First Published: The Forge Vol 7, No 40, November 19, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The debates currently underway in the Workers Communist Party, like those in other left organizations here and around the world, are directly linked to the crisis being experienced by socialism today.
Each organization, of course, has its own history with its own accomplishments and errors. But the crisis poses the same fundamental questions to all those committed to working for a socialism distinct from the Soviet model and traditional social-democracy.
We did not recognize this in the past, which was reflected in the way we dealt last June with the dissolution of the group In Struggle. (The Forge, Vol. 7, No. 23)
After reflection over the summer months, in September the October staff prepared an article that was to appear in issue No. 16 of the revue.
Unfortunately, due to our present financial difficulties publication of October has been put off until after the Christmas break. However, in order to still be able to circulate the article we will publish it in more modest form and a smaller quantity which will be distributed to our subscribers and available at the Norman Bethune Bookstore in Montreal.
The Forge is publishing some excerpts from the article. Although debates in the WCP on some of the questions raised are much more advanced than at the time the article was written, it nevertheless places the debates in the wider context of questions facing all Marxists.
The first part of the article describes the events that led to the eruption of the crisis. Then follows:
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The responses to this succession of events has been varied. Some militants and several Marxist-Leninist parties have concluded that they were wrong, that Marxism-Leninism does not offer a solution, and have abandoned it.
Another reaction, which in my opinion has been that of the WCP for a certain period of time, is to continue to assert that the principles of Marxism remain correct, and to criticize those who reject them, without seeing and recognizing the real and important questions raised by the crisis of socialism. This is the defense of the ostrich; it is dangerous, and its end result is to discredit Marxism rather than to defend it.
My own opinion is that socialism is feasible, and desirable, and also that the majority of the basic roads and orientations we have pursued remain valid ones. But it is precisely because the goal of socialism is legitimate, and because the path of Marxism is a valid path, that we must turn ourselves seriously to the fundamental problems and questions brought out by the crisis of socialism.
In the XIXth century socialism was an ideal – a vision of the future. Today it already has a history, a real existence – or rather, the term is used to identify certain real states that do exist, many of which are less than ideal forms.
But some of these events, including those in Poland, have raised questions that are not adequately answered by the mere statement that Poland is no longer socialist. To say “no longer” must mean that it once was socialist; what was different in Poland then? Did Polish workers enjoy the rights they are demanding today? What was the relationship with the USSR? Between the unions and the state?
Asking these questions leads us inevitably to ask the same ones about the USSR before the ’60s, about China, about the criteria we use to define authentic socialism, about the socialism we want to see in Canada.
It is time we realized that when we set out on the path of Marxism-Leninism, breaking with the revisionist parties and the policies of the USSR, we simply closed the book on the history of the Soviet Union, without really looking at what had been the nature of socialism to date, nor at the policies and conceptions that weakened it and made working-class power so vulnerable.
To a large extent we simply replaced the Soviet model with the Chinese model, blithely believing that the questions raised by the degeneration of the Soviet Union had been answered and the matter basically resolved by the analysis of Mao Zedong.
In the same way we would have to admit that on the question of the return to capitalism, the analysis has barely begun.
The very basic question that must be answered is, what went on that encouraged or permitted such a reversal?
This is the heart of the debate: why has socialism and working-class power so far been so fragile, and – and the two questions are closely linked – how can we analyse the serious problems it has experienced, and the promises it has been unable to fulfill?
On the many questions that must be raised in such a sum-up, that of democracy stands out as most important. This means raising the question of power: socialism set as its objective the placing of power in the hands of the formerly oppressed. In practice, the goal has been blocked in many ways. Power at the state level has tended to be centralized in the hands of the communist party, and, within the party itself, in the hands of the leaders. The involvement and real decision-making power of the majority of the people in the economic and political management of the society have run into a number of obstacles. In the same vein we have to look very closely at the extent to which socialism has – or has not – fulfilled its promises to workers and particularly to women and the oppressed nationalities of liberation, control over their own destinies and that ofthe society as a whole.
In examining these questions it seems to me that the key is to look for the root of the problems – to ask ourselves what conceptions of power, of politics and of democracy lie at the base of the errors that have been committed during the experience of socialism, and must therefore be changed.
Why is the Marxist-Leninist movement so far behind in producing the new developments of Marxist theory that are so necessary, both in the path of the revolution in the developed countries and in the sum-up outlook for socialism itself?
There are doubtless various factors that would explain this dearth of new developments, but one of them probably has to do with the situation in the USSR (which controlled the Third International during the 1930s, and in particular the serious problems around the question of democracy.
Later on, during the war, all the energies of the communist movement were poured into the war effort, and in the aftermath the parties in the advanced countries began to experience serious problems of opportunism in their analysis and in their practice.
The new communist movement that began to rebuild in the late 1960s was in the developed countries formed mainly of young people coming out of the intellectual milieu, lacking in political experience and only beginning to discover Marxism.
These are historical conditions that cannot now be changed. But at the same time I would say that we also adopted some attitudes that need to be criticized and rejected.
We have been too ready to accept “ready-made” answers, rather than searching further.
We seized upon an image of socialism and of the revolution that, on the one hand, was not based on a critical, materialist and developed analysis of the real experience of socialism to date, and on the other hand did not correspond concretely to the conditions of a developed country in the last quarter of the XXth century.
We have taken too long to see and acknowledge the weaknesses in the development of Marxism and the problems of socialism.
As we become conscious of the problem of dogmatic attitudes towards Marxism and socialism, we should also take a critical look at our practice, and at the workings of our party.
We must, I think, ask ourselves the question, how do we build a communist party that will answer the needs of a country such as Canada, in 1982, in the context of a political and ideological struggle that will be long term, with the revolutionary crisis far off – in conditions and in a society radically different from Russia in 1917 or China in 1949.
How do we build a party whose practice, line and workings take into full consideration the lessons we are drawing from our study of socialist societies?
The life we lead under imperialism is certainly not getting better, the economic crisis is worse all the time, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust has never weighed so heavy on the mind of humanity. People around the world will still continue to search for a solution, and a path to the future. The intensification of the imperialist crisis will continue to expose the Soviet system and discredit the social-democratic solution. The question of revolution cannot be laid to rest. The challenge for us is to take up the work, to search in our theory and our practice for better, more satisfying answers more suited to our concrete conditions than they haiie been to date.