The following text is a letter adressed to the swedish group, Arbetarmakt, (workers power league) in the context of our Current's long-standing effort towards international discussion and contact.
Arbetarmakt recently published a text in English summarising the political orientation defended in its swedish newspaper. This text reflects a curious mixture of positive aspects of the “councilist tradition and certain marked “Third-Worldism”. Such a mixture is not as surprising as it seem among those who claim to be followers of the Dutch left today as we have shown in a previous article directed against the conceptions of Daad en Gedachte. (See Councilism comes to the aid of Third-Worldism in International Review no 2)
However the orientation text of Arbetarmakt presents a definite interest to the extent that it is expresses an effort towards political clarification which is going on in this group as it is in many others today. We hoped to contribute to this process by our letter.
Although we have not yet received a reply we feel that our letter will be of general interest to our readers in that it deals questions such as “national liberation”, state capitalism, etc and so we are publishing it here.
The “Presentation” text of Arbetarmakt was written to define the political orientation which your defends in class struggle. It makes important points about the meaning of workers councils, the experience of the working classs in history, about the need to denounce the left of capital and the so-called “socialist” regimes. You stand for the self-activity of the working class, against the “Leninist” idea of the party while seeing the neec for the organisation of revolutionaries in our time heightened class struggle. With all this our Current is in most profound agreement as you can see from our publications.
We would however, like to comment on some aspects of your platform which we feel need further clarification.
Your document seems to offer no explanation or mention of the economic crises which is plaguing rhe capitalist world today, east and west. The capitalist system, like all previous forms of social organisation based on exploitation, it is not an eternal system. It is being torn apart by the contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the narrow limit of the socail relations which the capitalist laws have imposed. Throughout the major part of the 20th century, capitalism has repeated the horrenduos cycle of crisis-war-reconstruction-crisis demonstrating its historical bankruptcy as a system. The continued functioning of capitalism in decline, in the absence of a victorious proletarian revolution, can only mean the repetition of this cycle with increasing autarky, the permanent war economy, deeper and deeper crisis and the threat of the exacerbation of inter-imperialist conflict leading to another world war. The only choice that decadent capitalism has offer is: socialism or continued barbarism.
During the years of apparent ‘prosperity’ based on the reconstruction of war-shattered economies, some political tendencies took this apparent ‘boom’ for the reality of the capitalist system which had supposedly escaped the workings of its own economic laws. Cardan, for example, wrote of a “crisis-free” capitalism and rejected marxism as an inappropriate, “outmoded” theory. Marcuse wrote of the integration of the working class into capital and the need to find a ‘new’ revolutionary subject in the marginal strata. The analysis of the ‘consumer society’ became ‘fashionable’ and with the talk of ‘boredom with the spectacular society’ somehow provoking revolution, the working class, the only class capable of becoming the grave-diggers of capitalism was shunted aside.
But by the late 60’s something had changed. The symptoms of the permanent crisis of the system re-emerged with the end of the reconstruction period. Today there can be no doubt about the crisis: galloping inflation, monetary crisis, unemployment, threatening economic disorganization. It is this objective situation which has determined the resistance of the working class to the degradation of its condition from Italy in 1969 to Poland in 1971, in South America, all over Europe from Scandinavia to Spain and Portugal. The motor force of the crisis has once again begun a process of developing class consciousness in the working class and the .re-emergence of revolutionary groupings within the class.
We feel it is not enough to simply talk about the revolutionary aspirations of the working class without seeing them in the context of the concrete possibility and historical necessity of revolutionary transformation in the period of capitalist decline. Otherwise we can so easily fall into dangerously simplistic notions about how the crisis is just the result of the machinations of individual capitalists, the RocKefeller conspiracy, the ‘Arab sheiks’ or any other variations which do not deal with the international aspects of an entire system in crisis. Revolutionaries may have differing analyses of the workings of the law of value in theoretical terms, but the fact of economic crisis cannot be denied and must be dealt with coherently. This dimension is lacking in your text.
The need to deal with manifestations of the crisis is crucial to developing a coherent revolutionary orientation - an analysis and contribution to class struggle, which is not an eclectic collection of different isolated points but an. effort towards a coherent explicit expression of the dynamic inherent in class struggle. And this analysis must have a historical dimension - including the lessons of previous class struggle and the contribution of revolutionary marxism.
Political coherence and the effort to evaluate the lessons of the past are particularly important in relation to the question of proletarian internationalism and national liberation struggles. In the 19th century capitalism was a progressive social force against the remaining fetters of feudalism and the solidification of nation states was the framework for this growth of capital. Insofar as capitalism represented a historically progressive mode of production, the proletariat fought alongside the bourgeoisie against reactionary elements. This did not mean, however, that the class struggle against capitalist exploitation was suspended. On the contrary, the proletariat built its class organizations and fought in class struggles. But because revolution was not an immediate historical possibility, marxists and the workers’ movement supported the formation of new nations insofar as this process helped the development of the productive forces and thereby hastened the day when capitalism as a system would complete its historical tasks.
This was the major criterion of Marx and Engels when they supported movements in Poland for example and when they opposed the formation of a new southern nation in the US Civil War. Nowhere in Marxism of this time do we find anything about an abstract right of ‘self-determination’ nor of new nations being ‘a first step towards socialism’ -- formulations so dear to the Third Worldist movements of today.
With the beginning of the decadence of capitalism, the revolutionary programme became the only adequate, possible response to the decomposition of capitalist society. The bourgeoisie had ceased to be a progressive class for the development of the productive forces and only socialism could get humanity out of the mire of barbarism and destruction. Bourgeois revolutions became a thing of the past in the context of the general incapacity of the system to deal with its own internal contradictions.
The Bolshevik Party stood firmly for an internationalist position during World War 1 and actively participated in the Russian Revolution which was one of the greatest experiences of the working class; but it did not, however, fully understand the implications of this new period. Particularly after Second Congress of the Third International in 1920, they imposed their notion of the revolutionary potential of struggles for national autonomy on the workers’ movement as a whole. In fact, this question was so difficult to understand that even in the councilist tradition there were hesitations and ambiguities on the subject of national liberation. These ambiguities are expressed even more blatantly in many groups which claim to be continuing council communism today.
Despite your desire to reject the roots of Leninism on certain questions related to revolutionary theory, you merely accept and continue their tradition in this domain. Our Current recognizes the many contributions of the Bolshevik Party but Lenin’s theory of national self-determination has not, in any way, stood the test of' time. What have the last fifty years shown us about national liberation struggles? After all, we are no longer speculating about ‘possibilities’ - we have years of actual experience to deal with.
Imperialism rules supreme in our period capitalist decadence, the imperialism of all countries, large or small. All countries vie for a share of the world market already carved up and inadequate to the needs of expanded production. Of course the larger, more powerful capitalist complexes are best armed for this constant struggle. In this context, national autonomy is a utopia. No country can free itself from one bloc without the ‘aid’ of another under whose military and economic sphere it then inevitably falls.
National liberation struggles are the arena for local wars and for confrontations between the large Imperialist blocs. In your desire to fight against imperialism you do not seem to recognize that imperialism isn’t a ‘policy’ of one country or another. It is the generalized way of life for all nations in capitalist barbarism. In seeing imperialism as merely the barbarism of one particular country, support is implied, if not explicitly given, to other imperialist blocs. Where, we may ask, is the ‘ideological’, ‘anti-capitalist’ content of the struggles that saw American and Chinese imperialism supporting Pakistan and Russian imperialism supporting the Bangladesh movement, each for their own interests - just as the local bourgeoisie saw its own interests in this struggle and the population of these areas were used as cannon fodder, then to be left to starvation? Or Chinese and French imperialism which supported the Biafra efforts in order to get their toe-hold while Russian Imperialism supported the Nigerian federal government. Or today as Chinese and American imperialism supports the Marcos regime in the Philippines while the Russian imperialist interests try their hand at supporting the Muslim rebels. Or in Angola where Russian imperialism supports the Popular Movement and US and Chinese interests are behind Holden Roberto and the National Front. The situation in Angola makes even the most abstracted ‘national liberationist’ stop and think.1 Just as revolutionaries in the past have called for the transformation of imperialist war into class war, revolutionaries today must denounce these localized, imperialist wars and call for class war.
You talk about national liberation struggles bringing a “better life for people”, but how can there be a “better life” under capitalism except by destroying it. Or do different faces make different exploiters? The development of the productive forces on a world scale is impossible today - the gap between developing and underdeveloped countries is constantly widening and the misery of the ‘Third World’, aggravated by war, famine, economic chaos, or intensely exploitative state capitalist regimes, has reached unequalled depths. Capitalism was capable of creating a world market (by destroying pre-capitalist, economic-social systems) but it is incapable of integrating new masses into the productive process as the shanty-towns of the unemployed in ‘Third World’ cities show. In certain areas, with economic dependence on imperialist powers and unparalleled exploitation and regimentation of the labour force, some countries (eg Cuba, China) have been able to develop massive arms economies and a highly labour-intensive exploitation at low productivity rates, which are tragic testimony to the misery of working class life there and to the inability to develop within the framework of the capitalist system today under all its guises. Backyard blast furnaces in China are hardly a development of the productive forces; they are merely one manifestation of the over-all irrationality of autarkic efforts at national development in a period of capitalist decline.
What do these new regimes, paid for with the blood of workers and the population in general, mean for the class struggle? ‘Independence’ is really subservience to another imperialist power and ‘liberation’ governments are forced to move towards state capitalism as the only way to defend their relatively weak, national capital. This means an intensification of exploitation up to and including the militarization of labour and the forbidding of strikes. Frelimo announces that ‘laziness’ will be punished - thereby making a mockery of the “better life” the working class is ‘supposed’ to be enjoying. It is particularly ironic to see groups in the US and Europe who write about workers sabotaging production lines in Detroit or Turin but feel so very differently about sweated labour if it is extracted in the name of ‘national liberation’ elsewhere, which costs them nothing. The succeeding ‘ieft’ governments in Portugal all announce that owing to the economic crisis, everyone must work hard for the homeland and avoid agitation and strikes. The army was sent in to break strikes2 just as was the case in Chile. But do the leftists call for class struggle against exploitation in these situations? Oh no - that would be ‘unfair’! To the interests of Portuguese capital and the nation which is having such a hard time. But the working class has no homeland and these leftists do their job only for the interests of capital and ‘critical support’ for one government or another.
The Polish workers’ revolt showed the world that crisis is a reality in state capitalist regimes and that the working class would fight to destroy the myth and reality of the ‘workers’ paradise’ - not just to be channeled into anti-Russian, nationalist sentiment but against its own bourgeoisie. In the same way, the strikes of iron workers in Venezuela’s nationalized industries, the strikes in Peru, Colombia, Egypt, the striking Chilean copper miners who were met with Allende’s machine guns, have drawn the class line on the question of ‘national unity’ and ‘national movements’. Where do revolutionaries stand: with the workers’ class struggle in these countries or with the bourgeoisie’s attempts to mobilize nationalism and self-serving ‘anti-imperialism’, so as to create the conditions for more efficient exploitation? The need to express and fight for our solidarity with our class brothers all over the world does not pass through the Frelimo, the Vietnamese ‘liberation’ army, the Palestinian ‘liberation’ front or the IRA any more than it does through the Alliance for Progress, NATO or Zionism. It can only be expressed through solidarity with workers’ struggles and the class interests of the proletariat in all countries. The socialist revolutionary programme is the only way out of massacres in the ‘Third World’. Socialism can never be created in one country, either a backward or a developed country, alone. But the class struggles of workers in the ‘Third World’ are echoed in the class struggles in Europe and the developed countries and this is the revolutionary hope of the future.
When you write “long live proletarian internationalism” and then call for support for national movements in the ‘Third World’, it is the same thing as calling for the ”union sacree”, “national unity”, an end to strikes, support for the Communist Party and the leftists in any European country. Nationalism is the road to class defeat wherever and whatever its ideological cloak.
‘Third Worldism’ has been very popular among the leftists in the developed countries because it is such an easy way to relieve ‘guilt’ and is, therefore, so emotionally satisfying. When the European and American working class was not very active, it seemed as though the only ‘hope’ was to look elsewhere - to the ‘people’ and not the working class. But today when the crisis is a reality everywhere and when class struggle is awakening after years of counter-revolution, it is certainly time to re-evaluate the implications of this position. The smug satisfaction which comes from talking of a “better life” in Vietnam or Cambodia over a generation of graves resulting from inter-imperialist struggles is a mockery of revolutionary thought.
We feel that the question of ‘national liberation’ today is one of the crucial points we would like to discuss with your group. (Perhaps the recent article on this question in Internationalism no. 7 will give you a fuller idea of our position.) We regret not being able to read more of your publications at this time but we look forward to receiving other translations of your texts in English or other languages.
The question of imperialism today is related to your statement on the nature of the Russian, Chinese and East European regimes. It is very difficult to elaborate a revolutionary perspective if your analysis does not define the capitalist system as a whole. You write, “not all parts of the world are dominated by the capitalist system”. According to your statements, the world is divided into capitalist and non-capitalist “bureaucratic” regimes. How is it possible then to defend and explain a revolutionary programme for two, supposedly completely different, social systems? You write, “the class struggle continues” - but what are the classes? What is the material basis of this so-called, non-capitalist bureaucracy and where are its objective contradictions?
You state that Russia and China are “planned economies” but planning in itself is not a definition of a social system. Centralized, state, economic planning to one degree or another is in force in France, England, Spain; in fact in all countries today, including the US and Canada. Nationalization and planning have everywhere become integral parts of decadent capitalism and these efforts will increase as the crisis itself grows deeper everywhere.
Even following the logic of your own arguments and statements, the nature of Russian and Chinese “bureaucratism” becomes clear if we are not blinded by outward appearances. What is the system you describe - which creates a proletariat, has a ruling class which controls the means of production, where salaries are given, where expanded national production for accumulation is the goal, a system which competes on the world market? This is capitalism and the operation of the law of value.
The Russian, Chinese, and Eastern European regimes are expressions of the tendency towards state capitalism which today dominates to one degree or another the capitalist system in all countries. Russia or China is more extreme examples of the need for concentration of national capital in the hands of the state. But the bureaucracy in Russia or China has the same role in production as the traditional ‘private’ bourgeoisie: they are the functionaries of capital. The juridical form that capitalism may take, whether it is in individual or state hands, is only a secondary question. The primary question is the role of a social class in relation to the means of production.
Russia, China or the other more extreme examples of state capitalist organization are imperialist because of the very nature of global capitalism in our period. Your analysis leaves this point dangerously vague and readers may infer these countries can indeed lead ‘anti-imperialist’ struggles as the Stalinists, Trotskyists and Maoists claim. Just like the theories of the workers’ state’ or the ‘degenerated workers’ state’ and the like, your rather vaguely defined theory of ‘another system’' leaves the door open to dangerous mystifications. Although you call for proletarian revolution in these strange ‘other’ systems, the very definition of the proletariat itself is undermined by an inconsistent analysis. The conclusions may be right but the logic is missing.
There have been many theories which have tried to explain Russia and China without reference to state capitalism. We can point particularly to the writings of Chaulieu/Cardan in Socialisme ou Barbarie which proclaimed that Russia, and China later on, were a ‘third system’, neither socialist nor capitalist. This theory led him to (abandon the proletariat as the international revolutionary class3 and to adopt the idea of ‘order-takers’ and ‘order-givers’ as the fundamental division of the ‘new’, ‘crisis-free’ society whose material roots remained a mystery. More fundamentally, the idea of a third system implies the rejection of the basic marxist insight that only socialism - the end of all property relations and the end of the law of value, commodity production and wage labour - can answer the contradictions inherent in capitalism,
In rejecting all the conjectures on the subject of Russia and China which have dominated in the period of counter-revolution and in defending the conception of state capitalism, our Current stresses the fact that since the First World War, statification is a general tendency in decadent capitalism. Whatever it’s ideological label - Stalinism, fascism or ‘democracy’ - state capitalist measures in one degree or another are the basic trend in all countries. With the deepening of the crisis, the bourgeoisie of all colours and stripes will accelerate this trend and it is important that revolutionaries try to clarify this in the developed countries as well as in the underdeveloped ones. The bourgeoisie will attempt to co-opt proletarian struggles through nationalizations, self-management schemes, new New Deals or Popular Fronts in defence of national capital through intensified statification and ‘pacification’ of the working class. We cannot go into all the details of our analysis here but you may be interested to read our pamphlets on decadence and the crisis and our articles on state capitalism.4
In general, if we had to sum up a major part of the work of our Current, it would be to emphasize that the only revolutionary class in capitalism, east or west, is the proletariat. With the crisis today and the reawakening of international class struggle, talk of marginal elements or fringe movements become dangerous diversions for class struggle. The theories of the ‘consumer society’ you mention in your text also seem like empty absurdities today when the problem for the working class is increasingly inflation, unemployment and maintaining a minimal standard of living. With almost 10% unemployment in the US and 12% in Denmark for example, not to mention the decline in real wages which galloping inflation represents, how can we give credence to the idea that capitalist society exists to make the working class ‘consume’?
The working class is the only subject of revolution in capitalist society and only through its self-activity, the development of its revolutionary consciousness and class organization in workers councils, can socialism eventually become a living reality. In this sense, our Current has always defended the position that the revolutionary party of the working class cannot substitute itself for the class as a whole. We reject the Leninist idea that the party must assume state power ‘in the name of the class’. The political organizations of the class exist to contribute to the heightening and generalization of class consciousness, to defend “the fundamental goals and means of achieving them”.
We do not quite understand your reference to the need for the ‘autonomy’ of the class in relation to its political organizations. Although these organizations cannot assume the tasks of the class as a whole, they are an emanation of the class to fulfill a vital role of contributing to the clarification of class consciousness in struggle. When we speak of the autonomy of the working class, it is not an autonomy which would separate the whole from a part of that whole, but rather the autonomy of the working class in relation to all other classes. The refusal to join ‘popular fronts’, ‘anti-fascist’ or ‘national liberation fronts’ with elements of the bourgeoisie, the refusal to dilute proletarian class interests in a vague amalgam of the ‘people’ - this is the autonomy of the proletarian movement which is essential for the process of revolution.
Although we reject the Leninist party, we do not agree in rejecting all need for the organization of revolutionaries. Like your group, we do see the need for an international regroupment of revolutionaries today based on a clear, coherent political platform. We are trying to contribute to this goal by the unity of our sections in different countries. At the present level of class struggle, we feel that the contribution of organized revolutionaries can be an important factor for today and for the future formation of a proletarian international political party on a clear programmatic basis.
We do not claim to have discovered all the ‘answers’ nor to have found an exclusive ‘eternal truth’. We try to base our intervention on the heritage of left communism and the fullest possible analysis of the lessons of class struggle.
We are deeply concerned about contributing to international debate and the clarification of ideas which must go on among revolutionaries in the class. We hope to be able to read more of your publications and analyses soon and that this letter will be taken as a contribution further correspondence between our groups.
J.A. for the ICC
1 See Angola, Ethiopia: Inter-Imperialist Struggle in Africa, Internationalism/World Revolution pamphlet no. 3
2 The TAP airline strike.
3 See Cardan under the name Coudray in Mai 1968: La Breche, Paris, 1968.
4 The Decadence of Capitalism and The Convulsions of World Capital, World Revolution/Internationalism pamphlets Nos 1 & 2.