Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Party For Workers Power

Special Bulletin

Draft “Where We Stand” Pamphlet

(These are some very tentative ideas towards an outline of a pamphlet on “Where We Stand.” It’s meant to serve as a starting point for discussion.)

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The first part of the pamphlet is on our view of capitalism, and basically the point to be made here is simply that we think that capitalism has got to go, in case anybody believes that we are into reformism or that we are for something short of a complete change from capitalism. So, in this section will be a brief account of how conditions of life in the U. S. and other capitalist systems are terrible, some treatment of the present economic crisis, the cultural decay and ideological crisis going on under capitalism, reference to the fact that many people are fed up with the present system – feel that it’s bad, it’s corrupt, that it can’t supply people’s needs, that the people who run it are disgusting, slimy and out for themselves and that a lot of people are groping for alternatives to it and that this is a world-wide phenomenon – in the U. S. and all other capitalist countries, there is a general resistance to it and feeling that something better is needed. Probably later on, based on some of the other things we develop, we could have a more profound critique of capitalism, but this introductory one would just be meant to made the point clear as a starting point that we want something different and we want to ally with people who want something different. It could also be pointed out here how vital it is to build such a movement for something different and better in order to avoid having working people, people who are oppressed by capitalism end up fighting one another on a racist or nationalist basis. This first section is, in other words, how capitalism is really bad.

The second section is on Communism. Now, the point about Communism is that as an alternative model, as the main existing one in the world, people are repulsed by it, which is one of the reasons why when people consider the possibility of fighting against the capitalist system, or fighting to change it, they often draw back from being fully committed to that or are cynical about the possibility of change because they believe that what you would get in the end, if you made a revolution, would be communism; and from what they see of communism in Russia,/Europe and other places, it sounds like a very unpleasant system to live under. And we think that people are rightfully repulsed by communism, that it is a terrible system to live under and here some facts about life under communism would be appropriate – something about people’s standard of living, how the country is run by a bureaucracy and not by the people, the people get nothing that they need, it’s a warfare state – the same as capitalism, there is considerable repression, and how the people that lead it are just as slimy in their personal goals and motives as any capitalist leaders.

So, once having established those two points – that capitalism is no good and the main alternative model, communism, is in our view no good either, we’re left with two questions:
1) Is it possible for anything else, anything better to exist, any better society?
2) How did it come about after all the decades of people fighting very heroically and creatively for a better life in the socialist and communist movement, that what they ended up with was a society just as bad in its essential aspects as what they started out with. How did that huge movement fail? What lessons can we learn from it? And How can we do better?

In order to find the answers to these questions, we want to look somewhat at the history, the theory and practice of the socialist movement during the period when it was mostly led by the communists.

The basic theory of the communist movement comes, of course, from Marx and Engels and it seems that if we want a thorough examination of what went wrong with that movement, we have to go back to Marx and Engels and ask if there was something basically wrong in the whole Marxist tradition of thought. The basic step forward in terms of the political thought of Marx and Engels, was their concept that society is divided into classes. I think that basic step was absolutely right. It is true that society is divided into classes, basically into large class of people who are oppressed, and a small class of people who do the oppressing. While there have been certain changes clearly since Marx and Engels wrote, that that description of society is still basically true. So, on that essential point, we agree with the Marxist tradition. However, Marx and Engels saw mainly the economic arrangement of society as the root cause of the problems in society. They thought that all other things about society, such as the culture, the philosophy, the ways in which people reacted, related to one another, were all determined by the economic base of the society, and therefore, their recipe for change was “change the economic system and the problems will be solved, or at least the basis for solving the problems will be created.” However, this is a very partial view of the problem.

The economic system creates a whole set of ideas and approaches in people which are extremely profound and also creates a continual battle over them, a battle of ideas between people on the basis of the economic system, but which in turn effect the economic system, effect the development of the economic system. And it’s nonsense to identify one or the other as being the sole, primary important cause – either to say that ideas are absolutely primary and that economic factors are very secondary, as some schools of capitalist philosophy do, or to say that economics absolutely determine what people think and how they act. The truth is that there is an interaction between the two and that the communist movement coming from Marx and Engels has largely, grossly oversimplified that interaction by saying simply that the economic system is the cause of the problem and changing the economic system is the solution to the problems. The experience of history proves the contrary. It proves that you can change the economic system from capitalism to a system of state ownership without having any significant effect on the oppressive, alienating nature of the society. And that unless people’s consciousness and approach to the world is profoundly changed, nothing significant changes. The organizational set up is different, but the exploited essence of the society remains the same.

The communist movement, the theorists, ideologists and leaders of it, have largely missed this point and concentrated on an extremely mechanical approach of organizing society, organizing the economy. In doing so, they have neglected totally what people think and how to change it; and therefore, they have ended up doing terrible violence to people in the name of a better society which history shows never came about. So that even if, in some cases, the leaders of the communist movement started off honest, with the best of motives, they ended up destroyers of the real potential of the working class.

Now, to prove this point we would look somewhat at history. First, the history of Russia and the Comintern, the International Communist Movement led by the Russians.

The Russian revolution arose from the fact that the people of Russia had an enormous understanding of the horribleness of life under Czarism, though that understanding was not particularly build or created by the Bolsheviks who were mostly outside the process, outside the country in fact. What happened in the first stage of the Russian revolution was that there was enormous ferment of people trying to take control of society and run it differently and workers on a very broad scale tried, in fact, to run things. This was the period of Soviets. What very quickly happened was the Bolsheviks took over on the basis of being b very organized and very clear about what they wanted. They took power and started running things “in the interest of the workers.” The clear idea that they had about what had to be done was almost entirely economic and organizational. If you read what Lenin and others wrote at that time, they put practically no emphasis on changing people’s political ideas. They had given some lip-service to that before the revolution, but once they were in power it becomes clear that the questions which they deal with and that preoccupy them are basically those of the organization of production. And the differences between the different communist lead3rs are between those who want to organize production in a very efficient way very quickly, such as Trotsky who argued for the militarization of labor, and those who wanted to go more slowly on it, such as Bukharin who is known as the right-winger within the movement. But the debate between the so-called left and the so-called right was all over the speed of industrialization, and it was all within this frame-work of attention solely to economic organization. This led, very quickly, to the Bolshevik government coming into severe contradiction with the workers and peasants who had actually made the revolution & also, very quickly, to the government being in the position of violent physical repression of those who didn’t want to go along with their decrees.

The most drastic example of that, very soon after the revolution, is the suppression of the Kronstadt Revolt. It involved a very large number of the workers and sailors who had been involved in the revolution itself and they opposed the Bolshevik government. They raised, among other things, the slogan “Soviets without Bolsheviks” and they were very violently repressed by the Red Army which was being staffed, incidentally, with ex-Czarist officers.

Now, from that point on, the history of communism is a history of absolving or destroying all genuine workers’ movements.

The Comintern was not mainly in the business of trying to build opposition to capitalism, it was mainly in the business of trying to take over and control such movements of opposition as existed, and in many cases to prevent them from going too far, to repress them, to impose self-defeating strategies on them. Numerous examples could be given of that from, for example, the Spanish Civil War, the history of the revolution in China and the way in which Stalin tried to control and suppress it. So, this has resulted during the history of the Comintern, in many people resisting this repression to some degree and some groups breaking away from the communist movement. But, in more cases, the communist movement was successful in repressing groups. Also, in most cases, groups which broke away from the Comintern were led by people who either were not good, such as the Trotskyites, who had essentially the same theory as the people running the Comintern – the same concentration on economic organization and objective conditions, but who took advantage of the fact that many people were disgruntled with the Stalinist/communist movement and built a little movement which appeared to be to the left of it. Either the leadership of break-away groups was quite bad, like that, or they never really got it together. They never quite understood what they were trying to do and therefore were easily repressed or discarded by the international communist movement. In many cases, people who suggested putting forward that something was wrong did so without realizing how determined the leaders of the communist movement were to repress any criticism. And therefore, they put forward what they had to say essentially in a comradely way and were wiped out before they knew what had happened.

Now in this process of absorbing and destroying movements, the communist leaders relied on two main things:
1) Being very well organized, which was often very important, being in a situation where there was considerable confusion about direction. They were very well organized and they knew exactly what they wanted. But the most important thing was
2) They attacked their opponents with the argument that they, the communists, were the movement, that the Soviet State was the socialist state, the workers’ state, that to go against them was to go against socialism. And by using that argument, which in many ways resembled a religious argument (to go against the church is to become a heretic, an outcast) they were able to confuse or smash the many, many people who in one way or another tried to oppose them, tried to struggle against the yoke that they imposed on peoples’ movements.

Now, that gives a very different view of the history of communist from, for example, that PL gave, which is that they did a lot of good things and they got so far and then they failed due to revisionism creeping in or Kruschev selling out or something like that. This is a completely different perspective, that from the word “go” the communist leaders, the organizers of the Comintern, were playing a very right-wing, reactionary role and repressing the masses. Many, many people who went through that period, who experienced that feel that very deeply. In many cases, those people feel somewhat ashamed to say what they feel because they think it is very reactionary of them to believe that. But, in fact, their observations are exactly right, that the leaders of the communist movement were nasty, vicious, repressive bureaucrats.

Up til now, nobody has seen that clearly, stated that clearly, and drawn the right conclusions from it, as opposed to, say, the possible conclusion of “capitalism is better after all.” or “human nature is just such that good movements can’t possible exist” which are some of the more commonly formed conclusions by those who were communists and became anti-communists.

The major example of a group which successfully broke from the Comintern is, of course, China. The Chinese revolution is a somewhat different phenomenon which I think should be looked at separately. Apparently, what happened in China is that the workers and peasants were very conscious of the need to get rid of imperialism and make a revolution. And this consciousness which arose from terrific oppression at the hands of various imperialists was what fueled the revolution despite many official Comintern nay-sayers who maintained that peasants weren’t really advanced enough to make a revolution and so forth, and who tried to impose their bad and suicidal strategies on the movement.

In that context, it appears that Mao and his group played essentially the role of compromisers, of intermediaries, that they tried to be the go-betweens between the very militant workers and peasants and the International Communist Movement with whom they were allied during the period of the revolution and after. Thus, the leaders of the Chinese communist party appear as tremendous compromizers, artists who are in effect riding the waves of the revolution, always taming the left-wing forces, trying to compromise with them, making concessions to them, and eventually crushing them. For example, reading the book “Fanshen” by William Hinton, which is an account of the events during and after the Chinese revolution, that process is very clear. What goes on in the book is a continual process of the workers and peasants wanting to carry the revolution through to the end, to wipe out all the landlords, redistribute all the land to be worked in common, and making what was catagorized as “extreme left demands”. Then, the role of the communist party is to come into the situation and say “no, no, we can’t go quite that far again. We have to handle the contradictions here correctly, we have to expropriate or two landlords, but leave some of the others in possession of their land – we mustn’t carry things too far.” And that sort of process goes on for 600 pages in Fanshen, and the author, William Hinton, who in his own way is a very stupid man, draws the conclusion from this that the right way is always the middle way; that the Chinese communist party and Chairman Mao are always right, and they are able to mediate between those who want to go too far to the left and those who want to go too far to the right. I think we would want to draw a completely different conclusion from those events which is that the left way was right. That the Chinese communist party’s role was to repress and eventually destroy the left. The clearest reflection of that is seen in the history of the Cultural Revolution in China where a significant number of people became aware that the CP had carried out this process and tried to take a clear stand in opposing it. The slogans of the Cult. Rev. emphasized such things as “politics over economics”, “red over expert”, and very clearly referred to this different view of things, this different view of the political process in terms of people’s ideas and ideology rather than simply economics and production. So, I think what was at issue in the Cult. Rev. was many of the same things that we are now trying to base our ideology on.

Now, the left in the Cult. Rev. was clearly defeated, and the reason it was defeated was basically the same reason that all the other opponents of the communists leaders were defeated, which was that they couched their goals in terms of loyalty to communism, in terms of loyalty to man. They said, “the true application of Mao tse-Tung’s thought is thus and such.” And then, of course, Mao betrayed them and engineered their complete defeat and suppression.

If this view of history is actually the right one, then what does that mean about where we stand now and what we should do now? What are the lessons to be learned from this different view of the history of the Communist movement?

The first thing which is clear is that it is time to have a new ideological position defining the communist leadership as the enemy equally with capitalism. And the lack of seeing that is the reason why the very numerous groups of people who have tried to oppose the communist leaders and fight for something better has failed in the past. What is now needed is a clear definition of these destroyers of revolution as the enemy, and a clear devotion to uncompromising workers’ power. And, uncompromising is the key word here – not allowing the idea and the reality of people organizing and controlling things to be compromised or frittered away by any communist or other leadership.

In recent history there are numerous examples of large groups of people who have moved toward this sort of movement: the Cult. Rev. in China clearly is one; the rebellions in Eastern Europe – people rebelling against communist dictatorship is another. Those would have to be examples because in many cases the leaders or acknowledged leaders of those movements raised pro-capitalist slogans. But, that doesn’t mean that the masses of people who participated in those movements were pro-capitalist. They were mainly worried about the kind of oppression they were suffering under communism and they wanted to do something about that.

Another example where it seems as though there are a large number of people who want a better system and realize that the established communists are not going to provide it, is Portugal. Another significant example is the May, 1968 revolt in Paris, where again there was a great deal of consciousness that the Stalinist organizations were no good and that often came out in an anarchist sort of presentation – the red flag and the Black flag together, a combination of communism and anarchism. Now, that isn’t, I think, the way we would present it, but it clearly represents a large number of people who were conscious of the failings of communism as well as of capitalism and were groping toward something new, something better.

That leads us to the final question of what is this new and better kind of society we want? What does Workers’ Power look like? I think here that the crucial thing is the understanding that the working class must learn to operate society collectively in order to take power and that this learning process is the critical thing – that in every struggle to change anything for the better, every struggle to improve conditions of life for working people there is potentially this lesson: that working people collectively can achieve things and can operate in a quite different way from the rotten and corrupt way in which capitalist and bureaucratic communist societies operate; that people, through fighting for small better things, can learn the lessons about how to rely on other people and how to judge what they’re doing in terms of how it fits in with the interests of people as a whole, of the working class as a whole.

In every class conflict, little or big, it goes on. This is what’s really at issue – people trying to assert their collectively ability to do things in opposition to the control by capitalists or experts. And people learning the lesson that together they can change things is the crucial thing about any struggle. Without that lesson having been learned and the implications for the whole society learned on a very broad scale, then no revolution in the sense of military take-over or an electoral victory means anything. So, while we are clearly for a complete revolution in society, this doesn’t mainly mean that we want a military overthrow, an electoral take-over, etc. though either or both of those might be involved, but the key thing, the crucial thing is the question of how many people have been able to learn this idea of how working people can work together collectively in contradiction to everything that capitalist and bureaucratic communist society has taught, to improve thing; When a lot of people understand that that then that is an unstoppable force. What goes on at the top in terms of a change in government may be significant, but only in so far as it reflects that - what the change in people’s consciousness has been. Therefore, the job of the party, the reason for the need for a party, is to draw that lesson about people’s ability to operate collectively out of every struggle that goes on and apply it to every one – to draw out the implications for the whole society and spread it to every other situation. And again, history shows that that doesn’t happen spontaneously. People do make very significant efforts collectively to improve conditions, but without the existence of an organization absolutely dedicated to that and to creating a whole society based on that, they become confused, get misled by communist and other mis-leaders, and get defeated and the things they’ve won get taken away from them.

That defines what the role of the party is and also offers a new view on how to achieve a better society because the building of a better society begins how. It isn’t a case of waiting 20-years-for-the-revolution and we-may-never-live-to-see-it. It’s a case of in every little battle now we’re involved in we build out of that the broader consciousness among people of the new society that has to be. Once that process gets well under way it is essentially unstoppable. There is an enormous potential for this because so many people are groping for it; so many people want something much better than the way in which capitalist and communist society is organized, but have no clear idea what it is and doubt if anything much better could exist even though they desperately want it to. So, what the party has to offer is the answer and the only answer to the problems of all working people. That’s why the party is so important and so relevant to every single situation.