U. S. are not an accident. The only way the working class anywhere in the world can defend itself is to put the class struggle on a new basis.

The Communist Voice Organization (CVO) is dedicated to paving the way for this proletarian reorganization. We don't hide the crisis of left-wing thought, but put overcoming this crisis at the center of our activity. We hold that Marxism shows the way to reorganize the left, but not just any kind of Marxism. The "Marxism" that is proclaimed in the regimes in Cuba and China today, and that was proclaimed by the fallen regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe yesterday, was not really Marxism. It was just a set of apologies for a different kind of capitalist oppression, state-capitalism rather than free- market capitalism. To use Marxism in this manner, it had to be "revised", and all the revolutionary principles of Marx and Lenin had to be falsified. This type of "Marxism" is what we call "revisionism". It has made millions of toilers around the world puke.

No tears for the fake socialist regimes

This is why the Communist Voice Organization, unlike most Trotskyists and reformists, has no tears about the collapse of the fake "communist" regimes in the Russia and Eastern Europe. And this is why we denounce the remaining revisionist or state-capitalist regimes in Cuba, China, etc. But most left-wing organizations find one reason or other to apologize for these regimes. For example, they say they have disagreements with various Cuban policies, but that nevertheless supporting Castro is necessary to oppose U. S. imperialism. We say that, on the contrary, it is not Castro but the Cuban workers whom we should support. We must oppose U. S. imperialist bullying of Cuba, such as the Helms-Burton bill, but we must also oppose the Castroist regime which prevents the political activity of the working class. We must look not to the bureaucrats and armed forces of Cuba and the remaining revisionist regimes, but to developing the class-consciousness of workers in Cuba as well as here.

Trotskyism = revisionist twin

Today, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the old pro-Soviet parties around the world have mostly renounced their past, and the Trotskyists organizations appear as among the largest forces still claiming to be Leninist. However, on the main issues, the Trotskyists are just a revisionist clone. They are not Leninists, but revisionists.

For example, most Trotskyists still cry over the collapse of the revisionist regimes, and claim that these regimes, such as the Stalinist regime in Russia, weren't capitalist. They may defend today's China, or in some cases even Yeltsin's Russia, as not yet capitalist because there still is a large state sector in the economy, and most all of them defend Castro's Cuba. They have their "criticisms" of these regimes, sometimes harsh ones, but nevertheless hold that these regimes are some sort of defense against world capitalism. Some of the largest Trotskyist organizations, like the SWP, don't just defend fake "Marxist" regimes, but other backward regimes as well. They go so far as to find pretexts to defend the theocratic regime in Iran or the murderous regime in Iraq. This shows that Trotskyism is totally useless for the rebuilding of a militant working class movement. The Trotskyists are more interested in finding some excuse to ally with a big force, however corrupt, then in helping build an independent revolutionary movement.


Many young activists, thinking the collapse of the revisionist regimes is the collapse of Marxism, have turned to anarchism. Anarchism claims to be above politics and political organization, and it thinks it overcomes the state and politics by basing itself mainly on loose networks of autonomous groups. They are skeptical of the Marxist idea of the working class as a whole running the economy, believing that large-scale organization must inevitably be oppressive. In the Spanish Civil War of the mid-1930's, one of the few cases in this century when anyone tried to implement anarchist economic ideas on a mass scale, they ended up stymied. Individual villages abolished the hated national currency and established local currencies, believing that local currencies weren't money. Individual workplaces were run on a separate basis, believing that this overcame capitalism. The result was a fiasco.

Anarchists believe that government is the root of all evil, and don't understand that government is simply a symptom of the existence of conflicting classes. That gives them something in common with the free-market fanatics of the Libertarian Party. It is why, although most anarchists are left-wing, the pro-capitalist Libertarians can flirt with anarchist phrases.

The Communist Voice Organization

We hold that a serious look at the history of the 20th century verifies Marxism. We seek to pave the way for the future development of a mass Marxist- Leninist movement by:

a) theoretical work analyzing the current mass struggles and the new features of world capitalism on the eve of the 21st century;

b) showing what anti-revisionist Marxism really is, and opposing all apologies for state-capitalist regimes; and

c) taking part in the present-day working class struggle, even when it is at a low level.

This is long-term work. We hold that real revolutionary work doesn't mean sugarcoating the problems of the present and predicting socialist revolution around the corner. It means knowing how to help overcome the crisis of the left and build an truly independent working class movement today. Every step towards clarifying the disaster that has befallen the left, and every step towards organizing independently of the reformists, the trade union bureaucrats, and the apologists of the state-capitalist regimes, is work that will bear abundant fruit in the future.

Let all those who wish to see an end to this capitalist hell, and who see the need for a thorough criticism of the travesties that have passed as "Marxism", join with us. Let those who are dissatisfied with lying bourgeois politicians in the West and lying revisionist politicians in the state-capitalist regimes, unite. Let those who are sick of Trotskyism, trade union bureaucrats, reformism and anarchism join with us. We say: no compromise with the fanatics of the marketplace or of bureaucratic state-capitalism! It is only the independent action of the working class that can provide a way out. It is only Marxist communism that can provide a theory to guide this class struggle. It is time to lay the basis for the rebirth of communism by revitalizing revolutionary theory and practice. []

[End of article group]

Workers and poor of all nationalities, unite against racism!

The Malice Green case in Detroit: Conviction of racist killer cop overturned

From the August 3 issue (#15) of Detroit Workers’ Voice:

On July 31, Walter Budzyn, one of the two white Detroit cops who beat the black, unemployed steel worker Malice Green to death in 1992, was granted the right to a new trial by the Michigan State Supreme Court. At the same time the court upheld the conviction of co-murderer. Officer Larry Nevers.

The court’s decision to grant Budzyn a new trial is an outrage. The court came up with some flimsy technicalities to support its claim that Budzyn did not get a fair trial. Bull!! It was Malice Green who never got ANY trial while it was Budzyn and Nevers who played judge, jury and executioner They ‘tried' Green by smashing his skull with heavy metal flashlights. They murdered Green though he had committed no crime except to be suspected by the police thugs of having a “rock" of crack in his hand. For the Michigan Supreme Court to nevertheless grant Budzyn a new trial shows that no amount of evidence will prevent the capitalist courts from trying to find ways to protect the police thugs. Now Budzyn has been released from prison after serving a mere four years while at this point it is up in the air whether the prosecutors will actually re-try him or simply let him go free.

The police, as servants of the rich, have never needed much of an excuse to carry out atrocities against the Afro-American and Latino masses. Despite all the hand-wringing by the ruling class authorities in the wake of the uprising following the videotaped beating of Rodney King, racist murder and beatings by the police continues. In recent years, the so-called “war on drugs” has been used by the ruling class as another excuse for police rampages against national minorities. For example, recently Marine snipers mobilized into stopping drugs from entering the Texas border gunned down a 13-year old Mexican- American youth who had merely been grazing sheep near his family’s farm.

The workers and poor have never been able to rely on the capitalist courts for justice. Were it not for the mass protests following Malice Green’s murder, the authorities would have simply swept the issue under the rug as has happened time and again. Now that the situation has cooled down, the courts have seen an opportunity to start reversing even the small bit of justice that Budzyn’s conviction represented. The fight against racist police depends on building up a militant struggle of the oppressed.

The flimsy excuses of the court

The Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling is a cruel joke. First they admit that there was such overwhelming evidence that Nevers committed murder that the alleged flaws in the conduct of the trial were not very important.

According to the court, these same flaws are very important in the Budzyn case however because they hold that the evidence against him was not so strong. But if there’s overwhelming evidence that Nevers committed murder, that evidence itself overwhelmingly condemns Budzyn as at least directly aiding in a murder. And in
fact Budzyn’s trial showed that he actively helped Nevers and never once tried to stop Never’s rage of death. (In fact, a whole bunch of cops, including a black supervising officer stood watch as Green was killed and yet only had their wrists slapped.)

The court searched high and low for excuses to claim that Budzyn did not get a fair trial. They pointed out some jurors knew that a “not guilty" verdict might result in a riot and that during a break in the trial jurors viewed the film “Malcolm X" which has a theme against police brutality. But the mainly black jury was undoubtedly already aware of racist conduct by police as it is a fact of life in the black community. If general
knowledge of police racism means a jury can’t be fair, this is basically declaring that a black jury should not be allowed to sit in judgment of white cops. The other problem cited by the court was that some jurors thought Budzyn was a member of the former STRESS squads, police units notorious for beating and killing innocent blacks. Actually it was Nevers who had served in this racist hit squad. This was the only “flaw" noted by the court that had anything to do with any factual matter of the case. Thus the court essentially argues that if only the jurors knew that Budzyn was not on the STRESS squads, they might have ignored the enormous evidence against Budzyn.

Suppose a poor black worker was sent away for murdering a cop. What are the chances that the highest state court would overturn a guilty verdict on such flimsy grounds? Slim or none. What nerve this court of injustice has to claim that the possibility of anti-racist rebellions and awareness of racism in the U.S. is an obstacle to justice being served. The court cries about the rare film that exposed some police brutality while ignoring that every day the capitalist “entertainment" industry bombards people with movies and TV shows that glorify the police and promote how wonderful it is for them to step on the rights of the downtrodden. Shows like “COPS” allow the police to portray themselves in the most favorable light as do fictional shows like “NYPD Blue" where police terror is portrayed as a virtue, even by openly racist cops. Yet the court is upset when a bit of the truth about the police leaks out.

Capitalism, class interests and racism

The police murders against blacks and Latinos are no accident. They are pan of a whole system of racist oppression that serves the interests of the capitalist exploiters. Racism helps the wealthy keep down the conditions of the vast majority of Afro-Americans and Other minorities. And the worse the living conditions of certain nationalities, the greater the profits of the rich. Not only that, if the capitalists can specially oppress one section of the workers, this helps them drive down the wages and working conditions of the working class as a whole. In short, racism helps the capitalists make profits.

It’s no accident that the two major parties of capitalism, the Republicans and the Democrats, have been slashing welfare and social benefits right and left,.which disproportionately hurts minorities. These cuts in social programs are going into the pockets of the rich in the form of fat tax cuts. Meanwhile by throwing people off of welfare, the capitalists want to throw more impoverished people onto the labor market, force them to work for poverty wages, and use the threat of replacement by more slave-wage workers to wring concessions from the better-paid section of workers.

The police enforce this system, protect the wealthy and powerful, and put down the masses so they can’t threaten the status quo. It’s no accident that the police one day terrorize the national minority communities and the next defend the right of the newspaper capitalists to throw 2,000 people out of work and beat up strikers. Suppressing the workers’ movement and the oppressed nationality communities goes hand-in-hand because both serve the interests of big business. it’s also no accident that the capitalist government officials only pay lip-service to curbing police “excesses" and that the few exceptions usually occur when they are afraid that the anger of the masses will explode in revolt.

The capitalists also use racism to keep the workers divided and weak in the face of their attacks. As long as some white workers believe their problems stem not from the rich but from the specially exploited minority masses, they cannot mount a serious struggle against exploitation.

The “respectable” black leadership

Class interests are also clearly seen in the role of the well-off black bourgeois leaders. Mayor Archer, black city council members and Wendell Anthony, local leader of the NAACP, talk about the need for justice, but they emphasize that the decision of the Michigan Supreme Court must be respected. As soon as the Court’s decision was known, they began to run to the media urging everyone to remain calm. No matter what their personal opinion of the decision to free Budzyn, clearly they aren’t outraged enough to seriously fight back against it. For the black elite, the biggest nightmare is that a powerful and militant protest will break out among the ordinary black masses and other sections of the poor Thus they must preach respect for the system of oppression and pretend that if only the masses behave themselves, the justice system will work for them. Look at Mayor Archer When the court freed the racist murderer Budzyn, his reaction was "I am confident that when all legal action involving this case is over, justice will be served." The job of the Afro-American bourgeois leadership is to keep the masses in line so that the interests of the rich are not threatened. The "respectable” black leadership represents the relatively small section of the black community that has become well-off, often with their own business interests that are threatened should the black or Latino workers begin to assert themselves. This is why despite black mayors and black police chiefs in major cities, racist police behavior continues to be rampant.

Workers of all nationalities, unite against racism!

The real interests of workers of all nationalities lies in a common struggle against racism. If there is to be justice, there must be a mass struggle. The movement against racism should be aimed against the capitalist ruling class, for they are the ones who benefit from racism and arm and protect their police thugs who uphold the oppressive status-quo. []

Dependency theory and the fight against imperialism (part 1)

by Joseph Green



Some features of contemporary world imperialism—


The nature of capitalist development


Denying the existence of development—


Industrialization of the Third World—


The concept of capitalism


Dependency theory on its knees before the local bourgeoisie


Denial of the Marxist theory of revolution


Land reform—





The national liberation movement and the freeing of most colonies dramatically changed the picture of the world. Yet it still left a world divided into imperialist powers and dependent countries. What were the prospects for the working masses in these countries?

Dependency theory said that the newly-independent countries and the historically dependent countries, such as those in Latin America, would not develop economically It cast doubt on whether the Marxist class struggle would ever be important in these countries, because having a significant working class presupposes a certain amount of development. The more radical dependency theorists said there was no path to development but socialist revolution, but this was a socialist revolution that was to be different from those based on the class struggle.

Dependency theory has had wide influence for several decades. The writings of Andre Gunder Frank became popular in the 60s, and Samir Amin has been one of the most prolific writers of this trend. How have these theories stacked up against the reality of world development?

Some features of contemporary world imperialism—

* The world remains divided into rich and poor countries, dominant countries and subordinate ones, as dependency theory expected.

* There has been widespread industrialization throughout the Third World, embracing both countries facing the most difficulties and rapidly industrializing countries. There has been an explosion of sweatshop industry, including textiles, clothing, and toys. But there is also a certain development of car and truck assembly, auto parts, aircraft, computers, machinery, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, plastics, petrochemicals, steel, etc. This goes dramatically against the stagnationist views of dependency theory

The revisionist regimes (state-capitalist regimes who pretended to be “Marxist", such as the late Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, today’s Cuba and China, etc.) have either collapsed, or are near collapse (North Korea), or are deep in market reforms. China is growing rapidly, but it is integrating further into the Western capitalism day by day, and its government is an open tyranny over the masses. All this goes against dependency theory, which couldn’t see the bourgeois nature of these regimes and generally called on the masses to support them.

Large numbers of new countries have been born around the world, and national and ethnic squabbling is rampant. Although dependency theory swears by the need for “national and popular" policies in the Third World, it has been at a lost in dealing with this.

The proletarian forces are almost completely disorganized around the world. Revolutionary parties have either degenerated or collapsed, and even trade union organization is at low ebb. with most unions being subordinated to ruling class parties or simply weak. Dependency theory has nothing to say about what the path for reorganizing the proletariat is. It has still not even given up its attachment to the remaining revisionist regimes.

Thus, although dependency theory still holds to the existence of an imperialist system, it gives a wrong picture of what’s been happening in this system. As we shall see, its attempt to replace the Marxist theses have met fiasco. Only Marxism can make sense of the current features of imperialism. By this, I don’t mean that Marxism predicted all the features of the world, the long world hegemony of U.S. imperialism, the spectacular boom of East Asian industrialization, the Persian Gulf War and its outcome, etc. But Marxism provided an analysis of the contradictions of capitalism that gives socialist activists the framework to deal with these events. As we shall see, dependency theory stumbled in its attempts to replace these analyses with simplified and one-sided formulae.

The nature of capitalist development

Let’s begin with the concept of economic growth and development. Dependency theory and bourgeois economics share a certain conception: that economic development means the increasing welfare of all the people. One can find a multitude of articles in the bourgeois newspapers, such as the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, which reduce the problems of poverty and devastation in the Third World to the lack of sufficiently fast development. Dependency theory shares the conception that real development would solve these problems. It thus deduces from the glaring social contrasts in the Third World and its continued subordinate position in the world market that real development isn’t taking place.

A study by Professor Alschuler of the effect of multinational corporations on development puts it this way:

" . . . We begin by defining development and underdevelopment. . . . [There are] three components which together constitute development: economic growth/production, equality and liberty. What justifies lumping these elements together in to a common definition is . . . that they are requisite conditions for ‘personal growth'. If development were not ultimately good for people it would not be good at all, development programs and policies would lose their meaning, and political movements demanding greater wealth, equality and freedom would make no sense.”1

Thus instead of dealing with real capitalist development, which proceed by some capitalists crushing other capitalists and all of them exploiting the masses, Alschuler starts from the assumption that ordinary capitalist development must mean the attainment of worthy goals for the people. When faced with the fact that capitalist development is painful for the people, Alschuler then denies that economic growth is real ‘development" Referring to the experience of the Ivory Coast in 1960 to 1975, he notes that economic growth was accompanied by “worsening income distribution, unemployment, foreign control of industry and restrictions of political liberties.”2 Instead of coming to a more realistic idea of capitalist development than equality, liberty and personal growth, he concludes that capitalist development didn’t take place. The Ivory Coast had something else.

This is similar to what is done by the more revolutionary-minded dependency theorists, and in fact Alschuler explicitly endorses Samir Amin’s approach. He writes that “Samir Amin’s choice expression, ‘growth without development’ corresponds well to our description of the Ivory Coast between 1960 and 1975.”3 He thinks that this means that Amin has overcome the "classical version” of dependency theory, which claims that there can only be “blocked development”. But right from the start, the dependency theorists were faced with the contradiction between the fact of economic growth and their theories, and they responded by finding one phrase after another to write off the growth as only apparent. Even now, in Amin’s most recent work, he has made the remarkable discovery that growth in the Third World was just an aberration, and he claims it has stopped:

"I concluded that the development efforts made in two decades preceding the general crisis were well and truly within the ambit of globalization, and not a challenge to it. They were bound to be stifled soon, and this has been the case.”4

Yet what has really happened is that most of the Third World has continued growing in recent years, despite the setbacks of the years of debt crisis. It is a growth that can take place along with the decline of living standards in a number of countries, such as pretty generally throughout Latin America, but that can indeed be a part of real, authentic, capitalist development.

--Denying the existence of development--

The history of dependency theory is thus a constant denial of the economic changes underway in the Third World. These changes aren’t completely denied, but they are waved aside as exceptions, as unimportant, as irrelevant to the real issues, as likely to stop soon, as not “development” but something else, as failing to challenge globalization, and so on. The expectation is created that nothing important is changing in the Third World economy, rather than analyzing the implications of the important changes are taking place.

Andre Gunder Frank sets the tone with such theses as that:

" . . . we do not deny the development occurs in the more advantaged satellites (or submetropolises). . What happens, given the dominance of the major metropolis, is that the economic development that does occur in the more prosperous of the satellites is at best a limited or ‘underdeveloped’ development. . . Economic development in Latin America, in other words, is a satellite development, which is not autonomous to the region, self-generating, or self-perpetuating.”5 In Frank’s view, development isn’t totally non-existent, but it’s an exception and it isn’t real development, which would be “autonomous, self-generating and self- perpetuating.”

Moreover, Frank thinks that it can’t be considered real development if the ruling classes welcome it. Thus he and his co-thinkers also explain away development by saying that the Latin American ruling classes “welcome ‘modernization’ and ‘industrialization’ within the bounds of state-regulated capitalism and foreign finance. As The Rockefeller Report on the Americas makes clear " . . . stepped-up dependent industrialization” is "very much in the interests of both Latin America’s and the international metropolis’s bourgeoisies."6 Thus only a sort of “anti-imperialist" industrialization counts as real industrialization.

Amin says growth may occur, but it’s not important. He points out that “I have explained a distinction between the concept of capitalist expansion and the concept of development."7 So he actually isn’t examining the process of capitalist expansion except to show that it doesn’t fit his concept of development. When he feels it necessary to refer to particular examples of dramatic growth in the Third World, it is only to pooh-pooh it. He says that

The industrialization occasionally achieved, and taken by some at face value without analysis of the structures or specific social and political impact, does not lead spontaneously and gradually to social homogenization or national autonomy "8 Indeed, he declares that “the real question is whether the center-periphery polarization can gradually be wiped out under capitalism, allowing national bourgeois development to take place at the periphery.”9

But aren’t both questions important, whether the world remains dominated by a handful of great powers and the exact stage of development in the subordinate countries? Despite the continuing existence of imperialism and “center-periphery polarization’, the collapse of colonialism resulted in a surge of local bourgeois development throughout the Third World.

But Amin denies that “national bourgeois development” has, on the whole, taken place in the Third World. Moreover, going further, he holds that “The historical establishment of the national bourgeois state is not the rule, but so far the exception in the world capitalist system.’10 Really? What are the newly- independent states and the independent countries of the Third World? But Amin is not referring to the actual local bourgeoisie and bourgeois states. For him “national” bourgeois states and ruling classes are those that follow the progressive, anti-imperialist policies that Amin likes and that can establish an ideal type of harmonious capitalist development, which has never existed anywhere. They are countries with "autonomous, socially balanced development". 11

It’s the same thing for Frank. He emphasizes that for him development isn’t economic growth but progressive change. He writes that

Development should not be confused, as it often is, with economic growth measured in annual increases of per capita national income or product. Growth without development is a frequent experience in the past and present of the now underdeveloped countries. . . . Real development involves a structural transformation of the economy, society, polity and culture of the satellite that permits the self-generating and self- perpetuating use and development of the people’s potential. Development comes about as a consequence of a people’s frontal attack on the oppression, exploitation, and poverty that they suffer at the hands of the dominant classes and their system. Thus, higher GNPs in certain Latin American countries (e.g, Mexico and Peru) certainly do not constitute development in this sense."12

It is of course true that the GNP alone isn’t the only factor in development. Capitalist development also involves changes in the social structure of the Third World, the spread of new industries and the decline of old ones, etc. But such things were taking place in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, yet Frank denied this was development. This is because Frank wasn’t talking about actual capitalist transformation, but about whether there was an attack on the oppression, exploitation and poverty of the masses and their subordination to the local ruling classes. Naturally capitalist development never meets this criterion.

Why is it so bad that the dependency theorists overlook the actual development under capitalism? Is the problem that they are too harsh on capitalism, too negative about it? Not at all. The task of socialist activists is to help the proletariat reorganize the class struggle against capitalism. But despite the bitter words of the dependency theorists about what world capitalism has done to the Third World, they end up prettifying “national” capitalism as harmonious, holding that the problem is that such capitalism won’t develop in the Third World. Having identified “development” with, essentially, anti-imperialism and social reforms, they have to keep arguing that development is not taking place, or their own logic would lead them to support the truly “national” capitalists. This mistaken economic analysis of the dependency theorists leads them, as we shall see later on in this article, to have illusions in various bourgeois political forces and movements whenever they seem to take up some type of “independent" and reformist path of development. Thus their analysis blinds them to the tasks facing the proletariat. Amin, for example, is so busy pooh-poohing East Asian industrialization -- arguing that it is a special case, that the local bourgeoisie might fall back into “compradorization”, and so on and so forth — that he fails to see the potential revolutionary impact of the entry of millions of more Asians into the world working class. He never discusses what is needed to facilitate the socialist development of these workers, which is going to be a long struggle, and what problems face their movement. It never strikes him that a world development of tremendous importance is slowly taking place in Asia right before our eyes.

Industrialization of the Third World—

So it is important for revolutionary work to note that, despite the dependency theorists, real development is taking place in the Third World. Capitalist relations have spread to the farthest corners of the globe. There has been a great expansion of industry This has not eliminated poverty or provided social harmony the conditions facing millions of sweatshop workers are barbaric, while the spread of capitalist relations in agriculture pushes out millions of peasants faster than the urban economy can absorb them. Capitalism does not bring social harmony, but lays the groundwork for new class strife. Yet the old Third World is becoming a memory, peasant farming is declining, and the class struggles of the future will increasingly reflect the new industrial and commercial reality

As far as production for export goes, much of this new manufacturing is garment and assembly sweatshops and basic processing of raw materials. Yet this is a major shift in the economies of the countries concerned. As well, a number of countries in the Third World, containing a majority of the population of the region, are developing a certain amount of heavy industry and more sophisticated products. As already mentioned above, this ranges from steel on one hand to pharmaceuticals on the other, and from branch plants to locally- controlled enterprise. Many figures could be given, but here I will just deal with two examples that happened to strike my interest.

Among the industries developing in the Third World is the assembly of cars and other motor vehicles, as well as a varying amount of production of the components themselves. While the Third World remains subordinate in vehicle production, only assembling 15% of the vehicles on the world market, it is now a definite factor, and the auto industry is a major factor in a number of these countries. There are two Third World countries among the top 10 auto producers in the world (South Korea and Brazil), and another five Third World countries in the next ten (China, Mexico, India, Taiwan and Indonesia).13

These figures show both the subordinate status of the Third World and the spread of industry The United States produces more cars by itself than the entire Third World combined, and so does Japan, and both combined produce almost half the total world production. Moreover, these figures are for vehicle assembly. While United States, Japan and Europe have complete auto industries, Mexico mainly assembles car parts produced elsewhere, although Brazil has substantial Brazilian content in its cars, and South Korea does even better. The gap between the Third World and the advanced countries is immense, but the Third World has entered on the road of industrial production.14

Another interesting figure concerns the overall structure of exports from Third World countries. From 1980 to 1992, a number of countries have cut down their reliance on exports of primary commodities. In East Asia, countries such as South Korea and Taiwan already in 1980 exported relatively few primary commodities. Indonesia, however, went in a short time from almost total reliance on primary commodities to where they were only half of its exports (53%). Thailand went down from 71 % to 34%.15 The picture is mixed in Latin America, which had a hard time economically in the 1980s, but even so countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia also showed a certain shift away from primary commodities.16

The development in the Third World is not proceeding in a straight line. Industries can decline as well as advance. Countries and whole regions get caught in crises, and such crises are even an ordinary part of how capitalism forces industries and regions to modernize. Being an industrial producer, whether in light or heavy industry, is not a guarantee of prosperity Moreover, development can devastate the environment at an accelerated rate, as is seen today in China, Thailand, Mexico, etc. It also puts one in bitter competition with other countries. It makes the struggle for technology even more desperate, at a time when the United States and other advanced countries are much more protective of their industrial secrets. That’s what dog-eat-dog capitalist development is in reality

Of course, if the Third World is developing, so is the rest of the world. Industrial development has still left the Third World with a minor share in total world economic activity, but has let it keep pace.17 This is a harsh fact, but even this indicates that the Third World has not simply stagnated: to keep pace with a rapidly changing world, one has to change oneself. As well, Third World development has not set the stage for harmonious, balanced development. Within the Third World disparities have increased between countries and regions, while the stage has been set for new clashes on all sorts of issues between and among the Third World and the developed world. Dependency theory pictures a static world, where development is somewhat exceptional, when the truth is very different. By ignoring development, it obscures may of the ways capitalism bears down on the Third World masses, and hinders the formulation of correct revolutionary tactics and strategy.

The concept of capitalism

Dependency theory not only denigrates the economic changes taking place in the Third World, but holds that the general nature of capitalism in the Third World is not at all like that in Europe, America and Japan. This leads it to regard much of the Marxist analysis of capitalism as ’‘Eurocentric”, even though various of these theorists use Marxist-sounding words. In effect, it casts aside the Marxist analysis of capitalism as obsolete.

Amin for example tries to prove that the laws of capitalist development are different in the developed countries and the Third world by arguing over whether the world is being "homogenized". He writes that:

"... The critique of the prospect of homogenization of the world by capitalism stems from the observation that not only has this not been achieved, even in crude terms, by the five centuries of history of this expansion, but it is also not on the agenda for the foreseeable future.”18

If homogenization means that the standards of living are similar, that countries are no longer divided into powerful and dependent, etc., then of course the world hasn’t been homogenized. Inequality and unevenness are basic to capitalism, whether between worker and capitalist or among capitalists or among regions. But if one asks whether the capitalist social system has spread around the world, then this has clearly happened. The 20th century has continued this process, with the spread of capitalist relations into areas of the world which had formerly been somewhat apart, from much of Africa to the indigenous highlanders in Papua New Guinea, with the progress of capitalist agriculture sooner or later displacing millions and millions of peasants around the world, from Mexico to China, and with monopolization and standardization even extending to pop music and entertainment around the world. What is very noticeable is the reproduction of similar capitalist relations in countries and areas which are remarkably different in terms of living standards, religion, politics, culture, religion, and history

Dependency theory’s analysis of two types of capitalism may however be somewhat obscured by its confusing terminology. While holding that capitalism works differently in the developed countries and the undeveloped ones, it also stresses that capitalism is a world system. Indeed, it takes the fairly straightforward view that capitalism is a world system and exaggerates it to the point of absurdity, denigrating the need to closely examine the local social relations. For example it tends to regard all forms of exploitation — e.g. slavery, feudalism and wage-slavery — as equally capitalist, as long as the country involved has any connection to world capitalism or if the product is sold in a marketplace. Thus Frank and his cothinkers talks of the “allegedly precapitalist, feudal, or backward parts of Latin America”, referring not just to the present but ever since the Europeans arrived.19 Along similar lines, Amin argues that it is “artificial” and “reductionist" to analyze the social classes in a country by looking at the different forms of exploitation (e.g. are there slaveowners? feudalists? or capitalists?), and one should instead refer to forces “operating on a world scale”, i.e., the existence of a capitalist worid-market. He writes that

... Social classes are not defined exclusively by their position in the local system but — and no less significantly — by their relationship to the range of forces operating on a world scale. The internal forces/external forces distinction is therefore artificial and reductionist: all social forces are internal once the unit of study is the world system and not merely its local components."20

So for Amin the one overriding distinction of interest is center/periphery, which is reflected in the distinction between national bourgeois (who supposedly didn’t exist in the periphery but only in the center) and compradors.

In fact, dependency theory misinterprets both the development of capitalism in Europe and the developed countries, as well as its present tendencies. All Amin sees in the “centers” today are high living standards and social harmonies, “broad alliances’, “internal class alliances” and “social consensus” In one typical passage in his book Delinking, he confines the period when the working class represented a “threat to social order” to “19th century European history”, passes over in silence the European wars and attempted revolutions of the 20th century, is contemptuous of the struggle for living conditions as simply a fight over “an economic division of the results”, and is also silent about whether there are any factors suggesting whether the proletariat may ever again rise in revolution.21

As far as the history of its development, dependency theory to the contrary, European capitalism actually displayed many of the features seen in the Third World today Marx in Capital analyzes the pushing of the peasants off the land in Britain, with large numbers being turned into a marginalized, persecuted population. For centuries, the social conditions of the workers in Western European capitalism were pushed below that of the medieval period.22 Living standards eventually rose, but social contrasts remained stark. The “reserve army of the unemployed” was a concept first developed with respect to European capitalism. It took massive class struggles in Europe, and the pressure of a number of wars and attempted revolutions, for the working class to gain a certain status.

Has “European” or “central" capitalism lost these tendencies? Despite decades of capitalist expansion and of domination of the world market, despite unprecedented technological resources, conditions have once again started deteriorating in the advanced countries. It isn’t just in Latin America that economic growth in the last few years has been accompanied by a decline in living standards. This phenomenon may be most painful in the Third World, but it is seen in Europe and the United States as well. Social cutbacks have been proceeding for some time, and the real wages per worker in the United States have been sinking for many years now.

Why is this significant? The point isn’t that the masses in the poor countries aren’t suffering disproportionately hard. Nor is it that they should accept their suffering because after all bad conditions lasted for a long time in Europe too. Just the opposite. The historical analysis of capitalism shows the necessity for the working masses to fight back. But beyond that, it gives some orientation in that struggle.

If dependency theory is right about the nature of the difference between developed and the underdeveloped worlds, “European” and Third World capitalism, then it influences what one thinks will happen during “real" development. It would suggest that the basic Marxist principles concerning the revolutionary class struggle are irrelevant for the Third World. It would instead suggest that “true” development leads to broad class alliances, social progress, and the gradual amelioration of conflicts. Development will be seen, in the Third World, as a quasi-socialist process that leads towards the classless society; we shall see later on in this article Amin presenting his vision of a long period of such development that allegedly goes beyond capitalism and leads to socialism.

Dependency theory on its knees before the local bourgeoisie

Dependency theorists have held that they have the most radical critique of the Third World bourgeoisie because they hold that it is not a national bourgeoisie as in the West and that there is no real development. Yet in practice they have ended up prettifying various bourgeois movements and regimes in the Third World.

Let’s see how this has occurred. Take Samir Amin. Looking back over his life in his book Re-Reading the Postwar Period, he points out that he started out with the view that the bourgeoisie no longer had any connection with the anti-colonial struggle. According to this view, the struggle was essentially socialist and always led by the most revolutionary, communist forces. The result was that it was not necessary to ponder whether the revolution was likely to establish a democratic republic under a capitalist system, and thus have within itself an intense class struggle, or a socialist regime. Nor was it necessary to go too deeply into the tactics of the proletariat towards various class forces within the anti-colonial movement, including bourgeois-reformists, petty-bourgeois nationalists, peasant revolutionaries, etc., to ponder who to oppose and who to ally with, how long such alliances were likely to last, how to resist the bourgeois influence even while the bourgeoisie was posing against imperialism, and how to handle forces which fight the colonialists to this or that extent but which will sooner or later turn on the workers and peasants. These were all supposedly problems of the old days. Now socialism and independence were linked in and of themselves. It is not just that an anti-colonial struggle might, in certain circumstances, pass over to an attempt at socialist revolution, but that the anti-colonial struggle and the socialist revolution were, at base, one and the same thing. This is how Amin understood Mao, and he writes:

... I read Mao Zedong’s On New Democracy (1940) in a French edition and accepted the view that the age was no longer one of bourgeois revolution because the colonial bourgeoisie had joined the imperialist project for expansion. Rather, it was the period of socialist revolution, developing in an unbroken succession on the periphery of the capitalist system. The democratic, anti-imperialist revolution was led by the proletariat and its (Communist) party in close alliance with the peasantry. It neutralized the national bourgeoisie and isolated the comprador feudal bloc. The circumstances were ripe for speedy passage to the building of socialism.”23

Unfortunately for Amin’s Maoist radicalism, as soon as he tried to apply this theory, he was faced with the presence of the bourgeoisie in the anti-colonial movement, and with a number of Third World bourgeoisies adopting reformist or nationalist policies and opposing various stands of Western imperialism in their efforts to consolidate their rule and economically develop their countries. His theory gave him no basis for remaining independent of such a bourgeois project; it didn’t help him recognize the different class forces that would express themselves inside the independence struggle, or the different class interests with respect to development that would arise after independence; it didn’t deal with the complex political questions that arise for the revolutionary movement when the ruling bourgeoisie carries out reforms or confronts imperialist powers. It left him without any guidance on how to organize an independent trend when the nationalistic bourgeoisie was in power, unless he could claim that the ruling bourgeoisie was a "comprador" bourgeoisie. Thus his theory left him unprepared for the class struggle that independence would bring the Third World, because it basically equated anti-colonialism and socialism. So when the bourgeoisie looked militant and stood up for its own national interests against those of the foreign imperialists, Amin was left only with the idea of joining the bourgeois project in an attempt to help push it towards socialism from the inside. As he wrote:

"When I was finishing my studies and returning to Egypt in 1957, two years after the Bandung Conference and .one year after the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the vision of 1945 to 1955 seemed challenged, the vision under which we had lived in the postwar decade from 1945 to 1955 seemed to be being challenged. We had believed that a socialist revolution in unbroken stages was on the agenda throughout Asia and Africa. China, Vietnam, and the armed struggle in Southeast Asia provided the model. . There was no room for bourgeois leadership of national liberation. The bourgeoisie, in a comprador role everywhere, could only transmit a renewed imperialist domination under the aegis of the United States.

"Suddenly — except for China, Vietnam, and North Korea — the emerging independent regimes in Asia settled down and the guerrillas vanished. Suddenly, the India of Nehru’s Congress, Nasser’s Egypt and Sukarno’s Indonesia took new initiatives on internal matters and in relations with imperialism on one side and the USSR and China on the other. These unexpected initiatives seemed to show that the bourgeoisie had not exhausted its historic role, and that the regimes were nothing if not bourgeois. The bourgeoisie claimed again to be national and guided the liberation under the new conditions which the exercise of power gave to it. It engaged in political and economic battles against imperialism through nationalization, including that of the Suez Canal. It refused to surrender to the orders of U.S. military planners and rejected the Baghdad Pact (among others). It drew closer to the USSR and China. It undertook social reforms, especially land reforms, These facts could not be ignored.

"From 1955 to 1990 debate focused on the central question: Was a national capitalist outcome possible in the third world? What could it really do and to what extent? Could it pave the way for a socialist replacement?

"This cycle is now over. I see the cycle as unfolding in two steps: deployment of the Bandung project from 1955 to 1975, following by its stifling and the dismantling, and the return of the third world to a comprador role from 1975 to 1990."24

Thus, for Amin’s theory, the central question was not how to organize the working masses, but whether a "national capitalist outcome" was possible and whether it could gradually transform itself into socialism. It doesn’t even occur to him that the central question was how to organize the working masses separately from the national bourgeoisie during the Bandung project itself. Now it is clear why Amin and fellow-thinkers have to constantly deny the facts of bourgeois development in the Third World and the existence of a national bourgeoisie. Given their theoretical views, this is the only way they can express any opposition to the local bourgeoisie. Thus Amin, faced with the bourgeoisie adopting policies of which he disapproves, concludes that there was “the return of the third world to a comprador role from 1975 to 1990.”

But back in 1955, Amin wasn’t sure. It took a few years’ experience of trying to move the Nasser regime to socialism for him to decide that something else was probably needed. He writes that:

" ... by 1960 I thought, on the basis of three years’ experience in the Nasser administration, that it had a poor chance of transcending its bourgeois limitations."25

Following his partial disillusionment with the prospects of Nasserism, he then worked in the administration of other left-wing bourgeois regimes in Africa. He claims, in retrospect, that he wasn’t too optimistic about their prospects either. Yet it is notable that his whole activity centered on these regimes. He writes:

I did not share the childish optimism of those who saw in ‘African socialisms’ a new and almost radiant path. The resemblance with Nasserism struck me. But no battle can be lost until it has been joined. Battle had to be joined. It was lost for all the familiar reasons: insufficient maturity of the avant garde: illusions about the Soviet ‘friend’; imperialist intervention; greed of the new embryonic, statist bourgeoisie."26

Despite his critique of these regime, he doesn’t say a single word about the need for organizing the proletariat as an independent force in these countries. He does not discuss anything but work within the planning agencies of these regimes.

Today Amin believes that the recompradorization of the Third World has gone far. Yet what has he concluded should be done? He has written one book after another advocating that the world should be reconstructed on the basis of “polycentrism" This turns on “a strategy of development of new North-South relations" as “the central axis of this necessary reconstruction of the world."27 This is not an appeal for developing the class struggle of the oppressed in the Third World, but mainly for better state relations between the Third World regimes and the advanced industrial countries.

A similar contradiction between denunciations of the bourgeoisie in theory and subservience to the reformist sections of the bourgeoisie in practice can be found in other dependency theorists. Some of them have written flaming revolutionary manifestoes against the Third World “national bourgeoisie”, and yet still faltered in front of the reformist bourgeoisie. For example, Frank’s co-thinker Cockcroft writes that

. . .the revolutionary forces in Latin America come face to face with the main internal enemy, the principal class opposed to serious reform. That class is that national bourgeoisie, once thought to be ‘progressive,’ but now best understood as reactionary."28 Frank in turn writes passionately that ‘Tactically, the immediate enemy of national liberation in Latin America is the native bourgeoisie in Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, etc., and the local bourgeoisie in the Latin American countryside. This is so—in Asia and Africa included—notwithstanding that strategically the principal enemy undoubtedly is imperialism.

Today the anti-imperialist struggle in Latin America must be carried out through class struggle. Popular mobilization against the immediate class enemy on the national and local levels produces a stronger confrontation with the principal imperialist enemy than does direct anti-imperialist mobilization. Nationalist mobilization through political alliance of the broadest anti- imperialist forces does not adequately challenge the immediate class enemy, and generally it does not even result in a real and necessary confrontation of the imperialist enemy This applies also to the neocolonial countries of Asia and Africa and perhaps to some colonial countries, unless they are already militarily occupied by imperialism.”29

Surely here, one might think, are activists who will not bow down before bourgeois movements and regimes; Frank’s statement in particular burns with strong acid. But one would be mistaken. Frank has remarkably little criticism of the bourgeois reformist movements in their glory days other than that they either degenerated or didn’t survive. A typical remark by Frank, Cockcroft and Johnson about the bourgeois reformists is that "Again and again, available evidence reveals that populist policies like those of the Cardenas administration in Mexico, 1934-1940, or of the Christian Democrats in Chile, 1964-70, are destined to become mere episodes in history as long as they leave the economic positions of the bourgeoisie intact.”30 (Moreover, their book Dependence and Underdevelopment opens, in its first paragraph, with a 1969 quote from the Christian-Democratic Foreign Minister of Chile giving essentially their own theoretical analysis about why Latin America is underdeveloped.) Frank repeats the same idea about a whole series of bourgeois movements of varying political natures, his criticism being that they didn’t last. He says

The weakening of the imperialist ties with the colonial structure resulted in changes in the Latin American class structure and in the economic, political, and ideological movements associated with Vargas, Peron, Cardenas, Haya de la Torre, Aguirre Cerda, Betancourt, Figueres, Arevalo-Arbenz (and in another part of the same world capitalist system Gandhi and Nehru). All these movements (and those leaders like Betancourt and Figueres who survived) lost their economic and political nationalist impulse with the recovery of imperialism and with the reintensification of its colonial ties."31 Frank’s criticism is that "Under present conditions it is utopian” to hope for "the continuation or renovation of this bourgeois nationalist movement"

It is notable that Frank has nothing to say about the fight between these movements and the more radical movements of the working masses, or the attempts of various of these movements to co-opt and stifle the revolutionary workers’ movement. He says nothing that would help activists maintain an independent stand if they were faced by such movements. If anything, Frank seems to manifest a certain nostalgic for the politics of these groups, which were allegedly crushed only by imperialist pressure. When he denounces the bourgeoisie as reactionary, he is clearly not referring to these groups, which he regards as progressive but doomed. His criticism of bourgeois movements is mainly that such trends supposedly cannot arise again.

Denial of the Marxist theory of revolution

While many dependency theorists claim to be Marxists, they have directly repudiated a number of fundamental Marxist positions. We have noted above that they denounce much of the Marxist analysis of capitalism as "Eurocentric" They have also abandoned the Marxist theory of revolution, with its sharp distinction between the socialist revolution that overthrow capitalism and the bourgeois-democratic revolution. This distinction has a long history In the excitement of the more thorough-going democratic revolutions, as the masses come to political life, as old tyrants and exploiters are overthrown, it often seems as if final liberation is at hand. So it seemed in the French revolution of the late 18th century when the monarchy was overthrown and the most radical faction, most closely linked to the lower masses, came to power briefly in Paris. But in the wake of one democratic revolution after another came disillusionment. In place of the expected rule of reason and brotherhood, there was the rule of the bourgeoisie. Marxist theory shows why this happens. It showed that democratic transformations, including the overthrow of dictators, liberation of colonies, and land reform, while of immense use to the working masses, clear the way for a vast extension of capitalism. Thus instead of universal brotherhood, the democratic alliance breaks up into classes and strata with different interests, and the conditions are created for a broader, wider and more intense class struggle. From the Marxist point of view, this class struggle is the only way forward towards building or strengthening the independent movement of the working class, improving the conditions of the working masses, and preparing for a future socialist revolution. Marxist theory thus encourages the class organization of the workers even in the midst of a democratic revolution, even while showing them the importance of striving for the most thorough-going democratic changes. It shows the workers how a socialist revolution differs from a democratic revolution and involves far more profound economic changes.

The dependency theorists throw out this distinction, at least for the Third World (which is the only place where they think it makes sense to talk about revolutionary organizing). Amin says that

"By the mid-1980s, I had reached a new conclusion: historical Marxism had posed the question of the transition in the incorrect terms of bourgeois revolution or socialist revolution. The real question on history’s agenda was a very long evolution beyond capitalism, of a national and popular character, based on delinking and a recognition of the genuine conflict between the trend toward capitalism and the aspiration for socialism.” He pointed out that this meant that the issue was "building a base for a national and popular alliance” and a "delinked and democratic national strategy.”32

Nor is this Amin’s analysis of a particular country at a particular time, but a universal panacea for everywhere in the Third World. Everywhere in the Third World, a broad progressive alliance on democratic and national issues was supposed to go beyond capitalism, in Amin’s conception. He did not see why the broad alliances on democratic and anti-colonial issues would split up on the issue of socialism.

Frank’s conception is similar. On one hand, he and his co-thinkers say that socialism is immediately on the agenda in every country in Latin America, as ‘the time has come for replacing capitalist underdevelopment with socialist development."33 They deny that any other type of revolution or struggle can be taking place anywhere in Latin America, saying that "the time for a ’bourgeois democratic revolution’ or ‘democratic left’ alternative has passed forever. We suggest that the immediate post-Independence period, 1830-1880, was the last time such an alternative might have had a chance of succeeding."34 But on the other hand, Frank and his cothinkers also repeatedly describe this socialist revolution as springing out of nationalism or based on democratic struggles. Describing the struggles they support, they write of “a growing Latin American reaction to subordination: nationalism" and of "nationalist and class-liberation movements".35 And Cockcroft holds, with respect to the Mexican democratic revolution of the early 20th century, that "it is difficult to conclude that the Mexican Revolution was in its essence a bourgeois (anti-feudal) revolution.”36 It was supposedly "an anti-capitalistic revolution" instead. So, in calling for socialist revolution, Frank and his cothinkers are not demanding a change in the politics and methods of organization of radical Latin American movements, but rechristianing them as socialist, if only they are revolutionary and nationalist.

As Amin and Frank deny the distinction between bourgeois-democratic and socialist revolution, they don’t see the need to assess the growth of the working class, the class differences developing among the peasantry, or most other class relations in order to judge the prospects and nature of the ongoing struggles in a country. So long as the country is a “peripheral" country, that’s all they have to know. This fits in with their denial of real development in Third World countries. If they felt there was a relationship between the degree of development and the type of struggle that was likely, it would encourage them to make more profound distinctions concerning the Third World countries than simply whether there was real development or mere “growth" But given their theory of revolution, the only question is whether there is “real" development and hence a “national capitalist outcome”, in which case revolution, in their view, flies out of the window, or there has to be a socialistic alternative as the only way to have development. Thus, although the dependency theorists have carried out a number of detailed studies of countries, they tend to aim simply at the repeated proof that the Third World is really peripheral rather than seeking to assess the impact of the changing conditions on revolutionary strategy

While rejecting the Marxist-Leninist theory of revolution, the dependency theorists don’t understand it. They portray as Marxism the revisionist distortion of this theory. According to dependency theorists, a bourgeois-democratic struggle is one which is led by the bourgeoisie, and for the proletariat to take part in bourgeois-democratic struggles or revolutions means that it must restrict its demands and actions to what is acceptable to the bourgeoisie. So naturally theorists like Frank associate the idea of a bourgeois-democratic struggle with reformism or servility to the bourgeoisie.

The actual Marxist theory of bourgeois-democratic revolution is quite different.37 A bourgeois-democratic revolution isn’t one that is necessarily led by the bourgeoisie, but one which doesn't go beyond the economic limits of capitalism. Already with respect to the European democratic revolutions of 1848-30, Marx exposed the treacherous role played by the bourgeoisie. For his part, Lenin analyzed why, if the democratic revolution in Russia was to achieve its greatest sweep, it must be led by the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry, and it must not fear antagonizing the bourgeoisie. He also showed that a land reform carried out in the interests of the peasantry as a whole clears the way for capitalism, even though it expropriates the rich landlords. As well, Lenin pointed out that, under certain conditions, it was possible for the democratic revolution to be quickly followed by, or pass over into, a socialist revolution. But Lenin stressed that this involved a change in the class alliances from one stage to another. For example, in Russian conditions, in which the peasant question was crucial, he pointed out in 1903 that:

The proletariat must carry the democratic revolution to completion, allying to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush the autocracy’s resistance by force and paralyze the bourgeoisie’s instability The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, allying to itself the mass of the semiproletarian elements of the population, so as to crush the bourgeoisie’s resistance by force and paralyze the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie."38

Land reform

One example where the different theories of revolution of dependency theory and Marxism stand out sharply is the question of land reform. Marxism sees the expropriation of big feudal landlords and the taking over of the land by the peasantry as a bourgeois-democratic reform. It would improve the condition of the peasantry, but it would not threaten, but expand, the capitalist system. Lenin said, with respect to an agrarian revolution in Russia:

"We are in full sympathy with the peasant movement. We would consider it a tremendous gain both for the general social development of Russia and for the Russian proletariat if the peasantry, with our help, succeeded in wresting from the landlords off their land by revolutionary means. But even assuming this most favorable outcome — even then, the mass of agricultural hired laborers would only temporarily diminish in number but could in no event disappear altogether Even then, the independent interests of the rural hired laborers would remain independent interests.

"The transfer of the land to the peasants would not at all do away with the predominance of the capitalist mode of production in Russia; it would, on the contrary, provide a broader base for its development; The property distinctions among the peasants, which are already tremendous, but relatively not very noticeable chiefly on account of the general oppression under the absolutist serf-owning system, would not in any way cease to exist. .. ."39

However Frank, in discussing agrarian reform, only sees it as establishing a favorable system, and he doesn’t discuss whether it is a bourgeois-democratic step or a socialist step. He recognizes a distinction between a moderate agrarian reform which the local bourgeoisie and the U.S. imperialists would support, namely one which stops short of "short of 'peasant control'", and a radical agrarian reform; but he doesn’t discuss the class nature of the radical reform,40 He sees the problems in what the Mexican agrarian co-ops, the ejidos, have become, but is vague on why these problems have developed. He refers to the external capitalist pressures on the countryside, and he sees that capitalist relations spread when big markets open up for agricultural goods, resulting in the spread of commercial agriculture. But is the breakup of the peasantry into different classes after land reform, into rich peasant exploiters and poor or landless peasants, only because of external pressure and an insufficiently radical land reform? Or does the most radical land reform itself clear the way for this breakup of the peasantry, as Marxism holds and has been verified over and over around the world? Frank doesn’t pose the question. He may wish to show land reforms carried out under governments he recognizes as capitalist won’t provide "real" development, but his approach leaves open the possibility that a proper land reform would be simply another step in a revolutionary transition towards socialism.

His view that it is external forces that subvert Mexican land reform appears, for example, in his discussion of the Mexican agrarian co-op or "ejido" He states that "Even after a major agrarian reform in Mexico in the 1930s, latifundismo [landlordism—JG] renewed its vigorous development when demand from the metropolis for food imports during World War II triggered a commercial response in Mexico’s countryside."41 He sees this happening only because "the earlier agrarian reform did not break the overall capitalist structure of the society " But what Frank doesn’t say is that it is not only that the land reform wasn’t accompanied by the breaking of capitalism elsewhere in Mexico, but that it itself was part of expanding capitalism in the agrarian sector The "ejido" system helped generate capitalism from among the peasantry, and it was part of the program by President Lazaro Cardenas of Mexico in the latter 30s to foster capitalist agriculture.

Indeed, Frank sees the large-scale commercial farming that developed especially rapidly in Mexico after World War II as simply a return of the old-style latifundia, which he regarded as already fully capitalist.42 He does not see that the spread of capitalist relations changed the nature of large-scale farming, accelerating the replacement of old-fashioned landlordism with large-scale capitalist farming, and overall changed the situation in the Mexican countryside.

The same vagueness on land reform appears in Cockcroft’s discussion of the Mexican revolution as, "in essence", an anti-capitalist revolution. Cockcroft reasons that the Mexican revolution could only be a bourgeois-democratic revolution if it was backed, at least tentatively, by the bourgeoisie.43 He sees that the bourgeoisie recoiled from the peasant revolution and smashed it, and so sees that peasant revolution as "an anti-capitalistic revolution.” He does not directly discuss land reform, which was the central demand of the peasants. He only asks if the peasants were fighting against the currently existing bourgeoisie or had bourgeois support. So he concludes that, for the Mexican workers and peasants, “this was an anti-capitalistic revolution” and ”the Mexican workers and peasants did indeed fight around relatively common, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist issues.”44 Was land reform one of these anti-capitalist issues or not? He is silent.

In fact, support for land reform and support for the abolition of capitalism are two separate things, and peasants who support land reform will later divide on the question of socialism. For that matter, far from land reform being inherently anti-capitalist, even the bourgeoisie which emerged from the Mexican revolution had some interest in a moderate version of it, and had an ejido program. The scope of this program vastly increased when Lazaro Cardenas was president of Mexico (1934-1940), when twice as much land was distributed among the peasants as during the administrations of all his predecessors combined. But Cockcroft doesn’t raise the issue of whether this shows that the peasant demands were really anti-capitalist.

Moreover, he sees the Mexican revolution as still continuing decades after the murder of Zapata and the defeat of the insurgent peasants, which he holds only "blunted" the "worker-peasant thrust of the Revolution" He holds that

"The anti-imperialist thrust of the Revolution varied through the years, gaining strength when the workers mobilized, as during the petroleum industry crisis of 1936-38 and losing strength when the domestic bourgeoisie felt less threatened from below and more amenable to profitable arrangements with foreign capitalists, as after World War II."45 Yet during these years, PRI was in power, a bourgeois party which co-opted and repressed the various popular movements.

The idea that the revolution is continuing—indeed one whose anti-imperialist thrust is, in Cockcroft’s view, essentially anti-capitalist — despite the fact that the workers and peasants were defeated and the local bourgeoisie is in power, illustrates the wide gulf between Marxism and dependency theory For dependency theory, land reform, nationalizations, and other ‘national and popular” measures (to use Amin’s term) are anti- capitalistic in themselves. When the dependency theorists declared for socialist revolution, they did not begin a struggle to reorient the revolutionary movement to a more clearly defined goal, but they simply put a socialistic gloss on the methods and goals that the movement had already been using.


This also appears in Amin’s description of his replacement for the Marxist theory of socialist revolution. Recall that he talks of “a very long evolution beyond capitalism, of a national and popular character, based on delinking and a recognition of the genuine conflict between the trend toward capitalism and the aspiration for socialism.” A socialist gloss is given to a "national and popular" coalition based on something else. So what is this delinking, that supposedly thus transforms the general, popular coalitions?

Amin talks of “delinking’ the criteria of rationality of internal economic choices from those governing the world system.”46 One of the key parts of "delinking" is that a country doesn’t use the prices set by the world market. (For example, Amin describes that the European Community "had achieved its food sufficiency by a policy of delinking European agricultural prices from those of the world market. But it opposed any similar policy in the third world.. . . . 47) More generally, Amin’s "delinking” is, as Phil of the Communist Voice Organization described it in an earlier article on Amin, "a program of state intervention, high trade barriers, and the formation of an alternate center to the developed economies of the West."48 By itself, this program is simply an attempt to convert “peripheral" capitalist economies into the "autocentric"-type capitalist economy that Amin believes is prevalent in the capitalist "centers” Therefore he says,

"Undoubtedly, as we have already said, the ‘autocentric strategy’ is not anti-capitalist, since it corresponds to the content of central development."49

Yet Amin insists that "delinking” is, in the periphery if not in the capitalist center, the key to the transition towards socialism. He writes that:

" . . . the problematic of socialist transition is truly at the heart of the matter For if the bourgeoisie is incapable of ‘delinking’, and if only a popular alliance can and should be persuaded that delinking is an ineluctable necessity, the social dynamic must lead to aligning the people’s plan into a perspective for which we find no other description than socialist."50 Indeed, Amin states that "we support the view that, whether one likes it or not, de-linking is associated with a ‘transition’ — outside capitalism and over a long time — towards socialism. This raises a host of other questions: that this transition is not the one conceived by Marx perhaps . ."51

Of course, if the bourgeoisie seemed to take steps to delink, as Nasser, Nehru and others did, then Amin began to see their movements too as something that might be pushed into this evolution beyond capitalism. The theory of ‘delinking’ as the heart of the transition to socialism then leaves the “popular classes’ without any basis on which to take an independent stand from such bourgeois movements. Amin seems to have unwittingly written a revealing critique of his own theory when he characterized the problem with the old Soviet revisionist theory of "noncapitalist development" as follows:

"Alliance with the national bourgeoisies was not presented as such but as support to ‘progressive forces’ in ‘transition to socialism.’ The muddled theories of the ‘noncapitalist road' were devised for the purpose. These terms were taken up by the radical left in national liberation movements and even by the leading Marxist circles. This only worsened the confusion and left working people unprepared to react appropriately to the erosion and collapse of the Bandung project."52


1 Alschuler, Lawrence R.. Multinationals and Maldevelopment: Alternative Development Strategies in Argentina, the Ivory Coast and Korea, 1988, p.4. He says he is “borrowing judiciously” from John Gaining in giving this definition.

2 Alschuler, p. 97

3 Ibid., p. 97.

4 Amin, Samir, Re-Reading the Postwar Period: An Intellectual Itinerary, 1994, p. 166. Note that he insists that real development must be something that challenges globalization.

5 Andre Gunder Frank, James D. Cockcroft, and Dale L. Johnson, Dependence and Underdevelopment: Latin America's Political Economy, p. xi, from the introduction, which is by all three authors.

6 Frank, Cockcroft, Johnson, p. xxv Cockcroft elaborates further on this theme later in the book, pp. 141-5, in “Last Rites for the Reformist Model in Latin America” He says that "the United States now has a vested interest in encouraging economic development in Latin America, so long as it follows general guidelines consistent with U.S. corporate interests.” (emphasis is Cockcroft’s) And he talks of "handsome growth rates” in Peru, along with the economy progressing “toward an urban, industrialized stage, dependent on foreign markets and international corporations doing the financing and investing.” Since this is not the dream of independent development, nor will it eliminate poverty, he apparently does not regard this as contradicting the introduction to the book that plays down the existence of development. Nor does he consider whether this development will bring any changes with respect to the struggle in Latin America.

7 Re-Reading, p. 150.

8 Amin, Samir, Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World, English edition of 1990 (the original, French edition. La deconnexion, was 1985), p. 33.

9 Re-Reading, p. 8.

10 Delinking, p. 11

11 Delinking, p. viii.

12 Frank, Cockcroft & Johnson, pp. xv-xvi, emphasis as in the original. They attribute the phrase “growth without development”, although not the particular meaning they give to it, to Growth without Development: An Economic Study of Liberia, by R. Clower, G. Dalton, M Harwitz and A. Walters.

13 These figures are based on a chart on page 33 of NACLA’s Report on the America. vol. XXIX, #4, Jan/Feb 1996. The source of the figures is the American Automobile Manufacturers Association.

14 It might be interesting to also consider, not simply the number of cars produced, but the number of cars produced divided by the size of the country's population. By this measure, the Third World remains in the top twenty auto producers, but it moves further down. Only one Third World country makes it into the top ten, namely, South Korea. India drops off the list of the top 20 altogether, and Argentina enters it. The top of the list becomes Canada (whose auto plants are subsidiaries of foreign companies), Japan, France, Germany and Spain (also a branch-plant country in auto), followed by South Korea which is actually ahead of the United States by this measure.

15 In both these cases, while an increase in textiles and clothing were a substantial pan of the change in their exports, it was less than half of the change. It’s a different story in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

16 These figures are based on Table 2 on page 23 of NACLA’s Report on the America, vol. XXIX, #4, Jan/Feb 1996, in the article “Latin America in the Global Economy: Running Faster to Stay in Place” by Gary Gereffi and Lynn Hempel.

17 Here, as elsewhere in this article, Japan, although an Asian country, is grouped not with the Third World but with the developed world. The spectacular growth of Japan has caused a noticeable shift in world economic power, but this is a shift among the developed countries, and not a shift to the developing world.

18 Delinking, p. 4.

19 Frank, Cockcroft & Johnson, p. xii, emphasis added.

20 Delinking, p. 5.

21 Ibid, p. 12.

22 Plekhanov, "A Critique of our Critics", Selected Philosophical Works, vol. 2, p. 564 (which is near the end of “Article Two"). He cites similar views by non-Marxist observers.

Meanwhile Marx gives a detailed description of the persecution of the English laboring masses during the genesis of capitalism in Capital, vol. 1. For example, Ch. XXVIII is entitled ‘Bloody legislation against the expropriated from the end of the 15th century Forcing down of wages by acts of Parliament" It describes how “The proletariat created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the soil, this ‘free’ proletariat, could not possibly be absorbed by the nascent manufactures as fast as it was thrown upon the world. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage.” He traces the further deterioration of conditions into the 17th century, and the continuing harsh conditions afterwards. Does this not remind one of the plight of the marginalized ex-peasant masses today?

Ch. VII, section 5 is entitled “The struggle for a Normal Working-Day Compulsory Laws for the Extension of the Working-Day from the Middle of the 14th to the end of the 17th Century” Marx analyzes that ‘The establishment of a normal working day is the result of centuries of struggle between capitalist and labourer ” He doesn’t see it as an example of broad social alliances.

23 Re-Reading, p. 30.

24 Re-Reading, pp. 105-6.

25 Ibid., p. 110. Mind you, this was a relative disillusionment. In his book Maldevelopment: Anatomy of a Global Failure (1990), he still held that Nasser will remain one of the “prophets of our age" for advocating Arab unity (p. 207).

26 Rereading the Postwar Period, p. 117

27 Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World, p. xiii.

28 Cockcroft, “Last Rites for the Reformist Model in Latin America” in Dependency and Underdevelopment, p. 146.

29 Frank, “Who is the Immediate Enemy?" in Dependence and Underdevelopment, pp. 425-6.

30 Dependence and Underdevelopment, p. xix.

31 "Who is the Immediate Enemy?” in Dependency and Underdevelopment, p. 428. Frank does not say what measures he thinks these movements should have taken against the "economic positions of the bourgeoisie”

32 Re-Reading the Postwar Period, pp. 167-8.

33 Frank, Cockcroft, Johnson, p. xii.

34 Ibid., p. xxvi.

35 Frank, Cockcroft, Johnson, p. xiii, emphasis as in the original.

36 James Cockcroft, “Social and Economic Structure of the Porfiriato: Mexico, 1877-1911” in Dependence and Underdevelopment, p.69.

37 A more detailed description of some of the points of the Marxist theory, with particular reference to Lenin’s views, can be found in my article "Marxist theory on democracy and socialism in relation to revolutionary work in Mexico” in the last issue of Communist Voice, vol. 3, #2, May 8, 1997. It was written as an accompaniment to the article “Two perspectives on Mexico: taking democracy to the limit or organizing a socialist movement”, which is a reply to the views of Anita of the Chicago Workers' Voice. It opposes Anita’s view that taking democracy to the limit in Mexico merges with socialism. She may have been influenced in this view by dependency theory. She has defended dependency theory against the criticisms that it was receiving from various comrades, regarding that its revolutionary credentials and its stand toward the local bourgeoisie can’t be questioned because Frank calls for socialism.

38 "Two tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution", section 12 in Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 100.

39 "The Agrarian Program of the Liberals", Collected Works, vol. 8, pp. 318-9, emphasis as in the original.

40 Frank, Cockcroft, Johnson, p. xxv.

41 Ibid., p. xvii.

42 Thus he talks of the "contemporary resurgence of latifundia particularly in the North of Mexico”, regarding them as the same as the latifundia of the last few centuries. See "The Development of Underdevelopment" in Dependence and Underdevelopment, p. 13.

43 It should be kept in mind that, as I have pointed out above, the support of the bourgeoisie for a revolution is not the key issue in whether Marxism judges that this revolution is bourgeois-democratic or socialist. Cockcroft is applying the standards of dependency theory, not Marxism. Even were his implication correct that the entire Mexican bourgeoisie of that time opposed land reform, this would not suffice to prove it a socialistic measure.

44 James Cockcroft, "Social and Economic Structure of the Porfiriato: Mexico, 1877-1911” in Dependence and Underdevelopment, p.69.

45 Ibid., p. 47 It is notable that he leaves out the question of whether the extension of the ejido program was also part of this revolutionary thrust. After all, the peasants rallied whenever possible to the creation of ejidos, and they had to continually prod the government to live up to its promises of land reform. To expand the ejido program, Cardenas had to mobilize the peasants to apply pressure in the countryside, although he kept them under close rein. So, by his logic, he should associate the land reform with the continuing worker-peasant thrust of the revolution, but he doesn’t speak directly to this.

A number of years later, in his book Mexico: Class Formation, Capital Accumulation, and the State, 1990 edition, Cockcroft put forward different views on some of these questions. He now states that the Mexican revolution was defeated, and didn’t continue and wasn’t ‘permanent' (pp. 112- 4). He talks about the bourgeoisie’s plans for the ejidos and land reform, and Lazaro Cardenas’s plans for spurring capitalist agriculture. But he still never speaks directly on the nature of land reform itself, if carried out in a radical and revolutionary way. Indeed, referring to struggle led by Emiliano Zapata in the revolution, he says that 'the ’commune of Morelos’ embodied the future of peasant-worker power in Latin America”. One would think that this implies that land reform, at the base of the Zapatista demands and the Morelos Commune, is still being presented as anti-capitalistic or socialistic, but Cockcroft won’t address the issue directly. He leaves open whether or not the problem with the ejidos and Mexican land reform was that it was carried out according to bourgeois plans, and that real land reform might be anti-capitalistic.

46 Delinking, pp. 18-19. Note that Frank doesn’t agree with “delinking" What is common between Frank and Amin on the question under discussion is the replacement of the Marxist theory of revolution with a theory of a hybrid revolution. As to delinking itself, in a discussion in the early 80's of Amin with other dependency theorists who share “common commitments and premises", Frank held that ‘Delinking has never worked to any significant extent (with the possible exception of North Korea and Albania)- and was mostly forced on regimes by imperialist hostility He “also asks why ‘older’ socialist states constantly counsel ‘younger’ ones not to delink (the USSR to China and Angola, China to Vietnam, Cuba to Nicaragua), if it is so advantageous to one and all.” Wallerstein agreed with Frank "that delinking has neither been successful nor by and large voluntary" and moreover regarded it as a rebirth of "mercantilism". Arrighi held that it is "essentially mercantilism but mercantilism with a new content". (Samir Amin, Giovanni Arrighi, Andre Gunder Frank, and Immanuel Wallerstein, Dynamics of Global Crisis, 1982, ‘Conclusion: A Friendly Debate", pp. 233, 241-2.)

47 Re-Reading, p. 161. Or again, to show that India had “semi-delinked", Amin writes that "the internal structure of prices (and notably the internal terms of trade for the prices of basic foodstuffs and industrial prices) was semi-delinked from the world system." Maldevelopment, p. 179.

48 Phil (Seattle), “On Samir Amin’s utopia about the bourgeois development of the third world: A review of Samir Amin’s Re-reading the Postwar Period: An Intellectual Itinerary", Communist Voice, vol. 3, #1, p. 40, col. 1.

49 Delinking, p. 18.

50 Ibid, p. 19.

51 Maldevelopment, p. 187.

52 Rereading, p. 133.

A review of Warren’s “Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism

On pseudo-Marxist apologies for imperialism

by Joseph Green

Warren's denial of the division between the rich and the poor countries


Warren’s vision of harmonious capitalist development—


The issue of growth—




Other features of imperialism—


Warren's negation of Marxist theory


Warren's view that anything that increases the productive forces should be supported—


Warren vs. the Marxist denunciation of the crimes of colonialism—


Colonial wars—


Bourgeois regimes in the Third World—


The democratic and socialist revolutions—


The right of nations to self-determination—


Marx and free trade—


The state-capitalist countries—


Fantasy and theory—


Dependency theorists centered their criticism of imperialism on the alleged impossibility of "real” economic development in the dependent countries. But, alongside the widespread poverty, fundamental changes in the structures of the economies are taking place in the Third World. So by centering their view of imperialism on the supposed lack of development in the “periphery”, dependency theorists created an opening for the apologists of imperialism, who defend it on the grounds that, after all, economic development took place in the colonies and accelerated after the colonies became independent.

The late British author Bill Warren was one of the most fervent defenders of imperialism and colonial wars, and also advocated that imperialism hardly really exists anymore seeing that almost all of the former colonies are independent and the Third World is not economically stagnant. His book Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism (1980) loudly proclaimed defense of imperialism to be the supposed traditional view of Marxism. This might seem to be a joke, but it has been taken seriously by a number of dependency theorists and leftist academic writers on the theory of imperialism. One such author says that Warren’s book “suggestively entitled Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism, extensively quotes from Marx’s articles on India and strongly argues in favor of going back to the original Marxian idea that capitalism is an inherently industrializing force and that imperialism is the vehicle through which it can achieve its developing and civilizing mission in the backward regions.”1 That Warren can be taken as a Marxist shows how little Marxism is actually understood by many who claim to expound it today, an ignorance that has been promoted by the stereotypes of dependency theory. We shall therefore deal with Warren, however freaky his theories may appear, in order to oppose some common wrong ideas about Marxism as well as because Warren’s work is part of a debate over whether imperialism still exists in the post-colonial world.

Warren’s denial of the division between the rich and the poor countries

Before getting into Warren’s theories about Marxism, however, let us look at his picture of the world. He has given a good deal of statistics to show that the structure of Third World economies has been radically changing, that industrialization has proceeded, that the domestic market as well as the export-sector has grown, etc. The dependency theorists have had a good deal of trouble dealing with this. Samir Amin, for example, who refers repeatedly to Warren in his book Delinking, is unable to deal with the fact of Third World development.

Warren’s vision of harmonious capitalist development—

But if the dependency theorists accomplished the fantastic feat of presenting a changing Third World as static, Warren accomplishes the equally fantastic feat of presenting it as just about idyllic and suggesting that the gap between the underdeveloped and advanced countries is automatically and rapidly fading away.2 Indeed, one of the chapters in his book is entitled "The Illusion of Underdevelopment: Facts of Post- War Progress” He ignores the growing contradictions between the countries in the Third World that are moving ahead and those falling behind. He uses as many dodges and subterfuges to downplay the sharp contradictions of 20th century imperialism — such as economic crises, wars, revolutions, environmental devastation, growing inequalities, struggles among the advanced countries, and between them and the exploited mass of countries — as the dependency theorists use to ignore the economic development in Third World economies.

The issue of growth—

He focuses on the issue of growth. To some extent, the difference between the facts cited by him and the dependency theorists has been that between statistics based on the rate of growth and those based on the total figures. He emphasizes percentage rates of growth, and they emphasize the overall picture and the poverty in the Third World.

However, the dramatic changes in the Third World aren’t just a matter of percentage trends. South Korea has one of the ten largest economies in the world (although wage levels are not even close to European or American standards). China is not only growing at a rapid pace but is an increasingly major factor in the world (although China ranks among the really impoverished countries). Looking at the Third World countries as a group, and not just at the more economically successful ones, there have been dramatic changes in the nature of their economies, in the percentage of workers in industry, in the length of life, the spread of education, etc.

On the other hand, the way Warren interprets growth rates is wrong. He draws big conclusions from minor differences in growth rates between the developed and underdeveloped countries, and even fudges his statistics to be sure to get these minor differences. He has to do this because he seeks to go beyond the facts of Third World development and claim the imminent end of any gap between the Third World and the developed countries. He pretends that growth rates don’t go up and down, don’t vary tremendously between Third World countries, and that a small growth rate can span a huge gap quickly.

If the figures of world capitalist agencies are accurate, then the overall size of Third World economies as a whole tended to grow somewhat faster than the developed countries in some periods. (If one considers per capita growth, then the figures are more ambiguous.)3 The point however is that if the gap between the developing and developed countries was merely 20% or 30% in total production, then it is quite possible a decade or two of higher growth could bridge it. But when the gap in economic production per capita is 4 or 3 or 20 times, when it is a matter of hundreds of per cent or even thousands, then it is a farce to predict the end of a division into rich and poor countries because of slightly higher growth rates. One instead has to reckon with the continued existence of poor countries, and to judge the overall factors that indicate what will happen to these countries as world development proceeds.

But Warren proceeds by simply extrapolating general trends, averaged for the whole Third World. Thus in his 1973 article he made a big point that manufacturing was increasing ‘faster in the underdeveloped world than in the developed capitalist world”. However, he admitted that the comparative rate of growth of manufacturing output per capita was “rather poor”. The higher growth rates mainly reflected the large population increases in the underdeveloped world, and even so, the Third World still represents a small part of total world output. Instead of taking this seriously, Warren just waved it aside. He argued that although per capita growth rates are most important for living standards, the total growth rate was the "central issue". Nice try, but no cigar.4 In his 1980 book even Warren has to tone down his denigration of the significance of per capita growth rates and argues instead that the growth rate of real per capita GNP presents "a relatively cheerful picture”. However, his problem is that his own figures presented these rates as, on the whole, below those of the advanced countries.

So how does Warren show that the gap between the underdeveloped and the developed was vanishing? He argues that

"the past record of the Third World has been reasonably, perhaps even outstandingly, successful as compared either with their prewar [pre-World War II—JG] performance or with whatever past period of growth in the developed market economies (DMEs) may be taken as relevant for comparison. Any argument that the postwar economic growth of the LDCs [Less Developed Countries] has been a relative or absolute failure must therefore rest on other grounds."5

Here Warren suggests as comparison to the 19th century, when many DMEs were industrializing, or early 20th century Insofar as his comparison is accurate, it is because the entire world has tended to grow faster than 100 years ago. This rapid growth of the capitalist world market in the postwar period is an important feature of modern imperialism. But when the whole world is racing faster, each individual country has to accelerate to stay in the same relative position in the capitalist economic race. With his comparisons to the past. Warren is evading the issue of the current gap between the LDCs and the DMEs. The point is not whether the LDCs are a “failure" or are standing still, but that they are still the subordinate underclass of the world economy

So Warren is faced with coming back to a comparison of today’s per capita growth rates. To deal with this, he briefly reverts to his idea that the per capita growth rates aren’t so important, saying that "A substantial divergence in favour of the developed countries would not in itself suggest poor Third World performance, particularly in view of the differences in rates of population growth." But he goes on to argue that

"... it may nevertheless be noted that ‘depolarization ’ occurred in the 1970s, the per capita growth rates of the LDCs rising faster than those of the DMEs (Table 8), a development that began in the late 1960s (Table 9).7

Warren’s tables cover 1950 to 1974. They show that for the decade 1950-1960, it was in fact the DME’s who did somewhat better than the LDCs in per capita growth rates. For the decade 1960 to 1970 as a whole, the DME’s did much better than the LDCs. For 1970-1972, the growth rates of both sides are almost equal, with the DME’s doing just a little bit better Finally, for 1973-1975, the LDCs did much better. However, Warren neglects to note that 1973-75 was a rather special period, that of the oil crisis. The DME’s per capita GNP actually declined, whereas presumably the LDCs include the big OPEC oil exporters.

The overall result, if Warren’s tables are accurate, is that the DME’s had, if anything, a greater advantage over the LDCs in 1975 than in 1950, although in several individual years the LDCs did better Yet Warren sees in these figures a trend for the LDCs to grow faster than the DMEs and for the gap between them to fall (global depolarization). Incredible!

Warren also tries to show that the gap is vanishing between the LDCs and DME’s by showing that the LDCs are becoming industrial. He argues that

If the advance of modern manufacturing is crucial to the elimination of underdevelopment, then the proportion of gross domestic product in the underdeveloped countries accounted for by manufacturing is a useful, if only approximate, comparative indicator The figures are rather impressive. For the LDCs as a whole, manufacturing accounted for 14.5 per cent of gross domestic product in 1950-4; the figure rose to 17.9 per cent in 1960 and 20.4 percent in 1973. In the developed capitalist countries manufacturing contributed 28.4 per cent to GDP in 1973. The difference is therefore becoming rather small ..."8

This shows that the Third World is increasingly industrial, but Warren goes further and implies that it shows that the overall gap between the Third World and the advanced countries small. But there are different types of manufacturing and different types of manufacturing economies. According to Warren’s figures, the share of manufacturing in the GNP in 1973 of quite a few Latin American countries was close to that of the United States or even higher, including not just Mexico and Brazil but even Peru and Costa Rica. Does that mean that Costa Rica and Peru have advanced industrial economies like the U.S.? Even Warren feels that the reader might not buy this, so he adds that a high percentage share of manufacturing might simply show “the primitive character of agriculture”9 He says that perhaps a better indicator than the percentage of the GNP due to manufacturing is the percentage of the labor force involved in manufacturing. His charts show that various LDCs averaged 15.7% in 1973, while various DMEs averaged 23.2%. He concludes that most LDCs still have a ways to go. But he refuses to consider whether these figures show that it is possible for countries to be increasingly industrial but still economically backward and subordinate.


Warren not only claims that the gap is vanishing between developed and underdeveloped countries, but that the living conditions in the Third World aren’t so bad after all. He denies the massive gaps between rich and poor, and in particular denounces the concept of the "marginalization" of large sections of the mass. He reduces this to only "shanty towns on the outskirts of Third World cities” and then lauds them as improvements in the conditions of the masses and for expanding the commercial economy.10 This reaches the point that he regards prostitution too “as socially beneficial in cities with large male immigrant populations.”11 No doubt, from Warren’s capitalist standpoint, prostitution extends the range of services in the marketplace, increases the gross national product, and fills the pockets of urban prostitutes with more money than those of rural women peasants in pre-capitalist societies. But Warren doesn’t see the degradation of the mass of women reduced to prostitution, nor the oppression of men, women, and children from a type of migrant labor that breaks up most durable connections between men and women and replaces them with commercial sex.12

Warren’s repeats over and over that education has increased in the Third World, various epidemic diseases have been conquered or reduced, and so forth. Why, he says, they are living longer, as if this alone should satisfy everyone. Yes, the world isn’t standing still; millions upon millions of people have fought for political and economic rights, not holding back even from bloody and protracted liberation wars, and this has had its effect; various medical advances do make it even into even the poorest countries (provided they don’t cost very much per person); education has increased, especially considering the miserable ignorance in which the people were held in the past by colonial governments; and so forth. But the point is that the working people around the world are still oppressed, and those in poor countries suffer particular badly, and often whatever improvements they obtain leave them relatively farther behind than ever Marxism holds that the improvements obtained through national liberation and democratic reforms provide a basis for an expanded class struggle. Capitalist apologists like Warren try instead to use the achievements already obtained to hide the ruthless exploitation of the masses, the callous attitude taken to them by capitalist governments and world imperialism, and the increasing uncertainty of life. Moreover, the last few years have shown that world capitalism continually tests to see how far it can get away with sacrificing health, education and living standards to its needs for economic restructuring.

Other features of imperialism—

Warren not only tries to deny the economic oppression under imperialism, but other of its reactionary features as well. Take such central feature of imperialism as wars, militarism, and massacres. Warren shrugs, and says it is “essentially a technical by-product" of capitalism, “whereas the striving for sympathetic relations between people is far more the deliberate product of conscious effort.” 13 Thus the wars are supposed to be only a minor facet of imperialism, which instead should be lauded for its deliberate efforts at harmonious world relations. Given the need of war and conquest to have a colonial venture in the first place, it would seem rather to have been an essential part of imperialism. Certainly, with the huge resources spent on war and the preparation for war, war seems “far more the deliberate product of conscious effort" than the international humanitarian concerns of the capitalists, which is more the “technical by-product” on which they have always spent little by comparison to their military budgets.

According to Warren, one should close one’s eyes to the tens of millions of war deaths and look only at the "acquisition of new skills, activities, relationships, pleasures, challenges, social explorations’ due to the economic progress of the imperialist age. Why, he argues, the really new thing about capitalism, the really notable thing, is that there is “moral outrage” over wars and massacres, as if such outrage were something new to history. He holds that a higher morality is what characterizes imperialism, and he eulogizes capitalism for ’equality, justice, generosity, independence of spirit and mind, the spirit of inquiry and adventure, opposition to cruelty, not to mention political democracy”.14

It seems that Warren doesn’t share that moral outrage which he claims is universal in the imperialist era. But wars and fascism and massacres are not just a moral issue: it is impossible to understand imperialism, how the various ruling classes fought each other, or even the huge role of the arms industry in 20th century economy, if one omits wars, revolutions, and counterrevolutions. Even much of the technical progress that Warren lauds, to say nothing of a number of educational, science and even development programs, were in fact originated by or accelerated by war or war preparations. The imperialist economy of today is still closely linked to war. Far from wars being isolated accidents, this century saw a multitude of conflicts, revolutionary, counterrevolutionary, and even just senseless slaughters; two world wars, revolutions and national liberation struggles of various types, a series of wars to suppress colonial uprisings, the prolonged threat of global thermonuclear war, and dozens and dozens of “small" wars since World War II. Even today, not only do small wars continue, but the global arms market is booming and many countries are re-arming. For example, Poland is going to modernize its military not by accident but because it is a requirement of its new NATO membership; the East Asian countries are building up their arsenals; and Peru and Ecuador are facing off in their own local arms race.15

All in all, Warren tries to hide the class and national contradictions in the world. His picture of the world is simply that things are getting better and better for everyone as the GNP rises.

Warren’s negation of Marxist theory

Now let’s proceed to some of the theoretical points with which Warren poses as a Marxist. Warren takes from Marxism only what is acceptable to the liberal bourgeoisie, such as the criticism of pre-capitalist conditions and the progressive role of capitalism in constantly revolutionizing the forces of production.16 But Warren leaves out everything else in Marxism, such as the analysis of the contradictions at the heart of capitalism, the exposure of the brutal exploitation and degradation inherent in capitalism, and the path of revolutionary struggle, all of which he regards as "moralism". He takes from Marxism its appreciation of the immense importance of the ideological revolution against feudal conceptions, but he leaves out the analysis of the decay of the bourgeoisie and bourgeois ideology, and the importance of carrying out a revolution against bourgeois ideology. He takes from Marxism recognition of the importance of the bourgeois transformations in the colonies, and leaves aside its struggle against colonialism and imperialism. Thus he turns Marxism from an analysis of the revolutionary process in history and its economic base into simply a sycophant of the ruling classes. As we have seen, Warren pictures a harmonious growth of capitalism and of culture, in which wars are a mere accident, and the marginalization and crushing of large sections of the population a myth.17 With respect to Lenin, Warren accepts the criticism of petty-bourgeois socialism, but rejects the analysis of imperialism or that capitalism has become monopoly capitalism.

Warren’s view that anything that increases the productive forces should be supported —

Warren main point is that anything that develops the means of production is progressive and should be supported. Since imperialism brought the capitalist means of production into the colonies, it must be upheld as progressive and supported. (Warren doesn’t even make an exception for those places where colonialism exterminated or utterly marginalized the indigenous population. He doesn’t recognize that such things ever happened.)

Lenin regarded such arguments as a caricature of Marxism. It was not sufficient to show that something developed the forces of production (and was hence progressive in that sense) to show that the proletariat should support it. Take for example the following passage by Lenin on the attitude to the transformation of semi-feudal agriculture to capitalist agriculture:

"Let us take the Stolypin program, which is supported, by the Right landlords and the Octobrists. It is avowedly a landlords’ program. But can it be said that it is reactionary in the economic sense, i.e., that it precludes, or seeks to preclude, the development of capitalism, to prevent a bourgeois agrarian evolution? Not at all. ... There can be no doubt that it follows the line of capitalist evolution, facilitates and pushes forward that evolution, ... Without a doubt, that legislation is progressive in the scientific- economic sense.

"But does that mean that Social-Democrats should ‘support’ it? It does not. Only vulgar Marxism can reason in that way, a Marxism whose seeds Plekhanov and the Mensheviks are so persistently sowing when they sing, shout, plead, and proclaim: we must support the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the old order of things. No. To facilitate the development of the productive forces (this highest criterion of social progress) we must support not bourgeois evolution of the landlord type, but bourgeois evolution of the peasant type."18

In the Russia of 1907, when Lenin was writing the above, both the Stolypin plan of developing a bourgeois-style of landlord agriculture and the peasant revolution against the landlords would have increased capitalist development in the countryside, and thus both would have been progressive in the “scientific-economic sense” This does not mean that the Marxists supported both plans as progressive in the ordinary sense of the word, or that they were indifferent to whether the landlords crushed the peasants or the peasants crushed the landlords.

Warren presents that Marx supported anything that was economically progressive, no matter how repugnant, and to prove this states that

he [Marx] and Engels, however reluctantly, opted for Bismarckian industrialization of Germany rather than none at all.”19

Actually, Marx and Engels fought vehemently for a revolutionary democratic rather than a reactionary, Bismarckian solution to German unification. They not only opposed Bismarck, but were well-known for denouncing Ferdinand Lassalle, a talented and energetic socialist organizer but one who was responsible for many wrong traditions in the German socialist movement, for coquetting with Bismarck and committing “a betrayal of the whole workers’ movement to the Prussians.”20 When, despite their efforts, the unification was accomplished in a reactionary rather than a democratic way, they did not seek to turn back the clock on unification, to deny its progressive economic content, or that it paved the way for a broader growth of the workers’ movement. They resolutely (not hesitantly) called for basing the tactics of the workers’ movement on the new conditions created by this unification. But this is very different from having supported Bismarck’s path to unification, or from justifying it in retrospect. As Engels said, after the Bismarckian unification was an accomplished fact,

"all we can do is simply to accept the fact, without justifying it, and to use, so far as we possibly can, the greater facilities for national organisation and unification of the German proletariat which must now at any rate offer themselves."21

Similarly, the fact that imperialism has spread capitalism around the world doesn’t mean that the task of the proletariat was to back it. Lenin pointed out that:

It is the revisionists who have long been asserting that colonial policy is progressive, that it implants capitalism and that therefore it is senseless to "accuse it of greed and cruelty", for "without these qualities" capitalism is "hamstrung."

It would be quixotism and whining if Social- Democrats were to tell the workers that there could be salvation somewhere apart from the development of capitalism, not through the development of capitalism. But we do not say this. We say: capital devours you, will devour the Persians, will devour everyone and go on devouring until you overthrow it. That is the truth. And we do not forget to add: except through the growth of capitalism there is no guarantee of victory over it.

Marxists do not defend a single reactionary measure, such as banning trusts, restricting trade, etc. But to each his own. Let Khomyakov and Co. build railways across Persia, let them send Lyakhovs [blood-stained Tsarist military officers— JG], but the job of the Marxists is to expose them to the workers. If it devours, say the Marxists, if it strangles, fight back.

Resistance to colonial policy and international plunder by means of organizing the proletariat, by means of defending freedom for the proletarian struggle, does not retard the development of capitalism but accelerates it, forcing it to resort to more civilized, technically higher methods of capitalism. There is capitalism and capitalism. There is Black-Hundred-Octobrist capitalism22 and Narodnik (‘realistic, democratic’, full of ‘activity’) capitalism. The more we expose capitalism before the workers for its ‘greed and cruelty’, the more difficult is it for capitalism of the first order to persist, the more surely is it bound to pass into capitalism of the second order And this just suits us, this just suits the proletariat.”23

Warren presents the denunciation of the cruelties of imperialism as “moralism,” “liberal guilt” and “utopianism" (which is something like “quixotism”) that doesn’t understand the need to develop the forces of production. But Lenin points out that the more the proletariat organizes and fights against being strangled by capitalist greed, the more, in general, it promotes development (which is, of course, capitalist development until the socialist revolution).

Warren vs. the Marxist denunciation of the crimes of colonialism—

Warren holds that the anti-imperialist stand by Lenin goes against Marxism. He wrote that Marx and Engels welcomed the colonial system, and didn’t blink an eye at the ravaging of countries by fire and sword. After all, Warren says, imperialism was merely "the pioneer of capitalism” He begins a section of his book entitled ‘The Imperialist Mission of Capitalism” as follows:

"Since Marx and Engels considered the role of capitalism in pre-capitalist societies progressive, it was entirely logical that they should have welcomed the extension of capitalism to non- European societies. That this extension was externally initiated and generally imposed by force did not annul, or even qualify, their judgement. Violence did not necessarily mean retrogressive disruption or greater suffering than peaceful reaction. The exogenous introduction of capitalism does not imply a static dualism or sterile compound of the newly-entered capitalist mode of production with pre-capitalist modes of production within the same policy, for the devastatingly superior productivity and cultural attributes of capitalism are bound in the end to subordinate all other modes of production and eventually eliminate them entirely."24

Marx and Engels saw the spread of capitalism as undermining the old pre-capitalist economic situation, and preparing the conditions for further social revolution through Asia and the rest of the world. But recognizing that this process proceeded under colonialism, and apologizing for colonialism and calling for its extension, are two separate things. True, Marx and Engels were as much opponents of reactionary classes and backward social conditions in the Third World as in Europe or North America. But they also bitterly and repeatedly denounced the atrocities against the subject populations, and their systematic exploitation. Far from prettifying the colonial economies, which Warren implies immediately improved conditions over the old society, they noted the tendency of the colonial rule in India to destroy the old forms of pre-capitalist production while being slow to produce capitalist production to replace it. Some of this even appears in the selective quoting of Marx by Warren, but Warren leaves out most of it.

Nevertheless, Warren goes on in his book to contrast the supposed lauding of colonialism by Marx and Engels to

"an illogical, though understandable, Rousseau-like extension of the rights of the individual to the nation ('a nation which oppresses others cannot itself be free’), as exemplified in the stream of denunciations of the evils of colonialism that poured from the congresses of the Second International."25

Engels was, however, still alive during some of these denunciations of colonialism by the Second International and seems to have had a hand in them, to say nothing of being responsible along with Marx for their own "stream of denunciations of the evils of colonialism" Moreover, they repeated many times the thought that "a nation which oppresses others cannot itself be free”, a thought feared by Warren as it undermines his recitation of the glories of colonialism.26 They applied it to many situations: Germany with respect to Poland, England with respect to Ireland, socialist countries with respect to colonies, and so on. Thus Engels wrote:

"Irish history shows one how disastrous it is for a nation when it has subjugated another nation. All the abominations pf the English have their origin in the Irish Pale."27

Oh no, says Warren. He claimed that Engels in fact "considered a positive socialist colonial policy a likely necessity." This is the supposed alternative to those horrible moralist denunciations of colonialism from the late 19th century workers’ movement. Warren quotes a letter where Engels expounds on this policy, but what does this policy turn out to consist of? Liberating the colonies as fast as possible!28 For example, Engels states that a socialist country would, with respect to colonies inhabited by a native population, lead them "as rapidly as possible to independence.” What if the local population doesn’t want to wait even that long? Warren cuts off the quote before Engels deals with that possibility, but it turns out that Engels "positive socialist colonial policy" is to let the colonies go just as fast as they want to:

"India will perhaps, indeed very probably, produce a revolution, and as the proletariat emancipating itself cannot conduct any colonial wars, this would have to be given full scope; it would not pass off without all sorts of destruction, of course, but that son of thing is inseparable from all revolutions. The same might also take place elsewhere, e.g., in Algiers and Egypt, and would certainly be the best thing for us. [Engels’ emphasis!] We shall have enough to do at home. One thing alone is certain: the victorious proletariat can force no blessings of any kind upon any foreign nation without undermining its own victory by so doing.”

Mind you, this didn’t mean that Engels was unconcerned about what would happen in the colonies. He believed that the colonies, after being liberated, would proceed through various “social and political phases' and be influenced by the example of the socialist countries,

Warren says that colonialism and even colonial wars "did not necessarily mean . . . greater suffering than" the pre-colonial situation. He presents a picture of capitalism just smoothly and dynamically expanding and improving the conditions of the masses. Yet even in those statements by Marx on India cited by Warren, Marx talks of the mass of Indians being “thrown into a sea of woes”, and states that

The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie till in Great Britain itself the now ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindoos themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether.” He says that the British had been “levelling all that was great and elevated in the native society” and that the work of "regeneration” of India had hardly begun."29

In other statements, that Warren ignores. Marx and Engels pointed to the problems facing the development of the colonies. While Warren simply points to progress. Marx wrote in 1881 of the plunder of India leading to the possibility of another revolt. He stated that

what the English take . . . from them without any equivalent and quite apart from what they appropriate to themselves annually within India, speaking only of the value of the commodities the Indians have gratuitously and annually to send over to England — it amounts to more than the total sum of income of the sixty millions of agricultural and industrial labourers of India! This is a bleeding process, with a vengeance! The famine years are pressing each other and in dimensions till now not yet suspected in Europe!"30

Colonial wars—

Warren writes, with respect to colonial wars and the use of force generally, that "the colonial record, considering the immense numbers of people involved, was remarkably free of widespread brutality."31 Such statements mark Warren as an outright imperialist apologist. But moreover, Warren claims that Marx and Engels also shrugged at the use of force in the colonies. In fact, they denounced the colonial wars repeatedly and scathingly, in article after article.

Warren naturally also neglects such descriptions by Marx of the development of colonialism during capitalism’s early days as

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation.”32

Bourgeois regimes in the Third World—

Warren presents his prettification of imperialism as necessary in order to prevent the working class movement from being chained to Third World bourgeois regimes. The introduction to his book talks about opposing

The domination of the working-class movement by populist nationalism” which ‘has been immensely reinforced by the petty-bourgeois ideology of ‘neo-colonialism’, which tends to divert and dampen internal class struggles by channeling mass discontent against external alleged enemies."33

But how does Warren’s stand help the working-class movement organize? He does not defend the working class movement against the bourgeoisie, but defends the imperialist bourgeoisie against the local bourgeoisie. He identifies everything good in the world with imperialist bourgeoisie and "Western civilization”, while denouncing the local bourgeoisie in terms so extreme that it passes over into disparagement of their nationality rather than of their status as exploiters. He complains about the “Aid Lobby”, apparently being upset at the thought that the powerful bourgeoisie of the industrialized countries might make too many concessions to the Third World bourgeoisie.34 While he forgives Western capitalists all of their little sins — like exploitation, wars, racism, and tyrannies — and instead sees them as spreading the great ‘Western civilization”, he sees the bourgeois-democratic movement in the Third World as almost mentally deranged, saying of the Third World “nationalisms” that “they were hot-house plants, exhibiting to an extreme degree elements of irrationalism and moral imbalance that partially counteracted the individualist culture introduced by Western capitalism.” He says that these Third World nationalisms were "the principal political instrument of modernization”35, but he doesn’t find any of them progressive for that reason. He seems to hold that, if these movements did anything good, the credit should be given to imperialism, for these movements were, in his eyes, “created largely by imperialism”, but the movements should be regarded as having botched the job by their horrible irrationalisms.

No doubt Warren’s rhetoric against the Third World bourgeoisie and bourgeois-democratic movements is extreme. But is this of any value in helping the Third World proletariat develop an independent stand from the local bourgeoisie? Let’s see. Warren says that one must support imperialism because capitalism was implanted in the Third World. But Warren also stresses that the "political independence” of the former colonies "fundamentally alter[ed] the relationship of economic exploitation and/or control between metropolis and colony” and that the productive forces have thereby grown faster.36 Using Warren’s logic, shouldn’t one then conclude that the entire Third World bourgeoisie should also be supported? Even if Warren himself doesn’t drawn this conclusion, doesn’t it follow from his idyllic picture of Third World conditions? So long as the GNP is growing, the masses should raise their hands in prayer to the ruling classes — that is where Warren’s theorizing logically leads.

It is thus not surprising that Warren provides no orientation for the class struggle in the Third World. He has no suggestions about what he thinks the proletariat should have done in the anti-colonial struggle. His views seem to imply that the proletariat should have opposed the anti-colonial struggle, but he won’t directly say one way or another.

Nor does Warren have any suggestions for what the working class should do in independent Third World countries. Insofar as he hints at various things to be done, his whole attention is focused on the development policies of the Third World governments and their bourgeoisie. When he can’t deny that some problem still exists in the Third World, such as certain agricultural problems, he suggests that this doesn’t reflect on capitalism but simply on "mistaken policy”.37 The irony is that, despite his denunciation of the Third World bourgeoisie, his orientation leads not to encouraging the development of an independent proletarian movement, but to becoming an adviser to the Third World states and their bourgeoisie.

Warren’s lack of concern with the proletariat is so notable that John Sender, who compiled Warren’s book for publication, felt uneasy. In his introduction to Warren’s book, Sender conceded the lack of ideas for the proletarian class struggle in the book but tried to explain it away by saying that Warren died before he could write Part Three, which was to have dealt with the "explicit political conclusions for working-class strategy in the struggle for socialism in Africa, Asia, and Latin America." But this is an evasion. The book in fact does present a good deal of discussion of the communist movement and its relation to the straggle in the dependent countries. But Warren is only concerned in this discussion to mock any attempt at communist organization of the Third World proletariat, and he presents no alternative ideas.

Was this really because Warren died too soon? Well, he was fortunate to have a number of co-thinkers who lived on. In 1986, eight years after Warren’s death, John Sender and Sheila Smith published a book entitled The Development of Capitalism in Africa, which is entirely in the Warren spirit. It provides a good deal of material showing that Africa hasn’t stood still but has undergone rapid transformation in the 20th century. It also, using similar arguments to Warren’s book Imperialism, denies the contradictions of capitalist development, praises imperialism extravagantly, and paints present-day Africa in an idyllic condition. Although Sender and Smith had eight more years to think about the issue than Warren, there is little that they can say about the orientation of the working class movement. They have a brief section at the very end of the book where they claims that their motivation in denouncing "nationalistic analyses" is to protect the working class against being muffled by African governments "in name of ‘unity’ or ‘African socialism’." But they have no discussion of the African working class movement, its history, or its evolution, and their only discussion of its tasks is that it should abandon the big issues and focus on immediate practical demands, but even this should be "within the context of serious attention to feasible economic strategies".38 What more could a ruling bourgeoisie ask of the workers?

Indeed, in the final chapter of their book, "Conclusion: wishful thinking or effective reality?”, Sender and Smith end up in the position of frustrated advisers to the existing governments. The only problem they see in world capitalism is the failure of certain governments to adopt proper policies. They denounce

"the remarkable failure of a number of African countries to formulate a coherent or effective export strategy”, but themselves complain that "there is . . . no coherent analytical basis on which to formulate state intervention and macro- economic strategy of an effective kind.”

Mind you, this is not because capitalism has inherent problems that can’t be overcome by any policies, however enlightened, but supposedly only because of the influence of, on one hand, dependency theorists, and on the other, total free-marketers, who don’t see the need for state intervention. But why, then. can’t Sender and Smith, who are free of these biases, suggest a “coherent analytical basis”? Is it because they are trying to do the undoable and make capitalism into a paradise? They have no answer at all, but it is clear that their preoccupation is with providing technocratic answers to bourgeois governments.

This fate of his co-thinkers illustrates that Warren’s framework leads not to the building of an independent working class movement, but to trailing after the existing governments. Indeed. Sender and Smith mention in passing that

rapid accumulation is unlikely to be achieved without significant reductions in the real incomes of a substantial proportion of the population.”39

Can one really believe that a workers’ movement will be based on "feasible economic strategies” that cut the real incomes of the masses? Similarly Warren holds that inequality actually benefits those who are victimized by it, saying that

"rising inequality is as much a cause as a consequence of growth and thereby benefits the poorest sections of the population absolutely, if not relatively.”40

This is hardly likely to provide an inspiring banner for working class action.

The democratic and socialist revolutions—

So it turns out that Warren’s concern with the independence of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie is just a sham. This is illustrated as well in his theory of democratic and socialist revolutions. His basic idea is that the proletariat should have nothing to do with anything but the socialist revolution, and leave all “nationalist” (non-socialist) struggles to the bourgeoisie. It is a theory of utter proletarian passivity in the anti-colonial movement or any democratic struggle.

Thus Warren denounces any reference to the proletariat’s role in democratic revolution as confusing different types of revolution. So he says that one can see an example of being unclear on the difference between “anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist revolution in the East” in the fact that Lenin, “in his article of 1908 ’Inflammable Materials in World Politics', salutes the appearance in Asia of tens of millions of proletarians.”41 It doesn’t matter that Lenin talks about “the sharpening of the revolutionary-democratic struggle in Asia" in that article.42 The confusion, in Warren’s view, lies in the mere fact that Lenin talks about revolutionary proletarians with respect to a democratic struggle.

The participation of the proletariat in struggles of all types including democratic revolutions has been a hallmark of Marxism right from the start, when Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto and participated in the European revolutionary wave of 1848-49. The world proletarian struggle has always involved alliances and struggles of a number of different types. Yet Warren has been taken as returning to traditional Marxism when he puts forward the conception that the proletariat should stay out of everything except a direct socialist revolution.43 Warren accuses Lenin and the Communist International of having violated Marxist principle by taking part in non-socialist revolutions. He warns sternly against ‘the conflation of two different social movements with inherently contradictory aims, the fusion of which (or alliances derived therefrom) has generally been transitory, uneasy, and often disastrous for the socialist side” No doubt, a sharp distinction should be made between the bourgeois-democratic and socialist movements, but Warren is simply trying to warn the proletariat away from having anything to do with the democratic movements. He is warning them away from revolution on the grounds that it is so uneasy and transitory, and he is silent on the liberating character of the struggle.

Warren’s conception is that the bourgeoisie is the main and leading force of any bourgeois-democratic struggle. He never quite indicates whether he thinks it was right for the colonies to separate from their colonial masters, but if they did wage a struggle, it is the province of the bourgeoisie. He opposes both the idea that the peasant revolution might be central to the democratic revolution, and also the idea of “working-class hegemony.”44 His theory of revolution has nothing in common with Marxism.

Moreover, in elaborating his theory, Warren jumbles together national liberation struggles, bourgeois-democratic revolutions, any non-socialist struggle, fascist counterrevolution, bloodstained racist pogroms, and the different participation in these struggles by different forces, as “nationalism” The only thing that he doesn’t count as nationalism is imperialism! He then reasons about this hybrid category “nationalism”, asking how it evolved from one century to another, etc. Such a procedure makes any son of scientific theory impossible.

Warren uses this hybrid concept of “nationalism” to suggest that the proletariat should abstain from all sorts of “nationalist" struggles. The socialist proletariat is in a constant fight with the ideology of bourgeois nationalism, and Warren seeks to extend this fight to disdain for any of the democratic struggles and anti-colonial movements that he also groups under the term "nationalism". So he paints a dark picture of the evils of his hybrid concept, saying that "the political evils of nationalism in Europe . . . led ultimately to fascism”.45

Does Warren’s talk of the political evils of nationalism mean that be at least sees some connection between the ultra- nationalism of imperialism and fascism? No, because, as we have remarked above, Warren doesn’t see imperialism, this concrete feature of Great Power nationalism, as having anything to do with nationalism. He doesn’t see the interests of the Great Power bourgeoisie as being a common spawning ground for imperialist domination of colonies, and for exploitation of the working class at home. In fact, he sees it as a mistake to see anything in common between imperialism abroad and reactionary movements at home, and he denounces the socialist movement for doing so. He writes that the socialist movement had, in its mind, "transformed by a sleight of hand" the "political evils of nationalism" in Europe into supposed "economic evils of imperialism in Africa and Asia."

If Warren’s theorizing on "nationalism" doesn’t seem completely logical and consistent, that’s because it doesn’t have to be. Its point is to paralyze proletarian action, not be a guide to it; to laud imperialism, not suggest revolutionary paths of struggle against it.

The right of nations to self-determination—

It’s not surprising that a supporter of imperialism would have to denigrate the right of nations to self-determination. We have seen earlier that Warren denounces the Marxist principle that "a nation which oppresses others cannot itself be free" as illogical, Rousseau-like moralism. His theory of democratic and socialist revolution fits in with this. The right to self- determination is simply another variety of "nationalism” in this theory, and therefore suspect as are all nationalisms.

He can’t deny outright that Marxism talked about the right to self-determination. So he says that the Marxists originally supported the right to self-determination "conditionally" He seems to confuse the two different concepts of supporting the right to self-determination and advocating secession. Support for the right to self-determination doesn’t in itself mean advocating secession, which socialists only do conditionally, that is, only under certain circumstances, but rather supporting the right of the local population in the oppressed nation to decide the question of secession. Warren however seem to believe that it means that, when the socialist movement thinks that a secession would be progressive, then and only then does it support the right to self-determination. Thus he refers to the ‘classical Marxist view of the conditional recognition of the right of national self-determination in accordance with the progressive character of the creation of nation-states in the first stage of the national revolution.'"46

Serious support for the right of self-determination required supporting the national liberation movement of various colonies which were being held in subjection by force. But even in cases where the socialist movement might think secession inadvisable, it must still uphold that the matter be settled according to the views of the local population. National boundaries are not the important thing for the socialist proletariat; building trust among the working masses of all countries is. This is why proletarian internationalism is not only compatible with recognition of the right of nations to self-determination, but it requires it.

All this is absent from Warren’s view. The right to self- determination is simply ‘nationalism’ is his view. Maybe it was OK at one time, but it’s suspect now, because

"During the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century it was not obvious that nationalism might come into conflict with individual liberties, political democracy and internationalism rather than represent their logical extension or complement, except in special cases."47

Marx and free trade—

While rejecting the Marxist view of the right of nations to self-determination along with the whole Marxist theory of revolution, Warren paints himself as a follower of Marx on the issue of trade relations. He writes that "Marx had been a firm believer in free trade, its association with democracy, and its capacity to expand the scope of economic progress."48 He gives no reference to any statement of Marx on these issues because, in fact, Warren is engaging in another of his concoctions. The statements of Marx and Engels on free trade and protectionism will give no comfort either to diehard free traders or to believers that protectionism can "delink" a capitalist country from the logic of the world market.

Briefly stated, Marx and Engels made the following points about free trade:49

* they did not link the issue to that of democracy, and in fact Marx pointed out how protectionist systems under certain situations "serve(d) the bourgeoisie as weapons against feudalism and absolute government.”

* Marx and Engels painstakingly showed that capitalism would keep increasing its exploitation of the workers under either free trade or protectionism. Indeed, Marx’s famous speech on free trade spent most of its time exposing the hypocrisy of the free traders about the great benefits that would accrue to the workers.

* They thought that, other things being equal, free trade was the normal atmosphere for capitalism and allowed it the widest range for development. Moreover, protectionism was often conservative, while the free trade system destroyed previous conditions as fast as possible and intensified the class struggle to the utmost. As Marx said:

"It [free trade] breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade."

* But everything else was not always equal, and protectionism was sometimes necessary for countries to develop their industry. Marx ridiculed the argument that "free trade would create an international division of labor, and thereby give to each country the production which is most in harmony with its natural advantage." In reply to this, Marx said:

"You believe, perhaps, gentlemen, that the production of coffee and sugar is the natural destiny of the West Indies?

"Two centuries ago, nature, which does not trouble herself about commerce, had planted neither sugar-cane nor coffee trees there.”

Marx pointed out that

"there are also nowadays some branches of industry which dominate all others, and secure to the nations which most largely cultivate them the command of the world market.” Protectionism was a means by which countries strove to develop advantageous industries.

* Marx pointed out that “one nation can grow rich at the expense of another”, and said that if the free traders didn’t understand this.“we need not wonder, since these same gentlemen also refuse to understand how within one country one class can enrich itself at the expense of another”

* Protectionism, if successful, developed a country’s large- scale industry But this in turn rendered the country’s integration into the world market a more pressing issue than before, and thus rendered the bourgeoisie desirous of free trade.

* Protectionism sometimes failed and killed one or more industries being protected. Moreover, once established in a country, protectionism was hard to get rid of it even after the need for it passed, and it became a nuisance and an obstacle.

* Also, Engels pointed out that protectionism or free trade is of interest mainly to the bourgeoisie and is not a “direct issue" for the socialist movement. Indirectly, it concerned the working class because it was useful to develop capitalism as fast as possible in order to provide the broadest field for the class struggle and the revolutionary movement.

These views of Marx and Engels fare up well under the experience of the 20th century. Warren’s views about free trade have little in common with this and represent instead the public relations talk of a Chamber of Commerce.

The state-capitalist countries—

Warren presents his theories as a struggle against illusions in bourgeois regimes that use the name "socialist". But he cannot recognize the state-capitalist nature of the revisionist regimes that falsely called themselves "communist”. He thinks that they really are socialist but argues that other countries shouldn’t necessarily follow their example. He writes that:

"it does not follow from the existence of backward but modernizing socialist countries that socialism is functionally superior to capitalism in industrializing any given society simply because it is a historically superior mode of production. The apparent success of the Soviet Union in this respect may be due to specific factors that are not necessarily or easily repeatable." And he argues against "the stigmatization of capitalism as a second-best method of modernization". 50

Warren recognizes a lack of "political democracy’ in the revisionist countries, but regards this as just another policy choice. He does not present a path for building an independent workers’ movement in these countries any more than he does in any other country.

Fantasy and theory—

Warren closes his eyes to the intense conflicts and class contradictions of the 20th century, and sees only figures of industrial growth and economic progress. It never occurs to him that this growth is the basis for the sharp contradictions of this century His credibility arose from his attack on the view that Third World economies had been static and without "real" development. Dependency theory, having centered its critique of imperialism on the supposed lack of development, opened the way for Warren’s glorification of imperialism. Although Warren and the dependency theorists appear to be opposites, one lauding imperialism and the others denouncing it, they both discard the Marxist view of imperialism. Neither sees the present world imperialist system as it really is, where growth is occurring and not eliminating the basis of class struggle but establishing the basis for a new wave of mass revolutions.


1 Jorge Larrain, Theories of Development: Capitalism, Colonialism and Dependency, 1989, p. 48. Anthony Brewer also takes Warren seriously in his book Marxist Theories of Imperialism, 1980, because dependency theorists have had difficulty dealing with Warren’s statistics. However, Brewer is unlikely to have seen Warren’s book, but was dealing with Warren’s earlier articles, such as “Imperialism and capitalist industrialisation”, which appeared in New Left Review #81 for September/October 1973. In this article, Warren focuses on his statistics (plus a good deal of loose reasoning) and only hints at his more extreme conclusions. For example, in one marvelously fork-tongued passage near the start of the article, Warren simultaneously swears that he wouldn’t think of denying the importance of contemporary imperialism and yet hints that imperialism is fading away: “To avoid misunderstanding we must state at the outset that none of this is meant to imply that imperialism has ceased to exist. It does exist as a system of inequality, domination and exploitation. What we wish to indicate are elements of change. It is a striking, if not unprecedented irony that socialist scholars should be giving maximum attention to the phenomenon of dependence at the very time when the phenomenon itself is suffering irreversible decline.” He also poses as a supporter of Lenin’s theory of imperialism, which he denounces in his later book. While his book opens with the sentence that ‘The conception of imperialism has become the dominant political dogma of our era”, his article poses as supporting a real anti-imperialist struggle, and ends with the commendable desire to defend the anti-imperialist struggle from "inter-capitalist quarrels”, as otherwise ‘the Left will find itself directly supporting bourgeois regimes which, as in Peru and Egypt, exploit and oppress workers and peasants while employing anti-imperialist rhetoric."

The noted dependency theorist Samir Amin notes, not unjustly as regard’s Warren book Imperialism, that Warren had joined ‘the imperialist bourgeoisie’s camp” He too connects Warren to Marxism, writing that “We take Bill Warren’s book cited earlier as an example of this amazing retreat of revolutionary Marxism.” He hold that ‘Warren’s work would not have merited so much attention if it had not been typical of a 'rising' current in 'Western Marxism' It is not the only one: Arghiri Emmanuel’s mischievous pleading on behalf of the technology of the multinationals is another example.” (Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World, English ed. of 1990, pp. 109, 99, 103)

2 Warren raises the question “of whether the related conceptual division of the world into developed and underdeveloped countries is at all accurate. International economic change has been so rapid and sweeping that the kernel of truth in this division of the world is rapidly dissolving.” Imperialism, p. 190.

3 It becomes harder to talk of an overall trend in the Third World in recent years, which underlines another problem with Warren’s method of simply taking a general trend and extrapolating it. The 1980s, for example, were a painful time for most of Latin America and Africa, with some countries seeing not growth but the decline of various economic indices. The situation was quite different in East Asia, however, China, for example, a country with more people than Latin America and Africa combined, saw spectacular growth.

4 Warren argued that "from the perspectives of the distribution of world industrial power and the growth of the market”, the overall size of the economy is more important than the per capita figures. That’s a half truth; both figures have their importance. Let’s take a concrete example, the Tsarist Russian empire in the early 20th century Tsarist Russia was known as a major imperialist power but also as incredibly economically backward. Nevertheless, ‘in total industrial production it ranked fifth in the world, after the United States, Germany, Great Britain, and France." (Rondo Cameron, A Concise Economic History of the World, p. 266) In fact, Russia was predominantly agricultural. It lacked many advanced types of industry; it was extraordinarily dependent on foreign capital, which was a factor in Tsarist political policy; and its economic backwardness was one of the causes of its utter collapse in World War I. But the Tsarist empire was much larger than any of the strictly European countries, and so its total industrial production ranked higher than that of all but four of the developed countries. The figure for total production was not irrelevant, and it reflected that Russia had been undergoing rapid capitalist development for several decades and an industrial working class had developed. But the total size of the Tsarist economy hid its backward nature. The Tsarist Empire was more or less an imperialist metropolis with an underdeveloped economy, similar in many ways to the underdeveloped economies of today. (Apparently not every underdeveloped country known to history was on the "periphery".) Today, for example, mainland China also has a huge, rapidly developing, but still backward economy, and represents another underdeveloped ‘Great Power”.

5 Ibid., pp. 190-1, emphasis as in the original, as in the case with all quotes from Warren in this article. Warren claims that Latin America and Asia are doing better than they did in the pre-World War II period, and says that "These results are all the more impressive in that the prewar-postwar comparison show an acceleration compared with a period (about 1900-1945) that itself probably witnessed unprecedented growth rates as compared with any earlier period in the history of LDCs, with the exception of some countries (such as Ghana) in the closing decades of the nineteenth and first decades of the twentieth century.” (pp. 191-2) He crows that the LDCs’ "postwar growth rates of product per capita have generally exceeded those of the industrializing capitalist countries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” (p. 193) However, these figures — comparing the present to the past — don’t bear in the slightest on what’s happening to the gap between the countries of today.

6 The various world economic crises since the early 70s have sent some regions into tailspins for protracted periods; imperialism is not growing faster and faster but retains a tendency to stagnation, which in some areas and in some periods of time overpowers growth altogether. Nevertheless, on the whole, post-World War II growth seems to have been faster than prewar growth or 19th century growth. For example, in the period of West European capitalist prosperity and industrial growth of the latter 19th century up to World War I, long-term growth rates of real per capita GNP for England, France, and even the rapidly industrializing Germany were between 1 % and 2% per year. (As these countries went through business cycles, growth rates for short periods exceeded the long-term average.) By way of exception, the relatively late industrializes Sweden and Denmark achieved between 2% and 3%, and the Asian industrializer Japan was the highest, perhaps around the 3% mark. In the post-World War II period, however, real per capita growth rates for large groups of countries (e.g., DMEs, LDCs), averaged over a decade, tended to be between 2% and 4%; some countries went well over 4% for periods of time, while Japan achieved astonishing rates for several decades in a row before going into crisis. There are of course tremendous and growing contrasts between countries which the average figures conceal. Thus, in the 80s Africa and Latin America were in major trouble, and some countries shrank. However, take the grouping of countries that the World Bank calls “low-income economies". Overall, their per capital real GNP grew at 3.9% per year during 1980-1992. This is a weighted average (on the basis of population) for a group of countries which includes fast and slow-growing countries, and even shrinking countries. Excluding China and India, the lower-income group only grew on the average at 1.2% per year (which however would have been a fair-to-middling growth rate in the 19th century) and some countries, as we have said, even shrank, while India grew at 3.1% and China at a remarkable 7.6% per year Precise figures for growth vary between sources, but the general picture seems to be common to all. (The figures above are from Rondo Cameron’s A Concise Economic History of the World, 1988, pp. 235, 252; Milton Spencer’s Contemporary Economics, 1971, pp. 261, 623; the World Bank’s World Development Reports for 1983 and 1994, Table 1: “Basic Indicators”; and Warren’s Imperialism, 1980, pp. 191-7.)

7 Warren, Imperialism, 1980, pp. 198, 195. Table 8 is from UNCTAD and Table 9 from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. These are averages of countries in very different economic circumstances, and they were compiled by averaging the growth rates for countries, without taking account of the different sizes of their populations.

8 Warren’s Imperialism, p. 244.

9 Ibid., p. 246.

10 Ibid., p. 223.

11 Imperialism, footnote 51, page 216.

12 No doubt migrant labor, even under harsh conditions, can have a revolutionary side as well. It can help break down timeworn patriarchal institutions; bring new ideas to the minds of the laborers; and mix people from different areas. Those laborers who survive the process without being broken in body or spirit may, whenever the occasion presents itself, take up new forms and methods of struggle and come to a new consciousness. But this does not contradict the harsh oppression that is the common lot of millions of migrants today and of their children and families.

13 Warren, Imperialism, p. 22.

14 Ibid., pp. 23, 21.

15 See, for example, "Never-ending militarization” by Pete Brown in the last issue of the Communist Voice, vol. 3, #2, May 8, 1997.

16 Indeed, Warren doesn’t just take from Marxism what is acceptable to the liberals, but he praises the "nineteenth-century liberal morality exemplified, for instance, by John Stuart Mill’s rationality and humanism" 19th century liberalism is, in Warren’s view, infinitely superior to "the revanchist, inward-looking, and backward character of the modern ’radical’ women’s liberation movement" and it is something which "the modern socialist movement” has not lived up to. Imperialism, p. 23.

17 Of course, I mean that the main drift of Warren’s writings deny the honors of capitalism. Warren makes a few brief remarks to pose as one who opposes exploitation. He thus says that the "dependency theorists attribute to dependent development all the evils that they would prefer to see omitted and apparently imagine were absent during the ‘non-dependent’ development of Europe in the nineteenth century." (Imperialism, p. 120). Indeed, this is a basic point of the Marxist critique of dependency theory, but it is hypocritical in Warren’s mouth since his book denies at length the ills of capitalist development both in the Third World and in Europe. One of his few critical references to European development emphasizes how brief the bad moments allegedly were: "the period of cruellest exploitation in the history of English industrial capitalism . . . is remarkable as much for its brevity as for its cruelty." (Ibid., p. 21) Warren must have in mind another Britain from the real-life one analyzed in Marx’s Capital.

18 "The Agrarian Program of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905-1907", Ch. 1, Sec. 6 "Two Lines of Agrarian Programs in the Revolution" in Collected Works, vol. 13, p. 243, November-December 1907

19 Warren, Imperialism, p. 127

20 Engels letter to Marx of Jan. 27. 1865. Selected Correspondence, p. 158.

21 Letter from Engels to Marx of 25 July 1886,Correspondence, p. 211, emphasis as in the original.

22 The Black-Hundreds were reactionary, anti-semitic lynch-mob groups who served as tsarist thugs and murderers. The Octobrists (Union of October Seventeenth, the name referring to the Tsar’s Manifesto of October 17, 1905) were a right-wing, fervently pro-Tsarist party of big capitalists and of big landlords who were moving over to bourgeois agriculture.

23 Lenin’s letter to Maxim Gorky of 3 January 1911, Collected Works, vol. 34, pp. 438-9, emphasis as in the original.

24 Warren, Imperialism, p. 39.

25 Ibid., p. 88.

26 For example, Engels’ speech of Nov. 29, 1847 on Poland states "A nation cannot become free and at the same time continue to oppress other nations.” (Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 6, p. 389.)

27 Engels’ letter to Marx of 24 October 1869, Correspondence 1864-1895, p. 264.

28 Warren, Imperialism, p. 44. This is the letter from Engels to Kautsky of 12 September 1882. A more complete version can be found in Correspondence, p. 399.

29 Warren, Imperialism, pp. 40, 43-4. 42.

30 Letter from Marx to Danielson of 19 February 1881, Correspondence, pp. 385-6, emphasis as in the original.

31 Warren, Imperialism, p. 128.

32 Marx, Capital, vol. I, Ch. XXXI “Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist’

33 Imperialism, p. xii. The introduction is by John Sender. Warren himself died in January 1978, and his notes and drafts were turned into a book by his co-thinker John Sender.

34 Warren, Imperialism, p. 1 This is just a passing reference. but then again on page 185, Warren notes that “the theory of neo-colonialism”, which is one of his main targets, “helped the Third World to improve its international bargaining power in the critical matters of commodity prices and control of markets.” Here however he says that this is ”a valid social function in the underdeveloped world”, but not one which can justify the theory of neo-colonialism.

35 Ibid., p. 114, emphasis as in the original.

36 Ibid., p. 115.

37 Ibid., p. 238.

38 John Sender and Sheila Smith, Capitalist development in Africa, 1986, pp. 132-3.

39 Ibid., p. 77

40 Warren, Imperialism, p. 251. Similar ideas are expressed on pp. 208 and 211. And in a footnote on page 168 he worries that “nationalist economic policies” may hurt development by “mobilizing populist sentiment on the basis of economic welfare policies destructive of long-term accumulation", i.e.. by providing too much for the masses. So much for his fight against “nationalism” being motivated by a desire to help the development of the class struggle!

4l Warren, Imperialism, p. 90.

42 Lenin, “Inflammable Material in World Politics" Collected Works, vol. 15, p. 187

43 It is ironic that these views of the imperialist apologist Warren are similar to the views of the “left communists" of today, who denounce imperialism in the most extreme terms but also repudiate proletarian participation in anything but the direct socialist revolution.

44 Warren, Imperialism, p. 90, 91, 100-7

45 Ibid., p. 88.

46 Ibid., p. 92, emphasis as in the original.

47 Ibid., p. 86.

48 Ibid.

49 “On the question of free trade/Public speech delivered by Karl Marx before the Democratic Association of Brussels”, January 9, 1848; Engels’ preface to the 1888 English pamphlet edition of Marx’s speech on free trade; Marx’s letter to Engels, 30 November 1876 (Correspondence, pp. 229-230). Although I give several references, it should not be thought that one advocates free trade and the others correct this. They are mutually consistent, and Marx’s speech on free trade contains essentially everything.

50 Warren, Imperialism, pp. 116-7

Communist Voice through the eyes of others

From Politica Operaria of Portugal

From the press review section of the March/April 1997 issue of Politica Operaria (our own rough translation):

Communist Voice, no. 1, vol. 3, March 1, 1997.

Having completed a phase of internal polemics and explanations, difficult for a foreign reader to grasp, this journal, the organ of the most consistent nucleus to spring from the disintegration and death of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the USA (MLP, USA), appears to have finally reached a more productive stage. In a series studying what happened to the state capitalist regime in the ex-USSR, J. Green questions the present-day general conviction of the left that state planning eliminated the anarchy of production in the Soviet Union: actually, a certain number of works of reputable bourgeois economists (David Granick, Alec Nove, Gregory Grossman) show that the directives of the ministries, if setting certain general boundaries, were unable to conquer the contradictory interests of different sectors and especially the race of the management of each enterprise for monopolizing raw materials, gaining the maximum independence, and finding profitable markets for its products. Or rather, the alleged ‘collapse of economic planning", today universally taken as proof of the inviability of socialism, corresponds in fact to the rule of anarchic capitalism, hidden by statization and therefore more destructive.

Elsewhere in this issue, there are articles on the strike wave in Ecuador, the history of the splitting of the International Workman’s Association by the anarchists, and a review of Samir Amin’s book Re-reading the postwar period: an intellectual itinerary, that shows how Amin came to construct a utopia concerning the possibility of the autonomous bourgeois development of the countries of the Third World.[]

Red Star Rising Again and the Anti-revisionist Pledge

From the publication Red Star Rising Again!, vol. 2, #1, May 1, 1997-

Editor’s Note (from RSRA vol. 2, # 1)

This issue of RSRA is a settling in. It is the start of an understanding of the direction we need to go. We speak of Chomsky and enter into further dialogue with Communist Voice on the subject of revisionism. We express a new thought, the need to organize around a single word, "communism.” And we start a longer and hopefully clearer definition of Modern Communism.

Our next task is to take a closer look at other communist groups and their publications. We will ask ourselves who are these revisionists? Are they headed for absolute dead-ends? Is revisionism a venial or a mortal sin?

Our Two-Cents’ Worth on the C-Man [Noam Chomsky]

We Take the Pledge

RSRA takes this pledge: "We renounce revisionism in all its forms, and we will not be apologetic for the former or current leaders or regimes."

We do this in response to two writings in Communist Voice (December 15, 1996 and March 1, 1997). The first one is Joseph Green’s (editor of CV) response to our article

What is marxism, anyhow?" Our ideas are thoroughly taken apart by Green and we are invited to take a closer look.

We have speculated since our first writings that being tolerant and open could get you hooked up with bad company. When writing on Cuba we used strong words, calling it "the most successful communist state now or ever." Looking at this statement, we still find it defensible. Our definition of success is based on the relative abilities of the other players. We see China as certainly losing the spirit. We shiver when we think of the goof-ball North Koreans. We see that it is time to call the bad buys for what they are, bad company, but we do not think they can be ignored, nor do they need to be overly berated.

In the next 50 years a certain togetherness is absolutely needed. Taking the pledge is putting these former and current leaders on parole, like Confederate soldiers after the Civil War. No hard feelings, but your side is out of the game.

The left can gain in the next half-century and while we are not exactly sure what "organizing" is, taking its general meaning, we feel it is time to organize around a single word, "communism," and in such an effort you cannot hide from the past or present.

In most cases the past is sordid, and the present is not much better. But in both of them the germ of the idea "From each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs," at least was taught in the schools as a standard for society While you should condemn the revisionists, who might sometimes be hard to define, you must see that the spirit was there, and we must respect that spirit wherever and whenever it is found. We also do not see the pledge as in any way censoring our quote page. RSRA can be open and take a stand at the same time, a street-marxist talent.

Green’s final sentence is “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.” While we are not activists, we fully agree with this statement. We also think that it is all do-able.

Green’s second writing focuses on our and his interpretations of the words of Lenin: "When analyzing any given situation, a Marxist must proceed not from the possible, but from the actual.” Whatever differences CV and we have on this matter, they are small and possibly the result of unclear writing on our part. We think we both agree that "the actual” is what must be dealt with.

In these two writings we are asked several questions. We answer three.

Q: “If Marxists don’t set an example is 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.”

A: We concurred with this thought 25 years ago when we first used the term Modern Communism. We speak to it in the first issue when we say that you have to get rid of old baggage.

Q: “But who says that the workers actually rule in Cuba and China today or the Soviet Union yesterday?"

A: We see the light now that our rose-colored glasses are off, though we still have memories and ties to the view we had before. The quick emergence of a “new class” in communist states has been a flaw in the past. Modern Communism could manipulate this flaw, slow down its emergence, and shorten the gap between comrades and cadre. In a model of a mid-21st century Modern Communist state some comrades would live better than others, but not by much, and this difference could not allow for the acquisition of private power. This is a large agenda, but history shows that the world can change a lot in fifty years and a lot of change is what is needed.

Q: "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?”

A: This is a very important question. When we gather all of our thoughts we quickly see the answer is no. Any success at the mid-point of the next century has to come from the people (RSRA sees “people” as a larger group than whatever "the proletariat" is) and to organize within this group you must not fail to point out the bad guys and why they were or are bad. In our first issue we defined the word Modern as we use it: “If it is Modern it has to be good. Many of the old ways have to go by the side. Our thought does not exclude market economy or democracy. People want a better life. One man one vote is plenty collective. Good means it can’t be totalitarian. If the people rise up on you again you are doing something wrong."

We appreciate the attention that Communist Voice has given us. It is flattering and hopeful that we hear from others that, yes, the red star could rise again."

Response from Communist Voice

In its latest issue RSRA continues its discussion with us concerning the attitude to revisionist regimes. It "takes the pledge” Yet two paragraphs later it praises the Castro regime as the best of “communist” regimes, and a bit later, says that in these regimes “the germ of the idea ‘From each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs,’ was at least taught in the schools as a standard for society” But what is important is not whether these regimes teach some pious phrases (for that is what they make of the basic tenets of communism) but what these regimes are in reality The regime mumbles phrases over and over, until hardly anyone listens, until millions of people have become sick of hearing them. This is not something that helps the communist cause. Only if the workers of today see the communist phrases used as sharp tool to puncture the pious windbags of revisionism will these phrases come alive again.

In taking its pledge, the RSRA seeks to deal with one of the most important questions of 20th century experience: evaluating the nature of the state-capitalist regimes and of the views that have been promoted as Marxist. This is a question that will not go away. Taking a pledge for modern communism or against revisionism may show one’s spirit, but it doesn’t resolve the issue. One has to have an idea of what communism is in order to rally behind it. Is a market economy, if only it is based on “one person one vote" elections, communism?

For RSRA, the marketplace continues to exist in communism. No doubt, it takes a protracted transition to eliminate the rule of the marketplace and develop a different system of production and distribution. But RSRA is talking about communism. If there is a market economy, what then happened to communism? What happened to the talk of ‘From each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs," something which is absolutely incompatible with the marketplace? Are the communist phrases to be used for political rallies on Sunday while the rest of the week one works according to rule of the marketplace?

RSRA also says that “One man one vote is plenty collective. Good means it can’t be totalitarian. If the people rise up on you again you are doing something wrong." It is absolutely essential that communism must be based on the will and consciousness of the masses. Regimes built on the basis of the passivity of the masses and their political rights are not socialist regimes at all. But ‘One man one vote' is not collectivist in itself. A market economy with elections is democratic capitalism, not socialism. The democratic rule of all the "people”, all equal before the market, is an ideal of the old bourgeois revolutionaries. But the rule of reason that they hoped to inaugurate turned into the rule of marketplace, and the "liberty, equality, fraternity" they wished for ended up as the equality of one dollar with another, and not of one person with another. Communism begins with the class struggle of a definite class, the proletariat, and the recognition of its role in emancipating itself and all humanity from the rule of the marketplace.

It is necessary to take a closer took at communism (and the transition process towards it) if a communist trend is going to exist. It’s a good sentiment to want a build a communist trend, but for this to mean something in the world, it must be based not simply on the word "communism" but on the revolutionary principles of communism and on the class organization of a definite section of the population, the proletariat. It must also be based on the struggle against the revisionist parody of communism.

We hope that the articles we have written on the economic basis of revisionist society in Cuba and the Soviet Union, and future articles on the question of planning in socialism and communism, the role of "value”, etc., will be of use to the RSRA and other comrades in pondering these issues.

Joseph Green []

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