First Published: Turning Point Vol. II, No. 6, November 1949
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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From Kautsky to Foster, the ideological foundation of Social Democracy has been revisionism: the perversion of Marxism through repudiation of the fundamental ideas of Marxism – in the name of Marxism. Though, by its very function, revisionism parade as Marxism, it has been forced – more and more in recent history – to do so in open opposition to the recognized Communist movement. So badly was it exposed by Leninism that revisionist Social Democracy became that strange but understandable pillar of the bourgeoisie: “Marxist” anti-Communism. In this capacity, Social Democracy adequately served the bourgeoisie during the period when Socialism was-unproven, during the period when the first Socialist state was fighting for its life, and even during the period when the S.U. was firmly established but still encircled by a capitalist world.
Today, the world looks different to the bourgeoisie – and to its ideological servants, the strongest power in the world is the Soviet Union; that part of continental Europe which is not already Socialist will be soon; Communists have taken over the heart of Asia – China; and a good part of the rest of the world is seething with revolt. Forcibly removed from this large Communist arena, anti-Communist Social Democracy lost its former potency and was relegated to the post of phraseologist for the bourgeoisie’s attacks on the Communist movement proper. In other words, Marxism-Leninism has been able, over a period of time, to force revisionist and opportunist Social Democracy into the open where it stands exposed as reactionary.
But – this removal of Social Democracy from the Communist movement proper also means the inevitability of its reappearance in new form. The main factor in determining its new form is that it has to operate in a world going Socialist. If It wishes to operate insidiously within the Communist movement, it cannot – in its most effective and shrewd form – be anti-Soviet, anti-Stalin, anti-Cominform, etc. It mast, of necessity, develop new subtlety and operate as pro-Communist.
Today, in the anti-Communist center of the world, the leadership of the CPUSA has bravely volunteered in the service of Social Democracy by carrying forward this new and most dangerous form of Social Democracy. Reincarnated Kautskyites – very wisely – do not go by the name of Social Democrat, Socialist, or even “CPUSA, 2nd International”. Calling itself Communist, offering careful lip-allegiance to the S.U., the Communist Information Bureau, and Marxism-Leninism, attacking revisionism as it goes, the CPUSA leadership has adopted the exact tenets of revisionism arid opportunism. The content is old: the form is new. The content is determined by the needs of world capitalism; the form is determined by the new conditions of powerful world Socialism.
For a time, the CPUSA leadership betrayed its opportunism and revisionism through its practice more openly than through its theory. The National Committee, after the CPA excursion, considered it necessary to be careful in what it said or wrote. The N.C. felt it would be wise to have Political Affairs read well for the overseas Parties. But all this was no damper on what was done by the CPUSA. By now, however, the destruction in the revolutionary and working class movements (resulting from the practice of the CPUSA’s opportunism) has laid such a solid basis for further adventures that the CPUSA leaders have brazenly reverted to the classic formulations of the Kautskys. They have injected revisionism more deeply into the American revolutionary movement than Browder ever had.
Of what does this now open CPUSA Social Democracy consist? What classic formulations of revisionism has it openly embraced? Turning Point has traced this process in many fields. But nowhere do we find a more convincing summary of the main theoretical tenets of CPUS A Social Democracy than in two current documents of William Z. Foster: his first; rejected deposition in the Foley Square Trial (published in pamphlet form by the CPUSA as “In Defense of the Communist Party and the Indicted Leaders”) and his second deposition taken by special commissioner during the period July 13-Aug. 3 (published in The Worker of 9/25/49 as “Foster Testifies”).
Our main purpose in this article is not to attempt to refute conclusively the individual outrages of Foster’s ”impositions”, on Marxism, (we have done that in other issues) but rather to distil the essence of the CPUSA leadership’s revisionism as it shows in the two depositions.
Part I has attempted to identify the new form of CPUSA revisionism. Part II analyzes the various techniques whereby Foster‘s new route (away from Socialism) is paved in order to smooth out the bumps and shocks necessarily resulting from the sacrifice of revolutionary Socialism to “orderly social progress”. Part III states in some logical sequence what in Foster occurs confusingly as rambling in the realm of ethics, cringing in the realm of respectability, and scrambling toward the realm of Americanism. Part IV adds a few noteworthy incidents of Foley Square, fantasy in order to round out the depraved atmosphere of revisionism and indicates the indivisibility of two struggles in America today: the struggle against Social Democratic opportunism and revisionism within the revolutionary movement, and the struggle against war and fascism on the part of the progressive movement generally.
The question might be raised: just how accurate is TP in attempting to judge CPUSA revisionism on the basis of Foster’s contributions to the Foley Square Trial? On this matter we yield the floor to Eugene Dennis, that gentleman who has so fearlessly plunged himself and his brethren into the fight against “anarchist”, “conspiratorial” “leftist”, “adventurist”, and “DISORDERLY” social change:
“Foster’s deposition is the most authoritative statement of our Communist Party’s position on how to prevent the rise of fascism in the United States, and on our policies for promoting orderly social progress,” (Our emphasis Daily Worker October 13, 1949)
The problem confronting Foster in his promotion of revisionism is the redirection of the fight for Socialism from the old route of Marxism-Leninism to the “new route” of Foster, Dennis, & Co. without arousing too much opposition to the National Committee’s guides, roadmaps, and roadmarkers. Foster knows that it would not be advisable for him to repudiate Marxism-Leninism, that he must only “modify”, “specifically apply”, and “extend” Marxism-Leninism – with the total effect, however, of repudiation.
Part of the “props” of any reviser who is attempting to warn us off the scientific road of Marxism and onto detours leading to “safer” roads is the DOGMA WARNING. We are warned that the hard rock of “orthodox” Marxism is apt to crack our prized posteriors – if we should fall – whereas if we only detour a bit to Foster’s new read, we can slip and fall and flounder about generally on flexible rubberized foundations without critical consequences.
True – Marxism-Leninism is “no dogma but a guide to action.” Sincere Communists who do not understand this truth are apt to become mechanical in their thinking and thereby commit mistakes which harm the cause of Socialism. But – the harm caused, by mechanical mistakes in the history of Marxism-Leninism is infinitesimal when compared with the deliberate misuse of the dogma warning in order to water down Marxism-Leninism. The inflexible Communist is apt to react slowly to specific conditions. He is apt to sectarianize the Communist movement by unconsciously ignoring developments about him. But there is nothing vicious and deliberate here; there is basically a lack of understanding of Marxism which can be corrected. So much cannot be said for the Kautskys, the Browders, and the Fosters who are essentially plagued and frightened not by an alleged dogmatic principle of Marxism – but by an “unrespectable” one. Their errors are deliberate (and in their bourgeois calculations hardly errors) and the consequences are great.
Within our own recent history, Browder should have engraved in our vigilance the confusionist technique behind the dogma warnings. The CPUSA was liquidated into the CPA under the banner of BEWARE OF DOGMA. The CPUSA has worked so long on unprincipled, hop-skip-jump eclecticism that even a mechanical and “dogmatic” adherence to Marxist-Leninist literature would be an improvement.
Marxism-Leninism is no dogma, but it does not follow that any old idea can be embraced for the cowardly purpose of proving the revolutionary movement respectable in the eyes of the bourgeoisie. There are certain basic ideas which cannot be removed without removing Marxism-Leninism itself. These are exactly the ideas that Foster has removed: the Marxist-Leninist teachings on the, state, revolution and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
Foster ingenuously (not ingeniously!) states that Marxism-Leninism is an alive science, that “much new Communist theory is developing.” (Deposition I) True – but! The new, true Marxist-Leninist ideas are those which implement the basic ideas of Marxism-Leninism and not those which neutralize them on the basis of American exceptionalism.
The CPUSA leadership is embarrassed by Marxist-Leninist theory. In attempting id free Itself from the stigma of Marxism-Leninism, it pleads with the prosecution (via Foster) to judge it fairly: “It would be a mockery of justice not to consider the actual practice of our Party.” (Deposition I) It is in this connection that Foster turns metaphysician with his theory of “action as theory come alive.”
This theory is Indispensable to Foster because he would have the bourgeoisie judge the CPUSA by its respectable and impotent deeds and not by its scurrilous theory. To Foster, Marxism-Leninism is a bit of “bad blood” with which the CPUSA was cursed in birth, but he sees no reason for not fighting free of the curse.
Foster bravely tackles a necessary adjustment. McGohey, Medina, and McGrath can find nothing for the bourgeoisie to prosecute in the practice of the CPUSA. McGohey, Medina, and McGrath, however, see plenty to prosecute in Marxism-Leninism. Foster logically reasons, therefore, that the CPUSA leadership would prefer to be judged (fairly!) by its practice and not by Marxism-Leninism, (inherent in this reasoning is the materialist observation – one of Foster’s few – that there is little connection between Marxism-Leninism and the practice of the CPUSA.) The problem for Foster is of course how to indicate all this subtly without committing the foolish error of openly rejecting Marxism-Leninism. The problem is solved ably but dishonestly in the idealist concept: action is theory come alive. Here clearly: the action of the CPUSA represents its theory. Marxism-Leninism does not. To round out the picture, we should add that the action of the CPUSA does represent its actual theories of revisionism, but not its nominal ones; of Marxism-Leninism.
Communist Parties should be judged by their practice as well as by their theory. Practice proves whether a CP is competently applying its valuable theories to the problems it faces. But in this respect, a CP is attempting to measure up to its wonderful theory and is not, in Foster fashion, attempting to evade the awful obligations of its Marxist-Leninist theory by bleating: please judge us by our deeds and not by our theory. Foster’s basic implication in all this is simply: look at our practice where you will find the theories we really go by and not merely the ones we have to lip-serve. When a real CP judges its deeds, it attempts to continually elevate its practice to the level of its theory. Foster merely tries to pull Marxism-Leninism down to the level of CPUSA’s opportunist practice.
What a flagrant contradiction of dialectical materialism is Foster’s concept of action as theory come alive! Of course, it expresses an incomplete truth. Because theory is a reflection of action (i.e., a synthesis of experience), action also becomes a reflection of theory. That is why theory is so highly regarded In the Communist movement. But the all important Marxist approach remains that, experience takes precedence over theory (matter prior to mind). Therefore, theory cannot be a priori or whimsically eclectic. The function of Marxist-Leninist theory is to plan, for the proletarian revolution on the basis of historical facts, and not to evade the proletarian revolution on the basis of Foster’s hysterical fancies.
Not only has Foster boldly demolished Lenin’s “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” and Engels’ “Anti-Duhring” (and consequently all of Marxism-Leninism) without mentioning the victims of his demolition; he has gone much further. He has supported himself with exactly that fragment of a quote from Stalin’s “Foundations of Leninism” which refutes his concept most clearly: “Revolutionary theory is a synthesis of the – experience of the working class movement throughout all lands...the generalized experience.” Against this, Foster has the gall to state in the same paragraph: “Action is theory come alive.”
Even an idiot could gather from the Stalin quote that theory does not give birth to action but rather that theory is action synthesized. Quite a difference. This brings up a peculiar technique of the CPUSA leadership. The Fosters and the Dennises have made quite a habit of brazenly basing their revisionism on references to nothing less than Marxist exposes of revisionism. What is the theory behind this trick? Knowing how low the level, of Marxist education is in the CPUSA, the leadership perpetrate a great lie and hopes for success on the basis that it “sounds good.”
“Foundations of Leninism”, “State and Revolution”, the “Communist Manifesto”, etc., etc. are all referred to in the, process of proving the “peaceful institution of Socialism!” How good such a trick can sound depends on a very material fact: how low is the level, of Marxist understanding in the CPUSA? At least this much Is obvious: many have forgotten the Marxism they once knew; many never learned any Marxism – especially recruits since the National Committee Browderhood liquidated the C’PUSA into the CPA; many who knew enough to fight for Marxist principles have been expelled; and most of the rest who might know that the founder of Marxism was not Karl Kautsky and who are still in the CP, have been beaten into a sullen stupor.”
Foster, without shame, explains why his leadership wants to be judged only by its action: “The Communist Party of the United States is an independent organization, with no organic connections with the Communist parties of other countries. Our Party is not bound by programs, strategy, and tactics as enunciated and applied by other Communist Parties.” (Deposition 1)
In leaving this detour which Foster has constructed in order to bypass the responsibilities of Marxist theory on his road away from Socialism, we must at least touch on a famous example in order to put the “true – but” quality of Foster’s concept into perspective. The Russian Revolution was certainly the translation of certain theories into action. It was theory come alive. True. But – where did its theories come from? Didn’t Marx and Engels draw the necessity of smashing the state machine from the experiences of the Paris Commune? The whole revolution in philosophy produced by Marx and Engels insists on the priority of matter – of experience. The action of the CPUSA leadership is not theory come alive, but fear and respectability come alive. Insofar as it can be considered theory come alive, it is an eloquent example of IDEALIST theory come alive.
Probably Foster’s most hysterical injunction to get off the orthodox road to Socialism is “NO BLUEPRINTS.” So completely has Foster littered the road to Socialism with warnings against “blueprints”, “plans”, and “models” that ‒on purely legal grounds – McGohey could have prosecuted the CPUSA leadership for impeding traffic. (The reader is invited to test for exaggeration by witnessing the phenomenon of FOSTER VERSUS BLUEPRINTS AD INFINITUM on the following pages – and we mention relatively few cases – of the first deposition: 5, 9, 10, 17, 1S, 19, 94, 95. These are direct references. Indirect references will be found in virtually, every paragraph of both depositions.)
Essentially, this detour has been constructed by the CPUSA leadership for the purpose of a flank attack on the international significance of the Russian Revolution, Since all of Foster’s contributions are refuted by the experiences of other CP.s and mainly by the Russian Revolution, Foster – logically for his purposes – must develop an allergy to foreign models.
It should be axiomatic for Communists that we work on the basis of generalized experience. Can any Communist in his right mind deny that generalized experience might include such excellent examples of the correct and successful application of Marxism-Leninism to life that the examples become valuable as models. All McGoheys, Medinas, and McGraths aside, Mr. Foster, what’s wrong with using the Russian Revolution, led by the genius of Lenin, as a model? We didn’t say blueprint; mechanical blueprints as raised in this, problem are a diversion. Model is a pretty clear word. So is plan. Foster rejects all three words.
Foster’s belaboring of the bogey he has set up (or happily usurped from McGohey) is simply an example of cringing before the bourgeoisie. Foster’s point is that his evolutionary Socialism (Made in U.S.A.) has nothing in common with foreign models of revolutionary Socialism. This we cannot contest.
In the interests of accuracy, we have to admit that Foster concedes certain uses to Marxism-Leninism. He muses that Marxism-Leninism can be used ”(may we suggest over a cup of tea) “as expressions of theoretical principles” or as “historical material” or ”primarily in the sense of (gird up your loins for this one) “warnings to the workers and the people”. True – but! – thrice compounded and confounded. It is unfair and indecent of Foster (as he is wont to enjoin the prosecution) to object to our recognition of models in the “Short History of the CPSU(B).” We cannot be expected to search for them in Foster’s writings inasmuch as Foster has placed most of his pre-Browderite books on the verboten list.
We must again grant Foster a certain amount of logic in his much heralded (if you follow the D. W.) “world outlook.” We grant that there is little place for model or example on Foster’s new route because, as he said in his first deposition: ”Where ever there is capitalism there is Communism. The Communist movement is spontaneous and is native to all countries. It is not a world revolutionary plot, as our enemies declare.” The spectre of world Communism (we omit the word ”plot”) certainly does not haunt Foster; he simply doesn’t believe in it.
In leaving this detour, we refer back to the April ’49 issue of Turning Point. In a much documented article, ”The “12” Are Definitely Innocent of Marxism-Leninism,” which checked the current revisions against quotations from Marxist-Leninist original we included:
“…the masses of proletarians of all countries are realizing more and more clearly every day that Bolshevism has indicated the right road of escape from the horrors of war and imperialism, that Bolshevism can serve as a model of tactics for all.” (Original emphasis. Lenin, Selected Works Vol. II, p.409).
“Stalin emphasizes this point: “One of the special features of the October Revolution is the fact that this revolution represents the classic realization of the Leninist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
“Certain comrades assume that this theory is a purely ’Russian’ theory and applies only to Russian realities. That is wrong. That is absolutely wrong.” (Stalin, The October Revolution, p. 100, Int’l Pub, 1934.)
We suspect that Foster does not object so much to “models” as he does to foreign imported “models.” In order to protect his domestic, American exceptionalist product he counsels a high tariff on imported models. In this he has no quarrel with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.