J.R. Johnson

State and Counter-Revolution

(August 1940)

Source: The New International, Vol. VI, No.  7 (Whole No. 46), August 1940 pp. 137–140.
Transcribed: by Damon Maxwell.
Proofread: by Einde O’Callaghan (July 2013).

What’s In A Name?

THERE are some who doubt the revolutionary potentiality of the workers and the validity of the struggle for a socialist society. The bourgeoisie at any rate does not. It fights a continuous war not only against the workers’ organizations, industrial and political, but specifically against the idea of socialism and the permanent revolution. In less critical times the bourgeois theorist demonstrated with learning and logic the impossibility of socialism, the politician harangued against it. But soon, the politician, who had to look into the hostile eyes of the workers, quickly learned to call himself a socialist, or adopted “socialist” measures.

The Social Democracy was born in sin, the shame-ridden offspring of democracy and a prostituted socialism. That was nearly a hundred years ago. A generation later this misbegotten bastard rose in the world: Sir William Harcourt, the English politician announced that “We are all socialists now.” In France, one wing of the bourgeoisie called itself the Radical-Socialist Party. With the decay of bourgeois Europe and the rise of the Communist International the Social Democracy could no longer be trusted with the defense of the capitalist system among the workers under the guise of working for socialism. The German counter-revolution, facing the German millions organized under the socialist banner, took the ultimate step and draped itself in the very garments of the enemy: Hitler called his party, the National Socialist Party. In Austria, where, next to Germany, the working class movement was stronger than anywhere else in Europe, Dolfuss followed suit with his Christian Socialist Party. As bourgeois society continues to deteriorate, the bourgeoisie more and more sees world revolution and socialism as its mortal and imminent enemy. Therefore, while the FBI and the vigilante groups are stimulated and encouraged to round up the revolutionaries, the bourgeoisie wages a comprehensive and variegated but systematic warfare on the idea of socialism. The liberal defenders of capitalism do not attempt nowadays to defend the system as such. From Shanghai to Gibraltar it stinks. Instead they seek to disrupt and confuse the working class and the petty-bourgeoisie as to the nature of the alternative to capitalism.

In 1936 the Blum Popular Front government under the threat of the workers in the factories accepted the forty-hour week and holidays with pay. Major Attlee, leader of the British socialists, wrote a purring article in the British Daily Herald, in which he described the achievements of the French workers as socialism. Socialism gives the forty-hour week. Socialism gives holidays with pay. Socialism gives this, socialism gives that. Having confused the workers as to the method by which bourgeois society is to be superseded, these defenders of bourgeois society are driven to blur the boundaries between capitalism and socialism. Today bourgeois society is in far more serious difficulties than it was in 1936. Hence on all fronts the bourgeoisie diligently sows more contusion than ever. Robert Ley, Hitler’s labor leader, calls upon the workers of the world to unite to destroy the British plutocracy. We hope that some day not too far off the German workers will call this political pimp specially to account for this exceptional impertinence. These people at any rate know the force of our ideas better than some of us know it ourselves. After the Republican convention in Philadelphia, Dorothy Thompson wrote a gloomy article on the urgent necessity for a “co-operative commonwealth” in America, to be achieved, however, under the banner not of Karl Marx but of Wendell Willkie. One month later, on July 21, speaking on the radio in Montreal, she went a step further and embraced world socialism. “The plutocratic England you (Hitler) attack is today a socialist state created without class war, created out of love and led by ... a man who cares ... only for Britain and for the coining world that a free and socialist British society will surely help to build if ever it is built.” She does not yet believe in the inevitability of socialism, but she is travelling fast. Pause to observe this curious spectacle – Dorothy Thompson accusing Hitler of not being as good a socialist as she and Winston Churchill. It is burlesque, but burlesque that reflects faithfully the pressure that the bourgeoisie is feeling from the weakness of bourgeois society and the obvious alternative-socialism. When Attlee spoke in favour of the bill giving all power to the government this expert in confusing the workers was outdone by Peter Howard, the British journalist, who confessed that both he and Attlee were astonished at seeing socialism in our time. “I am bound to record that no-one could have looked more surprised than Mr. Attlee when he found himself forced to stand up in the House of Commons and create a Socialist State.” This in the most widely read Sunday paper in Britain, Beaverbrook’s Sunday Express. It is not a new trick. Roosevelt has been consistently painted by his more vulgar enemies as a Red. But the British Empire as socialism. Here is something new, and it did not fall from the sky.

The Hitlerite World Revolution

The attack is carried on from all angles. Otto Tolischus in his dispatches from Europe always represents the Nazi system as a paternal “socialism,” though he has the grace always to put the word in quotes. Hitler has “got something.” The bourgeois theorists insist on this, which is, among other things, one way of hitting back-handed blows at the proletarian revolution. Hitler smashes the workers at home and destroys rival imperialisms abroad. In other words, he accomplishes the needs of finance-capital better than the old-line politicians. Naturally, the big bourgeoisie everywhere, despite its differences with Hitler, approves of the method. Therefore, the bourgeois writers of all countries not yet fascist hammer at the workers and the small bourgeoisie. Submit yourselves. Stop all this talk about labor’s rights and democracy. Let us discipline ourselves. See what the Germans have achieved. That is the real revolution of our day. But there is a catch to this. The workers oppose Hitler precisely because he destroys the rights of labor. The American bourgeoisie, in its eagerness, over-reached itself and had to retreat. Roosevelt denounced those people who think that Hitler “has something.”

The Times of June 16, warned against too much praise of Hitler. “One important factor in a successful democratic defense against Hitler is not to endow him with supernatural attributes. We should be careful about using adjectives like ‘demonic’ ... they are words that should be avoided in the interests of anti-Hitler morale.” That is to say, we must bear in mind the prejudices of the workers: We cannot praise Hitler and at the same time defend American imperialism under the slogan of anti-Hitlerism. On June 6 the Times ridiculed the idea that Mussolini and Hitler had discovered any new form of economy. “Mussolini’s planned economy ... is not economics but military preparedness.” And of Hitler’s “planned economy”; “It made an impression even in this country where Hitler’s solution of the unemployment problem seemed one more proof that the planned economies knew how to do things tor which our own unplanned democracies seemed unable to find the answer.

“In the last year, and particularly in the last two months, we know definitely how much was economy in Hitler’s planning and how much was guns and planes and tanks and bombs.” Very good. But that was only a warning not to go too fast. The propaganda goes on and the events in Europe fortify the general line of the bourgeoisie about all that America, capital and labour alike, has to learn from Hitler. Thus Robert LaFollette in the Post of July 20: “The cruel fact has been driven home to a shocked world that a nation with a dynamic, expanding economy can smash a nation or a combination of nations in which manpower, capital, human and natural resources are not at work producing real wealth.” The implication is that the “dynamic expanding” economy of Germany is producing “real wealth.” Some of these people are merely stupid, others are frightened. But so bankrupt is capitalism that many petty-bourgeois and workers also are looking at fascism and wondering if Hitler has not got some solution after all. Far and wide, the press adds to their bewilderment by calling Nazism a “world revolution.” How they roll the words on their tongues! The American bourgeoisie will fight Hitler but if there is going to be a revolution it very much prefers Hitler’s to the Leninist type. The whole procedure is to push into the background, to ignore, to distort Marxian socialism and the Leninist world revolution. For that is the main enemy. Watch the analyses and symposiums of even the most radical intellectual circles whose function is to paint bourgeois ideas a bright pink. With unction and objectivity they discuss capitalist intervention, capitalist non-intervention, capitalist isolationism, “short of war,” and finally “pure pacifism.” Don’t they know Lenin’s “Turn Imperialist War into Civil War?” Of course they do, but that kind of “pacifism” is too impure even to talk about. There is a general conspiracy to pretend that it does not exist. When they do mention the revolt of the masses, they say “Bolshevism” and always add immediately “chaos.” The Stalinists of course, have added skyscrapers to the contusion by insisting that the Stalinist tyranny is socialism, and by linking themselves with Hitler. And, as always, even some intellectuals, using (God forgive us) the name of Marx, hear the chatter in the forum, prick up their ears, rush to their typewriters, and add their little piece of “theory” to the confusion.

We have to observe that the bourgeoisie fears socialism and the proletarian world revolution with a mortal fear. It is not at all lulled by the apparent passivity of the masses and strives to disorient and confuse their thoughts. This lays upon us the duty ruthlessly to combat and expose all distortions of our doctrine. Capitalism, fascism, socialism, communism. These words have very definite and precise meanings. The more the bourgeoisie and its rag, tag, and bobtail of babblers seek to create confusion, the more assiduously we must clarify. For this confusion, in the last analysis, serves one transparent purpose – the defense of bourgeois society. We must observe phenomena. There is no substitute for study. The Cannonite method of shouting slogans, formulae and abuse as a method of theoretical controversy reaps ultimately its own reward, an arid and self-destroying sterility. But the basic structure and movement of capitalist society in our period were laid bare nearly a generation ago. Only jitteriness, drawing sustenance from conceit and its twin brother ignorance, prepares a brand-new theory for every brand-new event.

The State and Revolution

During the years 1914–1916, Lenin, as the basis of his attack on bourgeois society, analysed the nature of imperialism. At the same time he prepared his notes for an analysis of the state. His preface to the first edition of The State and Revolution, August 1917, begins as follows: “The question of the state is acquiring at present a particular importance, both as theory, and from the point of view of practical politics. The imperialist war has greatly accelerated and intensified the transformation of monopoly capitalism into state-monopoly capitalism. The monstrous oppression of the laboring masses by the state – which connects itself more and more intimately with the all-powerful capitalist combines – is becoming ever more monstrous. The foremost combines are being converted – we speak here of their ‘rear’ – into military convict labor prisons for the workers.” In fascism we see the culmination of that process – nothing more. How sad that those who wish to teach us something new do not take the elementary precaution of learning what is old.

Lenin approached the question by an analysis of existing theoretical writings on the state. But during the revolution this question of the state had, as he said, an urgent practical importance. It is this aspect that we propose to treat first, as being less familiar than his study The State and Revolution. As early as May, 1917, Russian capitalist economy was heading for disaster. The question was how to arrest this headlong rush to chaos. The remedy was no mystery. Even the Mensheviks could see it. The Menshevik Executive Committee in Izvestia, No. 63 (May 24), published two articles, one dealing with a resolution of the Executive Committee of the Soviet.

“Many branches of industry have reached the point where they are ripe for a state trade monopoly; ... others are ready to be organized by the state, ... and finally, nearly all branches are in need ... of state supervision in the matter of distributing raw materials and finished products, as well as in the matter of fixing prices ... Simultaneously with the above, it is necessary to put under state and public control all credit institutions with the view of preventing speculation in goods subject to state regulation ...; compulsory labor should be instituted if necessary ... The country is already in a state of catastrophe, and the only thing that will save it is the creative effort of the entire people under the guidance of the government.”

This was in 1917, over twenty years ago.

Lenin in Pravda quoted this passage and then asked the Mensheviks: “Here we have control, state regulated trusts, a struggle against speculation, labor conscription-for Mercy’s sake! in what sense does it differ from ‘terrible’ Bolshevism?” That was exactly the Bolshevik program. The only question was: who will bell the cat? The Russian capitalists themselves saw the necessity of complete state-control as the only way out of chaos. But they stormed and raged at the Soviet, for they didn’t want any labor organizations to carry out such a program. The Social-Democrats saw the necessity. But they were, as always, afraid. The Bolsheviks saw the necessity, and burned with eagerness to carry it out, with the help of the masses. When the capitalist class, in the throes of crisis, smashes the working class and carries out such a program in its own interest, you have Fascism. When the revolutionary party carries out such a program it leads inevitably to socialism. For a revolutionary party carries out all such measures in the interests of the toiling masses. The capitalists immediately sabotage and compel the revolutionary state to pass from workers’ control to expropriation. Lenin, greatest of revolutionaries, seemed to have had illusions as to the possibility of disciplining the capitalists with-in the framework of the capitalist system. Conscious of the unripeness of Russia for socialism, he did not want to go too far and too fast. Even between February and October he often used the phrase, “The revolutionary democracy.” But years before Trotsky had stated:

“You cannot stop. Once you begin you have to go right through to the end. This will be no question of revolutionary democracy or democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. It will be the dictatorship of the proletariat or the capitalist dictatorship.”

The Mensheviks Demand Statification

On May 29 and 30 Lenin returned to this subject which soon assumed an enormous importance. He points out that the Menshevik minister Skobelev had declared the state economy to be on the brink of a precipice. Skobelev said that the government must intervene “in the various domains of the economic life of the country.” In typical Menshevik fashion, Skobelev used terrible words. “If capital wishes to preserve the bourgeois method of doing business, then let it work without interest, so as not to lose clients ... We must introduce obligatory labor duty for the shareholders, bankers and factory owners ... We must force the gentle-men shareholders to submit to the state ...” Yet this Menshevik would have derided the idea that he was introducing socialism in Russia. This was his method of saving capitalism. He said so. “If capital wishes to preserve the bourgeois method of doing business ...”

Lenin points out, and this is very important, that Skobelev’s program was more radical than the Bolshevik program. When Skobelev said he would tax the capitalists 100 per cent he “goes a step further than we do.” All we Bolsheviks are asking for is control and “a transition to a more just and progressive tax on incomes and property.” The trouble was that this kind of program, moderate or extreme, could be carried out by a working class organization only in one way, by the mobilization of the working class and the use of force. Lenin knew that only force could do it, but he wanted the capitalists also to take part in this reorganization, because “at present (they) have more of the required experience, and more talented organizers.”

In Pravda of June 8, Lenin collected a list of statements by Menshevik ministers. Every word is a blow at the neo-Fascists who discover to-day that Fascism is a “new” form of society. Minister Cherevanin: “What we need is a general plan, what we need is state regulation of our economic life ...” Avilov: “... there must be state control of all the sources upon which industry draws for means of subsistence and turnover, i.e., all credit institutions.” Bazarov: “What is needed is compulsory state trustification of industry.” G.V. Shuba: “In addition to regulating the entire economic life of the country, we must demolish and rebuild the entire executive apparatus of the government.” Kukovetsky: “The second measure is the compulsory regulation of industry, the fixing of prices on goods.” And the final conclusion by Groman: “Neither the government nor the country at large has up to now developed a central organ which would regulate the economic life of the country ... It must be created ... A powerful executive organ must be organized. An economic council must be built up.”

Like Mussolini and Hitler, all the Menshevik ministers knew what was to be done. They did not have to read Houston Chamberlain to find out. The rotting economic system was crying out for state-regulation. Lenin asked them every day “why don’t you do it.” There was no question here of socialism. It was a question of the capitalist state and capitalist economy and later we shall see the specific proposals Lenin made, all to be carried out within the framework of the capitalist system. This became the central internal question of the Russian Revolution. Had the Russian capitalists been able to smash the working class movement, they would probably have carried out the program themselves. Now in 1940 when we see the German fascists, after smashing the German workers, carry out precisely such a reorganization, within the framework of the capitalist system, and in the interests of heavy industry and finance-capital, Sidney Hook and other petty-bourgeois intellectuals thrill with the joy of discovery and yell like explorers who behold a new continent. They teach us nothing at all about society but a great deal about themselves.

(To be continued)

Last updated on 10.7.2013