First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 2, March 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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EROL Note: This article was one of three polemicizing against the Guardian newspaper that appeared in a special supplement to the March 1975 issue of Revolution. The other two are here and here.
We want to examine separately from the development of the Guardian as a whole the evolution of the political line of Carl Davidson, its “political editor” and head theoretician.
We’re not interested in Davidson as an individual, but as a main exponent of the reformist trend in the student, anti-imperialist, and communist movements. Although he has represented various lines at various times, according to the development of things, what has been constant is that at each phase, Davidson has stood for what was most backward in that development.
It’s necessary to examine Davidson separately because while the Guardian reflected the general development of the petty bourgeois student movement during the 1960s and early 1970s-both its strengths and weaknesses–Davidson from the first upheld not what was most progressive about that movement–its militant fight against the imperialist system–but what was most backward–its fear and contempt of the working class and its attempts to make the working class serve the petty bourgeoisie. In this respect, Davidson has always represented what the Guardian in its entirety has now become.
Two tendencies developed out of the student movement. One learned through the development of the anti-imperialist struggle that only the working class could carry that struggle through to the end. This was the basis for further advances.
The other tendency, while arising out of real contradictions with the rule of monopoly capital, shrank back from carrying this struggle “top far,” fearing the working masses more than it feared the bourgeoisie, and on that basis moved toward a reconciliation with monopoly capital, viewing the working class as a hammer to pound the monopolists into a more “liberal” shape–a hammer wielded, of course, by the “more advanced” intellectuals.
These tendencies developed from the very start of the mass student movement of the 1960s. Both fought for leadership of SDS. One trend tried to advance the student movement from a movement of students arising out of their own contradictions with a system that had promised them “freedom” if they went to college and had then reneged, to a movement that would fight imperialism all across the board, focusing on the Black liberation struggle and the war in Vietnam.
The other tendency tried to tie the student movement to campus issues at first, and when it later conceded to the desirability of students “allying” with the working class and liberation movements, it was on the basis of separate “constituencies,” each organized on the basis of their own “self interest” to win some immediate demands. This struggle between fighting “the system” and fighting for “student power” in essence represented the struggle between reform and revolution.
Davidson, then a young philosophy instructor, first came to prominence in the student movement with a 1966 pamphlet entitled “Toward a Student Syndicalism, Or University Reform Revisited.” This pamphlet took the line that while “American corporations have little trouble increasing the workers’ wage,” “the corporate presence on campus grotesquely transforms the nature of the university community” by subjecting students to “the grading system” and the draft.
In a work filled with paraphrases from Lenin and Mao, but openly anti-Marxist, Davidson’s conclusion was that students should concentrate on organizing themselves into “student syndicates” modeled on trade unions to fight for “the abolition of the grading system” as its main demand, as well as better dorm hours, no restrictions on women students and other issues aimed at the “manipulation” of “the educational system.”
Already we see the famous two-into-one act that has become Davidson’s trademark. Students were rebelling at the time against the imperialist education system, but from the very start, and especially during the period when this Davidson pamphlet was written, students also began to take on many different aspects of imperialist oppression, particularly national oppression and the war in Vietnam which were hardly even mentioned by Davidson, except to compare grades to aggression in Vietnam and offer the comment that “Black students are too bourgeois to care” about discrimination.
In the struggle within SDS between fighting “the system” or “student power,” Davidson tried to combine the two by using the rhetoric of the more advanced to cover up the more backward–to reduce the struggle against the system to a struggle against “the grading system”–all under very “revolutionary” slogans.
This sleight-of-hand maneuvering brought Davidson into the leadership ranks of SDS. But despite the backward tendencies he represented, SDS developed into a revolutionary organization, because students grasped the link between their own misery and the thousand and one ways the imperialist system oppressed the masses of people everywhere. Through the lessons of its own struggle and development and the sparks of the people’s movements surging forward on many other fronts, the student movement developed into a revolutionary movement consciously fighting imperialism, a movement that saw itself as part of the worldwide struggle of the masses. Davidson tried to take this development into account, moving along still at the rear, and still pointing backwards.
His next major “theoretical” offering was the 1968 pamphlet, “The Multiversity–Crucible of the New Working Class.” Now adopting a stronger “Marxist” pose, Davidson argued that not only were universities “knowledge factories,” but that students were workers whose product was their future skills as professionals, and that these professionals were “a new working class” which, as the strategic revolutionary class, would lead “blue collar workers” and everyone else to “human liberation.”
This generally fell flat on its face. While many radical students certainly did believe that intellectuals were “better” than workers and that students were the leading revolutionary force, they’d almost all learned that no matter how powerful the student movement had become, it couldn’t shake the imperialist system by itself.
Revolutionary-minded students wanted to link up the struggles. They began to look at the national liberation movement and the working class, first as allies and later as the main revolutionary force. They began to gravitate toward a dozen or more tendencies all calling themselves “communist.”
Davidson and the tendency he represented at first resisted this advance openly. Moving into the Guardian, after being shoved off the center-stage in SDS, he wrote in 1968, “The radicals’ world view begins with an individual perception of the gap between the actual conditions of his daily life and his awareness of the potential for human fulfillment frustrated by the existing order.”
Radicals, he argued, should “organize” people “by constituencies” or “interest groups,” while “Black-white unity” was “premature” until both Blacks and whites regardless of class had been separately “organized” around their own immediate interests.
While this was a back-handed admission and concession to the development of the struggle, since Davidson had to consider other struggles besides students’, it was still a position well to the rear of most of the movement. The more advanced forces not only didn’t think “Black-white unity” “premature,” they wanted to unite the working class on the basis of fighting national oppression and other aspects of imperialist oppression, rather than organize various “constituencies” around reformism. This was the stand of the RU and other forces which arose at the time.
Even many of the intermediate forces, viewing the revolutionary movement as a federation of separate struggles without proletarian leadership, still weren’t interested in hearing about “individual perceptions” or reform. They wanted to hear about revolution, about the national liberation movements, and about the working class.
Davidson and the forces he represented held out long and hard against this turn, finding help from the Progressive Labor Party, whose line became the center of a storm within SDS. PL attracted many students because it boldly called itself communist and proletarian. But despite its “left” rhetoric, its line and practice tried to confine workers’ struggle to economic demands and to lower the student struggle to the same level under the guise of “building a worker-student alliance.”
PL particularly opposed the Black liberation movement by claiming that there was no national question, that Black people were just workers who were a little more exploited than others, besides suffering from racist policies and attitudes. Instead of raising the demand to oppose national oppression and to support national liberation, PL claimed that Black people should just strike for less exploitation and better attitudes–in other words, straight reformism.
Instead of uniting the working class and national liberation movements, PL’s line tried to set them against each other and tie both firmly to the bourgeoisie. But in the struggle against PL, Davidson and others wormed their way through the cracks of a relatively low level of political understanding and smuggled in their own anti-working class and anti-Marxist line in a more “Marxist” form than ever.
This was the development of the now infamous “white skin privilege” line which was a mirror image of PL’s. Just as PL’s main slogan was “Fight Racism,” making the main target the subjective attitudes of white people in general and white workers the main enemy in particular, so also this other line made its main focus getting white workers to “repudiate their white skin privileges.” This became the main theme of Davidson’s Guardian articles.
In one, he approvingly quotes the following lecture from another white skin privileger: “White workers oppress Black workers. I didn’t say exploit. Only the ruling class exploits Black workers. But white workers collectively and individually actually participate in the oppression of Black workers and Black people generally, in a hundred ways every day.”
According to this straight up reactionary and sick line, after the Reconstruction period following the Civil War, white workers had made a “gentlemen’s agreement” with the capitalists not to make trouble as long as they had privileges denied to Black workers. This “bribery” was supposed to be the main reason why there’d been no proletarian revolution in the U.S., and in order for things to change, white workers had to first “repudiate” their privileges by supporting demands to raise the level of Black people at their own expense.
As an editorial in the Guardian put it, “Black and white will never be together until racism is smashed in America, until the white worker rejects white skin privileges, until the trade unions are cleansed of racism. Then and only then will the ruling class be threatened.”
This position ends up in the same bed with PL because, like PL, it lets the real enemy off the hook. White workers do have some minor “privileges” denied Black people, but not because of any “gentlemen’s agreement” between white workers and the bourgeoisie, but because Black workers are part of an oppressed Black nation–a real nation oppressed in the real world, not mainly by anyone’s attitudes but by the monopoly capitalists and their state who promote “racist attitudes” to re-enforce this.
Any gains that any workers or oppressed people have won, white workers or others, are not the result of “gentlemanly” generosity by the capitalists, but of bloody, life and death struggle of the whole working class and oppressed peoples. The correct way to unite the people and end national oppression is for the multi-national working class to take up the struggle against all oppression and lead the people in doing away with the capitalists.
To use an example–as George Jackson pointed out, in many prisons the guards allow white prisoners to smoke in no-smoking areas, while Black prisoners are more strictly treated. In a sense, the white prisoners do have certain privileges. But the fact is that all the prisoners are in prison and the guards let some of them have the tiniest concessions because they are afraid of the prisoners–all the prisoners. They’re afraid above all of the prisoners’ unity.
Only the most backward idiots would attack the white prisoners for not “repudiating” the “privilege” of smoking (i.e., demand that the guards make them stop.) The correct demand would be that nothing that the guards deny the prisoners is a privilege, but a right, a right for all. The line of the proletariat is, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” not “injuries must be suffered equally by all.”
Like PL, the white skin privilege line sets the national and class struggles against each other in order to oppose the leadership of the working class in the fight against all oppression. Today a lot of this may seem like a joke. But this line is still very much around today in an even worse form, as we see in Davidson’s (and OL’s) “analysis” of the Boston busing struggle.
Davidson agrees wholeheartedly with the bourgeoisie’s line that the aim of the Black struggle is to take something away from the white workers, calling the thousands of working people who’ve opposed having their children bused from a bad to a worse school “a racist lynch mob” because they should accept whatever the bourgeoisie deals them in the name of “equality.” (It is of course necessary to oppose any attacks by whites against Blacks, but Davidson and his ilk do not “limit” themselves to this opposition–preferring instead to oppose all white workers.)
But where the old “white skin privilege” line at least pretended to be against the ruling class (to whom the white workers were accused of selling out), today, it’s the new “white skin privilegers” who’ve made “a gentlemen’s agreement” with the ruling class, calling on the federal government to send in troops to enforce court orders, and in general making it plain that by “the fascist tide,” they don’t mean the imperialists but the workers themselves.
If the working class can’t threaten the imperialists until it’s “cleansed,” who will cleanse it and bring about revolution? The multinational working class disappears and the real heroes emerge: youth, Davidson’s old “new working class,” now with a better cover and a thousand times cleaner than the “bribed” working class. “Because of the material oppression of youth,” Davidson wrote, “the struggle of youth has the potential of becoming a class struggle”–a potential the working class lacks until it is “cleansed.”
What oppression and struggle was Davidson talking about? A Guardian editorial explained, calling for “a common anti-capitalist struggle among different social strata of young people” against “the repressive integration process of pre-job training in schools, extended unemployment and pre-employment periods, forced service in the imperialist army, repression by the police and the courts.”
This “revolutionary youth movement” line, spearheaded at that time by most of the people who are presently the leadership of OL, and spurred on by Davidson from his Guardian office, was really not very different from its previous “student syndicalism” incarnation. It’s still the students who will make revolution–students and “other young people of different social strata.”
It’s still the petty bourgeois intelligentsia’s immediate problems that constitute the key contradiction in society–and it is still the task of the working class to serve those needs. With this line the petty bourgeois intelligentsia doesn’t have to descend to the level of the “uncleansed” white workers, nor, since most of this intelligentsia is white, to the level of Black workers either because “Black and white together has no meaning.” Itís still the problem of the armchair intellectual pondering “his own awareness of the potential for human fulfillment” and calling his own droppings the essence of revolution.
This line was so backward, so opposite to the experience of revolutionary youth in the real world, so static in its “explanation” of what was rapidly changing, that it blossomed only briefly under its own name and then retreated (to take on another disguise).
With the breakup of SDS and the subsequent collapse of the short-lived attempt to found the Revolutionary Youth Movement 2 (RYM-2) as a national organization (which lasted all of one convention), the youth line fell under the waves of the advancing tide of the working class to which the most advanced forces had turned.
SDS’s internal unity was unstable and bound to collapse, because despite a common anti-imperialism in words, there was no actual agreement on who were real friends and who real enemies of the system. Things couldn’t go on in the old way, and there was no agreement on the way forward. Some people tried to put forward complicated new guises for moving backwards, for returning to “student power” (now called “youth” organized against their oppression as young people). Other forces began to take up the working class in earnest, leaving a certain vacuum on campus.
Davidson had no choice–he could either quit and go home, or find an even more “proletarian” cover for his petty bourgeois views. The “new working class” line was a laughing stock to all but the most backward forces. Even before RYM-2 collapsed, he was expelled from it for “social-pacifism” (opposing standing up to the cops at demonstrations) and being “anti-working class” (since his ideas about the class were more than even many people in RYM-2 could stand).
Now completely isolated, Davidson had no choice but to bow to the working class. But his attempts to make the words of Marxism-Leninism serve the outlook of the petty bourgeoisie could now lead to only one thing–out and out revisionism. The more he tried to combine his anti-Marxist ideas with Marxist rhetoric, the deeper into revisionism he got.
At first this took a very crude form. In the fall of 1971, Davidson began to sing the praises of the “left” wing of the CP. At that time, of course, he claimed that this was to move the revisionists to the left, but in fact the process was just the opposite. The CP’s overture toward the “new left” included a book by Gil Green, who headed the party’s work in the antiwar movement and also its “Youth Commission,” entitled “The New Radicalism: Anarchist or Marxist?”
Davidson lavished praise on Green’s “defense” of “Marxism,” with only one reservation: Green had ended his attack on anarchism with a call for “’a politically independent movement,’” instead of ’a decisive break with the Democratic Party” and “a consciously proletarian socialist movement.”
“To be fair,” Davidson concludes, “Green states at the end that he believes that the ’nucleus’ of such a vanguard exists in the CP today, but that it has not won recognition as such among mass movements.”
In other words, if the CP only would stop identifying itself openly with the Democratic Party and talk a little about socialism, then it could “win recognition” as “a vanguard” among “mass movements.” If only the CP would put on “a bold new face”!
To be fair to Davidson, we should point out that in this book. Green throws out a bone to the “new left,” putting the “theory of peaceful transition to socialism” on the back burner and bringing forward a little talk about armed struggle.
Davidson was only too eager to snatch up this bone, declaring that with this alone, the CP could purge itself, since recognition of the possible necessity of armed struggle was the “dividing line between revisionism and Marxism.” Of course, this neglects to mention the fact that as Marx and Lenin stated over and over again, and as all genuine Marxist-Leninists know, the dividing line between revisionism and Marxism is not the question of armed struggle, but recognition of the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat after the proletariat seizes state power, in order to maintain that power against bourgeois efforts to destroy it and to build socialism.
And of course, when dealing with groups like the Weathermen and SLA, Davidson forgot all about this division and instead prattled on about nasty violence. (More in a minute on some of Davidson’s other fancy “dividing lines” which always seem to leave him on the’ side of the angels.)
Davidson’s enthusiasm for the CP was tempered by a little “criticism,” naturally–sort of “critical support.” Writing about the CP’s February 1972 convention, Davidson’s main (and sole) “criticism” was that all the CP’s fine discussion about fighting what it called “right opportunism” was “idealistic” because it didn’t call out “the labor aristocracy–a privileged strata” of the working class, as the social basis for opportunism, but rather “limited it to include only the upper ranks of labor leadership.”
Not a word here about the CP’s capitulationist line on the U.S. bourgeoisie! And what Davidson liked most about the CP was its “certain correct policies, especially in the struggle against racism” (which party leader Gus Hall had promised to “outlaw” as soon as he was elected President of the U.S.–no joke!). What Davidson praised most about the CP was its presentation of the oppression of the Black nation as merely a matter of policies and attitudes, a matter of reform, and what he didn’t like was that the CP didn’t go far enough on blaming these policies and attitudes on the white workers themselves.
But even this Davidson was willing to overlook, writing in the fall of that year: “The party’s ’Program Toward Black Liberation’ is probably the best of its campaign literature. In all areas of struggle, it projects demands aimed at full equality for Afro-Americans, through compensating measures which would eliminate the relative privileges of whites.”
But Davidson and the CP soon had to part ways, for while the revisionists were willing to accept a flirtation and a few quick kisses, it wasn’t all that interested in recruiting the most reformist forces of the “new left,” whose insistence on a more thorough “left” cover didn’t quite fit in with the CP’s schemes of more open class collaboration.
And more importantly, in much of the mass movement the only “recognition” the CP had won was as an agent of the bourgeoisie (of the U.S., but even more of the USSR). In 1972-73, as the CP increasingly fell behind and the communist movement surged forward, and especially with the admission of China into the UN and the even higher level of prestige won by the Chinese Communist Party and its political line, Davidson had, once again, to repaint. But the little riff about “full equality” that he had learned from the revisionists remained at the center of his new show. Davidson didn’t adopt Marxism-Leninism and try to apply it to the question of making revolution in the U.S. He tried to adapt it–to his own armchair intellectual outlook.
Like many others, he learned to fill up whole pages with long quotes from Lenin and Mao–quotes which put forward the correct line–and use them to smuggle through his own half-hidden incorrect line which completely opposed everything Lenin and Mao stand for. He learned to shake his finger at the monopoly capitalists, say something nice about the working class, and say “dictatorship of the proletariat” at the drop of a hat.
But as always, he ascribed his own backwardness to the proletariat and oppressed masses, claiming that while he might groove on the dictatorship of the proletariat, the daily struggle of the working class is for reform–they couldn’t possibly grasp such a complicated idea, and really had no interest in fighting to overthrow the bourgeois dictatorship. This once again put the question of revolution off into never-never land, where it has no other purpose than to be fondled occasionally by people like Davidson on cold winter nights.
In a review of the RU’s Red Papers 5: National Liberation and Proletarian Revolution in the U.S., published in 1972, Davidson at last conceded that the oppression of Black people is a national question–but that “the rule of capital is clearly transforming the black nation–North and South–into an oppressed national minority.” He not only criticized us for saying that Black people are a nation (which, as far as he was concerned, was for all intents and purposes a nation no more) –he even berated us for pointing out that as a nation. Black people have the right to self-determination because “this formulation prevents it [the RU–ed.] from placing the main emphasis on equality and full democratic rights.”
That today Davidson screams that we’re “the new PL” because, he claims, we underemphasize the right of Black people to self-determination only shows that Davidson is married to no more than his own hand. Either way he prefers it, he’s still cutting out the revolutionary heart of the Black struggle, and still setting the national and class struggles against each other just as with the old “white skin privilege” line.
Consider this description by Davidson: “The Afro-American people’s struggle today is directed at the entire system of white supremacy which in turn serves as the keystone of capitalist rule. The struggle aims to eliminate every aspect of national oppression, eradicating in the process all national privileges developed by the bourgeoisie as a barrier to the class unity of the white and Black masses. In the main it has taken the form of a struggle for full equality....”
This is Davidson’s most interesting combination yet of truth and distortion in the service of opportunism. There is “white supremacy,” that is, an oppressed Black nation (and other oppressed nationalities) and an oppressor white nation within the U.S. But both are under the rule of the same monopoly capitalist ruling class, whose present form of rule is bourgeois democracy. Unlike Third World countries or the Black Belt nation of sharecropping days, the overwhelming majority of the Black nation are members of the single multinational U.S. proletariat.
This means that the Black struggle is directly against the rule of U.S. imperialism–that the masses of Black people can’t be liberated without overthrowing U.S. imperialism. The democratic content of the struggle against discrimination in employment, housing, education, etc., and against police and other forms of repression (and even self-determination) can’t be resolved by bourgeois democracy, but only through the overthrow of the bourgeoisie–socialist revolution.
Here Davidson takes the line of the bourgeoisie on all counts. National oppression is not something the ruling class dreamed up as a “barrier”–it’s an integral part of the imperialist system, not a policy or an instrument to be picked up or dropped. The aim of the Black national struggle is not to take away the minor “privileges” of the white workers, but to end the oppression of Black people by the imperialists.
And most fundamentally the aim of the struggle of the Black masses is not penny-ante reforms or a little legal equality under bourgeois rule but the dictatorship of the single U.S. working class over the bourgeoisie and the elimination of exploitation and all oppression.
But Davidson certainly does believe in equality because he claims that “democracy”–bourgeois democracy–is at the heart of all the people’s struggles today. This becomes clear in reading his 1973 pamphlet on Trotskyism which, as the Guardian’s first (and only) major polemic, was meant to mark its entry into a higher level of the communist movement.
Here Davidson used a sham struggle against Trotsky’s claim that revolution in Third World countries could by-pass the national-democratic stage of revolution to sneak through Davidson’s own update of the revisionist theory that in the advanced capitalist countries a democratic revolution must somehow precede the socialist revolution.
He does this by shamelessly distorting Lenin and making a big mystery out of Mao’s New Democracy. “The cornerstone of the Trotskyist political line,” he begins, “is its particular version of the theory of the ’permanent revolution,’” going on to cite Lenin’s Two Tactics on how “where the struggle against feudalism has yet to be carried through to the end,” “the more complete, determined and consistent the bourgeois revolution, the more assured will be the proletariat’s struggle against the bourgeoisie and for socialism.’”
As usual, the quote’s right–but the context is wrong. Davidson omits what Lenin considered the crux of the matter–not whether the revolution in Russia in 1905 was destined to pass through a bourgeois-democratic stage (that is, overthrow of the tsar and feudalism without “yet overthrowing capitalism), but whether “the working class will play the part of a subsidiary to the bourgeoisie...or whether it will play the part of the leader of the people’s revolution.”
The question was whether the tsar’s regime would be replaced by the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants. Lenin didn’t consider the “cornerstone” of his differences with Trotsky the question of whether or not the proletariat could take part in the democratic revolution, but whether the proletariat could lead. And in this Lenin’s differences with Trotsky were fundamentally the same as with all revisionists, who welcomed the advent of the bourgeoisie to power and shrank back from the proletariat’s revolutionary democratic tasks.
For Davidson, as always for the radicalized petty bourgeoisie intelligentsia, the question of democracy is key–and as always, what’s raised is not proletarian democracy–that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat as the goal–but democracy in general, which comes down to bourgeois democracy–bourgeois dictatorship. All we’re told is that the big bourgeoisie is incapable of being “consistently democratic,” which is the heart of the petty bourgeoisie’s differences with the monopolists.
In fact, this castigation of Trotsky’s “neglect” of democracy is really all there is to Davidson’s criticism of Trotsky. He goes on at length about the necessity of the revolutionary struggle in China to have gone through a democratic as well as a socialist stage, and about the necessity for the proletariat during World War 2 to take advantage of splits among the imperialists and isolate the fascists. All this is true, but there is nothing here not acceptable to the revisionists.
In the semi-feudal, semi-colonial countries where the main source of the masses’ misery are the feudal landlords and big capitalists (compradors) who serve the foreign imperialists and are allied with the feudalists, the principal task of the proletariat is to mobilize the broad masses against these enemies to overthrow them and prepare the masses themselves for the struggle for proletarian dictatorship.
The democratic content of this struggle (above all, for land) is resolved in a first stage by a dictatorship of the workers and peasants against the feudalists and compradors, and then, in a second stage, by a dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with the poor peasants against the forces of capitalism, both economically, politically and ideologically. In neither stage is it a question of democracy in the abstract. To win democracy for the people, the old ruling classes must be overthrown and crushed.
Davidson’s misuse of Mao’s concept of New Democracy is exemplified even better by his co-columnist Irwin Silber, who recently wrote that “The election of Allende [in Chile–ed.] and the formation of the Popular Unity government was an attempt to further develop the national democratic revolution...It may have been adventurist for the Popular Unity government to move as quickly toward ’socialism’...It is obvious that they never understood the two-stage character of the revolutionary process in Chile. While they made certain stabs at socialism, they never developed a strategy for completing the first stage of the revolution that would guarantee Chilean independence.”
This sum-up even outdoes the revisionists for right-ism. The UP government won support from the masses because it put forward the slogan of socialism (even though its idea of socialism has nothing in common with proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat), not because it promised reforms (after all, the Christian Democrats promised almost as good a set of reforms and got nowhere).
But to ”guarantee Chilean independence,” first the main enemy of that independence–the Chilean monopolists and compradors and landowners tied by a thousand threads to the U.S. imperialists–had to be crushed. The lesson is that even the most elementary democratic tasks can only be accomplished by the people themselves, by a revolution based on the masses and led by the proletariat.
The bourgeoisie’s talk of democracy is a sham, a fake, a sheath for their knives, as everyone can see by what happened in Chile. Three years after Allende was elected, the monopolists, compradors and landlords were able to slaughter the workers, peasants and others not because Allende went “too far” (“adventurist,” as Silber would have it), or because he was confusing the national-democratic and socialist stages of revolution in Chile, but because his government was dominated by the Chilean CP revisionists and was in fact holding the people’s struggle back.
Allende was a progressive, but mainly because of revisionist dominance he vacillated and failed to mobilize the masses for real struggle. On the other hand, the ruling classes feared that the Allende government could not effectively restrict the people’s developing struggle for real democracy and national independence and real socialism, so they moved to destroy the government and institute a reign of terror against which the Chilean people are now courageously fighting back.
Confusing bourgeois democracy with revolutionary democracy is a main hallmark of revisionists in all countries, including Chile and the U.S. That the Guardian has learned nothing from what happened in Chile is evident in its stand on Portugal, where it talks endlessly about the “democratic” army and the “democratic” revisionist party and the “democratic” advances granted to the people when, despite whatever real advances, (and there certainly have been some), there has been no revolution and the old ruling class and armed forces which imposed fascism are still totally intact.
In every country in the world, whether democratic tasks be principal at a particular time or not, democracy and socialism are linked by revolution, and even in the most feudal country the democratic struggle and democratic stage of struggle is a component part of socialist revolution in that country and a component part of the worldwide proletarian socialist revolution. This is what Lenin and Mao really wrote about the question of democracy in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution.
But Davidson distorts these teachings on democracy in the Third World, which form the bulk of this pamphlet, in order to dissolve the struggle for proletarian revolution in the U.S.–all in the name of “democracy” in general.
Davidson concentrates his “critique” of Trotskyism in the U.S. today on the national and woman questions. Here he tells us that the thrust of the Black struggle is for self-determination of the Black Belt region of the South and for “full democratic rights.”
In passing, he chides the Trots for “failing to distinguish between an oppressed nation and an oppressed national minority”–which is completely hypocritical since he’d switched over from one to the other without pausing to say what, in the real world, had changed his mind. But what’s wrong with the Trots’ line on the national question is not that they don’t talk about the “progressive democratic content of national struggles”–SWP in particular, and others like CL, etc.–suck up to bourgeois nationalism all the time–but that, like Davidson, they obscure the difference between bourgeois democracy–democracy under bourgeois rule–and real liberation. Davidson’s attempts to make the Comintern front for him won’t do. This situation has radically changed since the 1930s, and the essentially bourgeois democratic demands that the Comintern then placed at the center of the Black liberation struggle–doing away with the feudal sharecropping system in the South and its legal reflection in segregation by law throughout the U.S.–has been carried through in the main.
Even these demands were then linked with the question of proletarian revolution and proletarian dictatorship. But under today’s conditions this link is much closer and more direct, and to try, as Davidson does, to reduce the Black liberation struggle to a struggle for bourgeois democracy is all the more reactionary today. Really, Davidson has changed nothing from his earlier position–the heart of his stand is to oppose Black liberation to proletarian revolution and to oppose proletarian dictatorship altogether.
And on the woman question, we’re told, “The mass democratic women’s movement” can include “even women of the exploiting classes” because “male supremacy” means primarily “an antagonistic contradiction between the masses of women and the imperialists” and secondarily “the contradiction between men and women.”
This little bit of awfully profound nonsense amounts to no more than the white skin privilege line dragged over to the woman question, and like the white skin privilege line reduces the whole thing to a question of good and evil without any material, class base.
The masses of women are oppressed not because of any abstract male supremacy, male supremacy in general, but because of women’s objective role in production and reproduction under capitalism. Whether women are “equal” in the eyes of bourgeois law or not, this relationship exists in the real world, based on the role of women as bearers and raisers of future workers and as part of the reserve army of labor themselves.
And this real, material relationship can’t change unless the relationship between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is changed–unless the proletariat rules society. No ruling class bread-and-circuses routine like Betty Ford’s tireless crusade for the Equal Rights Amendment will change the real relationships in the real world. Yes, “even women of the exploiting classes” can be united with, if they desert the exploiters and struggle against them. This is the class content of the struggle for women’s liberation. To call working women and Betty Ford sisters is to try and turn a revolutionary question into a joke–and one the working class does not find funny at all.
Davidson’s (and OL’s) call for a “united front of women” (later followed by a call for a “Black united front”), is just the old “organize people by constituencies” line and is not much different from the SWP’s pathetic and incorrect attempts to form a “Black party” and a “women’s party.”
Now, Davidson is just loaded with quotes from Marx, Lenin, Mao, etc., so he tries to justify all his petty bourgeois ”analysis” with some good ones about the dictatorship of the proletariat and the “proletarian vanguard party.” Davidson has sung and danced about the Trots’ mishandling of the “mass democratic movements”–but if the struggles of the masses are for democracy in general or for bourgeois democracy, then how the hell can he talk about the dictatorship of the proletariat?
So far he’s cut Black people and women out of the proletarian revolution, safely ensconced in separate united fronts and far from the proletariat’s united front against imperialism. And today, whenever the RU insists on uniting the working class, Davidson screeches that we’re chauvinists, because to him the class is not multinational and is confined to white men only.
After going on about the “mass democratic” Black and women’s movements (oh so carefully separated unto themselves), Davidson has practically nothing to say about the struggle of the working class as a class. He tells us that the Trots are mainly petty bourgeois (so what?) and “isolated from the workers movement” (as though opportunism would be better if it were more based in the trade unions). To show that he does know how to spell the word “proletarian,” he concludes by telling us that the SWP doesn’t call for the dictatorship of the proletariat and that this “is the dividing line between reformists and revolutionaries in the proletarian movement.”
Very interesting. As we already pointed out, Davidson earlier had incorrectly said that armed struggle was “the dividing line between revisionism and Marxism,” when it suited his purpose to do so, because he was trying to cozy up to the revisionists who were talking a little then (or at least one of its members was in a book) about armed struggle. But no matter. Just another of Davidson’s little “inconsistencies.”
The point to be made here is that anyone can say they’re for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Many Trot groups do-that doesn’t bring them within the fold! As the experience of the international working class throughout this century has proved time and time again. Trotskyism isn’t just a little mistake in theory, it’s not just any old petty bourgeois deviation. Trotskyism and Trotskyite (not Trotskyist, as Davidson–and now OL–so politely calls them) organizations are counter-revolutionary, objectively (and often consciously) in the service of the enemy. They have nothing to do with the proletarian movement except to try to destroy it, and that’s why the proletariat must destroy them.
Davidson can hit at the electoral nonsense of the SWP (an easy target) all he wants, but all his criticism amounts to is that you can’t elect socialism. He understands one aspect of this–the resistance of the capitalists themselves. But he can’t understand why the working class can and must lead the struggle against all oppression, why the political and ideological leadership of the working class in the struggle today is the basis for the dictatorship of the proletariat of tomorrow.
He can’t understand that the working class must develop its revolutionary struggle not just to smash the capitalists’ government (which even another capitalist government can do), but to smash the entire old state apparatus and rule through new forms of organization that rely on the people and are democratic in a way completely new in history–why only the proletariat represents democracy for the majority and why that has to mean dictatorship over the exploiting minority in every sphere of life, economically, militarily, politically, culturally and ideologically.
When someone claims, as Davidson does, that he’s for the dictatorship of the proletariat but doesn’t understand the difference between proletarian democracy and bourgeois democracy, then something is fundamentally rotten.
Just in case we’re left with any doubt on our minds, Davidson’s petty bourgeois idea of proletarian revolution is hammered home in the last section of the pamphlet on the “vanguard party.” What was wrong with Trotsky’s line on this question, we’re told, is that “he wanted a party without strict discipline.”
Davidson mentions the words “democratic centralism” in passing, but all his emphasis is on discipline. But is a disciplined Trotskyite party an improvement? Stalin said the key question Trotskyism placed before the Bolshevik party was which class that party would serve. Bolshevik discipline isn’t just discipline in general or in the abstract. It is iron unity of will and action to carry out proletarian line–to serve the proletariat–which also requires democracy in order to develop that line. Any gang of thieves can become disciplined, but only the proletariat and its party practices democratic centralism.
In conclusion, we want to say that nobody would ever deny for a second that Davidson can quote–out of context, out of time and place, and mostly out of desperation. But because Marxism is not a lifeless dogma, not a matter of catechism (“Do you believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat? Yes, I believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat”)–because Marxism is a living science of class struggle, then for all of Davidson’s correct citations and abstract pronouncements about the principles of the dream world, in the real world the affect of his work is to attack and undermine Marxism.
That’s why he reminds us of some previous “Marxist experts,” such as Edward Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, who knew everything Marx and Engels had ever written, but tried to turn it all on its head when it came to applying it to the real world because they’d won nice soft berths aboard the mass movement and didn’t want anyone rocking the boat.
Lenin said of these opportunists that they “take from Marxism all that is acceptable to the liberal bourgeoisie, including the struggle for reforms, the class struggle (without the proletarian dictatorship), the ’general’ recognition of ’socialist ideals,’ and the substitution of a ’new order’ for capitalism; they cast aside ’only’ the living soul of Marxism, ’only’ its revolutionary content.” (“The Collapse of the Second International”)
The October League and other opportunist forces whose rightist line is rapidly being exposed to more and more revolutionary-minded people, are today putting Davidson forward as an “expert,” an “independent” arbitrator standing above the fierce political and ideological battles now raging.
But because the heart of this struggle is to apply Marxism-Leninism to sum up the lessons of the struggles of the masses and how to advance the proletariat and its allies in the class struggle in the real world, because it’s not a battle of quotations, Davidson has contributed nothing to this struggle except by negative example.
In the struggle to formulate a programme for revolution in the U.S., which is the key link in forming the new revolutionary U.S. communist party, Davidson has taken the wrong stand–or avoided taking a stand at all. That’s why we say that for all his talk about party building, Davidson has opposed the real building of a real party heart and soul, just as the Guardian in its entirety now opposes it.
To unite all genuine Marxist-Leninists, we have to expose this raggedy nonsense and pull its roots into the daylight for everyone to see. To have a good and principled struggle over the programme and move forward to the party as soon as possible, we have to firmly reject all petty bourgeois notions of “socialism” and grasp Marxism-Leninism as the fighting science of our class and no other.