Days of Discussion II: Internationalists Debate Class Positions
In early January Internationalsm hosted its second weekend-long Days of Discussion conference in New York, once again bringing together sympathizers, readers, and correspondents from across the US and Canada for the opportunity of political discussion and theoretical deepening. As at the previous conference last April, the agenda was developed in consultation with the participants and presentations for each discussion were prepared by non-members of the ICC. Participants represented the old, young and middling generations, ranging in age from 18 to 63, coming from as far away as California, Manitoba, and Florida. Some were veterans of political activity; for one comrade, whose previous political experience had been conducted exclusively via the internet, the conference was the first "real life," face-to-face meeting with other left communists. There were university students, workers, employed and unemployed, comrades born in the US and immigrants from three continents. The conference sent solidarity messages to two comrades who couldn't participate because of health problems and to another comrade who was stranded by automobile problems en route to New York.
The welcoming remarks that opened the conference, prepared by a young sympathizer, stressed the importance of the discussion conferences as a means of overcoming the terrible isolation often suffered by geographically dispersed left communists, contributing to the work of theoretical clarification so crucial for the effective intervention of revolutionaries in the class struggle, and developing a fraternal spirit and openness to the exchange of ideas. This introduction set the tone for the entire weekend. The presentations were exemplary and helped to focus the discussions in a manner that permitted serious deepening on the understanding of the Russian Revolution, state capitalism, and the connection between student movements and the working class. The discussions were rich; there were no hesitancies to speak or express divergent views. Disagreements were discussed fraternally and openly.
The presentation on the Russian Revolution correctly avoided focusing on the events themselves, but instead stressed the lessons of the revolution for the workers movement. There was immediate consensus that the Russian Revolution was the highest achievement yet attained in the history of the working class, rejecting libertarian assertions that it was not a proletarian, but a bourgeois revolution. The fact that the revolution ultimately failed and was consumed by counter revolution made it all the more important that revolutionaries learn the lessons of what happened in order to avoid similar tragedy in the future. The discussion developed very quickly around the issues of the relationship between the workers councils and the working class and the state in the period of transition - some of the same themes that had attracted the attention of the ICC in the late 1970's and early 1980's. This reflected an ability of the younger comrades to pick up the analysis of the Russian Revolution at a higher level that was possible initially in the 1970's.
The presentation on state capitalism demonstrated that contrary to the assertions of leftism, the state capitalist analysis defended by the left communist movement is not some new, outlandish conception, but was in fact the position developed by the workers movement at the time of the founding of the Communist International at the height of the first revolutionary wave. The irreversibility of the "state-ization" of the economy was identified in the Manifesto of the Communist International in 1919, in the writings of Bukharin and Louis Fraina, in the US. There was no time lost in musing over whether state capitalism applies only to Stalinist states, as well as to countries like the United States. This was in effect taken as a given - a huge step forward in relation to the situation in the 70s and 80s.
The presentation on student movements and the working class described the difficulties of the workers movement to situate students demographically within a class framework, sometimes considering students as a "privileged" petty bourgeois strata, and sometimes as linked to the working class, identified the links between student struggles and the working class, whether France 1968, the French CPE struggles in 2006 or the student struggles in Greece in December 2008. The increasing proletarianization of the professions and the petty bourgeoisie, as well as the rising college loan debt for students in the US, belies the notion that students are an over-privileged strata. The discussion was particularly animated as student participants described struggles and political discussions on their campuses, the ideological confusions rampant on college campuses, such as identity politics, a contempt for the working class (an idea of seeking an education to escape from the proletariat), and a tendency for leftists to personalize responsibility for attacks against students (tuition increases, cutbacks in services and academic programs) as emanating from pernicious administrators and thereby obscure the fact that the general economic crisis of capitalism is the culprit. The point was raised several times that student debt is used by the bourgeoisie as a form of "indentured servitude," to depress student militancy and tie workers to the state.
A wrap up discussion on Sunday emphasized the importance of continuing the discussions in the future and explored the possibility of regional meetings to draw other interested people into the discussion. We are publishing the presentations on the Russian Revolution and state capitalism below. The discussion on student movements and the working class continues via an online forum and will be the topic of an article in a future issue of Internationalism.