Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Vanguard

Why CWP Flip-Flopped on Russia

First Published: Workers Vanguard, No. 283, June 19, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Not since the McCarthyite period of the early 1950s has anti-Sovietism so dominated American political life as it does today. Every cutback in school lunches for poor children, in Social Security benefits for the aged is justified as “strengthening our defenses” against a “Russian menace.” The one and only purpose given for U.S. support to rightist butchers from Central America to the Near Fast to southern Africa is to counter alleged Moscow-inspired “international terrorism.” And now Washington’s Captain Queeg, Alexander (“I’m in charge here”) Haig flies off to Peking to present jet fighters to one of the few regimes in the world as fanatically anti-Soviet as he.

Just as U.S. imperialism now finds Maoist China one of its staunchest allies against the USSR, so the American Maoists with their shrill ranting about “Soviet social-imperialism” have in their own small way contributed to the present Cold War II. As we wrote when the Soviet intervention against Islamic reactionaries in Afghanistan set Washington and Peking howling about “Russian imperialism”:

Those leftists, whatever they call themselves, who deny that the USSR is a proletarian state (although bureaucratically degenerated) find themselves–some more, some less willing!–on the same side of the barricades as U.S. imperialism. [emphasis in original]–“Maoists United with Uncle Sam.” WV No. 250, 22 February, 1980

Attacking mainstream liberalism from the right, the once relatively large Maoist formations have now become despised, demoralized and disintcgrating sects (see “End of the Line for American Maoism,” WV No. 281. 22 May 1981).

Seeking to avoid the miserable fate of its erstwhile sister/rival Maoist organizations, the Communist Workers Party (CWP) led by Jerry lung has just sharply changed its line on the Russian question. The new line is heralded in a front-page editorial, “The Socialist Road,” in the CWP’s Workers Viewpoint (25 May), which includes an excerpt from Tung’s to-be-published opus on the subject. The General Secretary, it seems, has suddenly discovered that Maoism represents “an idealist view of socialism” and that the Soviet Union is a “socialist” country.

Does this mean the CWP will now defend the USSR against Washington’s imperialist war drive? Hardly. At a time when even many liberals are scared that the celluloid cowboy in the White House will plunge headlong into World War III, Tung has belatedly discovered the virtues of detente:

The Soviet Union is a socialist country without spontaneous economic forces and needs driving it blindly towards war. The CWP upholds the policy of detente. We regard the struggle for detente as one major struggle for world peace. Policies of detente, independent of U.S. intrigues, lessen the danger of World War III...

Remember how in the early ’60s the Maoists denounced the Kremlin’s policy of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism at the expense of revolutions in the colonial world. It’s a long way down to detente!

The Red Guard That Failed

A few years ago the Workers Viewpoint Organization (now the CWP) was competing with Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) for the mantle of frenzied Red Guardist cult. A photo of a mummified-looking Jerry Tung flanked by Mrs. Mao and her cohorts regularly graced the pages of Workers Viewpoint. However, after the bloody Greensboro, North Carolina massacre in November 1979, where Klan/Nazi gunmen murdered five of its members, the CWP in fear of isolation moved sharply to the right. While at first threatening to attack left groups (notably the Spartacist League) who protested the fascist killings of the “CWP 5,” soon they were attempting to put together typical Stalinist popular fronts with liberal Democrats. This Chinatown-derived organization began spouting a hokey nativism which sounds as if it was learned by listening to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.

Hoping to avoid the prickly question of resurgent anti-Soviet militarism, the CWP focused its popular-front projects on domestic issues–the Klan, civil liberties cases, economic struggles. But Reagan has brought the Cold War home with a vengeance. He is literally taking milk from the mouths of black ghetto children to pay General Dynamics for more Trident submarines. Reagan has made domestic economic austerity inseparable from anti-Soviet militarism. There is thus a basis for a “fight-the-right” popular front extending from Teddy Kennedy to various self-styled Communist groups. We saw the beginnings of this in the People’s Antiwar Mobilization (PAM), whose May 3 protest in Washington was not simply and narrowly focused on El Salvador but instead presented a rad-lib response to Reagan reaction in a general sense.

The CWP very much wants into the “butter vs. guns” anti-Reagan coalition and is willing to pay the ideological fee. Had Jerry Tung attacked “Soviet social-imperialism” when he spoke at the May 3 PAM rally, he would have alienated the liberals present, who were upset over Reagan’s portrayal of the Salvadoran civil war as a prime case of made-in-Moscow terrorism. So he didn’t. Predictably, the Avakianite RCP denounced the PAM rally and especially the CWP from the right, accusing them of “pro-Soviet amnesia” which “was meant to cover over the cardinal point that there are two imperialist blocs committing crimes all over the world” (Revolutionary Worker, 15 May [emphasis in original]). But this Maoist line is suicidal in the El Salvador protests (and not only there). So that is why the CWP is singing a different tune.

Singing Along with Teddy

Superficially it may appear that the CWP’s new position on the Soviet Union is similar to that of Nelson Peery’s Communist Labor Party (CLP) or the wing of the ex-Maoist “Trend” around Irwin Silber, who hold that the USSR is a “socialist” country in its economic base but saddled with a “chauvinistic” leadership. The similarity is merely formal. The CLP has become critical Brezhnevites while the Silberites are moving toward, if they haven’t already become, Muscovite fellow travelers. Both the CLP and Silber support Russian intervention in Angola and Afghanistan, for instance. But not the CWP, which is basically dumping all its international baggage so as to accommodate its popular-front appetites. It is not going to defend the USSR in any way that is unpopular with the liberals.

And where liberals condemn “Soviet imperialism,” as over Afghanistan, Tung willingly joins the chorus. The Workers Viewpoint excerpt from his new book reasserts that “their [the Russian leaders’] invasion of Afghanistan and opportunist practice in Angola ... have held back rather than helped the internal basis for revolution in those countries.” So, true to his Maoist past, Tung still condemns the Soviets and Cuba for saving the Angolan black nationalists from the U.S. imperialist-backed South African apartheid army! But where rad-lib activists want to pretend that the Cold War is not the issue, as in El Salvador, the CWP can sing that tune as well.

For years the arch-Maoist CWP campaigned against “Soviet social-imperialism,” recruiting and training its members to the line of “two superpowers.” Now practically overnight the organization changes its position on such a fundamental question as the class nature of the Soviet Union. For any serious Marxist tendency this would mean a profound political upheaval and likely splits. Not so for the CWP. “Basically we have to continue what we’ve been doing, but also deepen our study,” writes Tung. “It’s not instant coffee.” The CWP helmsman acts as if nothing really has happened. In a sense, it hasn’t. This light-minded revision of the Russian question demonstrates the cultist nature of the CWP.

But the Tung cult is not unique among the erstwhile Mao-Stalinists, only slower on the uptake. As China’s alliance with U.S. imperialism became increasingly repellent in the petty-bourgeois radical milieu, a number of once-Maoist groupings changed their position on the Russian question for essentially opportunist reasons. In contrast, we Trotskyists have consistently insisted that ever since Stalin usurped power the Soviet Union has been a bureaucratically ruled (degenerated) workers state. While the RCP, CP-ML, CWP, etc. all were trying to discover a falling rate of profit and a “red bourgeoisie” in the Soviet Union, the Spartacist League uniquely offered a scientific Marxist analysis of Stalinism and a program of unconditional military defense of the degenerated/ deformed workers states against imperialism together with workers political revolution to oust the ruling bureaucracies from Moscow to Peking (see the SL pamphlet, Why the USSR Is Not Capitalist [1976]).

Jerry Tung’s conversion to detente between U.S. imperialism and “socialist” Russia is a cynical maneuver to appeal to liberals scared by Reagan’s thermonuclear warmongering. However, there may well be CWPers who now realize the absolutely counterrevolutionary import of the Mao-Stalinist dogma of “Soviet social-imperialism” and who recognize that the USSR, despite its bureaucratic, nationalistic leadership, continues to embody vital social and economic gains of the Bolshevik Revolution. To such disoriented ex-Maoists we say: defense of the gains of October (and of the Chinese Revolution) lies not in popular fronts with imperialist “doves” but in implacable class struggle, directed against the liberal Teddy Kennedys no less than the conservative Ronald Reagans. Imperialist militarism, as Lenin taught us, is not a reversible policy but the very essence of capitalism in the present epoch. Only proletarian revolution worldwide can stop U.S. imperialism’s war drive against the Soviet Union.