The following article was first published in Socialist Voice No. 1 (Fall 1976). It represents the first detailed analysis by the League for the Revolutionary Party of its expulsion from the Revolutionary Socialist League and the degeneration of that (now-defunct) organization in the context of a broader right turn by the middle-class centrist left.
The League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) has been formed to carry out the struggle for revolutionary leadership of the working class that was undertaken in the past by the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL). The RSL’s left wing, the Revolutionary Party Tendency, was expelled on February 15th of this year, and its members joined with previously-expelled comrades including Central Committee members Sy Landy and Walter Dahl to organize the LRP. The LRP stands for the program of Lenin and Trotsky, the revolutionary communism of our epoch, that is rapidly being abandoned by the RSL.
The expulsions were criminal acts against the interests of the working class.
In 1976 world capitalism is skirting the edge of a profound crisis. The bourgeoisie is seeking to claw its way out of the impending disaster by chipping away all the hard-won gains of the proletariat. In the face of this assault the workers are tragically misled and therefore disunited. The bulk of our class feels itself to be powerless, lacking any credible alternative to the trade union bureaucrats and liberal politicians who betray them at every turn. Many of these workers resign themselves to hanging on, hoping that the present shallow economic upswing will bring relief. Others, a distinct but crucial minority consisting of the most politically advanced workers, are still searching for an alternative. They are fighting, attempting to forge a new leadership built upon a program that will put an end to the prevailing desperation.
The real solution to the looming disaster, the only real deterrent to the attack on the working masses by capitalism, is the socialist revolution. The defense of even the present working class living standards must come from the revolutionary struggle, because capitalism will yield its minimal sops and reforms only out of fear of mass upsurges that cannot be controlled. But where are the revolutionaries to lead such a struggle? In the United States, what passes for a left alternative to the reigning bureaucrats—the various Maoist and allegedly Trotskyist groups—offers only one-step-better leaflets and no clear-sighted direction. The RSL, which once sought to be a real alternative, has now chosen to be “realistic” like the centrists, those who in their vacillations preach socialism but practice reformism. In order to move right it was forced to expel its steadfast revolutionary wing. The lessons drawn from this struggle, although based on the history of one organization, are of vital importance for revolutionaries everywhere.
The split was produced by a profoundly pessimistic attitude toward the working class and its capacity to make the socialist revolution. The majority, in its constantly changing justifications for expelling the left wing never even claimed that the issues at stake were enough to warrant dividing the revolutionary cadre. By themselves the issues were not decisive; in a healthy organization they would have been tested in practice, and the minority repeatedly stated its loyal willingness to do this. But the loyalty was contemptuously sneered at. The expulsion itself and the supremely cynical way it was carried out by the RSL leadership proves that the split was the result of a deep political differentiation.
Trotsky, shortly before his murder at Stalin’s hands, had waged a critical faction fight in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the American section of the Fourth International, against the Shachtmanite minority who traitorously split the party on the eve of World War II. In answer to the question of whether the political differences, warranted a split, Trotsky stated:
“If we take the Political differences as they are, we can say they were not sufficient for a split, but if they developed a tendency to turn away from the proletariat in the direction of petty-bourgeois circles then the same differences can have an absolutely different value; a different weight; if they are connected with a different social group. This is a very important point.
“We have the fact that the minority split away from us, in spite of all the measures taken by the majority not to split. This signifies that their inner social feeling was such that it is impossible for them to go together with us. It is a petty-bourgeois tendency, not a proletarian.” (In Defense of Marxism, page 181)
With the roles of majority and minority reversed, the RSL leaders revealed their inner class nature by the very act of splitting and the methods used for the task. Their utter cynicism and the politics that flow from it testify to the petty-bourgeois nature of the RSL bureaucracy.
Politics of the Faction Fight
The fight began in September 1975 when a minority of RSL members raised objections to a proposed resolution before the Central Committee. The resolution introduced fatalistic and defeatist ideas into the generally agreed upon perspective for heightened class struggle:
“There will be a rise in the class struggle, greatest in the countries most affected by the crisis. At the same time, the struggles will not be united although the struggle in the semi- and under- developed countries will be ‘joined’ by workers in the more healthy, advanced countries this will not be impressed on the consciousness of the overwhelming majority of the workers. The struggle will retain its fragmented unconscious level.
“Thus while we do not expect a massive outbreak of the class struggle in the U.S. or on a world scale, we do not expect the relative peace of the past period to continue to the same degree. Rather we see a rising curve of class struggle largely limited to trade union and democratic struggles.” (Emphasis added.)
Thus the RSL majority put forward an openly stagist view and accepted the limitation of the class struggle to bourgeois consciousness for the next period. Accordingly, the majority made its central political slogan the demand for a labor party in the U.S. In the late 1930’s the Trotskyists of the SWP had advocated a labor party in order to translate the massive struggles that created the CIO into political action against the bourgeoisie. They put forward a revolutionary program for such a party in order to lead the workers’ upsurge towards the building of the revolutionary vanguard. Whereas Trotsky hoped that the labor party slogan would intensify the struggle between the classes, the RSL’s purpose is to accept a reduced level of struggle. Whereas Trotsky argued that it would be absurd and reactionary to advocate a reformist labor party, the RSL’s labor party is designed for a democratic and trade unionist stage which condemns it to a reformist program.
“There is no mass revolutionary party intervening in this year’s elections. Should we let the labor hacks go hat in hand to the Democrats until a revolutionary party is formed? No. A revolutionary party cannot be built separate from the struggles of the working class...”
“Revolutionaries will fight for the labor party to adopt a revolutionary program. But we will support a labor party which makes a break on clear class lines to put forward the defense of the workers as a class against the capitalists and their parties.” (Torch, April 15, 1976)
It is true that there is no revolutionary party, and it is equally true that there is no labor party. The RSL position is not only that a labor party struggle must precede a revolutionary party, but that it will be a reformist struggle. The promise to fight for a revolutionary program once the reformist labor party is built at the first stage is simply a revolutionary cover for a stagist conception. The labor party that the RSL advocates (not just “will support”) is a reformist party; this Trotsky was never willing to concede.
Without Trotsky’s revolutionary content, the labor party slogan leads the workers into the electoralist illusions deliberately fostered by the labor bureaucrats. It is not only the Democratic Party that the bureaucrats press for; in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate and the economic crisis, they seek at all costs to reestablish faith in the system, the government and its “orderly processes,” elections. It is no accident that the RSL uses the slogan in a purely electoralist fashion. In different ways but for related reasons, the union bureaucrats and the RSL use their electoralist slogans to forestall confrontation between the workers and the state.
Just when it is of the utmost necessity to fight the reformist bureaucrats’ attempts to shackle the working class within a democratic and trade unionist program, the RSL proclaims its agreement that such is the limit of this “stage.” If workers’ consciousness does go only this far it will be the responsibility of capitulatory leadership which determines that nothing more is possible. The RSL has joined the chorus instead of appealing to advanced workers to fight this self-fulfilling prophecy. Marxists must reject this surface “reality” if they are to survive as revolutionaries.
During the dispute the RSL leaders moved even further right. They renounced the slogan of the general strike fought for by the minority in favor of the labor party. Whereas the labor bureaucrats refused to call the working class into action to fight the bourgeois attacks, rightly fearing the latent power of the class, the RSL based its refusal on the alleged weakness of the workers:
“Therefore, we use the defensive general strike as a goal to be built towards, as something which requires preparation and an understanding of the forces confronting the proletariat. It is not something which we in general want to call for launching under immediate circumstances and certainly not on a national scale.” (Torch editor Jack Gregory, “The Marxist Approach to the Labor Party and the General Strike,” RSL internal bulletin)
Thus the RSL opposed the general strike, accepting the backward workers’ mistaken understanding of objective reality as instilled by the labor bureaucrats. The Bolshevik understanding is that the world situation is objectively mature for revolution, and it is the workers’ backward consciousness—their conservatism, fear, and sense of impotence—that must be changed. The mass of workers have a mixed consciousness; anger and explosiveness run as a steady current just below the surface. Coupled with the objective situation that a unified working class in the United States would have enormous power, this means that an explosion is building up. To those who tail backward consciousness the workers’ response will come like a thunderclap out of the blue—as in France in 1968.
The RSL’s fears of the workers’ weakness led to further capitulations. In the turbulent struggle of the New York City workers against the massive bourgeois attacks around the city’s financial crisis, the RSL sought to avoid confrontation. That it did call backhandedly for a general strike in its newspaper (despite its private opposition cited above) was further proof of its cynicism and its opportunism in tailing a militant sector of the proletariat. The leadership also began a policy of adapting to out-of-power bureaucrats in the trade unions in order to gain “legitimacy.” Frequently, it refrained from counterposing revolutionary leadership to the present bureaucracy and proposed an “independent rank and file” alternative. This has by now almost totally displaced the call for revolutionary leadership in the RSL’s trade union work reported in theTorch. Once again, the RSL is assuming a stage when revolutionary ideas cannot be placed before the masses.
These two two-stagist conceptions were opposed in documents put forward by Comrade Landy and other oppositionists. The Landy documents maintained that the roots of opportunist politics in the RSL lay in its isolation from the class struggle and the limitations posed on that struggle by the labor bureaucrats. In a bourgeois society isolation does not mean removal from all social pressures; it subjected the RSL to class pressures from the petty bourgeoisie and made it susceptible to backward—i.e., pro-bourgeois—sentiments within large layers of the working class.
The RSL’s Bureaucratism
The isolation from struggle permitted an internal bureaucracy to flourish in the RSL. Clique relations substituted for politics. For example, the controversial Central Committee resolution had never been discussed with Cde. Landy, a member of the organization’s leading Political Committee. In response, the Landy documents called for a fight against the growing bureaucratism, exemplified by the majority’s proposal to narrow the Political Committee to long-term personal associates of National Secretary Ron Taber (thus removing Cde. Landy) and by the fact that every single member of the Central Committee except for Cdes. Landy and Dahl was now on the full-time staff of the organization. The new right turn signaled the victory of the apparatus.
For months the RSL leaders conducted an internal fight that was almost unique in its steadfast refusal to deal with the opposition’s views. After the majority’s new line was thoroughly analyzed and refuted in the document “The RSL in Crisis:
Behindthe Labor Party Slogan ” by Landy and Dahl, the right-wing leadership quickly issued an edict banning the opposition and its documents. It then retroactively prohibited the circulation of the Landy-Dahl document even though it had already been accepted for publication. No rebuttal was ever written, as the RSL leaders had turned to bureaucratic pragmatism as a method of struggle, instead of developing the political understanding of the working class or even the RSL membership.
Throughout the fight the right wing relied almost exclusively on petty organizational maneuvers and bureaucratic harassment against the minority, relieved only by liberal doses of slander and character assassination. A few examples will suffice:
Both minority Central Committee members were expelled in quick succession on trumped-up charges, one by telephone without even the semblance of a trial.• •
After the expulsion of the left wing’s senior leaders it was then denied representation on any leadership body, local or national, even in proportion to its numbers.• •
Members of the Bolshevik opposition were arbitrarily transferred to different branches for the express purpose of breaking up the opposition.• •
The majority leadership attempted to force a member of the minority to sell the Torchpublicly at her workplace, thus fingering her to her bosses, when there was no conceivable justification for such a risk.• •
When Cde. Landy was expelled, the Torchdeliberately avoided citing the wild personal charges that had been concocted against him and published instead another set of lies, never attempting to warn the workers against what the RSL considered his dangerous politicalerrors. The article was such an obvious camouflage that the Torch was forced to print Cde. Landy’s “Open Letter” exposing the fraud. In its reply, the Torchproduced yet a third set of outright lies including a completely fabricated quotation and a denial that the minority’s major documents even existed!• •
The final trial of the remaining opposition members was modeled afterAlice in Wonderland. The minority was accused of being in political agreement with its own expelled leaders! It was also accused of circulating the Landy-Dahl document to other RSL members (a fiendish move, considering that the document had already been made publicly available by the expelled members). Materials needed for the defense, including minutes of the previous expulsions, were denied to the minority on the grounds that it was “disloyal”—before the “trial”.• •
At the trial itself the minority comrades so annihilated the right-wing leadership politically that the leadership could only reply with a frenzied physical attack on the left.•
Why did the left opposition stand up under the constant harassment and remain with the rapidly degenerating RSL? The RSL bureaucrats certainly hoped to intimidate the younger minority comrades into quitting voluntarily by expelling the tendency’s leaders. Instead, the left opposition stayed and fought for its politics, a “maneuver” that RSL leaders could not understand because they had abandoned politics for maneuverism and could only interpret the minority’s stance in that light. That the left wing was committed in principle to fighting for the revolutionary gains embodied in the RSL against its betrayers, was incomprehensible to tricksters.
The Roots of the RSL
The RSL owed its existence to the workers’ struggles of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The depth and the limitations of these struggles go a long way toward explaining the RSL’s dynamic rise and subsequent dismal decline. During the 1950’s and 1960’s many radical intellectuals and students had written off the working class as a serious factor in society, let alone as the revolutionary agency. In the New Left bourgeois-democratic movements, cynical tears shed over the seeming quiescence of the working class passed for blinding practical insight. Suddenly in the late 1960’s the ghetto uprisings shook the urban centers of the United States. In France, the most massive general strike in history nearly toppled the “impregnable” strongman regime of DeGaulle. The eruption, which seemed to the intelligentsia to come from nowhere, reverberated throughout the world.
The chain reaction upsurges were an unmistakable demand, despite their mixed level of consciousness, for a sharp change in the status quo. They bore witness to the crumbling of the prosperity facade in the imperialist countries and the worsening of the already critical conditions in the former colonies. Although workers’ struggle had of course occurred throughout the post-World War II period, the late 1960’s outburst was a qualitative breakthrough. It signaled the end of the democratic movements of the 1960’s, or at least their end in the form they had taken. The same deep crisis of capitalism that propelled the workers into motion was also setting the limits beyond which the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia could not go on its simple democratic and reform program.
The democratic movements were petty-bourgeois both in composition and in politics. In the U.S., the anti-war movement, the black movement in both its civil rights and nationalist phases, and the women’s movement were led by students and sections of the intelligentsia. Working class people were certainly involved, especially in the black and Latin movements, but nowhere did working class groups take the lead on the basis of the working class program. The upsurges of the late 1960’s brought working class demands to the fore.
Typically the left wing of the New Left movements began to “add” such demands to the bourgeois-democratic programs. For example, “full employment” and similar slogans were adopted by the movements in order to “orient towards” the working class. Students used the slogan of “Open Admissions” to colleges and schools, which they tacked on to nationalist demands for community control.
Some New Left groups or sections of them, evolved into “socialist” groups. Others trickled into the older socialist sects which had gone through the period as semi-New Left groups themselves. Nevertheless, the essentially democratic and reform programs were retained, and a major effort was made to attract workers to movements that were still fundamentally bourgeois-democratic. Revolutionary working class slogans, capped by the demand for a workers’ state—the dictatorship of the proletariat—were viewed as “added” demands to be raised in the future after the first-stage demands were achieved. The proletarian upsurge had forced the left to rearrange itself, to sort out its programs and demands and to undertake a process of rethinking and experimentation, as the New Left movement crumbled.
The International Socialists (IS) in the U.S. was one of the most profoundly affected groups. It was the successor to the original Shachtman split from Trotskyism in 1939-1940. Although the founders of the IS had broken from Shachtman to the left, they never reexamined the past course of their tendency nor the basis of Shachtmanism and were therefore doomed to repeat the errors of the past, albeit in new forms. They merely called a halt when Shachtman carried the logic of his method into the Democratic Party but they still accepted the strategy which had led to that capitulation:
since it seemed obvious that the workers were not ready for revolution (Step 2) and were only beginning to fight for trade union and democratic demands (Step 1), the thing to do was to lie in wait for the workers with a program of democratic demands. There would be time later for Step 2.
This was the same approach that led Shachtman to pose democracy and national liberation as the key to the struggle in Europe during World War II, with the socialist program put off for the future. Similarly, the growing movement in the U.S. auto industry at the end of World War II was restricted by the Shachtmanites and their allies into “rank and file” minimalism and thereby paved the way for Walter Reuther’s victory, since it raised nothing beyond which a left bureaucrat could not go. The same sort of reasoning led Shachtman into the Socialist Party of Norman Thomas (and worse), on the grounds that American workers were to the right of the SP and would have to go through it (Step 1) before they could grasp his “revolutionary” ideas (Step 2). Therefore Shachtman advocated a “broad” Socialist Party with the most minimal right-wing program as the necessary first step. Finally, the method led the Shachtmanites into the Democratic Party (and its Scoop Jackson-Jay Lovestone right wing, the next-to-last resting place for State Department Socialists.) Only Shachtman’s death cut his retreat short.
This method inevitably leads to class collaboration, despite the sincere attempts of the ISers to hang back from Shachtman’s conclusions. The IS’s support in Portugal today for the Presidential candidacy of General Otelo de Carvalho, former head of the military government’s security force, is proof of the betrayal inherent in the two-stage method.
The method is characteristic of most of the centrist ideologies that permeate the working class movement, not just the Shachtmanites. The Pabloites who destroyed the Fourth International as a revolutionary body in the 1950’s are less overt about it, given their need to pay lip service to Trotsky’s historic fight against stagism; nevertheless, they asserted the need for deep and lasting entry into the Communist Parties (and the Social-Democratic Parties where they were the key force) in order to reach the workers at Step 1. In the various Pabloite interpretations, either history, the pressure of the masses or Pabloites themselves would insure that the social revolution would follow after the workers had gone through Stalinism for an inevitable and lengthy period.
The prime users of the stagist method, of course, are the Stalinists, whose Popular Fronts, “Historic Compromises,” People’s Democracies, New Democracies, etc., are all stages that tie workers to the bourgeoisie while putting off “socialism” for the future. And Stalinism furnishes the final proof of the consequences of stagism, since the only “socialism” that the People’s Democracies ever achieve is state capitalism. Step 2 turns out to be only a more resilient form of Step 1.
Achievements of the RSL
The RSL was created in 1973 out of a split in the IS. The RSL represented the re-establishment of revolutionary Marxism in a living organization after the organizational continuity of the revolutionary tradition had been broken for two decades. It initially attracted wide interest outside of its own ranks and had the enthusiastic devotion of a young militant cadre.
Against the stagism of the IS and other centrists, the RSL proclaimed the necessity of fighting openly as revolutionaries for the revolutionary program. “Say what is” to the working class was the slogan the RSL inherited from Trotsky. To tell the workers the truth, the RSL maintained, is to fight for revolutionary leadership, in particular to build the revolutionary party and the reconstructed Fourth International. The alternative of reforms, democracy and trade unionism by itself—that is, the bourgeois reformist program—solves nothing in the epoch of capitalist decay; indeed, it is the inevitable failure of reformism that paves the way for reactionary and fascist “solutions. Thus saying the truth is not an abstract moral question but a practical necessity.
In working out its program the RSL made a number of fundamental contributions. It analyzed the post-war boom in the advanced countries as the result of the hegemony of American imperialism and the defeat of the working masses in Europe and Asia. The prosperity bubble in the imperialist homelands was the material basis for the reformism that sank the Marxist movement in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. The RSL was able to point out the superficial nature of the boom and to predict the resurgence of the underlying decay. The end of the boom was seen as the consequence of the underlying material causes embodied in the epoch of imperialist decline, not of capitalist monetary manipulations (as with the Healyite International Committee) or of inevitable but inexplicable “long cycles” (according to Ernest Mandel of the Pabloite United Secretariat). Thus the Trotskyist Transitional Program was grounded on firm material roots.
In addition, the RSL expanded Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution as it applied to the question of black liberation in the United States. American blacks were specially oppressed and forced to the bottom of the U.S. working class because of their denial of the fruits of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the basic rights and liberties won by mass struggles including the Civil War. Because of capitalism’s inability to grant these rights in the epoch of its decay, black liberation could be achieved only through the proletarian revolution in which blacks as an oppressed and critically placed section of the working class would play a role far beyond what simple numbers would indicate. Since Trotsky’s contributions on this question in the late 1930’s, his centrist “followers” had decided that black liberation was a first stage which would be coupled to a future second stage of proletarian revolution:
either that black nationalism was in itself progressive (the modern-day SWP), that the blacks’ democratic demands were irrelevant and frequently an obstacle (the Healyite Workers’ League), or that integration of blacks and whites under capitalism was a necessity before socialism could be achieved (the Spartacist League). The restoration of a Trotskyist analysis of black liberation was a major advance and a pivotal guide to the struggles of the oppressed, in addition to being a blow against the theory of democratic demands as a necessary first stage.
By the 1970’s the truth that the bourgeois-democratic movements could not achieve their goals under a crisis-ridden capitalism was becoming manifest. The petty-bourgeois movements, standing essentially for the democratic reforms of capitalism despite their revolutionary verbiage, came to a grinding halt. Gains won during the past period began to atrophy. Similarly, minimalist gains won by the trade unions under the petty-bourgeois reformist bureaucracy were now being gutted by inflation and unemployment. The surface post-World War II prosperity which had enabled the bureaucracy to have its Step 1 and which enabled the IS and the New Left to operate on a stagist basis was evaporating. Thus, the material basis for the old approach was disappearing.
However, the working class eruptions that had challenged the first blows of the new period had receded by the early seventies. The U.S. bourgeoisie, still the dominant imperialist class, was able to fend off the dissipation of the boom for a short time with the compliance of the union bureaucracy. Despite the RSL’s understanding of the nature of the boom and the limitations of the liberation struggles, it was the temporary decline of these struggles and the feeble new economic upturns that lay behind the RSL’s recent collapse. The small, draining ponds left by the ebbing of the wave are the shallow material basis for the RSL’s sad and very old “new” politics. Indeed, the pronounced rightward direction of virtually all the centrist currents is derived from this eddy in the class struggle.
The LRP is committed to drawing all the lessons of the RSL’s defeat. For the high hopes once raised by the RSL have turned to ashes. The only compensation for the tragedy of its degeneration is that the lessons can be analyzed and learned from; every such lesson deepens revolutionary understanding. Personal and psychological assessments, “wrong ideas” against “right ideas” have their limited importance, but serious disputes among revolutionaries are reflections of, and factors in, the class struggle. The differences represent the volatility of the objective conditions and the reaction of the various classes; this Lenin and Trotsky pointed out on innumerable occasions.
For us to penetrate to the fundamental lessons it is necessary to reexamine two interrelated questions that have long been disputed on the left:
the question of the vanguard party and the so-called Russian question, the degeneration of the Russian revolution.
The Revolutionary Vanguard
For genuine communists, the building of a revolutionary party is fundamentally a struggle for class consciousness. Once workers understand their material interests, not just as good ideas or moral imperatives but as inescapable necessities, they will embrace revolution. Workers recognizing their self-interest will see the absolute need for the unity of their class in order to overthrow the bourgeoisie. They will see that there is no link between bourgeois (even bourgeois reformist) programs of any sort and the revolutionary proletarian program. “Advanced” bourgeois ideas are not the first stage of Marxist ideas but their mortal enemy. “Advanced” bourgeois consciousness is a tool for restricting and combating the development of working class consciousness, Marxism. “Step 1” is inimical to “Step 2.”
But since uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism, different layers of the working class achieve different levels of understanding of their material interests and how to fight for them. This differentiation appears in struggle as different rates of development. Thus Marxists speak of advanced workers, those who are revolutionists, and backward workers, who do not yet see the need for world revolution.
Revolutionary consciousness is not a matter of education in any narrow sense. Real consciousness comes from combat, the struggle between the classes, struggle in acts as well as ideas which are in turn derived from action, past and present. For Marxists, the only proof of consciousness (or of theories of any sort) lies in the test of practice, the living class struggle. The decisive role in such events is played by revolutionaries, who draw the lessons and point out the necessity of communism at every stage, and counteract the lessons of defeatism drawn by petty-bourgeois elements. The working class continually generates and regenerates its consciousness—that is, its revolutionary leadership, the vanguard party. In the course of its struggle the proletariat selects from its own ranks and from other strata of society those who will lead the fight for proletarian interests.
As Lenin pointed out, both the old petty bourgeoisie and the new middle class of intellectuals, professionals, bureaucrats, etc. are ground between the rising proletariat and the centralizing bourgeoisie in the imperialist epoch. The intellectual thus comes to recognize the impotence of his own social layer. Caught between the decisive classes in capitalist society, the propertyless intelligentsia thinks of itself as altruistic, objective, materially disinterested and a force for good against evil. Sections of this class become radicalized and play a role in the workers’ movement.
So long as they break decisively from the world outlook of the middle class intelligentsia (even its most radical extreme), individual intellectuals can aid the proletariat, which must carefully sift and test them. But as a layer the intelligentsia can be and has been extremely dangerous for the working class. The radical intellectuals who grow cynical about the potential of the workers’ revolution (as well as those workers who are drawn into their orbit) come to a different view of the vanguard party. The defeats that the working class has suffered in the epoch of imperialist decay, most notably the degeneration of the Russian revolution, are the objective material grist for the mills of fatalism and defeatism concerning the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat.
Confident that superior education provides him with science and understanding to lead the downtrodden to victory, and because his own class demonstrably lacks the capacity to change society, the radical intellectual turns to the masses—frequently the peasantry or the “people” in general (including certain powerful but excluded sectors of the bourgeoisie), and in the most mature situations, the working class. In order to change a society which appears degrading and anarchic to the intellectual he tries to manipulate the masses to achieve his own goals:
the rationalization of capitalism, meaning planfulness rather than anarchy, order rather than chaos and decay, and economic security rather than poverty.
In the hands of such petty-bourgeois radicals the vanguard party becomes not the embodiment of the Marxist program, the steeled cadres and general staff of the proletariat, but a tool wielded by intellectuals “in the name of the working class” or as “servants of the people.” Instead of a weapon of workers who are conscious of their own real material interests, it becomes an instrument of those who seek to aid the workers’ cause by manipulating the workers themselves. Fatalistically convinced that the actual proletariat cannot accomplish its tasks, the intellectual assumes that his own subjective “socialist” beliefs are an adequate replacement for the unachievable Marxist consciousness of the workers. The party designed by such types bravely adopts the bright man’s burden and nobly attempts to become the “condescending savior” of the masses.
Such is the organization that the RSL leadership is in the process of creating. It attempts to manipulate the radical workers by publicly lying in the Torchand to its own membership. Having forgotten any other methodology, Taber and his friends learned to maneuver program, principles and the few workers they can lead. They learned from their “success” in the faction fight (the majority succeeded in expelling the minority) that manipulation is an efficient and therefore good weapon. Although the glories of the proletariat are proclaimed when they are remembered, this is done only to cover the reality of substituting petty maneuvers for the conscious acts of the working class. That is, they have abandoned the building of the vanguard party.
In so doing they have wiped out the RSL’s original reason for existence. They have adopted the stagist outlook of the petty bourgeoisie within the workers’ movement. Their “socialist” Step 2 is a cover for the bourgeois limits (democratic and trade union demands) they impose on the first stage, but even covers have their material reality. The purpose of the second stage, in the face of the deepening bourgeois crisis, is to try to get rid of capitalism’s anarchy (or at least to paper it over and postpone its consequences). The function of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia is to present or to apologize for an advanced form of state monopoly capitalism or its state capitalist aspect as the content behind the covering words of Step 2. This is why the “Russian question” is so vital. Every previous strand of Trotsky’s “successors” has taken such a course and the RSL is now on its way.
The “Russian Question”
The cynicism of the RSL and the centrists, primarily cynicism towards the revolutionary potential of the working class, is far more pervasive and deep than any momentary phenomenon. Its wellspring in this epoch is the defeat of the Russian revolution.
The source of the cynicism is not fundamentally the theories of the nature of the USSR—”degenerated workers’ state,” “bureaucratic collectivism” or “state capitalism”—but the actual, material degeneration of the Russian workers’ state itself. This meant not only the end of workers’ power in Russia but it gave rise as well to the Stalinist regime and its minions abroad who have effectively bolstered world capitalism by restraining and defeating the proletariat in its course toward revolution. The cynicism and the authoritarian anti-Marxist methods used by the Stalinists to maintain themselves in power have been a corrosive disease within the workers’ movement, affecting virtually all sectors of the proletariat.
As part of its task in regenerating revolutionary Marxism the RSL had to come to grips with the “Russian question,” the class nature of the USSR. It concluded that Trotsky’s theory that the Soviet Union was still a degenerated workers’ state was no longer valid. Trotsky had expected that World War II would lead to an overturn in Russia, either a workers’ political revolution to revitalize the proletarian state or a bourgeois counterrevolution. To the Trotskyists of that period, Russia was a rapidly degenerating workers’ state, a “hollow shell” that could not withstand a war. Likewise, the Communist Parties were considered to be heading for disintegration; they were reformist (or nearly so) and counterrevolutionary. Had the expected post-war revolutions occurred, Trotsky’s mistaken analysis would have been seen as misleading.
But the USSR and the Communist Parties made sure that the postwar workers’ uprisings were crushed. Stalinism survived the war and expanded its hegemony to Eastern Europe and Asia. This was possible because Russia’s degeneration had already transformed the Soviet workers’ state into its opposite by the end of the 1930’s. The purge of every vestige of working class leadership stemming from the October Revolution and the congealing of the bureaucratic caste into a self-interested and self-confident class announced the victory of capitalism in the Soviet Union by the time of the great purge trials. Far from being a hollow shell with a thin divided petty-bourgeois caste controlling a society alien to it, Russia had now a strong bourgeois regime based upon the crushing of the once-revolutionary Russian proletariat. Similarly, the Communist Parties did not weaken but grew enormously, and were powerful enough to chain the workers of Western Europe to their bourgeoisies in the name of “Bolshevism,” thus aborting the anticipated post-war revolutions. Stalinism proved to be a reinforcer of world capitalism that developed capitalism’s long-term tendencies toward centralization and statification to a point which the shareholding sections of the bourgeoisie could never reach. It was a system whose strength was based on the achievements and then the defeat of the world’s only proletarian state.
The bulk of the Trotskyist movement under the guidance of Michel Pablo tried to adhere to Trotsky’s words (”degenerated workers’ state”) even though their content had been refitted. By the end of the 1940’s the Fourth International had labeled the new Stalinist states as “deformed” workers’ states despite the counterrevolutionary role of the Russian army and the ruling Communist Parties in smashing the working classes in order to seize power. These petty-bourgeois formations were credited with the fundamental proletarian tasks of overthrowing capitalism and making the socialist revolution. Such a theory represented the worst cynicism towards the working class in that it saw “workers’ states” built upon workers’ defeats! With the increasing number of “deformed workers’ states” proving each day that the Stalinist accession to power is no accident or exceptional case but a general phenomenon, the workers who heeded the Pabloites were taught to discount the absolute necessity of the proletariat making its own revolution.
Trotsky had pointed out that maintaining the theory of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state was a defense of revolutionary optimism. The theories which proclaimed Russia to be no longer a workers’ state, because they recognized the defeat of the proletariat in the overthrow of the Soviet workers’ state, opened the door to a defeatism towards the proletariat. Those who gave up on the gains of the Russian revolution too quickly and too easily were likely to give up on other gains of the workers like trade unions and the revolutionary vanguard party and therefore on the revolutionary capability of the working class itself. The crushing of the workers’ state called into question the power of the proletariat to achieve socialism. In Trotsky’s words:
“The historic alternative, carried to the end, is as follows:
either the Stalin regime is an abhorrent relapse in the process of transforming bourgeois society into a socialist society, or the Stalin regime is the first stage of a new exploiting society. If the second prognosis proves to be correct, then, of course, the bureaucracy will become a new exploiting class. However onerous the second perspective may be, if the world proletariat should actually prove incapable of fulfilling the mission placed upon it by the course of development, nothing else would remain except only to recognize that the socialist program, based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended as a Utopia. It is self-evident that a new ‘minimum’ program would be required—for the defense of the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic society.” (From “The USSR in War,” In Defense of Marxism, p. 9)
Trotsky’s foreboding that the abandonment of the gains of the October revolution would lead to defeatism and the surrender of the revolutionary program proved to be essentially right. Shachtman fell into the trap with his break from the Fourth International. He put forth the view that Russia was neither bourgeois nor proletarian but a new form of slave society (”bureaucratic collectivism”) which was more dynamic than capitalism. This system was a fulfillment of Trotsky’s “second prognosis” in which only a fight for the minimal rights of slaves was called for. Although Shachtman was often forced by his pragmatism to refer to “workers” rather than “slaves,” he did reduce the program to “the struggle for democracy.” And although initially he denied Trotsky’s charge of defeatism by claiming that Stalinism was limited to one country, his program became a democratic Step 1 for all countries. That is, Shachtman saw the world as a three-cornered struggle between capitalism, bureaucratic collectivism and the “third camp” of socialism; he inevitably came to the defense of capitalism against bureaucratic collectivism because the new dynamic society that so effectively subordinated the masses was a threat to democracy and trade unionism and the socialist alternative was “obviously” a far-distant Step 2.
In giving up on the proletariat and linking himself to what he saw as “the forces for democracy,” Shachtman entered upon the road through the various Step 1’s that we have already described. In the course of his various Socialist Party and Democratic Party ventures, his organization came to see itself as the grand maneuverer, shifting the proletariat into position to see the several Step 1’s more clearly. Shachtman finally came to the correct conclusion that the trade union bureaucracy could maneuver with far greater strength than he for the goals he had come to adopt as his own. There was no longer any need for a vanguard party; all that was required was a coterie of “democratic and trade union”-conscious advisors attached to the ear of George Meany.
The early state capitalist theories that were devised in opposition to Shachtman, Pablo and Trotsky also carried out the logic of Trotsky’s prediction. One of the first of these was that of Johnson (C.L.R. James) and Forest (Raya Dunayevskaya), who had split with Shachtman from the Fourth International but later rejoined the SWP for a few years. They regarded Russia as capitalist because they saw Marx’s law of value at work in the Russian economy. However, Lenin and Marx had recognized that the workers’ state that emerged after the socialist revolution (a “bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie”) would necessarily utilize bourgeois tools for a definite period—including wage labor and other economic forms as well as the state—in its struggle against the remnants of the bourgeoisie and against bourgeois (i.e., backward) consciousness. It is not the forms alone which are utilized. A workers’ state is still bourgeois until it accumulates abundance to lay the basis for communism. Hence the law of capitalist accumulation, the law of value, still operates. In the economic sphere the struggle takes the form of a struggle between socialist consciousness—planning according to the needs of the masses—and the law of value.
In rejecting the Stalinist state as capitalist because of the law of value, Johnson and Forest could no longer distinguish between the Leninist workers’ state (law of value and all) and the new Stalinism. They rejected the very meaning of the workers’ state:
the triumph of advanced workers’ consciousness. Since the embodiment of this advanced consciousness is the vanguard party, it is no accident that the Johnson-Forest tendency became known for its worship of spontaneism, the notion that the workers would instinctively throw up dual-power institutions such as soviets without revolutionary leadership. Soviets by themselves, however, represent only democratic institutions of the class. In 1917, it was the Marxist program fought for in the Soviets by the Bolsheviks that made them socialist institutions for the revolutionary seizure of power. Without socialist leadership the democratic institutions not only provide no solution for the workers, they enable the one remaining “solution” to triumph—reaction, which among other things destroys democracy.
Like the nineteenth century anarchists who fought against Marx’s insistence on the proletarian dictatorship, James took the logical step of replacing the vanguard party by the only possible alternative to lead the way to “socialism”:
the Bonapartist ruler who interprets “the will of the people” for their own good by appearing to stand above the class struggle. Thus James at various times accepted the (Step 1) leadership of “great men” like Fidel Castro, Eric Williams of Trinidad-Tobago, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere et al. With C. L.R. James as their proposed advisor, their platonic dictatorships (”guided democracy”) would gradually prepare the proletariat to rule. Giving up on the vanguard party led James to give up on the proletariat and to return to a classic petty-bourgeois scheme for manipulating the masses.
Also, without the vanguard party to overcome capitalist economic laws, Johnson-Forest saw the all-pervasive law of value bringing about a new epoch of state capitalism. Lenin’s analysis of this century as the epoch of capitalist decay was thereby shattered—for James, but not in reality.
The theory of “bureaucratic state capitalism” promulgated by Tony Cliff and adopted by the British International Socialists was somewhat different. It denied the internal operation of the law of value in Russia and was therefore akin to bureaucratic collectivism. The logic of Cliff’s position is that Russian capitalism without the law of value has no proletarian class struggle and therefore no tendency towards crisis and decay. Such a society, although Cliff does not say so, must be progressive in comparison to Western capitalism. Nevertheless, Cliff learned from the horrors of Stalinism’s triumph that the vanguard party is too dangerous a tool to play with, and he turned to notions of the “independent rank and file.” When he subsequently returned to the advocacy of a vanguard party, it became (as with Shachtman and James) an instrument for manipulating rank and file struggles which the “vanguard” kept from becoming political by reserving political wisdom to itself. The IS’s support for General Carvalho’s “apolitical” Bonapartist dreams in Portugal was a perfectly consistent application of Cliff’s method. Cliff’s anti-Stalinism reduces to “anti-leadership” rhetoric that is designed to leave power over the masses in the hands of skilled manipulators with, of course, the masses’ best interests at heart.
The conception of a dynamic new system—bureaucratic collectivism, the epoch of state capitalism, or bureaucratic state capitalism—which displaces the proletariat as the successor to state monopoly capitalism must at bottom see the working class as impotent or as a tool useful for its militant weight but not for its Marxist consciousness. All these versions followed the path Trotsky foresaw and dropped the vanguard party in favor of a variety of stagism. Like Pabloism, the other “Trotskyist” successor theory, they placed their faith in bourgeois or petty-bourgeois elements within or above the working class (Bonapartists, Stalinists, or Social-Democrats) as the only reliable forces that could hold out against the decay of capitalism. Each of these tendencies, born out of defeatism and cynicism towards the working class, moved into a position of supporting the very misleaderships responsible for the defeats and cynicism in the first place.
The Workers’ State
The various “successor” theories to Trotsky developed out of the decline of the Fourth International. The victory of the Stalinist counterrevolution against the great October revolution, the destruction of the proletariat’s massive achievement, had its impact even upon those who fought against it. The cynicism which spewed forth into the workers’ movement as a result of Stalinism engulfed even the Trotskyists. The RSL had begun the process of rejecting these theories born out of defeat, but its early and incomplete efforts were cut short and are now being rolled back.
It is absolutely necessary for any tendency which asserts revolutionary Marxism and believes Russia to be a degenerated workers’ state to critically examine its own theory and the theory’s history, in order to account for its inability to predict the expansion of Stalinism or to come to terms with the modern imperialist world. Such a tendency must also explain and change those elements of the theory (since they wrongly hold that it is not the theory itself) which have enabled so many to capitulate openly to the bourgeoisie, both the Stalinists and their own rulers. They must account as well for the causes of this degeneration in material and class terms.
Any proponent of a “state capitalist” theory has a similar obligation. How is it that the early practitioners from James to Cliff (as well as Urbahns and those of the ‘30’s) have made such obvious capitulations? Does not Trotsky’s prediction prove that any notion of Russian state capitalism leads to disaster? It is insufficient to castigate the other theories and claim that now the lessons have learned. The IS “knew” that it was made of sterner stuff than Shachtman yet it fell into the same traps. Since Shachtman, James et al fell by the wayside by overestimating Stalinism’s capacities, it is necessary for us to begin by weighing Stalinism’s achievements against those of the Soviet workers’ state.
It is fundamental for Marxists to realize that “state capitalism” could never have come into existence without the proletarian revolution. It did not just happen that way historically; it was the only possible channel. No Russian bourgeoisie, indeed no bourgeoisie at all, could have nationalized, concentrated and centralized the means of production to enable Russia to expand as it did. Russia is now the second most powerful nation in the world and maintains a far greater imperial sway than the Czars ever envisioned. Even though the degree of state consolidation of industry was already high under the Czars, the bourgeoisie could not forge the separate capitals into one in the face of capitalism’s anarchic economic laws and, most important, out of fear of the revolutionary potential of the organized proletariat.
When the Soviet Union was still a workers’ state, Trotsky summarized the workers’ conquests in this way:
“Gigantic achievements in industry, enormously promising beginnings in agriculture, an extraordinary growth of the old industrial cities and a building of new ones, a rapid increase in the number of workers, a rise in cultural level and cultural demands - such are the indubitable results of the October revolution, in which the prophets of the old world tried to see the grave of human civilization. With the bourgeois economists we have no longer anything to quarrel over. Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earth’s surface—not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement, and electricity. Even if the Soviet Union, as a result of internal difficulties, external blows and the mistakes of its leadership, were to collapse—which we firmly hope will not happen—there would remain as an earnest of the future this indestructible fact, that thanks solely to a proletarian revolution a backward country has achieved in less than ten years successes unexampled in history.” (The Revolution Betrayed, p.9)
Russian growth took off in the 1930’s but was due to the accomplishments of 1917. The enforced series of economic quotas and allocations known under Stalinism as planning, the state monopoly of foreign trade, the state-controlled credit and banking system, etc., rested upon the breakthroughs of the workers’ revolution. The self-sacrifice under brutal conditions of the working class that thought it was creating socialism depended on the fact that the USSR was still a workers’ state, although degenerating rapidly. Russia made substantial gains during the Depression, when the capitalist powers were foundering, not because of its Stalinist bureaucracy but because of its original proletarian consolidation and its remaining proletarian character.
No other Stalinist-ruled country has been able to accomplish what the workers achieved in Russia. What gains the others have made in industry and centralization are due in large part to the existence of the Russian model and to the strength afforded to the new bureaucracies by Russian power. But none of these nations have been able to consolidate in any way approaching the earlier strides taken by the USSR. The Chinese Maoists, for example, have never been able to integrate and effectively centralize China’s economy; China still lies open to imperial domination from Russia and the West. The North Korean economy for all its self-trumpeting and forced development is in shambles, heavily in debt and in default to Western banks. Those Eastern European states which are economically advanced got their start under the rising bourgeoisie of the last century, not under state capitalism, and in fact they are now severely restrained by Russian imperialism. “State capitalism” is far from being a new dynamic system able to overcome capitalist decay and outdistance state monopoly capitalism. The fact is that Russia and all the Stalinist countries are utterly dependent upon shareholding capitalism in the West. The fact that they do not generate new levels of technology without which no industrial state can accumulate or even maintain itself is one proof of this.
“State capitalism” is part of the world system of state monopoly capitalism. Capitalism turns to partial statification in its epoch of decay in order to maintain its individuated private property character. But partial statification is frequently insufficient. State capitalism is another aspect of the system, one whose special function is to bolster the decaying world capitalist system as a whole. Where capitalism in its traditional anarchic form can no longer defeat or contain the proletarian struggle, where it can no longer maintain sick and profitless but vital industries, here state capitalism steps into the breach. After World War II, state capitalism on the Russian model triumphed in economically imperiled countries whose old bourgeoisies could no longer rule in the old way and whose working classes had been eliminated as contenders for power. In the face of the proletariat, all forms of capitalism strive to hold together despite their basic rivalries and different forms of property ownership. The destruction of the sanctity of property held private from the working class by a socialist revolution anywhere is a deadly threat to all.
Even though state capitalism represents the limit of capitalist tendencies toward statification and centralization, it is not the historical outcome of capitalist development. In those state capitalist countries like Russia and parts of Eastern Europe where the economy has approached an advanced level, the laws of capitalist anarchy are reappearing as open and decisive factors, with a vengeance. Internal competition has to be reintroduced for the sake of efficiency, and the working class has to be kept divided through unequal rewards. On the other hand, in the traditional advanced capitalist countries hit by severe crises, state capitalist nationalization is regarded with hostility by the ruling classes because of the danger from the powerful proletariat. The bourgeoisie in crisis turns to renewed imperialism and intensified repression at home. The future, if the proletarian revolution is long delayed, will see a world of decaying state monopoly capitalism—with their attendant militarism, Bonapartism, fascism and war.
Far from being a new stage in history supplanting the epoch of state monopoly capitalism described by Lenin, state capitalism is a facet of degenerating state monopoly capitalism, a temporary and dangerous expedient. All sections of the bourgeoisie find that a statified national capital is impossible to administer for long on a bourgeois basis. Statified, concentrated and centralized capital is the final, logical limit of capitalist developmentwhich can only be maintained and then transcended by the proletarian state. The only conceivable circumstance under which a “state capitalist epoch” or a “bureaucratic collectivism” could exist would be another, more cataclysmic defeat of the world working classes. As Trotsky demonstrated, Marxists cannot remain Marxists while basing their actions on such a cynical, defeatist and fatalist perspective.
The RSL and State Capitalism
The RSL had taken important steps towards a Marxist understanding of state capitalism but it never felt obliged to make its own analysis systematic nor to engage in the dialectically related task of making a systematic analysis of rival theories. It failed to take on a task that Marx, Lenin and Trotsky would never have let slip by. For example, the faction fight inside the IS that produced the RSL avoided the Russian question, despite the IS’s historical link with Shachtman. The degenerated “degenerated workers’ state” theory of the Pabloites was occasionally swiped at but never given a serious treatment. And other state capitalist theories were never dealt with publicly. In its uncompleted internal documents the RSL had begun to accept the fact that workers’ gains were still embodied, even in negation, in state capitalism. However, little importance was attached to it. This understanding rarely saw the light of day in its public press, that which attempts to convince advanced workers.
Now with the recent turn such a world view has to be abandoned altogether. In Taber’s recent series of articles in the Torch(March 15 through May 15) the RSL’s new version receives its authoritative treatment. Nowhere in three extensive articles is there the conception that Russia’s dynamism was not due to Stalinism but to the proletarian revolution, whose impact on state capitalism is totally ignored. What Taber writes of the period of rapid industrialization is the following:
“Meanwhile, having destroyed the kulak threat, Stalin and the apparatus turned on the workers. The bureaucracy was now able to feel its independent strength, based on its control of the state and state production, more than ever before. It had routed the immediate threat to its power. Now, with millions of peasants pouring into the cities to escape starvation in the devastated countryside, Stalin had a reserve labor force with which to batter the workers and force down their wages and working conditions. Between 1928 and 1933 the workday was lengthened to 10 or more hours per day while wages were cut in half. Wage differentials were increased far beyond what existed in the western capitalist states. Piecework, which Marx had termed the method of production ‘most suitable to capitalism,’ was reintroduced. ‘Socialist emulation’ was transformed into the code-name for almost unbearably vicious speed-up. What protection had been offered by the trade unions was eliminated. All in all, Stalin’s apparatus was establishing the preconditions for capitalist rule through the state power.”
Taber is obviously correct in pointing to the monstrously anti-working class character of the Stalinist industrialization policies. But his treatment is dangerously one-sided:
while Trotsky left no opportunity unused to catalogue Stalin’s crimes, he also cited the enormous strides made by the still-proletarian Soviet Union, as we have already shown. In the RSL’s version the achievements of the Russian economy are purely the products of Stalinism’s brutal oppression. The idea is not new with Taber.
“The modern Stalinist bureaucracy has to its credit the development of an industrial basis for the socialist reorganization of Russian society which Russian capitalism was never able to achieve and which the Russian socialist working class, left in the lurch by the proletariat of the West, could not hope to carry out by itself.”
So wrote Max Shachtman. The thought was a stock-in-trade for bureaucratic collectivist theory. Just substitute bourgeoisie for bureaucracy and there stands Taber’s theory in what is only a more explicit form.
The same parallel is repeated in a slightly different way. According to Taber:
“But rather than openly proclaiming itself as capitalist and its victory the triumph of state capitalism, the state-capitalist bourgeoisie continued to drape itself in the flag of Marx, Engels and Lenin—in the banner of the proletarian revolution. This ideological cover has served exceptionally well as an aid to the police and military apparatus as a means of propping up the system and warding off the danger of proletarian overthrow.”
To see the Stalinists’ ideological proletarianism as a mere “aid” and disguise rather than an indispensable feature is to grant state capitalism credit for an internal strength that no capitalist society retains in this epoch. This is another leaf from Shachtman’s book. Stalinist “Marxism” is not a mere “masquerade,” as Shachtman claimed, which could be removed or replaced by an alternative disguise. All too easily, the drape or masquerade theory lends itself to a view of Stalinism as a diabolical conspiracy rather than an aspect of the bourgeois social system. The proletarian cover is an absolute necessity for a ruling class that rests on the negation of a working class revolution. Even in countries like China where the Maoist revolution was in no sense made by or even with the proletariat, the regime is forced to establish its relation to the working class. The state capitalist attempt to create a modern ordered nation-state where older forms of capitalism are unable to do so requires a drive to advance production and accumulate. This is impossible without winning over at least a section of the only creative class in society, the proletariat; hence their attempts to create a labor aristocracy and garner a measure of support while dividing the working class. The fact that these attempts fail over time does not contradict the absolutely necessary relation between the Stalinist ruling class and its new labor lieutenants. Without the Marxist proletarian cover, state capitalism would not only be ideologically weaker but would stand exposed as a usurper and be unable to play its role as a world prop for decaying capitalism.
Imputing the enormous leap in production of the USSR to a dynamic Stalinism has disastrous consequences for a Trotskyist. The theory of permanent revolution is based on the understanding that the fundamental tasks of the bourgeois revolution cannot be carried out by the bourgeoisie in the epoch of its decay; only the workers’ revolution can do so. If Stalinism is adequate for the job then permanent revolution, the strategy for the socialist revolution in this epoch, can be given lip service but fundamentally must be cast aside in favor of a stage theory:
bourgeois (minimal) demands can be achieved without the socialist revolution. That is just what the RSL has done.
In its campaign to pick Shachtman’s pocket the RSL is coming to see Stalinism as a new society too. After years of experiencing the IS’s “third camp” notions and the Jamesian and Cliffite notions of a new epoch, the RSL strove to return to Lenin’s understanding that no new epoch was on the agenda - that the struggle was between proletariat and bourgeoisie. But the RSL never reached the point of proving that a “new bourgeois class” was incompatible with its world view, so the road was left open for Taber’s steps backward.
The Taber essays are replete with references to capitalism’s tendencies towards monopolization, concentration, centralization and statification. He notes that the “logical” conclusion of these tendencies is state capitalism, and duly observes that the traditional capitalists “violently oppose this end result.” Like every observer (Trotsky, Shachtman, Cliff, etc.), Taber points out that Stalinism acts as a prop for world capitalism.
But Taber never once sees fit to mention that state capitalism is a system in crisis! He overlooks state capitalism’s subjection to the cyclical crises that affect all capitalist societies. He ignores the effects of the epoch of decay on the state capitalist countries (and even suggests that they are able to withstand these effects:
“Although this growth is limited, partial and occurs at the expense of the stability of capitalism as a whole, it is a significant attraction to many of the world’s masses.”) And he fails entirely to see that capitalist decay means that state capitalism decays in the direction of anarchic state monopoly capitalism. The picture emerges of a society that solves the masses’ most fundamental problems—certainly with brutality and waste, but solves them nevertheless. Such a society must be a new phenomenon (even if the RSL’s formal theory stops short of this conclusion), a new stage that revives the old “third camp” world view. The IS stopped short, verbally, of Shachtman’s conclusions, but their theory led them down the same path. So too for the RSL.
Inevitably, any concession towards a supposedly crisis-free capitalism leads to downplaying the proletarian struggle. Thus it is no accident that Taber leaves out the workers’ revolts against Stalinism. There is repression galore, the ruling class is able to “blunt” the class struggle, the Russian army invades Eastern Europe—but never do the masses act, in Taber’s account. Not that Taber is unaware that the proletariat continues to struggle against oppression; any schoolchild knows of the conflict within the Stalinist countries. The Torchwrites about it often enough. The problem for Taber is that he can’t account for it theoretically, because his theory is designed to distinguish between, not identify, Eastern and Western capitalism. How explain Liberman, Sik, Dubcek, Tito and their reintroduction of market forms and controlled competitive prices if state capitalism is the last resort of capitalism? To avoid this problem Taber avoids the obvious decay of the Stalinist system and thereby allows only a journalistic account of the masses’ role in the history of the Stalinist countries.
The avoidance of any attempt to understand the tendencies for the unitary forms of state capitalism to break down into approximations of the competitive forms of state monopoly capitalism is not simply an oversight. It stems from the view of state capitalism as a successor state to state monopoly capitalism and as the logical outcome of capitalist development under the bourgeoisie. Its consequences are in line with the capitulations the RSL makes in its stagist view of Western capitalism (the initial struggle for democratic and reform demands). This is exactly the program of the majority of the bourgeois liberal dissidents in the USSR, the elements who most dearly reflect the reassertion of openly anarchic capitalism. While Marxists defend the rights of the liberals against the Stalinists, to confuse our banner with theirs is a capitulation and a disaster. The RSL at this point has no intention of confusing banners but theoretically the question is left open. Once again, the experience of the IS in not really breaking from Shachtman’s theory is directly relevant.
The reversion of the RSL back toward the earlier non-workers’ state theories of the USSR is now under way. Its advances in understanding the Russian question had not sufficiently transcended the problems of defeatism and cynicism lodged in the previous anti-Marxist theories. The RSL’s failure to examine the capitulations made by the earlier state capitalists meant that the RSL still suffered from the same defeatism. Today, we can see that its once revolutionary but incomplete analysis of the USSR was one important source of the cynical theory and practice that it has adopted in its degeneration. Reciprocally the RSL’s decay causes its theory of Stalinism to display even more cynicism towards the proletariat. It is not accidental that the various earlier theories of state capitalism and bureaucratic collectivism were developed during periods of working class defeats. The RSL’s theory was accelerated by the workers’ upsurge of the 1960’s and its theoretical capitulation stems from tailing the present consciousness of backward and cynical petty-bourgeois layers in the working class.
Whatever the RSL might now say against the evils of bureaucratism becomes increasingly difficult to believe in the light of its glorification of its own internal bureaucracy and its adoption of the petty-bourgeois cynic’s view of the proletariat. To downplay the workers’ fight against Stalinism means, necessarily, to understand the world from the bureaucratic vantage point, to see it from the top down. From this point of view, the strength of state capitalist production comes from the Stalinist bureaucrats, their actions and maneuvers. George Meany and a Stalinist bureaucrat disagree yet share the same understanding of who controls events. They are now joined by a minor league compatriot, Taber. If the Stalinists could “maneuver” the working class into overthrowing one form of capitalism in favor of a more advantageous form, then he too can maneuver the working class towards his own version of Step 1. The RSL leadership has unwittingly made the connection between its theory and practice all too clear.
Thus the RSL leadership has capitulated, and the organization as a whole is rapidly degenerating into centrism. Centrism is an inherently vacillating the phenomenon which serves the interests of capitalism by waylaying the most advanced workers and keeping them away from revolutionary action. Centrism’s revolutionary rhetoric promises revolution as a far-off Step 2 in exchange for a “realistic” or reformist practice in the present stage. Its vacillating quality arises from the pressure of the advanced workers, in or outside of its ranks, who conflict with the practice imposed by the leadership. To call a group centrist is not to use a swear word but a precise label for this unstable, imprecise phenomenon.
For the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia and its allies in the labor aristocracy, centrism is a lasting condition. The “centrism” of the masses, on the other hand, is the process the workers go through while searching for, weighing and finally selecting its revolutionary leadership; it is a passing phenomenon on the road to power.
The RSL has already made all of the theoretical concessions to bourgeois thought typical of centrism, and now its practice is moving into line. Its trade union propaganda typically calls for the ranks to “organize independently” of the bureaucracy, as if organization without revolutionary politics is the solution revolutionaries have to offer. It counterposes “rank and file organization” to revolutionary leadership. With the exception of overseas events (safely distant from the RSL’s purview!) the necessity of revolutionary leadership for workers’ struggles is ignored in the RSL’s public press.
The “rank and file,” however, contains within it many different levels of consciousness, political tendencies and leaderships. “Rank and file leadership” in the trade unions can only mean the least common denominator of all out-of-office tendencies and therefore amounts to the program of the left bureaucrats whose road to power is through “rank and file” caucuses. It is therefore a stagist conception, a surrender to reformist practice.
The RSL is moving to the right in the wake of the various centrist groups. The material basis for stagism and reformism which existed on the surface in the post-war decades has eroded. In the 1970’s, the trend in the U.S. has been towards struggles of a conservative and bewildered working class which had known a degree of prosperity and now faced a frightening and unexpected economic collapse. Although there was hostility to the bureaucratic leadership of the unions this consciousness did not coalesce politically and did not make its weight felt. Even this militancy receded, however, as the U.S. bourgeoisie reasserted a shadow of its past international and internal economic power. The temporary and slight economic upturn—which may now even be ended—signified to workers the possibility of a return to the days when reforms and benefits could grow in a linear fashion. This mini-upturn, this puff of wind, is the material “reality” that has sent the centrists sailing to the right with the RSL scurrying after them. The RSL has proven itself unable to withstand this feeble a test.
The RSL is on the road to centrism. In declining to affirm that it has already reached that goal we stand with Trotsky:
do not give up on the gains of the working class until they have been lost without a doubt. As the RSL is a propaganda group with little direct impact on events, the signs of its outright betrayal of the workers in practice need not come right away. Just as the RSL was created out of the mass struggles of the late 1960’s, the next upsurge of the proletariat will provide the decisive test for the RSL in its decay. That same upsurge, whose signs can already be detected on an international scale, will produce not only centrists but Bolshevik cadres, the leadership whose steadfastness will have been tested as well in times of adversity, by its fight “against the stream.” Acceptance of cynicism is the common coin of all tendencies save Bolshevism in the world today. To the forging of a leadership which is the product of a renewed and fighting working class we dedicate the League for the Revolutionary Party.
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