Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 21, 2009

Putting the “Russian questions” on the back burner

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:31 pm

I have mixed feelings about commenting on the most recent spasm of Stalinophilia on the British-based Socialist Unity blog from Andy Newman since there is so little interest on the left along these lines. But since some young people who read this blog might have trouble understanding why there is nostalgia in some circles on the left for the individual who did more than any other to discredit socialism, I suppose it is worth discussing—like a psychiatrist might discuss some unusual symptom, such as a belief that sticking your arms with hatpins will ward off evil demons, etc.

In some sense there is a precedent for this. After all, the Fabians had a mad crush on Stalin even though their own politics were akin to Newman’s Labour Party gradualism. The Webbs were foremost among this current in the 1930s. But unlike the official CP, they took another angle. As CLR James pointed out in an appendix to “World Revolution 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International“, “The Webbs end with an argument that the Stalinists do not use, for obvious reasons. They say that the world revolution was a proved failure, and therefore it was the only thing left to do, this building of Stalin’s Socialism.”

I would call your attention to an article on Socialist Unity titled “The Heritage of Trotskyism – May the Fourth be with You” that relies heavily on Sovietologist J. Arch Getty for its analysis. A word or two about Getty might be useful. He is one of a group of “revisionist” scholars who have emerged over the past several decades who attempt to make Stalin more acceptable. His goal is to debunk many of the claims of people like Robert Conquest who have a vested ideological interest in maximizing the number of victims of the 1930s terror campaign. Getty, whose politics appear to be conventionally liberal, is to be commended for searching for the truth but as a political guide, he is utterly useless.

For in order to understand the rise of Stalin, you have to be a Marxist. Neither Getty nor Conquest is equipped to understand Stalin as an expression of a social layer that would benefit from a police state. Ironically, despite his eagerness to debunk Conquest’s inflated numbers, Getty agrees with him that the Stalinist regime was an organic outgrowth of Bolshevism itself, a belief that Newman shares:

The ideological homogeneity and discipline that had informed the sub-culture of the Bolsheviks in opposition became an elite belief system and expectation of behaviour that bound together the party in power. What is more, party members were the only part of society immune to GPU (state security police) supervision until 1927, providing a demarcation in society between a political strata empowered to discuss alternative politics, and the broader population where any manifestations of opposition were anathematised as expressions of “white counter-revolution”.

This paragraph encapsulates perfectly the mindset of Cold War Sovietology. It has, I should add, supporters on the left besides Newman. Sam Farber, a frequent contributor to the theoretical magazine of the ISO, the British SWP’s erstwhile comrades, wrote a book titled “Before Stalinism: Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy” that also tried to connect non-existent dotted lines between Lenin and Stalin. John Rees answered him in a book titled “In Defense of October” that I heartily recommend. Of course, the state capitalist comrades somehow have never bothered to explain how Farber’s methodology can fail him so badly when it comes to the USSR but succeeds with flying colors when it comes to Cuba. That is their contradiction, not mine. Fortunately.

Speaking of contradictions, one must ask what the Tucker brothers, Newman’s Stalin-adulating co-thinkers, make of all this Bolshevik-bashing. Newman worships at the altar of Stalin because he is enamored of the accomplished fact, a trait long associated with British Labour Party ideologues. But for people who come out of the CP, like the Tuckers, this worship is only allowable as long as it is accompanied by what amounts to a confession of faith in the holy lineage going back to Marx. Like the book of Numbers in the Old Testament, it rests on who begat who. In my opinion, this kind of lineage-mongering is something to be avoided at all costs since it has led to splits in our movement of the kind that properly belong to religious sects.

One wonders if Newman has read any of the more recent scholarship on Bolshevik history that belie the notion of ideological hegemony. This is a party that used to carry out its debates in public in the pages of Iskra. Bukharin in particular used to challenge Lenin in the pages of a newspaper he published in Switzerland during WWI. But if you need proof of the freewheeling character of Lenin’s party, one of the best places to go is John Reed’s “10 Days that Shook the World”.

Reed reports that Bolsheviks often voted against each other in the mass movement. In “10 Days that Shook the World”, there is a reference to divided votes among party members over key questions such as whether to expropriate the bourgeois press. At a November 17th 1917 mass meeting, Lenin called for the confiscation of the capitalist newspapers. Reed quotes him: “If the first revolution had the right to suppress the Monarchist papers, then we have the right to suppress the bourgeois press.” He continues: “Then the vote. The resolution of Larin and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries was defeated by 31 to 22; the Lenin motion was carried by 34 to 24. Among the minority were the Bolsheviki Riazanov and Lozovsky, who declared that it was impossible for them to vote against any restriction on the freedom of the press.” For a party that was supposedly based on “ideological discipline”, Lenin could not even get people like Riazanov and Lozovsky to “submit to discipline” on such an all-important question.

This is not to speak of how Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev broke discipline and openly challenged the plans to seize power from the Mensheviks in October 1917. For a party that supposedly would evolve inexorably like a caterpillar in butterfly from Lenin into Stalin, it is sort of tough to account for the fact that these Central Committee members were not expelled, not to speak of getting a bullet between the eyes as would have been the case a scant decade later.

Some of Newman’s statements are simply laughable and worth responding to only briefly, like this:

This is not the place to discuss the consequences of Stalin’s policies, but the USSR did achieve considerable economic growth and modest improvements in living standards over the course of the 1930s; and even the scale of repression was not experienced by many ordinary people as being any worse than the period following 1917.

Although it is difficult to read the mind of somebody as politically deranged as Andy Newman (and also not worth the time to ask him what he meant), one must assume he is referring to the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, the reintroduction of the death penalty, etc. Okay, the USSR was being invaded by 21 capitalist nations around the time such measures were taken. In contrast, the terror campaigns of the 1930s were designed mostly to intimidate Soviet citizens who had begun to resent living under a dictatorship run by a privileged bureaucracy. It is like comparing Lincoln’s press censorship and the Ku Klux Klan. Both were acts of repression in the Civil War and Reconstruction period but that’s about it

But the most important question is why Newman is so intent on opening old wounds? When I first encountered this group blog, I saw it as the expression of the RESPECT party in Britain that was one of a number of hopeful signs of regroupment on the left on a nonsectarian basis. Like the various Socialist Alliances and the Scottish Socialist Party, it didn’t bother to deal with establishing its pedigree on the basis of whether George Galloway was begat by Stalin or Trotsky. It focused on the problems of the class struggle in Britain and put the troublesome “Russian questions” to the side.

This was a decision made long ago by Solidarity in the United States, a small but influential left formation that was comprised at the outset by veterans of the Trotskyist and state capitalist movements who decided to focus on the struggles that united them rather than applying litmus tests about the class nature of the Soviet Union, etc. Their founding document states:

For its part, Solidarity believes that agreement around a broad set of principles, and not agreement around historical questions, is the root base for organized renewal of the socialist movement. We believe that the left has yet to perfect the art of “agreeing to disagree” – while still finding ways to act together in a coherent fashion — once basic agreement of this type has been achieved. (Solidarity is not an exception to this statement.) The notion of “homogeneity” in an organization as the 20th century left perceived it did not serve well at all; it ended in sectarianism and irrelevance.

The most recent expression of this desire to establish unity on a broad set of principles can be found in France with the formation of the New Anticapitalist Party, which despite being launched by Trotskyists made the decision to not take positions on historical and ideological questions of the sort now being defined on Socialist Unity, but initially appeared to avoid.

In a reply to Alex Callinicos, who retains what amounts to bogus ideas about Leninist “orthodoxy”, NPA leader François Sabado defends an approach that sounds almost identical to Solidarity’s:

Depending on the history, the degree of strategic clarification, on principles and organizational tactics, without forgetting the various interpretations of this or that revolutionary current, there are several models. It is true that the NPA is not the replica of the revolutionary organizations of the period after May ‘68. Anti-capitalist parties like the NPA do not start from general historical or ideological definitions. Their starting point is “a common understanding of events and tasks” on the questions that are key for intervening in the class struggle. Not a sum of tactical questions, but the key political questions, like the question of a programme for political intervention around an orientation of class unity and independence.

One might hope that Andy Newman might retreat from his Stalinophilic obsessions and help make Socialist Unity much more what it appeared to be at its launching, a site that encourages broad unity around a class struggle approach. With the deepening social and economic crisis, one that threatens to include a “lost decade” Japan-style for his native country, there will certainly be a rise in the class struggle. People will be looking for good ideas about how to make the left stronger. Turning the Stalin-Trotsky debate into a litmus test will not be one of them.

61 Comments »

  1. I used to read the SU website on a daily basis, until Andy Newman started making wrong arguments on so many issues. I think you’re right that the essential problem is his Stalinophilia and Labour Party gradualism. A sad conclusion to what started out as a promising idea.

    Comment by The Spanish Prisoner — November 22, 2009 @ 8:37 am

  2. Having left the ranks of the organized left some twenty-plus years ago I find it disorienting to try to sort out where it has gotten to. I really appreciate your perspective, Louis, thanks for posts like this.

    Comment by ish — November 22, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

  3. Those that do not study history, even our own are doomed to repeat it.

    Well Louis you continue with your mumbo jumbo to confuse all the issues.

    I expect that from a grumpy old ex SWPer ( that group had many good comrades along with other tendencies in the US but most have degenerated )such as yourself who did not even reconize that Cannon and his ilk were more on the organizational lines alined with G. Zinoviev than comrade Trosky.

    Maybe thats why the SWP is nothing but a book club and the tendenies such as WWP, PLS and others have taken the path of Stalinism.

    See what ted Grant and even Estban Volkove have to say about it. All I know if we had had a Ted Grant here in the States after the ” Old Man ” died we would be alot farther along.

    Rojo Rojito

    Cort

    Comment by Cort Greene — November 22, 2009 @ 2:28 pm

  4. sorry for the misspellings, sometimes my brain moves faster than my fingers.

    Comment by Cort Greene — November 22, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

  5. i’ve read the charge sheet and I’m still not sure what i’ve been accused of, or why. more kafka than 1930’s show trial. still, I suppose I might eventually confess to something, even if just to get this weird obsessive cyber-mccarthyite stalker off my back.

    Comment by c tucker — November 22, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

  6. Louis Proyect, you write:

    “Speaking of contradictions, one must ask what the Tucker brothers, Newman’s Stalin-adulating co-thinkers, make of all this Bolshevik-bashing.”

    If you have any evidence that I (or my brother Calvin) have ‘adulated’ Stalin, please produce it. If you can’t, it will be quite clear that you are either a liar or a fantasist.

    Comment by Noah Tucker — November 22, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

  7. Further from L. Proyect’s blog aticle:

    “But for people who come out of the CP, like the Tuckers, this worship is only allowable as long as it is accompanied by what amounts to a confession of faith in the holy lineage going back to Marx. Like the book of Numbers in the Old Testament, it rests on who begat who. In my opinion, this kind of lineage-mongering is something to be avoided at all costs since it has led to splits in our movement of the kind that properly belong to religious sects.”

    Are you or have you ever been? Yes. And that’s the only connection which the above paragraph has with the facts.

    As for the ‘confession of faith’, ‘who begat who’, and the ‘holy lineage’… Louis, are you actively making up this rubbish, or did you buy it from somewhere else?

    Comment by Noah Tucker — November 22, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

  8. Can we move beyond factional name-calling? Isn’t it possible to reject Stalin (30 million corpses speak for themselves) without replacing him with Trotsky, who was wrong about the comparative advantage of underdevelopment, among other things?

    Has socialist revolution ever really happened yet? Could real socialism emerge out of neo-feudal societies such as Tsarist Russia and Batista’s Cuba, let alone warlord China? History’s answer is an emphatic “no.”

    I’d argue that socialism has to reinvent itself with a 21st century analysis that draws on everything that has happened since Marx, not merely to the movement but to capitalism and the world.

    Comment by Cecilieaux — November 23, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

  9. While I would agree with Louis that today’s revolutionary left needs to “put the Russian Question on the back burner,” especially insofar as arguments about the “Class nature of the USSR” are concerned (and everybody knows Trotsky was right, anyway) Solidarity chose to do so more as a capitulation to the Cold War anti-communism that prevailed during the Reagan regime than out of non-sectarianism. Not only did they uncritically cheer on the democratic counter-revolution that replaced Stalinism with capitalism but they went so far as to support imperialist intervention in Yugoslavia in the 1990s as they tailed after bourgeois “public opinion” over “human rights” and its touching concern over the alleged “genocide” that “Serbo-Stalinism” was supposed to be perpetrating against “multi-ethnic” Bosnia. As Richard Seymour and Diana Johnstone, amongst others, have pointed out, “human rights” imperialist intervention in Yugoslavia, was a dress rehearsal for Afghanistan and Iraq. And Bosnia, of course, just happened to be US imperialism’s horse in the race to dismember Yugoslavia, albeit a latecomer to the race. Not to be outdone, Socialist Action, Solidarity’s more “orthodox” Trotskyist relatives from SWP days, was supporting Tudjman and Croatia’s US-backed “war of national liberation” at the time! At one point, the Solidarity Political Committee was ready to call for US bombing of the evil Serbs but they were outvoted by the rest of the National Committee of this supposed “revolutionary Marxist” organization. As Solidarity didn’t then (and still doesn’t) have a newspaper, due to that being too “Leninist” for their liking, you’ll have to check internal bulletins or the files of Against the Current if you don’t believe. However, I will be glad to send anyone interested copies of my oppositional documents written at the time.

    Of course, none of this should come as a shock to anyone familiar with these groups. After all, Sam Farber is a member (or supporter) of Solidarity, not the ISO, and his anti-Castro (i.e., anti-Cuban revolution) views represent the overall approach to Cuba that prevails within Solidarity. I suppose “anti-sectarianism” comes before anti-imperialism.

    Comment by MN Roy — November 23, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

  10. It should come as no surprise that a group (Solidarity) that supported Poland’s Lech Walensa in the early 80’s and capitalist restoration in the USSR in the 90’s would then support Pentagon intervention in Yugoslavia.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that on the one hand groups that have the “this begat that” litmus test wind up as sectarian religions while on the other hand groups that claim to have a more amorphous platform which consider questions like the class nature of the USSR unimportant wind up as a pile of vomit.

    That’s why I say that coming to grips with questions of the class nature of the USSR and the distinctions (like the ones Lou routinely makes) between Bolshevism & Stalinism are still an important point of departure for the leadership of any socialist movement.

    Comment by iskraagent — November 24, 2009 @ 1:51 am

  11. The hard core of Solidarity is made up of former members of the SWP and the IS from the late 60s and early 70s who have made a knee-jerk rejection of what they think was wrong with those groups into a sectarian religion in and of itself. They have been singing the same tune for over 20 years already and have little to show for their efforts in terms of membership or influence. They identify the politics of Jack Barnes and whoever was Tony Cliff’s top henchmen in the US with those of Lenin, Trotsky and Cannon and throw out the former with the latter. (Whatever faults Cannon may have had, he was certainly no Jack Barnes. As Louis well knows, he opposed the Dobbs/Kerry regimes’ 1965 organizational rules.) The hackneyed cliche that “Leninism leads to Stalinism” is the logical conclusion of this process and has only gotten louder since the Soviet Union went out of business and much of the broader left moved even further to the right since there was, in their eyes, no longer any alternative to capitalism.

    In addition, their whole evolution is a reaction to the string of defeats that the left and the working class has suffered. As such, they have retreated further and further away from any kind of overall revolutionary perspective. A big part of the process is constantly blowing with the winds of petty bourgeois liberal left “progressivism,” which long ago abandoned any kind of class politics for trendy identity politics and movementism, in which the labor movement is seen as just one more movement with no particular “privileged” position in the struggle for social change.

    While Louis is, of course, quite right to insist that there are no qualitative connections between Lenin and Stalin, we should be be just as cautious when it comes to linking Lenin and Trotsky to the groups that claim to speak (and on rare occassions, act) in their name.

    Comment by MN Roy — November 24, 2009 @ 3:49 am

  12. There’s no understanding the socialist revolution of the 21st century without careful study of the socialist revolution of the 20th century, and I don’t believe anyone works harder at this then the comrades of the Workers International League, folks who build creatively off of the hard work of thinker/revolutionists like Lenin and Trotsky and their most creative and capable interpreter, Ted Grant. Obviously those who build off of what Grant contributed will have to transcend his limitations, but that’s a task that’s a lot easier when people stop trying to pull developments out of thin air, which is something we all have an organic tendency to do. I stick with WIL because I don’t see anything else anywhere near as concrete anywhere out there.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — November 25, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  13. Socialist Unity occasionally has useful debates but too often functions as Andy Newman’s vanity project. He pontificates on a very broad range of topics but he doesn’t have the breadth or depth of knowledge to carry this off. A great deal of his output is crap and other times designed to increase traffic by winding up British SWP members. Newman’s fundamental problem is that he isn’t a Marxist. His eclectic politics sits nicely within Respect which is a coalition of forces likely to split in 2010 – the cracks are really starting to appear now.

    Comment by Doug — November 26, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

  14. Hi Louis:

    It actually seems to me that your own views about Zinoviev and the degeneration of Bolshevism would fit quite well with Farber’s analysis of the early Soviet Union. Surely one of his main arguments is that, under the pressure of Civil War, Lenin and his comrades abandoned the open and democratic features of Bolshevism and started to stress a much more top-down approach to party-building. In other words, they started to make a virtue out of a necessity, as Rosa put it. I would’ve thought that this helps explain what you’ve identified as the increasingly bureaucratic tendencies in the Comintern of the early ’20s.

    Interested in your thoughts.

    Comment by James — November 26, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

  15. James, there is evidence that Lenin was trying to reverse this trend but unfortunately died before he could have much effect. Furthermore, I am really trying to deal with the problems of sectarianism, which is endemic to the Trotskyist movement rather than bureaucracy. The Trotskyist comrades–unfortunately–have never had the kind of power that would open the doors to dictatorship. Here’s some notes on Lenin that might shed light on the matter:

    From http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/organization/comintern_and_germany.htm

    How did we end up with the organizational model called Marxism-Leninism, or alternately, democratic centralism? The tendency has been to assume that there is an unbroken line between the small, sectarian groups of today and the Bolshevik Party of the turn of the century. When organizational changes have been made, the assumption is that these are refinements to Lenin’s party. For example, if Bukharin published ruthless criticisms of Lenin’s position on the national question in the newspaper “The Star”, an émigré Bolshevik paper, we have tended to assume that this was an anomaly. The essence of Leninism is to defend a unitary political line in the official party newspaper and Bukharin’s “indiscipline” was a sign of immature Bolshevism rather than a confirmation of its true spirit.

    Tracing the evolution of Lenin’s organizational approach to the rigid, monolithic models of today requires an examination of official Comintern documents of the early 1920s since these became the guidelines for organizing Communist Parties. Most “Marxist-Leninist” parties of today regard this period as a link in the chain between the historic Bolshevik Party and what passes for Leninism today. Rather than seeing these Comintern documents as a distortion of historic Bolshevism, we have tended to regard them as hagiography. Part of the problem is that Lenin gave his official blessing to these documents and this somehow gives them a hallowed status. It is time to examine them on their own merits.

    The first clear statement on organizational guidelines were contained in the July 12, 1921 Theses on the Structure of Communist Parties, submitted to the Third Congress of the Comintern. W. Koenen, a German delegate, confessed that they were hastily drafted and were referred without further discussion to a commission. Two days later, they were passed unanimously without discussion. The purpose of the theses was to impose a uniform model on Communist Parties worldwide.

    For example, they state that “to carry out daily party work every member should as a rule belong to a small working group, a committee, a commission, a fraction, or a cell. Only in this way can party work be distributed, conducted, and carried out in an orderly fashion.” Of course, what this led to everywhere is the immediate creation of fractions or cells. Anybody who has been a member of a “Marxist-Leninist” group will be familiar with this approach to political work. Nobody has ever thought critically about what it means to have a “cell” or a “fraction” in a union or mass movement that speaks with the same voice on behalf of a single tactical orientation, but nevertheless the rule–hardly discussed at the Congress–became law.

    Poor Lenin was trying to sort out all sorts of problems that year and probably didn’t have the minutiae of organizational resolutions upper-most in his mind, but there is some evidence that these sorts of rigid guidelines did not sit well with him. A year later, at the fourth congress, Lenin offered some critical comments on them:

    “At the third congress in 1921 we adopted a resolution on the structure of communist parties and the methods and content of their activities. It is an excellent resolution, but it is almost entirely Russian, that is to say, everything in it is taken from Russian conditions. That is its good side, but it is also its bad side, bad because scarcely a single foreigner–I am convinced of this, and I have just re-read it-can read it. Firstly, it is too long, fifty paragraphs or more. Foreigners cannot usually read items of that length. Secondly, if they do read it, they cannot understand it, precisely because it is too Russian…it is permeated and imbued with a Russian spirit. Thirdly, if there is by chance a foreigner who can understand it, he cannot apply it…My impression is that we have committed a gross error in passing that resolution, blocking our own road to further progress. As I said, the resolution is excellent, and I subscribe to every one of the fifty paragraphs. But I must say that we have not yet discovered the form in which to present our Russian experience to foreigners, and for that reason the resolution has remained a dead letter. If we do not discover it, we shall not go forward.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 26, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

  16. “Newman worships at the altar of Stalin ”

    Except of course I do no such thing.

    I have never praised Stalin, nor praised his policies, and if people have followed these debates they will ssee that you are simply lying.

    Comment by Andy Newman — November 26, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

  17. Thanks for that, Louis. Let me frame the question a different way:

    Your views on the kind of revolutionary organization we need in the US today are closest to those of the comrades in Solidarity. I’m not sure if you’re a member or not. But that’s also the group most likely to share Farber or Mandel’s views on the importance of socialist democracy, and to be critical of Soviet government policy after 1921.

    Can you see what I’m driving at? Some people seem to feel that a critique of ‘Zinovievism’ also implies a critique of the lack of democracy in post-1921 Soviet Russia. You’ve championed one half of that equation but apparently rejected the other half, and I wonder what you think about the discrepancy.

    Comment by James — November 26, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

  18. There can be two more divergent analyses than Mandel and Farber’s. Mandel basically agreed with Trotsky that bureaucracy was introduced after Lenin’s death in the interests of a social layer that had little connection with genuine Marxism. Farber, on the other hand, blames Lenin for everything that went wrong.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 26, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  19. Both Farber and Mandel have argued that the Bolsheviks should have reintroduced a much broader soviet democracy in 1921. In the introduction to LeBlanc’s book on Lenin, Mandel calls their decision to go in the opposite direction in 1921 “a tragic mistake.” That seems very similar to Farber’s ‘alternative scenario.’ In the same essay, Mandel argues that the bureaucratization began under Lenin.

    There’s plenty to disagree with in Farber’s analysis, but I don’t think he can be accused of blaming Lenin for everything. He does highlight what he sees as some long-term antidemocratic trends in Lenin’s thought–I think that needs to be reconsidered in the light of Lih’s book, for example. But, like Mandel, he also highlights the pressures of trying to maintain one-party rule under conditions of working-class dissolution.

    Comment by James — November 26, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

  20. Look, Farber is an anti-Communist. It is as simple as that. He sets up a competition between his ideal of socialism and the Soviet reality and guess which loses. My uncle Abe had the same approach to women and ended up as bachelor.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 26, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

  21. You’ll have to demonstrate to me how Farber’s ‘alternative scenario’ for 1921 differs substantially from Mandel’s argument on socialist democracy as outlined, for example, in this famous article: http://www.marx.org/archive/mandel/1985/dictprole/1985.htm

    Farber argues that the Bolsheviks should have been prepared to give up power if they lost free soviet elections in 1921, and I’m not sure Mandel would’ve agreed with that. But other than that I think there’s a great deal of overlap.

    My main question is still the same though: for many people who share some of your views on building revolutionary organization today, that project requires not just a critical reappraisal of the degeneration of the early Comintern, but also a critical reappraisal of the Bolsheviks in power. I guess the argument would be that the the problems are inextricably linked–your attitude to Farber suggests that you disagree, and I’m looking for a little more explanation as to why.

    Comment by James — November 26, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

  22. You are too fixated on the USSR. You have to look at Farber’s writings on Cuba, which are about current events and not about historical events from the early 1920s. Farber is a filthy liar when it comes to Cuba, accusing it of jailing dissidents in mental hospitals and generally cherry-picking his facts to deliver a gusano analysis with leftist verbiage. He is a cur, while Mandel was a life-long revolutionary. This is the end of my exchanges with you since you clearly don’t “get” Farber.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 26, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

  23. “Farber is a filthy liar ”

    an accusation that is a bit rich coming from someone who has written an entire article on the unsustainable falsehood that “Newman worships at the altar of Stalin ”

    Comment by Andy Newman — November 26, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

  24. You’re free to disagree with Farber’s position on Cuba, of course. I’ve read some of his work on the subject, and I also have disagreements with it.

    But unless he was also ‘lying’ in Before Stalinism, Farber has a vision of socialist democracy and soviet power very similar to that of Ernest Mandel. When adherents of this vision attempt to apply it to the question of organization, they end up with something very similar to the model you’ve championed on this blog. Indeed, in the US, people who agree with at least some of Faber’s corpus share an organization with followers of Mandel.

    I’m still interested in getting your take on this one key question: there’s an argument that the bureaucratic and sectarian tendencies you’ve identified in the early Comintern actually flowed from mistakes the Bolsheviks made during their desperate bid to hold together a revolutionary government. I don’t have an answer to that question, and I’m genuinely interested in your considered opinion.

    Comment by James — November 26, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

  25. A great deal of his output is crap and other times designed to increase traffic by winding up British SWP members.

    I’m surprised they bother. I stopped commenting over there after it became clear to me that I was dealing with somebody who was not a Marxist. I try to foster debates within Marxism on this blog and on Marxmail, but I don’t see much point in debating with liberals or Labour Party ideologues.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 26, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

  26. Okay, James, let me try this one more time. The development of a schematic approach to party-building is not a function of the particular conjuncture of the early Soviet Union’s defensive posture vis-a-vis imperialist pressure, etc. The development of bureaucratic tendencies and a sectarian ‘vanguardist’ methdology were parallel developments. By analogy, you can see a Cuban version of Zinovievism with Regis Debray’s “Revolution in the Revolution” that made a fetish out of focos, but in absence of the kinds of pressures that hampered Soviet democracy. Zinoviev took the practices of the Bolshevik party that arose under concrete Russian conditions and tried to make them into a cookie-cutter for the rest of the world. The rural guerrilla warfare movements of the 1960s were a similar development that nearly always lead to a crushing defeat, including in Bolivia. My interest is not in trying to prevent bureaucracy through a “revolution from below”. We are so far from such problems in the U.S. and other developed nations that it is something of a joke to be worried about them at this point. Our main problem is to transcend sect and cult tendencies on the left, including among groups that nod their heads in approval at Farber’s idealist nonsense, starting with the ISO that is working to break out of this framework but has not yet succeeded, and maybe never will.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 26, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

  27. I’m sympathetic to James argument. EH Carr traces the rise of the bureaucracy pretty thoroughly, and it was essentially in place by 1921, Lenin used Stalin to streamline the apparatus and Stalin used that apparatus to destroy the revolution. Stalin was not Lenin. There is a river of blood between them. But lets not think that none of the steps Lenin made in extremis had a bad effect. They did. I think you can trace a change in Lenin’s attitude to the state, in this piece for example;

    “This machine called the state, before which people bowed in superstitious awe, believing the old tales that it means popular rule, tales which the proletariat declares to be a bourgeois lie—this machine the proletariat will smash. So far we have deprived the capitalists of this machine and have taken it over. We shall use this machine, or bludgeon, to destroy all exploitation.”

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/jul/11.htm

    From arguing the state must simply be smashed and replaced with a transitional working class state, he argues that it will be smashed and then this machine used by the working class. An important shift in emphasis from the State and Revolution. And one which he developed in the next couple of years, arguing that the working class needed state capitalism, could use the capitalist state to build socialism and so on.
    Consider his speech at the 9th Congress against the workers opposition, where he makes an amalgam (lets be frank) between them and the white guards at Krondstadt. That set a very bad precedent.
    Trotsky later inherited the Workers Opposition analysis of the rise of the bureaucracy, compare the Revolution Betrayed to Kollontai’s pamphlet.
    Let’s consider a counter factual. Trotsky argued later that the ban on factions was a mistake in 1921. So what should he have done with the benefit of hindsight? Clearly refused the ban on factions. Formed a faction and threatened if necessary to split the party. And split the party if he had to. United with the workers opposition/democratic centralists around the democratic aspects of their platform and declared war on the bureaucracy, joined up with the industrial working class and crushed Stalin in the egg.
    On Andy Newman he accuses Trotskyists of spreading “Trotskyite snake oil”. Thinks Stalin had no choice but to slaughter the peasantry in the first five year plan because of the objective situation. And thinks that a “Trotskyite” government would have been worse than Stalin.
    He’s a Stalinist. Simple as.

    Comment by bill j — November 26, 2009 @ 11:02 pm

  28. […] own cyber stalker, Louis Proyect returns to his obsession with an hilarious piece of froth specked hysteria. I have provoked him by committing the crime of […]

    Pingback by SOCIALIST UNITY » AROUND THE BLOGS — November 28, 2009 @ 8:23 pm

  29. “Thinks Stalin had no choice but to slaughter the peasantry in the first five year plan because of the objective situation.”

    Also a lie.

    Stalin adopted a very similar policy to that propiosed by Trotsky.

    In so far as there was an alternative, it was the moderates arounf Chicherin, Tomsky, Rykov, later joined by Bukharin.

    It simply makes you look a fool to say I am a Stalinsit, when i clearly say that Stalin was a terrible mistake.

    Comment by Andy Newman — November 29, 2009 @ 12:11 am

  30. The attempt to equate the repression of the immediate post-1917 period with the repression of the 1930s is not only erronous because of the situation and the politics of the two periods. Its erronous because of the size of the piles of corpses. The latter dwarfing the former.

    Comment by johng — November 29, 2009 @ 12:26 am

  31. #10 It should come as no surprise that a group (Solidarity) that supported Poland’s Lech Walensa in the early 80’s and capitalist restoration in the USSR in the 90’s would then support Pentagon intervention in Yugoslavia.
    Not all the same thing. The British SWP was accused of the first two, correctly they supported a ten million strong trade union movement against a Stalinist dictatorship, and their criticisms of Lech Walesa[I know it’s pronounced like there’s an “n” but there isn’t] were that he was too willing to compromise with Jaruselski and listen to the Church’s calls for compromise, but the suggestion that they supported capitalist restoration was a straightforward piece of illogic given their belief that the Soviet Union was state capitalist, any change of regime (except towards genuine workers control and socialism) was simply a step sideways. So although the criticisms of Solidarity here seem polite and informed, I’d prefer to see the case for the defence before judging.

    Andy Newman’s pathology seems twofold: he is a believer in the state as a bulwark against chaos – see his recent defence of the extradition of Gary McKinnon http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=4930, as well as his absurd siding with the Chinese state in all circumstances http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=4668 – and an obsessive hatred of the British SWP of which he is a bitter ex-member: when someone recently made this point on his blog Andy has said on more than one occasion, he thinks it important or part of his mission to reduce the influence of the SWP in the left and the union movement. It’s not about analysis but, rather, demonology http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=3219#comment-166052 he didn’t even to deny it. As we see from the comment in the post he even tries to portray Stalin’s Russia as an immense achievement, the only thing he seems to try and disassociate himself from is the millions of dead that he’s a little squeamish about. Perhaps he should learn that you can’t love the Great Omelette Maker without loving the broken eggs.

    Comment by skidmarx — November 29, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

  32. “The British SWP…correctly….supported a ten million strong trade union movement against a Stalinist dictatorship.”

    Just because millions of workers support something doesn’t mean they are correct. 10 million Russian workers supported WWI and Lenin, correctly, said they were wrong.

    I don’t understand how the British SWP couldn’t see that those millions of workers in Poland were objectively rallying for a bourgeois dictatorship but at the time I saw it as a harbinger of East European counterrevolution and that’s precisely what it proved to be.

    From the late 40’s to the late 80’s the Gdansk shipyards employed a total of about 40 million workers who had on-site daycare, hospitals, free ice-skating rinks and numerous state-susidized food courts. Now the yards are privatized and all but closed.

    Comment by iskraagent — November 29, 2009 @ 7:41 pm

  33. iskraagent – you are right that just because millions of workers support something, doesn’t mean that it is right. However I don’t see why the self-organisation of workers in opposition to an unelected dictatorship should not be supported just because the regime claims the mantle of socialism. I also think the claim that they were “objectively rallying” is fairly subjective. And there are shipyards in many parts of the world where heroic class struggle has taken place that are now closed. If the shipyards in Gdansk were profitable, private capitalists would have kept them open, unless state capitalism is inherently more efficient, in which case why did it collapse?
    Again you may disagree with the politics of those who don’t accept that these societies were workers states. But to accuse them of being pro-capitalist is towrongly confuse them with something they are not, and I wonder if that is being done with Solidarity.

    Comment by skidmarx — November 30, 2009 @ 10:27 am

  34. Part of the collapse was precisely because it wasn’t state capitalist. They were unprofitable and likely would still be employing workers unprofitably if not for the collapse since the profit motive is not the reason for workers’ state production. That’s why lots of old pictures of those shipyards show workers sitting around reading newspapers, the class interest of a worker being to get the most amount of money for the least amount of work.

    Just like when the Pentagon intervenes somewhere it cannot be good for the workers, when old strikebreaker Dutch Reagan cheered on Lech and Solidarity one should have predicted some very bad politics to emerge.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 30, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

  35. Part of the collapse was precisely because they were state capitalist, their failure to extract enough surplus-value from the workers meaning that they couldn’t resist the encroachment of Western private capitalism, which in the absence of any democratic socialist kernel to these states, seemed like a better option to many workers.
    When socialists fail to support independent working class movements because they have some rhetorical support from Washington, that is bad politics, and one of the reasons that the socialist movement has been weak in the successor states, as workers identify socialist politics with Stalinism (and Russian imperialism).

    Comment by skidmarx — December 1, 2009 @ 11:16 am

  36. Skidmarx, are you saying that if Soviet firms as a whole produced profits during the NEP, then they were “state capitalist”?

    Comment by louisproyect — December 1, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

  37. Russian Imperialism? Imperialism is based on economic exploitation. In 1989 the per capita GDP of Russians annually was about $5,500 whereas it was around $9,000 for Poles. Since when do the victims of imperialism live better than the imperialists?

    Comment by iskraagent — December 1, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

  38. “…they were state capitalist, their failure to extract enough surplus-value from the workers meaning that they couldn’t resist the encroachment of Western private capitalism.” Ac

    Not quite sure what you mean by this? Do you mean the failure of the state cap bosses to sufficiently exploit the workers attracted them, the bosses, to the more efficient method of private exploitation practised in the West, or do you mean that the workers themselves felt under-exploited and therefore were attracted to more exploitative private capitalist regimes, or, are you saying that, thanks to the West being so aggressive in the Cold War, so much of the Warsaw Pact’s GDP was devoted to production of things with no use value (such as tanks & missiles) that there was no money left over for panty hose & soda pop? But isn’t the Western surplus that allows workers so many creature comforts derived largely at the expense & misery of the Third World’s toilers?

    Comment by iskraagent — December 1, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

  39. 36. I’d tend to say that the government of Lenin-Trotsky was one of a degenerated workers’ state, that while Russia was a backward country needing to compete with the West in the absence of a revolution there the production of both state and non-state firms could be characterised as capitalised, operating as they were in a world economy that had a capitalist dynamic.

    37.Pick the most economically advanced sector of the Russian empire and you can find a population doing better than the Russian average. Compared to the priveleges of the Russian nomenklatura the Poles weren’t doing that well. I would have thought your figures include some pretty undeveloped parts of the Russian East. And given that it’s not the workers of the imperialist heartland that are the main benficiaries of imperialism (check out the middle of Capital Vol I if you want to see how little the English working class benefitted from the British empire)if at all, then I don’t see you point has any validity. And I remember seeing some figures disputing whether much of the British Empire ever paid for itself, the primary purpose of imperialism may not be directly economic, but mediated through military competition.

    38.(i)Do you mean the failure of the state cap bosses to sufficiently exploit the workers attracted them, the bosses, to the more efficient method of private exploitation practised in the West,
    or(ii) do you mean that the workers themselves felt under-exploited and therefore were attracted to more exploitative private capitalist regimes, or,
    (iii) are you saying that, thanks to the West being so aggressive in the Cold War, so much of the Warsaw Pact’s GDP was devoted to production of things with no use value (such as tanks & missiles) that there was no money left over for panty hose & soda pop?
    (iv) But isn’t the Western surplus that allows workers so many creature comforts derived largely at the expense & misery of the Third World’s toilers?

    (i)I think that’s part of it.
    (ii) Not the under-exploitation, but the smaller material rewards.
    (iii)Yes, except that the military does have a use-value for the ruling class.
    (iv) No.

    Comment by skidmarx — December 1, 2009 @ 6:07 pm

  40. Skidmarx, if the criterion for deciding whether a country is “state capitalist” or not is whether firms as a whole make a profit, then the NEP was “state capitalist”. If that is the case, then there was no real economic difference between the NEP period and Stalin’s regime.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 1, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

  41. Skidmarx: Even accounting for the rural areas of Russia, the workers in the capitol cities of Poland, Hungary, Czeckslovakia and East Germany from 1950 to 1990 had higher standards of living than the workers in Moscow during the same period, a fact that makes for a very odd definition of imperialism.

    As an aside, during the Cold War the standard of living gap between the least and most priviledged sectors of the USSR was always about a factor of 5 whereas in the USA it was a factor of 112, and is probably closer to 200 today, which makes for an interesting analysis of how well American workers have fared since the collapse of the Soviets.

    You said the ruling classes get a use-value, in the Marxist sense, of military hardware. So if the Russian nomenklats were the ruling class of the alleged Soviet state capitalist empire then what exactly was the use value they got from tanks & missiles?

    Comment by iskraagent — December 1, 2009 @ 9:36 pm

  42. 40. If they’d made a loss would that make them not state capitalist, or just very bad ones?
    Lenin, I believe, made reference to Russia being state capitalist during his time in charge. In one sense I don’t have a problem with accepting a continuity between the two periods, it was trying to maintain its position in a capitalist world before and after Stalin’s consolidation of power, and so having to act like a capitalist state. But on the other hand there is a real difference, before it was trying to improve the conditions of the workers and bring about socialism, afterwards it was subordinating consumption to accumulation and reinforcing the control of the bureaucracy.

    There were a couple of other points on the issue I’d like to point out. Marx was a radical democrat before he was a marxist, but didn’t abandon that commitment to democracy, just thought it could only be fulfilled by workers’ power.Bourgeois democracy may be largely illusory,voting may be influenced by the power of the captalist media and somewhat negated by the capitalist state, but in the so-called socialist countries where there are no free elections, no right to organise outside the ruling party, no freedom of speech or right to organise independent trade unions, there is a democratic deficit compared even to that. Should socialists see every opposition to this lack of freedom as a harbinger of bourgeois counter-revolution, or support the fight for democracy the way they would do in capitalist countries?[Yes I think these countries are capitalist too, but it is difficult when termonolgy is not held in common].
    Secondly, what happens to historical materialism when the driving force of historical change in an era of imperialism [Note on the discussion above: imperialism existed before capitalism, I think Lenin is probably wrong on workers in imperialist countries being bought off, they are less oppressed but more exploited given the greater relative surplus value extorted from them, imperialism as a world system means that no country can break out an believe it can live in splendid isolation]is seen not to be the working class, but a party and a bureaucracy acting on its behalf? What guarantee have workers got that the experience of Stalinism will not be repeated?

    41. It’s unusual for an economically backward country to militarily conquer a more advanced one.

    That’s presumably the monetary gap, but many of the buraeucracy’s priveleges were non-financial.

    Crushing the Hungarian uprising and the Prague Spring are two examples of the use-value they realized.

    Comment by skidmarx — December 2, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  43. Skidmarx: then you’re saying if, for the sake of argument, Prague Spring were to have lead directly to the collapse of the USSR 35 year earlier — then so be it.

    Comment by iskraagent — December 2, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  44. Lenin, I believe, made reference to Russia being state capitalist during his time in charge.

    He did. But Tony Cliff did not. It only became state capitalist with Stalin’s ascendancy. But anyhow, your entitled to your own viewpoint obviously.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 2, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  45. 44. In State Capitalism In Russia, Cliff quotes Lenin approvingly:

    Lenin clearly formulated the relation between state capitalism and socialism in these words:

    “the measure called “war socialism” by the German Plekhanovs (Scheidemann, Lensch, and others) is in reality war-time state monopoly capitalism. Or to speak more plainly and clearly, it is military penal labour for the workers, military defence of the capitalists’ profits.

    But try and substitute for the Junker-capitalist, for the landowner-capitalist state, a revolutionary democratic state, i.e., such as would destroy all privileges in a revolutionary way without being afraid of introducing in a revolutionary way the fullest possible democracy – and you shall see that, in a truly revolutionary democratic state, state monopoly capitalism inevitably and unavoidably means progress towards Socialism.
    … For Socialism is nothing but the next step forward from state capitalist monopoly. In other words, Socialism is nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people; by this token it ceases to be capitalist monopoly.”
    http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1955/statecap/ch05.html
    from V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, London, Vol.XXI, Book 1, pp.210-211.

    Before Stalin’s consolidation of power Cliff sees state capitalism as a step in the transition to socialism, afterwards it is transformed into its opposite. And I tend to agree with him.

    43. I don’t quite understand the question. Are you suggesting the Czechs were operating a timewarp? But no I wouldn’t have mourned the collapse of the Soviet Union, especially if by the revolt of workers, after Stalin’s consolidation of power. What was there to lose after the idea of workers control became irrelevant to the bureaucracy? Do you make more of a fetish of nationalization than an SM shaman could shake a PVC stick at? Maybe the Nazis would have had more chance in WWII, but maybe they could have been stopped earlier if not for the dead weight of the Comintern.

    Oh, and the divergence of wealth is smaller in Scandinavian capitalist countries than in the USA, while I would have thought that it you compare the power and privelege of Kim Jong-Il to the average North Korean the difference is quite stark.

    Comment by skidmarx — December 2, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

  46. What time warp? If in 1956 the Hungarians, along with some help from the CIA no doubt, revolted in such a way, for the sake of argument, that lead to private property restoration in the entire USSR, then there’d have been no Czeck revolt in ’68, at least not an anti-soviet one. Naturally that’d mean the Cuban Revolution would surely have been snuffed out and Vietnam would likely resemble Thailand, but you’d be for that so long as workers could stuff ballot boxes in Moscow & Prague.

    What Skidmarx don’t you get about the question? Nobody said anything about “mourning?” Was the collapse of the USSR a good thing for the world’s toilers or wasn’t it? Simple question.

    Comment by iskraagent — December 2, 2009 @ 7:43 pm

  47. 46. If the Hungarian revolt had been succesful, there might have been genuine workers democracy there. As it was , the crushing of the uprising dragged the opposition in a rightward direction. And a similar argument goes for the rest of what you say: what is it about the Soviet Union that made it a progressive force on the world stage? Isn’t there are balance between the ideological victory for the US in seeing its main rival collapse and the demise of the practical and ideological block to socialism that Stalinism represented? I think it is you who thinks that elections in Moscow and Prague with only one candidate and any opposition carted off to the gulag were a good idea. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    So to answer your question, the collapse of the USSR and its replacement with oligarchic capitalism is a neutral thing for the world’s toilers in general. If exploitation increased that’s a bad thing for workers there, if democratic rights increased that’s a good thing. For the nations that had the right to assert their independence it’s a good thing.

    My simple question is: what is it about the USSR that you think was worth preserving? For extra credit, do you think that the millions of dead under Stalin were a price worth paying?

    Louis – there’s a missing html marker in comment 45 after the Lenin quote. You’re welcome to add it in so the remainder doesn’t appear in italics.

    Comment by skidmarx — December 3, 2009 @ 11:14 am

  48. What was worth preserving skid asks, obviously convinced that there was no progressive significance to the Russian Revolution by the time the USSR collapsed.

    Instead of responding with the obvious arguments like a counter-hegemonic force to US Imperialism, a constitution that enforced affirmative actions for factory workers, decisive material aid to 3rd World liberation struggles, the least disparity of wealth in a nation not extracting surplus value through global financial & stock markets, free education through college, cradle to grave free health care, full employment, and a general lack of fear about getting fired for, say, reading a newspaper on the job, let me put the question back to you in this form:

    As an undergrad in Tucson, AZ 20 years ago I was in a class with a woman doctorate student fluent in Portugese whose dissertation consisted of living in Brazil for a year where she polled women in the tin-roofed shack slums surrounding Sao Paulo. One of the questions she asked them was (and I paraphrase here) which kind of society would they prefer — one in which there was a right to a job, affordable housing, free doctors and free education but they had no right to free speech, a free press or free association, versus a society that granted all those freedoms but provided no guarantee of a job, health care, education or affordable housing?

    No matter how you were to phrase such questions, and she tried in numerous ways to change the wording, I think you can guess what the data yielded.

    So maybe skid, instead of asking me, a relatively priviledged white guy (like yourself) what I think was worth preserving in the former USSR, you might consider asking what the vast majority of the planet, underpriviledged brown women, who didn’t greet the collapse of the USSR with the same glee as you and the imperialist bourgeosie apparently did — what they think was worth preserving?

    Comment by iskraagent — December 3, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

  49. Skidmarx said I might be able to earn extra credit!

    So here’s my effort, although the last time I earned such a condecending prize was in 1991 during a masters’ program at Bowling Green State University in OH under the tutelage of an erstwhile “leftist” professor who, alas, also saw no progressive significance in the Russian Revolution, and who also considered the Cuban Revolution nothing more than Latin American Stalinism, and, not coincidentally, thought Michael Harrington won that so-called presidential debate with Peter Cameo.

    Do I think that the millions of dead under Stalin was a price worth paying for having about 9 different time zones on this planet getting history’s first atheist education, the right to a job!, a constitution that guaranteed factory workers no more than 5% of their wages for rent, granted free health care to all, free education from kindergarten through college, and virtually eliminated malnutrition & preventable disease across such a vast patch of the earth?

    Hmmm? First of all the number of dead is still hotly debated, but as a Trotskyist through & through, who knows very well that over 98% of the original Bolshevik Party was arbitrarily executed by a psychopathic meglomaniac, I’ll certainly concede that an abominable slaughter occurred, albeit far less than than the 100 million or more of combined Indians & Blacks that comprised the making of America, but a huge & terrible number to be sure, nevermind that that all environmentalists agree that human population is the greatest threat to the biosphere.

    But let’s put this human disaster in a class context. Of all the people killed by Stalinism, how many were proletarians & landless peasants, that is, what percentage?

    During the Korean War, when Uncle Sam first perfected the use of napalm, it was used on Chinese conscripts who were sent by Mao in human waves when General MacArthur crossed the line that Mao had warned not to cross. (Incidentally that was the second time the US armed forces cut & ran since they entered Bolshevik Russia, but that’s another story.)

    Turns out that almost all of Mao’s troops then & there were the conscripted sons & daughters of the despised expropriated landowners who used to bind women’s feet amongst other atrocities, actions that that I in particular, and the the proletariat in general, have little sympathy for. This was certainly a monstrous deed for Mao to pull off, but even with advanced knowledge, Uncle Sam literally relished dumping gelantenous gasoline on those poor “gook” souls who were really their erstwhile allies, just as they relished incinerating “raghead” Shia conscripts, also their erstwhile allies against Saddam Hussein, in order to test their new weapons during the first gulf war, which was a genocide designed to let those former Soviets know exactly who won the cold war and what they could expect from defiance of the armed to the teeth imperialist bourgeoisie.

    So in the making of the USSR, what percentage of all the dead were kulaks, landowners, or the sons & daughters of landowners, who naturally resisted expropriation of their lands in order to build a society across at least 7 time zones with atheist education, the elimiantion of hunger and preventable disease, full employement, etc, etc. — versus what percentage were proletarians and landless peasants?

    The answer is probably LESS a percentage of deaths that would occur should THIS country develope the popular wherewithall to be able to sufficiently expropriate the expropriators.

    Truth be told, there’s so much inbred hatred, so many congenital degenerates & incorrigable reactionaries in this puritanical land that you’d probably have to summarily execute at least 50,000 gutless turds without even a last meal just to garner sufficient sympathy from the masses to start a revolution here, but that, also, is another story.

    If Russia was a revolution for the combined proletarians and peasantry, and if it took a bunch of killing of those that weren’t them, then I respectfully disagree with you, and would rather defer instead to the opinions of those brown women grinding out poverty in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, (or Calcutta) whom stats show don’t have the same qualms over “actually existing socialism” (as academics like to put it) that privileged white guys do.

    Comment by iskraagent — December 3, 2009 @ 10:30 pm

  50. Detailed and interesting answers.I’m sorry that I have only a little time now to respond. I think it is a concise characterization of my position that “there was no progressive significance to the Russian Revolution by the time the USSR collapsed.2 It is pleasant to be discussing with someone who is capable of avoiding distortion despite the gulf in opinion.

    Yo deal first with the obvious arguments that he don’t wish to respond with, there was some aid to overseas struggles, but as a Trotskyist you’ll know that Stalin’s politics were decisive in demobilsing European Communists against the fascists and ensuring the victory of Franco in Spain. The definition of liberation struggle used in Moscow seems to have been whether they would ally themselves with the Soviet Union, there are cases where liberators became despots because they switched sides.The Japanese for many years operated a system whereby it was hard to lose a job, didn’t make that socialism. When the state is a universal employer then it tends to retain workers rather than formally making them unemployed.

    I spent a couple of weeks in Sao Paulo a few years ago (the only time I’ve been on a plane, I’m not that privileged).No it’s not surprising that poor people when told do you want to eat or vote will choose to eat, because you can’t eat ballot papers. Democracy doesn’t tend to be appreciated until it is needed,and all your friend did was show that private capitalism doesn’t satisfy the needs of the poor. Now if the wording were changed to an option of all these good things and democracy the answer might have been different. And why should they be contradictory? And if the toilers of the world and especially of the Soviet Union thought the same, why did it fall? Also of course, if your anecdote is twenty years old, it predates the Lula administration, which for all its faults, isn’t quite the tweedledum/tweedledee politics that preceded it(and so illusions in bourgeois democracy may have increased).

    If Russia was a revolution for the proletarians and peasantry, a high price might have been worth paying (though I’m seriously not as enthusiastic about executions as you appear to be, and think the more economically advanced a country the less violence would be necessary to ensure the rule of the majority). But if they just exchanged a walk on part in the war for a lead role in the cage, there wasn’t even a good end to balance out the means.

    Comment by skidmarx — December 4, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

  51. Going from ignorence, illiteracy, rubble & ruin to an industrial capacity 2nd only to the USA in only 7 decades isn’t exactly a failure, particularly, speaking of democracy, in the eyes of the majority of the planet, destitute brown women, who watch their kids die everyday from malnutrition and perfectly preventable disease, women who view the right to jump on a soapbox in the town square & preach whatever pops into their heads as a priviledge whereas a job, housing, education & health care are necessities required to sustain life.

    For somebody with such a concern for human life it’s interesting to note that during 1989, according to the UN, an average of approximately 30,000 children per day died across the globe of hunger & preventable disease but almost zero of them were from the socialist bloc countries. Apparently the avoidance of dropping the equivalent of Hiroshima & Nagasaki atom bombs on the world’s poorest kids every week doesn’t have any progressive significance?

    Sure, when the state has a monopoly on employement than can provide jobs to the public as a right, which is one of the goals of a workers’ state, not to mention the goal of all those brown women watching their kids die for lack of a job.

    The example of Japan with full employement after WWII isn’t saying much in an isolated island nation with zero immigration, especially considering they were devestated, humiliated & made it their national mission to vigorously rebuild capitalism after smashing all the trade unions, of course.

    Why did it fail you ask? Why do most beseiged fortresses fall? For me that’s like asking why the Attica prison uprising failed. If an 800lb gorilla sat on your chest and began throtteling you I’m sure your face would look pretty distorted during that process & even very ugly as you expired.

    I used to explain to students as a TA that if we on campus had so many accumulated grievances and voted to take over the university with the highest democratic aims & ideals and were forced to seize the campus then without the students at all the other state universities doing the same thing we’d quickly be surrounded by the National Guard and the longer we held out the more like a police state we’d be forced to become.

    My goal in engaging you was simply to prove my initial hunch, that you see no progressive significance in the Russian Revolution, and therefore, by the logic you’ve employed, it’s safe bet you also don’t support the Cuban Revolution as the toilers there evidently “just exchanged a walk on part in the war for a lead role in the cage.”

    Comment by iskraagent — December 4, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  52. I don’t see a regressive significance to it either. In Britain there is a National Health Service, but that doesn’t mean I think that British capitalism is by its nature more progressive than its American counterpart. By abandoning the working-class as the agency of change you are replacing Trotskyism with an aristocratic socialism, whose message to the workers of the world is a demobilising one that socialism will not be brought about by their self-activity but by putting the right people in charge.I think a lot more kids go hungry in North Korea than in the South.

    You say that these brown-skinned women you know so much about view the right to jump on a soapbox as disconnected to their kids getting jobs. But that shouldn’t be the case.Socialism is about establishing a workers democracy where everyone can eat, but in the societies you praise social benefits are simply a means to an end for the ruling class to have a productive workforce.

    The USSR didn’t fall because of external siege and you fail to answer the question of why the world’s workers no longer see it as something worth defending. Yes I think that it was good that the corrupt American-backed Batista was kicked out and that Cuban independence should be supported against the US, but while Cuban heathcare is to be admired, the lack of democracy is not.

    So your engagement with me is simply to get on to Cuba, at which point if I don’t say that Castro is the greatest thing since sliced bread, you will dismiss me as a running dog of imperialism?

    Comment by skidmarx — December 5, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

  53. while Cuban heathcare is to be admired, the lack of democracy is not.

    —-

    Skidmarx, what have you read about Cuba except what is printed in your party’s press?

    Comment by louisproyect — December 5, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

  54. No, the question was do you support the Cuban Revolution?

    Comment by iskraagent — December 5, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

  55. 53. Not a lot recently. I remember seeing a debate somewhere resently where partisans of Cuba were claiming it does have a full democracy bcause workers re allowed to discuss the leaderships policies, and those on the other side were pointing out the lack of influence workers have over the decisions taken or over the composition of the leadership. Why, what do you think is wrong wih the party press you refer to, and what aspect of Cuban democracy hve I missed?

    Comment by skidmarx — December 5, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

  56. What is wrong with the State Capitalist press when it comes to Cuba? The fact that it never cites any Marxist literature favorable to Cuba. It is a mixture of Sam Farber, Mike Gonzalez and anti-Communist academics. In other words, it selects material that is meant to buttress a predetermined conclusion. This is not the way that thinking people operate. It is the methodology of a sect.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 5, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

  57. Perhaps the State Cap problem flows from positing their Soviet conclusions on the abandonment of Marx’s theory of value, substituting instead a rather unscientific Orwellian theory that the motor of the Soviet economy was arms production and it’s alleged use value.

    The paranoid psychology underpinning such a theory is understandable. England had only a channel of water disconnecting it from a land mass that touched the USSR, which had an army that could threaten all of Europe. Both Cliff & Orwell wrote their famous Noir tracts in 1948, when both Uncle Sam & the Queen renewed their lopsided aggression, dubbed then as the Cold War, which really began, contrary to popular mythology, in 1917.

    Now with the USSR gone, much to their delight, state cappers now have the problem of foisting their model of Stalinism on Cuba, the last socialist bastion, a besieged fortress if there ever was one.

    The problem for them now is this: unlike the arms production their theory rests on, Cuba mostly produces sugar & doctors, not tanks & missiles. But since Cliff’s thesis rested on the production of arms for use value, Cliff’s theory ironically turns out to be the thing with no use value when it comes to positing a sociological definition of the Cuban state, which surely Trotsky would define as a “degenerated workers’ state” worthy of any sentient being’s support.

    Comment by iskraagent — December 5, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  58. As an interesting aside to my last post on the glaring contradictions of State Capitalism as a viable sociological theory, skidmarx’s post #50 says: “It is pleasant to be discussing with someone who is capable of avoiding distortion despite the gulf in opinion.”

    Yet in his next post #52 he claims my position is: “…if I [skidmarx] don’t say that Castro is the greatest thing since sliced bread, you will dismiss me as a running dog of imperialism?”

    Talk about distortion! So while it’s pleasant for skidmarx to have my side of the debate avoid distortions it doesn’t prevent him from employing them? That’s OK. I understand, as distortion is typically a tactic employed by those whose ideas don’t withstand scrutiny.

    Comment by iskraagent — December 5, 2009 @ 7:13 pm

  59. 56. I tend to find Mike Gonzalez politically astute and well informed, so if you want to have an argument specifically about Cuba you might be better off arguing with him than me.I don’t accept your characterization of his method, but don’t know enough about the details to counter what you’re saying.
    Incidentally, do you accept that you were wrong about Cliff on state capitalism? I did wonder if you’d only checked out secondary sources because what he says in State Capitalism in Russia seems crystal clear.

    58.I don’t wish to distort what you are saying and I was asking a question rather than stating your position. If you think there is a position between Castro cheerleader and running dog I’d be pleased to think I occupy it.

    54. I don’t understand in what way I have failed to answer that question in 52.

    57.I don’t think the theory of state capitalism abandons Marx’s theory of value. Your comments about paranoid psychology is speculation that is well wide of the mark.The next paragraph is also inaccurate, suggesting that state cappers prefer private capitalism to state capitalism, and that designating Cuba as the latter only happened after 1989. Given Cuba’s need for defence against the Americans I don’t see why arms production is an irrelevance. Yes , many orthodox Trotskyist would characterize Cuba as a deformed workers state, ignoring Trotsky’s Marxist belief that workers states can only come into existence through proletarian revolution and substituting as you seem to do, a party for the class. I hope that’s not distorting your position.

    Comment by skidmarx — December 6, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  60. I do acknowledge that I was wrong about Cliff. Apparently he thought that state capitalism began under the NEP and was completed with Stalin’s assumption of power. Of course, that doesn’t make the theory right. Gonzalez might be “informed” about Cuba but his footnotes do not reflect an engagement with the vast literature that disagrees with his own analysis. Monthly Review, the New Left Review, Science and Society, Socialism and Democracy are journals that have published countless articles that disagree with the British SWP’s position on Cuba. It simply ignores them. That is not very consistent with the kind of debate that we expect to take place in our movement.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 6, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

  61. 57. Both Cliff & Orwell wrote their famous Noir tracts in 1948,
    While we might argue over the extent to which Orwell became an uncritical supporter of the West, and whether it was due to English geography or Spanish Stalinism, Cliff was quite clear that he didn’t think the same. Here he is on Korea:
    In their mad rush for profit, for wealth, the two gigantic imperialist powers are threatening the existence of world civilisation, are threatening humanity with the terrible suffering of atomic war. The interests of the working class, of humanity, demand that neither of the imperialist world powers be supported, but that both be struggled against.
    http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1950/11/powers.html

    60. You are right of course that the theory is not right just because Cliff syas it.
    To finally address the post a little, maybe you are right that the Russian question should not be a litmus test, but it is important, firstly to answer the question of “why won’t it happen again?”, and also the substitutionism and other flaws that make Stalinism a poor substitute for the essence of Trotskyism when it comes to revolutionary socialist practice.

    Comment by skidmarx — December 7, 2009 @ 4:23 pm


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