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Gavin Mendel-Gleason - Sun Jul 14, 2019 22:24
The role of elections in socialist strategy The Legacy of the Republican Congress In 1934, in the shadow of a rising fascist threat in Europe, the Republican Congress was convened. This congress brought together the main elements of socialists, communists … Continue reading →
The role of elections in socialist strategy
The Legacy of the Republican Congress
In 1934, in the shadow of a rising fascist threat in Europe, the Republican Congress was convened. This congress brought together the main elements of socialists, communists and progressives, largely drawn from the republican movement. In the few years of its existence, the Republican Congress was surprisingly successful in organising political rallies, pickets, and trade union support, especially given the condition of Ireland as a young post-colonial and underdeveloped state in which it arose.
Ireland was highly socially conservative, had a relatively small working class, the socialist movement was young and the workers’ movement had yet to achieve the kind of mass successes it had won in mainland Europe and in the UK. It would be fair to say that the terrain of struggle was difficult.
The Congress constituted itself as a federation of groups which attempted to work together towards a common cause. However, a motion was put forward that it should constitute itself instead as a political party. This motion was voted down fairly narrowly in favour of remaining as a broad front united against reactionary forces and the rise of fascism. Within a few years, the Congress itself dispersed, breaking up into constituent groups with many participants simply drifting away.
One of the groups involved in the Republican Congress, which actively promoted the position that it should remain federal, was the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI). This orientation in the Communist Party, but also more broadly in the socialist and republican movement, has remained fairly consistent, as we can see from the more recent attempts of the “Peadar O’Donnell Forum” to establish a similar federative network. Peader O’Donnell was himself a member of the Republican Congress and an advocate of this strategy.
With respect to the elections, George Gilmore, a prominent member of The Republican Congress, put forward the following view:
That is, the Congress should not constitute itself as a party and run candidates, but could tactically endorse candidates of other parties (or independents presumably). This position is remarkably similar to the position held by the CPI (and its affiliated Connolly Youth Movement) today. In the local and European elections of 2019 the CPI, in their periodical Socialist Voice, called for support for independent community candidates but did not advance any candidates itself.
It should be understood that the orientation of Gilmore arises from a context in which Sinn Féin and republicans in general had widely viewed the parliaments in the North and in the South of Ireland as illegitimate or “enemy” parliaments, whose sovereign power they refused to consumate. The contemporary Sinn Féin goes much further than this claiming that participation in the elections, North or South, is outright treason. The Republican Congress position therefore handily avoids being too tainted with the “enemy parliament”, while not completely ruling out tactical flexibility.
The route to power seen by George Gilmore for the congress, is in the organisation of Workers’ and Peasants councils. These councils would grow to become a parallel administrative state which would assume to organs of power, first as a dual power, and finally as the sole legitimate power. The strategy is essentially that which was embraced by the Dutch-German council communists of the 1920s and 30s, and has as originating template, the Russian revolution, in which the slogan “All Power to the Soviets” invoked that legitimate power should go to the workers’ and peasants councils which were formed in the revolutionary climate of 1905 and then revived and ultimately (though briefly) assumed power in 1917.
Hence electoral activity was seen not only as suspect by members of the republican movement, many such as Gilmore saw it largely as a distraction from the building of this more serious and much more important counter-power.
The Balance Sheet
The call to cooperation or federation around a set of principles is always an easier goal, and therefore tends to be “an easy sell”. It is daunting to attempt to fuse people into a united organisation, with all of the organisational and ideological differences which exist in their respective parts. Faced with seemingly insurmountable difference, the easy option is a looser affiliation.
What is loosely bound, is also easily untied. And so it was with The Republic Congress which managed to hold together for only a few years. Having produced the first sizable socialist and republican movement in Ireland’s history (The Fenian proclamation is an amazing document, but it’s arguable how widely its sentiments were actually felt) the Republican Congress participants can hardly be blamed for this fate.
And though there was briefly a progressive party, Clann na Poblachta with some popularity, a socialist party with the aim of organising a workers movement, and some success in doing so, would have to wait until the socialist turn in the republican movement which led to Official Sinn Féin, later the Workers’ Party.
The Workers’ Party’s history is not without its complicated twist and turns, its character being reinforced by the Provisional split of those dissenting from the “political turn” which the majority leadership of Sinn Féin endorsed, coupled with the opening up of a serious conflict in the North ultimately caused by remaining juridical and economic sectarian divisions imposed by the British state.
The strategy of shifting the republican movement to a socialist orientation, merging the republican movement with the labour movement, and both taking part in elections and extra-parliamentary struggles resulted in a scale and duration of class conflict which has not yet been repeated. While the Workers’ Party of the early 80s could boast 1000s of members, many dedicated socialists who had been educated about Marx and class dynamics of capitalism, the alternative socialist strategies along the lines of those outlined by the Republican Congress, despite being pursued actively by various groups, including he Communist Party of Ireland, have failed to gain any significant purchase.
It must be acknowledged that the Workers’ Party had itself serious mistakes of orientation, political errors and dubious self-promoting characters rising to prominence at various times. Though steps can and should be taken to prevent such occurrences in the course of the development of a party, they are a danger that rises proportionally to the size and importance of a party movement. The small can remain ideologically pure and untainted by dangerous missteps, but no party of capacity can do so indefinitely.
The point is not however to justify this or that position of the Workers’ Party or to denounce those positions of the other groups in the various complex terrains that arise in political reality in the course of class conflict. Rather it is that the general strategic approach found purchase in mass activity and mass support by the working class, while its counterpart, the “council communist” strategy did not.
The Strength of Antiparliamentarism
While conditions of social and political economy deeply shape which strategies are available to socialists and the exact context must be carefully taken into account, the extra-parliamentary strategies of syndicalism and council communism, irrespective of their political nuance, have proved vastly less effective in the much broader field of Europe. This is true in scale and impact in the context of even very limited democracies, and certainly in the fully developed western bourgeois democracies.
No socialist political movement has taken power in a fully fledged democracy, by any strategy, leaving us with a paucity of statistical examples of successes and complicating the analysis. However there have been some near misses. Immediately after WWII the US conspired with local bourgeoisies to suppress communist forces, holding off elections in France and Italy until they felt non-communists forces were safe. In Chile, Allende attempted to implement socialist measures which were forestalled by a coup in cooperation with the CIA.
And while communist parties such as the PCI in Italy, the PCF in France and the KKE in Greece gave rise to movements of 100s of thousands or even millions, the council communists and syndicalist impacts were far more limited. And the record of Venezuela is not yet set in stone.
Among the most impressive examples of extra-parliamentarian political formation is the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) of Spain, which managed to pursue a syndicalist strategy which genuinely became mass. Yet this was in a context of a very young republic which was almost immediately destabilised by a reactionary putsch. And ultimately they found themselves taking part in elected governments.
Of the more Marxist “council communist” approaches the Kommunistische Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands (KAPD) is notable. It had not only a party dedicated to education but also associated unions and even at certain points, paramilitary forces.Though itcould count its support in the 10s of thousands these numbers were directly inherited when it split away from an electoral formation. It then proceeded to almost immediately lose 90% of its members, returning to the size of a sect before disappearing entirely.
Similarly, the Italian wing of council communism, of which Amadeo Bordiga was an important proponent, ended up drifting into microgroup obscurity while the Italian Communist Party was giving the US securicrats in NATO and the CIA nightmares.
The council communist idea is inspired by the events of the Russian revolution, where the soviets represented a dual power, that eventually superseded other governmental organs. Yet the Bolsheviks, which became the motive driving force of soviet supremacy did not achieve power by a slow process of building councils over decades. Instead they built a social democratic workers party (RSDLP) over the course of decades, which involved itself not only in union activities, media, community organising, but also every democratic outlet available to it, including the decidedly undemocratic Duma.
“Soviets”, which might also be called “councils”, arose as a response to the revolutionary conditions of 1905 and then resuscitated themselves during the increasingly revolutionary conditions of 1917. It was only in this later phase in 1917 that the Bolshevik party decided that they should be the vehicle of proletarian power. To imagine that we build the soviets first, and the party will follow is to invert the causal direction of the exact historical referent from which council communism arises.
It was precisely to dispel this “council communist” confusion that Lenin decided to write his famous work “Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder” in the 1920s which was directed at the Dutch-German council communist trend and its advocates. And while Lenin was very much an advocate of base building, advancing the unions, etc. He was quite hostile to the idea that action should only happen “from below”:
The Theoretical Structure of Electoral Necessity
The historical record does not paint a favourable picture of the extra-parliamentary approach, but it is important to make a theoretical examination of why this might be the case. We will restrict ourselves to investigations of the developed western democracies, of which Ireland is a special case, in order to narrow the field.
The primary reason that elections must necessarily be a core activity of the party pursuing socialist transformation is that, contra strategies of the ruling class, the socialist transformation requires politically directed activity, expressed in a programme and propelled by mass activity. A very substantial fraction of the population must be directly involved in the organisation of this programme and organisational activity, and an even larger fraction should be either sympathetic, or at least not functional antagonistic. Without these factors, success is impossible and failure is assured.
Elections give a forum in which to involve members in presenting a program to the broader population, and a means of assessing where it is we stand vis-vis this population. The micro-group eschewing elections can always imagine its reach further and its message deeper, but those who take part in elections have a much more demonstrable measure of the reality.
And while it is certainly possible to pursue the politicisation of the unions, community groups, etc via a political party which does not involve itself in elections, the unions, community groups, etc. will consistently look to the political representation when it comes to issues of importance on the day. When the extra-parliamentary party calls for reforms it can not enact, and the union turns to the left-wing of the neoliberal establishment, is it really the union who is to blame?
And so it is that these extra-parliamentary groupings find themselves engaging in normal union activity, periodic spontaneous resistance, and the occasional stunt, yet amount to little more than ginger groups for other left wing parties and independents in the best of cases, or simply as gadflies denouncing the activities of those who engage in electoral activity at the worst. The halfway-house of the republican congresses “tactical support” is similarly no antidote. It serves only to cede the territory to other actors in the electoral arena, which it finds itself either denouncing, ignoring or tailing and these other political actors have little reason to seek approval or support in return.
By contrast, even very marginal activity with a radical message in elections tends to reconfigure the playing field. The Workers’ Party, with only one member on Dublin City Council put Sinn Féin under a large amount of pressure, limiting their capacity to liquidate public assets, and forcing their votes to the left. The promotion of public housing as the solution to the housing crisis was given much more visibility and credence than it had previously enjoyed. And while the Workers’ Party failed to take a seat (by a little less than 50 votes) this near miss for a quite radical and explicitly socialist message demonstrates in fact the viability of the approach. If only slightly more effort had been invested, success surely could have been achieved.
Electoralism is dangerous and the pressures to reconcile to the status quo are very real. Failure in elections is painful for active party members and especially for candidates. In addition, the access to funds, a thing always so elusive to the socialist party, provides a strong incentive to growing the number of votes. Both of these factors push parties to move towards the current political economic norm and against suggesting anything too extreme. The promotion of candidates can lead to individuals who, incentivised towards popularity, obtain power which can not easily be checked by party structures. It’s also possible to have a very shallow party movement who have only a small political machine and no real organisational depth, while enjoying some electoral success.
And when socialism appears on the horizon of a democracy, one can be assured that the US will step in to divert the course.
These criticisms while real, cannot change the fact that the alternative approaches do not even yield significant dangers of failure because they fall so far short of success.
The last generation of political activists can be excused for believing that the revolutionary horizon was removed entirely. It was after all, the era of the end of history. However, the end of history has ended. Revolutionary conditions are likely to assert themselves with very high probability in the coming period, not least of which is the reality of a rapidly changing climate, which potentially leads to the of a kind of terminal crisis of capitalism which Luxemburg had only considered theoretical. Coupled with this is an increasingly unstable geopolitical situation, which while currently mono-polar, may not remain for too many more decades.
Far from meaning we should eschew activity in the electoral arena, instead it presents the possibility of popularising revolutionary aims through the ballot box once again. Bold initiatives are needed in bold times. Putting forward an ambitious but realisable programme of transition to socialism may have seemed pie in the sky in 1995, but in 2025 it’s the only thing capable of saving us from climate catastrophe, making non-revolutionary measures the outrageous ones.
A party with the aim of socialism and deep roots in the working class simply does not yet exist in Ireland, however, history demonstrates that it is possible for one to exist. History can also give us very important clues about which strategies can be pursued with any hope of success.
The situation in Ireland is perhaps more dire than people have given it credit. Sinn Féin will prove to be ultimately a pointless enterprise, having no genuine dedication to socialism. Indeed apart from a vague interest in some sort of republican sentimentalism, they hardly have any ideology at all, and could transform into Fianna Fáil quite readily.
And aside from this we have Solidarity who is currently in the midst of a 3 way split, people Before Profit whose core values are something about cannabis and protecting people from inheritance tax, we have Independents for Change, a group which actually contains the lack of commitment to being a genuine party in its very name, and then a range of very small socialist, communist and republican groups, including Éirígí, the Workers’ Party, The Communist Party and others.
A commitment to creating a genuine socialist party of the working class, in more than just name, is then a very daunting task in the current climate. It will require heroic efforts of courage and force of will to discover the process for assembling and fusing those forces which are present and gathering up those which can be encouraged. Yet it is a task which we desperately need to undertake if we are to have a future. Continuing down proven failed paths, or shying away from proven ones because they feel too uncomfortable or difficult, betrays the working class of Ireland as a whole.
S. Duncan - Sat Jan 26, 2019 01:52
The Balance of forces domestically: contradictions among the people and intra-elite competition. “…the ultimate aim of this most bourgeois of all nations would appear to be the possession, alongside the bourgeoisie, of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat. In … Continue reading →
The Balance of forces domestically: contradictions among the people and intra-elite competition.
“…the ultimate aim of this most bourgeois of all nations would appear to be the possession, alongside the bourgeoisie, of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat. In the case of a nation which exploits the entire world this is, of course, justified to some extent.” Engels to Marx in an October 1858 letter, on the English proletariat. (1)
Socialists in the United States have their work cut out for them. Though conditions for socialist construction materially exist as a highly developed means of production and a large wage earning class the balance of class forces is decisively poised against any real or actually existing powers of conscious proletarian revolution. This is largely due to the colonial, settler and imperialist history of the country and its status as the world’s chief oppressor nation and global linchpin of world imperialism since the end of WWII. It is only natural for a country that has been the center of world imperialism for almost an entire century for bourgeois polity to be firmly entrenched domestically.
Despite excitement from socialists in the United States over the recent election of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who was elected as a Democrat, essentially all levers of state power remain centralized inside of bourgeois political parties within bourgeois state institutions and no dual power capable of existentially challenging the hegemony of bourgeois politics yet exists. AOC has even already voted in favor of funds for the current coup in Venezuela and for the maintenance of ICE. A powerful party of labor does not exist. There is no “mass party of labor”. Despite left liberals who masquerade as socialists like AOC and Bernie Sanders standing politically with imperialism through the votes they cast, their campaigns have done much to popularize socialist ideas. From here proletarian power should continue to be built and Marxist-Leninist ideology should be advanced and geared towards the principles of Marxist-Leninist party building. Doing this correctly though means taking a healthy, sober and real evaluation of the realities of the balance of class forces or the actual human material of the United States.
The material resources, the wealth, the coercive powers, and the myriad of privileges the United States ruling class has accumulated for itself began in the earliest pre-national days of settler-colonialism and grew and expanded since that time through the war of United States formation and national independence and into what it is today while maintaining the interests of private property, wealth and capital accumulation with the white settler population at the core of accumulation. The United States national polity is the historical continuator and enforcer of the white supremacy of the colonial days in the present in the form of capitalism and imperialism in North America. As of December 2017 73% of white families own their own home in the United States as opposed to 43% of black families (2). The situation is not much better for other non-white minorities within the USA.
The US ruling class has essentially been able to “buy off” the majority of the US working class of European descent, reducing them to a kind of labor aristocracy with petty bourgeois consciousness that believes in US imperialism as righteous and good and more or less genuinely believes that Democrats and Republicans speak to and can and have met their needs and the needs of their parents, and often times their parent’s generation before them. The material reason is that many workers, especially white workers, have small “stakes” in the capitalist mode through property and wealth ownerships which have accrued due to many official policies over the centuries geared towards benefiting and enfranchising the majority of whites. A key example of this de jure white supremacy is the institution of home ownership. Richard Rothstein in his book “The Color of Law” explains how during the administration of Woodrow Wilson “Terrified by the 1917 Russian revolution, government officials came to believe that communism could be defeated in the United States by getting as many white Americans as possible to become homeowners – the idea being that those who owned property would be invested in the capitalist system. So in 1917 the Federal Department of Labor promoted an “Own-Your-Own-Home” campaign…” (3).
The Home Ownership campaign of the Wilson administration is just one example of many official, de jure government programs meant to materially enfranchise the white population with stakes in property ownership while marginalizing the black and non-white population. This is just one example of countless official government policies which reinforce and continually recreate the conditions for white supremacy. These official campaigns of government backed enfranchisement of whites into the private property system have been perpetuated in combination with persistent and consistent anti-Communist propaganda campaigns since at least the time of the Bolshevik revolution. Anti-Communism has become the unofficial religion of the United States. This religion is constantly being reinforced by propaganda in not just the news but even in popular culture which celebrates USA great national chauvinism and what Michael Parenti would refer to as a kind of “super patriotism” and that openly attacks Communism. As has been recently revealed by the Freedom of Information Act: the “US government has worked behind the scenes on over 800 major movies and more than 1,000 TV titles.” (4) The combination of these official policies has molded the “white working class” (or at least large portions of it) of the United States into a type of political consciousness which does not see politics as legitimate or “acceptable” unless they are a. white and b. propertied. This is why even during the 2016 presidential campaign Trump had spoken specifically about the “white working class”.
Bourgeois political parties have dominated the course of national events from the founding of the country and a successful labor party based on the self-conscious class power of the proletariat never historically coalesced. This is the case now and was the case in the past because of real material reasons which stretch all the way back to the settler foundations of the United States with all of its complex contradictions among the people from its beginnings and not due to Communists not trying hard enough to build socialism in North America. It is not something that is historically fixed, but something that has been historically barred from developing because of unresolved contradictions between the people.
In 1929 Stalin mentioned in a speech to the CPUSA that the idea of “American Exceptionalism” existing in terms of the United States being immune to the crises of capitalism or exempt from basic features of capitalism is wrong (5). It is very true that the United States is not at all exempt from the basic features of or the crises of capitalism and imperialism. However, a certain kind of ‘American Exceptionalism’ , or a couple very important peculiarities do exist in that the USA was founded on settler colonialist roots with no feudal past by petty proto-capitalist at an early part of the world historical transitional epoch between feudalism and capitalism. These colonists, who left primarily England and the Netherlands in pursuit of private accumulations of land and or wealth, was to carry the historical quality of pre-capital. These land owning colonists based the acquisition of their land in the first place on swindle and genocide and then used the slave labor of kidnapped Africans for the bulk of profitable productive work; land cultivation, from which whole economies in the North American colonies were created to finance and service.
The United States is also geographically removed from Europe, where most of the core countries of capitalist and imperialist development reside and was thus able to escape the cataclysms of World War I and World War II essentially unscathed.
The combination of an essentially several centuries long white supremacist settler colonial project that was primarily concerned with the mass plunder of an entire continent, or to later be known as “Manifest Destiny”, in combination with the geographic isolation of the United States from other ever-conflicting core capitalist countries of European capital allowed the USA to become the historically unprecedented power it is today.
By 2045 or in only roughly 26 years “whites” are set to become a “racial minority” in the United States. The end of white supremacy as a demographic fact of US society is only about a quarter of a century away and has not only roused the most reactionary sentiments in the extreme haute bourgeoisie but also throughout the entirety of “white society”. This was the true meaning of the “Tea Party” which arose quickly after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the first “warning bells” of the end of white supremacy by white supremacists masquerading in the guise of a type of “liberty” history has exposed as a hypocritical farce. The approach to this 2045 mark and the years after it will mean an intensification of the reactionary process of white supremacism in its historical deaththrows in which it will unload whatever violence it is able to onto a population increasingly less white. This is why as long as capitalism and imperialism continue, White Supremacy, though ending as an demographic fact of race in the US in 2045, will continue as a political fact which is the historical meaning of why fascism is now rising in the United States.
While interest in socialism, socialist theory and socialist organizing on the ground has gotten stronger and more consistent the real material balance of class power between the working classes and bourgeoisie has not shifted much at all in favor of the working classes in terms of state power but, on the national level has backslid, enhancing the state and extralegal powers of white supremacy and fascism. As Georgi Dimitrov mentioned in his report to the 7th World Congress of the Comintern fascism is “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” (6) This enhancing of fascist state power has not only exacerbated contradictions within the working classes but has also caused a deepening of the intraclass antagonisms between different strata of the capitalist class as the terroristic violence of the most extreme reactionary wing of the haute bourgeoisie also at times targets other layers or groups within the capitalist class in the process of wresting complete control of the bourgeois state machine. The process of fascist consolidation of state power has therefore widened and exacerbated the social fracture lines of US society to an extent not seen since the Civil War. As a historical process it has been brought about as a result of the new period of global stagnation and eventual decline of US and NATO empire globally.
Marxists in the US would do well to recognize the peculiarities of the historical development of capitalism and imperialism and its basis on settler-colonialism and expansion in North America and the United States as they are reflected in the features of all classes of society today. It is only through having a firm grasp on this that unfolding events can be fully understood and thereby the road to socialism in North America evaluated and navigated to successful revolutionary outcomes.
The International balance of power: a struggle between oppressed nations and oppressor nations, between labor and capital.
The collapse of the USSR and Eastern bloc in 1991 meant a major setback globally for the international communist revolution. Capitalism as a world historical mode seemingly was unchallenged in any serious way for a whole historical period for the first time since at least before World War II when the Soviet Union existed, though as a marginal player in the power politics of Europe and Asia and certainly not as a world scale power able to existentially threaten capitalism it emerged from the second World War as. The actually existing forces of socialism that retained state power were reduced to a small handful, none of which could existentially compete with capitalism. Even China was now “capitalist” or so we were told throughout the 1990s.
By the early 2000s something began to change. Cuba had made its way through the ‘Special Period’ of the 90s. By the early 2000s the ‘Pink Tide’ was apparent and by the mid to late 2000s ALBA or the Bolivarian Alliance countries had arrived on the stage of history as a new socialist (if only a soft or ‘pink’ socialist) bloc, very much so supported and financed by the People’s Republic of China, also of which was help to Cuba in navigating the ‘Special Period’.
At the same time as this Russia was recovering its balance from having endured the counter-revolution that was the fall of the Soviet Union. Owing to it’s history, even on the basis of bourgeois polity Russia found itself in an antagonistic position in relation to the United States and NATO if only in defense of its own national interests and sovereignty, as by the late 1990s NATO had already converted most of Russia’s former Eastern European socialist allied countries into their spheres of influence.
In 2003 came the Second Iraq War in which the US and NATO, still flexing over the ‘end of history’, were able to essentially go unchallenged in exerting their will. This continued and was essentially unchallenged for the last time in 2011 with the joint US and NATO overthrow of the Libyan Jamahiriya government.
By 2012 the US and NATO had the same plan for the Syrian Arab Republic as they did for Baathist Iraq and Socialist Jamahiriya Libya. The difference now was that forces antagonistic to the unbridled rule of US and NATO hegemony, for reasons of the broad social antagonisms of the transitional epoch between capitalism and socialism, now had something of enough strength again to be able to challenge US and NATO imperialism and stifle the plans of overthrowing the SAR and replacing it with another sphere of the West in the region under proxy Saudi dominance which can only mean generalized barbarism on the basis of religious fundamentalism and the expansion of the encirclement of Russia, Iran, and ultimately the geo-political clamping down on the People’s Republic of China. All of which means new wars of imperial maintenance to the people of the US.
And now, after the largest expansion of wealth the ruling class has seen in many historical periods, probably since the Gilded age, the historical repercussions of imperialism for the countries which make up NATO are occurring in various ways. This takes the form of opposition in the geo-political sphere to US and NATO interests from Russia and China along with regional powers which strive to express their autonomy from global capital and imperialism. Socialist China as an essential link and major hub of production in the world capitalist mode itself means that less control over global market forces are able to be exerted by Western capitalists for the purpose of private accumulation. Migrant crises caused by centuries of Monroe Doctrine policies in the Americas and recent topplings and destabilizations of North African and Middle Eastern governments in Europe are another way the contradictions of imperialism are making themselves felt in the core. On top of all this is the promise capitalism brings of looming and unavoidable fresh market crises born out of the internal contradictions of the capitalist mode itself. All these things mean the growing restriction of United States and NATO market interests abroad and the general frustration of the ruling classes of these countries abroad which find their outlet in increased intra-elite competition.
As Fidel Castro said in the Spring of 2015: “Today, the solid alliance between the peoples of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, the State with the world’s fastest economic growth, is possible. With their close cooperation, powerful armies and brave soldiers, both countries constitute a mighty shield for peace and world security, so that the life of our species may be preserved.” (7)
At the time this essay was being written or was nearly completed even, Trump recognized Juan Guaido as the “legitimate” president of Venezuela. Followed by this Colombia, Brazil and all other “Lima Group” countries, excluding Mexico, also recognized Guaido as the “legitimate president” of Venezuela. US Imperialism is attempting to now consolidate itself in the Western Hemisphere where its plans have been stifled in Syria by attempting to make Venezuela into the Syria of Latin America, unleashing a Civil War in Venezuela. US Imperialism saw its interests blocked in Syria by the global “security shield” Fidel Castro mentioned in the excerpt above and it will also see its interests in Venezuela blocked by the same anti-hegemonic global security shield.
What is the result of this new balance of international forces on the core countries of capitalism? Foremostly, as the ability of the United States and NATO to reap profits abroad is curtailed antagonisms within that alliance between the bourgeois countries that make them up and those antagonisms within the capitalist classes of those countries themselves are sharpening. The criticism of NATO Trump gave, that NATO member states are going to have to start “paying their share” is an expression of this phenomenon. The Brexit movement is another. The fierce, civil war like atmosphere that has taken grip of US politics that began once Obama was elected and which only became fiercer and more intense with the rise of Trump is yet another one. As a result of the drive for capital accumulation by the imperialist powers being stifled abroad they find themselves, as a class, in a deep political crisis at home over how to handle the slow down in achieved ambitions. Owing to its vast historical accumulation of material resources in terms of wealth, capital and actual material coercive force US capitalism and the US capitalist class has the material ability to, if not be able to save Empire abroad, then to be able to save its hegemony at home through the shedding of liberal democracy and the rise of open fascism by the most reactionary layers of the United States capitalist class and this is what Trump represents. From there a fully fascist US would be able to have what some layers of the US ruling class have been wanting for a long time, not just war with small countries that opposed US interests but its main competitors Russia and China, that is the long term existential threats to its global hegemony. Domestically, any war with Russia and or China for the US working classes would go hand in hand with the historical entrenchment of fascism and the lowering of living standards all around with “super patriotism” as the prime virtue. Internationally, in the process of this mad dash to war, for allies who do not march fast enough, or “pay their fair share”, be they NATO or not, it will mean being discarded in the name of US interests.
The rise of fascism means the most dominant pools of capital in society, the banking sector, huge industry, entrenching themselves further as hegemons through the use and financing of an astroturf “popular” movement propelled by the most reactionary layers of the working class and petty bourgeoisie. This process at the same time means the shedding, severing and splitting off of layers within the bourgeoisie in an intensification of intra-elite competition. This process of the fascists grinding down the liberal wing of the capitalist class into submission does and can yield some opposition from left liberals and social democrats.
The history of liberal and social democratic behavior during arising fascism shows they a. need to be engaged with in the formation of an anti-fascist people’s front, but at the same time b. cannot be fully trusted to be completely consistently reliable allies of the revolution owing to their vacillating petty bourgeois intermediary station in class society. Even still, this vacillating layer can be the decisive factor as to whether or not fascism prevails. Had the Social Democrats and Communists maintained a firm United Front would Hitler have been elected? The history in this case was that the Social Democrats a. sold out the German people by voting for war credits and entry into WWI and then b. after a popular movement brought them to power after German defeat in WWI used their post war social democratic government to crush a Communist uprising. It’s no wonder the KPD did not want to work with the Social Democrats before the election of Hitler in a United Front or a People’s Front with that kind of record, but the historical tragedy is that they essentially had to to have had a chance to stop Nazism
So it is the same case today with us as revolutionary communists in the face of unfolding US fascism. We should be finding common ground with left liberals and social democrats. We should be building a People’s Front to stop fascism. We should be at the same time studying and ever examining the changing and shifting patterns of the deepening splits and fissures within the US capitalist class to draw left liberals and social democrats to conclusions which will advance the conditions which will make socialist construction actually possible in North America.
The foundations for socialist construction in North America
So after a long period in which the United States and NATO have gone unchallenged internationally, the forces of socialism and anti-hegemony have managed to re-establish a “protective shield” for themselves. At the same time as this, at the national level, the historic contradictions among the people that US capitalism and the United States of America itself were born with are beginning to exasperate in the same kind of seismic way we saw in 1861, that is, in the language of civil war. Politically, because of the vastness of the material dominance of the capitalist class over the rest of US society, (which also dominates largely the entire world) in terms of the sheer quantity and size of accumulations of wealth spread over a large geographical area in one national polity, intra-elite competition between antagonistic layers of capitalists becomes inevitable and makes this antagonism a chief one in society especially in the absence of any organized political force of labor, thus civil war manifests as between factions, layers and stratas of the capitalist class.
What conditions will make it possible to build socialism within North America? Firstly, the United States is not one nation. It is a polity of many and indeed, a prison house of nations ruled by white supremacy which was historically cobbled together explicitly to keep white land owners and capitalists hegemonic within developing North American society from the times of earliest colonization right down to the present. All oppressed ethnic minorities and nations within the United States, if their community wills it, have a right to autonomy, self-determination and national liberation. Regions of the United States that no longer want to be a part of or materially support the growing fascism of the United States of America will also be seeking self-determination and national liberation as movements which realize the only way that fascism and global imperialism can be ended is by leaving the USA as a polity arise. This way forward will become increasingly clear, on the basis of freedom struggles like Black Lives Matter and the national liberation and self determination of oppressed ethnicities and nations within the United States and on the basis of regions within the United States deciding to leave the polity on the basis of having no choice to do other than this to avoid having their resources taken by a global and domestic fascist empire as in the case of Calexit.
Who within the United States, from a Marxist-Leninist perspective, do not have the right to self-determination? Whites within the United States do not have a right to self-determination as their “national” interests have been, historically speaking, made manifest through the white supremacy that is the United States itself as a national polity for hundreds of years now and the pursuit of any sort of “white nation” means only a step towards more overt and blatant white supremacy, imperialism, slavery, fascism, capitalism and generalized ruling class cruelty, that is, exactly what Trumpist fascism more or less openly already represents. Self-determination for whites as an ethnic group separate from oppressed ethnicities and nationalities means the expression of the same white supremacy we have seen for hundreds of years. The historical choice for whites in the Western Hemisphere is either forward towards integration with the rest of the peoples of Americas or backwards to insulated and fascist “white nationalism”. This is why the status of whites as a nation, with their own national aspirations or the validity of any white nation on any level is invalidated and denied by Marxist-Leninist theory. This wholesale rejection of the concept of “whiteness” itself will be shown in practice to be the only correct way forward towards socialist construction in North America.
The first type of national liberation movement, struggle for self-determination or freedom struggle for democracy in the face of authoritarian white supremacy in the United States is that of the indigenous peoples, African Americans, Chicanos and other whole nations and ethnic minorities which have been ensnared under the yoke of white supremacy. The reasons for this type are deeply embedded in history and first began to arise in the days of Columbus. These are deeply rooted ethnic and national contradictions we commonly call “racial tensions” that have existed at a hypostatic level in our society for hundreds of years now, changing and altering with the development and growth of capitalism, imperialism and now fascism. These “racial tensions” have been an ever present, antagonistic and regressive force in society. A contradiction among the people that was originally born out of the literal genocide, plunder, slavery , rape and “settling” process of the Americas that began in the early colonial epoch, picked up pace with United States chauvinist “Manifest Destiny” and still continues as a primary mechanism of the rule of capital to this day. It is the collective decision of the oppressed ethnicities and nationalities within the United States what form liberation takes (whether autonomy or actual national liberation), however, one thing is clear, remaining under the yoke of the polity that is US fascism and empire will only mean further oppression.
The second type of national liberation movement and struggle for self-determination in the United States is based on a difference of politics and potentially economy from the rest of the United States and would take place on the basis of break away polities occurring. The CalExit movement is an example of this. Currently the CalExit movement appears to be under the influence and or leadership of either incredibly naive liberals who engage in wishy-washy sometimes pro-imperialism, sometimes anti-imperialism or aspiring compradors. The CalExit movement’s founding leadership, on the day US imperialism unleashed the ploy of declaring Juan Guaido president of Venezuela onto the people of the American hemisphere declared support for the coup on its Facebook page. The Venezuelan opposition will never find themselves politically inclined to support Calexit and owe their own vitality to US imperialism and Trumpist fascism itself. There was much outrage in the comments of rank and file followers of a certain CalExit Facebook page declaring themselves in opposition to the founding leadership of CalExit’s apparently declared line that it is in favor of the Juan Guaido coup and the beginning of a regional war in Latin America for the blatant interests of US imperialism which would once again make Latin American the United State’s “back yard” as Evo Morales said. The goal of this ploy by US imperialism is to overthrow Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua which arch-imperialist John Bolton, and architect of this campaign called in recent months a “troika of tyranny”. While the Calexit founding leadership has made a strange choice many of those who had previously looked to it as a guiding star understand the only correct line for a polity that wishes to gain autonomy from the imperial center is a consistent line of international solidarity with anti-imperialism.
CalExit has also made mistakes in terms of its handling of relations and proposals to indigenous peoples. It is, even if an unconscious and liberal one that is infected with oppressor nation chauvinism itself, an example of an anti-imperialist policy of national self-determination, though an inconsistently internationalist and chauvinist one, which if successful a. would allow whatever population that resides under its governance to avoid Trumpist fascism b. would deny the Trumpist fascist entity material support and c. would deny imperialism much material support that it uses to exert force with around the world as an oppressor nation to oppress other nations. In terms of it’s ethnic composition, owing to the demographics of North America, a movement such as Calexit remains majority white and thus is embedded with, as the foolish endorsement of Juan Guaido exposes, white supremacist and oppressor nation chauvinism at least in terms of its approaches or modes of operation. Currently it appears that within the CalExit movement though the founding leadership has exposed itself to have deep oppressor nation and pro-imperialist chauvinist features, many who subscribe to lines of secession within the CalExit movement and in other regions have taken the correct line of consistent anti-imperialism and are opposed to the the coup against the Maduro presidency.
Fascism, at its ultimate core value is all about profit returns. It strips away the “social contract” of bourgeois liberal democracy and retains the core virtue of capitalism, the bottom line, as the highest virtue while scrapping all other ones pertaining to democratic rights. It is often said that fascism is “capitalism in decay” and indeed it is the decaying of liberal democracy in favor of simply cold, hard, undisguised coercion of all kinds; economic, official, unofficial, paramilitary, domestic and international etc.
Both types of national liberation struggles are tied up with the historical reality that capitalism itself can never fully and consistently deliver all the rights it legally promises as the power of capital extends its hand into the political sphere also to curtail and render inconsistent even basic bourgeois democratic rights such as universal voting, the history of which itself has been a long and unfolding process to universal suffrage. Even the 2016 election revealed a critical inconsistency in the bourgeois electoral machinery; winning the popular vote means nothing, the electoral college means everything.
As Lenin explains in Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution: “The more complete and determined, the more consistent the bourgeois revolution, the more assured will be the proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie for Socialism. … And from this conclusion, among other things, follows the thesis that, in a certain sense, a bourgeois revolution is more advantageous to the proletariat than to the bourgeoisie. This thesis is unquestionably correct in the following sense: it is to the advantage of the bourgeoisie to rely on certain remnants of the past as against the proletariat, for instance, on the monarchy, the standing army, etc. It is to the advantage of the bourgeoisie if the bourgeois revolution does not too resolutely sweep away all the remnants of the past, but leaves some of them, i.e., if this revolution is not fully consistent, if it is not complete and if it is not determined and relentless …. The very position the bourgeoisie occupies as a class in capitalist society inevitably causes it to be inconsistent in a democratic revolution. The very position the proletariat occupies as a class compels it to be consistently democratic. The bourgeoisie looks backward, fearing democratic progress, which threatens to strengthen the proletariat. The proletariat has nothing to lose but its chains, but with the aid of democracy it has the whole world to gain. That is why the more consistent the bourgeois revolution is in achieving its democratic changes, the less will it limit itself to what is of advantage exclusively to the bourgeoisie. The more consistent the bourgeois revolution, the more does it guarantee the proletariat and the peasantry the benefits accruing from the democratic revolution.” (8)
Thus, fascism occurs when the democratic revolution or liberal democracy, is dismantled by big capital. Fascism is an eclecticism of all the old and leftover barbarisms of capitalism and all past class and state societies made new again as an effort to insure the rule of capital in its late and decaying phases. In the history of the bourgeois democratic system of the United States the bourgeois democratic revolution has gone from in the beginning to being highly inconsistent to being less inconsistent. Even still though, there remain deep antagonisms which make it so the democratic revolution is far from “complete” in US society and this unresolved contradictions of the democratic revolution at the same time stifles the development of socialist forces at home, but also can only be resolved by socialist forces. The descent into fascism means the forces of ruling class barbarism are prevailing in society over the forces of socialism. It is signified by the increasing of inconsistencies in delivery on the legal promises or “social contract” of bourgeois democracy to more and more people, eroding foremostly those at the margins in the name of stabilizing the white supremacist project as the United States loses international hegemony and the country becomes less and less white.
The dismantling of bourgeois democratic society in favor of open fascism will mean a major step backwards and even many members of the liberal bourgeoisie know and realize this, only they cannot oppose it in more than in rhetoric as their bottom line depends on it, the bourgeois media outlets CNN and MSNBC are perfect examples of this.
It is the task of revolutionary communist forces in this period to bring under its leadership all social forces who are in real opposition to imperialism and fascism if possible and when not possible to influence them towards all measures which will uphold democratic society against the expansion of fascism while at the same time building the the anti-imperialist and communist movement generally.
A Fractured Society with fascist characteristics as the outcome of the settler-colonial-capitalist-imperialist historical project.
The tone among liberals and many on the left is that the 2018 midterm elections mean the decisive defeat of Trumpism and fascism but this is not the case. Trump will more than likely be re-elected in 2020 as if the Democrats had a rising star in their back pocket we would know of them by now. In fact, the only type of candidate which could possibly stand a chance against Trump would be a 1. left liberal of the Bernie Sanders or Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez type or 2. a liberal popular media star or magnate such as Oprah Winfrey or Mark Zuckerberg. Besides all this, the phenomena of fascism in the United States is one that brought Trump to power, not one that exists because of Trump and with or without him will continue as an unfolding social process the overwhelming majority of liberals themselves are complicit in.
Any attempt by the the liberals to run a conventional centrist liberal politician such as Beto O’Rourke will end in failure. An attempt to have a centrist unity ticket comprised of anti-Trump establishment Republicans such as Bush or Romney types with establishment liberals like Project for a New American Century supporter Joe Biden too will meet with failure.
In the first scenario in which a left liberal such as Bernie Sanders got the nomination the Democrats would win the Presidency. The issue is that the entrenched centrist forces within US liberalism which control the Democratic Party a. will not tolerate even this b. if somehow Bernie were elected he would be pushed even further right than he already has been. This is evident from the demise of the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign which was sabotaged by collusion between the DNC and the Clinton campaign. It is also further evidenced by the fact that former president Barack Obama made a conscious decision not to support or endorse Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez on account of her being “too far left” even though AOC has now voted with imperialism, even voting for a $20 million “democracy in Venezuela” fund for the imperialist coup there. The rise of a left liberal Democratic Socialist candidate is a hard and unlikely path which will mean once again a smothering of those forces by the more conservative and hegemonic layers of the Democratic Party.
In the event of the second scenario an establishment centrist Democratic ticket or a centrist “unity ticket” with center Democrats and Republicans too would split the Democratic party, weakening it and alienating whatever left following they have, sending them into the arms of left liberal alternatives as in 2016 like Jill Stein and the Green Party.
The only strategy the establishment Democrats really could use to win would be to run a counter-celebrity who can be “everything to everyone” in the way Trump was to the right wing. This could only be done via a personality such as Oprah Winfrey or some other political “outsider” who could blind the broad left into unity on the basis of their seemingly “familiar” charisma in the same way Obama had done in 2008 and Trump had done in 2016.
Peace from the consequences of fascism and imperialism at home can only be achieved through socialist revolution and owing to the material balance of class forces in the United States, this can only take the form of a united, multinational, Peoples’ Front of all progressive democratic forces and oppressed working peoples in North America under consciously Marxist-Leninist leadership. Only on this basis can the contradictions between the people based on ethnicity and nations, which have been present since the beginning of US history and European settlement of North America, find a social outlet in liberation rather than social tensions based on contradictions among the people. Likewise, only on this basis can the antagonisms within the capitalist class itself find anything close to an outlet that moves society closer to being able to build socialist foundations.
In regards to the increasingly open antagonisms within the capitalist class Peter Turchin mentions: “Intense intra-elite competition leads to the rise of rival power networks, which increasingly subvert the rules of political engagement to get ahead of the opposition. Instead of competing on their own merits, or the merits of their political platforms, candidates increasingly rely on “dirty tricks” such as character assassination (and, in historical cases, literal assassination). As a result, excessive competition results in the unraveling of prosocial, cooperative norms (this is a general phenomenon that is not limited to political life). Elite overproduction in the US has already driven up the intensity of intra-elite competition. Another clear sign is the unraveling of social norms regulating political discourse and process that has become glaringly obvious during the 2016 presidential election. Analysis of past societies indicates that, if intra-elite competition is allowed to escalate, it will increasingly take more violent forms. A typical outcome of this process is a massive outbreak of political violence, often ending in a state collapse, a revolution, or a civil war (or all of the above).” (9)
So, it is because of “elite overproduction” or the “over production of an elite class” which is the result of imperialism itself that intra-elite competition or intra-class antagonisms between the different layers of the capitalist class can take place. Since the end of World War I when Communist forces first gained state power for a sustained period of time it has been that when “intense intra-elite competitions” takes place it has made room for socialist projects to be able to expand and grow. It was due to imperial Russia’s over extension of itself in the natural antagonism of the world capitalist mode between competing pools of capital, specifically competition with German and Central Powers capital, that lead to not just the demise of tsardom but also the political vacuum and room for Bolshevism to have been able to take power in the first place. This is the essence of Lenin’s famous “Revolutionary Defeatism”.
Mao wrote: “The prolonged splits and wars within the White regime provide a condition for the emergence and persistence of one or more small Red areas under the leadership of the Communist Party amidst the encirclement of the White regime. … If only we realize that splits and wars will never cease within the White regime in China, we shall have no doubts about the emergence, survival and daily growth of Red political power.” (10)
“China is the only country in the world today where one or more small areas under Red political power have emerged in the midst of a White regime which encircles them. We find on analysis that one reason for this phenomenon lies in the incessant splits and wars within China’s comprador and landlord classes. So long as these splits and wars continue, it is possible for an armed independent regime of workers and peasants to survive and grow. ” (11)
Thus, above we have seen that the rise of fascism itself means a process of intra-class antagonism between capitalists, or “intra-elite competition” as Turchin calls it. Furthermore, because of the “American Exceptionalism” of the country, the United States also has found itself with a vast “overproduction” of the “elite class”, or a gross accumulation of wealth, capital and property that in terms of the class composition of the country is reflected in high numbers of bourgeoisie in competition with each other across the broad continental geography of the US. As the contradictions of capitalism grow internationally with the rise of a new anti-hegemonic bloc on the world stage the forces of the ambitions of US capital that once found outlets globally are pushed back within national boundaries. This curtailing of market interests abroad manifests domestically as pressures that intensify the antagonisms between the capitalist elite which generally destabilizes society and undermines their own authority while also at the same time creates openings for socialist authority and power to expand.
As this intra-elite competition intensifies there will emerge some “patriotic bourgeoisie” that find themselves in the camp of the People’s Front. These types are not the Keith Obermanns of the “Resistance” or Andrew Cuomo, but rather left liberals like Jill Stein and Jesse Ventura of the Green Party, and perhaps even sometimes even “social democrats” or “democratic socialists” like Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and the CalExit movement broadly. The credentials for a left liberal worthy of critical support ought to be an acceptance of a. the end of all US military bases and activity around the world b. the acceptance of the right of the people of region to engage in revolutionary socialist construction and or national liberation.
Many Democrats, liberals and leftists believe that the 2018 mid-terms marked a regaining of some kind of stability in the country as far as the intensification of intra-elite competition or an end to Trumpist fascism or the growing and intensifying danger of white supremacist and white nationalist politics and fascism broadly. None of which it really has.
I have heard the criticism of placing importance on antagonisms between pools of capital, whether they be in the form of individuals, corporations or nation-states as a driving force of history as “anti-Marxist”. The notion of competition between competing pools of capital for control over material resources and market spheres itself is an inherent part of Marxist analysis. The capitalist class is heterogeneous and multi-layered. When the bourgeoisie historically “over produces” itself as it has done in the imperialist oppressor countries of the world, specifically in the United States this leads to competing nodes of capital within the national polity forming which compete for advantage against each other. In the absence of an organized political power of labor, such as a workers party, a labor party, a socialist party, a communist party, that can leverage against the bourgeoisie even on the basis of democratic constitutionality and parliamentarianism the bourgeois narrative dominates the entirety of society and the bourgeois political agenda drives the course national events take as there exists no organized forces of labor to materially challenge the one dimensionality of bourgeois social framing on all significant levels.
This contradiction between competing pools of capital has been illustrated clearly in history as having occurred between nations. Stalin’s reports to the 14th and 15th congresses of the CPSU(B) devote entire sections to the intra-class conflict of the capitalist countries as having unresolved contradictions of market interest and intra-imperial antagonisms from WWI that were still in existence and moving towards a new war between the capitalist powers (WWII).
In the world today the largest sums of capital are in a globally hegemonic bloc together politically best made manifest by NATO ultra-imperialism. Fractures are beginning to occur between not just the alliance national polities themselves but within the national capitalist classes of these countries also. This imperialist alliance controls the largest, most powerful and most expansive military that has ever existed, attempting to smite any country that does not go along with its program. Since 1991 it’s chief task had been exerting full control over countries that had been able to gain ground in the national liberation struggle for national self-determination during the Cold War with the assistance of the Soviet socialist bloc. It’s most recent mark in this process had been the Syrian Arab Republic though by the mid 2010s it had been apparent that an anti-hegemonic bloc consisting of the PRC, RF, Bolivarian Alliance and other countries had emerged. The pressures of stifled imperial ambitions could only find their outlets at home while at the same time the misguided and blundering course of both liberal and conservative wings of US imperialism became apparent to the general population, which though still not generally having achieved class consciousness was gaining experience in anti-war movements with some effect with the help of an improved international situation from the outlook of anti-imperialism. As Marxist-Leninists today we should seek to fully understand what antagonisms between competing accumulations of capital or “intra-elite competition” as Turchin puts it, mean for building socialism in North America and the decline of US-NATO Empire broadly.
Theory and Practice
There are a number of ways in which practice has manifested from theory on the left today, some of which is good, some of which is bad, and some of which is mixed.
Firstly, there are numerous Marxist, socialist and communist parties of various tendencies existing within the United States. The majority of them, like the Marxist-Leninist PSL for example, do good organizing and activist work and even many orthodox Trotskyist groups show good initiative at organizing on the basis of allegedly socialist programs as did the group Socialist Alternative who was able to get elected Kshama Sawant a few years ago to Seattle city council and will be up for re-election soon.
The problem with Trotskyism however is that it from the time of its origins to now has been used as a tool of the right to spotlight deficiencies of actually existing socialist projects from a seemingly leftist perspective. Trotsky did this with the USSR, for example in his work “The Revolution Betrayed”, in hopes of inserting his extreme minority factional clique’s view into the leadership of the international Communist movement counter to the Comintern and CPSU’s majority line. The criticisms Trotsky leveled, most of which rest on an idealist understanding of proletarian democracy, was quickly picked up second hand and also used by bourgeois opponents of the USSR. Trotskyism represents a petty bourgeois intelligentsia layer of the party which wishes to lead over and above or insulated from the broad masses. Hence why Trotsky was against the Lenin Enrollment and in turn could never make real connections with the hundreds of thousands of working people who entered the CPSU in the mid 1920s. This same technique of Trotsky’s of standing apart from the real life social forces and presenting oneself as the “pure socialism” against degenerated and deformed “Stalinsts” and “Stalinist” regimes that are only worthy of partial support has been applied by many Trotskyist groups to mean standing in open opposition to “dictators” like Gadaffi and Assad who were openly attacked by imperialism. Or even constantly slandering the People’s Republic of China, like Socialist Alternative or “SAlt” in the USA, part of the CWI constantly do. Defacto support for US and NATO imperialism against the nations which historically gained self-determination and national liberation post World War II from colonial status is not Marxism or even leftism and is exactly what Trotskyism engages in when it joins in with imperialism in its condemnation of anti-hegemonic or socialist countries. It is simply a way of disguising a right wing position in left sounding phraseology and inserting the agenda of imperialism inside the program of the left.
In a similar way anti-revisionist Maoists have played at times this same role as Trotskyites in undermining actually existing socialist projects, like the PRC, Cuba and Bolivarian countries with idealist and anti-materialist ideological takes about how socialism can actually be immediately or more efficiently achieved that does not consider the basis of the material conditions and the balance of class forces which exist nationally and globally today.
Thus within the Marxist scene in the United States there are two lines; broadly, do you support imperialism or are you an anti-imperialist party? In the correct position of consistent anti-imperialist analysis and line there is the Marxist-Leninist Party for Socialism and Liberation which is consistent in its defense of and urging for peace with the PRC, Russia and oppressed nations within the anti-hegemonic sphere. On the other end of the spectrum there are parties like the Trotskyite-Cliffite “International Socialist Organization” whose publications regularly run pro-imperialist, generally anti-communist pieces regularly having even supported the White Helmets in Syria. Of course then there is also the anti-China “anti-revisionist” Maoist crowd who call for essentially the same type of political revolution within China that many Trotskyists do which could only play the role of destabilizing the PRC to the advantage of world imperialism and the partitioning of the country. Between these two ends of the spectrum you may find some orthodox Trotskyist groups who lend alternating levels of “critical support” to the “deformed workers states” of the world rather than flat out rejecting them and declaring neutrality in position between “state-capitalist red fascism” and global imperialism.
There are essentially three types of self-described Marxists that exist within the US centered around the anti-imperialist and pro-imperialist lines; consistent anti-imperialists like the PSL, inconsistent anti-imperialists like the CWI and Red Guards and pro-imperialists masquerading in left sounding phraseology like the ISO.
This line of anti and pro imperialism runs down the middle of the Marxist left because it runs down the middle of the entire left generally. Though totally consistent anti-imperialism is impossible to find among liberalism generally, It is possible to have left liberals of that are more than less consistent in their anti-imperialism, like Jill Stein, who called for the shutting down of all overseas US military bases in the 2016 presidential election race (12) and refused to recognize the Guaido coup, calling it a coup as it is. A more radical line than AOC or Bernie Sanders ever dared who support the coup in Venezuela. Compare this line also to the US “anarcho-communists” Noam Chomksy who wishes to see US troops remain in Rojava to “protect” it from Turkish invasion but is against the coup in Venezuela. Or see the ISO line that excitedly supported US intervention in Syria in the first place. The line struggle between the correct line of consistent anti-imperialism and the wishy-washy sometimes anti-imperialism of anarchism, liberalism and Trotskyist organizations and figures is a decisive one. This difference of lines comes down to being either for the advancement of socialism or for the maintenance of capitalism, white supremacy and world imperialism.
Anarcho-communist organizations and figures too, while demonstrating inconsistency on anti-imperialist positions also have shown an inconsistency on many other issues. The decentralized nature of this kind of “community defense” project invites all types from ultra-left adventurers, to confused rightists who self identify as “socialist”, to other overt or not so overt reactionaries. Hence why ultra-left anarchist organizing while having immediate benefits of casting a wide net, has been shown by history to be not effective in the long term and will at some point or another in the revolutionary process present itself as detrimental as anarcho-communist organizational approaches are not based on historical materialism but idealism.
Furthermore, community self defense projects that exists on the basis of whiteness such as Redneck Revolt gives seemingly implicit left support for the maintenance of the white identity within the United States even if this is not the intention and is therefore not just organizationally vulnerable on account of its anarchist practice but also ideologically on account of the ideological angle of associating itself with a continuation of the explicit whiteness of the Young Patriots. Even still, though we find that very strong anti-racist work can be and is being done by some branches of this organization under revolutionary socialist leadership, one still has a sense there is an inconsistency in a. ideology from branch to branch b. approach to practice from branch to branch contingent on this heterogeneity of ideology c. in approaches to organizational concerns having to due with centralism, decentralism, internal democracy and more.
Any kind of white identity as a political defining point will find itself in an odd place within leftist politics of 21st century United States and while I am sure the vast majority of those in Redneck Revolt are anti-racists themselves and are most ardent communists, the framework implicit even in it’s name of “redneck” in the popular consciousness of essentially all people within the United States brings to mind white people, no matter what the allegedly historically true origin of the term is, the popular connotation is of whiteness as this is the definition popular culture seems to have retained.
Ideologically speaking, white identity politics has its historical origins in the earliest settlement and take-over of the Americas by Europeans. Since the end of the Civil Rights movement, in even many liberal circles and milieus today in the United States, conscious ethno-political identification as “white” itself appears as backwards and regressive. This type of conscious political orientation based on the 500 year long hegemonic “ethno-racial” social construct known as “whiteness” can only be something which will serve to further perpetuate the settler-colonial-capitalist-imperialist-fascist historical project which has whiteness and white identity at its core and still historically exists.
Owing to the history of settler-colonialism, ethnic or national projects explicitly for and by whites serve and will more so serve, as the countries becomes less white on the whole, as a “safe place” for whiteness itself.
Community self-defense is a real issue, but anarchist structures have been historically proven and are even still currently being proven, in the case of Rojava, to be lacking both organizationally and ideologically.
On the other end of the spectrum there are the Maoist Red Guard organizations who are qualitatively more wrong than the above mentioned anarchist gun clubs on many more levels despite their fanatical belief that they are upholding “pure” Marxism in the form of MLM which is said in anti-dialectical fashion to be the “highest, third and final” synthesis of Marxism. If the above discussed anarchist gun clubs can be described as essentially anarcho-communist, the Red Guards can only be described as Blanquist which is also a dead end owing to the extremely limited material resources and isolation of these groups in combination with their failure to make any real connections with either the oppressed people themselves or other leftist groups on account of dogmatisms and idealist conceptions of again, ideological purity common among most self-described “anti-revisionists”.
Coalitions between leftist groups are a good strategy, in essence though there are contradictions between these groups, they should work together and in this way a. their struggles against capitalism will be in common and b. ideological questions between groups can be threshed out through healthy dialogue, discussion, communication and verbal exchange. In this way a conscious Peoples Front can be built and already is being built for the purpose of maintaining anti-war and anti-imperialist actions while also combating the growth of fascism. At the same time, it should be realized that the Peoples Front is in itself a road to the expansion of socialist power if it can be taken in combination with a “New Democracy” and a national self-determination approach under Marxist-Leninist leadership. The approach of New Democracy, or a bloc of all anti-fascist classes should be linked up with struggles for national self-determination as a. an approach for maintaining peace from fascism on the local, regional and national levels and b. as an approach to autonomy from an increasingly fascist and long time world imperialist polity. c. as expressions, if so demanded, by oppressed nations and peoples for national liberation and autonomy. As Mao mentioned, in the epoch of the socialist revolution, “No matter what classes, parties or individuals in an oppressed nation join the revolution, and no matter whether they themselves are conscious of the point or understand it, so long as they oppose imperialism, their revolution becomes part of the proletarian-socialist world revolution and they become its allies. ” (13)
Furthermore, it should be mentioned that in the United States due to the over production of elites and the competition between capitalists which will become more regular and more extreme due to the natural contradictions of capitalism itself, openings for expanding the actual political forces of socialism and even winning over some left liberals will become increasing regular. Because of intra-elite competition in the USA and the rise of fascist currents in some factions of the capitalist class actual national self-determination break aways of regions apart from fascist centers may arise if only for the sake of peace and autonomy from fascism.
The institutions of the United States are not historically static. They have their own internal contradictions which reflect those of the class they represent. These historical contradictions are deepening and reaching a point of crisis. In terms of historical and social analysis there is no such thing as “the way things have always been”. To think that anything has “always been”, especially in terms of social and historical analysis, is an anti-dialectical and non-Marxist approach. As Marxist-Leninists we should not be attached to an idea of historical immovability of bourgeois polities, how ever long standing and however endowed with their own grandiose mythologies they are. There is nothing exceptional about the stability of the ruling class in the US and the increasingly sharpening, inane and generally strange contradictions and antagonisms between different factions of the ruling class and their institutions show that intra-elite competitions will likely heighten to the extent that over the next decade or two the creation of new national polities may occur. As Marxist-Leninists with the goal of socialism and ultimately classless, propertyless, stateless high communist society we should be conscious of the multiplicity of contradictions capitalist society in North America rests on.
Sylvia Smith - Wed Mar 21, 2018 08:10
Introduction There has been a revival of the working class movement across the world. But if we want to seize this moment, we need to re-embrace scientific analysis. We have to avoid the errors that led us to the weakened … Continue reading →
There has been a revival of the working class movement across the world. But if we want to seize this moment, we need to re-embrace scientific analysis. We have to avoid the errors that led us to the weakened state that we find ourselves in.
The fall of the Soviet Union began a crisis for all socialists, even the anti-Leninists. Gone was the largest sources of funding for the worker’s and anti-colonial movements. Gone was the rationale for the existence of left-wing social democrats. The Social Democrats had served as the final bulwark against Communism. Gone was an organic workers’ movement for the Trotskyists to latch onto. The rotting corpses of the trade unions are all they had left. The Anarchists, who ascended during the anti-globalization movement, devoured themselves with lifestyle politics. There was no longer a social basis for the worker-centric politics of classical Anarchism. Class-struggle Anarchism defined itself through opposition to Revolutionary Marxism. It still does, if the anti-Bolshevik smear-jobs still put out by AK Press are anything to go by, . The anarchists were Pharisees denouncing the Priesthood of the communist movement.
The Official Communists were distraught. At least one leader of the CPUSA had a heart attack after learning about the fall of the USSR. They dedicated their lives to what they believed was the most advanced mode of life to ever exist. Allowing for modifications to national particularities. That system had shown itself to be a rotten sham. They had two choices, either deny their official Marxism-Leninism or deny reality. Those that chose the former had long discredited any Marxist alternative through polemic. All they had left was opposition to the far right without any positive beliefs of their own. Those that chose the latter retreated into their ideological bunkers. Their views reinforced by hack historians like Grover Furr.
The Maoists, for their part, kept guerilla struggles alive in many parts of the world. But outside isolated instances, they lacked connection with the workers movement. The Maoists instead based their struggle on rural peasants. While heroic, these struggles too have ended in failure. The Shining Path collapsed. The Naxalite’s have declined. And the Nepalese Maoists have capitulated to developmentalist capitalism. Success is establishing a proletarian dictatorship. Nowhere has the Protracted People’s War thesis demonstrated success outside of China. And that success was in the context of the second world war with the support of the Soviet Union.
No relevant current had any in theory to help them navigate the new world.
But even this enormous setback shouldn’t have prevented organizers from continuing their work. Bourgeois social scientists shouldn’t have been able to declare the “end of history.” For decades our movement suffered the terminal illness of dogmatism; long before we got the Soviet death certificate. This isn’t to say efforts weren’t made by organizers in the past to treat the illness. Nor that there weren’t individual exceptions among communists. But, a fatal commitment to thought processes that damage any movement tainted ours.
Before we can discuss the nature of dogmatism, we need to ask: where does knowledge come from? There’s a field of study, called epistemology dedicated to it. There are even entire departments for it. Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge. But, to simplify things, there are two main schools of thought. Either knowledge derives from reason or it derives from observation. There are many other schools of thought as well. Some that locate the source of knowledge in social power. Others in divine/intuitive revelation. And many others. But other schools tend not to predominate in society and are beyond the scope of this discussion.
The first school, which says knowledge comes from reason, is Rationalism. Rationalism says that you can take things that are universally true (axioms) and logically derive further truth from them. Lets take the classic Dr. Seuss story “The Sneetches.” The Sneetches without stars on their bellies believed that because all Sneetches with green stars on their bellies are popular, if they use Mr Bean’s star-on machine they too will become popular. This conclusion logically flowed from their premises. But in practice it doesn’t work out. The star-bellied Sneetches, rooting their sense of superiority not in the stated difference. It was the fact they could exclude others from a privileged position in Sneetch society. Of course, this illustration is simplistic, but it gets at the sort of thought process that underlies rationalist modes of thought. Rationalists make logically consistent closed systems that draw truth from the initial premises. Rationalism is the basis of theology, mathematics, Austrian economics, and most idealist philosophy.
The second school, which says knowledge comes from observation, is empiricism. Empiricism says that you must engage with things and study before you can make a statement about truth. An empiricist would look at the history of production and how needs get met. After studying, an empiricist would conclude that many modes of production existed in history. These all met people’s needs for survival. Capitalism is not unique in doing so. Because capitalism is better than feudalism at meeting needs, they might at first come to endorse capitalism. But, the Empiricist would look at history and recognize that the state emerged with class. It was a means to defend inequality. They would see that class society limits freedom. They’d see that market “freedom” for the few is actually unfreedom for the many. By observing, an empiricist would see that capitalism is a violent system. That it’s one which deprives people of the things they need in the name of private property. For the empiricist, if you want a world with freedom and the provision of needs, you’d have to reject capitalism. An empiricist revises their worldview as they learn new facts. One of the claimed weaknesses of empiricism is that it doesn’t make hard claims about truth, only soft ones. Any statement that an empiricist makes is provisional. New information could show that their claim was wrong. But this “weakness” is a strength. It means that an empiricist is more able to correct errors compared to a rationalist. Empiricism is the basis of both hard and soft science.
Empiricism, as a framework, doesn’t start from a blank slate though. You still ideological commitments before you take your data to create an analysis. Like the idea human freedom is worth fighting for. Or the idea that exploitation is bad. These come from a given position in the world. Bourgeois empiricists imagine you can find a neutral position from which to draw conclusions. But one’s commitments and the ideological lenses color their analysis. Our position, as Marxists, is the perspective of the working class and a basic humanism.
Likewise, bourgeois empiricists start from the perspective of individual rather than collective experience. It’s no wonder they often stray into subjectivism. But science isn’t done from the perspective of the individual, it is a collective effort. As Ludwig Feuerbach said in Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, “Even the certitude of those things that exist outside me is given to me through the certitude of the existence of other men besides myself. That which is seen by me alone is open to question, but that which is seen also by another person is certain.” To create empirical knowledge, we need objective metrics and collective analysis. This doesn’t mean knowledge develops in a democratic manner. It isn’t up to a vote if the Earth revolves around the Sun. But, it did take concerted effort over many generations to discover heliocentrism. And combined effort to prove within the framework of physics. Likewise, the methods of science themselves are subject to change. As collective knowledge grows, new techniques to gather and organize information develop. What was once scientific practice in one period may not not scientific in a later one. As Alexander Bogdanov says in The Philosophy of Living Experience, “A scientific point of view is one that corresponds to the highest standards of its times and which takes into consideration all the accumulated experience in a given realm of knowledge. And all experience pertains, of course, not to one or another separate individual person but to all society, or, if society is not unified – if it is divided into classes – then the relevant accumulated experience is that of the class collectivity that is most progressive in that realm of knowledge.” Socialist empiricism takes the collective and scientific approach. Bourgeois empiricism takes individualist and speculative approach.
Empiricism and rationalism aren’t always at odds: they can be complementary in building an analysis. We never have complete information or experience. We’re going to end up taking what we know and deriving conclusions logically from them. And it’s important to try and find logical inconsistencies in our own ideas. Finding them can show we have faulty data somewhere along the way. Deductive reasoning, what rationalism uses, is how we create “heuristics.” A heuristic is: an approach to problem solving, learning, or discovery that employs a practical method recognized as imperfect, but sufficient for the immediate goals. In simpler terms: a rule of thumb. To understand the world, so we can operate in it, we do have to make models of it. That means fleshing out our incomplete information through logical analysis. But, we should be clear that these models are provisional. They are subject to update based on new information. Things like democratic centralism, the labor theory of value, and the theory of the vanguard party are heuristics. They are useful for navigating problems we face, but they’re not universal truths ordained by the Dialectic of History. Empiricism, supplemented by deductive reasoning, is the basis of scientific socialism.
“Scientific socialism” was a term coined by Frederick Engels. It refers to socialism that uses observation of history and practice to determine praxis. Utopian Socialists, conversely, base arguments on morality or abstract principles like justice. Those ideas are context specific and not useful for making scientific analysis. Scientific socialists do not see any specific formula or theory as eternal. The notion of an “immortal science” is anathema. Instead, theories have to be justified against the material facts and new information.
Many Marxist organizations have taken the empiricist approach in their organizing. Marx and Engels began their political careers as communists by studying situation the working class found itself in. Before participating in the Revolution of 1848, Engels wrote The Conditions of the Working Class in England. Likewise, Lenin took the material conditions as the starting point for his work. Lenin authored the April Theses, calling for non-cooperation with the bourgeois Provisional Government. Instead he called for proletarian revolution. It was clear that the conditions were right given the events of the February Revolution. But this upended the Marxist orthodoxy which said a bourgeois revolution must be complete before a proletarian one. Lenin was denounced by the Bolshevik paper Pravda, whose editor at the time was Stalin, for “Bakuninism.” But the situation proved Lenin right.
After defeating the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War, Mao focused his attention on economic policy. He didn’t transpose the Soviet model though. Mao saw that the agricultural “revolution from above” in the USSR provoked an insurgency. It had taken the property of the peasants to fund urban industrialization. He knew that such it couldn’t work in the PRC, which had relied in the support of the peasants for its establishment. Mao avoided the kind of failures the Soviet leadership had in Ukraine because he started from the facts rather than starting from theory. But, dogmatic application of theory marred his policies as well. The infamous Four Pests Campaign, unreasonable grain quotas, and the attempt to decentralize steel production were all a result of non-empirical practice. Even if we are scientific socialists in some areas, it does not prevent us from being dogmatic socialists in others. But, when communists are successful, it is because we chose the scientific socialist road rather than the dogmatic road.
Dogmatism in Practice
In contrast to scientific socialists, dogmatists invert the formula. They base their beliefs on rationalist deduction from first principles. Then they twist observed phenomena to fit their worldview. For a dogmatist, certain truths are the starting point rather than the end of analysis. For instance, God’s benevolence, wealth being the result of virtue, or the universality of the Protracted People’s War. From these eternal truths, found in texts of great teachers, dogmatists construct a narrative that can explain any facet of life. Many dogmatists adhere to the teachings of thinkers who themselves were empiricist. For instance, while Mao opposed “book worship,” many people present his quotations as proof something is true. If one has a problem, they can consult the holy book and think through the implications for their answer.
If facts conflict with the conclusions of a dogmatist, there’s a few possible reactions. One is for the dogmatist to deny the facts. To take an example from the world of the hard sciences we can look at the Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko was a prominent biologist in the USSR. He developed a process to convert spring wheat into winter wheat called vernalization. Yet, he also adhered to a theory of biology which held that characteristics were a result of the environment. He believed environmental experience could be inherited. And he rejected the idea that characteristics were passed according to fixed traits and mutation. While his views seem like epigenetics, they’re not. Lysenko rejected the idea of a genetic substrate . He thought you could convert one species into another through external pressure. It would only take a few generations. Soviet biologists, confronted with conclusive proof of genetics, dismissed the data as fraudulent. Lysenko’s initial success with vernalization helped Soviet agriculture,. But, his other theories like cluster planting, caused problems throughout the Soviet economy. Like Kropotkin, Lysenko saw cooperation rather than competition as decisive in nature. He claimed that planting crops close together would make them more effective. They should cooperate and help one another out. Cooperation is important in nature. But, rejecting of Darwinism should only happen if it’s proven false, not because it conflicts with one’s worldview.
Sometimes dogmatists will engage in special pleading for their ideas. Anarchists avoid criticism of their strategies by locating their failure in external forces. But, they’ve failed to succeed where those forces were not present. During the Spanish Civil War, the Stalinist PCE did fight the Anarchists. But, during the earlier Spanish revolt of 1873 the Anarchists failed on their own merits. Likewise, many Anarchist movements have waxed and waned without completing a revolution. There have been movements in Korea, Latin America, and eastern Europe, but all failed. But they still think that if only their same theories were better applied they would work this time. From terrorist bombings throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to general strikes, and factory occupations: the failure to translate into success needs the be addressed as a failure of Anarchism.
Another reaction is to create complex formulations to fit the new data into the system. When the People’s’ Republic of China ran into conflicts with their erstwhile socialist ally, the Soviet Union, they declared it was state-capitalist. The Khrushchev leadership now followed the “capitalist road.” Yet, the structures of the economy were identical to how they existed under Stalin.
Sometimes, dogmatists will claim that their truths are esoteric and unconcerned with the mundane world. The Catholic Church accepts the theory of evolution as not in conflict with the teachings of the Church. But, they persecuted people who disagreed with other literal interpretations of the Bible before. Likewise, many “Marxist economists” wave away failure to describe the economy in monopoly conditions. They say that Marxism doesn’t need a “theory of price.”
Finally, dogmatists might revise their axioms to be abstract or even metaphorical. When confronted with evil, God’s benevolence becomes a sacred mystery beyond the ken of us mere mortals. The third-world countryside of Protracted People’s’ War becomes the slums of the urban metropole. These tactics serve to avoid the problems of doing scientific analysis. They prevent losing the comfort of always having an easy answer.
How Dogmatism Undermines the Movement
Few tendencies are as dangerous for the communist movement as dogmatism. Dogmatism leads to failures, which in turn leads to isolation from the masses. Positive external feedback is lost which only leaves self-reinforcing tendencies.
A textbook example of this is the Revolutionary Communist Party USA. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the organization that would become the RCP-USA was called the Revolutionary Union. They focused on the point of production and committed to militant struggle. As a result, they expanded throughout the country in both urban and rural areas. Their initial success came from a novel understanding of the objective conditions. But, the RU/RCP began relying on the authority of Mao and their leader Bob Avakian. They didn’t develop the critical abilities of their members. Abstract theoretical issues became defining factors of membership. And they demanded intense commitment of members. Those who disagreed with the ideas of the leadership might face a “struggle session.” They were subjected to verbal abuse and expected to self-flagellate. The ideas of the leadership weren’t true not because of scientific analysis. They were true because they had the superior interpretation of Marx, Lenin and Mao.
Members of the RCP/RU, like all followers of Mao Zedong at the time, defended many horrible things. They backed Pinochet’s murder of leftists. Supported the pro-apartheid South Africa forces in Angola UNITA against the revolutionary MPLA. They denounced the Castro government. And they supported the Khmer Rouge against the Vietnamese “aggressors”. They took these lines because China was “on the socialist road” while the USSR was “on the capitalist road.” China had the correct foreign policy. The USSR’s actions, like supporting African self determination, were imperialism. The RCP/RU confused China’s national realpolitik with socialist internationalism. The same fatal error made by the CPUSA half a century before with Soviet policy.
They based unity on agreement with abstract principles rather than investigation. So, after the death of Mao Zedong, an intense split fractured the RCP. Arguments were based on appeals to internal consistency with Marxists ideology. The leadership held that China had transmuted overnight into a Capitalist country. Their preferred side lost the succession fight. As many as 40 percent of the members believed that China remained a socialist country. They thought it was the vanguard of the world Socialist movement. The splitters created the “Revolutionary Workers Headquarters.” That split would evolve into the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
Since then, the RCP has degenerated into a transparent personality cult around Bob Avakian. They sell newspapers that use his quotations in place of arguments. They repeat slogans like “without a revolutionary party there is no revolutionary movement,. It’s like a mantra to justify their own existence. Because the “revolutionary” content of the RCP was reduced to the slogans of their leader, they fell into right-opportunism. Particularly after the election of Donald Trump.
Instead of their old left-opportunist calls for immediate revolutionary civil war, material conditions be damned, the RCP uses the front group “Refuse Fascism” to sell a class collaborationist line identical to that of the CPUSA. They reason: 1) fascism is the greatest threat to the workers movement 2) Bob Avakian says Trump is a fascist. Thus, it follows that it must be defeated by any means necessary. For the RCP that means mass demonstrations devoid of Marxist criticism. They want to unite as wide a section of the population as possible. So, they focus on the threat of radical Republicans. The fact such tactics failed to end the Iraq war when the RCP tried them before doesn’t factor in. They don’t treat fascism as a physical threat to be crushed, they treat it as an existential boogieman.
Empiricism is useful for all social scientists. It is useful for Marxists in particular. Marxists are social scientists of revolution. Dogmatism is useful too: it is useful for bureaucrats, abusers, capitalists, and cult leaders. When all your truth comes from an authority like a book or the wisdom of a teacher, it’s a lot easier for those who offer the “correct” interpretation of those doctrines to set themselves up in a position of power.
These people have social capital stemming from their supposed theoretical expertise. They can extract income, respect, submission, and even the freedom to abuse members of their organization. Imagine you’re verbally abused by leading cadre in your party. Take a real example, Socialist Alternative, which had recently won the first city council seat for a socialist in decades. You believe the organization is responsible for the emancipation of humanity. It’s hard to do anything but internalize it as a failing on your end. You’re in the FRSO. Your tiny group wields the four swords of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism-Gonzalo Thought. It’s easy to accept the claims that your party officer, who the new member says preyed on her while drunk, is being targeted by an FBI frame-up. After all, it’s the state’s job to target the one true revolutionary party. You’re in the Socialist Equality Party. Your organization decides that unions are counterrevolutionary. The party chairman begins a union-busting campaign at his privately-owned printing company. It’s hard to dispute this line when everyone who does is purged. And there’s plenty of choice quotes from Marx, who is of course in your eyes the greatest mind to ever live, to support the chairman’s line. Accepting received interpretations of the world trains us to do it more and more in all areas. Dogmatists follow and accept things on the basis of fitting their complete worldview. This worldview includes the formal, or informal, hierarchy of their organization. These are all real scenarios and. While there’s other factors, each was enabled by dogmatism. This doesn’t mean that curing dogmatism will fix all problems of abuse on the left. But, when a body is sick with a poison like dogmatism, other diseases more take root.
Further illustrating this is a choice passage. It’s taken from “A Critique of Ultra-Leftism, Sectarianism, and Dogmatism” by the Movement for a Revolutionary Left:
“Trotskyists almost never learn from practice, their strategies and tactics almost never change as a result of trial and error and sum up. Instead changes in their positions occur through intellectualist dogmatic debate of the order of who is loyal to the true Fourth International (or to the Third), who has the correct interpretation of what Leon Trotsky (or Stalin) meant. Because of the rationalism of their theory of knowledge and the corresponding lack of and often disdain for practice trotskyist groups split into ever smaller groups all of which maintain hostile relations with all other trotskyist groups. The idea that correct thought, rather than current practice, will decide the issues dividing them is pervasive. Trotskyites often focus most of their energy on fighting each other rather than on actually organizing the working class. Because of their frequent obsession with ideological conversion, rather than with, mass struggles, trotskyists are often most overbearing in their attempts to badger people into endorsing their various lines. Out of fairness it must be noted that not all trotskyists groups share in this later categorizations, and hence that they are not defining characteristics of trotskyism. For example, the Socialist Workers Party works in many mass struggles (although some would argue only in order to recruit members) and the International Socialists seem to be rooted in the working class (if only because many of their former student members have taken factory jobs). The most prominent examples of pure trotskyist groups in the U.S. are the Spartacus League and the Progressive Labor Party.”
There are many flaws in the Movement for a Revolutionary Left’s analysis. One of which are the identification of dogmatism as an ultra left deviation rather than an error of both the left and right of the communist movement. Also, their commitment to unreconstructed Marxism-Leninism. But their exploration of the internal failures of the sectarian left is still worthwhile.
If Marxists want to overcome capitalism, we need to plan our strategies and tactics based on scientific socialism. We should look at past revolutionary experience but without treating theoreticians as prophets. Dogmatism would limit our ability to make concrete gains, hinder our ability to make analysis, and weaken our ability to deal with abusive members of our organizations. That’s why we must oppose it. With an empiricist foundation, supplemented by well-reasoned heuristics, we can resume the necessary work of our class.
Sylvia Smith - Mon Mar 19, 2018 19:44
By Sylvia Smith The working class movement is divided into many different trends. Oftentimes these differences are contradictions that have big implications for how to organize and must be struggled out. Whether to support a left wing populist candidate (or … Continue reading →
By Sylvia Smith
The working class movement is divided into many different trends. Oftentimes these differences are contradictions that have big implications for how to organize and must be struggled out. Whether to support a left wing populist candidate (or even organize against them), how to relate to the trade unions, and other issues of strategy are questions that in the process of organizing can’t simply be brushed aside in the name of unprincipled “left unity”. Conversely, historical interpretation, political jargon, and other features that define “tendencies” on the Left are unimportant from the perspective of class struggle. Far too often, the latter are confused with the former. But, none of these tactical or strategic questions changes the fact of class struggle. Our goal is the destruction of the wage-system, not a particular strategy being the true means to do so. Anyone who is committed to the emancipation of humanity through the victory of the working class over the exploiting class, by overturning capitalist society, is a genuine revolutionary.
Principled unity between revolutionaries is a powerful weapon for our class. But if we are to achieve unity on a principled basis, we need to know who our enemies are. The first enemy is the capitalist class. This class is the group that pulls the strings and organizes our world for their profit. More abstractly, this enemy is capital itself as a process that turns us, and even the individual capitalists themselves, into tools for its own expansion. Then, there’s the boss. The boss is the capitalists’ task manager and enforcer in the labor process. They might be the nicest person in the world, or share your same gender, ethnic or religious identity, but at the end of the day, as long as they’re a boss, their interests are with capital not with us. Third, there’s the bourgeois State. The state presents itself as “democratic” and belonging to you and me but it’s a wholly owned subsidiary of the imperial capitalist elite. The state regulates and structures our world so that capital can accumulate and property is protected. Even the beneficial things the state does happen for the interests of capital by making us dependent on their bureaucrats and preventing social disorder. It might be that our class needs a state of its own, but the American state that exists now is the enemy of all revolutionaries everywhere. Fourth, like the capitalists’ lapdog the boss, the state has their trained dogs in the form of the cops. As long as someone is a cop, their duty is to enforce the protection of property, suppress the lives of marginalized people, and maintain order for the interests of capital. So, if these are our enemies, when a revolutionary is attacked by them, regardless of their tendency or tactical views, it’s a part of the class war. As revolutionaries, we have a duty to defend even those revolutionaries we may personally disdain or may have acted in uncomradely ways towards us when they’re the target of these forces.
This brings us to the events of March 9th in Austin TX. At midday, the cops arrested an individual whose politics align with the Maoist cell Red Guards Austin, who goes by Dallas, for illegally possessing a firearm as a felon. The laws which Dallas has been charged under are specifically targeted towards the working class and its ability to defend itself. Felons are disproportionately workers, particularly poor, unskilled laborers and people of color. This is not because these groups commit crimes any more than the petty bourgeoisie or white people but because they’re more actively surveilled and systemically targeted by the state. Black and white people use marijuana at roughly the same amounts, yet black people face drug charges at significantly higher rates; this is because the police are actively targeting working class black communities. Restrictions on gun ownership among felons are a racist anti-worker policy designed to maintain the social order that preserves the wage-system. There are countless actions the capitalist state inscribes as felonies which are good from the perspective of the working class and revolutionaries, while there are countless evil acts of the capitalists which are not criminalized but do serious harm. Go AWOL in the army or assault the slumlord evicting your disabled grandma, and you have your right to bear arms stripped away. If you order the massacre of people in an occupied country, or you throw a disabled elderly woman on the street to die, your right to own guns isn’t touched. Dallas “earned” his felony for merely spray painting on a wall as a kid. The right to bear arms, allegedly meant to protect us from a tyrannical government, is only left to those that willingly submit to our globally tyrannical government’s “order.” That the second amendment is a hollow sham based on the lie of bourgeois equality under the law does not mean we shouldn’t resist attempts to roll back what protections it does offer or concede to the disarmament of working class communities. We can’t be under any illusions that the second amendment exists for our class, but Marxists know that rights are asserted by the people, not granted by legal documents. Revolutionaries must demand by action our right to collective armed self-defense. This isn’t about Dallas as an individual; he needs to be defended as a part of the defense of our class as a whole.
As a member of the Communist Labor Party, which is a part of the Marxist Center current, I have very few nice things to say about RGA generally, or Dallas specifically. Red Guards Austin is a highly sectarian and dogmatic organization that embraces all the worst traits of the New Communist Movement of the 1960’s, and many of their dynamics are outwardly very reminiscent of Evangelical Christian cults.You can see how lavish and beatific their praise of Dallas is in their article on his arrest. (Linked below)
There are many examples of RGA’s sectarian practice against many groups within the Marxist Center milieu. For example RGA has launched repeated smear campaigns against Austin Socialist Collective members like Andrew Dobbs with outlandish claims of ASC’s alleged fascist nature (such as accusing Dobbs of being a cop with no evidence). They engage in childish name calling, referring to Marxist Center as “Menshevik Center” with no real understanding of what Menshevism was. RGA has a longstanding history of publicly harassing people who they perceive as enemies. Members of RGA have threatened physical assaults against members of the Communist Labor Party because the CLP runs dual power programs under the name “Serve the People” which is a name they believe should only be used by Maoists. These threats are just posturing, as there is no overlap between the geographic activity of either CLP chapters or any of the Red Guards’ affiliates. This hyper-sectarianism isn’t limited to being directed towards the CLP. RGA has repeatedly attacked as “revisionist” many other groups that have very similar Maoist politics to them and which have also committed to the revolutionary victory of the working class. RGA has stated their intention to liquidate revisionists by force when they launch the Protracted People’s’ War in their text “Condemned to Win”. Instead of seeing these other groups as misguided fellow revolutionaries to be won over, they’re heretics to be burned in RGA’s righteous inquisition. Further, RGA has behaved extremely dishonestly about their relationship with their front groups like Serve the People Austin, Revolutionary Student Front-ATX, and the former RATPAC-ATX, now Stonewall Militant Front. These groups have leadership and personnel which heavily overlaps with RGA, and share an identical line on every issue. They allow in non-Maoists and non RGA members, but only insofar as they accept the political lines of RGA or are willing to subject themselves to struggle sessions. This defence of Dallas is not borne of any love for RGA, Dallas himself, or sympathy with their Marxist-Leninist-Maoist line; it’s a defence of Communists everywhere.
Many left wing groups act in a sectarian manner. They mistake differences between revolutionaries as differences between enemies. This is one of the worst legacies of 20th century socialist parties. For Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyism was taken not as a bundle of theories and practice that were counterproductive, but instead as an existential threat equivalent to fascism. Likewise, both sides of the Sino-Soviet split around the world saw each other as threats to be physically liquidated. Even if their methods and analysis were mutually exclusive for the working class to adopt, their true enemy sat with glee in their mansions as our movement devoured itself. Our forerunners wasted essential energy on the wrong target.
A stark example of mis-identifying enemies is when the Communist Party, high on its relative success in the Popular Front against fascism, cheered on as Trotskyists in the Socialist Workers’ Party were thrown in prison under the Smith Act. The CP, under orders from Moscow, temporarily aligned itself with the populist liberal capitalist forces in the US government in order to defeat Nazi Germany and support the survival of the Soviet Union. The SWP, however, saw WWII as an inter-imperialist conflict rather than Nazi Germany being uniquely evil among capitalist powers. This meant it was the duty of revolutionaries to undermine the war-effort and attempt to overthrow their imperialist government. The Socialist Workers Party organized strikes during WWII while the Communist Party helped break strikes in factories they had a strong presence in. Their line mirrored the line Lenin and the Bolsheviks took during WWI while the CP’s mirrored that of the majority of the Socialist parties of that era who backed their own governments against the threat of German aggression or Czarist despotism. But, the contexts of WWI and WWII were different and so those lines had different implications for the class struggle. Far from Nazi enablers though, the Socialist Workers Party was at the forefront of the fight to physically confront fascists in the United States in the run up to and during WWII. The Communist Party on the other hand, following Moscow’s line during the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, went from fierce opponents of fascism to apologists for German and Italian national interests while withdrawing from the fight against the American Nazi movement. The SWP defended Jewish workers from assaults by the fascists at the same time as the CP was accusing them of being aligned with Hitler. With hindsight, we know that the SWP was wrong to consider the Nazi government in Germany as just another imperialist power, but their line did not change their character as revolutionaries working to overthrow the capitalist class at home. Cheerleading the suppression of the SWP was cheerleading the suppression of the working class movement.
Shortly after the SWP leaders were rounded up, the leaders of the Communist Party were themselves thrown into prison under the same Act by the US government. The irony was not lost on the SWP, who to their credit, stood with their fellow revolutionaries in the CP and fought for all of their democratic rights. It didn’t matter that the CP backed the Stalin regime, had assaulted their organizers, or was aligned with the same forces that organized the murder of Leon Trotsky himself. The class struggle was more important. The SWP rightly saw the CP as fighters for our class, even if they were bitter opponents of their line, and them as an organization within the struggle to overcome capitalism. Even if the SWP’s actions indirectly aided the Nazi war machine, it was clear that they were opposed to Nazism, even more consistently than the CP. Would their their suppression have really helped defeat Nazism or increased the power of the working class?
The fratricidal conflict between the CP and SWP undermined both groups. Instead of cooperating when necessary on strikes or focusing on different parts of the struggle when their methods and ideas did run into conflict, they spent valuable resources focused on denouncing and undermining the other. For every page spent calling Earl Browder a Stalinist stooge in the SWP’s paper The Militant, or trying to show the SWP were Nazi fifth columnists in the CP’s paper The Daily Worker, there was a page not spent giving a voice to black sharecroppers organizing themselves or Italian immigrant meat packers leading a strike. That doesn’t mean laying out differences or criticizing other leftist groups with bad ideas wasn’t important, but denouncing in hyperbolic language, that misidentifies other communists as enemies, does nothing to explore the real stakes and differences. Both parties held lines and organizational principles, inherited from the necessities of the Russian Revolution, that ultimately led to their degeneration, but defending one another from their common enemy was the revolutionary thing to do.
I have no interest in organizing alongside elements that are destructive and sectarian as Red Guards Austin or Dallas specifically. At least not until they begin acting in a non-sectarian and comradely manner towards their fellow revolutionaries. They represent a current within the working class movement that has destructive theory and practice, and which stands in the way of scientific socialist organizing. But, an attack on them by the state is an attack on a part of the working class movement, no matter how wrongheaded and small that part of the movement is. I hope that members of RGA are able to rectify the destructive aspects of their organizational model which lead them to sectarian attacks towards other currents in the working class movement, but whether they do or not, all revolutionaries have a duty to defend them, insofar as they’re revolutionaries, on principle. It’s clear from details like the cops leaving a “Make America Great Again” hat, and the possible use of an informant, that the police are attacking Dallas not for his faults, but because he is a revolutionary communist.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
More information about the arrest from RGA can be found here: https://redguardsaustin.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/defend-comrade-dallas-and-fi...
EDIT: it’s been brought to my attention that there’s also repression of similar degree against a member of NABPP-PC (New African Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter) and SPARC (Supporting Prisoners and Acting for Radical Change) named John “Mac” Gaskins. This isn’t an endorsement of Gaskins’ politics which are largely unknown to the author but both orgs do important work.
More information can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/mac-gaskins-legal-defense
EDIT: It’s come to the author’s attention that members of RGA are confused as to who this historical analogy is about. I am not comparing them to the Popular Front era CPUSA. I am saying those that would let them hang out to dry are like them. I’d more aptly compare RGA to the ultraleft Bordigist elements that cooperated with the SWP in fighting fascism in NY while simultaneously acting in a viciously sectarian manner towards most of the left and with similar bloody aspirations towards other revolutionaries. But none of these historical groups cleanly map to today. The primary commonality between the historical Bordigist and MLM currents is their total disconnection from any kind of social base.
It’s also incedibly telling that in their criticism they cite my reference to history and past left groups as evidence of my lack of understanding of things when finding historical trends, analyzing sociology in a materialist way, and so on is the very essence of historical materialism. It betrays their lack of familiarity with Marxism as a social science rather than as a dogma. Appealing to Mao’s criticism of the Comintern in no way would free them from reproducing the same tendencies which manifested themselves then in the Comintern.
Dara McHugh - Mon Aug 14, 2017 19:54
David Sloan Wilson describes himself as an atheist, but, he insists, he is a “nice atheist”. The proviso is made necessary by the often acrimonious nature of evolution’s forays into religious study. In contrast to writers such as Richard Dawkins … Continue reading →
David Sloan Wilson describes himself as an atheist, but, he insists, he is a “nice atheist”. The proviso is made necessary by the often acrimonious nature of evolution’s forays into religious study. In contrast to writers such as Richard Dawkins who views religion as ‘a kind of mental illness’, Sloan Wilson thinks that the spiritual world has much to teach us about our grubby origins.
For most critics of religions, the operative concern is the truth or not of religious beliefs. For Sloan Wilson, however, that is not the point. The interesting questions centre on the roles that such belief systems play in human societies, and how they make human groups behave. In evolutionary terms, “even massively fictitious beliefs can be adaptive, as long as they motivate behaviors that are adaptive in the real world” [pp41].
This is where Sloan Wilson’s emphasis on the role of multi-level selection in evolution comes in. Natural selection is usually presented as taking place on the level of the individual – why does this dung beetle survive when another does not? But selection can also happen on the level of groups – why does this human tribe defeat the others? As Charles Darwin wrote,
In the long-run of evolution, selection among groups can mean that tendencies which make groups more effective (pro-sociality, for instance), win out against those that make individuals more effective at the expense of their group (selfishness, cheating, etc.). Religions enshrine the idea of a common good, encouraging believers to suppress selfish individual desires in the service of this corporate body. In the terms of multi-level selection, religions suppress within-group competition to improve competitiveness at the group level.
The human tendency to develop religions and other belief systems is useful because it enables us to develop social systems to deal with unique and difficult social circumstances. In this context, the sheer diversity of religious faiths is a sign of how belief systems can mobilise and organise basic human capacities to cope with different situations, be it the day-to-day existence of a forest-dwelling hunter-gatherer tribe, the water temple infrastructure of Bali, or the economic and social challenges of Korean immigrants to the United States. This capacity for variation means that religious groups can be seen as “rapidly evolving entities adapting to their current environments” [pp35]. Cultural variation enables our basic psychology to be organised in ways that are appropriate to a given social and material environment.
That is not to say that all religious systems will be adaptive to their circumstances; from the Protestant Reformation to the communes of Los Angeles, history is littered with the detritus of failed faiths. The variation of religious faiths, much like genetic mutation, constitutes “a process of blind variation and selective retention” [p122] and, similarly, will largely result in failure. The reason that explosions of diversification occur at specific historical periods is a question left unexplored here.
The book’s greatest attraction is in its case studies, which explore the ideas and practices of diverse religions and suggest how various features indicate the adaptiveness or not of that religion to its social environment. This requires a certain level of anthropological and historical rigour, and Sloan Wilson draws heavily on existing literature, applying his own interpretive lens to the findings made by others.
The greatest amount of time is spent on Calvinism and its influence on Geneva. After previously expelling the reformer, political tumult prompted the Swiss city to invite Calvin to lead the Church. Riven by factionalism and on the frontlines of an economic and military conflict, the Genevan authorities realised that they needed to shape up if the city was to survive. Material demands such as the funding of the army called for spiritual doctrine.
Overcoming division required loyalty and responsibility to shift upwards, to transcend factional groupings. Thus we see that Calvinism emphasises traits such as humility and an absolute faith in God’s will, such that believers will accept their station and role in life without question: “all of life’s afflictions have a purpose in God’s plan, however incomprehensible to us. Our role is to be utterly confident in God’s wisdom and to accept whatever he places upon us.”[pp100]
The tenets of the faith show a concerted movement from the personal to the public – self-direction is comprehensively displaced upwards, to the structures and processes of the Church. The cynical might say that such aggressive depersonalisation pacified the faithful the better to exploit them, but Sloan Wilson makes clear that part of Calvinism’s effectiveness was the willingness to enforce its strictures on elites and commoners alike. By ensuring that elites could not flout laws with impunity, the city could act more like a coherent and cooperative unit. This is an argument that meshes well with the historical work of Peter Turchin, who argues that the rise and fall of empires is closely related to the levels of inequality between elites and commoners. Ideologies that can mitigate against internal divergences can thus be powerful factors in social stability.
But as the Protestant Reformation certainly shows, there are two sides to group-based cooperation. Given the right encouragement, humans are willing to prefer the common good to our own, but we are equally good at dehumanising those outside our groups, all the better to attack or oppress them. Indeed, there are studies showing that football fans are unconcerned, even pleased by the physical suffering of their rivals. These capacities are often mobilised along national, rather than religious lines, and although Sloan Wilson acknowledges the similarity, it is not a topic he dwells on.
Overall, the book makes a compelling argument about the role that belief systems play in enabling human cooperation, offering a welcome corrective to those that simply dismiss religion out of hand. Spiritual beliefs, Sloan Wilson shows, play a crucial role in the material world, and deserve serious study. Moreover, the evolutionary approach he proposes can take us beyond religion and into a deeper understanding of ideology in general.
David Sloan Wilson, Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, Chicago University Press, 2002.
Review first published in ThinkLeft Issue 2.