First Published: Spartacist Canada No 46, Jan-Feb 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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It’s a dog’s life being a Stalinist without a country – just ask In Struggle! (IS!). Today, these “critical” ex-Maoists have a sad refrain – capitalism was restored in the USSR, China has traveled its distance down the road to “social imperialism,” recent IS! tourists to Albania report that the light of socialism doesn’t seem to be burning too brightly in Tirana these days and to boot the organization doesn’t seem to be recruiting. Their rivals in the Workers Communist Party (WCP) have the Chinese franchise, Enver Hoxha has given his blessing to Hardial Bains and his Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and IS! is left holding the bag.
With no more glorious socialist fatherland to rally recruits to, IS! has launched into yet another of its interminable “historical analyses” – this time it is a “what went wrong with socialism” series.
According to IS! Secretary-General Charles Gagnon, “... there is no doubt that many hesitate to work more closely with our organization and rally to it for reasons that are largely due to the lack of satisfactory explanations so far for the setbacks in the struggle for socialism – notably in the U.S.S.R. and in China” (1 July 1980).
Anyone who is looking for a “satisfactory explanation” of the degeneration of the Russian revolution won’t find it in IS!’s “documents for the criticism of revisionism.” Characterized above all by sterile terminological scholasticism, the series of articles in In Struggle! devoted to its latest theoretical musings consists of an endless series of questions to which there are seemingly no answers and the Russian question becomes something of a Sartrian debate. One is reminded of the bourgeois historian who after 100 pages of “analysis” of World War I concluded “such things happen.” IS! is even trying the patience of its readers. As one commented, “Sometimes I think IN STRUGGLE! puts forward too many questions and not enough answers...” (8 Octotler 1980).
IS! of course could object that it has yet to complete its “investigation.” But the conclusion is there and inalterable – capitalism was restored in the USSR, now China and who knows what Enver Hoxha is up to. So far it’s anybody’s guess just how capitalism was restored or for that matter when. IS! is even appealing to its readers fOr the answer. But what IS!’s theoreticians presently pride themselves on is not reducing the question to the conspiratorial/idealist theories that are the stock-in-trade of its Maoist competitors. Rather than attributing the restoration of capitalism to the bad thoughts of Khrushchev or Deng Xiaoping IS! claims to “take into account the social and economic condtions.”
In this vein, the closest IS! comes to making any statement on just how capitalism was restored is pure and unadulterated Kautskyism – that Russia was too backward to support an economic system more advanced than capitalism. Particular emphasis is given to a statement by Marx in a Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy that “no social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed.” With all the appropriate mights, maybes and buts characteristic of those unwilling and unable to commit themselves to a political position IS! comments that, “this statement by Marx might be the key to a scientific explanation of the reverses in the struggle for socialism” (5 August 1980).
On the face of it one might be led to believe that IS! doesn’t know that capitalism underwent a fundamental change from the time when Marx wrote – it became a world system called imperialism. It not only created colonial oppression but drew many thousands of people into the working class thus creating the material prerequisite for proletarian revolution in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is this elementary fact which is at the’heart of the Trotskyist theory of Permanent Revolution and behind what Lenin fought for in the April Theses.
At the same time Lenin and Trotsky recognized that it was possible for the revolution to be victorious, for the dictatorship of the proletariat to be established in a single country, they understood that socialism could not and cannot be constructed in a single country. As early as 1906 Lenin wrote:
The Russian revolution has enough forces of its own to conquer. But it has not enough forces to retain the fruits of its victory...for in a country with an enormous development of small-scale industry, the small-scale commodity producers, among them the peasants, will inevitably turn against the proletarian when he goes from freedom toward socialism... In order to prevent a restoration, the Russian revolution has’need, not of a Russian reserve; it has need of help from the outside. Is there such a reserve in the world?’ There is: the socialist proletariat in the West.
Even in their turgid academic “historical analysis” IS!’s theoreticians trip over such questions as the failure of the German revolution and comment that this was a blow to the Bolsheviks who looked to the victory of revolution in the advanced capitalist countries as the key to the survival of the Russian revolution. Even the theory of “socialism in one country” has merited passing mention as one of the “issues at stake in the present debate.” Really? How then does IS! explain that conspicuously and predictably absent from their “investigation” of the Russian question is any mention of the struggle of Trotsky and the Left Opposition? After all it was the Left Opposition that led the fight for a revolutionary perspective against the anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country” and the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian revolution.
And, it was Trotsky who later provided a materialist analysis of the class character of the Soviet Union:
The Soviet Union is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism, in which: (a) the productive forces are still far from adequate to give the ,state property a socialist character; (b) the tendency toward primitive accumulation created by want breaks out through innumerable pores of the planned economy; (c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata; (e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses; (g) a further development of the accumulating contradictions can as well lead to socialism as back to capitalism; (h) on the road to capitalism the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers; (i) on the road to socialism the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last analysis, the question will be decided by a struggle of living social forces, both on the national and the world arena. – The Revolution Betrayed
As Trotsky pointed out in 1939, “The October revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum but not yet overthrown.” For Marxists the destruction of capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat require a revolution. Correspondingly the destruction of the workers state and the proletarian property forms established through the October Revolution would require a counterrevolution. With its theory of the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and China IS! runs the film of the reformist dictum of the “peaceful road to socialism” in reverse – the peaceful restoration of capitalism. One of In Struggle!’s readers has readily assimilated IS!’s analysis and concludes that the transition from capitalism to socialism is like changing clothes, “It can be said that going from capitalism to socialism and then from socialism to capitalism is normal” (16 September 1980).
But what would the conditions for the internal restoration of capitalism in the deformed and degenerated workers states be? As we pointed out in our pamphlet Why the USSR is Not Capitalist:
Objective conditions encouraging the growth of bourgeois restorationist forces were most closely approximated in Yugoslavia during 1965-71. These included the proliferation of property-owning petty capitalists (well-to-do farmers, owners of small workshops exploiting wage labor, middlemen/usurers operating with money-capital); the growing activity of foreign capital in the economic life of the country; the elimination of the state monopoly of foreign trade, allowing the world market to have maximum impact, on the economy; the atrophy of centralized planning with enterprise relations largely governed by market forces; and the separation of managers from the state bureaucracy Under such objective conditions, a domestic capitalist-restorationist movement could well emerge.... Such a movement would require an ideology and organization capable of enlisting masses of adherents such as the Catholic Church in Poland. – “How Maoists ’Restore Capitalism’ in the Soviet Union”
Many of these objective conditions exist in Poland today and the present crisis poses point blank the alternatives of proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and a capitalist restoration led by Pope Wojtyla’s church. And where does In Struggle! stand – on the side of the restorationist Catholic church. In Poland IS! lends its sympathy, to the small landholding peasantry – the traditional base of the Catholic church. Similarly in Afghanistan it stands on the side of the landlords and mullahs against the Red Army.
Trotskyists have always maintained that a correct understanding of the class character of the Soviet Union (and by extension China, Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia) is the touchstone of a revolutionary perspective. But IS!’s investigation has nothing to do with a revolutionary perspective and everything to do with its bid to swim in the stream of reformist left-wing popularity. Denouncing the evils of sectarianism, dogmatism, voluntarism and idealism Gagnon and Co. have given full vent to what has always been at the root of IS!’s politics: New Leftism.
Once harshly critical of feminism IS! now allows women’s caucuses inside its organization and is busy chasing up interviews with feminists critical of the organization’s past “sectarianism” in relation to the women’s movement. So “non-sectarian” is IS! it is running opinion polls to determine its political line. Thus on the gay question IS! appealed to its readers “to help us clarify our views” – but to no avail – IS! still admits it has no position on homosexuality.
IS! so much wants to unite with the “popular movement” that even when the “progressive” slogans clash the problem is resolved simply by combining them – spawning such gems as “you have to organize to smash the Klan in order to ban the Klan.” Internationally their brazen uncritical support for the class-collaborationist opposition in El Salvador has drawn criticism from the people around them. The main speaker at IS!’s seventh anniversary meeting in Vancouver revealed that “Some people told us the El Salvador tour) could have been sponsored by the church. Our answer is it wasn’t.”
In keeping with its “non-sectarian” image IS! is looking for a palatable anti-Sovietism – one which will suit liberal and reformist tastes. Its investigation of “what happened to socialism” in the USSR and China is aimed at coming up with an anti-Soviet position that is different from the shrill (“sectarian”?) pro-U.S. denunciations of Soviet “social imperialism” characteristic of its rivals in the WCP-ML.
The endless stream of questions raised in its investigation can never be answered by the leadership of IS! which continues to cling however tentatively to the heritage of Stalinism. It is only Trotskyism that presents a Marxist analysis of the USSR from which can be drawn consistently revolutionary programmatic conclusions – defending the gains of the October Revolution while calling for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies who stand in the way of the preservation and extension of these gains internationally.