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China and the Socialist Future

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Yeu Yuen Shoe Strike (Nike Adidas) over unpaid pensions 2014

Class Struggle in China

China’s current role as the world’s leading industrial nation is the result of its unique history as an former empire, a British colony, a ‘socialist’ republic and today, a new imperialist power. It is the most dynamic capitalist society today having emerged out of a centralised bureaucratic state ‘socialism’. This makes China’s role in the world unique but not exceptional. While China is recognised as being a ‘leader’ in growth, in consumption, and in new technology, to keep this leadership it cannot jump over the capitalist laws of history.

China’s slowdown proves that it not immune to these laws. It is not a panacea for global capitalism’s decline. China is now facing its own capitalist crisis of overproduction which it cannot resolve without attacking the 1 billion Chinese workers. And despite its past defeats those workers cannot survive without fighting for a genuine socialist revolution. That is why China, more than any other the country, is where capitalism’s past and future manifests itself as a fundamental clash between the proletariat and the capitalist ruling class.

We can dispense with those pseudo theories that explain China’s rise as something to do with ‘market socialism’. This is a futile attempt to both recognise the truth that the capitalist market exists in China, yet somehow claim it serves the goals of ‘socialism. The reality is that the restoration of the capitalist market could not coexist with ‘socialism’ in its bastardised bureaucratic form of state ownership of property in China. It had to destroy those aspects of Chinese society that owe anything to ‘socialism’. First, it had to defeat the working class as the class that grew up under bureaucratic ‘socialism’. Far from advancing under ‘market socialism’ the workers met with an historic defeat.

The restoration of capitalism was a huge defeat for the millions of workers. Hao Qi says:

“During the country’s transition to capitalism, as the bonus-centered incentive system could not sustain itself, enterprises needed the existence of a reserve army to discipline workers and a segregated labor market to divide and conquer the working class. A continuous influx of migrant workers and the 30 million laid-off workers from the state-owned sector jointly expanded the reserve army of labor within a few years in the 1990s. The reserve army significantly depressed the power of the working class as a whole, and the segregation of the labor market also weakened the solidarity of the working class. This is why we have witnessed the major decline of labor’s share since the early 1990s.”

However according to the same writer the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 reversed that decline:

“There is a new turning point for the Chinese working class. After the outbreak of the global capitalist crisis, labor’s share in China began to recover. Along with this fact, one can also observe that the nominal wage level has grown faster than nominal GDP since 2008, and in 2012 China’s working-age population decreased for the first time in the reform era, which implies that the reserve army of labor will shrink in the near future. More importantly, there is a developing workers’ struggle for a decent living wage that is sufficient to afford the cost of living in the urban areas. The new generation of migrant workers who were mostly born in the 1980s and ‘90s insists on living in the urban areas. This has led to struggles for higher wages. Workers’ struggle for a larger share of the national income will eventually end the high-profit era for capitalists and thus open up a new era for the Chinese economy.” ibid

In sum, this ‘optimistic’ view of the labor movement in China is that it has recovered from its early defeats of the 1990s and has emerged ‘empowered’ and capable of increasing the share of labor. It argues that rising numbers of strikes and successes in improving wages and conditions will lead to higher consumption and overcome China’s economic problems. How realistic is this view?

Critics have argued that the ‘empowerment’ thesis is ‘false optimism’ and not backed by the reality. Strikes have in fact declined since the massive labor militancy in the early days of capitalist restoration in the 1990s. They question the claim that the reserve army of migrant workers flooding to the cities is slowing significantly and reducing downward pressure on wages. The rural reserve army is still 300 million strong. More important is the crisis which forces capital to increase the rate of exploitation of wage labor. There is a trend towards precarization of work, with shorter hours, atomization of the workforce, worsening conditions, employer corruption of unions etc. Even the purported ‘victory’ of rising wages reflects central government policy of boosting consumption rather than union power.

Whatever the evidence that the record number of strikes is linked to growing class conscious labor movement can we draw the conclusion that Chinese workers are any better or worse prepared than in other capitalist countries to fight back against the effects of a major economic crash on their lives? That would be to ignore the historical differences between the West and the East.

Just as the recent rapid rise of China as a major imperialist power is unprecedented (the last major power to emerge as imperialist was the USA before the First World War!) relative to the rest of the capitalist world, so we have to look at the developing class struggle in China in the same light.

Class struggle in China is conditioned by its history as an pre-capitalist empire for millennia, a capitalist colony for over a century (from the Opium war of 1840), then by a national revolution that broke from global capitalism from 1949 to the 1990s, followed by the restoration of capitalism and the rise of a new Chinese imperialism. This unique history has important implications for our understanding of China and global capitalism today.

What makes China different? 

 To explain the impact of the past on China today and on the prospects for a socialist future, we have to explore what makes China’s road to capitalism different from the West. Since China today is clearly capitalist the class struggle between the working class, poor peasants and the capitalist ruling class is like that of all capitalist states. However, there are important differences in the development of capitalism in China.

The First Chinese Revolution in 1911 led by the new bourgeois class overthrew the Qing dynasty. But because Chinese development was retarded by imperialism, no powerful national bourgeoisie had emerged capable of leading the democratic revolution in China. It was an already historically redundant class caught between the massive peasantry and the rising industrial proletariat on the one side, and the occupying imperialist powers on the other side.

The weak national bourgeoisie feared the peasants and workers more than the imperialist exploiters and sided with the latter. This fear was well founded as it was the workers and poor peasants who defeated Japan and the Kuomintang army in 1949, proving once again after Russia in 1917 that ‘backward’ countries in the epoch of imperialism can only become independent of imperialism through socialist revolution.

This unique history is the big difference between China and the West. In the West capitalist development in the 19th and 20th centuries occurred over centuries on the basis of the plunder of the colonial world including the plunder of the ancient Chinese empire. Modern imperialism allowed these nations to accumulate huge wealth and bribe large sections of the working class with colonial super-profits to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie as politicians in the reformist parties and bureaucrats in the labor unions.

Trotsky pointed out that this accounted for the success of the revolution in Russia and its failure in Europe. The strength of reformism in Europe tied workers to the parliamentary system whereas in Russia, a backward capitalist country under a Tsarist dictatorship, bourgeois democracy was yet to be born. The socialist revolution overtook the bourgeois democratic revolution and incorporated its tasks as part of the ‘permanent revolution’.

However, for the Bolsheviks, a successful workers revolution in a backward country could not lead to socialism in one country. Russia’s isolation and economic backwardness created the conditions for the emergence of a bureaucracy under Stalin after 1924. The Stalinist bureaucracy reverted to a Menshevik “two-stage” theory that ‘backward’ (colonial or semi-colonial) countries had to follow the example of the Western countries and go through a bourgeois democratic stage to prepare the conditions for socialism. In the absence of a Russian bourgeoisie Stalin reverted to the old Bolshevik formula of the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and the peasants” in which the workers and all the peasantry would complete the bourgeois revolution in the absence of a revolutionary bourgeoisie.

According to his unreconstructed Menshevik cynicism that the proletarian revolution was premature in Russia, Stalin turned this theory into the “bloc of four classes” i.e. a national front of the proletariat, peasantry, petty bourgeois intelligentsia, and national bourgeoisie, to bring about the ‘bourgeois democratic’ revolution. This would allow the Soviet Union to form alliances with ‘democratic’ capitalist countries to buy the time necessary to build ‘socialism in one country’.

Against this Menshevik theory, the Bolshevik concept of Permanent Revolution was defended by the Left Opposition between 1923 and 1928 in an effort to win the leadership of the CCP to lead the poor peasants against the national bourgeoisies, including the rich peasants (kulaks), and the imperialist bourgeoisies. So the ‘permanent revolution’ must start off as a bourgeois democratic revolution against imperialism but immediately pass over to the socialist revolution against the bourgeoisie.

Theory/program of ‘permanent revolution’

Karl Marx originated this theory after the failure of the bourgeois revolutions in Europe in 1848. Henceforth the bourgeoisie was incapable of completing its own revolution to extend bourgeois rights to the masses (as we saw when Napoleon revoked the freedom of the slaves in Haiti) and that historic task was now that of the proletariat as part of the world socialist revolution.

Marx foresaw that the colonial world would not need to follow mechanically copy the stages of growth of capitalism in the West. Once the West extended is rule over the whole world (coming to its full force as imperialism in the late 19th century) the colonies could complete their national democratic struggle for independence only by means of socialist revolution.

In 1850 Marx talking about ‘backward’ China wrote:

“Chinese socialism may, of course, bear the same relation to European socialism as Chinese to Hegelian philosophy. But it is still amusing to note that the oldest and most unshakeable empire on earth has, within eight years, been brought to the brink of a social revolution by the cotton bales of the English bourgeoisie; in any event, such a revolution cannot help but have the most important consequences for the civilized world. When our European reactionaries, in the course of their imminent flight through Asia, finally arrive at the Great Wall of China, at the gates which lead to the home of primal reaction and primal conservatism, who knows if they will not find written thereon the legend: “République chinoise Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” Review: January-February, 1850

Just as in Europe where the reactionary bourgeoisie was suppressing ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ for fear of the working class, in China the Taiping uprising in 1850 against the British invaders proved to Marx that that the working class had the potential lead the peasants to overthrow not only imperialism but also its own weak pro-imperialist bourgeoisie and complete the bourgeois revolution as the socialist revolution. Thus Marx anticipated the prospect of ‘socialist revolution’ (even if ‘bourgeois’ at the start) led by workers and peasants completing the bourgeois revolution as ‘permanent revolution’ in backward capitalist countries.

Such an eventuality was first proven correct in Soviet Russia. The Bolsheviks moved quickly to complete the bourgeois revolution avoiding the death trap of the bourgeois Provisional Government between February and October 1917. They took over the program of the party of poor peasants, the Social Revolutionaries, for ‘land to the tiller’, to win them to the revolution. They expropriated foreign capitalists, repudiated the foreign debt, and formed the Red Army to defeat the military invasions of the imperialists. Even when widespread starvation caused by the Civil War forced the Bolsheviks to allow the rich peasant Kulaks and capitalists to profit from agriculture and trade, these enterprises were under the control of the workers state.

However, just as in Russia where permanent revolution was aborted by global capitalism and the Stalinist bureaucracy after 1924, in ‘backward’ China the CCP, as part of the Comintern dominated by Stalin, also adopted the Menshevik program of the Bloc of Four Classes and the two-stage revolution. The first ‘democratic’ stage of the revolution required a bloc of workers, peasants, intellectuals and ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie. This bloc would require the CCP to subordinate itself to Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist army and expose it to repression.

Trotsky and the Left Opposition from 1923 onwards opposed Stalin’s Menshevik theory as part of his betrayal of Bolshevism and his program for “socialism in one country” and fought against this policy in the CCP. They condemned Stalin’s treacherous role in the smashing of the Second Chinese revolution in 1927 when the bourgeois general Chiang Kai Chek unleashed his army to massacre the CCP leaders and the militant rank and file in Shanghai and Canton.

After the betrayal of the Second Chinese Revolution the CCP was led by Mensheviks like Mao who retreated from the cities to a peasant war of national liberation against Japan and the nationalist Kuomintang. Following its military victory in 1949 the CCP tried to negotiate with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie only to find it had fled into the imperialists’ camp. The CCP had to amend Stalin’s bloc of Four Classes to a bloc of Three Classes led not by the workers but by the petty bourgeois CCP leadership. The result was the formation of a bureaucratic centralised state apparatus run by the CCP to complete the ‘bourgeois democratic’ revolution but taking state power in the name of workers and peasants.

Capitalist property was expropriated and the market replaced by the plan administered by a bureaucratically deformed workers’ state. The CCP intelligentsia promoted itself as the state manager of ‘socialist’ property but in reality the workers and peasants had no say in how the state was run or the planning process itself. There was no workers democracy that could replace the bureaucracy and move China towards a genuine socialism. China as a bureaucratically deformed ‘workers’ state was stuck in limbo between its capitalist past and its socialist future. Its fate would be decided either by a political revolution in which workers overthrew the bureaucracy and took power directly to implement genuine socialism, or the defeat of the workers by the parasitic bureaucracy to restore capitalism under the ideology of “market socialism”.

Was the Chinese revolution ‘socialist’?

Was this the socialist revolution Marx spoke of? No, because the workers did not lead the poor peasants to the seizure of power. The struggle for national independence was led by a bureaucratic Stalinist party forced by the desertion of the bourgeoisie to base itself on the workers and poor peasants as a parasitic caste feeding off their labor.

After the revolution the bureaucracy had to industrialise to develop the forces of production to meets the needs of both the rural and industrial workforce as well as provide a surplus for the parasitic caste. The poor peasants who had formed the ranks of the national army were rapidly subordinated by the growth of industry and the rise of the urban working class.

The peasantry had no future as an independent class. The peasantry’s aspirations are limited to the horizon of petty capitalism or to private capitalist land ownership. The state blocked these aspirations by collectivising the land. So the fate of the peasantry was to become a rural labor force and a reserve army of labor to serve the needs of industry.

This change in rural society follows from the need to develop agricultural productivity to cheapen the wage goods of industrial workers and to create a surplus army of landless peasants who could migrate to the cities as a reserve of cheap labor. Thus wages in industry were driven down by migrant labor whose low wages were supplemented by subsistence goods in the countryside.

While this bureaucratically deformed workers state appears to bourgeois intellectuals as no more than a new ‘socialist’ elite administering the old centralised state of the ‘middle empire’, it was in reality now under the overall determining influence of the global capitalist economy. Rebuffed by the bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy had to forcibly collectivise the agricultural labor of the old peasant family farmers to meet the needs of the industrial working class and generate a surplus.

But the bureaucracy could not claim the surplus as private property without stoking a political revolution of peasants and workers challenging its rule. It was necessary to resort to corruption and abuse of the norms of ‘socialism’ to maintain its privileges.

The bureaucratic plan led to the Chinese economy stagnating and a declining surplus. Because this threatened the material basis of the bureaucracies privileges by 1978 the party embarked on the first market reforms to increase output. The CCP had increasing difficulty justifying its reforms in terms of ‘socialist’ norms of freedom and equality to the masses which had the power to resist them. It stretched the concept of ‘socialism’ inventing “market socialism” to sell the restoration of ‘capitalism’ to the masses.

However, increasing opposition to ‘market socialism’ as market reforms to restore capitalism threatened the rule of the bureaucracy. The defeat of the 1989 uprising of Tienanmen Square that arose as a protest against growing corruption and enrichment of the party leadership at the expense of freedom and equality, was an historic defeat for the working class and marked the tipping point in the restoration process. The CCP Congress in 1992 for the first time recognised that the economy was now based on the market (law of value) rather than state planning.

Thus the inherent class contradiction of Chinese ‘socialism’ (between the bureaucracy as agent of global capitalism, and the peasants and workers) was resolved with the historic defeat of workers by the bureaucracy determined to convert itself into a capitalist class. The concessions to workers under the bureaucratic state – labor protection in the nationalised SOEs, peasant property, labor rights etc – were removed or subordinated to demands of capitalist profit. All the old ‘socialist’ protections of workers and peasants rights became increasingly eliminated.

Unable to escape the global crisis of capitalism which is now enveloping China, the Chinese working class is facing millions of redundancies as inefficient firms are closed down. They have to fight for the most basic demands, for the ‘iron rice bowl’ for jobs and a living wage etc for their survival. These struggles are leading to more strikes and occupations which will pose the necessity of taking control of industry. At the same time the struggle of rural collectives in the villages exposed to corruption and exploitation for decades remains the basis for the survival of the 300 million rural reserve army of labor.

Industrial workers and rural workers can only resolve China’s capitalist crisis in their own class interests by seizing power, overthrowing the Chinese bourgeoisie and replacing the capitalist state with a Workers and Farmers’ State able to implement a socialist plan. The only ‘new era’ in the age of global capitalist decline and terminal crisis in which workers can win a living income will be the new socialist era. So how do we get there? And what would it look like?

A Transitional Program for China

Immediate demands
1. Return to the Rice Bowl! Jobs for all and a living wage! Free, universal health, education and social welfare!

2. Defend the collective land rights of villages! For a state rural bank to fund cooperatives!

3. Build fighting, democratic unions! Form strike committees! For workers occupation of industry, and workers and farmers’ councils!

4. For a mass independent workers and working farmers political party to put up candidates against the CCP!

5. For a world party of socialist revolution based on the revolutionary program of the communist internationals including the 1938 Transitional Program!

Democratic demands
1. Reject all historic oppression today! Full equality to all without discrimination by race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability etc!

2. China is not returning to its “middle kingdom”, it is a modern, capitalist empire! No to Chinese great power chauvinism!

3. Against Chinese imperialism! In any war with other imperialist powers we are for workers turning their guns on their own ruling class!

4. Reject colonial oppression! For the right of self-determination for oppressed peoples and nations!

5. No to false Stalinist and Maoist national/popular fronts with the national bourgeoisies against imperialism!

Socialist Demands
1. Reject capitalist restoration under the guise of ‘market socialism’. Down with the CCP and its new Red Capitalist class! Down with the billionaires!

2. For the political general strike and workers insurrection! For a popular army, workers’ and peasants’ militias!

3. For a Workers’ and Farmers’ Government based on soviets everywhere! For the immediate expropriation of the private property of Chinese and foreign capitalists!

4. For a workers plan based on soviets to plan production for need! From each according to the ability, to each according to their need!

5. For a Federation of Socialist Republics of the Asia-Pacific!

Reply to RCIT on Permanent Revolution, Bourgeois Democracy and Social Imperialism

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Introduction

The RCIT (Revolutionary Communist International Tendency), in response to our article ‘Russia, China and the Unfinished Permanent Revolution”, claims that we, the Liaison Committee of Communists (LCC), don’t understand Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. On the contrary we do understand it and apply it as he did himself. It is the RCIT that tries to turn Permanent Revolution into a pseudo-Trotskyist cover for its adaptation to social imperialism. Social Imperialism is the democratic petty bourgeois policy that imperialism can be progressive if reformed by the mobilisation of the proletariat. We will show that beginning with its semi-Cliffite method, the RCIT’s fetishism of bourgeois democracy is a chronic form of centrism, in reality objectively part of the permanent counter-revolution which we as revolutionaries are pledged to expose and defeat.

The RCIT’s main argument against the LCC is that we are ultra-lefts who claim that “nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time without the dictatorship of the proletariat”:

“Desperately searching for a theoretical hook on which to base their notions, the LCC looks to Trotsky who wrote the following in his book on the permanent revolution:

With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.

From this fundamental insight of Trotsky the LCC derives … that nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time without the dictatorship of the proletariat. Poor pedants! From Trotsky’s statement that “the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation” (our emphasizes) in the “countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries” the LCC distortedly concludes that not even one single aspect of belated capitalist development can change in any country, at anytime, anywhere in the world!” (RCIT ibid)

We agree with Trotsky’s quote. We say nothing about capitalist development being impossible short of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. What we do say is that in the epoch of imperialism capitalist development is based on state monopoly finance capital which develops the forces of production unevenly, accumulating super-profits in the imperialist states, and under-developing the forces of production in the semi-colonies. Even imperialism is capable of making big changes as it ravages what is left of nature, but these are mainly destructive of the forces of production, and do not add up to the qualitative change from semi-colony to imperialism.

This is entirely consistent with Lenin’s theory of imperialism and Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. It is exactly why Trotsky explained that the completion of the bourgeois revolution is impossible except as part of the socialist revolution. Following Lenin, we argue that semi-colonies are not economically independent of imperialism and cannot accumulate sufficient capital to become imperialist themselves. Therefore, only Russia and China could make this transition, having escaped semi-colonial servitude by making socialist revolutions and remaining economically independent after the restoration of capitalism. And that is why we don’t agree that South Korea and Israel are new imperialist powers. We see them as US dependencies, whose economic growth is subsidised in order to maintain them as armed outposts of US imperialism.

We think that the RCIT has a fetish of ‘bourgeois democracy’ that is inseparable from its view that imperialist super-exploitation and oppression of semi-colonies can under “exceptional circumstances” allow them to become imperialist. By ‘fetish’ we mean Marx’s view that capitalist production relations are inverted as exchange relations misrepresenting value as inherent in commodities rather than as socially necessary labour time. This fetishism is reproduced in the capitalist state creating the illusion that it is separate from society and hence is not determined by society.

If you believe that semi-colonies can become imperialist then you must subscribe to the illusion that bourgeois democracy can be used by the proletariat in the imperialist countries to moderate the drive for super-profits enabling the semi-colonial masses to can carry through a national revolution that wins economic independence from imperialism short of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Hence capitalist state-centred fetishism underlies the illusion that bourgeois democracy today is still capable in ‘exceptional’ circumstances of being ‘progressive’, that is, social imperialism. Finding such ‘exceptional circumstances’ is no more than selecting isolated ‘facts’ that confirm the RCITs pre-existing bourgeois democratic fetish.

We can see this empiricist method in operation when the RCIT promotes the illusion that bourgeois democracy, even when expressed in popular fronts, or popular front parties, are a ‘lesser evil’ to Stalinism in Russia and Yugoslavia, military dictatorships in Thailand and Egypt, and fascism in Brazil. We will prove below, that Marx, Lenin and Trotsky never confused ‘bourgeois democracy’ with ‘workers democracy, and so never saw one form of class rule, the bourgeois democratic dictatorship, as capable of smashing another form, bourgeois reactionary dictatorship, whether it be the Prussian Army in 1871 or German and Spanish fascism in 1933. The RCIT is in danger of becoming a Menshevik apologist for the bourgeois popular front as a part of the ‘democratic revolution’ and a necessary stage in capitalist development preparing the conditions for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In this article we argue that the key to understanding the counterrevolutionary role of Menshevism is the concept, program and strategy of Permanent Revolution. Conceived by Marx in 1850, continued in the transitional program of Lenin and Trotsky, it is the strategy of the historic struggle of the proletariat to break through the ideology of bourgeois democracy by means of workers democracy and to complete the permanent revolution with the abolition of classes and the birth of communism.

From bourgeois to proletarian ‘permanent revolution’

According to Trotsky the Permanent Revolution has three aspects: the proletarian revolution would complete the bourgeois revolution; the permanent revolution would continue through the development of socialism to communism; third, the permanent revolution is an international revolution. These aspects are united in Marx’s conception of Permanent Revolution:

“The permanent revolution in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without; that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in the complete liquidation of class society”. (L. Trotsky The Permanent Revolution, Pathfinder edition, p. 130. Introduction)

Trotsky acknowledges that Marx applied the concept to the bourgeois revolution in France to signify the struggle of the French bourgeoisie to prevail against Napoleon. To counter Napoleon Bonaparte’s illusion that his state stood “above” bourgeois society and was free to draw on the national treasury, the bourgeoisie conspired to create a grain shortage, delaying Napoleon’s Russia campaign by two months and causing its defeat. This was a victory in the ‘permanent revolution’ of the bourgeoisie over Napoleon’s ‘permanent war’ as an intolerable expense to the economy. However, the bourgeoisie soon had to resort to the ‘Bonapartist’ state standing “above” society in order to suppress the unruly national proletariat. This marked a decline of the progressive bourgeoisie into its opposite, a reactionary bourgeoisie.

The failure of the bourgeois revolutions of 1848 was proof of the beginning of the end of the progressive bourgeoisie in Europe. The Prussian bourgeoisie feared the proletariat more than the feudal Junkers, signalling to Marx that the time for the proletarian revolution had begun. While the feudal regime remained in place and Prussian capitalism remained backward, only the proletarian revolution could develop the forces of production. As Trotsky puts it:

In 1848 a class was needed that would be able to take charge of events without and in spite of the bourgeoisie, a class which would not only be prepared to push the bourgeois forward by its pressure but also at the decisive moment to throw its political corpse out of the way…The proletariat was too weak, lacked organization, experience and knowledge. Capitalism had developed sufficiently to render necessary the abolition of the old feudal relations, but not sufficiently to bring forward the working class, the product of the new industrial relations, as a decisive political force.” (‘Results and Prospects’, in The Permanent Revolution, p. 56-57, ibid)

The failed bourgeois revolutions of 1848

The RCIT quotes the example of the revolutions of 1848 against us, claiming it proves we don’t understand Permanent Revolution:

“Let us give yet another example which unmasks the LCC’s wooden, mechanistic way of thinking. In his book, Trotsky illustrated his concept of permanent revolution with the case of Germany. There he explained that the failed bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1848 resulted in the absence of democracy:

The concept of the permanent revolution was advanced by the great Communists of the middle of the nineteenth century, Marx and his co-thinkers, in opposition to the democratic ideology which, as we know, claims that with the establishment of a ‘rational’ or democratic state all questions can be solved peacefully by reformist or evolutionary measures. Marx regarded the bourgeois revolution of 1848 as the direct prelude to the proletarian revolution. Marx ‘erred’. Yet his error has a factual and not a methodological character. The Revolution of 1848 did not turn into the socialist revolution. But that is just why it also did not achieve democracy. As to the German Revolution of 1918, it was no democratic completion of the bourgeois revolution, it was a proletarian revolution decapitated by the Social Democrats; more correctly, it was a bourgeois counter-revolution, which was compelled to preserve pseudo-democratic forms after its victory over the proletariat.”” (RCIT ibid)

Marx recognised that the failure of the bourgeois revolution in Prussia in 1848 to bring about bourgeois democracy did not lead directly to the proletarian revolution. That is a fact. But Marx also said that while the failure of the bourgeois revolution did not immediately turn into a successful proletarian revolution, it was the prelude to the ‘permanent revolution’:

“Although the German workers cannot come to power and achieve the realization of their class interests without passing through a protracted revolutionary development, this time they can at least be certain that the first act of the approaching revolutionary drama will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will thereby be accelerated. But they themselves must contribute most to their final victory, by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat. Their battle cry must be: The Permanent Revolution.” (‘Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,’ March 1850. The Revolutions of 1848, p. 330, Pelican edition)

In the same address to the Communist League in 1850, Marx writes the ‘petty bourgeois democrats’ try to limit the proletarian revolution to the reforms conceded by the bourgeoisie rather than “make the revolution permanent.” Bourgeois ‘democracy’ then is already counter-revolutionary, holding back rather than advancing the permanent revolution:

“While the democratic petty bourgeois want to bring the revolution to an end as quickly as possible, achieving at most the aims already mentioned, it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers. Our concern cannot simply be to modify private property, but to abolish it, not to hush up class antagonisms but to abolish classes, not to improve the existing society but to found a new one.” (Marx, ibid, p. 323) [Our emphasis]

Here Marx is stating clearly that to “make the revolution permanent” it is necessary to “abolish private [capitalist] property”. Implicit in his statement is his view that this requires the end of bourgeois democracy which is premised on the reproduction of private property. During the 1840s, Marx in his ‘Early Writings’[i] formulated his concept of the capitalist state as derived from the fetishised reality of exchange relations, where the private interests of individuals as buyers and sellers of commodities becomes represented as the ‘general interest’ in a state form standing above society. Bourgeois democracy then functions to reproduce capitalist property and the class contradiction between labour and capital, by masking that contradiction in the ideology of national unity. Social Democracy is merely the incorporation of that ideology into the program of Social Democratic parties.

The RCIT does not realise that Trotsky is making the same point when he refers to the German counter-revolution of 1918. The ‘democratic petty bourgeoisie’ (the Social Democrats) used the “pseudo-democratic forms conceded” by the bourgeoisie to mask the counter-revolution as the ‘victory of the permanent revolution’. The failure of the revolution was due to the failure of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) to win the masses from reactionary ‘bourgeois democracy’ to the revolutionary ‘proletarian democracy’ of the armed insurrection and dictatorship of the proletariat. Following Marx, Trotsky is pointing out that it is the petty bourgeois democrats who paint the “pseudo-democratic forms” as the victory of the permanent revolution to mask the bourgeois counter-revolution. To prove that Marx and Trotsky are one on this question we need to go back to the Paris Commune and the first major test of permanent revolution.

Lessons of the Paris Commune

If the failed revolutions taught Marx and the First International that it was time for the proletarian revolution, the Paris Commune drowned ‘bourgeois democracy’ in the blood of the Communards. The Paris Commune proved that the revolution that failed in ‘backward’ Prussia had also been accompanied by a retreat in the great French Revolution. Such was the fear of the rising proletariat on the part of the French ruling class that it found its expression in the Second Empire of Louis Bonaparte who came to power in a coup d’état in December, 1851, and installed himself emperor. In July, 1870, Bonaparte declared war on Prussia against much popular opposition in France. He was defeated soon after at Sedan, when his army surrendered, and two days later a Republic was declared in Paris with massive support across France. However the National Assembly of the Republic was dominated by bourgeois and petty bourgeois, who rushed to make an armistice and negotiate peace with Prussia, so as to conspire to defeat the workers Commune of Paris.

“Armed Paris was the only serious obstacle in the way of the counter-revolutionary conspiracy. Paris was, therefore, to be disarmed…The seizure of her artillery was evidently but to serve as a preliminary to the general disarmament of Paris, and, therefore, the revolution of 4 September. But that revolution had become the legal status of France. The Republic, its work, was recognized by the conqueror in the terms of the capitulation. After the capitulation it was acknowledged by all the foreign powers, and in its name the National Assembly had been summoned. The Paris Workingmen’s revolution of 4 September was the only legal title of the National Assembly seated at Bordeaux, and of its executive.” (Marx, The Civil War in France, pp.198-9, Part 2)

Marx and the 1st International declared support for the Republic and its defence against the Prussian army. The thrust of its position was to defend the Republic against both Prussian and the reactionary National Assembly:

“Let the sections of the International Working Men’s Association in every country stir the working classes to action. If they forsake their duty, if they remain passive, the present tremendous war will be but the harbinger of still deadlier international feuds, and lead in every nation to a renewed triumph over the workman by the lords of the sword, of the soil, and of capital. Vive la republique”. (‘Second address of the General Council’, p.186)

Thiers[ii] could not overthrow the legitimate Republic that replaced the Second Empire of Louis Bonaparte without making a reactionary military alliance with Bismarck. The armed workers of Paris, supported by the 1st International, had to defend a bourgeois republic against a French royalist reaction backed by the Prussian state. But they could only defend the republic as a Workers Republic. As a result of the experience of the Commune, Marx and Engels drew the conclusion that the Workers Republic had to smash the bourgeois state and create the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, or suffer defeat.

Thus the bourgeois ‘permanent revolution’ had turned into its opposite, the ‘permanent counter-revolution’, conceding French national sovereignty to the Prussians to impose the bourgeois dictatorship in its most naked form with the slaughter of the Communards. Better a national defeat for France than the defeat for private property! Yet from the ashes of the heroic Commune the proletariat emerged for the first time on the world stage of ‘permanent revolution’:

“If the Commune was thus the true representative of all the healthy elements of French society, and therefore the truly national government, it was at the same time, as a working men’s government, as the bold champion of the emancipation of labour, emphatically international. Within sight of the Prussian army, that had annexed to Germany two French provinces, the Commune annexed to France the working people all over the world.” (Class Struggles in France, p. 216 Part 3) [Our emphasis]

Marx’s conclusion, and subsequently that of Lenin and Trotsky, was that after 1871 the epoch of the proletarian ‘permanent revolution’ had opened. The material forms of revolutionary ‘workers democracy’ that arose in the Commune to defeat the reactionary ‘bourgeois democracy’ of the National Assembly, that is, direct representation, right of recall, workers councils, workers militias, etc., were now an example to be held up internationally. Henceforth, the ‘permanent revolution’ was the strategy that transformed the unfinished bourgeois tasks of the national revolution, agrarian reform, the bourgeois republic, and so on, into socialist tasks, where nations became the workers socialist republics, agrarian reform became peasant communes on nationalised land, and bourgeois democracy became the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Moreover, it becomes clear that the concept of the strategy of permanent revolution reflects Marx’s transitional method that the minimum program for the bourgeois republic must be combined with the maximum socialist demands for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in a transitional program.

Marx Critiques the Gotha Program

The defeat of the Paris Commune coincided with the beginning of the transition of world capitalism from its competitive stage to the monopoly capitalism of the imperialist epoch. This led to a period of several decades of economic growth in Europe where the export of capital began to produce super-profits in the colonies giving rise to high living standards in the top layers of the proletariat in the imperialist countries. As a result, these layers called by Engels ‘bourgeois workers’, and Lenin, the ‘labour aristocracy,’ began to identify their economic interests with imperialism. This was reflected in the divisions in the International, and the emergence of a majority backing Lassalle at Gotha in 1875.

The Gotha Program was a retreat from the Marxist program to the petty bourgeois national socialism of Lassalle. It was a retreat from the permanent revolution of the Commune on the question of socialism, internationalism and communism. First, Marx critiqued its adaptation to the Prussian state, putting bourgeois democratic demands on the police state of Bismarck for graduated taxes, free education, and state aid for workers cooperatives. The overthrow of labour exploitation was replaced by the utopia of a “free state” regulating wages, taxes and funding education, welfare and employment. This ‘free state’ was the same state that had recently helped put down the Commune.

Second, Marx asks:

“And to what is the internationalism of the German workers’ party reduced? To the consciousness that the result of their efforts ‘will be the international brotherhood of peoplesa phrase borrowed from the bourgeois League of Peace and Freedom and which is intended to pass as an equivalent for the international brotherhood of the working classes in the joint struggle against the ruling classes and their governments. Not a word, therefore, of the international role of the German working class! And this is how it is meant to challenge its own bourgeoisie, which is already fraternally linked with the bourgeoisies in all other countries, and Herr Bismarck’s international policy of conspiracy!” (‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, The First International after Marx, p.350. Part 1) [Our emphasis]

Third, its program is confined to the ‘present national state’ which means ‘their own state, the Prusso-German Empire’, and doesn’t speak of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat or the transition from socialism to Communism. Marx states:

“…Between capitalist and communist society lies a period of revolutionary transformation from one to the other. There is a corresponding period of transition in the political sphere and in this period the state can only take the form of a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” (ibid, p. 355) [Our emphasis]

It is clear by 1875, that in Marx’s conception, permanent revolution is a process, not a sudden leap over the bourgeois revolution, and completed only when the proletarian revolution is complete. That is, it is a strategy, which is more or less continuous and uninterrupted, except by advances and retreats, and complete only when socialist society culminates in communist society. Lenin and Trotsky would speak of an ‘epoch’ of the permanent revolution in 1905. The permanent revolution would extend for an indeterminate ‘epoch’ and would be completed only when the revolution in Russia had unified its three aspects, finishing the bourgeois revolution as socialist revolution, incorporating that into the international socialist revolution, and making the transition to communism.

1905 and “The Permanent Revolution”

The RCIT claims that we do not understand Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, and quote from The Permanent Revolution.

Desperately searching for a theoretical hook on which to base their notions, the LCC looks to Trotsky who wrote the following in his book on the permanent revolution:

With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.

From this fundamental insight of Trotsky the LCC derives … that nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time without the dictatorship of the proletariat. Poor pedants! From Trotsky’s statement that “the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation” (our emphases) in the “countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries” the LCC distortedly concludes that not even one single aspect of belated capitalist development can change in any country, at anytime, anywhere in the world!” (RCIT, ibid)

Do we say: “That nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time, without the dictatorship of the proletariat”? We have already rejected this as untrue. We agree with Trotsky and consistently argue for his conception of the Permanent Revolution. The RCIT seems to think however, that up to the present day capitalism under “exceptional circumstances” can develop the forces of production in semi-colonies even if this leads to “incomplete” and “pseudo” solutions to its historic tasks. Well, we have pointed out that the bourgeoisie has had more than a century in which to continue with its historic mission in opposition to the already existing proletarian permanent revolution. Since 1850 its “mission” is clearly a permanent counter-revolution to suppress the permanent revolution!

More critical at this point in our argument is that the RCIT seems to think that because capitalism developed the forces of production in imperialist Russia in 1905 that this refutes our argument that semi-colonies cannot become imperialist after the First Imperialist War. They imply that if it could happen in Russia in 1905, why not in this same imperialist epoch could we not expect new imperialisms to arise “in exceptional circumstances” in the former workers states of Russia and China and the capitalist semi-colonies such as South Korea and Israel right up to the present?

Why not? For the very reason that Trotsky and Lenin knew that in 1905 imperialist Russia was a hybrid, a combination of modes of production, in which to develop the forces of production further the bourgeoisie had to be overthrown. Not because it was an “exception” from other imperialisms, but because it represented the extreme contradiction between advanced finance capital and backward Russia that was determined by the laws of state monopoly capital. Russia was a hybrid conjunction of the Tsarist feudal state and parasitic finance capital to create the conditions for maximum super-exploitation and hence maximum state oppression. Far from an ‘exceptional’ case opening the way for future ‘exceptional’ cases, Russia for Lenin and Trotsky expressed the extreme contradictions of imperialism and its decay as a system. The contradiction between its feudal backwardness and modern capitalist industry meant it was the ‘weak link’ in the imperialist chain that would be the first to fall to permanent revolution and start a chain reaction to bring an end to capitalism as a mode of production.

All three aspects of the ‘permanent revolution’ were put to the test in Russia in 1905 when Trotsky published his theory of The Permanent Revolution. Trotsky took Marx’s concept and applied it to Tsarist Russia. He argued that Russia had developed in a belated and uneven way so that the bourgeoisie was even weaker than those of France and Germany in 1848. The working class was concentrated in the cities in modern industry recently developed by French and British finance capital and more politically advanced than French and British workers! The urban proletariat was prepared by Tsarist reaction and modern industry sufficiently to lead the poor peasant masses in a Permanent Revolution to complete the bourgeois tasks in a proletarian revolution.

The reception was mixed. The Mensheviks took their centrist position for a bourgeois revolution led by the bourgeoisie. Lenin agreed with Trotsky that, despite important differences over whether it would be necessary to share power with the peasants in the early stages of the revolution, the revolution would be led by the proletariat to overthrow the Tsar and would have to proceed ‘uninterrupted’ to the socialist revolution. Lenin took Trotsky’s side stating that the permanent revolution was not ‘a single blow’ or ‘leap’, and while uninterrupted, would take a “whole historical epoch” which could not be predicted in advance. Despite attempts by the reformists to exaggerate the split between Lenin and Trotsky on the question of Permanent Revolution, Lenin quotes Trotsky in November, 1905, to express his agreement with him. Trotsky recounts this episode in The Permanent Revolution quoting Lenin:

““Comrade Trotsky said that the proletarian revolution can, without halting at the first stage, continue on its road, elbowing the exploiters aside; Lenin on the other hand, pointed out that the political revolution is only the first step. The publicist of Nasha Zhizn would like to see a contradiction here…The whole misunderstanding comes, first, from the fear with which the name alone of the social revolution fills Nasha Zhizn; secondly, out of the desire of this paper to discover some sort of sharp and piquant difference of opinion among the Social Democrats; and thirdly, in the figure of speech used by Comrade Trotsky; “at a single blow”.

In No 10 of Nachalo, Comrade Trotsky explains his idea quite unambiguously:

“The complete victory of the revolution signifies the victory of the proletariat”, writes Comrade Trotsky. “But this victory in turn implies the uninterruptedness of the revolution in the future. The proletariat realises in life the fundamental democratic tasks, and the very logic of its immediate struggle to consolidate its political rule poses before the proletariat, at a certain moment, purely socialist problems. Between the minimum and the maximum programme (of the Social Democrats) a revolutionary continuity is established. It is not a question of a single “blow”, or of a single day or month, but of a whole historical epoch. It would be absurd to try to fix its duration in advance.””” [Our emphasis] ibid p. 210)

In his speech to the Fifth Party Congress in 1907 Trotsky explains why the proletariat is ready to play the role in the Russia of 1905 of the sansculottes in the French revolution. Capitalism has not grown as in Europe but been introduced from above by imported British and French finance capital funding state loans to set up modern industry.

“As a result of this process there appeared among us as the main force in the towns, at the moment of the bourgeois revolution, an industrial proletariat of an extremely highly developed social type. This is a fact. It cannot be disputed, and must be taken as the basis of our revolutionary tactical conclusions…As the petty bourgeoisie urban democracy in the Great French Revolution placed itself at the head of the revolutionary nation, in just the same way the proletariat, which is the one and only revolutionary democracy in our cities, must find a support in the peasant masses and place itself in power – if the revolution has any prospect of victory at all.”  (‘Speech at the Fifth Party Congress’, London, 1907, ibid p. 217)

For Trotsky, the epoch of Permanent Revolution now included Russia in 1905 with the first of three revolutions, when already the Petersburg Soviet characterised itself as proletarian! He and Lenin had no truck with the Mensheviks who thought that Russia’s backwardness meant that the proletariat had to play the historical role of ‘assisting’ the bourgeoisie to take power and complete its bourgeois revolution to prepare the conditions for the socialist revolution.

If we understand Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution correctly as an application in a particular capitalist country of Marx’s more general formulation, we can see that it is true to Marx. Trotsky is at one with Marx:

“The permanent revolution in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without; that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in the complete liquidation of class society”. (ibid p. 130)

To repeat: the Permanent Revolution finishes the bourgeois revolution. It does not stop at the “democratic stage” because bourgeois democracy is counter-revolutionary. It has to be smashed by proletarian “revolutionary democracy” which continues the transition from socialism to communism and finally succeeds as world communism. For Lenin and Trotsky Permanent Revolution was a class strategy as understood by Marx. It had begun in the mid-19th century when the bourgeois revolution was already in decline. By 1905 in Russia the Permanent Revolution was part of the program of the revolutionary Marxists against the ‘evolutionary’ Marxists. It was now a part of the subjective reality in the program of the revolutionary party developing the theory and practice of Marxism in the epoch of decaying imperialism, facing war, revolution and counter-revolution. Included in the concept of permanent revolution is the end of “democracy,” no longer bourgeois democracy, but “revolutionary proletarian democracy,” which is abolished along with the “liquidation of class society” in communist society.

War, Revolution and Counter-revolution

The onset of the imperialist epoch in the late 19th century marked the qualitative change from the progressive bourgeoisie developing the forces of production in the epoch of competitive capitalism to a reactionary bourgeoisie now parasitical on the forces of production, monopolising and destroying those forces. The majority of the 2nd International represented the rise of the labor aristocracy adapting to social imperialism. This was the current of ‘evolutionary’ socialism critiqued by Marx and Engels in the Commune and the Gotha Program. This was the program of the democratic petty bourgeois who believed that the workers could transform the capitalist nation state by relatively peaceful, parliamentary means. Against the ‘evolutionary’ socialists were the minority ‘revolutionary’ socialists, who since 1871 had rejected the program of bourgeois democracy as reactionary, and stood on the transitional program of permanent revolution. The workers’ struggle for ‘democracy’ necessitated the ‘smashing of the bourgeois state’ and the imposition of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

The First Imperialist War was proof of this in the extreme, as the imperialists went to war using their workers as cannon fodder and their parliamentary bourgeois democracies to provide war credits. After the historic 4 August 1914 betrayal of the majority of the 2nd International, the flag of Permanent Revolution was kept aloft by the Bolsheviks of 1905 who formed the core of the tiny Zimmerwald Left against the betrayal of the SPD majority and Kautskyite centre. The imperialist defence of the nation was at the expense of other nations, proving that capitalism had now outstripped the national state as a progressive force in developing the forces of production. Now the bourgeois nation states and nationalist ideology were in a reactionary retreat from the bourgeois revolution and transmitting its imperialist ideology into the ranks of the workers via the petty bourgeois democrats and the betrayals of Social Democracy.

The Zimmerwald Left position was to keep alive the program of permanent revolution. It called on workers to turn the imperialist war into a civil war, uniting the proletariat across national borders to overthrow the imperialist nations ruled by feudal remnants in league with the imperialist bourgeoisie and their reformist agents in the working class. Utopian? No! The Bolsheviks knew that imperialist war had both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary aspects. The experience of war by the working classes proved to them that bourgeois democracy was a fraud and their instinct even without a revolutionary party and program was to refuse to fight imperialist wars. After 3 years of mutual destruction, the Russian workers in uniform rejected imperialist war for civil war, as did the German workers in uniform who mutinied after 4 years of slaughter.

Bolshevism wins in Russia but loses in Germany

Put to the test in 1917 the February Revolution proved that the proletariat was advanced and that the bourgeoisie was weak, frightened of the proletariat, and conspiring with the remnants of Tsarist reaction to smash the revolution. The Mensheviks continued to support the bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class. The Old Bolsheviks around Stalin, Kamenev, etc., were ready to support the popular front government as the lesser evil to the Tsarists and imperialists. Only Lenin and Trotsky were in agreement on the Permanent Revolution. They shared the same dialectical or transitional method. Both saw that the Permanent Revolution combined the minimal and maximum program in what would later become for Trotsky the Transitional Program. The workers would take power on the basis of soviet majorities, rapidly complete the bourgeois tasks by forming a socialist republic with a national army that would complete the civil war; fight imperialism with weapons and with diplomacy to advance the revolutions everywhere, especially in Europe; adopt land reform to win over the poor peasants, and when convinced that they had won over the Kulaks (middle peasants), abolish the Constituent Assembly.

But the Permanent Revolution in Russia was not finished. It had to spread to Europe, in particular Germany; otherwise it would succumb to counter-revolution. It had to advance its international aspect in order to advance its socialist aspect. As we know the imperialists called off their war and ganged up on the Soviet Union so there were more retreats than advances. The isolation of the Permanent Revolution in the Soviet Union with the defeat of the German revolution set back the international revolution. The lesson of the Permanent Revolution in Russia had been that either workers took power, or the bourgeois popular front would usher in the fascist counter-revolution. In Germany, the rotten role of Social Democracy and the Kautsky centrists combined with a weak Communist Party led to the isolation and defeat of the armed workers uprisings.

We come back to the RCIT on its view (above) that even after the counter-revolution in Germany in 1918 the defence of the “incomplete and pseudo” forms of bourgeois democracy is part of the permanent revolution. We have already shown that we agree with Marx that 1848 marked the failure of a bourgeois revolution and the opening of the permanent revolution. And this was confirmed by a growing Bonapartist reaction and the Prussian army’s bloody repression of the Paris Commune in 1871. Now we are asked by the RCIT to swallow that, after the First Imperialist War for super-profits and the defeat of the German revolution, the proletariat should defend bourgeois democracy in its “pseudo-democratic forms” in the Weimar Republic. Perhaps the RCIT mean the right to vote for the same ‘disguised popular front’ that put the noose around the workers necks. Perhaps the RCIT is referring to a posthumous right to vote for the proletarians slaughtered at the hands of the Freikorps and the fascists. Is the RCIT saying that such ‘pseudo-democratic’ concessions would obligate revolutionaries to “defend bourgeois democracy” in the Weimar Republic against the fascists?

Broué quotes from the resolution on the united front tactic at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922, specifically about the “Workers Government” in Germany in 1918-19:

“In 1918-1919, Germany had experienced a ‘Social-Democratic workers’ government’. These were not revolutionary workers’ governments, but ‘disguised coalitions between the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolutionary workers’ leaders’: “These ‘workers’ governments’ are tolerated in critical periods by the enfeebled bourgeoisie, in order to deceive the proletariat about the true class character of the state, or even to divert the revolutionary offensive of the proletariat and gain time with the help of corrupted workers’ leaders. Communists must not take part in such governments. On the contrary they must pitilessly        demonstrate to the masses the real character of these false ‘workers’ governments’. In the period of capitalist decline, in which our main task is to win the majority of the proletariat for the revolution, these governments can objectively contribute to the process of decomposition of the bourgeois regime.””   (Quoted in P. Broué, The German Revolution, p. 672 Chapter 34 ‘The Development of the Tactic’)

Such a ‘disguised coalition’ we would call a ‘popular front’ today. We would not have supported such a ‘workers’ government’ against fascism in Germany. The SPD was in a coalition with the army to put down workers risings, and the army was constitutionally independent of the Government. Nor in 1923 when the KPD wasted time debating joining a ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD and the bourgeoisie (to expose the ‘popular front’ to the SPD workers!) while a showdown on the streets was rapidly building between revolutionary workers and the fascist shock troops. The defeat of the revolution in Germany in 1923 can be attributed in the last analysis to the ‘subjective’ weakness of the KPD, but was mainly due to the ‘objective’ role of the SPD in popular front regimes with the reactionary bourgeoisie, to ‘deceive’ and ‘divert’ the workers, and ultimately tie their hands before the rise of fascism that would end in the historic defeat of the international proletariat with Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933.

Since 1850 the Marxist strategy of ‘making the revolution permanent’ was marked by both revolutionary advances and counter-revolutionary retreats. The historic victory of the Three Russian Revolutions culminating in the October Revolution now met with a historic defeat in the German October. As a consequence of the isolation of the Soviet Union, the Stalinists deepened the counter-revolution in Russia, as well as in China, Germany and Spain. Nonetheless, despite the Stalinists counter-revolutionary role in alliance with imperialism, the existence of workers property in the Soviet Union as the most advanced victory of the Permanent Revolution dictated that the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union was to become the central platform of the Left Opposition and the Transitional Program.

Permanent Revolution vs Counter-revolution in China, Germany and Spain

The next major development in the Permanent Revolution was the widening international confrontation between it and the counter-revolution. It was first put to the test in China 1925-27. Here the Stalinists recast the line of the Mensheviks in 1917 as the bloc of four classes; workers, peasants, intellectuals, and the ‘democratic’ national bourgeoisie against the landlords and imperialists. This time the Communists were trapped in the popular front and wiped out by the ‘democratic’ bourgeois General Chiang Kai Shek who was also made an honorary member of the Comintern by Stalin –another instance of the popular front acting as jailer of workers awaiting the executioner.

Germany: From disguised to open popular front

Germany was another defeat for the international working class. As we saw, the failure of revolution in Germany in 1923 did not resolve the crisis for the ruling class. The Weimar Republic went from the ‘disguised popular front’ of the SPD and the army in 1919 to an open popular front in 1923 and then a succession of Bonapartist presidents with the power to directly suppress the workers until its final fall to Hitler in 1933. The SPD could no longer string out its popular front with Bonapartism to pacify the working class and prevent the rise of fascism. The depression that began in 1929 proved it could not fulfil this task, but it still continued to suck up to the Bonapartist regime. The Stalinized KPD took an ultra left line and sabotaged a united front between the KPD and SPD against fascism. Even worse, it backed the fascists in the “red referendum”. In August, 1931, Trotsky sounded the alarm:

“Were this theory to entrench itself in the German Communist Party, determining its course for the next few months, it would signify a betrayal on the part of the Comintern of no lesser historical proportions than the betrayal of the Social Democracy on August 4, 1914, and at that, with much more frightful consequences. It is the duty of the Left Opposition to give the alarm: the leadership of the Comintern is driving the German proletariat toward an enormous catastrophe, the essence of which is panicky capitulation before fascism!”(Germany, Key to the International Situation, Section 31)

Trotsky sees that the victory of fascism in Germany will be a defeat for many of the accumulated historic victories of Permanent Revolution. It will lead to war with the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany representing the imperialist world. “The crushing of the German proletariat by the fascists would already comprise at least half of the collapse of the Soviet republic.” The Left Opposition (Bolshevik Leninists) held up the banner of Permanent Revolution and campaigned to save the world revolution in Germany. While the Stalinists said Social Democracy must be defeated before fascism can be defeated, Trotsky points out that this cannot be done in time when the fascists are at the point of taking power. It is necessary to oppose social democracy politically but demand a military united front with them against fascism. For those who think that social democracy is no different from fascism, Trotsky points out that:

“In the course of many decades, the workers have built up within the bourgeois democracy, by utilizing it, by fighting against it, their own strongholds and bases of proletarian democracy: the trade unions, the political parties, the educational and sport clubs, the cooperatives, etc. The proletariat cannot attain power within the formal limits of bourgeois democracy, but can do so only by taking the road of revolution: this has been proved both by theory and experience. And these bulwarks of workers’ democracy within the bourgeois state are absolutely essential for taking the revolutionary road. The work of the Second International consisted in creating just such bulwarks during the epoch when it was still fulfilling its progressive historic labor.” (Trotsky What Next?Democracy and Fascism’, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany’ p. 158-9, Pathfinder edition.)

These historic “bulwarks” of ‘workers democracy’ within capitalism are the victories of the Permanent Revolution and “essential for taking the revolutionary road”. They are “strongholds” and “bases” of the united front.[iii] Trotsky insists that the formation of soviets are on the agenda, “…since the soviets, in themselves, represent the highest form of the united front in the revolutionary epoch, therefore their inception must be preceded by the policy of the united front in the preparatory period.” Trotsky summed up the Bolshevik-Leninist position: “Only on the basis of the united front, only through the mass organizations, can the KPD conquer the leading position within the future soviets and lead the proletariat to the conquest of power.” [iv]

Hitler staged the Reichstag fire in February, 1933, on the pretext of a communist revolution to then make his coup d’état. The SPD cowered before Hitler while the KDP was isolated and impotent. Trotsky called the defeat the worst defeat of the proletariat in history, as the Nazis set about smashing working class “strongholds” and “bases”. By July, 1933, Trotsky was forced to conclude that the Comintern had betrayed the German and world’s workers and that the Left Opposition could no longer reform the Comintern or the Soviet state. A political revolution would be necessary to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and restore workers democracy to power in the Soviet Union. The Left Opposition now had the task of building a new revolutionary international to overcome the historic defeat of the Permanent Revolution, to restore the “bulwarks of workers democracy”, in particular the defence of workers property in the Soviet Union. A fundamental principle of its Transitional Program would be the ‘unconditional defence of the Soviet Union.’

“Only the creation of the Marxist International, completely independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy and counterposed politically to it, can save the USSR from collapse by binding its destiny with the destiny of the world proletarian revolution.” (‘It is Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew.’ The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p. 425, ‘The USSR and the Comintern’)

Spain: Stalinism as the ‘shadow’ of the popular front

Spain was like a laboratory of the Permanent Revolution vs the Permanent Counter-revolution. Stalinism again blocked with the bourgeoisie in the popular front government where it was the ‘shadow’ of the bourgeoisie, since most bourgeois had gone over to the fascists. Stalin took on the role of keeping the popular front respectable to demonstrate to the imperialists they did not need fascism to manage capitalism. To demonstrate the moderation of the Republic, Stalin executed the leaders of the centrist POUM and the anarchists, who, despite being part of the popular front could not guarantee the support of their ranks. Spain was a major defeat for the Permanent Revolution as the weak bourgeoisie collaborated with its ‘shadow’ Stalinism as a ‘left-fascist’ regime inside the republic to smash the revolution in advance of the fascists!

We agree with Trotsky’s application of Permanent Revolution in Spain. Trotsky in Lessons of Spain: Last Warning spells out the program of Permanent Revolution and the failure of the POUM and the anarchists to implement it. It meant fighting fascism independently of the Republican army, at the same time calling for the ranks in the Republican, Stalinist and anarchist unions and militias to break from the popular front. That is our position, whereas the RCIT in numerous examples (Yeltsin, Kosovo, Thailand, Egypt) calls for armed independence of workers, but does not call for the break from the bourgeois popular fronts, or popular front parties, to establish that independence, as a pre-condition of the defeat of fascism.

Trotsky on the other hand states clearly that only the proletarian revolution can defeat fascism:

 “The Spanish revolution once again demonstrates that it is impossible to defend democracy against the methods of fascist reaction. And conversely, it is impossible to conduct a genuine struggle against fascism otherwise than through the methods of the proletarian   revolution. Stalin waged war against “Trotskyism” (proletarian revolution) destroying democracy by the Bonapartist measures of the GPU. This refutes once again and once and for all the old Menshevik theory, adopted by the Comintern, in accordance with which the democratic and socialist revolutions are transformed into two independent historic chapters, separated from each other in point of time. The work of the Moscow executioners confirms in its own way the correctness of the theory of permanent revolution.” (Lessons of Spain: Last Warning ‘Stalin confirms in his own way the correctness of the theory of permanent revolution’) [Our emphasis]

This is the basis of our criticisms of the RCIT, which defends bourgeois popular front regimes or parties on the basis that they are a ‘lesser evil’ to fascism (or military Juntas or dictatorships). In fact, Trotsky says, no doubt drawing on the lessons of ‘October’ in both Russia 1917 and Germany 1923, that the Popular Front coming to victory in Spain would be “nothing but a different form of military dictatorship on the backs of the workers and peasants.

Even a complete military victory of the so-called republican army over General Franco, however, would not signify the triumph of “democracy.” The workers and peasants have twice placed bourgeois republicans and their left agents in power: in April 1931 and in February 1936. Both times the heroes of the Popular Front surrendered the victory of the people to the most reactionary and the most serious representatives of the bourgeoisie. A third victory, gained by the generals of the Popular Front, would signify their inevitable agreement with the fascist bourgeoisie on the backs of the workers and peasants. Such a regime will be nothing but a different form of military dictatorship, perhaps without a monarchy and without the open domination of the Catholic Church.”  (ibid The Denouement’) [Our emphasis]

In the epoch of imperialism, the popular front is the jailer for the fascist executioner. The proletariat has to break out of jail to stop the execution!

The Second Imperialist War: revolution and counter-revolution.

The Second Imperialist War was a continuation of the First. Like the First, it had revolutionary and counter-revolutionary aspects. The defeats of the workers in Germany before the Stalinist bloc with Hitler, and the Stalinist popular fronts in France and Spain, proved that Stalinism, in the absence of workers property, was the ‘fascism’ of the left. The flag of Permanent Revolution was held high by the 4th International founded in 1938, just months before the final defeat of the Spanish Revolution. The imperialists, who failed to stop Permanent Revolution advancing in Russia at the end of the First Imperialist War, embarked on the Second, with the immediate aim of destroying Germany and its allies and preventing it from expanding its sphere of influence.

But the real enemy remained the Soviet Union and the threat of ‘communism’ in the West. This was an acknowledgement by all the imperialist bourgeoisies, that their mortal enemy was the survival of workers property. Despite the existence of Stalinism as the ‘fascism’ on the left, the unconditional defence of workers property was the main principle of the Permanent Revolution and of the Transitional Program of the 4th International. The Bolshevik stand against imperialist war was an integral part of the strategy of Permanent Revolution, which meant that where an imperialist power was supplying the Soviet Union in the fight against fascism workers did not campaign to blockade or sabotage the aid to the Soviet Union, while refusing to renounce the necessity to turn imperialist war into civil war at home.

The Trotskyists split between those for whom the Stalinists’ political character as ‘fascists’ made them no different to the Nazis, and those who defended workers property in the Soviet Union unconditionally despite the Stalinists. Among the latter there were those who wavered towards the Stalinist/imperialist line that the Nazis were the main enemy. So there emerged pro-Stalinist and anti-Stalinist currents within Trotskyism. This left Trotsky almost alone in adhering to the Bolshevik Leninist program that had been forged out of Marx’s strategy into the weapon of the Permanent Revolution in Russia. With Trotsky’s assassination the 4th International suffered a decline and fall within the space of ten years that left the world’s workers without a revolutionary communist international.

The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the war in Europe with 20 million dead. It was workers’ property that forged the Red Army and the resistance, not the Stalinist caste, which had purged the best generals before the war. Fascism rose up to suppress the revolutionary potential of the Permanent Revolution in the First Imperialist War because the popular front and Bonapartist regimes proved insufficient. Yet it was the Permanent Revolution in its degenerated Stalinist form that defeated fascism. In the process of defeating the German army, the Soviet Union created the satellite states in Eastern Europe, which prompted the US to form NATO and embark on the Cold War to isolate the Soviet sphere and force it into submission. As part of this global struggle, China and then Indo-China fought national revolutions that became Permanent Revolutions with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the creation of Degenerate Workers States. We will deal with the counter-revolutionary aspect of the post-war settlement before discussing the revolutionary extension of Permanent Revolution in China and Indochina.

German “bourgeois democracy” in 1945

The RCIT claims that bourgeois democracy existed, however imperfect, in post-1945 [West] Germany:

“However, it would be pure nonsense to claim that after World War II Germany was still without a bourgeois democracy (irrespective of all the democratic deficiencies which, in general, are characteristic of bourgeois democracy as a form of capitalist dictatorship). Again, in the LCC’s mindset, this post-1945 bourgeois democracy in Germany is an irresolvable mystery. Based on their misunderstanding of Trotsky, they would have to deny that bourgeois democracy exists in imperialist Germany, since otherwise Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is false!” (RCIT, ibid)

The RCIT knows that bourgeois democracy is a form of capitalist dictatorship. And there is no doubt that bourgeois democracy was restored in the 1945 post-war settlement. The point however, is that it could only be restored on the basis of an historic defeat of the German working class as a result of two imperialist wars, the Great Depression and finally the partition of Germany. Such bourgeois democracy is a bulwark of the counter-revolution. The defence of such bourgeois democratic forms is out of the question. Communists do not participate in elections (post 1989) on the basis of the post-war German Democratic Republic (GDR) constitution, except to use them as a forum for revolutionary propaganda to smash all workers illusions in bourgeois democracy by means of permanent revolution. The same applies to elections in the German Federal Republic (GFR.)

Moreover, there is nothing ‘exceptional’ about the restoration of bourgeois democracy. The RCIT want to explain every instance of the survival of bourgeois democracy as the result of “exceptional circumstances”:

“In reality, of course, Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, understood dialectically, is in harmony with the contradictory historical process of class struggle; it is only the LCC’s distorted caricature of this theory which rams its head against the wall. Exceptional historical circumstances – first and foremost the counter-revolutionary defeat of the working class by fascism, the abortion of the revolutionary crisis in Europe and a number of Asian countries by the Stalinist parties, the agreement between imperialism and the Stalinist bureaucracy to establish a reactionary new world order, and finally the post-war boom in 1950s and 1960s – facilitated the creation of conditions in which imperialism could solve, in a distorted manner, one or another of the unresolved democratic tasks.” (RCIT, ibid) [Our emphasis]

The RCIT forgets that, as part of the “counter-revolutionary defeat of the working class etc…which facilitated the creation of conditions in which imperialism could solve, in a distorted manner, one or other of the unresolved democratic tasks”, these counter-revolutions were all made possible by bourgeois democracy, in particular by the popular fronts in one or other form, where Social Democracy collaborated with the bourgeois military and/or fascism to effect these counter-revolutions. These are not “exceptional circumstances” but a series of historic defeats that follow from the victories of the permanent counter-revolution over the permanent revolution that necessarily reflect the balance of class forces between the revolutionary proletariat and the reactionary bourgeoisie. If “counter-revolutionary defeats” are exceptional, the RCIT may as well claim that capitalism itself is “exceptional.”

We will now show how the RCIT’s “democracy” in post-war Western Germany was part of the permanent ‘counter-revolution’, and that the ‘new imperialists’ in the post WW2 period were part of that counter-revolutionary settlement. We saw that in 1918 the defeat of the revolution was at the hands of a ‘disguised coalition of Social Democracy and the bourgeoisie.’ The objective content of ‘bourgeois democracy’ was bourgeois reaction. The imperialists’ collaboration with Social Democracy prevented the Permanent Revolution from becoming a European and even global revolution. When the “pseudo-democratic forms” of counter-revolution in the bourgeois republic failed to stem the tide of revolution, this forced the bourgeoisie to appoint the former wartime Army Chief of Staff, Hindenburg, as Bonapartist president in an attempt to ‘balance’ the classes. This failed when Hindenburg finally made Hitler Chancellor, and Hitler then appointed himself dictator.

What was left of bourgeois democracy in Germany after the Second Imperialist War? NATO drew the line between Permanent Revolution and Permanent Counter Revolution. Germany was divided and the West stood for imperialist counter-revolution against the Stalinist ‘degenerated Permanent Revolution’ in the East. Germany was the most important plug in the dyke to sustain, so the Marshall Plan was necessary. West Germany had to be able to absorb the GDR and reunify on a capitalist basis and sustain a front line status. Today the independence of Germany is clearly displayed as it navigates and projects its power and leverage in the EU, NATO and beyond.  Germany of course, never ceased being imperialist. Twice defeated, its bourgeoisie remained in power; its labor aristocracy elevated under conditions of US military occupation.

A fundamental task of the bourgeois revolution is national self-determination. Since 1871 the bourgeoisie have expressed national self-determination as national aggrandisement at the expense of others’ national rights. The partition of Germany in 1945 was a ‘pseudo-democratic’ form of defence of the GDR from “communism.” The task of the international proletariat was to fight for the subjective program of Permanent Revolution, to expose the ‘disguised popular fronts’ of bourgeois governments with Social Democracy, to reunite Germany as a healthy workers’ state, overthrowing the Stalinist regime in the East and the imperialist regime in the West. The “democracy” we stood for in 1945 is straight out of the Transitional Program. For the unconditional defence of East Germany occupied by the Red Army as an extension of the Soviet Union by means of political revolution and world revolution, and the revolutionary unification of Germany as a socialist republic in a socialist united states of Europe.

Subcontracting Imperialism: South Korea and Israel

The RCIT makes a lot of the apparent development of the ‘Asian Tigers’, Taiwan and Republic of Korea (ROK) as capable of emerging as ‘new imperialists’. In fact it cites the ROK as an example of a new imperialist power to disprove our claim that no new imperialist powers could have arisen from semi-colonial status since WW1. We agree that these countries have developed large international corporations that export capital. If that were the only basis on which to determine imperialism, the RCIT might have a case. But other semi-colonies such as Brazil and India also have considerable Outbound Foreign Direct Investment (hereafter OFDI) and yet remain dominated by imperialism. However, in the case of Taiwan and the ROK capitalist development is the direct result of their national oppression as militarily divided and occupied forward bases of US imperialism resulting from its war against China and the DPRK.

Taiwan was formerly Formosa and part of China until Chiang Kai Shek with his Kuomintang entourage defeated by the Revolution of 1949 then retreated to Formosa and founded the bourgeois Republic of China as a puppet of the US. Similarly, the ROK was split off from the North at the 38th parallel by a ceasefire that still remains in existence. South Korea like Taiwan is the result of an imperialist partition of an existing nation in the ‘UN’ sponsored war against the DRPK. These are puppet military outposts of US imperialism. The militarisation of the ROK economy saw the USAID administration overseeing the planning of the economy, in particular the export growth strategy under the Park dictatorship in the 60s and 70s. The US still retains command of both its forces and ROK forces in the event of war arising from its intensifying rivalry with China.

Taiwan and the ROK are therefore not politically, militarily or economically independent bourgeois nations, let alone imperialist nations. Their economies are heavily subsidised by US as virtual security colonies of the US. ROK for example pays the annual equivalent of the cost of one destroyer towards maintaining the 28,500 US occupation forces. Without this special status as US military bases there could be no rapid growth of national capital. While the large Taiwanese and ROK conglomerates are today global multinationals, they could arise only with the aid of massive US economic and military subsidies and control over state planning that made their development possible.

Israel too fits this characterisation of a puppet regime. Israel is not the answer to Jewish national democratic rights since it occupies and oppresses Palestine. It is an armed Zionist state created by Anglo-American imperialism as a gendarme in the Middle East. Since its origins made it dependent on imperialism its finance capital is intertwined with Anglo-American capital and has no separate national existence. Israel’s OFDI as an indicator of imperialism must be offset against decades of heavy military subsidies, military transfers to say nothing of the black box budgets for ‘intelligence’ and military integration with the US military. Israel could not have made a transition from settler-colony to imperialist state for the reason that it cannot escape its subordination to external finance capital. If we subtracted Israel’s dependence on US foreign policy that treats it as a special ‘gendarme’ of US imperialism, then Israel would no longer have the security status that guarantees its high economic performance. In other words we think Israel began as an armed Settler state with Anglo-US finance capital backing, and remains so today.

Israel and the ROK: Comparing FDI and OFDI Stock with Total US Aid

FDI Stock OFDI Stock Total US Aid
Israel 74 74 120*
ROK 156 202 78**

Sources: OECD FDI in figures April 2014 in US$ billions

* Total US foreign aid to Israel 1949-2014 in US$ billions (includes loans) https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/U.S._Assistance_to_Israel1.html

** Total US Economic and Military Aid, 1948-2012. (Includes US loans but excludes estimates of the economic impact of the US military occupation.) https://eads.usaid.gov/gbk/data/country_report.cfm

The national independence of the ROK and Israel (say nothing of the democracy) would be laughable if the truth of the material cost to the masses weren’t so brutal and sustained. Military and economic subservience may have diminished to some extent but even Israel knows which direction its nuclear bombs are obliged to point and under whose watchful eye they are allowed their “independence”. The ROK also knows damn well that without US imperialism in their corner they are just days away from singing praises to the “Great Leader”. As part of the post-war imperialist settlement with the Stalinists, the primary task in West Germany, ROK and Israel was to elevate and sustain a labor aristocracy committed to the anti-communist task. In the ROK and Israel a semi-colonial bourgeoisie with a counter-revolutionary backbone was selected or elevated itself among the candidates. In all three some social gains were needed to advertise the ‘free market’ to those just across the borders in the DWSs and were reeled out (as least to the chosen ones) and held aloft as propagandist’s examples of how democratic imperialism is benevolent with those who owe their very existence to its sustained military prowess. These states are sustained as military bulwarks based on concessions to a client bourgeoisie and a labor aristocracy (a seat at the imperialist table for the 2nd International, i.e. GFR and Israel) as long as they are committed to their counter-revolutionary role.

China and Indo-China

It was the Permanent Revolution surviving in workers property in the Soviet Union that was internationalised in China and Indo-China as revolutions that overthrew the bourgeoisie and completed the bourgeois revolution in the East. However, as largely peasant revolutions led by Stalinist bureaucracies trained under Stalin in Moscow, the proletariat was never in power. There was never a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Like the Eastern European states, although not as direct extensions of the Soviet Union, China and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam were ‘degenerate’ at birth. Nevertheless, these states were post-capitalist and represented an advance in the Permanent Revolution as a distorted form of ‘workers democracy’ in the bureaucratised workers councils and peasant communes.

Conversely, the imperialist determination to surround, divide and isolate these Degenerate Workers States (DWSs) in the name of ‘bourgeois democracy’ could not but be a reactionary attack on ‘workers democracy.’ China and Indo-China expropriated the bourgeoisie but could not deepen their Permanent Revolution to advance workers democracy and build socialism because of their isolation from the international working class. That means, as always, that the limits of the permanent revolution are set by the balance of international class forces between revolution and counter-revolution.

This brings us to the last significant retreat in the Permanent Revolution, the world-historic defeat of workers property in the DWSs from 1989 to 1991. While capitalist property was restored and with it a new bourgeoisie, this counter-revolution was incomplete as it failed to destroy the legacy of the unfinished Permanent Revolution. That legacy was the economic independence of Russia and China in the lifetime of the DWSs that advanced the forces of production beyond that possible in a capitalist semi-colony. That means that the legacy of the workers states was not wiped out by the restoration of capitalism and imperialism was not able therefore to reduce the former workers states to the status of semi-colonies. As a result, the Cold War ended not as an outright victory for US imperialism and its allies because they were not able to break up and plunder the former workers states and destroy their capacity to accumulate capital in their own right. Only then can we properly understand why the rise of Russia and China as imperialist states was possible, and that capitalist semi-colonies cannot complete their bourgeois revolution without the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. As we have seen above, Taiwan, South Korea and Israel are not independent imperialist states, but proxies of Anglo-US imperialism.

1989-91: the ‘democratic counter-revolution’

1917 marked the most historic advance in Permanent Revolution. Despite all setbacks, from Germany 1917-23 and 1933 and the defeats of depression and war, revolution expanded as workers property in the post-war DWSs. So long as workers property remained, the major gain of 1917 was undefeated. Trotsky made unconditional defence of the Soviet Union the fundamental plank of the 1938 program. But the 4th International failed to survive as a healthy international. And the Stalinist bureaucracy could not sustain growth, as the failure of planned production not under the democratic control of the workers inevitably led to economic stagnation. Both Stalinism and pseudo-Trotskyism succumbed to restoration via the democratic road. By the late ‘80s a bourgeois restorationist faction of the bureaucracy was introducing market reforms and bourgeois democratic reforms. Another faction based on the military command recognised the need to restore capitalism but opted for the slow ‘Chinese’ road. Now unconditional defence of the Soviet Union and workers property required the political overthrow of both wings of the bureaucracy.

Trotsky in the ‘30’s had foreseen the possibility of capitalist restoration taking the form of a ‘democratic counter-revolution’; that the main factor in the defeat of workers resistance to capitalist restoration would be their acceptance of the illusions of bourgeois democracy.

“Trotsky did not and could not foresee the actual way in which the bureaucratized workers’ states were destroyed fifty years later. Trotsky predicted correctly that if restoration would take place in his time (1930’s), it could succeed primarily with the brutality of fascism and civil war. But, brilliantly, he did not exclude in his writings the possibility that capitalism would be restored principally by the instruments of bourgeois” democracy”. At that time (the 1930’s), the Soviet masses were willing to give their life for socialism. Illusions in bourgeois democracy were barely in existence. But to succeed in its restorationist project, bourgeois democracy needs to get active support from some sectors of the broad masses – this was out of the question in the 1930’s. It was clear that the masses would not have tolerated bourgeois democracy and they were willing to actively resist restoration… The betrayal of the working class by social democracy and Stalinism in Western Europe brought about one the quietest decades of the class struggle (the 1980’s). This combined with the total capitulation of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the East, convinced imperialism and is agents to proceed with the creation of bourgeois parliaments and elections as the safest way to take state power. Thus the creation of such bourgeois bodies was a central step in the restorationist process.” (Introcor, Special Issue, LO Fete, 1993)

In the Spring of 1990 the first major test of unconditional defence of the DWSs was the re-unification of Germany. The LRCI demands were correct; unconditional defence of the GDR, political revolution in the East and socialist revolution in the West, and reunification of Germany as a socialist republic in a socialist united states of Europe. To win, workers must build workers’ councils and workers’ militia and convoke a “…congress of workers’ councils as the organ of state power of a German Workers’ Republic!” There was no mention of bourgeois parliaments or political parties to contest elections except to fight them with the institutions of ‘workers democracy’:

“If however, the bureaucracy is obliged to call parliamentary elections then we call for   workers to call prior mass meetings to select their candidates and to hear the candidates of all parties. The workers should demand annual elections and deputies who are recallable by their constituents. They should demand of all candidates a pledge to defend statified and planned property. By these means the fraud of bourgeois parliamentarism can be exposed, its dangers minimised and the principles of the system of workers’ councils fought for.” (‘The Political Revolution in East Germany’, Trotskyist International, 4, Spring, 1990)

Of course the outcome was decided by the betrayals of the Stalinists to imperialism and the pseudo-Trotskyists incapable of unconditional defence of the DWS. Despite the LRCI’s correct line, there was no revolutionary party with influence on the masses able to offer a revolutionary alternative to the ‘democratic counter-revolution.’ In October, 1990, the new East German section of the LRCI condemned the cynical use of bourgeois democracy by the imperialists and the Stalinists to fool the workers:

“The speed of the reunification and the brutal form of the Anschluss of the GDR, which contradicted the democratic pretences of the Federal Republic’s own constitution, has forced   the helpless and confused left to the sidelines of events…[the PDS] proposed alternative to Kohl’s unification of the two states – a referendum on the draft constitution drawn up by the Round Table – was trapped completely within the logic of bourgeois parliamentarism.” (‘Germany, united fatherland…’ Trotskyist International, 5, autumn, 1990, not online)

Why then, after such a spirited fight for workers democracy against bourgeois democracy in the German reunification, did the LRCI abandon the central plank in the Transitional Program in Russia a year later to align itself with a bourgeois restorationist faction of the bureaucracy lead by Boris Yeltsin? To explain this we develop the argument that we first put forward as the Proletarian Faction in the LRCI in 1995 to explain why instead of fighting the democratic counter-revolution, the LRCI joined it.

For all Dave Hughes’ knowledge of the Soviet Union, the break from Cliffism to orthodox Trotskyism in the mid-1980s proved incomplete. The Degenerated Revolution, which resulted from Hughes’ analysis of the workers states contained a basic flaw hidden in its method. The Soviet Union was conceived as an isolated DWS in which the main contradiction was between the Stalinist bureaucracy and workers’ (statified) property. For Trotsky the main contradiction was between workers property and global capitalism. The bureaucracy was a secondary or mediating contradiction and thus could be removed by a political revolution. This contradiction was represented in the separation of a ‘bourgeois state form’ and ‘statified property’.

The flaw in method emerged when the crisis of the workers states in E. Europe blew up in the late ‘80s. This disoriented the LRCI as the road to restoration proved not to be ‘civil war’ but “peaceful counter revolution.” The LRCI faced up to this fact with the German Anschluss, but lost its way in the Soviet Union when it confused bourgeois democracy and workers democracy. The LRCI began to talk of “democracy” in the abstract when describing the mobilisation of workers organisations against the Stalinist bureaucracy, suppressing the fact that behind this “democracy” was the main enemy, imperialism.

The IEC Resolution on the world situation in July, 1990, (section on “The Death Agony of Stalinism in the degenerated workers’ states”) refers to the “coming revolutionary crisis” in the USSR:

“The USSR is moving rapidly towards a revolutionary situation. This is shown by the mounting economic shortages, the mushrooming of independent workers’ organisations and the results of the Spring 1990 local elections which saw wholesale defeats for party candidates…[t]he oppressed nationalities, the civil rights activists and the working class have all taken action in defiance of [Gorbachevs] decrees. The workers are fighting for their democratic rights, for free trade unions, freedom of assembly, the right to strike, for improvements in wages, for greater equality, and against bureaucratic corruption. The foundation of an independent miners’ union and of the Confederation of Labour representing millions of Soviet proletarians, opens a whole new phase of the crisis.” [Our emphasis]

Already a year before the Yeltsin coup, we see that the LRCI ‘contradiction’ between Stalinism and statified property is manifest as workers fighting for bourgeois rights against the Stalinists. This is not the continuation of the permanent revolution by means of workers democracy – that is, workers organs of struggle independent from capital, but bourgeois ‘free’ trade unions, right to strike, equality, etc., of capitalist democracy; not workers democracy, but the ‘democratic counter-revolution’ independent from the Stalinist bureaucracythe now familiar democratic imperialist program of the ‘colour revolutions’. What we see here is the secondary contradiction displacing the main contradiction in an historic showdown within the ‘bourgeois’ state apparatus between fascism (Stalinist dictatorship) and democracy (workers control) disguised as the defence of workers property.

In the IEC Resolution on East Germany in July, 1990, we also find the LRCI leadership redefining Trotsky’s ‘unconditional defence of the Soviet Union’ as a conditional defence:

“Within the strategy of political revolution a vital distinction had to be drawn between defence of the post-capitalist property relations –obligatory for all Marxists – and illegitimate defence of the bureaucratic state apparatus, which was the principle enemy of the working class within the GDR; failure to make this distinction lay at the heart of the impotence of the left wing opponents of the state. It led the majority of those who genuinely wanted to prevent the restoration of capitalism into identifying mass mobilisations against the regime principally as attacks upon the property relations. By the same token, it also led them to see in the state apparatus a potential means of defending those property relations.” [Our emphasis]

The LRCI’s origins in the Cliffite tendency come back to the surface. For Trotsky ‘unconditional defence’ meant despite the bureaucracy, not against it. The bureaucracy is not the ‘main enemy’. This is a caricature of Trotskyism. As soon as you say the Stalinists are the main enemy you make ‘democratic imperialism’ the “lesser evil” to the Stalinist dictatorship. Then you begin to swim with the tide of workers who also see the Stalinists as the main enemy and begin to adapt to bourgeois democracy as the means of defeating the Stalinists. The failure of the left to fight for workers democracy is the failure of revolutionary leadership to stand firm on ‘unconditional defence’ as the main plank of the permanent revolution. Having only recently broken from state capitalism, the LRCI reverted to its flawed method, bending under the pressure of democratic imperialism and the influence on the E. German masses against the ‘main enemy’ Stalinism, subordinating ‘workers democracy’ to ‘bourgeois democracy.’ The logical endpoint of this Anschluss in the LRCI program was its capitulation to Yeltsin’s restorationist popular front in August, 1991.

The International Secretariat Resolution “The USSR at the Crossroads” adopted in February, 1991, already made clear that Yeltsin is moving to rally the pro-market forces in the Soviet Union..:

“Although the radical marketisers are excluded from the inner Bonapartist clique around Gorbachev, they still have positions of mass influence. Yeltsin and company were able to mobilise mass demonstrations in Moscow and other cities against the clampdown in Lithuania. Middle ranking officers and senior commanders in the army have expressed support for Yeltsin. He remains the most well known and popular alternative figure to Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s plebiscite on preserving the USSR and accepting the new Federation proposals will be a major trial of strength. Yeltsin’s own referendum for a popularly elected Russian and all-Union Federation is aimed at mobilising mass support and giving himself a “democratic mandate” to defy Gorbachev. Together with the Baltics, the western borderland republics and the Caucasus, the Russian Federation still presents a major obstacle to the conservatives.” [Our emphasis]

Nevertheless “Independent class forces will be obliged to defend…their democratic freedoms…alongside Yeltsin…”

“The final outcome will rest upon the attitude of the masses in general and the soldiers in particular. The working class has no interest in the triumph of either side in this debate between bureaucrats. Its historic and immediate interests lie in the preservation and extension of democratic freedoms and the nationalised and planned property relations. Independent class forces will be obliged to defend these liberties alongside Yeltsin and company, whilst not for one minute supporting the Yeltsinites’ seizure of power. On the other hand independent class forces are obliged to defend the statified economy alongside the conservatives whilst not for one minute abandoning the objective of overthrowing them.” (ibid. [our emphasis])

In the event of the conservatives’ coup 6 months later in August, the LRCI stood alongside Yeltsin defending ‘bourgeois democracy’ while refusing to back the coup because it was directed at the bourgeois democracy of the pro-market forces! The only position for revolutionaries in that situation was to defend the Red House in a workers’ united front to restore workers democracy by rebuilding the soviets independently of both the bureaucracy and the restorationists to defend workers property unconditionally. The RCIT continues to defend the LRCI position of a ‘conditional’ defence of workers’ property, that condition being that it will not bloc with Stalinists to defend workers’ property, while it will bloc with the bourgeois democrats aligned to imperialism! The fact that the LRCI saw the demise of Stalinism as a victory opening the road for workers to defend workers property explains its characterisation of the period as a “revolutionary period, counter-revolutionary phase.” For them, there was no world-historical defeat so long as the ‘main enemy’ was defeated, and the proletariat could live to fight for political revolution. For the LRCI and RCIT today bourgeois democracy was and is the ‘lesser evil’ to Stalinist ‘fascism’ and not a betrayal of permanent revolution.

From Permanent Revolution to Bourgeois Democracy

We have undertaken to trace the Epoch of permanent revolution beginning with Marx’s conception, including the three aspects isolated by Trotsky in his analysis, documenting the balance of forces for and against Permanent Revolution from 1871 through all the significant advances and retreats up to the present, and projecting its final victory in the future communism. We argued that from 1850 the task of developing the forces of production became the task of the proletariat. From that point the bourgeoisie became a reactionary class. In particular, bourgeois democracy was a reactionary class ideology that objectively formed a bulwark to revolutionary class consciousness and permanent revolution as the strategy of the proletariat playing its historic role as the revolutionary class capable of developing the forces of production.

We argue that the RCIT does not see the bourgeoisie as a completely reactionary class, and moreover does not see bourgeois democracy as a barrier to permanent revolution. In fact it argues that by defending bourgeois democracy the proletariat can “assist” the bourgeoisie to develop the forces of production. For us, this is the basis of Menshevism, where the proletariat plays an “auxiliary role” (in popular fronts) in completing the bourgeois democratic revolution to prepare the conditions for socialist revolution. Menshevism as a revisionist ‘evolutionary’ Marxism is a capitulation to social imperialism under pressure from the imperialist bourgeoisie.

The root of this revision is the RCIT conception of bourgeois democracy. We trace this to an incomplete split of the MRCI/LRCI from the state capitalist Cliffite SWP (Britain) in 1975. Trotsky explained that state capitalism was rooted in petty bourgeois Stalinophobia, which rejected dialectics and revived the split between state and society of bourgeois ideology. In the crisis of 1991 the LRCI reverted to its roots and blocked with the bourgeois restorationists against the Stalinist bureaucracy. The RCIT has never repudiated this betrayal by the LRCI and this is shown in its current defence of bourgeois democracy, reinforcing illusions in popular fronts and popular front parties.

We have seen that bourgeois democracy was only conceded by the bourgeoisie when forced by fear of socialist revolution to contain the revolution with “pseudo-democratic forms” that combined parliament backed by the bourgeois army. Bourgeois democracy traps the proletariat in the fetishised ideology of exchange relations, masking unequal production relations reproduced daily in the workplace and reinforced by the labour bureaucracy and Social Democracy inside or outside the popular fronts with the bourgeoisie and its “shadow” the Stalinists. Therefore, from the Paris Commune onward, to escape its exploitation, the proletariat has always sought to destroy the objectively counter-revolutionary bourgeois democracy by opposing to it a subjective workers democracy, implicitly and explicitly challenging the social relations that underpin the former with the strikes and occupations, councils, communes and armed insurrections of the latter.

However, this revolutionary subjectivity cannot transcend the reactionary objectivity of bourgeois democracy unless it becomes class-conscious. It has to break from fetishised bourgeois ideology that limits consciousness to the “class-in-itself” of labour subordinated to capital, to “class for-itself” as represented by the revolutionary party. Only the active intervention of the revolutionary party can transcend the bourgeois democratic and immediate demands of the old minimum program by means of the transitional method of the Transitional Program. That is why the strategy of Permanent Revolution is the method of the Transitional Program.

 

LCC, 13 June, 2015

 

[i] K. Marx, Early Writings, Introduction by L. Colletti. Pelican edition; Marx, Capital Volume 1, Chap 1 ‘Commodities’, Section on Fetishism of Commodities.

[ii] see Civil War in France,France capitulates and the Government of Thiers’.

[iii] “No common platform with the Social Democracy, or with the leaders of the German trade unions, no common publications, banners, placards! March separately, but strike together! Agree only how to strike, whom to strike, and when to strike! Such an agreement can be concluded even with the devil himself, with his grandmother, and even with Noske and Grezesinsky. On one condition, not to bind one’s hands.” (Trotsky, The Workers United Front against Fascism, ‘We Must Force the Social Democracy into a Bloc Against the Fascists’).

Trotsky refers to the Bolshevik policy towards Kerensky in 1917 where the Bolsheviks formed a military bloc with Kerensky against Kornilov, simultaneously exposing and splitting Social Revolutionary and Menshevik workers from its bourgeois leadership. Does this make Kerensky the “lesser evil”? No, the “democrat” Kerensky is no less a counter-revolutionary than the “reactionary” Kornilov but a military bloc can unite the workers against Kornilov and prove this fact to those who have illusions in the popular front government. In the event Kornilov was defeated, Kerensky was exposed as conspiring with Kornilov to smash the revolution, and shortly after the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Soviets to stage the insurrection.

[iv] “Verbal genuflections before the soviets are equally as fashionable in the “left” circles as the misconception of their historical function. Most often the soviets are defined as the organs of struggle for power, as the organs of insurrection, and finally, as the organs of dictatorship. Formally these definitions are correct. But they do not at all exhaust the historical function of the soviets. First of all they do not explain why, in the struggle for power, precisely the soviets are necessary. The answer to this question is: just as the trade union is the rudimentary form of the united front in the economic struggle, so the soviet is the highest form of the united front under the conditions in which the proletariat enters the epoch of fighting for power. The soviet in itself possesses no miraculous powers. It is the class representation of the proletariat, with all of the latter’s strong and weak points. But precisely and only because of this does the soviet afford to the workers of divers political trends the organizational opportunity to unite their efforts in the revolutionary struggle for power. In the present pre-revolutionary environment it is the duty of the most advanced German workers to understand most clearly the historical function of the soviets as the organs of the united front…The Social Democracy and the Communist Party divide in Germany the influence over the working class. The Social Democratic leadership does its best to repel the workers from itself. The leadership of the Communist Party strives with all its might to counteract the influx of the workers. As a consequence we get the formation of a third party and a comparatively slow change in the correlation of forces in favor of the Communists. But even if Communist Party policies were entirely correct, the workers’ need for a revolutionary unification of the class would have grown incomparably faster than the preponderance of the Communist Party within the class. The need of creating soviets would thus remain in its full scope. The creation of the soviets presupposes that the different parties and organizations within the working class, beginning with the factories, become agreed, both as regards the very necessity for the soviets and as regards the time and methods of their formation. Which means: since the soviets, in themselves, represent the highest form of the united front in the revolutionary epoch, therefore their inception must be preceded by the policy of the united front in the preparatory period.” (What Next: vital questions for the German Proletariat. Section 8Through the United Front to the Soviets as the Highest Organs of the United Front’)

The USA became imperialist, what about Canada?

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In Part One of this article we asked if the European Settler Colonies can break the rule and make the transition from dependent colonies or semi-colonies to imperialist powers. That ‘rule’ is that capitalist semi-colonies cannot make this transition because they “cannot accumulate enough surplus value to become economically independent of existing imperialist powers.” We have shown in a number of articles that the emergence of Russia and China as imperialist powers is an exception to the rule because they had national revolutions that overthrew their bourgeoisies and became economically independent of imperialism.
We stated however, that there was “one category of colonies, European Settler colonies, that appears to be the exception to this rule”. There was no question that the USA became imperialist, but what of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia and Israel? Unlike the US, none of these won wars of independence so how would it be possible to achieve “economic independence” from Britain and the US? While we argued that NZ, Australia and South Africa failed to become sufficiently economically independent to become minor imperialist powers, we left open the question of Canada. We will come back to the question of Israel in a future article.

Is Canada imperialist?

The situation in Canada is less clear cut and the ongoing debate over whether or not Canada is imperialist between economic nationalists and ‘internationalists’ is more vigorous than that in Australia. In many ways Canada is similar to Australia. Originating as a British colony after defeating the French and then holding off the ‘Americans’ the settlers occupied lands inhabited by ‘First Nation’ peoples and started built a new capitalist society. Like Australia, Canada had many of the features of a settler colony that created the conditions for capitalist development and it too had no war of independence.

However, unlike Australia, Canada developed under conditions which, in the absence of a war of independence, allowed a national bourgeoisie to emerge capable of becoming economically independent of the colonial power. The unique factor that explains this seems to have been the proximity of the American Revolution that threatened to spread into Canada. US revolutionaries made incursions into Canada and there was widespread support for the revolution on the part of a majority of settlers coming into Canada. The British state had to build a strong national capitalist regime in Canada to defend it from the revolutionary advances from the South. In doing so, this colonial regime kept firm control on the settlers and put down two rebellions by small farmers and an uprising by Metis (mixed race) in the mid 19th century.

Canadian historians generally agree on these colonial origins but differ on what happened next. Most argue that Canada ceased to be a colony controlled by Britain in the late 19th century but could not achieve economic independence as it fell under the dominance of the US as it embarked on its own imperialist expansion. The ‘dependency’ school of thought explains this as the result of a Canadian ruling class pre-occupation with trade and commerce so that the banks played a weak role in investing in domestic industry which had to rely on US investment. Investment of US finance capital in Canadian industry therefore established a division of labour in which Canada was a producer of ‘staples’ or raw materials, while its branch plant industry was dominated by the US. The result was that Canada became an economic dependency of the US rather than a developed industrial capitalist state or imperialist power.

Yet contrary to the ‘dependency’ theory, there is a rival school of thought that argues that Canada is imperialist. For example, Bill Burgess in the 2006 article, ‘Canada, Imperialist or Imperialized’ (CIOI) argues that the evidence today points to an independent finance capitalist class in Canada:

“Statistics Canada reports that the 25 largest enterprises in Canada in 1988 controlled 41% of the assets of all corporations in the country. As reported in Figure 1, the rate of Canadian control over the assets of this highly strategic group was an impressive 95%… When the ‘top 25’ ranking by assets is added to the ranking by revenues, 36 of the ‘top 44’ enterprises are Canadian-controlled. 90.2% of the revenues in this group are Canadian-controlled; only 8.8% are US controlled. The 44 enterprises account for 50% of the revenues of the largest 763 enterprises in Canada, and 42% of their assets. In other words, within the core group of corporate power in Canada, Canadians capitalist control is seven or eight or nine times greater than US capitalist control, and this does even include other important points of support like Canadian government policy.” [Emphasis in original]

However, proving that Canadian finance capital exists does not explain the why and how this finance capital emerged, a question which is not settled as we show below. A minority like Bill Burgess trace the formation of finance capital as the result of Canada’s early development. The majority including Todd Gordon in Imperialist Canada, see the rise of Canadian imperialism as occurring after WW2. Within the majority some like Jerome Klassen see it as a ‘new imperialism’ that emerged as part of the neo-liberal free trade era of CAFTA, NAFTA etc, and picked up speed in the period since 9/11. Nevertheless, both minority and majority agree that whatever its origins Canadian imperialism is ‘deeply integrated’ into US imperialist hegemony and plays the role of a ‘secondary imperialist’ power.

Origins of Canada’s Finance Capital

In terms of the theory that we advance about the rise of imperialist powers, we take the minority view on the emergence of finance capital. We argue that Canada could not have become imperialist unless the conditions for this had been established before WW1 and the redivision of the world into the spheres of influence by rival capitalist powers. Did these conditions exist in Canada? The general rule that a colony must wage a war of independence to win its economic independence from imperialism did not apply in this case. The opposite was true. Canada won its political independence from Britain as the result of its counter-revolutionary role on the side of the British against the American Revolution. In order for the British to prevent the American Revolution spreading to its colony it had to create a strong national bourgeoisie as a bulwark. But why would this lead to that classes’ economic independence from both the British and then the US empires?

As we have seen the dependency theorists argue that Canada didn’t win its economic independence from Britain and the resulting weakness of the Canadian bourgeoisie reflected its comprador role as the mercantile agent class of the British Empire. Such a weak bourgeoisie could not claim more than a merchant bankers’ share of the surplus-value produced in Canada. The lion’s share of super profits would be shipped off to Britain. The Canadian comprador state defeated settlers uprisings for independence on behalf of the British and without tariff protection industrial development remained ‘backward’. When Canada gained ‘self-governing’ status its comprador class then looked to US industrial capital investment in ‘branch plants’. This is widely known as the “Naylor-Clement” thesis after those who developed this idea within the ‘dependency’ camp.

And yet the evidence shows that these features of ‘dependency’, while significant, were a subordinate aspect of Canada’s economic development. Canadian banks invested heavily in the transport and energy infrastructure necessary for capitalist production. This proved that there was no split in the capitalist class between merchant bankers and industrialists. In fact, the big majority of Canadian capital was what Lenin later called ‘finance capital’ – the fusion of banking capital with industrial capital in large increasingly monopolistic enterprises. The rise of this finance capitalist class in Canada therefore occurred at the same time as in all the other imperialist powers. [Burgess, 142; CIOI, 2006]

How to explain the rise of finance capital?

What this proves, against both ‘dependency’ theorists, and ‘new imperialist’ theorists, is that Canada was already imperialist by World War I. What is doesn’t demonstrate is the specific circumstances that allowed a comprador class to transform itself into a class of finance capitalists. Burgess suggest an explanation lurking in the ‘Naylor-Clement’ thesis of a weak, divided bourgeoisie that proved in reality to be the opposite, a strong and united national bourgeoisie:

“Naylor and Clement argued that, first, there is an atypical division and rivalry between sectors of Canadian capital dating back into the 19th century. Second, they claimed that financial capital in Canada chose a continental alliance with US capital over a national alliance with indigenous industrial capital.” [Burgess, Thesis, 147]

As Burgess and others have explained, the Naylor/Clement thesis is based on the misunderstanding that merchant capital invested in building railways and canals was not industrial capital. Yet Canadian merchant banks which served Britain in Canada, employing British capital, were not merely building railways and canals to transport commodities to the British market, they were doing much more than that. They were laying down the infrastructure necessary for capitalist agriculture, forestry, and more important, manufacturing. The capital invested in this infrastructure was not merchant capital but bank and state monopoly finance capital. That is why the large family and state enterprises that were created at the time fused banking and industrial capital to concentrate investment and as a result became highly monopolised, giving rise to the finance capital typical of imperialism. [Burgess, Thesis, 142]

So perhaps the explanation we are looking for runs like this: the Canadian settler colony converted British merchant capital into industrial capital by extending the circuit of industrial capital from Britain to the colony and at the same time creating the conditions for capitalist production in Canada. The foundations for the rise of Canadian finance capital were laid by the state’s policy of developing domestic industry, contributing to the solution of Britain’s crisis of falling profits, and at the same time accumulating surplus-value in its own right. But how was this possible without a national revolution to win economic independence?

Burgess suggests that the policy of land settlement may have played an important role in the formation of industrial capitalism in Canada, but that more work needs to be done to prove this point. [Burgess, Thesis, 27-28] In the next section we put forward our interpretation of the importance of the land question in the settler colonies.

The Land Question

British imperialism in the early to mid 19th century was facing a crisis of falling profits at home caused by the high cost of raw materials due to the lack of capital investment in agriculture. The resulting stagnation, unemployment and poverty led to famines, epidemics and widespread social unrest. The political economist E.G. Wakefield promoted his ‘systematic colonisation’ as a solution. It would put a sufficient price on the sale of land in the colonies to prevent settlers from occupying ‘free land’ and at the same time use the proceeds of land sales to fund free immigration. It would solve the social problems in Britain as well as the underlying profitability crisis, by opening up new lands for capitalist agriculture to provide cheaper raw materials for industry at home, simultaneously creating a class of wage labourers. As a form of ‘primitive accumulation’, indigenous lands were expropriated by the state and sold to petty capitalist farmers, while denying migrant workers free access to land, forcing them to perform wage labor for a living. In short the denial of “free land” was necessary to ensure the separation of labor from the land to create “free labor” and capitalist development in the settler colonies.

Marx critiqued this policy as implemented by the Wakefield Scheme. In Australia and NZ the plan failed when workers escaped “free” labor for “free” land proving that capital and land cannot create value without labor power. In Canada, the colonial state controlled crown land directly, or indirectly through groups of wealthy families after 1812, and then through the Canada Company from 1825, all of which sold land at a relatively high price. So there was no “free” land to allow migrants to escape wage labour unless they crossed the border to adopt the “American” way. Of course the labor market was replenished by constant flows of migrants.

So while the Colonial government did not officially apply Wakefield’s “systematic colonisation” they achieved its main purpose. By creating the conditions for capitalist production, freehold land, free labour, and capital, the colonial elite became a national bourgeoisie in which banking capital and industrial capital could merge as finance capital. In completing this process by World War I, Canada was already joining the imperialist powers, large and small, that entered that war in the interests of increasing its own sphere of interest rather than that of either Britain or the USA.

Critique of ‘New Imperialism’

The most common view of Canadian imperialism today is that it emerged in the post-World War 2 period. We argue that such a theory ignores Marx and Lenin in settling the question of the origins of finance capital. If Canada was not already imperialist by World War I on what basis could it emerge thereafter? Like the ‘left’ in Australia that speaks of a small, secondary, or sub-imperialist Australia, the method used to arrive at this conclusion is empiricist. It argues that Canada during the epoch of imperialism can make the transition from a ‘dependent’ or semi-colonial country and emerge as imperialist in a world already divided and fought over by imperialist powers in two Imperialist wars. In other words existing imperialist powers can step outside the laws which govern monopoly state capitalism to donate super-profits to dependent countries so they can accumulate some of these super-profits on their own account and even redistribute them as a ‘socialist’ policy as the ANC claims in South Africa.

This view of imperialism as ‘bad policy’ is the inverse of the dependency theorists who claim that Canada’s ‘deep integration’ in the US security state disqualifies its imperialist status. For example Gowans argues that Canada cannot be imperialist because it doesn’t have its own military independent of the US. Klassen rebuts this view but opts for the term ‘secondary’ imperialist, to acknowledge that Canada, like many other imperialist powers (for example Japan) is subordinated to hegemonic US imperialism. Yet Klassen cannot explain how the US has allowed Canada to escape a semi-colonial fate since World War 2 other than by voluntarily subsidising Canadian imperialism with US super-profits. Here is empiricism in all of its glory: selecting facts to fit a preordained political position without reference to the origins of finance capital in Canada before World War I.

Are we empiricists? No. Imperialism arose from the crises of overproduction and exported capital to restore the rate of profit. Before the epoch of imperialism proper began in the late 19th century, British imperialism as the dominant power by the mid-19th century had a colonial policy of state monopoly capitalism that prefigured global imperialism. State monopoly capitalism is parasitic and destructive in extracting surplus-value and resorts to war to partition the global market.

We argue that British imperialism retained finance capital control of its colonies and semi-colonies except in the case of Canada where an independent capitalist class arose out of the counter-revolution against the American Revolution. In the epoch of imperialism, no capitalist colony or semi-colony has been able to make the transition from semi-colony to imperialist power since the redivision of the world economy by the imperialist powers in 1918. There are states like Israel and South Korea where modern industry has developed large multinational firms in the aftermath of World War 2 in 1945, but this would not have been possible were it not for their status as heavily subsidised special security states defending the interests of US imperialism.

Canada born of the first imperialist crisis?

We have argued here that the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of Canadian Imperialism can only be understood by applying the theory of Lenin on imperialism. Lenin’s theory of imperialism means that after World War 1, when existing imperialist powers re-partitioned the world into their respective spheres of influence, no new imperialist powers could emerge. The export of capital from the imperialist countries created dependent colonies or semi-colonies which could only escape colonial super-exploitation and oppression by permanent revolution. We argue that attempts to find ‘new imperialisms’, such as that of the British settler colonies such as Australia reject Lenin for ‘social imperialism’. This is the prevailing view of the post-World War 2 Mensheviks who think that imperialism is the ‘bad’ policy of imperialist ruling classes that can be reformed without overthrowing capitalism.

In Part One of this article we argued that New Zealand and South Africa are clearly semi-colonies in terms of the dominant share of super-profits expropriated by the major imperialist powers. Australia is less clear cut combining both rich semi-colonial and imperialist aspects. We have gone back to our original position on the balance of the evidence showing that Australia’s dependence on the US and China makes it a semi-colony. However this analysis has shortcomings because we have not gone back to Lenin to explain ‘how’ and ‘why’ Australia failed to qualify as imperialist by World War I. In that sense we were still arguing on the empiricists terrain.

In the case of Canada we started with Lenin’s theory as necessary to explain Canadian imperialism today. This means extrapolating back from the early 20th century to the early 19th century to look for the origins of Canadian finance capital. Canada as a British colony developed an industrial economy as part of the solution to Britain’s crisis of overproduction as the “industrial workshop of the world”. Britain’s export of capital to Canada was still merchant capital in the early 19th century, but became industrial capital when invested in the capitalist production of commodities in Canada. The Canadian ruling class oversaw the development of domestic capitalism and monopolised ownership and control of means of production, accumulating and concentrating banking and industrial capital as finance capital in its big banks and enterprises. That is why we think that it is possible to show that Canada was imperialist by World War I and so eliminate both the ‘dependency’ theories and the ‘new imperialist’ theories of the post-World War 2 period.

If this analysis is correct it strengthens our argument that we can extrapolate the character of monopoly capital back in time in the British settler states, and show why and how the US and Canada, though taking very different paths, became imperialist while the other settler colonies did not. It also gives us more confidence that we are correct in developing Lenin and Trotsky to explain the exceptional emergence of Russia and China, which won their economic independence by overthrowing the imperialist and national bourgeoisies, and despite the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism, inherited the conditions that made it necessary for their belated capitalist development to become imperialism.

First published on redrave blog

Written by raved

June 11, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

U.S.A. became Imperialist, what about NZ, South Africa and Australia?

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Arising out of our analysis of the reasons for the emergence of China and Russia as new imperialist powers, a few other questions have arisen. If China and Russia can, why not Brazil, India, even South Africa? The answer is that semi-colonies cannot accumulate enough surplus value to become economically independent of existing imperialist powers. However, there may be one category of semi-colonies that could break out of this trap, or so some of the ‘left’ thinks. These are the European settler colonies. We think we can prove them wrong.

The epoch of imperialism arose in the late 19th century as the main European powers expanded beyond their borders to embark on colonial exploitation to escape the limits to capital accumulation. Marx in Vol 3 of Capital explained the need to find cheaper land, raw materials, and labour power to escape the limits of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF).

At the time Lenin wrote his pamphlet, Imperialism –The Highest Stage of Capitalism, in 1915 he envisaged a world economy in the process of being divided among all the imperialist powers into rival “spheres of interest”. Competition to expand further would mean more wars unless the workers of the world rose up and overthrow their imperialist ruling classes.

Given this battle to re-divide the world by the imperialist powers, none of the colonies would be able to break free of dependency upon imperialism short of socialist revolutions. Failing that, they would remain colonies, semi-colonies or ‘neo-colonies’. Their political independence was rendered inoperative because of their economic dependency.

European Settler Colonies

One category of colonies, European Settler colonies, may be the exception to this rule. They seem to have more real political sovereignty and control over the economy than other semi-colonies. Thus the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil and Israel are often held up as countries that were able to make the transition from settler colony to imperialist powers (if relatively small), while the vast majority of colonies that were not settled by Europeans, remained trapped in neo-colonial dependency.

Yet if we look at these countries, only the US was able to become a major imperialist power. The fate of the others is less clear cut. The reason for this is that the US had a complete national revolution where it broke its ties of political and economic dependence on its former colonial master, Britain. It could impose tariffs on British goods and protect local manufacturers until they were big enough to compete. It also had a Civil War that eliminated the barriers of backward pre-capitalist modes of production.

All the other countries settled by Europeans, however, did not have wars of independence against their colonial masters (except in Latin America where the wars of independence fell short of economic independence from European capitalist powers). While they had a limited self-government that enabled them to protect their domestic economies, this was insufficient to prevent imperialism from retaining a large share of national surplus-value and limiting national capital accumulation. Nevertheless, some argue that they were sufficiently ‘decolonised’ in the 20th Century to achieve economic independence and become minor imperialist powers.

We can test the proposition that political ‘decolonisation’ in the 30 years between the Great Depression and end of the post war boom enabled the former settler colonies to resist economic ‘recolonisation’ during the neo-liberal years from the 1970s to the present. That is, to what extent did national economic development enable these countries to become sufficiently ‘independent’ so as to resist neo-liberal ‘recolonisation’?

We can test this fairly easily in the case of the weakest states, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. These settler colonies very early became part of an imperial division-of-labour where they produced raw materials for export and imported finished goods from the imperialist motherland. Tariff protection enabled a degree of domestic manufacturing but this always remained relatively limited mainly based on ‘branch plants’ owned by imperialist capital and financed by imperialist banks. In other words, the ‘decolonisation’ process was largely illusory as surplus value was siphoned off by imperialism leaving these countries relatively underdeveloped and economically dependent.

NZ, South Africa and Australia

There is no question that NZ was very quickly ‘recolonised’ from the early 1970s as domestic capital sought to modernise and compete internationally. The ‘neo-liberal’ counter-revolution during the Fourth Labour Government 1984-89, virtually destroyed the basis of economic protectionism built up over 40 years within 5 years.  

NZ’s Global Links gives a good picture of the surplus-value siphoned out of NZ by international finance capital. Ignoring this overwhelming evidence most of the left in NZ says that NZ is a small imperialist power on the basis of its predatory role in the South Pacific and historic high living standards.

In the case of South Africa, we have written about its dependence on imperialism, Anglo-American historically, but now increasingly that of China. We reject any notion that South Africa is imperialist by any conception.

Nor is it ‘sub-imperialist’ in the terms of the BRIC intelligentsia which adds to South Africa’s semi-colonial dependence, measure of ‘independence’ earned by a share of the surplus for performing a ‘subcontracted’ role as manager of imperialist affairs in the whole of Africa.

Australia, however, is viewed by many on the left as a minor imperialism. This includes ourselves (CWG NZ) since the 1990s. Australia’s protected manufacturing allowed a weak national bourgeois fraction to emerge, alongside the traditional pastoral and mining bourgeoisie. Australia was more resilient than NZ to neo-liberal deregulation as it was not dependent on protected manufacturing alone and could sustain growth in the late 80s and 90s due to its booming mining industry.

However, the neo-liberalisation of Australia under Hawke and Howard saw this national bourgeoisie largely swallowed up by international finance capital. And while NZ banks were all Australian owned, the big four Australian banks became controlled by HSBC, JPMorgan, Citigroup and BNP Paridas as the shareholders.

As one commentator puts it:
“Both commercial and mining companies’ ownership are dominated by HSBC Nominees, JP Morgan Nominees, and Citibank Nominees as the top three shareholders of most companies. If one examines company directorships there is a tight cross-linking across commerce, banking and mining in Australia today. Commerce, banking and mining are now part of an oligopoly.”

We conclude that Australia developed behind protectionist barriers for the period from the 1930s to 1980s yet failed to achieve economic independence. Its national bourgeoisie remained weak and dependent on international finance capital. The hallmark of imperialism is the TRPF and the over-accumulation of capital that must be exported to gain access to cheap land, raw materials and labour power.

Australia has failed to do this on its own account. Its national finance capital is dominated by EU, US and now also increasingly by Chinese finance capital. In the key growth sector of mining, the three largest “Australian” corporations, BHP Billiton is 75%, Rio Tinto 80%, and Xtrata 100% foreign owned. The monopoly rent from mining has therefore been largely siphoned off by international finance capital.

So the excess flow of FDI into Australia over OFDI flowing out of Australia reflects the dominant share of super-profits accruing to the international finance capital of the major banks and corporations. This dominance was demonstrated by the defeat of the Rudd Resource Super Profits tax that gifted $billions to the foreign owners of the mining industry.

The OECD says that Australian federal revenue from mining profits is the lowest in the world. The foreign shareholders get about half of the “value added”: “For every $100 in value added by the mining industry, state governments get $6 and employees get $20. This leaves a profit of $74. Of that amount, the federal government gets $14, foreign shareholders get $48, and Australian resident shareholders get $12.” It seems then that far from breaking out of semi-colonial dependency into mini-imperialism, Australia has been increasingly ‘taken over’ by international finance capital and Chinese monopolies.

Australia as “sub-imperialist”?

Various left groups call Australia small, minor, mini, regional, or junior imperialism. Their method is empirical in toting up the foreign investment figures and pointing to Australia’s ‘policing’ role in partnership with Britain or the US.

Ashley Lavelle, in “Who Owns Australia”, 2001, argues against the radical nationalist line that Australia is being taken over by foreign investors. Australia is an “advanced capitalist economy” as only 25% of Australian firms are owned and controlled by foreign capital. This means that the main enemy is not foreign capital, but the Australian ruling class. In the two main sectors of the economy we find 9% penetration in mining and 30% penetration in finance. Even in 2000 this is enough concentration of finance capital to dominate the Australian economy.

The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) joins the pack yapping at the economic nationalists heels. It claims that Australia is a “small, regional imperialist power”, a “junior partner of Washington” with its own “sphere of influence” such as Melanesia and East Timor.

Sandra Bloodworth of the International Socialist Organisation, writing in 2004, says Australia is a minor but “regional imperialist power”. Australia joined the war on terror in support of the USA and acted to fulfil its ‘regional’ policing role in the South Pacific, for example in the Solomon Islands. Australia profits from investments in this region, e.g. in Papua New Guinea mining and owns 50% of Fijian business. Another left group accuses Australia of mini-imperialism in exploiting and oppressing East Timor and seizing its oil resources in the Timor Sea.

Tom Bramble of Socialist Alternative writing in the Marxist Left Review, 2012, “Australian Imperialism and the rise of China” aligns himself with other left academics who speak of Australia and Canada as ‘secondary’ imperialisms. Bramble recognises the rise of imperialist China has major consequences for Australian trade and its relationship with the US. But China has been imperialist for some time according to the state capitalists like Bramble.

Yet Australia’s dependence on the US and increasingly China, does not cause him to challenge the prevailing Australian Cliffite (state capitalist) and DSP view on Australian junior imperialism. He does not question Australia’s obvious subordinate role to UK and US finance capital and as an exporter of minerals to China. He fails to register the significance that the Australian mining industry is largely foreign owned, increasingly favouring China. Or that Australia’s regional policing role has been overtaken by its integration under Gillard and Abbott as a forward base for the US military.

The Northite ICFI (WSWS) writing in 2014 sees Australia as imperialist despite its political subservience to US imperialism. WSWS argues that after the Global Financial Crisis and the 2010 ‘coup’ to remove Labour Prime Minister Rudd (because he was in favour of US and China friendship and the resource tax), Australia has been drawn completely into the US “pivot to Asia”.

The Abbott Gov’t is even closer to the US. The result is Australia coming under direct domination by the US dictating a militarist foreign policy and an austerity domestic policy which it calls a ‘counter-revolution’. The Shorten Labor Party is also committed to war and austerity. But for the WSWS Russia and China are not imperialist, and Australia despite its dependence on the US remains a minor imperialist power.

It’s clear that while the case made for Australia’s economic independence is very weak, most of the left regard Australia as a junior partner of US capital on the strength of its imperialist policing role. Therefore, we can file the various labels for Australian minor imperialism under ‘sub-imperialist’ which is the vogue term on the BRIC left to mean a minor power that serves imperialism and is paid in a share of the subcontracted colonial tribute.

We have argued that the label “sub-imperialist” is meaningless since it represents a distributional definition of oppression which looks at shareholdings on stock markets and living standards but ignores the fundamental reality that the bulk of surplus-value produced is expropriated by international finance capital at its source, even if some of it flows back as kickbacks to the Australian capitalist class. A good example of a kickback for Australia’s military bloc with the US is Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton licence to mine public land in the US.

Reviewing the evidence of ‘takeover’ we think that we were wrong to get taken in by the flash statistics of economic independence when foreign ownership of the key economic sectors has always been British and increasingly US. With China being welcomed to buy up more mining interests and privatised state assets by the Rudd Government it seems that Australia’s economic dependence must increase. While some of the ‘left’ have noted the growing influence of China and US, this influence is not taken to its logical conclusion.

Australia’s political sovereignty is up for sale with the US FTA and the impending TPPA. China now has a FTA with Australia and is moving to invest heavily. Australia’s independent ‘policing’ role has been overtaken by US bases in Darwin and subordinated to RIMPAC in the military containment of China. It is the sausage in the sandwich as the hegemonic US and the rapidly rising China flex their muscles to contest control of the Asia Pacific region.

Conclusion
 
Our conclusion is that for all Australia’s so-called “sub-imperialist” role as South Pacific “police” of Britain and US has always been a form of dependency and is now clearly exposed by the growing rivalry between China and US imperialism. Even hard bitten liberal journos can see that this rips the Australian political elite apart as its ruling class tries to serve two imperialist masters at the same time.

The political consequences of this reality are that Australian workers have the task of kicking out their own ruling class that acts as a client of the US and China, to take the leadership of the struggle to win national independence from both US and Chinese imperialism, and create a Socialist Republic of Australia within a Socialist United States of Asia Pacific! 

To be Continued: The USA and Canada

Written by raved

June 11, 2015 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Russia, China, and the Unfinished Permanent Revolution

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Facing a chronic global crisis of capitalism and intensifying inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and China blocs, the most urgent task facing revolutionaries today is to provide program for a new Trotskyist international that can lead workers in the struggle to defeat nationalism and imperialism and to the victorious socialist revolution. At a public meeting in London on 11 April 2015 the question of Russia and China as imperialist powers is being debated by the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International (LCFI) and the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT). We of the Liaison Committee of Communists (LCC) argue that the centrist method of both tendencies cannot provide the answers workers need. We argue that both the LCFI and RCIT revise Lenin on imperialism and nationalism. In summary, both turn Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution into a petty bourgeois program adapting to bourgeois democracy.

Centrism and Social Imperialism

Centrism as we understand it is a tendency on the revolutionary left that vacillates between the Marxist program and opportunist adaptation to the bourgeoisie. It functions to divert workers from revolutionary consciousness and action. In our view the material roots of post-war centrism in the Trotskyist movement are the petty bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries. This is what we define as social imperialism. While it originates in the imperialist countries, it becomes expressed in the semi-colonies as national Trotskyism. Social Imperialism is fundamentally the political program of the imperialist labour aristocracy adapting to imperialism on the material basis of relatively privileged living standards. National Trotskyism is the reverse side of this coin, the political program of the semi-colonial petty bourgeoisie who adapt to bourgeois nationalism on the basis of material rewards flowing from the defence of the popular front regimes.

As Trotsky lamented in the years just before his death, the crisis of Marxism was reflected in the abandonment of dialectics, and its substitution by empiricism and pragmatism. These latter are idealist philosophies that reflect the surface reality of capitalism, the alienated exchange relations which in the imperialist countries are expressed as relatively high living standards. Both the LCFI and RCIT originated in tendencies that broke from Trotsky’s dialectic method as a result of their materialist roots in the imperialist petty bourgeoisie. Neither tendency has recognised nor completely broken with these historic roots as we will show.

In the case of Socialist Fight, its roots are in the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) under Healy. In reacting against Pabloism which liquidated the party into Stalinism, Healy liquidated the proletarian party into social democracy in the imperialist countries, and the radical parties of the national bourgeoisie in the semi-colonies. While the Pabloites adapted to the labour bureaucracy oriented to the Soviet Union, the Healyites adapted to the anti-communist Labour Parties and anti-communist ‘Third World’ populist leaders.

Below we show that Socialist Fight’s program today represents this particular brand of social imperialism, adapting to Bonapartist dictators such as Gaddafi, Assad and Putin as the enemies of US imperialism. It subordinates workers to Anti-imperialist United Fronts (AIUF) with bourgeois leaders in league with imperialism.[i] It is even worse when it regards Russia and China as oppressed states (semi-colonies or sub-imperialist) and calls for an AIUF against US imperialism! This for us explains why the LCIF social imperialist method continues to reinforce national Trotskyism upon the Latin American members of the LCFI and the Parity Committee so that popular front regimes like that of the PT in Brazil are defended as part of an AIUF with Russia and China against US imperialism.

In the case of the Austrian Revolutionary Communist Organisation for Liberation (RKOB) the mother section of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), its historical roots were in a factional split from the state capitalist Cliffite tendency in Britain in 1975. In summary, our position is that the factional split with the Cliffites in 1975 which led to the formation of the LRCI in 1989 was an incomplete break with Cliffism. Its programmatic statement on the workers states The Degenerated Revolution in 1982 defined degenerated workers states as a “dual state” with workers property relations in contradiction with bourgeois norms of distribution which were the basis of the bureaucracy’s privileges.

This meant that when put to the test by Yeltsin in 1991, the League for the Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) backed bourgeois democracy represented by Yeltsin against the Stalinist dictatorship opposed to Yeltsin. According to The Degenerated Revolution, political revolution was a struggle against the bureaucracy’s defence of bourgeois distribution relations leading to overthrow of workers production relations. Under the pressure of imperialist public opinion against the Stalinist bureaucracy the LRCI blocked with the pro-imperialist restorationist Yeltsin against the Stalinist military command instead of blocking with workers in the defence of workers property against both Yeltsin and the military.[ii]

While coming from different traditions, in breaking from Trotskyism and the transitional (or dialectic) method, both tendencies, in adapting to social imperialism, end up in the camp of imperialism. This is evident because the revolutionary agency of the working class is always subordinated to the petty bourgeois program. It is always conditioned by the mechanistic or schematic method of the popular front in which sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie guide workers through the struggles for bourgeois democracy, in particular national self-determination. For both tendencies national self-determination as a bourgeois democratic right is always ‘progressive’ even if it is a counter-revolutionary ‘democratic dictatorship’ of imperialism.

National Self-Determination

We see social imperialist adaptation as a fundamental break from permanent revolution which states that in the epoch of imperialism bourgeois democratic rights can only be won and defended by proletarian revolution – that is by ‘workers’ democracy’. In other words the democratic revolution in the epoch of imperialism can no longer be spoken of as the ‘bourgeois national democratic’ revolution. The formation of new capitalist nation states can only serve the interests of bourgeois imperialism and the unfinished tasks of that revolution cannot be realised other than by the proletarian revolution.[iii]

So the LCFI regarded Gaddafi’s rule in Libya as a genuine expression of self-determination against imperialism despite Gaddafi’s role in serving US imperialism and emerging Chinese imperialism. The LCFI denied the agency of the rebels fighting Gaddafi as an agent of imperialism by painting them as CIA agents or jihadists. Today the rebels are fighting both the US puppet Hefter and the newly branded Islamic State (IS) in Libya. The logic of this has escaped the LCFI because it cannot imagine that Arab and other masses in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are capable of carrying through permanent revolution against both imperialism and against the reactionary Islamic jihadists who are the agents of imperialism. One key aspect of social imperialism is its Eurocentrism, expressed today as Islamophobia.

The RCIT was on the right side in Libya in supporting the revolutionary agency of the rebels. They called for the defense of Gaddafi from NATO, like the LCFI, but did not call for the rebels to form an AIUF with Gaddafi against NATO, unlike the LCFI, since Gaddafi was attacking the revolution. Only the revolutionary brigades can open the permanent revolution against both imperialism and its national dictator. Like the LCC they called for the revolution to fight on two fronts, against Gaddafi, and against NATO and its stooge the National Transitional Council. The permanent revolution has since stalled in Libya but so has imperialism which is unable to defeat the resistance and find a new bourgeois regime that can replace Gaddafi. This stalemate can only be overcome and the permanent revolution completed in Libya with the revival of the Arab revolution led by the workers’ and poor peasants’ armed resistance in Syria and Palestine, supported by internationalist workers.

However, the RCIT’s slavish application of the bourgeois democratic schema as progressive can be seen in Egypt when the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dismissed the Muslim Brotherhood, elected to power on a reactionary constitution that defended the military regime. The Muslim Brotherhood was a weak Islamic bourgeoisie of the bazaar seeking to replace the dominant military fraction. The RCIT called this dispute between two fractions of the bourgeoisie a coup against ‘bourgeois democracy’ and an ‘historic defeat’ for the working class when the election of the Muslim Brotherhood did nothing to advance the interests of the working class. This was proven by the millions of workers who marched against it. Such ‘bourgeois democracy’ was in reality a reactionary bourgeois regime seeking to appease imperialism and imposing a theocratic barrier to revolution. Its removal meant that the SCAF was now seen openly as the power base behind the Mubarak regime and that it had always been the dominant fraction of the national bourgeoisie.

What the national revolution in MENA proves beyond question is that democratic rights are only in the interest of the working class if they actually advance the struggle for proletarian revolution. In the current crisis of imperialism there is no bourgeois democratic halfway house that workers must defend since the very act of doing so is to take the side of the counter-revolution. The same applies to the semi-colonial struggles elsewhere in the world. We will concentrate here on the struggles in Latin America since in this continent, in our view, Trotskyism is in a much stronger position against Stalinism and Social Democracy than in Asia and Africa. The barrier to revolution on this continent is renegade Trotskyism!

Latin America

In Latin America the permanent revolution was subordinated to national self-determination. The fate of permanent revolution can be captured in one word – populism. The impact of the social imperialism on the 4th International after Trotsky’s death was to abandon permanent revolution and lock ‘national Trotskyism’ into the left wing of the popular front. The IEC sent SWP member Sherry Mangan to Argentina in 1941 to unify the different Trotskyists groups. He succeeded in creating a united organisation but his ‘eclectic’ method of downplaying national oppression as a ‘secondary question’ only confused the understanding of the program of permanent revolution. The Argentine Trotskyists continued to be split between those reducing the national question to socialist revolution, and those succumbing to national Trotskyism and joining popular fronts with bourgeois nationalists like Peron.[iv] This explains why most Latin American Trotskyists put the national struggle against US imperialism before class politics. In one country after another, the working class has entered popular fronts with alien classes to fight imperialism, inevitably facing defeat at the hands of military, usually inspired or backed by the US. The Trotskyist program of the working class leading the struggle for national independence requires class independence from those classes that are in alliance with imperialism.

Most of the Latin American tendencies remain more or less trapped in national Trotskyism insofar as the main enemy is not capitalism but the United States. We discovered this first hand in the internal fight we had in the Fraccion Leninista Trotskista Internacional (FLTI) in 2009-10 over the question of Chinese imperialism. While we proved that China was accumulating capital despite its semi-colonial exploitation by the established imperialist powers we could not convince the FLTI that it was possible for an ex-workers state to become imperialist. We put this down to the incomplete break of the FLTI in its founding section the Democracia Obrera (LOI-CI) of Argentina with the national Trotskyism of Moreno. This was the inverted social imperialism of US pseudo Trotskyism which presents a unipolar world in which US hegemony is an insuperable barrier to semi-colonies emerging as rival imperialist powers.

We can see why it is easy for the LCFI to form a Liaison Committee with groups that see the world as dominated by only one imperialist power, and are blinded to the huge impact that Russian and Chinese imperialism is having on Latin America, in particular the restoration of capitalism in Cuba. The LCFI continues the tradition of social imperialism in ‘colonising’ Latin American groups that adapt the semi-Pabloite version of the AIUF in which a section of the semi-colonial national bourgeoisie is defended as the ‘lesser evil’ against US imperialism. Permanent Revolution for these groups means an alliance with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie and running left cover for the popular front.

LCFI in Latin America

The LCFI has recently formed a Parity Committee (PACO) with a number of left groups in Brazil. The LCFI plays the leading role as its positions on Libya, Syria, Ukraine, etc., are adopted by the PACO. We are proposing here that the social imperialism of the LCFI is finding a corresponding echo in the incomplete break with national Trotskyism of these groups. Let us quote the Coletivo Lenin (CL) on the members of the PACO who are now producing a common journal. We will then run through the positions on the important questions that relate to permanent revolution vs national Trotskyism.

“The FDT, Press organ until then the comrades of the Communist League, comes to 22 and five years of existence, it is now journal Joint Committee, an international alliance of organizations and militant communist workers, composed of the Communist League, Lenin Collective, Resistance Revolutionary People, Marxist space and also by the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International, which comprises the Socialist Fight (Socialist Struggle), the UK, and the Militant Tendency Bolshevik, Argentina.”
The Communist League is a founding member with Socialist Fight of the LCFI. It leads the PACO in Latin America. The statement put out by the PACO on the mobilisation of the March 15th pro-coup demonstration against the PT states:

“As signaled since 2014, there is a coup movement in all Latin American countries that make up commercial and political alliance with the Russian-Chinese bloc. The Yankee and European imperialism are on the offensive over the resumption of spheres of influence and territory lost in the 2008-2009 crisis to the Eurasian block; and to resume its market positions and prevent the political and economic rise of China, has been focusing on manufacturing coup d’états and civil wars, as seen in Ukraine, Middle East, Paraguay and Honduras. In this context, the coup in Brazil would be a way to resume the geopolitical space in Latin America.”

We can see here clearly that the PACO is endorsing the line of the LCFI that Russia and China are sub-imperialist states, yet at the same time the US and EU is prepared to unleash coup d’états to regain “spheres of interest and territory lost …to the Eurasian bloc.” With the current threats of coups in Venezuela and Brazil we can see how easily the default position of social imperialism and national Trotskyism pressures workers back into supporting the popular front.

But how does imperialism lose spheres of interest to the “Eurasian bloc” without Russia and China emerging as imperialist rivals?
The short answer from the LCFI seems to be that the threat to the US is not coming from newly emerging imperialist states, but a global anti-imperialist bloc of states commonly referred to as the BRICS but clearly centred on the “Eurasian Bloc” of Russia and China. The US is determined to impose its hegemony totally in the spheres where this bloc has some influence. Politically, since the leading BRICS are “sub-imperialist” they must be defended against the US bloc. This leads to a position of defense of Russia and China in wars with the US – the basic LCFI line.

This global AIUF leads to a return to national Trotskyist popular front politics nationally as a ‘lesser evil’ to US imperialism. This is confirmed by the Joint Statement of the Communist League (LCFI) and Coletivo Lenin (PACO) calling for a vote for the PT in the second round of the Presidential Elections. The LCFI justified this position in a recent article about the defection of one of its members, Laurence Humphries, to the RCIT:

“Laurence’s final complaint is that the Liga Comunista and the Coletivo Lenin (whom he does not mention) advocated a vote for Dilma Rousseff, the Workers Party leader, against Aécio Neves in the Presidential election and the RCIT man in Brazil wanted us to cast a null vote. Considering that the masses would have faced a direct agent of US imperialism if Neves had won as opposed to a victory for Dilma which maintained at least a measure of national independence and defence of workers’ rights (as in the Yeltsin, Putin dichotomy above) it is criminally irresponsible not to take the principled anti-imperialist united front stance that they did.”

Furthermore, on the question of the threatened coup d’état, the PACO statement calling for mobilising on the streets on March 13th (against March 15th) says the power of workers in the streets is necessary because the PT and PCdoB Government do not have the power to resist further austerity or to defeat a coup. There is no statement that in this ‘united front’ against a coup d’état revolutionaries have a duty to condemn the popular front for trapping workers in parliament and preparing the way for fascism. For example it accuses the fake left of Unified Socialist Workers Party (PSTU), Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL,) etc. for a ‘political error’ in its ‘third way’ policy of abstaining from the March 13th protest against the coup. Yet in protesting the coup threat it fails to call on those with illusions in the PT to demand that it break from the popular front. It is waiting for the “conditions to mature” for those with illusions in the “bourgeois and manipulative” policies of the government to break from the PT. The danger is that “mature conditions” may not arrive before the popular front death trap springs on the workers. Thus the popular front is depicted as the ‘lesser evil’ and not a trap that must be ‘sprung’ by the proletariat before it can be snap shut by a fascist coup d’état.

How is it that other groups have joined the LCFI in the PACO around this line which adapts to the popular front? Let’s take the example of the Coletivo Lenin which began its life in 2007 with the Manifesto of the Collective Luiza Mahim. It became the Coletivo Lenin in 2009 when it produced a program under the influence of the IBT.[v] The Coletivo Lenin’s new program (2011 to today) reflects a break from the IBT’s ultra-left position on the national question but runs the risk of an opportunist swing back to national Trotskyism. As we have seen the concept of “sub-imperialism” extended from Brazil, India, etc., to Russia and China by the LCFI means calls for revolutionary defence of the BRICS in wars with US imperialism.

This leads to an adaptation to the popular front at home in defence of BRICS and/or Bolivarian ‘socialism’. Thus as noted above, the Coletivo Lenin advocated a vote for the PT in the second round because it was the lesser evil to the Brazilian right backed by the US against the BRICS and Bolivarian bloc. We conclude that because Coletivo Lenin refuses to accept the reality that Russia and China are, or can be, imperialist rivals to the US led bloc, the LCFI is continuing to ‘colonise’ Latin American comrades as national Trotskyists – today in a worldwide popular front with the BRICS bloc against US imperialist hegemony. The LCC began its existence in a split with the FLTI precisely over this question in 2009/10 and we have continued to argue that unless Latin American comrades recognise Russia and China as imperialist, they will remain trapped in national Trotskyism as the subordinate inversion of pseudo Trotskyist social imperialism.

RCIT in Latin America

In Latin America what we see is the method of the LRCI/LFI inherited by the RCIT. We argued above that this semi-Cliffite method fetishises ‘bourgeois democracy’ so that the concept of permanent revolution becomes stageist in practice. It defends popular front parties against military dictatorship in Egypt and Thailand. The workers must go through the democratic stage in preparation for the socialist stage. The Workers States still have a ‘dual state’ state form of bourgeois distribution relations on top of workers property! Therefore political revolution in defence of workers property requires the overthrow of Stalinism by bourgeois democracy! The LRCI held that the counter-revolution was not complete in the ‘Moribund’ workers states until workers property was replaced by capitalist market relations. Imperialism bombs Yugoslavia and creates new nation states in Bosnia and Kosovo!

This is social imperialism. The workers lead the fight against feudalism and imperialism but they do so by reproducing the fetishised social relations of bourgeois democracy as a precondition for socialist revolution.

We define ‘democracy’ today as concerned only with ‘workers democracy’. Lenin talked of the epoch of the bourgeois ‘national democratic’ revolution as the formation of states unifying national markets. In the epoch of imperialism where monopoly capital dominates, nations and the ideology of nationalism are reactionary forces that divide the international proletariat. National oppression in the imperialist epoch has only one historic solution, the socialist republic within a world-wide union of socialist republics. This was the goal of the Bolsheviks before the Russian Revolution was isolated and bureaucratised. It was the program of the healthy Fourth International while Trotsky lived. Unconditional defence of the Soviet Union as part of the world revolution would usher in the epoch of the ‘international proletarian revolution’.

In Latin America the RCIT method is for the AIUF against the US bloc and the Russia/China bloc against the default national Trotskyists position of a continental popular front with the Bolivarians and the BRICS against US imperialism. However, because of its social imperialist method of fetishising bourgeois democracy, the RCIT is pressured to adapt to the national Trotskyist popular front. So in its recent statement on the threatened coup d’état the RCIT Brazilian section did not call for opposition to the coup to defend bourgeois democracy to advance workers democracy.

Revolutionaries had to call for workers to mobilise against the coup, and against the popular front government. The clarion call of Trotsky in the Transitional Program was “break with the bourgeoisie!” The only way for workers to take advantage of bourgeois parliament in the epoch of imperialism is to use it as a revolutionary forum to break reformist workers from bourgeois parliament. This cannot be done while reformist parties are part of popular fronts with the bourgeoisie. There is no way to smash fascism without breaking workers from the popular front that strangles the workers struggle against fascism. This cannot be done in stages, first defending bourgeois democracy against the coup, and then second, smashing the popular front.

According to the RCIT:

“For workers, what is of least importance is the supposedly democratic formality; but what is essential for them is the political struggle and the class interests hiding behind appearances. From this perspective, what is at stake here and now is the replacement of a reformist Popular Front government with a government of bourgeois sectors most directly linked to the US and European imperialism. Thus, these sectors are, by their very nature, freer to abrogate more workers’ rights than the PT could possibly do. Among the objectives of the more right-wing sector are to: increase the profits from surplus value; lower workers’ pensions; privatize the only still partially state-owned banks (Bank of Brazil and Caixa Economica); lower the measly minimum wage of just 300 dollars; increase privatization of oil reserves in Pré-Sal Petróleo and consequently fully privatize Petrobras; deepen the anti-worker reforms of social security; cancel the major- and medium-importance rights achieved by organized labor (such as abolishing or decreasing the thirteenth salary paid in December as a Christmas bonus, unemployment insurance, maternity leave, etc.).”[Our Emphasis]

While the RCIT calls for independent workers mobilisation without giving any “political support” to the Government or appealing to the institutions of the state it does not insist that workers break from the popular front to build their independent struggle. It states that workers cannot remain neutral in a fight between the popular front and a right wing coup on the basis that the popular front is the ‘lesser evil’ because the program of the rightwing coup would be much worse than that of the austerity attacks of the Government on workers. Workers therefore must form a “united front” within an AIUF (actually ‘popular front’ of the Bolivarians and BRICS against US imperialism) against a coup before they can free themselves from the PT bloc and break with the bourgeoisie!

This position breaks with Trotsky’s permanent revolution where workers fight independently to defeat both imperialism and the treacherous national bourgeoisie that acts as its agent. The weapons of workers facing an imperialist backed coup are the workers councils, militias, the general strike and the insurrection. A military bloc with a popular front government against a right wing coup such as the Provisional Government in Russia 1917 must be based on the armed independence of the soviets only for the purpose of breaking the popular front because it was a death trap not merely a ‘lesser evil’.[vi]

Thus at the same time it is adapting to the practical defence of a “reformist popular front”, the RCIT tries to theoretically break the popular front by convincing Latin American comrades that Russia and China are imperialist powers. This is difficult, as the almost universal objection is that Russia and China are not, and cannot become, imperialist. Following Lenin they say that in the epoch of imperialism, no semi-colony can become imperialist. Today they now generalise that position in a non-Leninist fashion to include former workers states which have been defeated and restored as capitalist semi-colonies, or have perhaps become ‘sub-imperialist’ at most.

In a recent exchange with the Corriente Socialista Revolucionaria – El Topo Obrero -CSR (Venezuela) and Partido de la Causa Obrera PCO (Argentina) the RCIT argued the evidence that Russia and China were imperialist, and that there was no universal law against capitalist semi-colonies becoming imperialist. There were special conditions under which Russia and China were able to make a transition from former workers states to new imperialist state, but this was nothing exceptional. We commented on the RCIT letter:

…the argument loses clarity and force when you try to show that any country under special circumstances can become imperialist. This has the effect of over-riding the lawful necessity that a country must be ‘independent’ from imperialism to emerge as a new imperialist country. Of course ‘independence’ must mean ‘economic independence’ from semi-colonial exploitation. This is the sticking point for the LA [Ed.: Latin American] comrades who see that Japan was always independent and the other countries who were not, like the US had to fight wars of national liberation, or emerged like Norway and Czechoslovakia as small imperialists as fallout from the re-partition of the imperialist world then under way. But since WW1 no oppressed country has become imperialist except via the sui generis route of Russia and China.

The LA [Ed.: Latin American] comrades are correct therefore to say that with the onset of the imperialist epoch when the world is divided that countries without economic independence can only become so via permanent revolution. And this is our strongest argument. Since in both Russia and China the bourgeoisie was overthrown and independence from imperialism won (albeit that was not the Maoist’s intention) and this independence was not sacrificed by the capitalist counter-revolution.” [Personal communication]

In other words the Leninist theoretical objection of the comrades of the CSR and PCO (and also of the FLTI who made the same argument against us in 2009) is correct, that once the world economy is divided between imperialist powers, there is no prospect that any colony or semi-colony can break out of its dependent status except through permanent revolution. The last time any new imperialist powers emerged was during WW1 as the result of the military re-partitioning of the world. Japan was already imperialist before the war and increased its sphere of interest as a result of the war while Czechoslovakia declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, both as allies of the victorious imperialist powers.

The RCIT is therefore wrong to deduce that new imperialist powers could emerge since WW1 on the basis of:

“…an important shift in the production of capitalist value from the old imperialist countries of the North to the South. We have seen the economic as well as political and military decline of the leading imperialist power, the US, as well as that of Japan and the EU. Under such conditions, is it so surprising that new imperialist powers emerge and fill the void?”

This is fundamentally wrong on two counts. First, the shift in value production from North to South in the post WW2 period is a totally non-Marxist and non-Leninist conception of the world economy. This ignores that from the onset of the imperialist epoch value production in the ‘South’ was and still is largely owned by the finance capital of the ‘old’ imperialist powers of the ‘North’. Second, with the concentration and centralisation of capital in this epoch, it does not follow that the decline of some existing imperialist powers must call forth new ones. The imperialist powers will contest one another and the pecking order will change during and after wars, but no new imperialist powers have made the transition from capitalist semi-colony since WW1. We have argued this is the reason that the so-called ‘sub-imperialist’ powers in the BRICS such as India, Brazil and South Africa can never be more than privileged semi-colonies.

The point being missed here is that imperialism sets up relations between oppressor and oppressed states and that the extraction of super-profits does not allow the oppressed states to accumulate sufficient value to conduct anti-imperialist wars to assert their economic independence from the oppressor states except by means of permanent revolution.

Therefore, the rise of China and Russia as new imperialist powers does not break the rule of permanent revolution –it proves the rule! It is consistent with what Lenin and Trotsky wrote about both imperialism and workers states. Thus the Latin American comrades (not only them!) will only be convinced of this if they can be shown that Russia and China have become imperialist powers precisely because they opened the permanent revolution, through wars of independence from imperialism, and the overthrow of the national bourgeoisie to become ‘workers states’, albeit with incomplete permanent revolutions. The degeneration of the Russian revolution and the creation of bureaucratically degenerated states at birth after WW2 halted the permanent revolution, preventing it from completing its task of building healthy workers states. The failure to complete the permanent revolution led directly to the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism.

Russian and Chinese imperialism

The position of the LCFI on Russia and China is that they are sub-imperialist and must be defended against the US imperialist bloc. If you read the article by Socialist Fight on Russia it’s clear that it falls back on empirical evidence of who owns the flows of surplus value in and out of Russia. Its argument is that Russia (and by extension China) has not accumulated sufficient capital to require massive export of capital because US finance capital dominates these economies. This is a bald reference to Lenin’s theory where export of capital is the key feature of imperialism. On the other hand for the RCIT, Russia and China are imperialist on the same criteria, because Russian and Chinese state capitalism dominates the economy, not US finance capital. And, moreover, there is nothing stopping other states from following Russia and China providing the necessary conditions are present.

By the same token there is nothing in the LCFI method to prevent Russia and China becoming imperialist if the facts of ownership of surplus value change. It seems that the LCFI shares a similar analysis with the RCIT despite disagreeing over the results. Nations can become imperialist if conditions allow an over-accumulation and export of capital. The fact that they disagree on their conclusions come down to which empirical facts they select as critical in the outcome. This empiricist method is a feature of petty bourgeois Marxism and ignores the deeper dialectic and transitional method of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

Most importantly they are empiricist readings of Lenin’s theory of imperialism. We will show here how Lenin’s theory, correctly understood, allows us to claim that new imperialist countries cannot arise unless they have been able to escape the semi-colonial oppression of the existing imperialist countries to become economically independent. We will then prove that it is consistent with Lenin’s theory that only countries that have been able to meet those conditions since the First Imperialist War (WW1) are those that went through permanent revolution to become workers states.

In his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin drew heavily on Marx to theorise the transition from competitive capitalism to the epoch of imperialism in which the major developed capitalist economies were forced to counter the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF) by exporting capital to the colonial and semi-colonial world. This created a new form of state monopoly capitalism – or imperialism –that was parasitic upon the world economy growing at the expense of other nations, creating relations of dominance between oppressor and oppressed states, and ultimately acting to destroy the forces of production in depressions and wars.

This was the ‘iron law’ of Capital’s unwritten volumes on international relations and the world market as summarised as a “popular outline” 50 years later by Lenin. By this point, imperialism could only cannibalise itself through economic and military wars so that the oppressor states grew more centralised and concentrated and the oppressed states grew relatively weaker and deprived. The question of whether oppressed states could become imperialist therefore did not arise. The divided capitalist world could be re-divided but only among the strong, never the weak. Unless, of course, permanent revolutions forced the ‘redivision’ of the capitalist world by the creation of a socialist “sphere of influence.”

As we know, victorious socialist revolutions did overthrow the national bourgeoisies and break from imperialist economic control though not from imperialist political and economic encirclement and warfare. Isolated from the world market and the law of value, the workers states developed the forces of production beyond that possible for capitalist semi-colonies. However, because the workers states were forced to rely on their own resources and the resulting bureaucratic caste failed to plan efficiently, they did not develop the forces of production to the level possible with workers control of the socialist plans. Economic stagnation forced the parasitic caste to reintroduce the market and restore capitalism. But conversion of the bureaucracy into a state capitalist class did not allow Western imperialism to overturn all the gains of the workers state. Despite opening up to imperialist finance capital the ‘red bourgeoisie’ retained control over the economy and took advantage of investment and new technology to launch domestic capitalist production.

Thus there was no re-colonisation of the ex-Workers States to force them back to semi-colonial status. Not because like Russia they were never colonies, or were imperialist before the revolution, or like both Russia and China inherited strong centralised states and dominated former soviet republics or internal colonies, or because of the decline of the US, and so on. None of these conditions (or all of them together) is sufficient to allow new imperialist powers to emerge. They could equally have created the perfect conditions for the parasitic re-colonisation and breaking up of the former workers states by the existing imperialist powers! This indeed was the imperialists’ goal in numerous wars, hot and cold, to defeat the workers states from the 1917 Revolution until their collapse in the 1990s. And they succeeded with a vengeance in the former Yugoslavia.

No. The necessary condition was and is the unfinished permanent revolution that broke from imperialism to create a socialist ‘sphere of interest’ but which could not prevent the bureaucracy from staging a counter-revolution and turning itself into a class of state capitalists to exploit the developed forces of production (raw materials, technology, labour, etc.,) under the law of value and compete successfully in the world market. Now functioning as independent capitalist countries the accumulation of capital unleashed the laws of capitalist development including the over-accumulation of capital that required capital export and the emergence of new imperialist powers.

Conclusion

It is our view that the conditions that led to the emergence of Russia and China as new imperialist powers in the last two decades are consistent with Lenin’s analysis of imperialism 100 years ago. Lenin’s method was that of Marx’s Capital, completing the unfinished volumes made concrete in the heat of the First Imperialist War. Second, it is consistent with the fact that the Russian Revolution opened the revolutionary 20th century, ‘repartitioning’ the world economy by opening the permanent revolution, and creating a ‘Soviet’ sphere of influence. The ‘economic independence’ of the workers states that followed during the 20th century allowed them to survive the counter-revolutionary defeat of capitalist restoration so that the new bourgeoisies were able to transform Russia and China into new imperialist powers forming a counter-hegemonic bloc to the US hegemonic bloc. To repeat, not as a bloc of semi-colonies and sub-imperialist states that are a progressive alternative to US imperialism, but a rival imperialist bloc that in challenging US hegemony, conditions the course of revolution and counter-revolutionary struggles today.

The unfinished permanent revolution that succumbed to capitalist counter-revolution must be reopened on the basis of the historic gains that were not destroyed. In the workers states the forces of production leapt beyond those of capitalist semi-colonies before being halted by bureaucratically planned stagnation and the capitalist counter-revolution. The gains of the new forces of production have been forced back into the shell of the old decrepit capitalist relations driving an explosive contradiction today manifested in the heating up of the global rivalry between the two major imperialist blocs.

Permanent revolution against imperialism today must be led by the international proletariat capable of making the revolution to smash the imperialist powers and create a united states of socialist republics of the world. In the process our most important task is the formation of a new Leninist Trotskyist international that revives the dialectic method and program of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and eliminates the barriers of social imperialism and national Trotskyism and so advances to the victorious socialist revolution! Back to dialectics! Break with social imperialism and national Trotskyism!

March, 2015

Liaison Committee of Communists

References

https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/declaration-of-the-proletarian-faction/
https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/letter-to-rcit-on-method-and-program/
http://coletivolenin.blogspot.com.br/2009/06/programa-do-coletivo-lenin.html
http://coletivolenin.blogspot.com.br/2011/11/novo-programa-do-coletivo-lenin.html
http://lcligacomunista.blogspot.co.nz/2015/03/unir-todos-os-trabalhadores-no-dia-13.html#more
http://socialistfight.com/reply-by-the-lcfi-to-the-resignation-of-laurence-humphries-from-the-socialist-fight-grouplcfi/
http://www.fifthinternational.org/content/chapter-4-bureaucratic-social-revolutions-and-marxist-theory-state
http://socialistfight.com/2014/06/19/russia-and-china-are-not-imperialist-states-statement-by-the-liaison-committee-for-the-fourth-international-on-the-useunato-attack-on-the-ukraine/
http://coletivolenin.blogspot.com.br/2015/03/o-folha-do-trabalhador-agora-tambem-e.html
https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/brics-around-the-neck-of-the-proletariat/
https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/2008/10/06/is-russia-imperialist/
https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/why-are-russia-and-china-imperialist-powers-and-not-capitalist-semi-colonies/
https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/4th-congress/eastern-question.htm
https://cwgusa.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/for-the-bosnian-revolution/
http://redrave.blogspot.co.nz/2011/09/advance-libyan-revolution.html
https://cwgusa.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/the-egyptian-revolution-the-electoral-road-to-imperialist-stabilization-vs-the-road-to-workers-power/

[i] The Fourth Congress interpreted the AIUF as a temporary military alliance between communists and ‘national-revolutionary’ (bourgeois) forces in the colonies and semi-colonies. Trotsky argued that ‘national-revolutionary’ forces could include national dictators or fascists, provided they were in a military struggle against imperialism. However, to call for an AIUF with Gaddafi when he was attacking the popular revolution and appealing for peace with imperialism is a criminal travesty of revolutionary communism.

[ii] As we have been at pains to point out to the RCIT for some years now, this flaw in its method is reproduced in its program today. While revolutionary workers defend bourgeois democratic rights they do so only when that defence advances the interests of the socialist revolution. Yet the RCIT has a tendency to turn the permanent revolution into a slavish defence of bourgeois democratic rights, when that defence is clearly not in the interests of workers but serves the bourgeois counter-revolution. Defending bourgeois democracy against the Stalinist military was not an unconditional defence of workers property in Soviet Russia, nor in Yugoslavia. Today the RCIT regards Bosnia and Kosovo as expressing the national rights of national minorities when in reality these ‘nations’ were the creations of imperialism (NATO and the UN) in the enforced break-up of Yugoslavia. Here the Leninist support for national self-determination is turned on its head as the support for the creation of new NATO capitalist protectorates! (See the LCC letter to RCIT of June 2012)

[iii] Lenin’s position on the National Question was a tactic to break workers from nationalism to socialism. National oppression is a reality that must be overthrown on the way to socialism. Revolutionaries must defend the right to national self-determination to prove to nationally oppressed workers that national oppression is ultimately class oppression. It is a democratic demand in the Transitional Program that can only be realised by Permanent Revolution. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/jan/x01.htm

[iv] A similar thing happened in Indo-China when the IEC during WW2 did not insist that the Trotskyists break with the Stalinists and their popular front politics. The revolution would only happen in the colonies or semi-colonies if it first went through a democratic national revolution in which the Stalinist model of the ‘bloc of four classes’ would ensure a break from imperialism. The lesson of China where the proletarian vanguard was destroyed by the Kuomintang was lost. One could adapt to this Stalinist stageism by either tailing the Stalinists or by tailing the anti-communist national bourgeoisies.

[v] This program was an ultraleft swing away from the popular front to an ultra-left version of national Trotskyism. The Coletivo Lenin adopted the IBT position of dual defeatism in the Malvinas wars; Brazil as sub-imperialist; and dual defeatism in the Arab-Israeli wars; all reducing the national question (and national Trotskyism) to the schematic proletarian revolution. This was the IBT loyally applying its 1941 SWP-US social imperialism to Brazil. Against national Trotskyism and the popular front its answer was do not fight for national independence from US imperialism and challenge the US labor aristocracy to take sides, but have a proletarian revolution now.

[vi] The Bolsheviks offered to fight alongside the Kerensky popular front Provisional Government against Kornilov in August 1917 (Trotsky’s phrase was “use them as a gun rest”) only on the basis of their armed independence since they knew that Kerensky would prove himself to be in league with Kornilov. The Bolsheviks were already calling for all power to the soviets and there was no reference to the Provisional Government as ‘the lesser evil’ to Kornilov. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/aug/30.htm

Written by raved

June 11, 2015 at 10:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Russia, China, and the Unfinished Permanent Revolution

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Facing a chronic global crisis of capitalism and intensifying inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and China blocs, the most urgent task facing revolutionaries today is to provide program for a new Trotskyist international that can lead workers in the struggle to defeat nationalism and imperialism and to the victorious socialist revolution. At a public meeting in London on 11 April 2015 the question of Russia and China as imperialist powers is being debated by the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International (LCFI) and the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT). We of the Liaison Committee of Communists (LCC) argue that the centrist method of both tendencies cannot provide the answers workers need. We argue that both the LCFI and RCIT revise Lenin on imperialism and nationalism. In summary, both turn Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution into a petty bourgeois program adapting to bourgeois democracy.

Centrism and Social Imperialism

Centrism as we understand it is a tendency on the revolutionary left that vacillates between the Marxist program and opportunist adaptation to the bourgeoisie. It functions to divert workers from revolutionary consciousness and action. In our view the material roots of post-war centrism in the Trotskyist movement are the petty bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries. This is what we define as social imperialism. While it originates in the imperialist countries, it becomes expressed in the semi-colonies as national Trotskyism. Social Imperialism is fundamentally the political program of the imperialist labour aristocracy adapting to imperialism on the material basis of relatively privileged living standards.  National Trotskyism is the reverse side of this coin, the political program of the semi-colonial petty bourgeoisie who adapt to bourgeois nationalism on the basis of material rewards flowing from the defence of the popular front regimes.

As Trotsky lamented in the years just before his death, the crisis of Marxism was reflected in the abandonment of dialectics, and its substitution by empiricism and pragmatism. These latter are idealist philosophies that reflect the surface reality of capitalism, the alienated exchange relations which in the imperialist countries are expressed as relatively high living standards. Both the LCFI and RCIT originated in tendencies that broke from Trotsky’s dialectic method as a result of their materialist roots in the imperialist petty bourgeoisie. Neither tendency has recognised nor completely broken with these historic roots as we will show.

In the case of Socialist Fight, its roots are in the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) under Healy. In reacting against Pabloism which liquidated the party into Stalinism, Healy liquidated the proletarian party into social democracy in the imperialist countries, and the radical parties of the national bourgeoisie in the semi-colonies. While the Pabloites adapted to the labour bureaucracy oriented to the Soviet Union, the Healyites adapted to the anti-communist Labour Parties and anti-communist ‘Third World’ populist leaders.

Below we show that Socialist Fight’s program today represents this particular brand of social imperialism, adapting to Bonapartist dictators such as Gaddafi, Assad and Putin as the enemies of US imperialism. It subordinates workers to Anti-imperialist United Fronts (AIUF) with bourgeois leaders in league with imperialism.[i] It is even worse when it regards Russia and China as oppressed states (semi-colonies or sub-imperialist) and calls for an AIUF against US imperialism! This for us explains why the LCIF social imperialist method continues to reinforce national Trotskyism upon the Latin American members of the LCFI and the Parity Committee so that popular front regimes like that of the PT in Brazil are defended as part of an AIUF with Russia and China against US imperialism.

In the case of the Austrian Revolutionary Communist Organisation for Liberation (RKOB) the mother section of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), its historical roots were in a factional split from the state capitalist Cliffite tendency in Britain in 1975. In summary, our position is that the factional split with the Cliffites in 1975 which led to the formation of the LRCI in 1989 was an incomplete break with Cliffism. Its programmatic statement on the workers states The Degenerated Revolution in 1982 defined degenerated workers states as a “dual state” with workers property relations in contradiction with bourgeois norms of distribution which were the basis of the bureaucracy’s privileges.

This meant that when put to the test by Yeltsin in 1991, the League for the Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) backed bourgeois democracy represented by Yeltsin against the Stalinist dictatorship opposed to Yeltsin. According to The Degenerated Revolution, political revolution was a struggle against the bureaucracy’s defence of bourgeois distribution relations leading to overthrow of workers production relations. Under the pressure of imperialist public opinion against the Stalinist bureaucracy the LRCI blocked with the pro-imperialist restorationist Yeltsin against the Stalinist military command instead of blocking with workers in the defence of workers property against both Yeltsin and the military.[ii]

While coming from different traditions, in breaking from Trotskyism and the transitional (or dialectic) method, both tendencies, in adapting to social imperialism, end up in the camp of imperialism. This is evident because the revolutionary agency of the working class is always subordinated to the petty bourgeois program. It is always conditioned by the mechanistic or schematic method of the popular front in which sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie guide workers through the struggles for bourgeois democracy, in particular national self-determination. For both tendencies national self-determination as a bourgeois democratic right is always ‘progressive’ even if it is a counter-revolutionary ‘democratic dictatorship’ of imperialism.

National Self-Determination

We see social imperialist adaptation as a fundamental break from permanent revolution which states that in the epoch of imperialism bourgeois democratic rights can only be won and defended by proletarian revolution – that is by ‘workers’ democracy’. In other words the democratic revolution in the epoch of imperialism can no longer be spoken of as the ‘bourgeois national democratic’ revolution. The formation of new capitalist nation states can only serve the interests of bourgeois imperialism and the unfinished tasks of that revolution cannot be realised other than by the proletarian revolution.[iii]

So the LCFI regarded Gaddafi’s rule in Libya as a genuine expression of self-determination against imperialism despite Gaddafi’s role in serving US imperialism and emerging Chinese imperialism. The LCFI denied the agency of the rebels fighting Gaddafi as an agent of imperialism by painting them as CIA agents or jihadists. Today the rebels are fighting both the US puppet Hefter and the newly branded Islamic State (IS) in Libya. The logic of this has escaped the LCFI because it cannot imagine that Arab and other masses in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are capable of carrying through permanent revolution against both imperialism and against the reactionary Islamic jihadists who are the agents of imperialism. One key aspect of social imperialism is its Eurocentrism, expressed today as Islamophobia.

The RCIT was on the right side in Libya in supporting the revolutionary agency of the rebels. They called for the defense of Gaddafi from NATO, like the LCFI, but did not call for the rebels to form an AIUF with Gaddafi against NATO, unlike the LCFI, since Gaddafi was attacking the revolution. Only the revolutionary brigades can open the permanent revolution against both imperialism and its national dictator. Like the LCC they called for the revolution to fight on two fronts, against Gaddafi, and against NATO and its stooge the National Transitional Council. The permanent revolution has since stalled in Libya but so has imperialism which is unable to defeat the resistance and find a new bourgeois regime that can replace Gaddafi. This stalemate can only be overcome and the permanent revolution completed in Libya with the revival of the Arab revolution led by the workers’ and poor peasants’ armed resistance in Syria and Palestine, supported by internationalist workers.

However, the RCIT’s slavish application of the bourgeois democratic schema as progressive can be seen in Egypt when the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dismissed the Muslim Brotherhood, elected to power on a reactionary constitution that defended the military regime. The Muslim Brotherhood was a weak Islamic bourgeoisie of the bazaar seeking to replace the dominant military fraction. The RCIT called this dispute between two fractions of the bourgeoisie a coup against ‘bourgeois democracy’ and an ‘historic defeat’ for the working class when the election of the Muslim Brotherhood did nothing to advance the interests of the working class. This was proven by the millions of workers who marched against it. Such ‘bourgeois democracy’ was in reality a reactionary bourgeois regime seeking to appease imperialism and imposing a theocratic barrier to revolution. Its removal meant that the SCAF was now seen openly as the power base behind the Mubarak regime and that it had always been the dominant fraction of the national bourgeoisie.

What the national revolution in MENA proves beyond question is that democratic rights are only in the interest of the working class if they actually advance the struggle for proletarian revolution. In the current crisis of imperialism there is no bourgeois democratic halfway house that workers must defend since the very act of doing so is to take the side of the counter-revolution. The same applies to the semi-colonial struggles elsewhere in the world. We will concentrate here on the struggles in Latin America since in this continent, in our view, Trotskyism is in a much stronger position against Stalinism and Social Democracy than in Asia and Africa. The barrier to revolution on this continent is renegade Trotskyism!

Latin America

In Latin America the permanent revolution was subordinated to national self-determination. The fate of permanent revolution can be captured in one word – populism. The impact of the social imperialism on the 4th International after Trotsky’s death was to abandon permanent revolution and lock ‘national Trotskyism’ into the left wing of the popular front. The IEC sent SWP member Sherry Mangan to Argentina in 1941 to unify the different Trotskyists groups. He succeeded in creating a united organisation but his ‘eclectic’ method of downplaying national oppression as a ‘secondary question’ only confused the understanding of the program of permanent revolution. The Argentine Trotskyists continued to be split between those reducing the national question to socialist revolution, and those succumbing to national Trotskyism and joining popular fronts with bourgeois nationalists like Peron.[iv] This explains why most Latin American Trotskyists put the national struggle against US imperialism before class politics. In one country after another, the working class has entered popular fronts with alien classes to fight imperialism, inevitably facing defeat at the hands of military, usually inspired or backed by the US. The Trotskyist program of the working class leading the struggle for national independence requires class independence from those classes that are in alliance with imperialism.

Most of the Latin American tendencies remain more or less trapped in national Trotskyism insofar as the main enemy is not capitalism but the United States. We discovered this first hand in the internal fight we had in the Fraccion Leninista Trotskista Internacional (FLTI) in 2009-10 over the question of Chinese imperialism. While we proved that China was accumulating capital despite its semi-colonial exploitation by the established imperialist powers we could not convince the FLTI that it was possible for an ex-workers state to become imperialist. We put this down to the incomplete break of the FLTI in its founding section the Democracia Obrera (LOI-CI) of Argentina with the national Trotskyism of Moreno. This was the inverted social imperialism of US pseudo Trotskyism which presents a unipolar world in which US hegemony is an insuperable barrier to semi-colonies emerging as rival imperialist powers.

We can see why it is easy for the LCFI to form a Liaison Committee with groups that see the world as dominated by only one imperialist power, and are blinded to the huge impact that Russian and Chinese imperialism is having on Latin America, in particular the restoration of capitalism in Cuba. The LCFI continues the tradition of social imperialism in ‘colonising’ Latin American groups that adapt the semi-Pabloite version of the AIUF in which a section of the semi-colonial national bourgeoisie is defended as the ‘lesser evil’ against US imperialism. Permanent Revolution for these groups means an alliance with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie and running left cover for the popular front.

LCFI in Latin America

The LCFI has recently formed a Parity Committee (PACO) with a number of left groups in Brazil. The LCFI plays the leading role as its positions on Libya, Syria, Ukraine, etc., are adopted by the PACO. We are proposing here that the social imperialism of the LCFI is finding a corresponding echo in the incomplete break with national Trotskyism of these groups. Let us quote the Coletivo Lenin (CL) on the members of the PACO who are now producing a common journal. We will then run through the positions on the important questions that relate to permanent revolution vs national Trotskyism.

“The FDT, Press organ until then the comrades of the Communist League, comes to 22 and five years of existence, it is now journal Joint Committee, an international alliance of organizations and militant communist workers, composed of the Communist League, Lenin Collective, Resistance Revolutionary People, Marxist space and also by the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International, which comprises the Socialist Fight (Socialist Struggle), the UK, and the Militant Tendency Bolshevik, Argentina.”

The Communist League is a founding member with Socialist Fight of the LCFI. It leads the PACO in Latin America. The statement put out by the PACO on the mobilisation of the March 15th pro-coup demonstration against the PT states:

“As signaled since 2014, there is a coup movement in all Latin American countries that make up commercial and political alliance with the Russian-Chinese bloc. The Yankee and European imperialism are on the offensive over the resumption of spheres of influence and territory lost in the 2008-2009 crisis to the Eurasian block; and to resume its market positions and prevent the political and economic rise of China, has been focusing on manufacturing coup d’états and civil wars, as seen in Ukraine, Middle East, Paraguay and Honduras. In this context, the coup in Brazil would be a way to resume the geopolitical space in Latin America.”

We can see here clearly that the PACO is endorsing the line of the LCFI that Russia and China are sub-imperialist states, yet at the same time the US and EU is prepared to unleash coup d’états to regain “spheres of interest and territory lost …to the Eurasian bloc.” With the current threats of coups in Venezuela and Brazil we can see how easily the default position of social imperialism and national Trotskyism pressures workers back into supporting the popular front.

But how does imperialism lose spheres of interest to the “Eurasian bloc” without Russia and China emerging as imperialist rivals?

The short answer from the LCFI seems to be that the threat to the US is not coming from newly emerging imperialist states, but a global anti-imperialist bloc of states commonly referred to as the BRICS but clearly centred on the “Eurasian Bloc” of Russia and China. The US is determined to impose its hegemony totally in the spheres where this bloc has some influence. Politically, since the leading BRICS are “sub-imperialist” they must be defended against the US bloc. This leads to a position of defense of Russia and China in wars with the US – the basic LCFI line.

This global AIUF leads to a return to national Trotskyist popular front politics nationally as a ‘lesser evil’ to US imperialism. This is confirmed by the Joint Statement of the Communist League (LCFI) and Coletivo Lenin (PACO) calling for a vote for the PT in the second round of the Presidential Elections. The LCFI justified this position in a recent article about the defection of one of its members, Laurence Humphries, to the RCIT:

“Laurence’s final complaint is that the Liga Comunista and the Coletivo Lenin (whom he does not mention) advocated a vote for Dilma Rousseff, the Workers Party leader, against Aécio Neves in the Presidential election and the RCIT man in Brazil wanted us to cast a null vote. Considering that the masses would have faced a direct agent of US imperialism if Neves had won as opposed to a victory for Dilma which maintained at least a measure of national independence and defence of workers’ rights (as in the Yeltsin, Putin dichotomy above) it is criminally irresponsible not to take the principled anti-imperialist united front stance that they did.”

Furthermore, on the question of the threatened coup d’état, the PACO statement calling for mobilising on the streets on March 13th (against March 15th) says the power of workers in the streets is necessary because the PT and PCdoB Government do not have the power to resist further austerity or to defeat a coup. There is no statement that in this ‘united front’ against a coup d’état revolutionaries have a duty to condemn the popular front for trapping workers in parliament and preparing the way for fascism. For example it accuses the fake left of Unified Socialist Workers Party (PSTU), Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL,) etc. for a ‘political error’ in its ‘third way’ policy of abstaining from the March 13th protest against the coup. Yet in protesting the coup threat it fails to call on those with illusions in the PT to demand that it break from the popular front. It is waiting for the “conditions to mature” for those with illusions in the “bourgeois and manipulative” policies of the government to break from the PT. The danger is that “mature conditions” may not arrive before the popular front death trap springs on the workers. Thus the popular front is depicted as the ‘lesser evil’ and not a trap that must be ‘sprung’ by the proletariat before it can be snap shut by a fascist coup d’état.

How is it that other groups have joined the LCFI in the PACO around this line which adapts to the popular front? Let’s take the example of the Coletivo Lenin which began its life in 2007 with the Manifesto of the Collective Luiza Mahim. It became the Coletivo Lenin in 2009 when it produced a program under the influence of the IBT.[v] The Coletivo Lenin’s new program (2011 to today) reflects a break from the IBT’s ultra-left position on the national question but runs the risk of an opportunist swing back to national Trotskyism. As we have seen the concept of “sub-imperialism” extended from Brazil, India, etc., to Russia and China by the LCFI means calls for revolutionary defence of the BRICS in wars with US imperialism.

This leads to an adaptation to the popular front at home in defence of BRICS and/or Bolivarian ‘socialism’. Thus as noted above, the Coletivo Lenin advocated a vote for the PT in the second round because it was the lesser evil to the Brazilian right backed by the US against the BRICS and Bolivarian bloc. We conclude that because Coletivo Lenin refuses to accept the reality that Russia and China are, or can be, imperialist rivals to the US led bloc, the LCFI is continuing to ‘colonise’ Latin American comrades as national Trotskyists – today in a worldwide popular front with the BRICS bloc against US imperialist hegemony. The LCC began its existence in a split with the FLTI precisely over this question in 2009/10 and we have continued to argue that unless Latin American comrades recognise Russia and China as imperialist, they will remain trapped in national Trotskyism as the subordinate inversion of pseudo Trotskyist social imperialism.

RCIT in Latin America

In Latin America what we see is the method of the LRCI/LFI inherited by the RCIT. We argued above that this semi-Cliffite method fetishises ‘bourgeois democracy’ so that the concept of permanent revolution becomes stageist in practice. It defends popular front parties against military dictatorship in Egypt and Thailand. The workers must go through the democratic stage in preparation for the socialist stage. The Workers States still have a ‘dual state’ state form of bourgeois distribution relations on top of workers property! Therefore political revolution in defence of workers property requires the overthrow of Stalinism by bourgeois democracy! The LRCI held that the counter-revolution was not complete in the ‘Moribund’ workers states until workers property was replaced by capitalist market relations. Imperialism bombs Yugoslavia and creates new nation states in Bosnia and Kosovo!

This is social imperialism. The workers lead the fight against feudalism and imperialism but they do so by reproducing the fetishised social relations of bourgeois democracy as a precondition for socialist revolution.

We define ‘democracy’ today as concerned only with ‘workers democracy’. Lenin talked of the epoch of the bourgeois ‘national democratic’ revolution as the formation of states unifying national markets. In the epoch of imperialism where monopoly capital dominates, nations and the ideology of nationalism are reactionary forces that divide the international proletariat. National oppression in the imperialist epoch has only one historic solution, the socialist republic within a world-wide union of socialist republics. This was the goal of the Bolsheviks before the Russian Revolution was isolated and bureaucratised. It was the program of the healthy Fourth International while Trotsky lived. Unconditional defence of the Soviet Union as part of the world revolution would usher in the epoch of the ‘international proletarian revolution’.

In Latin America the RCIT method is for the AIUF against the US bloc and the Russia/China bloc against the default national Trotskyists position of a continental popular front with the Bolivarians and the BRICS against US imperialism. However, because of its social imperialist method of fetishising bourgeois democracy, the RCIT is pressured to adapt to the national Trotskyist popular front. So in its recent statement on the threatened coup d’état the RCIT Brazilian section did not call for opposition to the coup to defend bourgeois democracy to advance workers democracy.

Revolutionaries had to call for workers to mobilise against the coup, and against the popular front government. The clarion call of Trotsky in the Transitional Program was “break with the bourgeoisie!” The only way for workers to take advantage of bourgeois parliament in the epoch of imperialism is to use it as a revolutionary forum to break reformist workers from bourgeois parliament. This cannot be done while reformist parties are part of popular fronts with the bourgeoisie. There is no way to smash fascism without breaking workers from the popular front that strangles the workers struggle against fascism. This cannot be done in stages, first defending bourgeois democracy against the coup, and then second, smashing the popular front.

According to the RCIT:

“For workers, what is of least importance is the supposedly democratic formality; but what is essential for them is the political struggle and the class interests hiding behind appearances. From this perspective, what is at stake here and now is the replacement of a reformist Popular Front government with a government of bourgeois sectors most directly linked to the US and European imperialism. Thus, these sectors are, by their very nature, freer to abrogate more workers’ rights than the PT could possibly do. Among the objectives of the more right-wing sector are to: increase the profits from surplus value; lower workers’ pensions; privatize the only still partially state-owned banks (Bank of Brazil and Caixa Economica); lower the measly minimum wage of just 300 dollars; increase privatization of oil reserves in Pré-Sal Petróleo and consequently fully privatize Petrobras; deepen the anti-worker reforms of social security; cancel the major- and medium-importance rights achieved by organized labor (such as abolishing or decreasing the thirteenth salary paid in December as a Christmas bonus, unemployment insurance, maternity leave, etc.).”[Our Emphasis]

While the RCIT calls for independent workers mobilisation without giving any “political support” to the Government or appealing to the institutions of the state it does not insist that workers break from the popular front to build their independent struggle. It states that workers cannot remain neutral in a fight between the popular front and a right wing coup on the basis that the popular front is the ‘lesser evil’ because the program of the rightwing coup would be much worse than that of the austerity attacks of the Government on workers. Workers therefore must form a “united front” within an AIUF (actually ‘popular front’ of the Bolivarians and BRICS against US imperialism) against a coup before they can free themselves from the PT bloc and break with the bourgeoisie!

This position breaks with Trotsky’s permanent revolution where workers fight independently to defeat both imperialism and the treacherous national bourgeoisie that acts as its agent. The weapons of workers facing an imperialist backed coup are the workers councils, militias, the general strike and the insurrection. A military bloc with a popular front government against a right wing coup such as the Provisional Government in Russia 1917 must be based on the armed independence of the soviets only for the purpose of breaking the popular front because it was a death trap not merely a ‘lesser evil’.[vi]

Thus at the same time it is adapting to the practical defence of a “reformist popular front”, the RCIT tries to theoretically break the popular front by convincing Latin American comrades that Russia and China are imperialist powers. This is difficult, as the almost universal objection is that Russia and China are not, and cannot become, imperialist. Following Lenin they say that in the epoch of imperialism, no semi-colony can become imperialist. Today they now generalise that position in a non-Leninist fashion to include former workers states which have been defeated and restored as capitalist semi-colonies, or have perhaps become ‘sub-imperialist’ at most.

In a recent exchange with the Corriente Socialista Revolucionaria – El Topo Obrero –CSR (Venezuela) and Partido de la Causa Obrera PCO (Argentina) the RCIT argued the evidence that Russia and China were imperialist, and that there was no universal law against capitalist semi-colonies becoming imperialist. There were special conditions under which Russia and China were able to make a transition from former workers states to new imperialist state, but this was nothing exceptional. We commented on the RCIT letter:

…the argument loses clarity and force when you try to show that any country under special circumstances can become imperialist. This has the effect of over-riding the lawful necessity that a country must be ‘independent’ from imperialism to emerge as a new imperialist country. Of course ‘independence’ must mean ‘economic independence’ from semi-colonial exploitation. This is the sticking point for the LA [Ed.: Latin American] comrades who see that Japan was always independent and the other countries who were not, like the US had to fight wars of national liberation, or emerged like Norway and Czechoslovakia as small imperialists as fallout from the re-partition of the imperialist world then under way. But since WW1 no oppressed country has become imperialist except via the sui generis route of Russia and China.

The LA [Ed.: Latin American] comrades are correct therefore to say that with the onset of the imperialist epoch when the world is divided that countries without economic independence can only become so via permanent revolution. And this is our strongest argument. Since in both Russia and China the bourgeoisie was overthrown and independence from imperialism won (albeit that was not the Maoist’s intention) and this independence was not sacrificed by the capitalist counter-revolution.” [Personal communication]

In other words the Leninist theoretical objection of the comrades of the CSR and PCO (and also of the FLTI who made the same argument against us in 2009) is correct, that once the world economy is divided between imperialist powers, there is no prospect that any colony or semi-colony can break out of its dependent status except through permanent revolution. The last time any new imperialist powers emerged was during WW1 as the result of the military re-partitioning of the world. Japan was already imperialist before the war and increased its sphere of interest as a result of the war while Czechoslovakia declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, both as allies of the victorious imperialist powers.

The RCIT is therefore wrong to deduce that new imperialist powers could emerge since WW1 on the basis of:

“…an important shift in the production of capitalist value from the old imperialist countries of the North to the South. We have seen the economic as well as political and military decline of the leading imperialist power, the US, as well as that of Japan and the EU. Under such conditions, is it so surprising that new imperialist powers emerge and fill the void?”

This is fundamentally wrong on two counts. First, the shift in value production from North to South in the post WW2 period is a totally non-Marxist and non-Leninist conception of the world economy. This ignores that from the onset of the imperialist epoch value production in the ‘South’ was and still is largely owned by the finance capital of the ‘old’ imperialist powers of the ‘North’. Second, with the concentration and centralisation of capital in this epoch, it does not follow that the decline of some existing imperialist powers must call forth new ones. The imperialist powers will contest one another and the pecking order will change during and after wars, but no new imperialist powers have made the transition from capitalist semi-colony since WW1. We have argued this is the reason that the so-called ‘sub-imperialist’ powers in the BRICS such as India, Brazil and South Africa can never be more than privileged semi-colonies.

The point being missed here is that imperialism sets up relations between oppressor and oppressed states and that the extraction of super-profits does not allow the oppressed states to accumulate sufficient value to conduct anti-imperialist wars to assert their economic independence from the oppressor states except by means of permanent revolution.

Therefore, the rise of China and Russia as new imperialist powers does not break the rule of permanent revolution –it proves the rule! It is consistent with what Lenin and Trotsky wrote about both imperialism and workers states. Thus the Latin American comrades (not only them!) will only be convinced of this if they can be shown that Russia and China have become imperialist powers precisely because they opened the permanent revolution, through wars of independence from imperialism, and the overthrow of the national bourgeoisie to become ‘workers states’, albeit with incomplete permanent revolutions. The degeneration of the Russian revolution and the creation of bureaucratically degenerated states at birth after WW2 halted the permanent revolution, preventing it from completing its task of building healthy workers states. The failure to complete the permanent revolution led directly to the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism.

Russian and Chinese imperialism

The position of the LCFI on Russia and China is that they are sub-imperialist and must be defended against the US imperialist bloc. If you read the article by Socialist Fight on Russia it’s clear that it falls back on empirical evidence of who owns the flows of surplus value in and out of Russia. Its argument is that Russia (and by extension China) has not accumulated sufficient capital to require massive export of capital because US finance capital dominates these economies. This is a bald reference to Lenin’s theory where export of capital is the key feature of imperialism. On the other hand for the RCIT, Russia and China are imperialist on the same criteria, because Russian and Chinese state capitalism dominates the economy, not US finance capital. And, moreover, there is nothing stopping other states from following Russia and China providing the necessary conditions are present.

By the same token there is nothing in the LCFI method to prevent Russia and China becoming imperialist if the facts of ownership of surplus value change. It seems that the LCFI shares a similar analysis with the RCIT despite disagreeing over the results. Nations can become imperialist if conditions allow an over-accumulation and export of capital. The fact that they disagree on their conclusions come down to which empirical facts they select as critical in the outcome. This empiricist method is a feature of petty bourgeois Marxism and ignores the deeper dialectic and transitional method of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

Most importantly they are empiricist readings of Lenin’s theory of imperialism. We will show here how Lenin’s theory, correctly understood, allows us to claim that new imperialist countries cannot arise unless they have been able to escape the semi-colonial oppression of the existing imperialist countries to become economically independent. We will then prove that it is consistent with Lenin’s theory that only countries that have been able to meet those conditions since the First Imperialist War (WW1) are those that went through permanent revolution to become workers states.

In his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin drew heavily on Marx to theorise the transition from competitive capitalism to the epoch of imperialism in which the major developed capitalist economies were forced to counter the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF) by exporting capital to the colonial and semi-colonial world. This created a new form of state monopoly capitalism – or imperialism –that was parasitic upon the world economy growing at the expense of other nations, creating relations of dominance between oppressor and oppressed states, and ultimately acting to destroy the forces of production in depressions and wars.

This was the ‘iron law’ of Capital’s unwritten volumes on international relations and the world market as summarised as a “popular outline” 50 years later by Lenin. By this point, imperialism could only cannibalise itself through economic and military wars so that the oppressor states grew more centralised and concentrated and the oppressed states grew relatively weaker and deprived. The question of whether oppressed states could become imperialist therefore did not arise. The divided capitalist world could be re-divided but only among the strong, never the weak. Unless, of course, permanent revolutions forced the ‘redivision’ of the capitalist world by the creation of a socialist “sphere of influence.”

As we know, victorious socialist revolutions did overthrow the national bourgeoisies and break from imperialist economic control though not from imperialist political and economic encirclement and warfare. Isolated from the world market and the law of value, the workers states developed the forces of production beyond that possible for capitalist semi-colonies. However, because the workers states were forced to rely on their own resources and the resulting bureaucratic caste failed to plan efficiently, they did not develop the forces of production to the level possible with workers control of the socialist plans. Economic stagnation forced the parasitic caste to reintroduce the market and restore capitalism. But conversion of the bureaucracy into a state capitalist class did not allow Western imperialism to overturn all the gains of the workers state. Despite opening up to imperialist finance capital the ‘red bourgeoisie’ retained control over the economy and took advantage of investment and new technology to launch domestic capitalist production.

Thus there was no re-colonisation of the ex-Workers States to force them back to semi-colonial status. Not because like Russia they were never colonies, or were imperialist before the revolution, or like both Russia and China inherited strong centralised states and dominated former soviet republics or internal colonies, or because of the decline of the US, and so on. None of these conditions (or all of them together) is sufficient to allow new imperialist powers to emerge. They could equally have created the perfect conditions for the parasitic re-colonisation and breaking up of the former workers states by the existing imperialist powers! This indeed was the imperialists’ goal in numerous wars, hot and cold, to defeat the workers states from the 1917 Revolution until their collapse in the 1990s. And they succeeded with a vengeance in the former Yugoslavia.

No. The necessary condition was and is the unfinished permanent revolution that broke from imperialism to create a socialist ‘sphere of interest’ but which could not prevent the bureaucracy from staging a counter-revolution and turning itself into a class of state capitalists to exploit the developed forces of production (raw materials, technology, labour, etc.,) under the law of value and compete successfully in the world market. Now functioning as independent capitalist countries the accumulation of capital unleashed the laws of capitalist development including the overaccumulation of capital that required capital export and the emergence of new imperialist powers.

Conclusion

It is our view that the conditions that led to the emergence of Russia and China as new imperialist powers in the last two decades are consistent with Lenin’s analysis of imperialism 100 years ago. Lenin’s method was that of Marx’s Capital, completing the unfinished volumes made concrete in the heat of the First Imperialist War. Second, it is consistent with the fact that the Russian Revolution opened the revolutionary 20th century, ‘repartitioning’ the world economy by opening the permanent revolution, and creating a ‘Soviet’ sphere of influence. The ‘economic independence’ of the workers states that followed during the 20th century allowed them to survive the counter-revolutionary defeat of capitalist restoration so that the new bourgeoisies were able to transform Russia and China into new imperialist powers forming a counter-hegemonic bloc to the US hegemonic bloc. To repeat, not as a bloc of semi-colonies and sub-imperialist states that are a progressive alternative to US imperialism, but a rival imperialist bloc that in challenging US hegemony, conditions the course of revolution and counter-revolutionary struggles today.

The unfinished permanent revolution that succumbed to capitalist counter-revolution must be reopened on the basis of the historic gains that were not destroyed. In the workers states the forces of production leapt beyond those of capitalist semi-colonies before being halted by bureaucratically planned stagnation and the capitalist counter-revolution. The gains of the new forces of production have been forced back into the shell of the old decrepit capitalist relations driving an explosive contradiction today manifested in the heating up of the global rivalry between the two major imperialist blocs.

Permanent revolution against imperialism today must be led by the international proletariat capable of making the revolution to smash the imperialist powers and create a united states of socialist republics of the world. In the process our most important task is the formation of a new Leninist Trotskyist international that revives the dialectic method and program of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and eliminates the barriers of social imperialism and national Trotskyism and so advances to the victorious socialist revolution! Back to dialectics! Break with social imperialism and national Trotskyism!

March, 2015

Liaison Committee of Communists

References

https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/declaration-of-the-proletarian-faction/

https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/letter-to-rcit-on-method-and-program/

http://coletivolenin.blogspot.com.br/2009/06/programa-do-coletivo-lenin.html

http://coletivolenin.blogspot.com.br/2011/11/novo-programa-do-coletivo-lenin.html

http://lcligacomunista.blogspot.co.nz/2015/03/unir-todos-os-trabalhadores-no-dia-13.html#more

http://socialistfight.com/reply-by-the-lcfi-to-the-resignation-of-laurence-humphries-from-the-socialist-fight-grouplcfi/

http://www.fifthinternational.org/content/chapter-4-bureaucratic-social-revolutions-and-marxist-theory-state

http://socialistfight.com/2014/06/19/russia-and-china-are-not-imperialist-states-statement-by-the-liaison-committee-for-the-fourth-international-on-the-useunato-attack-on-the-ukraine/

http://coletivolenin.blogspot.com.br/2015/03/o-folha-do-trabalhador-agora-tambem-e.html

https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/brics-around-the-neck-of-the-proletariat/

https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/2008/10/06/is-russia-imperialist/

https://livingmarxism.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/why-are-russia-and-china-imperialist-powers-and-not-capitalist-semi-colonies/

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/4th-congress/eastern-question.htm

https://cwgusa.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/for-the-bosnian-revolution/

http://redrave.blogspot.co.nz/2011/09/advance-libyan-revolution.html

https://cwgusa.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/the-egyptian-revolution-the-electoral-road-to-imperialist-stabilization-vs-the-road-to-workers-power/

 

 Endnotes

[i] The Fourth Congress interpreted the AIUF as a temporary military alliance between communists and ‘national-revolutionary’ (bourgeois) forces in the colonies and semi-colonies. Trotsky argued that ‘national-revolutionary’ forces could include national dictators or fascists, provided they were in a military struggle against imperialism. However, to call for an AIUF with Gaddafi when he was attacking the popular revolution and appealing for peace with imperialism is a criminal travesty of revolutionary communism.

 

[ii] As we have been at pains to point out to the RCIT for some years now, this flaw in its method is reproduced in its program today. While revolutionary workers defend bourgeois democratic rights they do so only when that defence advances the interests of the socialist revolution. Yet the RCIT has a tendency to turn the permanent revolution into a slavish defence of bourgeois democratic rights, when that defence is clearly not in the interests of workers but serves the bourgeois counter-revolution. Defending bourgeois democracy against the Stalinist military was not an unconditional defence of workers property in Soviet Russia, nor in Yugoslavia. Today the RCIT regards Bosnia and Kosovo as expressing the national rights of national minorities when in reality these ‘nations’ were the creations of imperialism (NATO and the UN) in the enforced break-up of Yugoslavia. Here the Leninist support for national self-determination is turned on its head as the support for the creation of new NATO capitalist protectorates! (See the LCC letter to RCIT of June 2012)

 

[iii] Lenin’s position on the National Question was a tactic to break workers from nationalism to socialism. National oppression is a reality that must be overthrown on the way to socialism. Revolutionaries must defend the right to national self-determination to prove to nationally oppressed workers that national oppression is ultimately class oppression. It is a democratic demand in the Transitional Program that can only be realised by Permanent Revolution. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/jan/x01.htm

 

[iv] A similar thing happened in Indo-China when the IEC during WW2 did not insist that the Trotskyists break with the Stalinists and their popular front politics. The revolution would only happen in the colonies or semi-colonies if it first went through a democratic national revolution in which the Stalinist model of the ‘bloc of four classes’ would ensure a break from imperialism. The lesson of China where the proletarian vanguard was destroyed by the Kuomintang was lost. One could adapt to this Stalinist stageism by either tailing the Stalinists or by tailing the anti-communist national bourgeoisies.

 

[v] This program was an ultraleft swing away from the popular front to an ultra-left version of national Trotskyism. The Coletivo Lenin adopted the IBT position of dual defeatism in the Malvinas wars; Brazil as sub-imperialist; and dual defeatism in the Arab-Israeli wars; all reducing the national question (and national Trotskyism) to the schematic proletarian revolution. This was the IBT loyally applying its 1941 SWP-US social imperialism to Brazil. Against national Trotskyism and the popular front its answer was do not fight for national independence from US imperialism and challenge the US labor aristocracy to take sides, but have a proletarian revolution now.

 

[vi] The Bolsheviks offered to fight alongside the Kerensky popular front Provisional Government against Kornilov in August 1917 (Trotsky’s phrase was “use them as a gun rest”) only on the basis of their armed independence since they knew that Kerensky would prove himself to be in league with Kornilov. The Bolsheviks were already calling for all power to the soviets and there was no reference to the Provisional Government as ‘the lesser evil’ to Kornilov. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/aug/30.htm

 

Written by raved

April 4, 2015 at 5:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Declaration of the Proletarian Faction

with 2 comments

This statement contains the main arguments of the Proletarian Faction formed within Workers Power NZ, a section of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI), in July 1995. It documents the development an a factional struggle over the reversion to right-centrism of the LRCI on the question of capitalist restoration, Bosnia etc. Fundamentally the struggle revealed a divergence in method between our conception of dialectics and the League’s impressionism.

Introduction

Like the rest of the post-war Trotskyist left, the LRCI has failed to break decisively from centrism. “Centrism is the name applied to that policy which is opportunist in substance and which seeks to appear as revolutionary in form. Opportunism consists of a passive adaptation to the ruling class and its regime, to that which already exists, including, or course, the state boundaries. Centrism shares completely this fundamental trait of opportunism, but in adapting itself to the dissatisfied workers, centrism veils it by means of radical commentaries”. [“Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads” Trotsky, Writings, 39-40. p.54.]It moved left from centrism in the 1970’s to produce an apparently Trotskyist analysis of the degeneration of the Fourth International [FI] and the Degenerate(d) Workers’ States [dws] in the early 1980’s.Specifically The Death Agony of the FI and The Degenerated Revolution published in 1981 and the Trotskyist Manifesto published in 1989. However, by the late 1980’s, as a small international tendency of around 100, it along with the rest of the left was subjected to the massive reactionary pressures of imperialist crisis and the collapse of the DWS’s. The LRCI’s Trotskyist “orthodoxy” was shown to be hollow.Its method is devoid of dialectics. Its failure to learn the lessons of the collapse of the FI meant that its break from the Cliffites was incomplete and that rather than developing a revolutionary response to the crisis of Stalinism, the LRCI collapsed back into centrism.

Succumbing to its isolation from the class struggle, and the pressure of democratic counter-revolution, a growing gap between theory and practice has arisen. While the LRCI pronounces orthodox Trotskyist positions on method, political economy and the restoration of capitalism in the DWS’s, in reality it has a one-sided abstracted Trotskyism which argues for a “revolutionary period” since 1989 and still-existing “moribund workers states”. These upbeat historical abstractions coexist with and cover a passive propaganda role in the class struggle which is evidenced by the League’s capitulation to the “progressive” nature of democratic imperialism.

The events of this period are every bit as momentous as those after WW2, if not more so. According to the LRCI the collapse of the workers’ states would be every bit at catastrophic as the events of the 1930’s. As such the end of the workers’ states would constitute the supreme test of Marx’s dialectical method. But the LRCI has failed to survive the test. Like the centrist FI after the Second World War, the League’s inability to recognise the end of the Workers’s states and the nature of the period as counter-revolutionary, demonstrates that it has become disoriented by events and liquidated its role as a revolutionary vanguard. That this should have happened comes as no surprise to us, given the history of our relations with the LRCI.

Method and the Fourth International

We base our analysis on:

[a] The Revolutionary Communist Party analysis: “The Question of the International” in Revolutionary Communist, No 2. 1975.  The RCP took the view that the FI collapsed during the war and was incapable of overcoming its deficiencies of theory and method after the war because of the loss of Trotsky and inability of others to rethink Trotsky’s predictions. This was explained not as a lack of theorists of Trotsky’s calibre, but the result of a chain of events going back to the “epoch of the universal liquidation of Marxism” in the ’30’s which saw the FI isolated from the mass working class struggles and lacking in both Marxist method and theory. Could the post-war fatalist parroting of Trotsky’s predictions be corrected? Possibly, but unlikely because in “1947..the FI did not set itself the task of developing perspectives based on a materialist analysis of changing events.” (p.24). Subsequent events proved that this breakdown of method lead to a breakdown in theory on the post-war boom and Stalinism.

[b] the 1975 Communist Left Australian programme Section 12

” The Fourth Communist International after the death of Trotsky ceased to function as a democratic centralist organisation…The breakdown of the FI derives not from the death of Trotsky but from the failure of the International, with its links between its sections largely severed by the war, to turn the second imperialist war into civil war…The International then re-established after 1945 was not centred in Asia where Trotsky’s anti-war strategy had its greatest successes, but in Europe where it had its fewest. The post-1945 leaderships broke down on the crucial question of the characterisation of the states in which the Stalinists came to power – a failure of characterisation which was an extension of the failure of leadership vis a vis the Stalinists in the war period”. (see 1978 program)

[c] Owen Gager’s article “James P Cannonism” [Spartacist, 1973] shows that by 1946 the US SWP had compounded its chauvinist “centrist deviation” on the imperialist war, to adopt a position on the ongoing post-war revolution which gave the US working class the leading role in the world revolution. This interpretation is consistent with that of the breakdown of democent in which the strongest section had by 1946 consolidated is adaptation to US chauvinism. The LRCI rejects this saying that this is the same position as that advocated by Trotsky. [see p 7 para 32 of IEC Resolution on the Proletarian Faction]. We reject this.Trotsky’s perspective was invalidated by the end of the war. The “American Theses” failed to recognise this and succumbed further to US chauvinism by making the US the centre of the ongoing world war/revolution, as Gager correctly argues.

[d] But were there opposition movements inside the FI that could have corrected this breakdown of method and theory, or these “centrist deviations” as the LRCI claims? The short answer is no, because despite the existence of oppositional currents within sections, they were also theoretically weak, or state capitalist, and since the FI was not democratic centralist, they were not able to correct the breakdown/deviation. As other sources [Revolutionary History (Vols 1/3 & 4; 2/2; 3/2; 3/4); The FI in Danger’  and Bornstein and Richardson’s War and the International] make clear, the FI was refounded in 1946 in a way which refused to apply democent, either in the representation of all sections, or in the agenda. The Goldman-Morrow faction and the Haston-Grant faction both challenged the post-war fatalist perspective but were bureaucratically shut-up. [see notes below]. The semi-colonial sections critical of the collapse into centrism during the war were under represented [The FI in Danger].

When WPNZ(A) had its first discussions with the LRCI in 1990 a number of differences existed. The most important were on the question of Marxist method. This was reflected in two areas of difference. The first was a difference over the causes of the collapse of the FI. It was clear to us in 1990 that the LRCI did not see any necessary connection between class composition, method and programme, in causing the collapse of the FI. It did not understand these elementary lessons of history. For this reason we thought it possible that the League too might become a victim of isolation, bad class composition and Euro-centrism and meet the same fate as the FI. The IS claims that we did not make this a big issue when we joined. Yet we made it very clear that we took this question seriously, and that the purpose of our joining was to win the League to our positions on Marx’s method. The subsequent failure of the League to develop dialectics and to confront the collapse of Stalinism with a revolutionary programme, has confirmed our worst fears.

On the question of the FI we argued that as the result of material conditions of isolation, class composition and European and US chauvinism, serious programmatic lapses during the war caused the collapse of the FI into centrism by 1946. In our discussions, the League took the view that the FI was healthy until 1948 and collapsed and died in 1951. The LRCI regarded the adaptation to chauvinism during the war as a “centrist deviation” which could have been corrected in 1948. [See “The History of the Fourth International in the War – the Leagues analysis of the Factions criticisms”, in Background Documents of the Positions of the Proletarian Faction.] As we have shown Trotsky did not regard the failure to implement the PMP – turn imperialist war into civil war – as a “deviation”. He already took the Palestinian section to task for their “step towards social patriotism”. It wasn’t a mere deviation, but represented “bankruptcy”, a matter on which the “international stands or falls”. [“A step towards social patriotism”. Writings, 38/39 207]. Were the “deviations” of the US and European sections any less serious?

But why judge these programmatic “deviations” i.e. politics, in isolation from everything else? Because the LRCI lacking dialectics cannot make the right connections. Its most common explanation for bad politics is bad people. We are offered a rogues gallery of deviationists and centrists:Cannon was a “national exceptionalist”; Cannon “went beyond pedagogic adaptation to political adaptation”; “young and inexperienced cadres strove to preserve as much of the letter of Trotsky’s old perspective as possible but in doing so altered its entire spirit”; Trotsky’s “followers lacked the confidence” to correct Trotsky’s perspective; “Under the leadership of Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel supported by James P. Cannon and the SWP, the Second World Congress in 1948 systematised and deepened the errors in the perspectives of 1946”; “the Yugoslav partisan war was now analysed, post facto, as a “proletarian revolution” (initially only by Pablo)..” ; “Pablo was driven on by his capitulation to Titoism to undermine and revise the key positions of the Trotskyist movement: on the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism, on the necessity of a revolutionary party in a revolutionary crisis, the nature of the permanent revolution in the colonial and semi-colonial countries and on the tactic of entrism.” ” [i.e.Pablo] required that the revolutionary nucleus should hide its revolutionary programme and principles…”; Michel Pablo and the FI leadership stood up to the pressure of imperialism, unlike the “state capitalist theoreticians like Tony Cliffe who adopted the Shachtmanite “third camp” slogan…But… Pablo “succumbed to Stalinophilia”. Trotsky sums up: “We know that political tendencies do not exist “in the air”: deviations and mistakes, if persistent and prolonged, must be rooted in a class basis” [Trotsky, “Preface to the Polish Edition of Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism…” Writings 1932. p222.]

Would Trotsky have viewed these lapses as mere “centrist deviations”?

Trotsky made it clear that the war was the ultimate test of the health and hence future of the new international: “Our programme on war is our tactics, our programme on the socialist revolution, our propaganda”… “All the fundamental rules of proletarian “defeatist” policy in relation to imperialist war retain their full force today. This is our point of departure, and all the conclusions that follow are determined by it” … “The fundamental strategic question is our attitude toward war, which it is impermissible to subordinate to episodic tactical considerations and speculations” …

“Should the proletariat attempt at the expense of the clarity and irreconcilability of its fundamental policy to chase after each episodic danger separately, it will unfailingly prove itself bankrupt.” … “defeatism is the class policy of the proletariat, which even during a war sees the main enemy is at home, within its particular imperialist countries. Patriotism, on the other hand is a policy that locates the main enemy outside one’s own ountry”…”should revolutionary defeatism be renounced in relation to nonfascist countries? Herein is the crux of the question; upon this issue, revolutionary internationalism stands or falls”.[See ” A step towards social patriotism” in Writings, 38/39, 207-213.]

“Marxist intransigence, obligatory when realising the united front in general, becomes doubly or trebly so when it is a question of a problem as acute as war”.[“Preface to the Polish Edition of Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism.. Writings, 1932. p 226.] “The future destiny of our organisation, like the development of the FI will depend above all on the existence of an international cadre that understands how to answer the questions of revolution and counter-revolution – especially in their fascist and bonapartist guises – and that understands the question of the war threat and how to implement our slogans and put them into practice.” [Trotsky, “Tasks of the ICL” Writings, Supplement, 34-40. p509.]

Trotsky is clear. Under conditions of imperialist war, the failure to fulfil the tasks of the FI programme on war would amount to “bankruptcy”. To renounce “defeatism” in countries which are at war with fascist countries is an “obvious lapse into social patriotism”.[“A step towards social patriotism” Writings, 1938/39. 208-209.]

During the war the FI proclaimed its orthodoxy in theory, but in practice several of its leading sections “lapsed into social patriotism”. Objectively, despite the fact that the war threw up revolutionary situations, the FI failed to become the revolutionary leadership. Its small size, isolation from the mass movements,and exposure to Stalinist assassinations, contributed most to its collapse in Europe (Over 800 executed in Greece alone). “Imperialist War and National Resistance:Trotskyism and the Second World War” Revolutionary History, Vol.3 (4) 1991 p. 5-8 (for rebellion) . For Stalinist persecution in Greece, see Revolutionary History, Vol. 3 (3) Spring, 1991. [Go to Revolutionary History Index] The Greek Army rebellion in Egypt proved that war did create the conditions for revolution. The combined forces of the British Army and the Stalinists were necessary to destroy the revolution. Subjective lapses into social patriotism in the US and Europe, combined with the objective factors to contribute to the “bankruptcy” of the international. [See Revolutionary History, Vol 3, Nos 3 and 4.] We conclude that Trotsky would have taken the view that the new international failed the test of the war and collapsed into centrism.

The resulting centrist split between “revolutionary” theory and reformist practice put an end to democratic centralism. The IS became a “postbox” only. The European conference (1943) renewed some organisational links. [see War and the International, p 172 on the October Plenum of the SWP; p. 176 for “outlawing of Morrow”; and pps 172-185 for closing down on the opposition in Britain]. The post-war pre-conference (1946) was undemocratic because it did not represent all the sections and their experiences of struggle, and failed to put on the agenda the need for a balance sheet of the war-time breaks from the FI programme. [See Munis et.al. The Fourth International in Danger;  p. 14 letter of the Spanish Group to the IS; p. 15, and p. 16-18 for undemocratic nature of 1946 conference; p. 19-30; and p. 31-41. See also War and the International, p.209-234.]

This prevented any possibility of the correction of the FI political disorientation after the war. That is why in our view the FI was not salvageable by 1946. Neither the British Haston-Grant or the US Goldman-Morrow oppositions were capable of correcting the collapse into centrism. Even if these oppositions had won, the FI would have reverted to an equally one-sided fatalism in which post-war capitalist stabilisation included the victory of state capitalism in the Soviet Union. Both oppositions though critical of the one-sided post-war fatalist perspectives dogmatically carried over from Trotsky, but they adapted in an equally one-sided way to the stabilisation of capitalism and argued that the USSR was state capitalist. [War and the International p. 182-187.] The only possibility of refounding the FI on a healthy basis in 1946 would have been the democratic centralist “overrepresentation” of the FI in the semi-colonies in those sections which did not adapt to chauvinism and where democratic norms still allowed programmatic criticisms to raised.[See The FI in Danger Natalia Trotsky, G. Munis, B. Peret.]

We argue that this was prevented by the bureaucratic measures of the European and US sections which deliberately under-represented the semi-colonial sections at the post-war congresses and suppressed their criticisms of the collapse into centrism during the war. This was the position of the Communist Left of New Zealand after 1975. It was based on the view that the semi-colonial sections were healthier than the US and European sections in the way they responded to the war and in their organisation.See details of critique of US section by Mexican section, and of US etc application of the PMP by the Indian section  in The FI in Danger, and Revolutionary History, Vol 3 (3)].

Against this view the IS/IEC resolution rejects the view that the colonial and semi-colonial sections were healthier than the European and US sections. It argues that the rebuilding of the FI in Europe was necessary because of war-time conditions, and that Trotsky shared the perspective that Europe was the centre of the world revolution. We think that this is a Eurocentric perspective and not one shared by Trotsky. It uses Trotsky’s perspective as an excuse for not fronting up to the post-war chauvinism of the dominant imperialist sections.

What would we have done at the time? Because of the collapse of the FI into centrism we would have formed a faction to refound the FI on a democratic centralist basis as a precondition for; [1]the full participation of the semi-colonial sections; [2] an honest critique of the collapse into centrism, and [3] the re-forging of the Marxist method and theory of the pre-war period, in order to lay the basis for a correct understanding of the post-war period. Today the charge is made against the Proletarian Faction that in 1946 we would have abandoned the FI in 1946 as centrist, and the LRCI (and MRCI before it as well). This is as absurd as a second charge that in a counter-revolutionary period such as the present, we would turn our backs on the class struggle. Quite the opposite, we entered the LRCI to fight for our positions in 1990, warning of the danger of LRCI repeating the collapse of the FI, and prescribing lessons in method and political economy. We would have done the same in 1946.

In our view, in 1990 the LRCI did not understand the historic roots of the collapse of the Fourth International into centrism, and its response to us on the FI shows that it has not learned anything in the past five years. To claim, as it does today, that the degeneration of the FI was “ultimately caused not by class composition, but by politics” is not a Marxist explanation, and worse than that blames the degeneration on the death of Trotsky. Stalin knew that the FI was to a large extent Trotsky. The FI was totally reliant on Trotsky for Marxist guidance. He was responsible for all the main programmatic documents. He alone was capable of correcting the petty bourgeois tendency towards pragmatism on the SWP leadership. Trotsky characterised the period in the 30’s thus” “We live in the epoch of the universal liquidation of Marxism in the ruling summits of the labour movement. The most vulgar prejudices now serve as the official doctrine of the political and trades union leaders of the French working class” . [Wither France, p5-6 Merit]. Trotsky had no collaborators of his stature, and few who could learn his lessons. He was forced to work with bourgeois experts “Comrade Field” for want of expertise in “economical and statistical data”. His isolation was the direct result of the “universal liquidation of Marxism” and the hegemony of Stalinism over the working class and the intellectuals. It was therefore to be expected that the leaders of the FI would not be able to live up to Trotsky’s example during and after the war. Hence the collapse into centrism. To that extent Trotsky’s death played a decisive part in this collapse. [See RCP document “The Question of the International”.] But what are politics if not “concentrated economics”? What are economics but contradiction? What are contradictions but dialectics? What is contradiction but class struggle? How do we understand this?

Marx’s method!

In its reply to the Faction the IEC Resolution of July 1995 states that the degeneration of the FI was “ultimately caused by politics” rather than isolation, class composition, failure of method, theory or democratic centralism.This argument is not based on dialectics. If politics and not class composition caused the collapse,what is politics but concentrated economics which in turn presupposes the use-value, exchange-value contradiction [class struggle] and in turn dialectics? Is not a centrist “deviation” based on personalities and politics, the result of profound problems of organisation [this is as far as the LRCI goes with its fetishised view of rebuilding the FI in Europe after the war] which for Marxists don’t float on the surface but are the result of material causes, isolation, class composition and imperialist chauvinism? [See Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism on “concentrated economics” p. 154.] In the “Leagues analysis” [see note above] the personalities of FI leaders, Pablo and Mandel, are credited with explaining the collapse. We would suggest that the League stands firmly on Cannon’s not Trotsky’s method when it comes to analysing the reasons that lay behind the collapse of the FI, i.e. the organisational question, and bad or young people or “deviant” personalities are credited with the collapse rather than the failure of dialectics. Better to have “stolen” from Trotsky’s In Defence of Marxism, that to ignore it as the LRCI does.

With Marx’s method it is not possible to separate politics from class composition. It is obviously true that an ideal working class composition of the FI would not have been a guarantee of a correct method and programme. But only logic-choppers look for black and white guarantees? There is ample evidence that Trotsky [and Cannon] saw very clearly the dangers of petty-bourgeois influences on the SWP. The IS/IEC in its reply to the Faction, does a body count of cadres in an attempt to disprove our argument that the FI or the LRCI suffers from poor class composition. But class composition is not a statistical matter, or an organisational question. Rather it is a matter of class orientation. There is no direct causal relationship between class composition, method and programme. We understand method to be a quality of leadership which must be tested by means of a proletarian orientation towards the working class in struggle, constantly testing theory in practice. There may be plenty of industrial workers in a party but no proletarian orientation, but you can be sure that if there is a firm proletarian orientation, the petty-bourgeois influences will be minimal.

The IS/IEC says that the SWP had many workers. Yes but that doesn’t mean much in itself. Why did Trotsky constantly warn against the influence of the petty-bourgeoisie? Why did he value 100 proletarians as worth 1000 intellectuals? “It is not a question of numbers, but of giving correct expression to the ideas and policies of the truly revolutionary proletariat. The thing is not to proclaim internationalism, [SWP] but to be able to be an internationalist in deed when times are most trying”. [Lenin, ‘Tasks of the Proletariat in our Revolution’ CW, Vol. 24. p. 82.] “Insofar as our party membership consists in part of petty bourgeois elements completely disconnected from the proletarian class struggle, the crisis … It is noteworthy that the crisis struck the New York organisation of the party, thanks to its unfavourable social composition, with exceptional force and virulence, while the proletarian centres of the party remained virtually unaffected”.[Cannon, Struggle for a Proletarian Party. p. 7]. “We judge all people coming to us from another class by the extent of their real identification with our class, and the contributions they can make which aid the proletariat in its struggle against the capitalist class” (ibid p.19). The IS/IEC argues that there is no necessary correlation between method and programme because what “ultimately” counts is “politics”.

For Trotsky, and for us, making such a claim is to junk dialectics. Trotsky was very clear on the link between method, theory, programme and practice. In his polemic with Shachtman who claimed that there was no necessary connection between method and politics citing the cases of Plekhanov and Liebknecht. Trotsky replies: “This argument if it means anything at all signifies that dialectical materialism is of no use whatsoever to a revolutionist. With these examples of Leibknecht and Plekhanov artificially torn out of history, Shachtman reinforces and deepens the idea…that politics does not depend on method, inasmuch as method is divorced from politics by the divine gift of inconsistency. By falsely interpreting two `exceptions’, Shachtman seeks to overthrow the rule. If this is the argument of a `supporter’ of Marxism, what can we expect from an opponent? The revision of Marxism passes here into its downright liquidation; more than that, into the liquidation of every doctrine and every method.” [In Defence of Marxism, p. 96.]

Method and Political Economy.

The second area of difference was over the related area of the method of political economy. The LRCI and its leading section, British Workers Power group, had come out of the Cliffite IS in 1975. The LRCI recognised that its position on political economy was deficient, and that it still had to complete its analysis of the nature of Stalinist economies. In particular those of Leo and Goldman which argue, after Trotsky, that the contradiction in the DWS’s was between workers property in the means [forces] of production and bureaucratically planned relations of production. By comparison the LRCI document on “Economic reform and Economic Crises in the USSR” identified the contradiction as between the law of value and Stalinist planning. This failure to understand the nature of the contradiction in the DWS cannot produce a theory of the laws of motion, the dynamics of the Stalinist economy, and therefore its limits and necessary crisis. This failure also makes a nonsense of Trotsky’s concept of the dual state which cannot resolve the contradiction between workers property and bureaucratic planning. Both of these areas of difference between the LRCI and us ultimately come back to Marx’s method as applied to the understanding of capitalism. Both come back to dialectics.[See Trotsky on dialectics especially Appendix B on “Philosophical Tendencies of Bureaucratism” Challenge of the Left Opposition (1928-29) which makes the connections between the dialectical method, historical materialism and method of political economy in Capital. In particular Trotsky defends Marx’s method as a form of “monism” as opposed to the bureaucrats “multifactor” theory.]

The LRCI at that time had an understanding of Marxist political economy derived from Fine and Harris’ book Rereading Capital. [See the review of Rereading Capital, by Tony Allen. Also the article on the “World in Recession: Revolutionary Communist Papers, No 7 July 1981, which gives a fundamentalist” analysis of the crisis, and Leo “Fear of Fundamentalism” in the CWG archive]. We characterised this method of political economy as ultimately neo-Ricardian. This is a non-Marxist method which does not locate a necessary contradiction at the point of production motivating the `development’ of capitalism and determining its surface appearances including the state. Failure to understand this leads to neo-Ricardian positions on the state which credit the state with considerable “autonomy” in moderating if not managing the economy. [For an excellent account of neo-Ricardian economics and politics see D. Yaffe, “Value and Price in Marx’s Capital” in Revolutionary Communist, No 1, January 1975.] Because neo-Ricardians have an ahistorical technical view of relations of production they are either ignored or abstracted from the historical process. This leads in effect to a separation of production from distribution, and society from the state. The class struggle is reduced to a distributional struggle for control of the state to manage the economy.

The LRCI had broken with the Cliffite economics of the Permanent Arms Economy and state capitalism, but in effect they retained the underlying method of political economy. While they rejected the PAE as underconsumptionist, their account of the end of the post-war boom and the crisis of overaccumulation in the Trotskyist Manifesto showed that it had not broken with neo-Ricardianism. For example their explanation of crisis recognises the fact that “contradictions surface again”… Yet they confuse a cause of crisis with one of its effects. “US capital exports lead to underinvestment at home, which resulted in low productivity and hence to a decline in the of profit” [Trotskyist Manifesto. p 13]. This is to reverse the cause-effect sequence. Capital export is an effect of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, not its cause! In our fusion talks we characterised the LRCI’s method as “more analytical and descriptive than dialectical”. As a result the LRCI did not have a clear conception of the causes of the post-war boom, the crisis which brought it to an end, nor the necessary conditions for a world-wide revival of capital accumulation. Instead there was an impressionistic method which took each cycle and its distributional effects on class struggle in isolation of the deeper processes. This led to the LRCI overestimating the extent of the “world-wide recovery” in the mid 1980’s.[See WPNZ to LRCI 24 December 1990. p 4-9; WPNZ/A reply to LRCI December 1991, “The Revolutionary 90’s: Ten points in response to the LRCI Draft International Perspectives for the 1990’s”; and “Fear of Fundamentalism”.]

An impressionist method, therefore, leads to a revisionist political economy which has very dangerous consequences for workers in struggle. If world capitalism can “recover” without the necessity of re-establishing the conditions for renewed profitability by means of further massive destruction, including war and depression, this leads to a reformist perspective. It means that “democratic” imperialist states can collaborate and resolve their economic problems short of war and revolution. While the LRCI formally rejects this type of revisionism, recognising the “New World Disorder”, its method of political economy does not reject the possibility of such a relatively “peaceful” re-stabilisation of the world economy.The LRCI rejected the view that each cyclic recession must get deeper until the conditions for capital accumulation were renewed. This view clashed with that put forward by Dobbs in his document The World Economy, which showed that the “recovery” of the 1980’s failed to restore profitability in production, profits being made largely from speculation, and that each recession has been deeper than the previous one. Brian Green claims in his resignation letter that the IS made it difficult for him to complete this project and never got around to publishing it. [See our position in ” WPNZ/A Report to LRCI June-August 1991.]

Method, Crisis and Programme

The second related problem we identified in our fusion talks, was the failure to apply Marx’s method to the analysis of the degenerate(d) workers states. The LRCI’s understanding was that the contradiction in the DWSs was between the law of value and the bureaucratic state. A second contradiction between workers property and the bureaucratic state, which was the contradiction identified by Trotsky, was also recognised. But this contradiction is trivialised as one between workers production relations in society and bourgeois distributional relations in the state. This negates the importance of the contradiction internal to the dual state (between workers production relations and bourgeois distribution relations) and its class struggle resolution within the state by political revolution or bourgeois counter-revolution.”The contradiction at the heart of the Soviet Union is the contradiction between the system of property relations and a layer of administrators and distributors (the bureaucracy) who stand in the way of the working class dynamically developing the productive forces in its own i.e. socialist interests”. [The Degenerated Revolution.p30.] The neo-Ricardian echo shows up here when this contradiction is excluded from the state itself. Workers property in society is separated from the bourgeois state form. The contradiction as it is manifested in the state is therefore negated and the dynamic factor becomes reduced to the bureaucratic state and its capacity to develop or retard the economy. [Compare our criticism in “Workers Power NZ/A Report to LRCI June/August 1991 “The Analysis of Stalinism.”]

As we will see, this meant that the LRCI was unable to apply a dialectical understanding to the relationship between the forces and relations of production in the DWSs. This was to have serious consequences when, from 1989 onwards its position on the Stalinist state led directly to a theoretical and programmatic disorientation over the collapse of the Stalinist states and the restoration of capitalism.

Ultimately on these questions, theory and method must be judged against programme. The LRCI characterised our positions as “reductionist” and “catastrophist”, taking insufficient notice of “mediating effects of politics and ideology.” These differences are on Marx’s method as demonstrated in Capital etc. CLNZ based itself on Yaffe, Mattick, Grossman, Rosdolsky, characterised as “fundamentalists” by Lynch. Lynch rejects this view. The main arguments are found in “CLNZ to LRCI, 24/12/90” and Lynch’s reply “The WPNZ and the crisis in the world economy”. 18/10/91; and “Fear of Fundamentalism” March 8, 1993. The main point of contention was the so-called “recovery” of the mid-1980’s. Our position is that during a period crisis of overaccumulation,each recession gets worse and each “recovery” gets weaker until sufficient value is destroyed by depressions and wars to enable a new period of accumulation to begin. We found the LRCI position “impressionistic” because this recovery was largely “speculative” [a point we thought proven by Brian Greens’s World Economy document] and therefore not a recovery of conditions of capital accumulation. Lynch’s method allows for each cycle during a periodic crisis to be independent of any downward trend in devaluation. Its severity cannot be predicted and can only be determined by reference to empirical facts which includes the operation of counter-tendencies and the role of states in economic management. Therefore our position was viewed as “reductionist”, failing to recognise the factual significance of the recovery in profitability. This difference in method reappears consistently through to the debate over the “Perspectives” at the 3rd Congress.

Trotsky states that the conjunctural crisis is the `pulse’ of capitalism and cannot be used to explain crisis!

“In actuality, conjunctural cycles in the life of capitalism play the same role as, for example, cycles of blood circulation in the life of the organism. The inevitability of revolution flows just as little from the periodicity of crises as the inevitability of death from a rhythmic pulse”. [Writings, 1930, p 36.]

Compare Lynch’s method which sees the conjuncture as crisis and solution to crisis ie he misreads Grossman’s point that crisis is a “cure” to overaccumulation to attribute this mechanism to each conjunctural downturn. On prediction Trotsky states that:

“…revolutionary perspectives must be deduced from “real contradictory processes” not “false schemata”..(p 38).”It is necessary to foresee the inevitability of crisis after an upturn. It is necessary to warn the masses of a coming crisis. But the masses will be better prepared for the crisis the more that they, with correct leadership, utilise the period of the upturn” (p. 47)…”Combining subjective and objective data, it is possible to establish a tentative perspective of the movement, that is, a scientifically based prediction, without which a serious revolutionary struggle is in general inconceivable. But a prediction in politics does not have the character of a perfect blueprint: it is a working hypothesis.” (p.50).

On “catastrophism”. Lynch equates our method with that of the post-war Trotskyist dogma of war/revolution. Because we predict each downturn will be worse than the previous one to fulfil the necessary task of destroying value, our predictions can be proven wrong when premature ie. predicting pre-revolutionary crises, when the defeats of workers allowed the bourgeoisie impose neo-liberal solutions by means of democracy. These were predictions certainly anticipated more working class resistance to these neo-liberal attacks. In NZ, we responded to these attacks by predicting a pre-revolutionary crisis. But while we admit we were wrong, we were wrong not in predicting the severity of the attacks on workers, but in their ability to fight back. This method of prediction has much more in common with Trotsky’s prewar predictions than with the post-war epigones who pronounced a revolutionary period in the face of counter-revolutionary stabilisation. We are in good company in predicting pre-revolutionary situations in advance of their time. This method does not contradict our analysis of the period as counter-revolutionary.

Yet on the most important political question of the period, it is the LRCI’s method and theory which fails to recognise the end of the workers’ states and the world historic counter-revolutionary defeat. It is the LRCI’s disorientation on the question of the current period that calls into question its method and theory, not ours. The LRCI’s impressionistic method means that it cannot theoretically link the fundamental laws of motion of capitalism to everyday surface events. When surface events contradict its blind optimism in objective forces it forgoes reality as in the case of its conception of the “moribund workers’ states” and the “revolutionary period”.

It is certainly true that world capitalism cannot restabilise itself without depression and war, but these tendencies present in the structural crisis do not yet manifest themselves in the current balance of class forces in the form of revolutionary situations. On the contrary, the collapse of the Stalinist states has shifted the balance of class forces towards counterrevolution, and the character of the period has become that of democratic counter-revolution. The major pre-revolutionary crises are still ahead of us, as is the potential for revolution and counter-revolution, which are the defining conditions of a periodic crisis in the epoch of imperialism. We come back to the question of period below.

WPNZ(A) agreed to join the LRCI in early 1992 on the basis of general agreement with the programmatic positions in The Trotskyist Manifesto and on the understanding that we would fight to overcome our “major” differences by arriving at a common understanding of Marx’s method. We were impressed by the second Congress debate, and the way in which the Latin American comrades were treated. This allayed our fears that the LRCI was Euro-centrist in its practice.

In discussions since then the League began serious work on Marxist political economy, including crisis theory, imperialism and the nature of planning and the Stalinist states. However, at the same time the LRCI became immersed in the dramatic events surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European DWSs. These events as it turned out were to become the decisive test of the LRCI’s ability to develop and apply its marxist method in practice i.e. of the political economy of the stalinist states and their collapse in practice. As a result of these tests the underlying weakness of the LRCI’s method and programme fully revealed itself. It became clear that because the LRCI did not have good analysis of the dws’s, it could not predict or intersect the restoration crisis in the USSR. The strategic line of political revolution got submerged in the tactic of critical support for bourgeois democracy on the basis of workers illusions in bourgeois democracy.[For our differences on these questions see; WPNZ/A to LRCI June-August 1991 [c] The Analysis of Stalinism; see LRCI May 1992 also.]

For responses to these revisions see Leo “”Where is the LRCI Going?” of July 1993 which reported good progress on political economy discussion; reservations on bourgeois democracy in the DWS’s, and sounds alarm about “a return to centrism or Reformism” with the revival of the minority position on the Stalinist state, and Johnson’s treatment on the IS. See “Observations on the last IEC” Jan ’94 which raises a number of concerns about bourgeois democracy in the DWS’s, the minority position on the state; the Bolivian “strategic defeat” and the “Anglo” and “Eurocentric” IS. And Leo “Why we need a Good Third Congress. p.2 on Democratic Centralism.

The Yeltsin Coup

The first major test was the Yeltsin coup. The LRCI’s position was confused. On the one hand it recognised correctly that neither those behind the coup nor Yeltsin intended to defend state property. On the other it said, against those who claimed that the coup makers should be supported because they were defending state property, that their reason for defending it, namely their caste privilege, was insufficient. [See “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in the Soviet Union” Trotskyist International No 7, Sept/Jan1991/92. “The [conservative faction of the old nomenclature] hoped by their actions on 19 August to defend their privileges on the basis of post-capitalist property relations and sought political legitimacy in the Supreme Soviet….In what sense could it be said that the SCSE “defended the planned property relations”? Only in this: that it resisted their abolition to the extent that they were the “host” off which it was parasitic. However, this massive social parasite was the principle cause of the sickness unto death of the bureaucratically centrally planned economy, of the consequent disillusion of the masses in it”.[ p7-9.]

So according to the LRCI to the extent that the “parasites” still defended “post-capitalist” property, they should not be supported because they caused the collapse of the “planned economy” in the first place. This was a clear break from Trotsky who argued that notwithstanding the Stalinists reasons for supporting state property, workers must bloc with them in this defence. What this break revealed was a residual Stalinophobia present in the LRCI.

This was further revealed in the nature of the support given Yeltsin during the coup. Both sides were restorationist and both posed a threat to workers. It is wrong to say that Yeltsin’s “democratic” method of restoration allowed a “democratic breathing space” for workers to mobilise a political revolution. Yeltsin’s method was that of a restorationist “popular front”. He wanted to use the widespread illusions in bourgeois democracy as the cover for his restoration. So while the conservatives were against Yeltsin, this did not mean that Yeltsin was for the workers. The point is that a fight between the enemies of the workers should have been used by workers to arm themselves against all their enemies. This required a workers united front against Yeltsin’s popular front of democrats, would-be exploiters, nationalists, and more privileged workers. The workers who supported Yeltsin were mainly privileged miners whose union leaders were supporters of restoration. Their leaders were composed of petty bourgeois graduates etc strongly influenced by marketising ideology. [See Trotskyist International April-July 1992 p27 “suicide of the Bureaucracy” p. 31.] Yeltsin flew to mines to call off strike. [p. 34.] The LRCI having argued against the WRP “stalinophobia” that the miners were “influenced by imperialism” [IIB 37 May 1991] turns around and claims in a polemic against the RTT [TI April-July 1992] that the miners led the workers defence of democratic rights. In the space of several months the miners go from being a new labour aristocracy to being the vanguard of workers struggles.

The miners got sucked into the popular front which is proven by Yeltsin calling off their strike! Yeltsin as agent of imperialist restoration tells workers they are going too far [and his supporters disarm the soviets!]. Not all workers got sucked into the popular front. Most stayed at home, but others armed themselves and defended the soviets. They were the vanguard workers who mobilised as a working class united front against the coup, and who also regarded Yeltsin as their enemy. In “Suicide of a Bureaucracy” [Trotskyist International April-July 1992] the LRCI makes light of the socialists who went to defend the “Red House”. Kagarlitsky was clearly a social democrat, but he is committed to “market socialism”, not rapid restoration. The thousands of workers who wanted to defend “socialism” were the obvious vanguard to be mobilised against the Yeltsinites. Those few who did go to the White House, they went to “support their enemies”. [See Interview with Kagarlitsky, IIB 44. November 1991.]

It was necessary for revolutionaries to expose Yeltsin as the enemy of the political revolution.The correct position was to mobilise workers independently of Yeltsin, an open restorationist. If Yeltsin was serious in opposing the coup we could offer a military bloc with him, but only if he “broke with the bourgeoisie”. Kagarlitsky is reported to have claimed that Yeltsin was not serious about opposing the coup since its purpose “was to pull Yeltsin and Gorbachev together into the government of national reconciliation, with emergency powers”. Yeltsin became serious and betrayed the coup when he realised that he could take emergency powers and have his own coup. So by the time Yeltsin got serious he was already taking more emergency powers than the Committee of Emergency, justifying this in the name of “democracy”. According to this view, Yeltsin usurped the coup to strengthen his relationship with the bourgeoisie. [Adams “Interview with Kagarlitsky” in ‘Report on visit to Moscow’ IIB 44, November 1991.

Revolutionaries would have demanded that Yeltsin not only called for and supported a general strike, but called on the army to defect and arm the workers.We would not have defended the White House during the coup [except in the unlikely event that it became part of the defence of workers democracy.] The correct place for revolutionaries was the armed defence of the Soviets. Kagarlistsky also claims that there was no attack on the Moscow or Leningrad soviets by the Emergency Committee. It was the members of the Soviets, members of the “democratic” bodies, not the coup plotters, that attempted to disarm the Moscow and Leningrad soviets. [Kagarlitsky interview cited above.] Against Yeltsin calling off the strike we would have called on the miners to break from Yeltsin. This would have helped Yeltsin to expose himself to those layers of workers who saw the need to build an independent, armed workers movement.

The LRCI called for a “united front” with Yeltsin without conditions. They were prepared to stand side by side with Yeltsin defending the Russian “White House” the symbol of bourgeois parliament. This was capitulating to the illusions in bourgeois democracy by claiming that such “democratic rights” empowered the working class. But talking about democracy in the abstract confuses bourgeois and workers democracy in a degenerated workers state. The LRCI had strongly argued some months earlier against any concessions to bourgeois democracy, although it was never “against democracy” but rather “in favour of workers democracy”. It now abandoned its formally correct position on the grounds that the struggle for bourgeois democratic rights could advance the political revolution .

Trotsky rejected the concept of democracy in the abstract. [See Trotsky, “Is Parliamentary Democracy likely?”. p55. “Defence of Soviet Republic and the Opposition” p291; “Does SU follow principles etc” p37/38.] The LRCI too, formally rejected bourgeois democracy up until the coup: “An extension of parliamentary democracy in the Stalinist states will prove a cruel deception for the masses. This “separation of power” between the apparent equality of parliament and the hidden but real inequality within society is not possible within the degenerate(d) workers states because the economy is not privately owned (p.17); “A freely elected parliament would sound the death-knell of Stalinist control – but it would not herald the victory of the proletariat. This does not mean that revolutionary Marxists are against democracy. It means that we are in favour of working class democracy. A five yearly election of a few hundred Mps is not vehicle for the exercise of such democracy (p.17).; “It is not surprising that in the Stalinist states today the “soviets” – a grotesque parody of the original workers’ and peasants’ councils are hated by the masses. But the alternative is not to turn the clock back to capitalist “democracy”. It is to build completely new councils as the basis for completely new workers’ democracy, a democracy that can and must triumph through a political revolution against bureaucracy”.[ Stalinism in Crisis.p 18].

The LRCI changed its mind when the extent of popular illusions in bourgeois democracy became clear. See the debate over bourgeois democracy at 3rd Congress. .Section on “Changes to Chapter 5” in “Why we need a good 3rd Congress”, and reply “once again on August 1991” “A Backward looking opposition: A Reply to Comrade Leo”.  The reason the LRCI thinks that bourgeois democratic rights are progressive in a DWS is that it regards the Stalinist states as “Bourgeois” in form, and therefore, during the August coup it was progressive to bloc with the bourgeois “democrat” Yeltsin against the bourgeois [Stalinist] dictators.

But how is the working class empowered by its illusions in the “freedoms” offered by glasnost and perestroika? This is the path of “democratic counter-revolution” in which workers voted for the end of workers property in the false hope that it would bring real freedom and economic salvation. Again this showed the tendency to succumb to popular pressure to defend the democratic rights of workers by appealing to Yeltsin’s restorationist friends including the imperialists. On the question of “democratic counter-revolution” see Dobbs “Twenty-one weeks is a very long time in politics” and Brian Green’s Resignation letter.

What Green argues is that you cannot view the process of “democratic counter-revolution” as a “political revolutionary crisis”. It is the false perspective of the LRCI which held out hope that bourgeois democratic rights could provide a “breathing space” for political revolution which leads to the false characterisation of this phase of struggle as a political revolutionary crisis. A political revolution must involve the overthrow of the bureaucracy in defence of workers property. The “democratic” aspects of the process resulted from elements of the bureaucracy coopting layers of the working class in support of a “democratic” restoration. A similar weakness had already become apparent in the defence of the Baltic states from Soviet invasion. The LRCI correctly called for the unconditional right to self-determination of the Baltic states from the USSR i.e. in the case of Lithuania calling for independent workers state, and opposed the invasion of the Red Army. Yet at the same time it called on aid from imperialist states [without strings!] to defend these states.

Comrade Johnson in relation to Bosnia says that Imperialists are not “Santa Claus” to prove that there is no way that imperialism can intervene without strings. [“From a Revolutionary to an Eclectic Line on Bosnia” IIB 86] To argue otherwise is to capitulate to democratic imperialism, or social imperialism, the UN and other “fronts” for imperialist interests. We call on workers in all states to send arms and themselves to fight for an independent workers council state. This is saying that democratic imperialism is better than the Stalinist dictatorship of the proletariat!

The correct position for revolutionaries was to organise an armed struggle for a workers council state independent of both the Red Army bureaucrats and the nationalists, calling on the Red Army [like Trotsky did on Poland] to turn their guns on the Kremlin. Siding with one set of restorationists against the other does not advance the demand for an independent workers council state. It was also necessary to call on workers everywhere to support the struggle, including the mobilisation of arms and volunteers from outside Lithuania.

United Fronts with Imperialism

We see here a common problem. With the collapse of the USSR, the defence of workers property becomes subordinated to the defence of bourgeois democracy. This is justified as necessary to enable the working class to mobilise against decades of Stalinist repression and to overthrow the bureaucracy. But where elements of the bureaucracy are busy becoming would-be bourgeois, posing as democrats and competing to attract imperialist backing, how does “democracy” in the abstract advance the political revolution? The LRCI conducted a polemic against Socialist Organiser [in Stalinism in Crisis, published in 1991] on the question of “democracy”. “Socialist Organiser points out that “Everywhere the rallying cry of the revolution has been democracy” (SO, 18-1-90).

For revolutionary Marxists democracy is never classless. It can be, like bourgeois democracy, the disguised dictatorship of the capitalist class. Or it can be, like Soviet Power, the undisguised dictatorship of the working class. It is always the means of one class to rule over another. Parliamentary democracy holds two dangers for the working class of Eastern Europe. It can be the means of demobilising mass action… Secondly, parliamentary democracy can become the vehicle through which the Stalinists carry out and legitimate the sell off of state property etc.” … “For SO neither danger is relevant. There are no Soviets at present, it argues, so any parliamentary system is a step forward. And the restoration of capitalism is not a problem either since Stalinism is only as “backward parallel” to capitalism. Consequently, SOs immediate programme limits itself to the most radical form of parliamentary democracy” [p.39].

On the question of freedom of bourgeois parties. “The Leninist norm on party legality was for freedom to form parties committed to its overthrow. Mandel and the USFI never explain what unique contribution to the political revolutionary process open restorationist and neo-fascist parties could make.” [p35] “The whole political method of the USFI is based on finding unconscious revolutionaries, Stalinist or petty bourgeois nationalist parties which become the instrument of an historic process, alleviating the need for the conscious intervention of a revolutionary Trotskyist party” [p.35].

The problem is that is it not democracy in the abstract but bourgeois democracy which reflects at the level of state power and ideology, bourgeois social relations. Here “bourgeois right” already existing in the form of unequal relations of distribution, are extended to represent the “rights” of private property, ownership of the means of production, contract etc. ie. bourgeois relations of production.Trotsky said:

“Things must be called by their right names. What is involved here is not the introduction of some disembodied democracy but returning Russia to the capitalist road”… “But the masses do not want the landowner, the official, or the boss back. One must not overlook these “trifles” in intoxicating oneself with commonplaces about democracy”. [Trotsky “Is Parliamentary Democracy Likely?” [Writings, 1929.p. 55.]  “When people counterpose democracy to the Soviets, what they usually have in mind is simply the parliamentary system.They forget about the other side of the question, the decisive one at that – namely that the October Revolution cleared the path for the greatest democratic revolution in human history… The Soviet system is not simply a form of government that can be compared abstractly with the parliamentary form. Above all it is a new form of property relations. What is involved at bottom is the ownership of land, the banks, the mines, the factories, the railroads.” [p.54]

Democratic demands such as the calling for `constituent assemblies’ where bourgeois-type parliaments are already in existence are necessary, not because they endorse such parliaments, but because they make it possible to replace parliaments with workers councils. However the LRCI goes much further than this. Workers are invited by the LRCI not to oppose openly restorationist parties; not to oppose open restorationists – Yeltsin and co – who are openly grabbing more powers and suppressing workers armed resistance; to bloc with national restorationists against the Red Army and to call on aid without strings from imperialism! Are these not united fronts with imperialism? Or is this to slander the LRCI as it claims? [See IEC resolution p. 5 para 21.]

In the case of the UF with Yeltsin, it was his nominal defence of the White House which allowed him to take emergency powers, including those against the soviets and the communist party, and firming up his imperialist ties, which made him victorious and sped up his seizure of power and the onset of the economic shock therapy. To claim that it was the threat of mass working class support behind the 100’s of miners who supported Yeltsin that caused the coup to collapse is false given that it was the “democrats” not the plotters who had most to fear from the armed and organised working class.

The LRCI claims that: “The tens or hundreds of thousands who gathered around the Russian Federation Parliament and the Leningrad Soviet were hardly sufficient to halt the plotters, but the forces of society which stood behind them were much more formidable. The threat of general strike by the miners and other independent unions, actual strikes in the Kuzbas and Vorkuta and threats of strikes in the Donbas, strikes by industrial workers in Leningrad and Sverdlovsk, the certainty of meeting armed resistance in the republics -all these factors paralysed the armed forces and the KGB. Utilising the unconstitutional nature of the SCSE, the great bulk of the armed forces refused to obey its instructions. Even large sections of the KGB refused to do so and defected to Yeltsin.” [Trotskyist International, April-July, 1992.] In the case of the Baltics, it was the promise of imperialist support for independence that aided the victory of the nationalists and rapid privatisation. In both cases the ability of workers to independently fight for the defence of democracy as the means of defending workers property and of creating independent workers states was undermined by a popular front with imperialism.

In other words, the democracy that was being defended here was already bourgeois democracy and not workers democracy. Bourgeois democracy was that defended by the would-be bourgeois Stalinists in the USSR or the openly bourgeois leaders in the Baltics. [The same could be said for Eastern Europe]]. The political rights won under bourgeois democracy, the right for individuals to vote, freedom of speech and assembly etc. were not rights that enabled workers to mobilise for political revolution. On the contrary they were “rights” that represented the “freedom” of workers to vote for a democratic counter-revolution. To the extent that the League gave political support to bourgeois democracy it was strengthening the arms of capitalist restorationists at the expense of workers democracy. Workers democracy, on the other hand, was and is the ability to fight to overthrow the bureaucracy by arming the workers, winning over the Red Army and revolutionising the soviets from the ground up.

This the only possible meaning that can be attached to workers democracy in a degenerated workers state.

“It would be quixotic, not to say idiotic, to fight for democracy in a party which is realising the rule of a class hostile to us. In such a case, one couldn’t speak of a class democracy in the party and in the soviets, but of “general” (that is, bourgeois) democracy in the country – against the ruling party and its dictatorship…we are fighting for proletarian democracy precisely in order to shield the country of the October Revolution from the “liberties” of bourgeois democracy, that is, from capitalism…All these freedoms are unthinkable outside the regime of democracy, that is, outside of capitalism. One must learn to think one’s thoughts out to the end”. [Trotsky, ‘Defence of the Soviet Republic and the Opposition’, in Writings, 1929.p29].

Writing in 1936 on the impact of the new constitution, Trotsky states that it is a return to the “system of bourgeois democracy based upon the so-called “universal, equal and direct vote of an atomized population. This is a matter, to put it briefly, of juridically liquidating the dictatorship of the proletariat”.[Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed. P261.] And just as these “freedoms” were bogus and served only to “further reinforce the dictatorship” of the bonapartist bureaucracy, why should the attempts by the collapsing bureaucracy to further such “freedoms” under 1980’s glasnost, or of Yeltsin’s “democracy”, be any less bogus? Yeltsin like Stalin was concerned to liquidate the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the name of… “democracy”.

The state debate.

We have seen that under the impact of the collapse of the Stalinist states, the LRCI had abandoned its formally correct Trotskyist positions on the DWSs, and begun to justify its support for bourgeois democracy by saying that it was more progressive than the stalinist dictatorship. But this left an embarrassing gap between the LRCI’s theory and practice. By 1993 this embarrassment motivated an attack on the League’s formally correct Trotskyist position to remove the source of embarrassment. The suppression of the contradiction in the stalinist state present in the Degenerated Revolution was now taken to its logical conclusion. A minority in the League wanted the possibility of any contradiction to be theoretically removed. According to this revision, DWS’s consist of workers property in contradiction with a bourgeois state in the form of a stalinist dictatorship. While that position was defeated in 1981, its revival was intended to provide a theoretical revision to justify the League’s adaptation to bourgeois democracy in the crisis of the collapse of the stalinist states.[See “Twelve years On” by Lynch in IIB 61 and replies from Sparkes, Van and Johnson in IIB 62]

The revisionist position on the state can be seen to be one mid-way between the Cliffite position of state capitalism and that of Trotsky.The state capitalist position is very popular in the light of the Stalinist collapses because it never held out any prospect that the Stalinist states were “socialist” or “workers states” of any sort. Their collapse did not signify a defeat for the world’s workers. The state capitalist theory began as an opportunist adaptation to the popular consciousness that Stalinism was totally reactionary, it remains even more popular today because it fits in with the bourgeois claim that reactionary Stalinism was the cause of its own downfall.

The LRCI formally broke with State Capitalism in 1981 and as such could not immediately revert to that position. It could not openly revive the junked political economy of state capitalism. But because the League’s method separates society from the state, it could revise Marxism to allow workers property to coexist with a bourgeois state. This was the thrust of the 1981 minority position on the Stalinist state. If adopted, this position would allow the League to explain the relatively peaceful transformation of the state without “winding the film of reformism back”. If it was already a bourgeois state, it need change only in its personnel and not its class nature. While empirically very neat in accounting for the apparently peaceful transfer of power from bureaucrat to bourgeoisie in the collapsed Stalinist states, this revision went too far. It argued that the post-war overturns in which the bourgeoisie were expropriated was performed by a bourgeois state! [See “The state debate – back to basics” and “Reply to Leo”.]

The majority could not accept this and the revision was defeated at the 3rd Congress in July 1994. But the state debate revealed that the majority in the League also had an understanding of the Stalinist state as predominantly bourgeois in form. This meant that already in the 1981 document The Degenerated Revolution there was a weakness on the question of the Stalinist state. Although the nature of the basic contradiction “the contradiction between a system of property relations and a layer of administrators (the bureaucracy)” (p.30) is formally correct, the way this contradiction is expressed in the dual state becomes subordinated to a fixation on the “bourgeois form” of the state. In Eastern Europe, “The Stalinists moved against the bourgeoisie, having already destroyed their armed power, with the full intention of maintaining a state profoundly similar to that of the old bourgeois type, not replacing it with a state of the new soviet type” (p.51) “We describe the dws as one what has a dual contradictory character, it defends proletarian property forms but it does so with coercive instruments normally associated with capitalist states.” [p.50The Degenerated Revolution.]

In all of this there is a fetishising of the bourgeois form of the state at the expense of its class content  ie. the class nature of the state. This ultimately goes back to the suppression of the contradiction in the dual state itself. [See  “The State Debate- back to basics”]. This is shown by the fact that the class character of the workers state is submerged into its bourgeois form. This means that the state becomes a mechanical reflection of the social relations of production defined economistically as the suppression of the law of value by means of nationalisation, central planning, and the monopoly of foreign trade. The workers state only comes into existence once the law of value is suppressed, and goes out of existence when the law of value has reasserted itself as “dominant”. Left out of this analysis is the dialectical relationship between the state and the economy in which the state overturn must precede the transformation of social relations in any revolutionary transition. The consequences for programme are obvious. There can be no revolutionary transformations in which political struggle plays a part! History is the result of objective “economistic” laws of change in which the state is a passive partner.[See The Leninist-Trotskyist Tendencies argument “The Marxist theory of the state and the collapse of Stalinism” In Defence of Marxism, June 1995 No 3..ps 10-6.]

If the Stalinist states were in reality bourgeois dictatorships, then it logically follows that they could be defended with bourgeois democracy, and that open bourgeois parties could be tolerated and united fronts with nationalist restorationists in breakaway republics could be made. United fronts with democratic imperialism could be justified against the Stalinist dictatorship. This shows why the LRCI, while an objective, economist process of restoration was under way in the economy, entrusted the defence of workers property not to workers democracy, but to bourgeois democracy – that “juridical liquidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat”. Which ultimately means no defence at all! [See the revised Chapter 5 of the Trotskyist Manifesto which means the LRCI no longer “opposes” openly restorationist parties: “we are not in favour of them”!” We do not oppose any parties, short of fascist, [why only fascist?] that have working class support”. This is the tactic of critical support appropriate for capitalism, introduced into a dictatorship of the proletariat! “Such thoughts are unthinkable” said Trotsky.]

Revising Trotsky on the class character of the state.

The only way the LRCI could characterise the Stalinist states as bourgeois in form was to revise Trotsky’s analysis of the class character of the workers’ states.

According to Trotsky:

“The class nature of the state is, consequently determined not by its political forms but by its social content; i.e. by the character of the forms of property and productive relations which the given state guards and defends”… only the intrusion of a revolutionary or a counter-revolutionary force in property relations can change the class nature of the state”…But does not history really know of cases of class conflict between the economy and the state? It does! After the “third estate” seized power, society for several years still remained feudal. In the first months of Soviet rule the proletariat reigned on the basis of a bourgeois economy. In the field of agriculture the dictatorship of the proletariat operated for a number of years on the basis of a petty-bourgeois economy (to a considerable degree it does so even now). Should a bourgeois counter-revolution succeed in the USSR, the new government for a lengthy period would have to base itself upon the nationalised economy. But what does such a type of temporary conflict between the economy and the state mean? It means a revolution or a counterrevolution. The victory of one class over another signifies that it will reconstruct the economy in the interests of the victors. But such a dichotomous conditions, which is a necessary stage in every social overturn, has nothing in common with the theory of a classless state which in the absence of any real boss is being exploited by a clerk, i.e. by the bureaucracy.” [Trotsky, Not a Workers, Not a Bourgeois State, Writings. (37-38) pps 63-64.]

Trotsky understood the workers’ states as contradictory formations in which workers property was in contradiction with bureaucratic state power. This contradiction would lead to a crisis of underproduction because while the bureaucracy used its state power to extract surplus it could not plan the development of the forces of production efficiently. The state therefore expressed this contradiction between production and distribution. It had a proletarian character so long as it protected workers property, and a bourgeois character so long it appropriated a surplus to maintain bureaucratic privilege.

Trotsky clearly saw the existence of a workers’ state as necessary:

“because the bourgeois norms of distribution still remain in force”…”This means that even the most revolutionary bureaucracy is to a certain degree a bourgeois organ in the workers state. Of course the degree of this bourgeoisification and the general tendency of development bears decisive significance. If the workers state loses its bureaucratization and gradually falls away, this means that its development marches along the road of socialism. On the contrary, if the bureaucracy becomes ever more powerful, authoritative, privileged, and conservative, this means that in the workers state, the bourgeois tendencies grow at the expense of the socialist; in other words that inner contradiction which to a certain degree is lodged in the workers state from the first days of its rise does not diminish, as the “norm” demands, but increases. However, so long as that contradiction has not passed from the sphere of distribution into the sphere of production, and has not blown up nationalised property and the planned economy, the state remains a workers state.” [Trotsky, “Not a workers, not a bourgeois state”. [Writings (37-38) p 67.]

The state therefore has a dual contradictory character. The contradiction would be resolved progressively if workers overthrew the bureaucrats state power; reactively if the bureaucracy destroyed the plan, the monopoly of foreign trade and state property. Here’s Trotsky on the dual power aspect of the dual state in 1928:

” What do we have in reality? We have a strongly advanced process of dual power in the country. Has power passed into the hands of the bourgeoisie? Obviously not. Has power slipped out of the hands of the proletariat? To a certain degree, to a considerable degree, but still far from decisively. This is what explains the monstrous predominance of the bureaucratic apparatus oscillating between the classes…A condition of dual power is unstable, by its very essence. Sooner or later, it most go one way or the other. But as the situation is now, the bourgeoisie could seize power only by the road of counterrevolutionary upheaval. As for the proletariat, it can regain full power, overhaul the bureaucracy, and put it under its control by the road of reform of the party and the soviets.” [“Our differences with the Democratic Centralists” in Challenge of the Left Opposition (1928-29), 294-5.]

Trotsky retains this view in 1936, [pps 52-56 The Revolution Betrayed]. And in 1937:

“The function of Stalin has a dual character. Stalin serves the bureaucracy and thus the world bourgeoisie; but he cannot serve the bureaucracy without defending the social foundation which the bureaucracy exploits in its own interests. To this extent does Stalin defend nationalised property from imperialist attacks and from the too impatient and avaricious layers of the bureaucracy itself. However, he carries through this defence with methods that prepare the general destruction of Soviet society.” [“Not a Workers’and Not a Bourgeois State?” Writings, 37©38, p.65.] 

And in 1940 in the Manifesto of the FI, Trotsky wrote:

“..the Soviet Union by virtue of the social foundations laid down by the October Revolution, upon which the existence of the bureaucracy itself is dependent in the last analysis, still remains a workers’ state, terrifying to the bourgeoisie of the whole world…the class conscious worker knows that a successful struggle for complete emancipation is unthinkable without the defense of the conquests already gained, however modest these may be. All the more obligatory therefore is the defense of so colossal a conquest as planned economy against the restoration of capitalist relations. Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones.” [Writings, 39-40, p.199.]

As the mechanical materialism of The Degenerated Revolution shows, the LRCI never fully adopted Trotsky’s position on the state. This was because it could not apply a dialectical method to the relationship of the state and the economy, since it falsely conceived of the contradiction in the dws’s as between the law of value and the bureaucratic state, with a second contradiction between workers property and the bureaucracy. By making the main contradiction between that of the law of value and the bureaucracy, the LRCI minimises one side of the contradiction – workers property. This means that the main contradiction is not internal to the dws. It negates the internal contradiction between workers property and bureaucratic power as it manifests itself in the dual state. In turn it fails to recognise that the class struggle mediated by the Bonapartist bureaucracy takes place over control of the state.

For Marxists the law of value and the bureaucratic state are not the two poles of the main contradiction. The main contradiction is ultimately between workers property [socialism] and the law of value [capitalism]. But inside the DWSs this is mediated by the bureaucracy, in the form of the bonapartist dictatorship, that balances between the two classes. This means that the contradiction can only be resolved by one or other class taking state power out of the hands of the bureaucracy. Either the working class takes state power and the law of value is suppressed, or the bourgeoisie takes state power and workers property [plan, monopoly of foreign trade] is suppressed:

“The organ of the rule of the proletariat – the state- becomes an organ for pressure from imperialism (diplomacy, foreign trade, ideas, and customs). The struggle for domination, considered on a historical scale, is not between the proletariat and the bureaucracy, but between the proletariat and the world bourgeoisie. The bureaucracy is only the transmitting mechanism in this struggle”. [Trotsky, “Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois state” in Writings. 37-38, p 70.]

The LRCI therefore cannot understand the dialectics of revolutionary /counterrevolutionary social overturns in which: “The victory of one class over another signifies that it will reconstruct the economy in the interests of the victors”.[“Not a Workers, Not a Bourgeois state”. Writings 37-38, p.64.] Instead it views the dynamics of both revolutionary and counterrevolutionary overturns as an objective process at the level of the economy in which the state plays a passive role in determining the class nature of society. On this point the LTT criticism of the LRCI is valid. The failure to understand the role of the state in social overturns leaves a gaping hole in the LRCI’s programme. It places a “question mark” over the USSR up to 1928 when the law of value was finally subordinated to the plan; over the post-war overturns between 1948 and 1950 when the plans came into existence in the EE workers’ states; in Cuba between 1960-62 before the introduction of the first five year plan. In each of these cases, between the workers’ seizure of power, and the subordination of the law of value, what was the class nature of the state? [see the LTT’s “The Marxist Theory of the State and the Collapse of Stalinism” In Defence of Marxism. No 3 1995 p12-13].

By 1993 the consequences of this failure became obvious to us. In response to the collapse of the DWSs, the LRCI rejected Trotsky’s analysis of the DWS, and separating property relations from the state, found that there was no part of the workers state [Red army] that defended state property. The workers state was already a bourgeois state and would need to be smashed. It therefore abandoned the most advanced workers defending the “Red house” in preference for the “most advanced” miners who came to the “White house” to join those who supported bourgeois rights of distribution becoming bourgeois relations of production. The LRCI’s tactic for political revolution fell prey to the bourgeoisies’ strategy of bourgeois democratic counter-revolution which saw bourgeois state overturns after 1990. It now denies that these overturns have occurred still entrusting the defence of state property to some objective process: a combination of worker resistance to the restoration of capitalist social relations, and the development of bourgeois democratic rights which will help facilitate political revolution, and which will hinder the completion of the restoration of the market.

In this way the LRCI adapts to Stalinophobia by making united fronts with democratic capitalist regimes in practice, while at the same time it invokes a formal “Trotskyism” in opposing the restoration of capitalist social relations in the abstract. In giving up the fight for political revolution, it relies on some fundamental economic process delaying restoration to rescue it from the charge of welcoming capitalist restoration. This political capitulation before an objective process has a name in the history of Marxism – it is economism or fatalism. In the history of Trotskyism it has another name – Pabloism. Lets see how the current position of the LRCI on the crucial question of restoration is. [‘The Restoration Debate: When is a workers’ state not a workers’ state?’]

The crunch test for Trotskyism today is the understanding of the restoration process following the collapse of the Stalinist states. It is a supreme test of Marxist method because it involves the counter-revolutionary destruction of the workers states at the hands of world capitalism. By any conception of Marxism, let alone Trotskyism, the restoration of capitalism in these states represent a world-historic defeat for the working class. [Trotsky referred to the prospect of the collapse of the Soviet Union as an “historical catastrophe”. “International Left Opposition” Documents of the Fourth International (33-40) p.26.]

The failure to recognise this and its consequences for programme is disastrous for workers everywhere.The LRCI’s inability to deal theoretically with this question is clear. It is the rewinding of the film of the “classless” state in reverse. While the `form’ of the state is bourgeois, it has no actual class `content’. “It is a bourgeois state form whose social content remains undecided”. [LTT “The Marxist Theory of the State…” p 15.] In April 1991 Lynch stated that Poland was state capitalist (IIB 34); One month later, Lynch has revised the method and declared Poland to still be a workers state, but that it would be state capitalist by the end of 1991 (IIB 36). [See also Permanent Revolution, 9, 1991. p. 84.] Two years later, when the new criteria for the end of the workers state had not been reached, and Dobbs’ alternative analysis had been sidelined, the LRCI invented the concept of the “moribund workers state”.

The LRCI’s current position [i.e. mid1995 ] on restoration, is that only in the former DDR was restoration completed, and that by means of the physical assimilation of DDR in the re-united Germany. In all the other states, despite the existence of “bourgeois regimes”, the economies have not yet seen the law of value dominant. Therefore capitalism has not been restored. Here we have two things. On the one hand the famililar separation of state and economy allows the LRCI to talk of bourgeois regimes in the absence of bourgeois social relations.The Mazowiecki government, formed in August 1989, well before “big bang”, and clearly “intending” to restore capitalism, is termed by Keith Harvey a “bourgeois workers government” according to Lenin’s definition i.e. “a government resting on the working class and its organisations but thoroughly bourgeois and pro-capitalist in its programme.” [Note 4. p.87 “Poland’s transition to Capitalism” Permanent Revolution, 9, 1991,p. 54.] On the other hand, planned social relations still exist because the law of value is not dominant, so therefore a workers state, albeit degenerated to the point of being moribund, still exists. [ibid p 59.]

The LRCI rejects the mere purging of the state being sufficient for the introduction of capitalism. Of the three features that define the workers state “it is the negation of the law of value via some system of bureaucratic planning that is decisive, the other two having a fundamentally technical character in that they are measures that allow planning”. But when is planning planning. According to the LRCI, quoting the World Bank, the situation at the end of 1990 was as follows: “The old planning system has broken down but has not yet been dismantled; meanwhile the structures vital to the functioning of the market have yet to be put in place”. [ibid (note 90, p 94)]. As Dobbs argues the LRCI position on restoration is normative. It seems that their norms are those of the World Bank and the Journal the Economist. What does “commercialisation” of relationships between banks, enterprises and the state mean? It can only mean “free market” capitalism. The LRCI position parallels that of the new right “civic” society theorists who do not accept that capitalism has been restored until the market is fully developed and as a result the conditions for democracy also created. [see Ivan Bernik “Politics and Society in Postsocialism” Journal of Communist and post-communist studies, 24, (2-3), 1994]

The absurdity of this position is clear enough. While the state is clearly smashing the plan and recreating the conditions for capitalist property, and is considered a “bourgeois regime”, it cannot be termed a bourgeois state because it has not succeeded in completely restoring capitalist social relations. This flies in the face of everything that Marx, Lenin and Trotsky wrote about the state, and Trotsky wrote about the Stalinist state. Logically, while acknowledging that the transition to capitalism will take the form of state capitalism, the LRCI’s position makes this impossible. In denying its existence as the “actually existing” capitalism in the ex-workers states, it excludes the possibility of state capitalist stage occurring. Ironically, this may prove a self-fulfilling prophesy if the “completion” of restoration in these state never achieves the abstract “free market” criteria set by the LRCI’s normative method.

“But such a counterposing of norm to fact, that is to say, of the generalised expression of the development to the particular manifestation of this same development – such a formal, ultimatistic, nondialectical counterposing of programme to reality is absolutely lifeless and does not open the road for the intervention of the revolutionary party.” [Trotsky, “Not a Workers’ not a Bourgeois State” Writings 37-38.p68.]

Again the problem goes back to method. How is the capitalist state understood? At the most abstract level, Marxists understand the capitalist state as a superstructural reproducer of capitalist social relations. But this does not mean that the social relations to be reproduced have to be in existence before the state. As we have seen, in concrete historical conditions, the state plays the revolutionary role of creating new social relations as a result of the seizure of state power. In the case of the collapsed worker states as they actually exist historically, [as the result of complex determinations], how would we expect the state to behave in the social overturn which sees capitalist social relations restored? The IS/IEC claims that our method of determining the point at which quantity becomes quality and the end of the workers state is based on exchange and not production relations.

Of course we are only talking of the beginning of the restoration of capitalism not the end of the process. As Trotsky made clear, once the bourgeoisie have state power they must reintroduce capitalism via the agency of the state which retains the form of state property but alters its content releasing the law of value. Once this is achieved by ending the monopoly of foreign trade and the reintroduction of a convertible currency, planning is over and the law of value is not longer suppressed. So it is not just money that plays the key role, but the state itself. How does the LRCI square its normative criteria lifted from Volume 1 of CAPITAL with the reality that it is the state which transforms the social relations from above? Marx abstracted the state from his analysis of capital in Vol. 1 for the purpose of exposition, the LRCI is under no such obligation today. Trotsky had an answer. In the first instance, the state would transform the content while maintaining the form of state property.

Here we deliberately refer to “concrete determinations” to contrast Marx’s method of abstraction which is used to derive an understanding of the “concrete complexity” of the mediations of the state in an historic overturn such as the collapse of the Stalinist states, in contrast to the LRCI’s normative method of proceeding directly from an abstraction “the law of value” and its operation “free labour” to the concrete. “Even under capitalism, the proposition that the value of commodities is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time required to produce them does not operate according to as set of ideal norms (free competition) but within living contradictions. What is `normal’, in fact, is that capitalism `violates’ the law of value at the particular level so as to realise it at a general level.” [LTT “The Marxist Theory of the State and the Collapse of Stalinism” In Defence of Marxism. No 3, 1995. p.14.]

Its content would be expressed as state capitalism. But the state would precede capitalism: “The inevitable collapse of Stalinist Bonapartism would immediately call into question the character of the USSR as a workers’ state. A socialist economy cannot be constructed without a socialist power. The fate of the USSR as a socialist state depends upon that political regime that will arise to replace Stalinist Bonapartism.”[Trotsky, “The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism” Writings, 34-35, p182.]

Because the property relations are “indivisibly bound up with the state” this would require first the “replacement of a workers’ government by a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois government [which] would inevitably lead to the liquidation of the planned economy and, subsequently, the restoration of private property. In contradistinction to capitalism, socialism is built not automatically but consciously. Progress towards socialism is inseparable from that state power that is desirous of socialism or that is constrained to desire it.” [Trotsky, “The Workers’ state, Thermidor and Bonapartism” Writings, 34-35, p 179.] Nor did Trotsky insist that the overthrow of the bureaucracy must be by bourgeois or petty-bourgeois. “Nobody has ever denied the possibility – especially in case of prolonged world decay – of the restoration of anew possessing class springing from the bureaucracy.” [Once Again: The USSR and its Defence”. Writings, 37-38, p 38.]

In case it may be said that this is consistent with the LRCI position, it is not: “the property relations which issued from the socialist revolution are indivisibly bound up with the new state as their repository. The predominance of socialist over petty bourgeois tendencies is guaranteed, not by the automatism of the economy – we are still far from that – but by political measures taken by the dictatorship. The character of the economy as a whole thus depends upon the character of state power… The collapse of the Soviet regime would lead inevitably to the collapse of the planned economy, and thus to the abolition of state property”. [Trotsky,The Revolution Betrayed, P 250.] The new bourgeois state would cease to plan state property, but by retaining state ownership subject it to the gradual influence of the law of value.[“Nationalised property stands or falls with the planned economy” Trotsky, Writings, 35-36, p.224.] It would have to do this by opening-up the economy to world capitalism and by introducing world money i.e. a convertible currency. At this point the law of value as it operates internationally would impact on the former workers state and begin to convert output into commodities i.e. having a socially necessary labour-time determined by the world market.

Why the crucial role of real money? As Dobbs points out, it is the only commodity capable of implementing the law of value by which all goods become revalued in terms of socially necessary labour time, whether or not they are produced capitalistically. Because the dws’s have collapsed back into the world capitalist economy and the state plays the key role of restoring capital, real money is the key agent.

“Once the cash based economy had been established no longer could it be said that any aspect of the workers state economy was left. Any remnants of planning was now swept away by the chase after the highest price. Evidence of this was not long in coming. Within months of the establishment of a cash based economy, scarcity gave way to glut. Whereas in the past we saw long queues of shoppers chasing few goods in the shops, we now saw few shoppers and shops bulging with unsold goods”.[Dobbs, “Money and the Restoration of Capitalism” p.4].

Refusal to recognise this point is a handing a win by default to the Cliffites who cannot explain the shift from crises of underproduction to crises of overproduction!

The reintroduction of real money does not mean the instant privatisation of land, property, or labour-power. Why should it? The law of value operates destructively at first, using world money to set values, and then constructively to set up increasing levels of competition. As it devalues and revalues commodities, it also creates a bourgeoisie. In a period of world capitalist structural crisis, restoration in the former workers state must ultimately move towards full privatisation, as these states sink into semi-colonial capitalist positions in the world economy. This unfettered reign of the law of value is the necessary mechanism by which capitalist production ‘in general’ is restructured to be profitable.

But this requirement is not set in concrete and it is not a necessary defining feature of restoration in any given state. There is no blueprint for the transition from DWS to state capitalism during a world capitalist periodic crisis. Clearly the state capitalist regimes that have re-emerged are crisis-ridden due to the massive devaluations necessary to create new semi-colonies amenable to the accumulation needs of imperialist powers. Even the bourgeois commentators recognise that one factor holding back rapid restoration is the social cost in disorder, and a possible re-emergence of “socialism”. [e.g. W. Wesolowski, “Postcommunist Transition to Democracy”. International Journal of Sociology, 24, (2-3) 1994.]

By the most obvious criteria, namely the actions of bourgeois states in suppressing workers property and introducing a convertible currency, in all of the East European states, and the former states of the USSR, the transition to state capitalism is complete. This was obviously the case in the former DDR too. It was the convertibility of the Ostmark, not any proportion of privatised state corporations, or labour power, that constituted the decisive, qualitative point at which “A” the DDR, was no longer “A” but “B” integrated into an existing capitalist state. For Trotsky: “Vulgar thought operates with such concepts as capitalism, morals, freedom, workers’ state etc. as fixed abstractions, presuming that capitalism is equal to capitalism, morals are equal to morals etc. Dialectical thinking analyses all things and phenomena in their continuous change, while determining in the materials conditions of those changes that critical limit beyond which `A’ ceases to be `A’, a workers’ state ceases to be a workers’ state'”. [In Defence of Marxism.. p. 65]’

In this sense, bourgeois regimes become bourgeois states, not because they merely “intend” to establish capitalist social relations, but because they actively suppress worker social relations, and actively establish bourgeois social relations. But in none of these states, except the former DDR, by the LRCI’s current definition, have degenerated workers states been replaced by state capitalism. The LRCI attempts to overcome the contradiction between actually existing state capitalism, and its abstract economist criteria of the dominance of the law of value, by inventing the transitional category, the “moribund workers state”. But what is a moribund workers state? It is the LRCI’s confused conception of state capitalism! The LRCI defines “moribund workers states” as: “degenerate workers’ states that have restorationist governments in power which are actively demolishing the foundations of the planned economy. The objective of all governments inside the MWS is clear: the complete destruction of the system of command planning and the transformation of the economy into a functioning capitalist market economy”.[Trotskyist International,16, Jan-April, 1995.p.24.] According to the LRCI’s conception of MWS it can refer to a state such a Poland where at one point the economy has collapsed by 1/3 or 1/2 of its GDP, and at another it is growing at more than 2%. This difference is accounted for empirically as a slump, brought about by the end of Comecom, combined with growth originating from a very low level of activity attributed to small-scale capital. Neither the end of planning, nor the dominance of the law of value is admitted.

Democratic Counter-Revolution / Period

The consequences of this mechanical method for the LRCI’s programme are clear enough. Despite the current phase of democratic counter-revolution, its “revolutionary period” is kept alive by the historical schema of incomplete restoration held back by the objective process of “democratic” resistance to the neo-liberal package of free market reforms. This is the idealist shadow boxing of abstract categories in which the LRCI acts as an academic counsel for the working-class-in-general, rather than as a revolutionary vanguard of workers in the flesh.

In rejecting their method the LRCI accuses us of being pessimists and defeatists. Against Dobbs and other oppositionist currents who did not adapt to bourgeois democracy, their analysis of democratic counter-revolution in the Stalinist states is viewed as fatalism. But this is empiricist logic-chopping. To understand that the “cold stroke” restoration was achieved by “democratic” means, does not exclude the possibility of political revolution. It means precisely that our programme for political revolution makes no concessions to the democratic counter-revolution. It means realistically that political revolution would only have been possible by asserting a strong leadership of the best elements in the working class [not the labour-aristocratic leaders of the miners] behind a programme of armed class independence of the bourgeoisie, restorationists, and other agents of imperialism.

Since these conditions were not realised, and the counter-revolution prevailed, we cannot credit any stage in the DCR as pre-revolutionary or revolutionary. This does not mean that we see the DCR as “inevitable” but, given the objective (collapse of the economy) and subjective conditions (the appeal of the popular front for “democracy”) we saw it as very likely. Precisely because we always hold out the hope that revolutionary intervention can change events, our programme would have been to rally the vanguard to defend the gains of October. As it was workers rallied to the call to defend their “democratic” freedoms from Stalinism, but did not use these freedoms to fight the restorationists seizure of power due to the absence of revolutionary leadership. As a result the “democratic” aspect of the CR was limited to workers struggle to abolish stalinism when the stalinists were already abolishing themselves. Because such “democracy” resulted in the overthrow of the workers states it is necessarily a counter-revolutionary democracy. Workers peacefully voted for the overthrow of the gains of 1917.

Because the DCR led to the end of the workers states, and to a world historic defeat, we are forced to acknowledge that this opens a counter-revolutionary period in which capitalism is immeasurably strengthened relative to the world  proletariat. Why is there any question that the closing of the chapter of history opened in 1917, is a world historic defeat? Trotsky understood this clearly as an “historic catastrophe”.  [“1933 Pre-conference”. p 26. Documents of the FI Pathfinder]. In what way would such an “historic catastrophe” not open a counter-revolutionary period, “democratic” or not? The material gains of October have been largely demolished. The advances of the planned economies have been smashed by bourgeois states. Workers living standards, and workers rights, have been destroyed. The ex-workers states are being forced to become capitalist semi-colonies, and compete economically if not militarily with one another. This creates new sources of surplus-value, and divides workers into competing capitalist states. World capitalism can now claim an ideological victory over “communism” and further weaken the ideological basis for socialism in the working classes. The petty bourgeois left is reeling in retreat from “post-communism” and falling back into a defence of “market socialism”.

But this does not mean that in a counter-revolutionary period all is lost. It does not mean that the world working class has been historically, or strategically, defeated as a class. The destruction of the DWSs represents a huge victory for international capitalism, but it cannot solve its fundamental economic crisis. The collapse of the workers states is part of the world wide offensive of capitalism against workers and peasants to destroy more value and so restore the conditions for profits. In that sense, the collapse of Stalinism is part of the world crisis which cannot avoid further “stagnation and decay” and which can only be overcome by all out “class war” on workers in order to smash their resistance to further destruction of jobs and living standards.

The LRCI draws a straight line from this necessary ongoing “class war” to “revolution”, and claims that we are in a revolutionary period. But to claim this we have to have real revolutions, not imaginary ones. The LRCI claims that its programme is one which leads this revolution? Where? In the ex-workers states, the LRCI fights with a programme to defend and smash the moribund workers states. It demands: defend state property, but smash the state! In the single most important struggle to defend the workers states it imagines still exist, the LRCI offers only confusion, disorientation, demoralisation. Elsewhere, as we shall see, the LRCI abandons the class line to fight alongside bourgeois restorationists, and imperialist agents, for …. “democracy”! Against the LRCI’s charge that those who say we are in a counter-revolutionary period have no programme, and are passive and fatalistic, we say it is your programme that is passive and fatalistic, in a word – bankrupt.

Let us quote Trotsky on the question of tailing “democratic” imperialism:

“As regards the petty bourgeois democrats – conservative and cowardly – they in general cannot imagine any possible role that of toadying to the liberal bourgeoisie or the reaction. This is why to them it is absolutely indisputable that anyone who does not go with them tailing imperialist democracy is ipso facto an accomplice of fascism. In other words they start from the total denial of the possibility of an independent proletarian politics – in this lies the entire secret. The rejection of independent proletarian politics is now pressing upon the petty bourgeoisie with particular force as result of the degeneration of the Soviet Union, the defeat of workers in Italy, Germany and Austria, Spain, Czechoslovakia, and so on ..and in view of the fact that the working class of the world has been thrown backward into a totally defensive position. But precisely in such a period, the revolutionary vanguard has the duty with special vigor and implacability to uphold the independent historical truth of the proletarian vanguard. Here opens the unbridgeable gulf between Marxists and the conservative petty-bourgeois democrats who once a week recall that they are socialists. [Trotsky, Supplement. 1934-40, p. 868.]

Objectivist vs dialectic Method.

Objectivism has a class content. It is not that of the working class which is engaged in class struggle constantly. Objectivism is bred in petty bourgeois intellectuals who do not immerse themselves in working class struggle. It is the product of an intelligentsia whose own interests depend upon their role in reconciling working class and capitalist class interests in capitalist society. They can therefore combine a theoretical or abstract anti-capitalism, with the promotion of democratic reforms as the means of opposing capitalism. This is why objectivism is a petty bourgeois disease inside the working class. This is why Trotsky was so insistent that intellectuals in the revolutionary movement be put on “probation for six to twelve months” so that they become “proletarianised”. [See In Defence of Marxism, p.140.] Ironically, having accused WPNZ/A comrades of “objectivism” for some years, it is the LRCI’s position that reflects this method. What do we find in common in the response to the collapse of Stalinism, in the restoration process, and indeed to the world crisis of capitalism expressed in the present “Revolutionary Period”? In one word- objectivism – the belief that theoretically abstract categories which are unmediated by class struggle, are automatically responsible for historic changes.

The LRCI claims that it is not objectivist because the process of restoration is “mediated by class struggle”.[IEC resolution on the Proletarian Faction, Para. 8] Yes, but what is the class struggle over in a Moribund Workers’ State, workers’ property, or capitalist property? It makes a difference to how the struggle is conducted. While there may be considerable common ground in fighting for workers control of industry etc. how is this to be won if not by the struggle for state power. What is the class character of the state? Workers or capitalist? Where the state has a bourgeois form, but a “classless ” content, what is the content of class struggle? The classic position in the history of Marxism is that of Plekhanov – the fatalism of evolutionary Marxism, later to become the doctrine of Menshevism and Stalinism. In essence, this is the belief that objective processes, including class consciousness, and class struggle, have a predetermined course, and are not subject to the intervention of the revolutionary vanguard.

Objectivism involves a rejection of Marxist dialectics.We base our understanding of dialectics on Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. Of Trotsky’s comments those in Defence of Marxism, and “Philosophical Tendencies of Bureaucratism”, Challenge of the Left Opposition.1928-29 are most useful. Dialectics requires us to understand the way reality is transformed as the result of contradictions. But these contradictions are not`evolutionary’ – outside subjective intervention. On the contrary knowledge allows us not merely to interpret reality, but to actively remake it.

Trotsky says:

“The life and death task of the proletariat now consists not in interpreting the world anew but in remaking it from top to bottom” [In Defence of Marxism. p97.] Further: “The revolutionary party is the essence of the fusion of theory and practice which makes revolutionary politics possible. ..theory – genuine theory or theory on a large scale- does not at all take shape in direct connection with the practical tasks of the day. Rather it is the consolidation and generalisation of all human practical activity and experience, embracing different historical periods in their materially determined sequence. It is only because theory is not inseparably linked with the practical tasks contemporary to it, but rises above them, that it has the gift of seeing ahead,l that is, is able to prepare to link itself with future practical activity and to train people who will be equal to the future practical tasks….Tactics are the practical application of theory to the specific conditions of class struggle. The link between theory and current practice is made through tactics. Theory, despite what Stalin says, does not take shape in inseparable connection with current practice. Not at all. It rises above it and only because of that has the capacity to direct tactics by indicating, in addition to the present tasks, points of orientation in the past and perspectives for the future. The complex line of tactics in the present – Marxist tactics, that is; not tail-endist ones – is determined not by a single point [in the present] but by a multiplicity of points in both past and future.” [Trotsky, Challenge of the Left Opposition. (1928-29).405-407.]

But if that knowledge is not based upon active intervention in the class struggle, then it becomes dried up [not succulent!], dogmatic and incapable of informing a revolutionary programme. “The fundamental flaw of vulgar thought lies in the fact that it wishes to content itself with motionless imprints of a reality which consists of eternal motion. Dialectical thinking gives concepts, by means of closer approximations, corrections, concretisation, a richness of content and flexibility; I would even say a succulence which to a certain extent brings them close to living phenomena.” [In Defence of Marxism. p 65.]

Programmatic Disorientation

Dried-up, dogmatic programme! Wrong diagnosis, wrong prognosis! The LRCI’s diagnosis on restoration is wrong and therefore its prognosis is wrong and its programme is disoriented. Its programme is also revisionist because it adapts to bourgeois democracy in the workers states; makes united fronts with restorationists and speeds up the process of social overturns; fails to recognise the overturns; and puts forward action programmes under state capitalism which call for political revolution.

Against this bankrupt programme revolutionaries counterpose a transitional programme of demands with the aim of stopping further privatisations by smashing the capitalist state. The state capitalist regimes are capitalist states, not “bourgeois regimes”. While the restoration process is incomplete, the content of state property is capitalist. Therefore we are for expropriating “state capitalist property” as well as private property under workers control. We are for reforging workers councils [soviets] as the basis of building independent working class organisations for the struggle for power. We also enter united fronts with workers in every arena of class struggle. We fight the capitalist reaction by defending bourgeois democratic rights, opposing pogroms and wars and call on workers of all states to unite and turn the weapons on their ruling classes. Our aim is to fight for a socialist republic as part of a larger federation of socialist states – a “socialist united states of Europe”!

The LRCI is also wrong to talk about a “revolutionary period” since 1989 in the face of a world-wide democratic counter-revolution. This DCR in many of the collapsed DWS and state capitalist states takes the form of reactionary nationalist wars and pogroms, inspired by imperialist states to facilitate the re-partition of the ex-Stalinist states as new capitalist semi-colonies. Where there is a clear national oppression of one state by another we are bound to call for independent socialist republics. Where imperialism is backing states and/or those states also engage in national oppression we do not support national independence. Instead we fight for the international unity of all workers in all states to arm themselves and turn their guns on their bourgeois politicians and defend workers property, or expropriate capitalist property, by a seizure of state power.

The case of Bosnia.

In the case of Bosnia we reject the LRCI line in defense of Bosnia as it is now in a bloc with Croatia and backed by the US and Germany. Bosnia is now clearly engaged in the oppression of other nationalities. We support the original defeatist line on Bosnia and for a workers revolution and the transformation of the inter-communal war into a war against bureaucracies, restorationists and all imperialist states. Instead of killing each other with the aim of creating ethnic semi-colonial capitalist micro-states the workers from all communities should unite and overthrow their rulers and create a socialist federation. Instead of calling more international volunteers to support Izetbegovic, we should be for the expulsion of all the Islamic and Croat chauvinists “volunteers”, as well as other nationalists, and communalist militia. We should be for workers in other countries to volunteer fighters and arms to build anti-imperialist multi-ethnic councils and militias that should expel all the great powers from the region. We support the analysis of Cde. Johnson in “From a Revolutionary Line to Eclectic Line” in IIB 84. We don’t agree with the IS Resolution on ‘The Croatian Seizure of Krajina’ of 8th August 1995, since it fails to recognise Imperialist/Bosnian involvement in the seizure and draw the necessary conclusion – a return to a defeatist position.

Once more we think that the LRCI is putting the tactic of the right of self-determination before strategy of political revolution. The whole thrust of the collapse of stalinism under the combined pressure of imperialism and the crisis of the plan, makes nationalism reactionary in all but extreme cases. In which Eastern European country are capitalist restorationist regimes promoting good relations between ethnic groups? Social counter-revolution produces inevitably ethnic chauvinism. The introduction of free market and capitalist laws means that capitalism’s main enemies are collectivism and working class consciousness, solidarity and internationalism. Individualism and the right to own private property is linked with the right to (re-)create ones own ethnic identity and statelet. Imperialism needs to destroy Comecon and the planned economy. World capitalism pressures companies, regions and republics to be profitable. The companies that in the past were under a common plan must now compete to destroy each other. The same competitive destruction is expressed at national/communal levels.

All nationalist/communalist bourgeois movements try to distract the working class. Instead of fighting against its class enemies (imperialism and capitalism), the workers are split according to national/communal lines. With this the proletariat is divided and workers support is won for national-capitalist interests. The Yugoslav wars were inter-communal wars in which the roots of it were the imperialist and capitalist penetration. Every side is trying to create a communalist bourgeois state ruled by a new class. The arm dealers and imperialist powers increase these rivalries as part of a game around who could have more power in the international arena.

The LRCI had a correct position at the beginning of the war. We were in favour of defending Sarajevo, Tuzla and any multi-ethnic community against the Serbs but without supporting the Bosnian government. We were in favour of defending every community against Muslim, Croat or Serb militia attack. We were for the transformation of the ethnic war into a civil war against bureaucracy and imperialism. We should return to that line. Under imperialist and reformist pressure the LRCI changed and adapted to “democratic” imperialism.

The Leagues’ retreat into centrism.

The structural crisis of the last 20 years has seen the balance of class forces shift in favour of capitalism. Most of the left has retreated from the defeat of “socialism” into some openly bourgeois fall-back position of market socialism. There is the associated fatalism of writing off the Bolshevik revolution as doomed from the start, or at least premature if not adventurist. This amounts to a writing off of revolutionary optimism and the role of the working class as revolutionary agent. For those like the LRCI who formally reject defeatism, it is extremely difficult to resist the rightward pressures of public opinion on the official labour movement. As we have said if the LRCI failed to understand the significance of class composition on the collapse of the FI during and after the war, it cannot be expected to recognise the class basis of the same pressures exerted on it today. ” More precisely we say the crisis is the result of the pressure of bourgeois-democratic public opinion upon a section of the party leadership. That is our class analysis of the unrestrained struggle between the proletarian and petty-bourgeois tendencies in our party”. [p 2 Cannon, The Struggle for a Proletarian Party.]

The temptation is to move to the right to keep pace with the retreating working class, or at least the centrist political groups in practice, meanwhile placing ones revolutionary hopes in inevitability of revolution. A separation between abstract revolutionary theory and increasingly centrist political practice has taken place within the LRCI. To some extent this is inevitable, because the League is cut off from active participation in the class struggle and as such it is left writing literary commentaries on struggles all around the world, increasingly supporting bourgeois democracy rather than independent working class struggles as the way forward.

Its remoteness from the class struggle is a reflection of the League’s structure and class composition. It is dominated by the British Workers Power group, about 50 strong. It has declined in numbers from about 100 around the miners strike in the mid-80’s and now has few industrial workers. Composed mainly of teachers other professionals and students its experience of class struggle is largely limited to the fightbacks in the public sector.

The IS rejects our claim that the LRCI is isolated from the class struggle. It points with pride to the anti-fascist work as evidence that the LRCI is not petty-bourgeois. But anti-fascist work may also be evidence of isolation from the working class, as in the case of the old R.C.P.: “It is interesting that the last public activity of the R.C.P. should have bee a drive against Nazism, admittedly more alarming straight after the Second World War than it has appeared since, for when more meaningful activity is beyond the reach of Trotskyist organisations today they tend to concentrate on this work if they lack support in the broad movement. In the case of the R.C.P. leaders, it was a full turn of the circle, for some of their first work on the fringes of the Labour movement in 1938 had been of this nature. It also admitted that they were back were they started”. [Bornstein and Richardson, War and the International. p 201.]This pattern is repeated in the other sections [except for Brazil] who are all predominantly students, middle-class or well paid workers. This in itself is not a necessary recipe for centrism, but unless corrected by an orientation towards the industrial working class, it will lead to more and more adaptation to petty bourgeois prejudices and positions.

Trotsky on the need to proletarianise the petty-bourgeois in the party! :

“The party has only a minority of genuine factory workers. This is an inevitable beginning for every revolutionary workers’ party everywhere, and especially in the US. The non-proletarian elements represent the necessary yeast, and I believe that we can be proud of the good quality of these elements. But the danger is that we can receive in the next period too much “yeast” for the needs of the party…Our party can be inundated by non-proletarian elements and can even lose its revolutionary character. The task is naturally not to prevent the influx of intellectuals by artificial methods…but to orient in practice the whole organisation toward the factories, the strikes, the unions…The orientation of the whole party toward factory work is intimately connected with the question of the organisational structure of the party. I don’t believe that in view of the very small number of our members and the very short experience in mass work, we could establish emphatic rules for the party organisation now…Our local organisation can choose for its activity in the next period one, two, or three factories in its area and concentrate all its forces upon these factories…The unbreakable conditions should be: not to command the workers but only to help them, to give them suggestions, to arm them with the facts, factory papers, special leaflets, and so on. Such collaboration would have a tremendous educational importance from one side for the worker comrades, from the other side for the nonworkers who need a solid reduction…I believe that such an orientation would also assure a more healthy atmosphere inside the party…Only one general rule can we establish immediately: a party member who doesn’t win during three to six months a new worker for the party is not a good party member. If we seriously practised such a general orientation and if we verified the practical results every week, we would avoid a great danger: namely, that the intellectuals and white-collar workers might suppress the worker minority, condemn it to silence, transform the party into a very intelligent discussion club but absolutely no habitable for workers.” [“The Social Composition of the Party” [Writings 36ª37488©491.]

“If the movement toward us is rapid, especially from the Stalinists, we must have a period of probation of six to twelve months; for the workers no probation, but for the intellectuals, at least six to twelve months…They are the ones to be educated by our worker members…If we are to have a workers’ party we are to make the intellectuals feel that it is a great honour to be accepted by our party and that they will be accepted only if they are approved by the workers. Then they will understand that it is not an intellectual petty-bourgeois party but a workers’ movement, which for time to time can use them for its purpose. Otherwise we can be invaded by intellectuals, and if discussions begin with intellectuals coming from the Stalinists, then the workers will avoid the party.” [Discussions with Trotsky: 11.Writings 37©38 p 297.]

The problem is that the LRCI does not recognise the problem. This is rooted in the inability to understand the material basis of the collapse of the FI and a failure of dialectics.This failure also means the LRCI doesn’t understand the class basis of the difference with the Proletarian Faction. Trotsky had this to say about the opposition inside the SWP: “To certain intellectuals, anxious to indict `bureaucratic conservatism’ and to display their `dynamic spirit’, it might seem that questions concerning the dialectic, Marxism, the nature of the state, centralism are raised `artificially’ and that the discussion has taken a `false’ direction. The nub of the matter however consists in this, that discussion has its own objective logic which does not coincide at all with the subjective logic of individuals and groupings. The dialectic character of the discussion proceeds from the fact that its objective course is determined by the living conflict of opposing tendencies and not by a preconceived logical plan. The materialist basis of the discussion consists in its reflecting the pressure of different classes. Thus the present discussion in the SWP, like the historic process as a whole, develops – with or without your permission, comrade Burnham – according to the laws of dialectic materialism. There is not escape from these laws.”[ In Defence of Marxism p 102-103.]

Despite opposition inside the League in the period since 1989, it had compounded its errors by prematurely “homogenising” its method and driving out opposition. This meant that attempts to correct the League’s method were fruitless. Each mistake saw the League digging a deeper hole for its politics. Dobbs attempt to correct the wrong analysis of restoration saw his alternative analysis rejected on the grounds that it was limited to the level of exchange. Dobbs analysis of the “World Economy” never got the support needed to get published. Nor was his letter of resignation published in an IIB. Johnson’s longstanding critiques of the LRCI were often acknowledged by leading members as correcting the League’s line, while at the same time his “method” was characterised as “sectarian” by other leading members. [See the documents written by Johnson “One Year On” and “Points that was not answered…” ].

WPNZ/A’s criticisms, which over several years have led to the formation of the Proletarian Faction, have met with the standard response – “spartacist/sectarian”. Despite the attempts at opposition, theory and practice has degenerated into an “homogenised” i.e. dogmatic, dried-up, formally revolutionary theory, and a sterile, bankrupt, reformist practice.

Democratic Centralism.

The IS/IEC claims, because we reject the LRCI’s conception of Democratic Centralism, that we have abandoned democratic centralism altogether. It is true we have a different conception of democent from the LRCI. The League caricatures our position as one of rejecting democent in the early stages of party building because there are not enough workers. They say that we will have to wait to implant proletarian sections in every country before attempting to build an international tendency. Not at all. We start with the materialist understanding of what caused the FI to collapse and deliberately try to learn from those lessons. Whatever our size, we insist on the necessity to orient to the workers in order to compensate for the dangers of petty-bourgeois composition and of national narrowness [chauvinism]. The CLNZ came up against this problem in relation to the British RCP in the 1980’s.  Now we come up against it again in the LRCI.

Our experience is that small, isolated, petty-bourgeois dominated tendencies, geographically located in a major imperialist power, have yet to find a way to overcome these problems. They will not rise above national narrowness until they recognise that the “solution” is part of the problem. The LRCI instead of recognising the need to fight to overcome these dangers, makes a virtue of necessity. Of necessity revolutionaries have to start with “Fighting Propaganda Group’s” that are small, overwhelmingly petty bourgeois in composition, and which do not represent the major forces of struggle around the world. This was the situation faced by the FI in the early 1930’s. But this does not mean that we make a virtue of the propaganda stage of party building, minimising or even fetishising the fact of our narrow petty bourgeois composition and national narrowness.

A symptom of fetishising the early stage of party building, is the tactic of splits and fusions among the fragments of Trotskyist centrism with the aim of “rebuilding”, “reforging” etc the FI. We reject this tactic as the main orientation of any FPG because the FI is dead and cannot be revived. Such a project wears the history of the postwar FI as a stinking corpse around its neck. None of these fragments seeking to breath life into the corpse have survived the current crisis of Trotskyism. This is what we would expect. None of the trotskyist left currents was theoretically armed to cope with the crisis of “trotskyist centrism” posed by the world crisis of capitalism and the collapse of the Stalinist states. The permanent crisis of leadership was already acute by the 1940’s. In the 1990’s there is as yet no recognisable embryo of a revolutionary vanguard. To solve the crisis of revolutionary leadership we must turn our backs on the bankrupt method, theory and practice of post-war fake trotskyism.

Deja vu

The arguments above have shown that the question of the collapse of the 4I, and our fear of the LRCI repeating the same degenerative process, were justfied in 1990. It raises the question as to whether any attempt to build a new international based upon democent can work when an organisation is so small, based mainly in Europe, with few sections mainly of a petty bourgeois composition, and none of them engaged in any systematic direct work in the class struggle. Can democent work when the life of the League is mainly literary uninformed by direct links to the crucial areas of class struggle except in some isolated instances? How in this situation can the League insist that its programme is correct on Stalinism and restoration, [though it admits it is incomplete] in its debates with “centrist” groups? Surely what this amounts to is the building of a new international with a very high entry qualification. Does this not dispose the whole organisation to bureaucratic centralism? Is this the approach of Lenin and the Bolsheviks to building the Revolutionary Communist International? Was it the approach of Trotsky in building the IBO and the 4I?

We don’t think so. The way ahead for small revolutionary splinters is not to set down a new version of the Transitional Programme and expect everyone to agree. This is to beg a number of more fundamental questions about marxism, dialectical materialism, and the living links between theory and practice which need to be tested out in struggle. This is neither a recipe for passivity, nor for a retreat into the libraries as the LRCI claims. On the contrary, by facing reality squarely and calling things by their right name we can approach the task of rebuilding the revolutionary tradition all the more seriously. The crisis of stalinism and the breakup of the rotten centrist tendencies will create small left-moving splinters. It is necessary to develop a method of bringing these groups together as the embryo of a new revolutionary, Fifth, international.

We are opposed to all reasons for orienting towards the fragments of the FI, under the guise of “rebuilding” the FI, as a form of political necrophilia. It is necessary to get away from the entire rotten tradition of degenerate Trotskyism after WW2. But this does not mean that we rule out principled fusions based on theory and practice. Regroupment must flow from a reforging of Marxist method and theory tested in practice. Our main orientation must be to the working class in struggle, to youth, and other oppressed groups. Left-moving centrist splinters who get involved directly in class struggle can be won to a revolutionary programme. But only if our main orientation is to such struggles in the first place. In this way theory and practice are united even at the earliest stages of party building. This is the method on which regroupment can take place on a democratic centralist basis on a number of levels of joint work, leading ultimately to fusion, but only on the basis of a high level of programmatic agreement tested out in revolutionary praxis.

Trotsky set out some guidelines for the International Communist League to build a new party and new international in 1934;

” In this, we must take as our starting point the fact that the only way to convince broad masses of the correctness of our ideas is in action. This is the central point of our new orientation. There are no organisational measures that can get around this step and make it superfluous…Alongside independent propaganda and active work all means must be employed – always in keeping with the concrete situation – to link up with the masses, push them forward, and consolidate new revolutionary cadres from their ranks. Above all this includes:

a. Systematic fraction work in the trades unions…
b. Systematic fraction work in all workers parties and organisations…
c. Very special attention to promoting work among the youth in existing youth organisations as well as by building and broadening new youth organisations.
d. Forming alliances and blocs with organisations striving for a new communist party and International. These must be based on a clear principled basis and concrete formulation of goals.
e. Fusion with such organisations on the basis of a clear communist programme.
f. Under very exceptional circumstances, the entry of an entire section into a centrist organisation…

A correct understanding of the newly created situation and a carrying out of the measures noted above, combined with the revitalisation of the revolutionary forces in numerous countries, will make possible significant progress on the road to the Fourth International as well as effective preparation for the decisive confrontation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.” [“Tasks of the ICL” July 21 1934. Writings: Supplement 34-40 p 511-512.]

Proletarian Faction WPNZA July 1995.

Written by raved

January 12, 2015 at 5:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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