First Published: The Forge, Vol. 5, No. 33, October 3, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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“There is an alternative to the system we live under? Is socialism a better system? Can it be achieved?”
The near-chronic economic crisis in the capitalist countries and the constant danger of global conflict have understandably prompted many people to ask these and similar questions.
The bourgeoisie’s ideological trendsetters – the mass media, sociologists, economists, etc. – have rushed to defend the capitalist system.
The aim of these apologists for capitalism is to turn workers and progressives away from socialism. They are especially determined to discredit Marxism, claiming it is no longer relevant.
This means that communists must redouble their efforts, not only in their practical work but also in their ideological struggle against these arguments. They must show that socialism is a valid and necessary alternative and that Marxism-Leninism is an effective guide for the working class.
It is at times like these that the pseudo-Marxists show up. Under a camouflage of revolutionary terminology they add grist to the mill of capitalism’s apologists, and this is just what the group In Struggle is doing.
In past weeks, In Struggle has been publishing a series of articles under the heading “Documents for the Criticism of Revisionism,” several of which are signed by In Struggle secretary general Charles Gagnon. What does In Struggle have to say in these “documents”?
They state that “the international communist movement is incapable of answering the concrete questions posed by the very evolution of capitalism and socialism.” They go on to add that the criticism of revisionism has been up till now more of “an exercise in comparative literature than a scientific analysis of history” and set themselves “the purpose of contributing to a better understanding of the successes and failures in the struggle for socialism so far.”
This arrogant introduction and ambitious objective notwithstanding, three months and a half-dozen articles later In Struggle has only managed to establish its ignorance and incomprehension of Marxism and to dust off some shop-worn theories, long since rejected by Marxists.
In the very first of its documents In Struggle develops this “original” idea: the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and in Eastern Europe is the result of the backward economic and social conditions existing in these countries at the time of the revolution.
The fact that the proletariat is only a minority in these societies and is forced to make alliances with other social groups such as the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie or even the bourgeoisie (as in the case of third world countries) sets up conditions for the return of the bourgeoisie to power.
That theoretical gem comes through in the “documents” signed by Charles Gagnon in the July 1 and August 5 issues of In Struggle. Here In Struggle takes up the old revisionist line expressed by Kautsky and Trotsky more than 60 years ago to oppose the revolution in Russia and in China.
Kautsky and Trotsky claimed that it was impossible to build socialism in Russia or to make a successful revolution in backward countries like China until capitalism had reached a sufficiently high level of development, as long as the peasants made up the majority of society, or until there had been victorious revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe.
This revisionist point of view, which expresses all the fears and hesitations of the petty bourgeoisie in face of the rising tide of the proletarian revolution, has been definitively disproven by history, by the revolutionary practice of the working class and the masses in a whole series of countries.
Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong, speaking for the proletariat, also demolished this point of view theoretially.
Lenin showed that in the epoch of imperialism, capitalism spreads its tentacles from one end of the world to the other, becoming a world economic system. Individual countries and national economies cease to be self-sufficient units developing autonomously, but become part of a single whole, the world imperialist chain.
In such an era it is impossible to look at the proletarian revolution according to the objective economic and social conditions existing in one particular country looked at in isolation. Rather we must consider the proletarian revolution in the light of objective conditions existing in the whole of the world imperialist system.
The proletarian revolution results from the contradictions of the whole world imperialist system and manifests itself by the breaking of the chain in one country or another. Lenin’s theory of revolution shows, as has been confirmed in practice, that revolution does not necessarily occur in the country where industry is most advanced or where the proletariat forms the majority of the population, that is, in the most developed countries. Instead it breaks out in those countries where the imperialist chain is weakest.
The countries where the consciousness and the revolutionary action of the proletariat and the people have reached a high level of development, and where the ruling class is struck by a deep crisis that paralyzes its capacity to govern.
Thus, as Lenin predicted, it was in the underdeveloped countries, often subjected to ferocious oppression by imperialism, where conditions favourable to proletarian revolution came together. The revolutionary process in these countries differs from that in the advanced capitalist countries.
The process is made up of two distinct but interlinked stages, one leading to the other. Generally the first stage is the national democratic revolution, whose aim is to break the imperialist stranglehold over the country in question and destroy the remnants of feudalism. The second is the socialist revolution itself, that is moving to the stage of building socialism.
In the first stage the proletariat’s allies are the peasantry, which not only makes up the majority of the population but is also an exploited and revolutionary class, the petty bourgeoisie and, in certain cases, some fractions of the bourgeoisie. In the second stage, the proletariat’s allies are the poor peasants and fractions of the petty bourgeoisie who support socialism.
These alliances are not the least bit negative or dangerous, as In Struggle claims. They are absolutely necessary and crucial if the revolution is to succeed throughout its various stages. To oppose such alliances means negating in fact all possibility of the democratic revolution (and later the’socialist one) in these countries. It means condemning the people of these countries to suffer eternally the cruellest imperialist oppression.
Denying these revolutions means slowing down the world revolutionary process, because the victories won against imperialism in these countries are a powerful support for the proletariat’s struggle in the advanced capitalist countries.
So it is not the international communist movement, as In Struggle would have us believe, but rather In Struggle itself that is “incapable of answering the concrete questions posed by the very evolution of capitalism and socialism.”
Not satisfied with casting doubt on the necessity and possibility of success of all revolutions to date, In Struggle continues merrily along to declare that the communist movement has never been able to make “a concrete analysis of the evolution of socialism.” They claim Marxists have s been incapable of scientifically explaining the failures of socialism, the victory of revisionism or the restoration of capitalism in previously socialist countries.
“The criticism of revisionism and the study of those countries which at one time were building socialism is being carried out on a purely ideological level. As often as not, the correctness of a given position or action is judged solely by whether it conforms or not to one or other position already adopted by Marx, or Engels, or Lenin, or Stalin...” (In Struggle, Aug. 5, 1980)
Gagnon then admits with false modesty that even he and his group had followed this incorrect method up to now. This confession is the only bit of honesty in all of In Struggle’s claims. What In Struggle forgets to say is that the erroneous method is of their own making.
From the day the first socialist state was created, in 1917, Lenin said the class struggle would continue for a long historical period under socialism, and that though the bourgeoisie was defeated it had not disappeared.
Basing himself on the experience of socialist construction in the USSR, Lenin said on the contrary that the bourgeoisie would double its efforts, and try every possible strategy to regain power.
Mao Zedong developed Lenin’s ideas by scientifically analyzing socialism in China and the factors which had led to capitalist restoration in the USSR. He showed not only that the class struggle continues under socialism but that the outcome of the struggle remains uncertain throughout this period.
Mao Zedong analysed the concrete manifestations of revisionism and showed that bourgeois elements did not only come from the remains of the exploiting classes but also from among state and party cadres, some of whom use their position of authority for personal gain.
This bourgeoisie uses any and all possible means to try to take control of the party and the state, while presenting itself as Marxist in order to better throw people off the track. Once at the head of the party and the state, it gradually installs the conditions for a restoration of capitalism. According to Mao the various two-line struggles within the party generally reflect the development of the objective class struggle in society as a whole.
On the basis of this analysis, Mao and China’s revolutionary leaders by no means concluded that capitalist restoration was inevitable, but rather that various economic, political and ideological measures should be taken, to prevent such a restoration.
Among these methods they pointed out the fundamental importance of widespread socialist education among the workers and peasants, measures to involve leaders in productive labour while at the same time fighting against abuses of power, socialist modernization in order to provide the masses with a constantly improving standard of living and of course the vital necessity of criticizing, fighting against and unmasking revisionist positions put forward by representatives of the bourgeoisie.
We can see that despite In Struggle’s claims Marxists have in no way limited themselves to criticizing the ideological forms taken by revisionism. Instead they have shown the objective, material class basis for the degeneration of socialism.
In their criticism of revisionism neither Lenin nor Mao Zedong ever claimed that the ideas of individuals like Kautsky, Khrushchev of Liu Shaoqi just fell from the sky. They showed that this idea reflected the interests of a class or stratum other than the proletariat.
Lenin showed that Kautsky reflected the interests of the petty bourgeoisie and the workers’ aristocracy. In the case of Khrushchev and Liu Shaoqi Mao always stressed that theyreflected the interests of the revisionist bourgeoisie under socialism.
With their analyses and their practice the great proletarian leaders acted as representatives of the proletariat. As a result, to criticize revisionist theoreticians by referring to the writings and the practice of communist leaders is waging class struggle on the ideological level and not engaging in sterile debate.
What results from In Struggle’s positions? Firstly it turns our attention away from the real factors behind the restoration of capitalism, and secondly it whitewashes the ideological spokesmen of revisionism.
To sum up, In Struggle’s “Documents for the criticism of revisionism” are nothing but false advertising; they simply present their own variety of revisionism.
In its “document” In Struggle spreads defeatism and pessimism in the hope of misleading those who want the progress of the socialist revolution to go forward.
Its theoretical wanderings reflect the total political and ideological bankruptcy of this group. The only reason In Struggle is going through this whole futile exercise is to justify its own decline. It blames its own problems on others by saying that it hasn’t recruited more people because of setbacks suffered elsewhere in the fight for socialism, particularly in the USSR.
In Struggle’s attitude is typically that of petty bourgeois intellectuals. For a while they will hitch themselves to Marxism, but at the first sign of difficulties will turn against the revolution.Communists, on the other hand, are not overwhelmed by setbacks. They base themselves solidly on the principles of Marxism in order to draw the lessons from temporary defeats, no matter how bitter they may be.
Each socialist revolution is a great step forward in the history of mankind, greatly enriching the experience of the international proletariat. The working class draws both positive and negative lessons from every revolution and so develops its understanding of the laws of history and the class struggle, which will inevitably lead to socialism.
The science of the proletariat, the growing revolutionary action of the peoples of the world, and the profound crisis presently rocking the capitalist world are proof that the capitalist system will not last forever.
In Struggle is in headlong retreat because it has turned its back on history. History has shown that capitalism is not eternal and just as it succeeded feudalism, capitalism will inevitably be replaced by the superior system of socialism.
Readers who want further understanding of the questions raised in this article are referred to three excellent books:
Khrushchev’s Phony Communism, by the Communist Party of China
The Foundations of Leninism, Stalin
The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, Lenin