Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The Committee for a Proletarian Party

Line of March: Apologist for “Martial-Law Socialism”

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First Published: April 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Publisher’s Note: This was written as a contribution to the Guardian’s “Opinion and Analysis” column.

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In our own comments on martial law conditions in Poland, we would like to focus our remarks on the position of Line of March expressed in the Guardian’s February 24th issue (“Poland and the Struggle for Power” by Ralph Beitel). In polemicizing with Line of March (LOM), we hope that we can contribute most to clarifying our own line and helping to expose one of the more reactionary explanations of the events in Poland.

One of the central differences we have with LOM concerns its conception of socialism. LOM always seems to do its best to skirt the whole issue of which class holds political power under socialism. In this respect, note how Beitel tries to demonstrate why Poland must be a socialist country: “Completely devastated by World War 2, socialist Poland has risen to 10th in the world as a producer of industrial goods and has provided the working class with a rapidly rising standard of living and extensive social services.”

A theoretically sloppier approach to such a critical question would be hard to imagine. For example, if we compared Poland to social democratic Sweden or West Germany during a comparable period of time, wouldn’t we have difficulty in being able to distinguish socialism from capitalism? Capitalist countries are fully capable of “delivering the goods” and building a welfare state for a certain period of time. At bottom, LOM’s theoretical approach to socialism is very economist and also very bourgeois.

We believe that LOM’s whole ideology has serious problems with elitism, from its idealist rectification line on party building to its defense of “military socialism”. It’s no wonder that many leftists and progressives would take issue with Beitel’s arrogant assertion that “Solidarity’s popularity in Poland is principally an expression of the backwardness of the Polish working class.”

It’s not necessary to try to paint a rosy picture of the political leadership of Solidarity to be convinced that the development of such a movement in itself represents a tremendous tribute to the Polish working class. We would submit that the Polish working class has been rising in rebellion for decades precisely because it recognizes that under “Polish Socialism” it has no real economic and political power.

The contradiction between the Polish working class and the Polish State represents, we believe, a basic class contradiction. If nothing else, martial law makes the political situation in Poland very clear: the working class does not wield state power; state power is wielded over them. If the working class clearly does not hold state power, then we have to ask, who does? We think that the only theoretically coherent and convincing conclusion is that state power is held, cherished, and fiercely protected by a new ruling class.

LINE OF MARCH’S RATIONALE

Since LOM would obviously dismiss this position as “Maoist” nonsense, let’s first examine LOM’s alternative explanation for the contradiction between the working class and its own dictatorship. LOM attributes this contradiction principally to the liberal and nationalist policies long pursued by the Polish United Workers Party (PUWP). According to this perspective, the PUWP would not have gotten into such a mess if it had not conciliated to the Catholic Church, failed to collectivize agriculture, and put the economy into hock to Western finance capital.

In a recent article in its theoretical journal, “Turning Point in Poland” (Line of March #10, Jan/Feb 1982), the LOM leadership tries to supply a lengthy rationale for its position. One of its main points is that the “Cold War” and the threat of imperialist penetration necessitated a rapid transition to socialism in Poland.

LOM attempts to trace the roots of the “Polish crisis” to the rebellion against this drive to accelerate socialist transformation. Leading this opposition was “Poland’s Tito”, Wladyslaw Gomulka, who was brought back into the PUWP and became its head in 1956, Supposedly riding the crest of anti-Sovietism and anti-Stalinism, Gomulka hammered out a distinct “Polish Road to Socialism” which involved co-opting the Catholic Church as a partner in managing society, de-collectivizing agriculture, and seeking out greater economic ties with Western imperialism.

To focus on Yugoslav-style revisionism, however, as the main danger is to offer a very one-sided account of the socialist transition period in Poland and the other countries of Eastern Europe. To begin with, when we try to understand the Polish situation today, it helps to know that when the Soviet Red Army liberated Poland in World War II, the Polish Communist Party, as it was then called, was very small/with little mass influence. In other words, state power in Poland was not built on the basis of a broad, popular revolutionary movement, but was unstable and bureaucratic from the beginning.

When the transition to socialism was accelerated in Poland, had a significant majority of the working class and its allies been won to support this change in strategy? If the methods used were primarily bureaucratic, coercive, and mechanical, then any changes would be superficial at best and bound to create mass opposition that could be exploited by the imperialists.

Unlike other forms of state power, the dictatorship of the proletariat is supposed to directly represent the genuine interests of the great majority of society, not an oppressing minority. Are we being naive and Utopian then in expecting that proletarian state power should assume a qualitatively different form than prior forms based on class exploitation?

A FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT ROAD

For example, when Polish workers waged a mass strike in Poznan in 1956, it would be twisted Cold-War logic to try to dismiss this uprising as the work of counter-revolutionaries. The Poznan strike revealed an underlying mass sentiment among the Polish working class that changes in society were being decided on and implemented over their heads and against their interests.

Understandably, the Poznan strike focussed on economic issues low wages, shortages of consumer goods, and poor housing but the workers’ demands for workers councils and the nature of this rebellion itself bore important political implications. What was the nature of state power that the Polish working class felt compelled to wage a strike against the government?

In other words, what institutions of proletarian democracy had been successfully established in Poland to insure the access of the working masses to the levers of state power? We would argue that a bureaucratic, class-based separation of the State from the working class has never been overcome in Poland. Given this basic bureaucratic gulf, it is a secondary matter whether the policies of the State are coercive or liberal. The choice between a Gomulka or a Breshnev is an incidental option when the end result in either case would be a failure to revolutionize society.

A fundamentally different road for socialist construction has to be cleared in order to build societies based on the political and economic power of the working class. The outlines of this historical alternative, we would maintain, have already been exemplified by the efforts of the Marxist-Leninists in China before they were eventually defeated.

At the same time as Poland, China was also struggling to accelerate the transition to socialism, but Mao Tsetung and other Chinese communists relied much more heavily on the methods of the mass line, boldly arousing and mobilizing the masses to carry out revolutionary class struggle. The Three Anti and Five Anti mass campaigns in the early 1950s were early examples of this revolutionary approach. Later examples were the Hundred Flowers campaign, the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Commune Movement, the Socialist Education Movement, and finally and most importantly the Cultural Revolution.

Of course, Line of March would prefer to dismiss this historical experience and have people forget about it. This is the motive behind their frenzied efforts to score a cheap and easy demarcation from “Maoism” and drag as many forces as possible in the Trend back under the umbrella of Soviet revisionism. But there are at least a couple of major problems with this strategy for a quick burial of “Maoism”: 1) a movement like the Cultural Revolution continues to provide a powerful historical example which exerts its influence across a broad array of forces, such as Charles Bettelheim, Monthly Review, Theoretical Review, and the Communist Workers Party; 2) LOM finds itself constantly forced by the press of contemporary political events to forage for a revolutionary kernel within the most reactionary actions, such as the imposition of martial law in Poland and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

PROPPING UP A STRAW MAN

In the case of Poland, LOM has to mis-state the framework for analysis and bend the facts to suit its own ideological purposes. First, LOM tries to prop up an anarcho-syndicalist straw man by declaring that Solidarity “is not an anti-revisionist political alternative to the PUWP”. But what Marxist-Leninist in his right mind would think to argue that it is? Solidarity is a trade union which arose relatively spontaneously and mushroomed quickly to a 10-million membership in a matter of months. Such a formation, by its very nature, is going to encompass a broad and diverse range of political and ideological currents.

Needless to say, we don’t need LOM delivering us stern lectures on the dangers of Western imperialist intrigue and manipulation of the Polish situation to be aware of the efforts of numerous reactionaries to gain influence and leadership in the Solidarity movement. Nevertheless, a careful reader of LOM’s articles, such as “The Turning point in Poland”, will easily pick up the sensationalist bent in playing up the influence of reactionaries like the Confederation for an Independent Poland. Correspondingly, LOM is compelled to judiciously downplay the influence of the more progressive, pro-socialist forces in Solidarity, such as the Workers Self-Defense Committee (KOR), and brush aside the fact that numerous rank and file party members were also either members or sympathizers of Solidarity. This biased reporting on the balance of forces in Solidarity is absolutely essential if LOM is to hope to make its case that “Solidarity’s program is consciously anti-socialist and pro-capitalist.”

Curiously, LOM ends up sounding a lot like Reagan and Haig when they try to justify military dictatorships in Latin America as a bulwark against communism. The only difference is that LOM is looking out for the interests of the other superpower: “the continued hegemony of forces who are prepared to defend socialism in Poland, even revisionists, is far preferable, from a class point of view, to the surrender of power to the anti-socialist, imperialist-supported leaders of Solidarity or the Polish Catholic Church.”

We have no interest in attempting to idealize the political and ideological composition of the Solidarity leadership. While Solidarity has played a historically progressive role during the recent events in Poland, its more active and leading elements run the political gamut, including social-democrats, Christian Democrats, anarcho-syndicalists, and labor liberals. But if communists in the U.S. hark back to their own historical origins in the New Left of the 1960s, they can better understand why it is unrealistic to expect anti-revisionist movements always to spring onto the stage of history pure and unsullied from the very start.

The Polish working class and its allies in the intelligentsia will undoubtedly continue to develop politically and even undergo dramatic change. Martial law conditions do have one positive aspect in the sense that they are likely to propel a number of the more progressive elements in Solidarity in the direction of Marxist-Leninist strategy and tactics.

A REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT

What is now clearly on the agenda for Polish revolutionaries is how to organize a new Marxist-Leninist party and build a revolutionary movement which can overthrow the Polish ruling class and carry out genuine socialist construction. The relative ease with which the police and elite military units were able to suppress Solidarity shows why the working class cannot rely on trade unions and the threat of a general strike to carry out revolutionary struggle. The working class needs its own party apparatus which can coordinate its activities underground as well as through legal mass organizations and make the necessary preparations for an armed insurrection.

Any lingering illusions about the possibility of rectifying the PUWP have been effectively dispelled by martial law. The leadership of the PUWP is an integral part of a new Polish ruling class, which includes the state functionaries, military and security elite, trade union bureaucrats, and factory and state-farm managers. Because such a ruling class consolidates itself in a society which has nationalized much of the means of production, finance, and commerce, groups like Line of March are able to create confusion about the exact relationship of this ruling class to the economic base. But the political manifestations of this ruling class should be unmistakable.

In countries like Poland, we are dealing with post-revolutionary societies which, for a number of complex reasons, have degenerated into a new form of state capitalism. Although Mao Tsetung and others have done considerable work in highlighting the dangers of capitalist restoration, still Marxist-Leninists need to sharpen their analytical tools to fully grasp the particular laws of motion of these new historical formations.

What is evident, based on present experience, is that while nationalization is a critical first step in laying the foundation for a socialist society, it is in no way decisive in eliminating the basis for the rise of a new bureaucratic state bourgeoisie. “State” ownership of the means of production does not liquidate the basis for the extraction of surplus-value from the working class, but merely shifts the location and changes the mode of appropriation.

To a degree, Mao was correct: the rise of revisionism ultimately has to contribute to and reflect the rise of a new ruling class. In the end, it is idealist to imagine that the severe class contradictions in Poland result from the PUWP merely having an “incorrect line” or “mismanaging” the economy. There has to be a definite class basis and beneficiary of a revisionist line which has been dominant in the PUWP for so long. Similarly, the Polish state functionaries did not “mismanage” the economy, but managed it to serve certain class interest, i.e., those of the Polish ruling class. For example, when the authorities of the Polish State conciliated to the peasantry and the Catholic Church, the main reason was that they had no class interest in building socialism, but they did have every interest in maintaining themselves in power.

The struggle to revolutionize Polish society will probably prove to be a long and tortuous struggle. But already the Polish workers have exposed for the whole world to see the real character of this new state bourgeoisie which masquerades as the leadership for a socialist state. If Marxist-Leninists develop and assume leadership over this powerful workers movement, then a new chapter in the struggle for socialism is bound to be written that will inspire and educate the working class and oppressed people the world over.