Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

We need facts and communist theory, not phrases: Our views on the Swedish article on the method for studying Soviet history

First Published: The Workers’ Advocate Supplement, Vol. 6, No. 4, May 15, 1990.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The article What is state capitalism and why has it arisen? is the reply by the Swedish comrades of Red Dawn (Rod Gryning) to our comments on their views on Soviet history. They discuss our article How to approach the study of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union from the August 10, 1989 issue of the Supplement.

We are saddened by their reply because it indicates that the Swedish comrades are no longer interested, for the time being at least, in deepening the study of Soviet history or in studying the related theoretical issues. Whatever the shortcomings in their original articles, we had hoped that the important thing was that a start had been made. If the Swedish comrades had overlooked basic facts about the Soviet economy and Soviet history, we felt that this was something that could be corrected. We stressed, in our reply, the need to deepen the study of Soviet history, and we also pointed to the need to deal seriously with such theoretical issues as the Leninist views on the transition to socialism.

But Red Dawn’s articles of late 1988 turned out to be, not the beginning of their study, but basically the end. It was the statement of their conclusions. Their present article, What is state capitalism..., says that, basically, facts aren’t so important. It seems to admit that various events that Red Dawn had placed at the time of the first five-year plan actually occurred up to 10 years earlier. But they say that these are "purely empirical examples"; to study such concrete issues is to "see only the trees, not the forest"; such study doesn’t deal with all-important issues of "methodology"; it "leads nowhere" and is a "blind groping"; etc.

In their earlier articles they had stressed that it was necessary to find the concrete economic base for capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union. They had pointed to the introduction of one-person management, cost accounting, and other measures. The introduction of these measures allegedly in 1928-29, rather than 1956, was used to prove that the capitalist system was restored in 1928-9. But it turned out that many of Red Dawn’s facts about Soviet economy and politics were either wrong or superficial. And now, instead of returning to the investigation of Soviet history with renewed enthusiasm, their reply calls for a new "methodology" and denounces looking into facts as the way of arriving at a conclusion.

The Swedish comrades sum up their methodology at the end of their article. They state that "The facts and figures that we have presented have rather had the function of confirming and illustrating what we have concluded by using another method, the method of Marx." The method of Marx was materialism, which means basing theories and views on the facts about the world. However, what the Swedish article takes as the method of Marx, is the use of general phrases about the world market, competition on the world market, capital, the logic of world capitalism, quantitative vs. qualitative changes, primitive accumulation, etc. For example, if one calls the development of heavy industry in the Soviet Union "the accumulation of capital", they believe that this proves its capitalist character. They replace the study of the difficult questions about the internal economic and political development of the Soviet Union with general philosophical discussions.

We pointed out, in our original comments on Red Dawn’s articles, that no one had yet made the definitive analysis of Soviet history. This is why the task is up to the revolutionary Marxist-Leninists. But it turns out that Red Dawn believes that the answers have already known for decades. Referring to the Trotskyist theorist Tony Cliff, they state "Cliffs State Capitalism in Russia... has been a basis of a great part" of their articles on Soviet history. They are convinced that their general views, and those of Cliff, answer all the major questions, and this apparently lies behind their impatience in the face of the need for a detailed study of history and theory.

The standpoint of their reply seems to be that the present task is simply to summarize and popularize an answer that is already known and to "break up" the trends standing against trotskyism. The function of facts is simply to "confirm and illustrate" what they already know. No wonder that it doesn’t matter when these facts are challenged. If the facts convince someone–great! If the facts turn out to be false, well, they are mere trees in the great forest of decades of Cliff’s theorizing.

State capitalism

The Swedish article lays emphasis on the concept of state capitalism, and they entitle it What is state capitalism and why has it arisen?. It suggests that the differences between their views and ours hinge on the stand towards state capitalism. They suggest that our party has some Maoist-Stalinist views about state-capitalism as socialism. By contrast, they believe that they have solved the question of the economic base of revisionism by calling it state capitalism (although just about all anti-revisionists say that).

But the strange thing is that they don’t answer the very questions that they raise in their title about state-capitalism.

For example, they raise the question of Lenin’s phrase about the use of "state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat". But they don’t ever state clearly whether they agree or disagree with it. This is astonishing in an article which claims that the main issue at stake is clarity on the issue of state-capitalism.

They waffle on the issue. At some points in their article, it looks like they agree with Lenin’s views’ on the use of certain state-capitalist measures. But when one studies their article closely, it turns out that they only cite this as Lenin’s view or belief. They themselves only present it as, at most, an unfortunate retreat forced upon the proletariat, a retreat which "plays into the hands of the non-socialist class forces." They don’t see any positive significance or positive side for the transitional measures Lenin was talking about. And they don’t discuss Lenin’s views concerning the economy during the transition period, restricting themselves to citing one phrase without a context. Instead, with an almost audible sigh of relief, they suggest that Lenin’s views on the transition to socialism may not apply anywhere but to Russia. They think that economic development since 1917 has probably made Lenin’s views outdated.

It appears that Red Dawn really would like to say that any use of measures that, economically, don’t go beyond state capitalism, is revisionism and Stalinism. They would also have liked to say that one-person management, cost accounting, etc. were first introduced in 1928 and marked the degeneration of the Soviet Union into capitalism. When Red Dawn discovered that these measures were first introduced much earlier, they didn’t revise their views. They simply said, no matter, it is just a detail. And when it turns out that Lenin talks about the revolutionary use of certain state-capitalist measures, Red Dawn also shrugs. It neither agrees nor disagrees, but says its doesn’t matter. This was supposedly only a matter of unpleasant compromises of a purely historical character. It allegedly has no bearing on the general theory of the transition to socialism. Red Dawn will allow Lenin to say something about it, but if anyone else does, they are guilty of Maoist-Stalinist revisionism.

In fact the concept of state-capitalism embraces a wide variety of measures. Nationalization, for example, by itself doesn’t go beyond state capitalism. The reformists and revisionists are deceiving the proletariat when they declare that nationalization, and the state sector of a capitalist country, are "socialist". Yet even under capitalism, the revolutionary proletariat may support certain measures of nationalization. And during a revolutionary crisis, under certain situations the proletariat may even use nationalization as a battering ram against capitalist rule.

When Lenin held that various necessary measures during the transition to socialism remained economically within the realm of capitalism, this was not revisionist acceptance of state-capitalism as socialism. It was just the opposite. It is only by understanding Lenin’s point that one can guide the building of Marxist socialism. It not only points to various transitional measures, but clarifies their historically limited nature, the conditions for their revolutionary use, and the need to go beyond them.

One has to be able to distinguish between different types of state-capitalism. There is the state-capitalism of the Western industrial countries, which is a complete economic and political system. There is the revisionist state-capitalist system, which is also a complete economic and political system, although a collapsing one. And there is the taking over of the means of production by a workers’ government as a step towards the introduction of Marxist socialism. One has to be able to show the particular way in which the revisionists turn away from the building of socialism and instead set up a new capitalist rule.


Red Dawn’s article, however, doesn’t go into this necessary analysis of state-capitalism. Even stranger, perhaps, is that they end up denying that the internal economic nature of the revisionist system is state-capitalism. Instead they declare that the revisionist system, taken by itself, would actually be slavery.

Red Dawn states that it is only the pressure of world imperialism and the world market that made the Soviet revisionist system into state-capitalism. They don’t notice that this theory converts brutal imperialist pressure, with its blockades, military interventions, and Cold Wars, into a civilizing factor. They don’t notice that this theory whitewashes capitalism for the crimes of revisionist capitalist-restoration in the Soviet Union. Nor do they realize the historical origin of this theory, which it has borrowed from Tony Cliff and the IS tendency, in capitulation to the Cold War-style crusading.

Red Dawn has, in their reply to us and previously, correctly noted that various attempts at analyzing capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union failed because they could only see capitalism in a Western-style free market and

Khrushchovite market reforms, but not in state capitalism itself. But it turns out that Red Dawn’s own analysis hasn’t transcended this search for the Western-style free market. Red Dawn differs from those who exaggerate the role of open, free market inside Russia in instead looking for this free market outside Russia, in the world market. Even though Red Dawn admits that "foreign trade has always played a marginal role in the Soviet economy", they believe that the pressure of the world market and foreign military imperialism is what makes the revisionist system into state capitalism, rather than slavery.

In fact, if others exaggerate the role of the Khrushchovite market reforms in the Soviet economy, Red Dawn goes to the other extreme. They don’t take account of the competition between factories for scarce resources, the market features that have existed in the Soviet Union for decades, etc. They picture the Soviet Union as one large harmonious firm, which is far from reality. They fail to understand the particular way in which state capitalism actually manifests itself in the Soviet Union.

Can there be class analysis without dealing with the internal situation?

Red Dawn also uses the example of slavery to illustrate its methodology. It takes the example of slavery in the southern states of the United States in the first half of the 19th century. They make the astonishing claim that it is only "on the surface" that the slaves weren’t involved in wage-labor. They hold instead that there was competition in the sale of cotton on the world market between American slave plantations and Egyptian cotton-producing landlords, and this transformed the nature of slavery. The slave allegedly became a disguised form of wage-laborer. This is an absurd theory, which flies against the most elementary historical facts. In reality, the market for cotton intensified the degradation of slavery, including the wide- scale commercial breeding of people for sale, a form of exploitation that is not characteristic of wage-labor.

But Red Dawn uses this example to prove that one shouldn’t examine the internal nature of a system. It correctly notes that if you look at "this slave economy, this system of plantations, in and for itself, then-you won’t reach their conclusions. But Red Dawn claims that this proves that one must not look at the plantation itself, but at the world market. Similarly, it claims that to understand that the Soviet Union is state capitalist, one can not examine its internal features. One must look at the world market and the global situation.

Thus one of the main themes of Red Dawn’s article is the negation of the role of the internal class struggle. They "derive... the state capitalist character of Soviet economy from the Soviet Union’s relation to the world market," And they claim that the "relations of strength on a world scale", not the internal class struggle, plays the "decisive role"

Since writing this article, Red Dawn has continued to downplay the internal factor. In the February issue of the

Supplement we commented on the resolution on the oppressed countries in the founding documents of the Marxist-Leninist League of Sweden, There too the Swedish comrades tended to overlook the internal class struggle in explaining events and to instead rely on the external factor alone. Whether it was explaining the crisis of why the reformist stands of the national bourgeoisie or the reason why the proletariat should strive to lead the revolution, they focused on general arguments about world imperialism and the global situation, and overlooked the class relations within the oppressed countries.

In fact, this negation of the internal class struggle and class relations actually tends to negate any real consideration of the revolutionary struggle at all. It makes the consideration of the "relations of strength on a world scale" or the "relation to the world market" or the nature of the present era into empty phrases. Red Dawn’s present theorizing goes against what had been their own best stands in the actual struggle, whether with respect to the oppressed countries or other questions.

Tasks of the transition to socialism

The study of Soviet history is first and foremost a study about the transition to socialism, about what was accomplished and about why the; first attempt failed. We feel that this study teaches many valuable lessons about how to carry forward the revolution to socialism.

But Red Dawn retreats from studying the question of the transitional period between capitalism and socialism.

Consider the question of the economic side of this transition. Red Dawn puts forward the importance of seeing the economic basis of Soviet history. But they don’t carry through with this. They talk about state-capitalism and slavery, and they handle Lenin’s remarks about "state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat" like a hot potato. But they never attempt to analyze what the economy should look like between a socialist revolution and the actual attainment of socialism.

Red Dawn holds that, after the socialist revolution, a workers’ government comes into being, but socialism cannot yet be built. But then the question arises, what does the economy look like during the transition to socialism?

In fact, as long as socialism has not yet been achieved, the economy must have features that are within the bounds of capitalism. It will be a peculiar sort of capitalism, with the working class holding state power, ousting the capitalists from the economy, and preparing for a socialist system. But so long as the economy still isn’t socialist, it will still have many features resembling those of capitalism (or even of pre-capitalist economy).

Red Dawn evades this entirely. It never directly expresses an opinion on what the nature of the economic system is during the transition to socialism. Their article actually contrasts our approach, which they discuss under the heading transitional measures, with their "concrete point of departure" in studying Soviet history, which is the external factor, which they discuss under the heading A result of pressure from encroaching imperialism.

Thus Red Dawn pooh-poohs the study of the tasks of the transition period. They seem to regard the entire transition period as an unfortunate compromise, where the proletariat simply tries to hold out as best it can until revolution sweeps the whole world. The impression one gets is that, in their view, socialism will be accomplished by the world socialist revolution sweeping through the highly-developed capitalist countries, which will then flood the world with equipment, resources, experienced workers, etc. They appear to hold that the transition period in any country is simply an unpleasant, if necessary, series of disagreeable tasks that are best dwelled on as little as possible.

As a matter of fact, they assert that even correct measures in Russia wouldn’t, in and of themselves, have averted capitalist restoration. They endorse the views of the "Soviet Left Opposition" in Russia, but they don’t think that its measures solved the problem of transitional measures either. They state that without European revolution "most likely even a Soviet Union under the leadership of the general line of the Left Opposition...would have been forced to submit to the Stalinist logic of state capitalism sooner or later."

This pessimistic view may explain why the Swedish comrades aren’t that interested in the tasks of the transition. After all, they hold that, no matter how perfect, such measures can lead nowhere in themselves. They are presumably mere holding actions, ultimately futile unless there is a world revolution, and unnecessary if there is a world revolution.

Leninism or Trotskyism?

Red Dawn’s methodology in studying Soviet history has in fact taken it far away from Marxism-Leninism. And so has their belief in the old answers to the problems of capitalist restoration given by Tony Cliff and the trotskyist IS tendency.

When Red Dawn shrugs at the study of facts, they are going against the basic materialist method of Marx and Engels and Lenin. And when they center their methodology on the external factor, they are departing altogether from the Marxist-Leninist view of the class struggle.

They have also wandered away from serious consideration of Lenin’s views on the transition to socialism. Their article admits that they didn’t pay much attention to Lenin’s views, and they say they will correct this. But in the same paragraph they also imply that Lenin’s views aren’t really so important. They give two reasons for this.

For one thing, they claim, as we have seen, that the "relations of strength on a world scale", not the internal class struggle, plays the "decisive role". This underlines their retreat from Marxism, which lays stress on the class relations within each country, and the internal tasks the revolution has to carry out to be part of the world struggle.

And it suggests that Red Dawn believes that the tasks of the revolutionary transition to socialism aren’t that important, because everything is automatic once the perfect world revolution takes place.

But Red Dawn also states, with respect to Lenin’s views, that "there are strong reasons to believe that much of what might have been correct in Russia then does not necessarily have to be the right way for highly developed countries today." However, the issue isn’t blindly imitating every step taken in Russia or described by Lenin, but learning the general principles underlying the transition to socialism and studying revolutionary experience. Red Dawn’s view actually throws cold water on the study of Leninist theory–why bother with something that they think is outdated by economic development?

And their view ends up casting cold water on the study of Soviet history itself. They say that study of the results of various measures "gives little", especially "considering that the historical period in question, as a whole, is fairly short and shows fast changes." This, actually, casts doubt on studying the experience of just about any revolution, since revolution is marked by being "fairly short and showing fast changes." And just imagine–Marx studied the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871, which only lasted seventy-one days,

All in all, we feel that one of the main problems with Red Dawn’s reply is that its proposed methodology cuts against making a close study of Soviet history and against the basic Marxist theory. But how can we do without a close study of Soviet history? We need to know what was useful and what was wrong. The most important differences we have with the Swedish comrades are not over what year the Soviet Union became capitalist or whether the first five-year plan was the crucial turning point. For that matter, we have still not reached final conclusions on such things. The key differences include that we believe that there has to be a closer study of the facts and a closer study of communist theory, including the views both of Marx and Lenin on the transition to socialism.

If the final result of the study of Soviet history is simply that things would have been fine if a world revolution had taken place, then one might as well not have bothered with it. Nor would there be much value if the final result consists simply of giving a year for the final degeneration of the Soviet Union. What the revolutionary Marxist-Leninists need is a deeper understanding of the transition to socialism, a deeper understanding of what Marxist socialism is, and a deeper understanding of Leninist methods. The study of the revolutionary tasks that faced the Russian proletariat is needed to strengthen our framework for considering what the proletariat today will have to do.

Red Dawn’s study of Soviet history has led it away from these things. This is due in part to accepting ready-made conclusion from Tony Cliff and the trotskyist IS tendency. They have obtained from Cliff general phrases, without realizing that these phrases answer nothing. And these phrases have led them step by step away from Marxism-Leninism.

On the revolutionary wave of the past

Finally, we thank Red Dawn for the high opinion they have expressed of our polemical and theoretical articles on problems in the revolutionary movement. But they appear to have a one-sided view of them. They seem to find their value only in "breaking-up" the "so-called Marxist-Leninist movement," rather than the development of revolutionary analysis. But as far as our work of "breaking-up" goes, it has been directed at trotskyism as well as other trends of revisionism and opportunism. And it aimed not at denigrating the revolutionary activists, but of analyzing the lessons of their struggle, both positive and negative.

Thus the development of our theoretical work on tactics and history has been accompanied by a deeper and more penetrating criticism of trotskyism. Our denunciation of the revisionist stand of Seventh Congress of the Cl in 1935, for example, also casts light on similar social-democratic theorizing from Trotsky, which actually preceded the Seventh Congress. And the development of our practical work has also called forward a series of articles denouncing trotskyism and, among other things, the views of the current trotskyist groupings on united front tactics, views close to those of the Seventh Congress.

We emphatically disagree with Red Dawn’s view that the whole movement of the last few decades is simply a wing of revisionism. On the contrary, this movement raised the banner of anti-revisionism in passionate debates among the masses, and moreover, through passionate revolutionary work. We criticize the blemishes of this movement in order to uphold the spirit of the best part of this movement. If the class-conscious workers of today should adopt a contemptuous attitude to the revolutionary wave of the past, rather than learning from both the hard-won accomplishments and the deeply-ingrained errors and shortcomings of the past, they would run the risk of losing time and having to repeat this entire history step-by-step in the next revolutionary upsurge. We should leave it to others to denigrate the importance of the movements of the past or to mock them because remnants of the old movement have fallen into the gutter. In our view, many Marxist-Leninist activists and workers of the past fought valiantly for the cause of communism, and our work stands on their shoulders.

In the rest of this article, we will deal with some of these points in more detail.

I. The question of facts

One of the basic issues running through Red Dawn’s reply is the question of the role of facts about Soviet history. In our article How to approach the study of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union we pointed out various inaccuracies in Red Dawn’s articles. We didn’t just go into these inaccuracies for themselves, but because a closer and more accurate study of Soviet history brings out some of the theoretical and practical problems of the period of transition to socialism.

Red Dawn appears to agree that various of their assertions on Soviet history were factually wrong. For example, they had used various examples to show that the start of the first five-year plan marked the definite counterrevolutionary restoration of capitalism. In their reply they seem to agree that various of their examples can in fact be traced back even ten years earlier, and were discussed by Lenin.

But Red Dawn doesn’t think that these inaccuracies affect their work at all. Not in any important way. For one thing, they state that we "tend to see only trees, not the forest".

Is Red Dawn saying that there are many equally significant examples that far outweigh the few examples we criticized? It doesn’t seem so. They do not give other examples to outweigh the ones we commented on. They do not weigh the significance of events that took place in 1928 versus earlier. Instead they seem to think that there can be a forest without trees.

They also state that, we "judged [each example] in isolation".

Does this mean that they have additional information on these examples that shows their relation to each other? Or do they have more information on the development of these examples? It doesn’t seem so. They don’t give any further information about one-person management, cost accounting, etc.

As a matter of fact, in our article we stressed the necessity to look at the various measures in context and in the process of development. We put forward that "the measures must be looked at in the light of the economic and social conditions of the time. Moreover, they must be looked at from the theoretical side. The revolution in Russia provided a test on a vast scale of the Marxist theory of revolution, and of the question of transitional steps."

Furthermore, we pointed out that it is not sufficient to simply determine when a measure, such as "one-person management", is initiated. Even if the measure is permissible in principle and necessary when first introduced, one has to study what becomes of this measure. One must examine "how such measures were carried out. Were they carried too far? How were they modified by the first five-year plan and subsequently? Without examining these things concretely it is impossible to say whether they should or could have-been modified differently at this time. Or whether they should or could have been abolished altogether. Or whether and how they differ from what the revisionists are doing in their name."

So we ourselves raised the issue of looking at examples not in isolation, but in their relation to other facts and in their development over time.

But all this is still, in the view of Red Dawn’s reply, taking things "one by one, in and for itself". It is still failure to "grasp a concrete point of departure."

What Red Dawn means by taking things in isolation is not that there should be a deeper study of history. Nor are they calling for more consideration of the theory concerning such measures as one-person management. They are simply closing their eyes when either facts or communist theory go against the phrases they have obtained from Cliff or other conclusions they want to maintain.

For one thing, Red Dawn stresses that a deeper study of the facts is not the issue. Towards the end of their article, where they raise the issue of developing a new methodology, they advocate that "even with the most proper facts as basis, it would be quite impossible to get a clear and understandable general picture..." Their point of departure is, apparently, to start out with proper "categories and definitions". They say that "The facts and figures that we have presented have rather had the function of confirming and illustrating what we have concluded by using another method..."

Thus Red Dawn does not find the solution to the problem of having isolated individual facts in a more thorough study of the facts, or of the history of these facts, or of their connection to each other, but in having a proper "concrete point of departure". Apparently they think that one starts with the proper conclusions, and the role of the facts is not to test these conclusions but simply to illustrate them.

It is true that one can hardly study anything without having some general picture to begin with. And it is true that the deeper and richer one’s theoretical framework is, the more profound one’s study of history becomes. In fact, one of our differences with Red Dawn is that they have not made a study of Lenin’s views on transitional measures or apparently given much thought at all to the tasks of transition to socialism. Disregard for historical facts seems to have gone hand in hand with disregard for theory.

But communist theory does not at all lead one to have contempt for the study of facts and of what really exists. How many times did Lenin insist that one should not rely on high-sounding names, but should verify each step of transition to socialism? To have theories and viewpoints before beginning some study is useful if it opens one eyes to the different issues that are involved in this study. Then instead of just facing a bewildering maze of isolated facts, one realizes one is dealing with issues of much importance. Then if the facts are unexpected, it can lead to changes and advances in the theory and general views. However, this assumes that the facts are regarded as important.

We don’t think that it is possible or useful to empty one’s mind and make it a "blank sheet of paper" before beginning some historical study. But we support materialism, and hold that the real world has to be regarded as the source of correct theories. We ourselves have found in the course of historical work that our views on certain matters proved wrong, and we have corrected them.

Red Dawn’s method of simply casting aside the facts about the internal situation in the Soviet Union, when these facts don’t illustrate their point of departure, is an arbitrary method. Everyone could take their own "concrete points of departure". In practice, it seems to us that Red Dawn’s methodology has put a damper on serious investigation, not just of historical facts, but of theoretical questions as well.

Facts and the question of sources

Red Dawn’s disregard of materialism is also shown in their discussion of sources. In one section of their reply they criticize our use of sources. But in this criticism, they don’t even refer to what facts are at stake. All that concerns them is the overall stands of various historians.

For example, Red Dawn refers to J. Arch Getty and his doctoral thesis. They state that it "seems to be a serious and well-documented attempt... to deal with the purges of the 1930’s." But they are critical of our use of this work anyway. They briefly describe what they take to be his general views on Soviet history, and criticize it. Since they disagree with Getty’s overall views, they don’t think we should have used Getty in the study of Soviet history.

They do not even mention what statistics on party members we got from Getty, nor did they try to evaluate these statistics. All that concerns them is to discredit Getty’s "concrete point of departure", so to speak.

The same thing takes place with their discussion of our use of a statistic from Schapiro. They point out that Schapiro is a raving anti-communist. They prove conclusively that Schapiro should not be used to teach people the history of communism. But they don’t even refer to the actual statistics we cited from Schapiro, and they don’t discuss whether they are accurate.

They contrast to our study the use of original Soviet sources. But they don’t deal with the fact that Schapiro sometimes refers to original Soviet sources, including the official Soviet party handbooks of the time. In studying Soviet history, and in finding out about the original sources, one often has to deal with historians who make one want to hold one’s nose. From this angle, we appreciate seeing a denunciation of Schapiro. But historical work requires more than simply talking about Schapiro’s general stand.

In the study of Soviet history, when we refer to some books as a reference, we are not endorsing the general stand of the author. Nor are we necessarily endorsing the overall value of the particular work we are citing. Often a book or an article has one chapter or one section or even simply one particular reference (say to an original Soviet source) that is of interest and that might be accurate. And in all cases, even with respect to good sources, we believe that one has to take a critical attitude and evaluate both the trustworthiness of the facts cited and what they really mean.

Besides Getty and Schapiro, Red Dawn also discusses the historian E.H. Carr, whom they seem to like. But the notable thing is that, if they had read and studied the sections of Carr’s writings on Soviet economics, they could not have written their earlier articles on Soviet history. Carr himself shows that various of the measures, which Red Dawn said had started in 1928, actually occurred earlier. We ourselves have made a good deal of use of Carr and similar historians.

So, with respect to Carr too, Red Dawn seems more interested in a general attitude to Carr, then in the particular facts one might obtain from reading Carr. For some reason, they want to give Carr a stamp of approval.

They say that Carr is a serious historian. But, since they deal with the general stand of Getty and Schapiro, it is odd they don’t also criticize Carr’s views. Carr was an anticommunist, although not a raving one like Schapiro. Carr’s writings are full of his anti-communism and restricted by his narrow and restricted theoretical framework. This can be seen, for example, in his extensive passages on communist theory. Nevertheless, despite his anti-communism, Carr felt that the study of Soviet history should be based on finding some facts. That is why some of Carr’s work is more useful than that of more shallow historians.

Red Dawn also mentions another author, Tony Cliff. They endorse his work and his conclusions, and say they based much of their work on. But if one examines Cliffs book, one discovers that he made use of all different types of sources. He did not at all follow the rules which Red Dawn’s lays down. But it seems that since Red Dawn agrees with Cliffs conclusions, he is not to be restricted by the rules which Red Dawn applies to others.

Indeed, there are definite problems with Cliff as a historian. Cliff is not even reliable when he directly cites a work of Lenin. For example, at the end of our article How to approach the study of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union, we pointed out how Cliff distorted Lenin’s views on the "Taylor system" of industrial management. Cliff footnotes his distortion to the very article by Lenin, The Taylor system–the enslavement of man by machine, which he is distorting. And other examples could be given.

It seems to us that Red Dawn’s discussion of sources shows that they are more interested in the general point of view of historians, than in the independent development of communist historical work.

Marxism and materialism

Red Dawn describes their methodology with respect to facts and points of departure as the "method of Marxism". But Marx held that the real world is primary, and that theories, conclusions, and "points of departure", must be based on it.

Marx himself gave an example of the painstaking analysis of facts that is required by the materialist method. The viewpoint of Marxist economics, in broad outline, had already been worked out by 1848-50 or so. And, Engels says, by the late 1850’s, Marx’s criticism of bourgeois economics had been worked out in some detail. (See Engels’ introduction to the 1891 edition of Wage-Labor and Capital) But the first volume of Capital did not. Appear until 1867, the second volume not until 1885, and the third not until 1894, with the last two volumes both being finished after Marx’s death by Engels. Theories of Surplus Value, which is sometimes regarded as volume four of Capital, did not appear at all during Marx’s and Engels’ lifetimes. Had Marx regarded the role of facts as simply that of illustrating one’s point of departure, these long delays would have been incomprehensible.

The result of Marx’s painstaking effort was that Capital was not simply a collection of general denunciations of capitalism, as had been produced previously by many different economists and pamphleteers. It instead revealed a whole series of laws of capitalist economy, and it proved its value over and over in guiding revolutionary work. Marx even paid attention to apparently minor details of capitalism, and many of these details later proved of importance to the communist movement, as those familiar with Lenin’s use of Marxist economics to explain a whole series of difficult problems of Russian life can appreciate.

II. The internal class struggle and the Marxist method

Red Dawn’s deprecation of the detailed study of Soviet history is related to its denigration of the internal class struggle. In the methodology they advocate, they stress that the external factor is the decisive. They put forward, as their point of departure, general talk about the world market, the world balances of forces, etc.

As we have seen, they have claimed that our study of the facts about "one-person management", "cost accounting", etc. was missing the forest for the trees, was taking each fact in an isolated way, etc. What is the "forest" they were talking about? They state that "we do not think that one can abstract the internal class relations in one single country from the international class struggle, from the relations of strength on a world scale. On the contrary, seen in a somewhat longer perspective, the last-mentioned factor is the one that plays the decisive role. Thereby, we arrive at the concrete point of departure, which we think one has to grasp in order to get an overall picture of what state capitalism is and how it has come about."

Thus the point of departure turns out to be general talk about the world market, about competition on the world market, and so forth. Red Dawn ends up stressing that "we do not derive the Soviet Union’s relation to the world market from the state capitalist character of the Soviet economy, but we derive, on the contrary, the state capitalist character of the Soviet economy from the Soviet Unions relation to the world market." (emphasis in the original)

From this point of view, of course, the facts about the development of one-person management, cost accounting, etc., aren’t that important. They presumably couldn’t really establish the state-capitalist character of the Soviet Union, because that can only be established by the external factor. This presumably shows what Red Dawn means when they say that the facts simply illustrate a conclusion reached from other considerations. From this point of view, issues such as one-person management have no value whatsoever except as illustrations of the effects of the external factor. So if these facts are wrong, it is irrelevant.

And from this point of view, there is almost nothing that can be learned from the study of the Soviet attempt to build socialism. This point of view really means abandoning the study of capitalist restoration.

Red Dawn puts forward this emphasis on the external factor as the Marxist method. But Marxism, on the contrary, lays stress on the class struggle. Recall the famous words of the Communist Manifesto:

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

"Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." (Section I, Bourgeois and proletarians)

This standpoint has always lead communists to lay stress on the class divisions in a society, and the development of the contending class forces.

Marxism-Leninism also deals with the external factors, wars, the development of the world market, etc., as Marx and Engels did in the Communist Manifesto itself. And communism has stood up for the struggle of the oppressed for liberation from national oppression and imperialism. But it is the class struggle that provides the key, and upon which the external factors act. The proletarian struggle is a world struggle, and the working class must link arms around the world, but this class solidarity has grown up because the confrontation with exploitation takes place everywhere. Even in the struggle of oppressed nations against imperialism, it is the hallmark of communism that it develops the role of the oppressed toilers and takes a class stand.

In any particular situation, the Marxist method does not call for judging from general theory whether the external or the internal factor doomed a revolutionary attempt. Marxism calls for a concrete examination of the facts of the matter. But Marxism lays stress on how events affect the internal class relations. It characterizes societies by their internal class relations. Even when a revolution is crushed by overwhelming, external military intervention, it orients the working class to examine the lessons of the revolution’s internal development. And throughout its history, the communist movement has again and again upset apparently ironclad external factors through the development of the class struggle.

Consider the question of struggle of the Russian Marxists against the petty-bourgeois radicalism known as populism or narodism. It was the narodniks who maintained that capitalism developed in Russia because of external factors such as the world market. They developed such theories as that surplus value could not be utilized by the capitalists unless there was a foreign market. And, if one only dwelt on surface issues, they had every reason to hold this. Indeed, a huge part of Russian industry was directly owned or controlled by foreign firms, and financed by foreign banks. Economically, Russia was dependent on foreign capital.

But Marxists showed how capitalism sprang directly from the internal development of Russia. Lenin wrote a number of works on this. And the struggle by the Marxists against petty-bourgeois radicalism on this and other issues laid the theoretical basis for the development of a Russian revolutionary workers’ party. Nor did this recognition of the internal sources of Russian capitalism separate off the Russian workers from the world working class movement On the contrary, it helped inspire their sense of being part of the world struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie.

Reducing everything to the world market may sound radical. But it bears a good deal in common with petty- bourgeois radicalism and departs from the basic Marxist stand.

Yet this isn’t the only issue on which Red Dawn downplays the internal class struggle. In the February issue of the Supplement, we commented on the resolution on imperialism and the oppressed countries from the founding documents of the Marxist-Leninist League of Sweden. There too we saw that they tended to overlook the internal class struggle in various of their explanations. They tended to argue simply from some general phases about the relationship of the oppressed countries to the world market. They held that the external factor, and some generalities as that this is the era of imperialism, provide the complete key to the questions of revolutionary tactics.

Take the question of whether there are stages to the revolution. Red Dawn believes that anything but immediate socialist revolution is opportunism (although they also believe that such revolutions cannot actually implement socialism until the world revolution). They deduce this from general considerations about this being the era of imperialism, and from talk about world imperialism, the world market, etc. They don’t consider the question of the internal class development in each country, nor do they consider that the variety of such development makes a difference.

Their resolution also makes "isolation from the world market" the basic answer for why the revisionist countries went into crisis. Here again, it is the world market, and not the internal factors, that Red Dawn lays stress on. Indeed, it puts exclusive attention on the external factor.

In this downplaying of the internal class struggle, Red Dawn has departed from the Marxist standpoint.

III. Slavery and the Marxist method

Red Dawn, however, insists that the downplaying of the internal situation is the Marxist method. To show this, they give the example of black slavery in America prior to the civil war of 1861-5.

To deal with this example, we will first have to see what Red Dawn is saying about slavery, and then analyze slavery itself. This is a lot about a situation far removed from Soviet history. But the example of slavery is quite important for the Red Dawn article. It reflects on several points:

a) Red Dawn uses this example to prove that the characterization of an economic system does not come from its internal class relations.

b) Red Dawn uses a quotation from Marx’s Grundrisse about slavery to prove that their talk about the world market is Marxist

c) Red Dawn holds that the internal essence of Soviet revisionism, is slavery.

So, following the line of argument of Red Dawn, we will have to depart from such issues as one-person management, cost accounting, who administers the Soviet state and economy, etc., and spend time on American slavery.

What Red Dawn says about American slavery

First, let us see what Red Dawn is saying.

Red Dawn refers back to the "slave economy of the plantations in the south of the USA before the civil war." They ask whether this was capitalism or not. In particular, they are interested in whether the slave is actually a somewhat camouflaged form of wage-laborer.

Red Dawn points out that, under capitalism, "the worker himself owns his own labor power, which he sells like a commodity to the employer." Red Dawn then turns to the plantations themselves and the class relations on the plantations. They point out that "there was no labor labor market on the plantations, and the slave-owners did not buy labor-power from the slaves." From this, Red Dawn concludes that "regarding this slave economy, this system of plantations, in and for itself, then it clearly was not capitalism." By saying it was "not capitalism", Red Dawn apparently means that the slave was not a wage-laborer.

Of course the American economy as a whole was capitalist. The plantation owner engaged in buying and selling slaves and everything else on the capitalist market. In that sense, the plantation owner might perhaps be called a capitalist as well as a slave-owner. But the slave was his property, his capital, not his employee. (Of course, the plantation owner might also have employees, such as slave-drivers.) In any case, when Red Dawn discusses whether, in their words, slavery was really "capitalist" or not, they are particularly interested in whether the slave was a type of wage-worker.

So Red Dawn holds that, if one just examines the plantations in and of themselves, it looks like slavery and not capitalism. But Red Dawn says one must look further.

After giving a quote from Marx, Red Dawn states that "on the surface, there is no free wage-labor..." Thus Red Dawn believes that it is only "on the surface" that the American slave was not a wage-laborer. Instead, they claim, due to competition in the world sale of slave-made cotton, the slaves were actually "producers of surplus value for capital accumulation."

What does this formula "producer of surplus value for capital accumulation" mean? Now, all exploited toilers, whether slaves, serfs, or wage-laborers, give up surplus-labor to the exploiters. But by talking of "surplus value for capital accumulation", Red Dawn is characterizing the slave as actually a sort of wage-laborer.

And what caused the slave to allegedly be a wage-laborer? Red Dawn says that "the plantation owners have to compete, for instance with cotton-producing landlords from Egypt, in the British market." Thus Red Dawn believes that it is because cotton was sold to Britain, and not just that, because there allegedly was competition with other cotton, such as Egyptian cotton.

But how does this compare to the facts of the matter? And with Marx’s quote?

Did the world market turn slavery into disguised wage-slavery?

This theory about slavery is absurdly wrong. It is a fairytale that clashes with the most basic facts about the history of American slavery.

Of course, the development of a market for cotton did play a role in American slavery. Through the development of the cotton gin, and the existence of a huge British market for cotton, cotton cultivation became profitable on a slave basis. This gave a gigantic push to the development of slavery.

But this development took place on the basis of the internal nature of slavery. It did not convert the slave into a disguised wage-worker, and it did not ease the slave’s situation. Instead, if anything, it intensified all the worse features of slavery. The plantations that concentrated on growing cotton for money developed a system of sweating the slaves so badly that they regularly wore out and died in a few years. And other plantations developed whose role was to breed slaves like cattle for sale to the cotton-growers. Some states specialized in cotton, while others specialized in breeding slaves.

The slave was not a disguised wage-worker. The slave was bought and sold like cattle, and bred like cattle. It was not just "on the surface" that the slave wasn’t a wage-worker. The slave was no more a wage-worker than the cattle or horses on the plantation.

Furthermore, the vast extension of slavery that took place also intensified the contradictions between the slaveowners and the non-slave-owning section of the exploiters.

The position of the slave was not advanced to a form of wage-labor by the world market, and slavery did not become a mere surface appearance. Instead, if anything, the world market for cotton made the slave chains heavier than ever, and underlined the gulf between the status of slave labor and wage-labor. These slave chains were only broken later by the bitter and bloody strife called the Civil War.

As a result of the Civil War, slavery was abolished. But this gigantic mass struggle, both the war and the Reconstruction period that followed it, was led by the northern bourgeoisie. As a result, it ended in a compromise between the northern bourgeoisie and the former slaveowners. The black masses remained oppressed and discriminated against. The black people were subjected to share-cropping and other exceptionally vicious forms of exploitation. The oppression of the black people, in its varying forms, and the struggle against it, has remained one of the central issues of American politics to this day.

Thus pointing to the sale of cotton on the world market can in no way replace the examination of the class relations in the slave economy itself. Nor, for that matter, can it explain the Civil War. Far from showing the value of Red Dawn’s method of deriving the nature of a country’s social system from a general mention of the country’s connection to the world market, the example of slavery shows its emptiness.

The quotation from Marx

But what about the quotation from Marx?

This quotation actually has nothing to do with the theories of Red Dawn about American slavery.

Red Dawn talks about competition on the world market. But the quotation from Marx doesn’t even mention the world market.

Red Dawn talks about the plantation system being slavery, rather than capitalism, only "on the surface". But what does the quotation say? When it says that "Negro slavery presupposes wage labor," it refers to "free states with wage labor" existing alongside the slave states. Clearly Marx is talking about wage labor in the free states existing alongside slave labor in the plantations. This is a simple statement of what existed in the U.S., and has nothing to do with redefining the slave-system on the plantations.

It could also be added that selling cotton to Britain presupposed the existence of British wage-laborers, who worked in the British textile mills which provided the market for Southern cotton. But the existence of wage- labor in British factories doesn’t help Red Dawn’s view of the plantation either.

Red Dawn says that Marx believed "it was sufficient to show that the plantation owners were forced to act as heads of capitalist enterprises as a result of external coercion from rival capitalists." This has nothing to do with the quotation.

Red Dawn gives this quotation from Marx as their model of Marx’s method. Actually, it is just a brief example in a long discussion of money in Marx’s Grundrisse. Red Dawn doesn’t discuss the context from which the quotation comes. In fact, they probably didn’t get the quotation directly from the Grundrisse but from a secondary source, because they leave out an important part of it, and it is very unlikely that Red Dawn would itself have left these words out if they had known of them. The omitted section points out that the slavery being discussed was "incompatible with the development of bourgeois society and disappears with it".

So far from Marx saying that the plantation system was really a form of bourgeois society, with the slaves being the wage-laborers, Marx asserts the exact opposite. He states that the southern slave system of plantations was "incompatible" with the further development of American capitalism.

Let’s look at the complete sentence on American slavery. The italics are as in the original, but we have placed the omitted words in boldface.

"Negro slaverya purely industrial slavery–which is, besides, incompatible with the development of bourgeois society and disappears with it,presupposes wage labour, and if other, free states with wage labour did not exist alongside it, if, instead, the Negro states were isolated, then all social conditions there would immediately turn into pre-civilized forms." (Marx, Grundrisse, Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, English ed., Notebook II, "The chapter on Money (continuation)", p. 224)

This quotation simply has nothing to do with Red Dawn’s theorizing on American slavery.

But there is another issue as well. Red Dawn uses this quotation to show the Marxist method. But we think that there has to be a much more serious approach to Marxism. There has to be a real study of what Marxism-Leninism teaches about economics, politics, and revolutionary struggle. This cannot be done on such a casual basis.

Our Party has repeatedly studied the writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin and other communist writings. We have found this to be extremely important. It is not just a question of learning a few facts about Marxism, but of grasping the Marxist outlook and the general outlines of Marxist-Leninist theory. We live in a bourgeois society, and we are bombarded by bourgeois ideas. (For that matter, the study of history also forces us to deal with bourgeois historians, who propagate their bourgeois outlook in their books.) And we also are products of the times and of the past revolutionary movement, and there are many deeply-ingrained views from the past that are wrong. As a result, it takes work and perseverance to develop a consistently materialist and communist outlook.

When Red Dawn puts forward ah isolated quotation to prove that the Marxist method does not dwell on the internal class relations, or when they put aside as outdated the Leninist views on transition to socialism, it raises the question of whether they realize the need to seriously study Marxism.

Slavery and the Soviet revisionism

Red Dawn goes on to apply this theory of slavery to Soviet revisionism. They actually advocate that the intrinsic internal nature of the Soviet Union is slavery. True, a slavery with wages, education, a freedom to change jobs, etc. But all these are mere internal features of Soviet revisionism, which aren’t that important. It is supposedly only the world market and world imperialist system that turns Soviet Union into a state capitalist society.

Thus, right after the passage on American slavery, they turn to the Soviet Union. They say that "the Soviet workers are no slaves", are paid wages, can buy what they choose, "have certain possibilities" to choose where they work, etc. Nevertheless, they say, "since the Soviet Union in fact is like one huge enterprise, it is the state which bears all the costs of the upkeep of its workers from the cradle to the grave, and in turn reaps all the benefits from the laboring activities. In this respect, the plantation owners in the American South at the time of slavery and the Soviet bureaucratic class, the nomenclatura, are in comparable positions. What makes the Soviet Union a part of the capitalist world system is not that the workers are paid wages or can change work place, but the fact that everything is subordinated to the needs of capital accumulation."

The American slaves were not paid wages, were not allowed to learn to read, did not have much spent on their upkeep, had no voice in where they worked, etc. But all this is secondary. Since the Soviet bureaucracy as a whole reaps the benefits from the workers labor, Red Dawn says that is is similar to the Southern plantation system.

This is absurd phrasemongering. In the U.S. too, the bourgeoisie as a whole reaps the benefits from the workers’ labor. Perhaps "in this respect" the plantation-system of slavery still exists in the U.S. as well?

Furthermore, Red Dawn actually points to the "cradle to grave" social network in the Soviet system as a sign of slavery. They apparently don’t think it is a concession to the working class that the Soviet state has to bear, however inadequately, various welfare costs, but supposedly a sign of 19th-century plantation slavery.

Presumably Red Dawn hasn’t thought through the implementations of this theory. Take health care for example. Britain has a national health-system, although it is being torn down dramatically in recent years. This means that the state bears the "cradle to grave" responsibility for health care. In the United States, however, there is private health care, and tens of millions of working class people cannot afford medical care. According to the line of reasoning of Red Dawn, Britain’s health system would Britain closer to the slave system of the Southern plantation owners.

Red Dawn’s theory of slavery inadvertently falls back to the position of some bourgeois theories that characterize all "collectivism" as slavery" or feudalism. Once one abandons a close study of the actual economics and politics, once the internal situation and the class relations become irrelevant, then the path is open to the most arbitrary theorizing.

(To be continued)