The confusions of Fomento Obrero Revolucionario (FOR): on Russia 1917 and Spain 1936
"Far from being a sum of ready-made prescriptions which have only to be applied, the practical realization of socialism as an economic, social and juridical system is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future. What we posses in our program is nothing but a few main signposts which indicate the general direction in which to look for the necessary measures, and the indications are mainly negative in character at that. Thus we know more or less what we must eliminate at the outset in order to free the road for a socialist economy. But when it comes to the nature of the thousand concrete, practical measures, large and small, necessary to introduce socialist principles into economy, law and all social relationships, there is no key in any socialist party program or textbook. That is not a shortcoming but rather the very thing that makes scientific socialism superior to the utopian varieties." (Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism?, Ann Arbor 1972, pp.69-70.)
Thus Rosa Luxemburg poses the question of what economic and social measures should be taken by the dictatorship of the proletariat. This approach remains valid for today. Above all, the proletariat must make sure that the capitalist state apparatus is destroyed. Political power is the essence of the proletarian dictatorship. Without that power, it will be impossible to carry out any economic, social or juridicial transformation in the transition period.
The experience of the Stalinist counterrevolution adds other guidelines of a very concrete and ‘negative' character. For example, the lesson that the nationalization of the means of production can't be identified with their socialization. The Stalinist nationalizations -- and even those of the period of ‘War Communism' (1918-1920) -- consolidated the totalitarian grip of the Russian state bureaucracy, giving it direct access to the surplus value of the Russian workers. Nationalization has become part and parcel of the general tendency of state capitalism. This is a decadent and arch-reactionary form of capitalism, based on a growing and permanent war economy. In Russia, the nationalizations that took place directly stimulated the counter-revolution.
However, even when claiming to agree with this general marxist approach, there are groups in the present revolutionary movement which deform and 'revise' it with 'social and economic' recipes added to the political power of the proletariat.
Among these tendencies, we think that FOR (Fomento Obrero Revolucionario, Ferment Ouvrier Revolutionnaire, which publishes Alarma, Alarme, Focus, etc) distinguishes itself for its dangerous confusions. Our critique is therefore aimed at their way of posing the problem of the political and economic measures to be taken by the working class dictatorship.
How FOR interprets the experience of October 1917
According to FOR, the experience of the Russian Revolution raises the need of socializing the means of production from the first day of the revolution. The communist revolution is, according to them, as social as it is political. We read:
"...the Russian Revolution is a warning, and the Stalinist counter-revolution that supplanted it is a decisive chastisement for the world proletariat. The degeneration of the revolution was facilitated by the statification of the means of production in 1917, when the workers' revolution should have socialized them. Only the extinction of the state, as Marxism conceived of it, would have transformed the expropriation of the bourgeoisie into socialization. The statification that took place became, instead, the basis for the counter-revolution." (FOR, Second Communist Manifesto, Losfeld, Paris 1965, p. 24)
But FOR is wrong when it claims that there was statification (or nationalization) of the means of production in 1917. It needs to assert this in order to present ‘War Communism' as a ‘going beyond' of the initial Bolshevik economic project. The truth is that:
"Almost all the nationalizations that occurred before the summer of 1918 obeyed primitive reasons, provoked by the attitude of the capitalists, who refused to collaborate with the new regime." (Cited in the interesting study of Juan Antonio Garcia Diez, USSR, 1917-1929: from revolution to planning, Madrid 1969, p.53)
This is confirmed by other economic historians of the Russian Revolution, like Carr, Davies, Dobb, Erlich, Lewin, Nove, etc.
In 1917, the Bolshevik Party had no intention of enlarging the state sector in the Russian economy to any great extent. This sector was already huge, exhibiting all the bureaucratic and militarized features of the war economy. On the contrary, the intention of the Bolsheviks was to politically control this state capitalism, as they awaited the world revolution. The disorganization of the country, and that of the central administration, was so deep that there was practically no state budget. Without intending to, the Bolshevik contributed to a monstrous inflation by printing their own paper money as the banks refused to help them (in 1921, each gold rouble was worth 80,000 paper roubles!)
The Bolsheviks had no concrete economic plan in 1917; only the maintenance of workers' power in the soviets, as they awaited the world revolution, especially in Europe. The Bolsheviks' merit was, according to Luxemburg,
"...having marched at the head of the international proletariat with the conquest of politica lpower..." (Luxemburg, ibid, p.80)
On the economic and social levels, Luxemburg criticized them severely, not because they defended a set of theoretic prescriptions, but because many of the measures of the soviet government were not appropriate to the circumstances. She criticized them because she saw in those empirical measures obstacles for the future development of the revolution.
‘War Communism', which developed during the Civil War, nevertheless marked a dangerous theorization of the measures adopted. For FOR, this period contained ‘non capitalist relations'. (FOR, ibid, p.25) In reality, FOR romantically ignores that ‘War Communism' was a war economy, and insinuates that it was a ‘non-capitalist' production and distribution. Bolsheviks like Lenin, Trotsky, Bukhararin, etc, even stated that this ‘political economy' was taking them into communism. In delirious tone, Bukharin wrote in 1920:
"The communist revolution of the proletariat is accompanied, as every revolution, by a reduction in productive powers. The civil war, still in the powerful dimensions of modern class wars, since not only the bourgeoisie, but also the proletariat is organized as state power, signifies a net minus economically speaking..."
But there is no need to fear this, Bukharin consoles us:
"Then the costs of the revolution and the civil war appear as a temporary reduction of productive powers, through which, however, the basis for their powerful development is given by the restructuring of production relations according to a new basic design." (N.Bukharin, Economics of the Transition Period, New York 1971, pp 58-59.)
"The failure of this attempt (of ‘War Communism') due to the vertical fall in production (3 per cent of the 1913 figures), provoked the return to the mercantile system under the name of NEP -- New Economic Policy." (FOR, ibid, p.25)
FOR doesn't criticize ‘War Communism' in any serious way. But it does criticize the NEP, as if that policy expressed something of a ‘return to capitalism'. Since, according to FOR, ‘War Communism' was a ‘non-capitalist' policy, it is logical to suppose that NEP was its opposite. But this is false.
It must be openly said that ‘War Communism' had nothing to do with a ‘communist production and distribution'. To identify communism with war is a monstrosity, even if done between quotation marks. Soviet Russia in 1918-20 was a society militarized to the maximum. The working class lost power in the soviets during that period, a period that FOR idealizes. True, the war against the counter-revolution had to be carried out and won, and this could only be done together with the world revolution and the creation of a Red Army. But the world revolution did not come and the whole defense of Russia fell on the shoulders of a state organized into barracks. The working class and the peasantry supported most heroically and fervently that war against world reaction, but there is no need to idealize or paint in different colors what really went on.
The Civil War plus the social, economic and police methods added to the current military ones, enormously bloated the state bureaucracy, infecting the party and crushing the soviets. This repressive apparatus, which contained nothing ‘soviet' anymore, is the one that organized the NEP. Between ‘War Communism' and NEP there is thus an undeniable continuity. FOR doesn't answer this question: What was the mode of production under ‘War Communism'? Far from clearing anything up, ‘non-capitalist' is only a confusing term. A war economy can only be capitalist. It is the essence of the decadent economy, of the systematic production of armaments, of the total domination of militarism.
‘War Communism' was a political and military effort of the Russian proletariat against the bourgeoisie. This is what matters about it above all -- ie, its aspect of political control and proletarian orientation. This was a temporary, passing effort that could only dangerously grow as the world revolution was delayed. It was an effort that contained enormous dangers for the proletariat. The class was already organized into barracks and almost without its own voice. The ‘non-capitalist' content didn't exist except at the already mentioned political level. If it were not like that, the Inca Empire, with its ‘non-capitalist production and distribution' would be a good forerunner of the communist revolution!
‘War Communism' was based on the following supposedly ‘anti-capitalist' methods:
-- the concentration of production and distribution through bureaucratic departments (the glavki);
-- the hierarchical and military administration of the whole of social life;
-- an ‘egalitarian' system of rationing;
-- the massive use of the labor force through ‘industrial armies';
-- the application of terrorist methods in the factories by the Cheka, against strikes and ‘counter-revolutionary' elements;
-- the enormous increase in the black market;
-- the policy of rural requisitioning;
-- the elimination of economic incentives and the unrestrained use of ‘shock' methods (udarnost) to eliminate deficiencies in industrial branches;
-- the effective nationalization of all branches that supplied the war economy;
-- the elimination of money;
-- the systematic use of state propaganda to raise the working class and popular morale;
-- free public transport, communications and rent.
If we don't take into account the political aspect of the still-present workers' power, this is the description of a war economy, that is, of a crisis economy. It is interesting to note that ‘War Communism' just could not be planned. Such a measure would have been resisted by the working class, as it would have meant the rapid, permanent and totalitarian consolidation of the bureaucracy. Military planning would have only been possible over the backs of a completely exhausted and defeated proletariat. This is why Stalinism could add ‘the plan' (a decadent planning) only in 1928 and thereafter to an economy in all other respects similar to ‘War Communism'. The fundamental difference was that the working class had lost political power by 1928. If in 1918-20 it could somewhat control ‘War Communism' (a policy which after all did express passing through urgent needs), and even use this policy to defeat external reaction, during the last years of NEP the class had lost all political power. But under ‘War Communism' as under NEP and the Stalinist 5-year Plan, the law of value continued to rule. Wage labor could be disguised, money could be made to ‘disappear', but capitalism didn't cease to exist for all that. It is not possible to destroy it by administrative or purely political means in one single country.
That the already bureaucratized Bolshevik Party realized that ‘War Communism' could not survive the Civil War goes to show that that workers' party still exercised certain political control over the state that emerged from the Russian Revolution. Here we must say ‘certain' because that control was relative, and decreasing. Also, it shouldn't be forgotten that the Bolsheviks were reminded of the need to cast off ‘War Communism' by the workers and sailors of Petrograd and Kronstadt. These paid heavily for their impertinence. In reality, the Kronstadt revolt was waged against the so-called ‘non-capitalist production and distribution' and against the whole terrorist state apparatus and one-party system already in power in Russia during the Civil War.
We don't have to repeat endlessly that all this happened because of the isolation from the world revolution. That is true. But it isn't enough to say this. The manner in which this isolation manifested itself within the Russian Revolution is also important, because of the examples and concrete lessons that can be extracted for the future world revolution. ‘War Communism' was an inevitable though dismal expression of the political class from its class brothers in Europe.
By theorizing ‘War Communism', certain Bolsheviks like Bukharin, Kritsman, etc, implicitly defended a sort of communism in one country. True, in 1920 no Bolshevik would have dared say that openly. But it is contained in the conception of a ‘non-capitalist production and distribution' existing in one country or ‘proletarian state' (another equally false conception, which sometimes FOR appears to defend and sometimes not).
The fundamental internal error of the Russian Revolution was to have identified dictatorship of the party with proletarian dictatorship, with the dictatorship of the workers' councils. This was a fatal substitutionist mistake of the Bolsheviks. From a broader historical level, this error expressed a whole period of revolutionary theory and practice that was coming to a close and which is non‑existent today. Among today's Bordigists it is possible to find caricatured remnants of this substitutionist conception. Today that conception is obsolete and reactionary. But the mistake of the Bolsheviks or, if you wish, the limitation of the Russian Revolution, is not that they did not transcend the ‘purely political' level of social revolution. How could they transcend that level if the revolution was isolated? What they did on the social and economic level was the most that could be done. This is true regarding ‘War Communism' and even the NEP. These two policies contained profound dangers and unsuspected traps for the political power of the proletariat. But as long as the proletariat maintained itself in power, economic mistakes could be mended and rectified; in the meantime, the awaited world revolution remained the final perspective. If it was impossible to arrive at an ‘integral communism' (an empty phrase of British CWO, the Communist Workers Organization), this wasn't because the working class didn't want to or because it had no other ‘great experiences' (like the Spanish collectives in 1936). The poverty of Russia, it's terribly low cultural level, the blood-letting of the World War and the Civil War, all this did not allow the working class to maintain its grip on political power. Also, Bolshevism's treason should be added as a fundamental internal cause.
But how can the absence of 'non-capitalist' measures such as the disappearance of the lawof value, wage labour, commodity production, the state and even of classes (in one single country?), explain the internal defeat of the Russian Revolution? Yet this is what FOR appears to be saying. Let's quote:
"Capitalism will always surge forth if from the start its life source is not dried up: the production and distribution based on wage labor ... What the proletariat of each country must take into account is the industrial level of the world, not only that of ‘its' nation. (Grandizo Munis, ‘Revolutionary Class, Political Organization, Dictatorship of the Proletariat', Alarma No.24, 1973,p.9. A part of this appears in 2nd Conference of Groups of the Communist Left, Vol.1, 178, p.81)
Nevertheless, in spite of what FOR suggests here, the ‘life source' of world capitalism doesn't exist in small puddles, each to dry up, country by country. FOR seems oblivious to the fact that capitalism as a social system exists at the world scale, as an international relation. The law of value cannot therefore be eliminated except on a world level. Since it affects the whole world proletariat, it is impossible to think that an isolated sector of the working class can escape its laws. The latter is a typical mystification which thought that the state and capitalism could be eliminated via a false village or district communalism. In the anarcho-syndicalist tradition, the idea acquired its industrial ‘variant', but it remains the same localist, narrow and selfish mystification.
In the above mentioned article by Munis, we are warned that the proletariat must not count ‘only' on the industrial level of ‘its' nation. Wise advice, though not very clarifying. If Munis refers to the possibility and need of taking political power in one country whichever it is, it is a good advice, even if not that new.
It is true that what matters is the world level, not each country's. Still, when it is said that communist production and distribution can be started ‘immediately', as FOR claims, the industrial level of each country would matter absolutely. It would be the fundamental and decisive factor. Of course, such an affirmation would place FOR -- even if it is a revolutionary tendency -- in the chauvinist tradition of a Volmar or a Stalin. But what is really tragic is that we would have to accept that communism is impossible, as it can't be possible in one country. FOR would answer irately that it doesn't defend the idea of ‘socialism in one country'. That is good to hear, but it can't be denied that FOR's way of posing the economic and social tasks -- as important as the political ones according to its view -- suggests a sort of ‘communism in one country'. What other meaning can it have to say that capitalism will always surge forth unless its ‘life source' is ‘dried up'? But we have already seen that it can't be ‘dried up' in one country. Thus, it will return inevitably to where the proletariat has taken power, since the class couldn't ‘dry up' the capitalist ‘life source' of wage labor. But, can wage labor be eliminated in one country or region? According to FOR, it seems that the answer is yes. That's the question. Once that is accepted, ‘socialism in one country' follows too. One is either coherent ... or not.
In an otherwise excellent polemic against the Bordigist sentinels of Le Proletaire, Munis repeats:
"In our conception, ... it's the most important imposition of the proletarian dictatorship and without it there will never be a transition period to communism." (Munis, ibid, Alarma, No.25, 1973, p.13.)
This refers to the need to abolish wage labor. Munis describes the need for political power as "...a more than centenarian commonplace." But the abolition of wage labor is that too.
Now, it is true that without the abolition of wage labor there will be no communism. The same goes for frontiers, state, classes. It isn't necessary to repeat that communism is a mode of production based on the most complete freedom of the individual, in the production of use values, in the complete disappearance of classes and the law of value, In this we agree with FOR. The difference emerges when we confront the emphasis given in practice to economic and social measures. We will notice here that the question of political power, far from being a ‘commonplace', is what is decisive for the world revolution. But not for FOR.
The approach of Munis is trapped by the whole (myopic) vision of the Trotskyist and even Bukharinist anti-Stalinist Oppositions. Munis thinks that economic or social measures of the ‘non-capitalist' type will provide us with guarantees against the counter-revolution. In spite of the importance of a lot of the writing of Preobrazhenski, Bukharin and other Bolshevik economists, their contributions don't through much light on the real problems that the class faced in 1924-1930. Preobrazhenski talked about a ‘socialist accumulation', of the need to establish an economic equilibrium between town and country etc. In spite of his political divergences with the Left Opposition, Bukharin used similar arguments. They all remained prisoners of the idea of ‘what can be done economically to survive in one single country?'
This was a false problem because it appeared when the working class had lost its class power, its political power. When this happened, all discussion about the soviet ‘economy' became pure charlatanry and a technocratic mystification. With its barbarous five-year plans, its police terror and its final massacre of the already vanquished Bolshevik Party, the Stalinist rabble terminated all these false debates.
Although it is true that today's proletarian revolution will find itself in more favorable conditions than in 1917-27, we can't console ourselves by thinking that the terrible problems are going to disappear. The proletariat will inherit a putrefying and decadent economic system. The Civil War will add to this waste with more destruction. The delirious acclamations of Bukharin regarding this decline have to be avoided at all costs, as any sort of apocalyptic or Messianic thought regarding the ‘immediate' communist revolution has to be. This has nothing to do with gradualism. It is a matter of calling things by their name.
It is evident that if the working class takes power, let's say, in Bolivia (even if momentarily), its capacity to ‘socialize' will be very restricted. It is possible that for FOR this inconvenience will not be worth bothering about. For example, the Bolivian proletariat could bring back to life the ‘communist' Aymara spirit, and even Tupac-Amaru who could become People's Commissar. In Paraguay, just to give another hypothetical example, the proletariat could return to an ancient type of Jesuit ‘communism' of the Conquista times. One must always keep one's chin up, as every cloud has a silver lining: Didn't Marx himself talk about a ‘crude communism', based on generalized misery? One could argue, wasn't that a type of ‘communism'? Yes, but is it... applicable to our days? Perhaps FOR would like to answer? It seems that FOR's attachment to the collectives in Spain has also brought forth a special nostalgia for ‘primitive communism'.
But jokes aside (which we hope that FOR does not take to heart!), it must be said that the proletariat assumes political power with the goal of the world communist revolution. Therefore, on the economic and social plane, the measures adopted must tend in that direction. That is why they are subordinated to the need to conserve the political power of the free, sovereign and autonomous workers' councils, inasmuch as they are expressions of the ruling revolutionary class. Political power is the precondition for all ‘social transformation' -- be it ulterior, immediate, long term or whatever you want to call it. Political power is primary. That doesn't change. On the economic level, there is a lot of room to experiment (relatively) and also to make mistakes that don't have to be fatal. But any alteration on the political level rapidly implies the complete return of capitalism.
The depth of the economic transformations possible in each country will depend, of course, on the concrete material level of that country. But under no circumstances will workers turn their backs on the needs of the world revolution. In this sense, it is possible that there will be a type of ‘war communism', or a war economy under the direct control of the workers' councils. Nationalizations will not exist, but there will be the active and responsible participation of a soviet apparatus of government controlled by the working class. Does FOR think this is impossible? Is this to be ‘too attached to the Russian model'?
To give primacy to the abolition of wage labor, thinking that by this we will arrive at the
"immediate break-up of the law of value (exchange of equivalents) leading to its later disappearance..." (Munis, ibid, p. 6)
is sheer ‘modernist' phantasy. It's the type of illusion that in certain moments would help to disarm the proletariat, isolating it from the rest of the world class. If the class is told that it has ‘socialized' ‘its' sector of the world economy, that it has ‘broken up' the law of value in ‘its' region, it will also be told that it should defend that ‘communist' sector which is supposedly qualitatively superior to external capitalism. Nothing would be further from the truth than that demagogy. What we defend is the political power of the proletariat.
What would defeat any sector of the working class which has taken power is the isolation of the revolution. In other words, the lack of clear consciousness in the rest of the world class regarding the need to extend the solidarity needed by the world revolution. Therein lies the real problem! FOR doesn't see it this way, even if at times it makes a curtsy in that direction. The problem isn't that capitalism is going to ‘re-emerge' there where its life source hasn't dried out, but that capitalism continues to exist on a world level, even if one, two or a few capitalist states have been defeated. To think that capitalism can be destroyed in one country alone is pure phrase mongering, and reveals a profound ignorance of the capitalist economy as Marx analyzed it. Or we are dealing with a ‘simultaneous revolution' in all countries, capable of shortening enormously the period of civil war, so that entry into the world period of transition proper is accordingly hastened. This would be ideal, but probably it won't happen in this instantaneous manner, in spite of the efforts of FOR. To have hopes, to be open to unexpected possibilities, is one thing. But to base a whole revolutionary perspective on them and even write a Second Communist Manifesto in this spirit, is another thing. True freedom comes from the recognition of necessity, not from voluntarist hullabaloos.
In spite of its basic confusions regarding what was ‘War Communism' in the October Revolution, at least FOR understands that it was a proletarian revolution, that it was the political effort of the class to maintain itself in power. But let's see now what FOR tells us about Spain 1936...
How FOR focuses on the collectives in Spain in 1936
According to FOR, the attempt of ‘War Communism' never transcended the stage of political power of the working class, even if ‘anti-capitalist' relations were introduced during it. To show us an even more profound example of ‘non-capitalist' measures or relations, FOR presents us the 1936-37 collectives in Spain. Munis describes them thus:
"The 1936-37 collectives in Spain aren't a case of self-management... (sic!) Some of them organized a sort of local communism keeping no exchange relations except towards the outside, just like the ancient societies of primitive communism. Others were trade or village co-operatives, whose members distributed among themselves the previous profits of capitalism. They all more or less abandoned the payment of the workers according to the laws of the labor market. Some more than others abandoned payment according to necessary labor and surplus labor, sources from where capitalism extracts surplus value and the whole substance of its social organization. Also, the collectives gave the combat militias abundant and regular donations in kind. The collectives therefore can't be defined except by their revolutionary characteristics (sic!); in sum, by the system of production and distribution which broke with the capitalist notions of value (exchange value necessarily)..." (Munis, Protest letter to the magazine Autogestion et Socialisme, in Alarma no.22/23, 1972, p.11)
In his book on Spain, Jalones de derrota: promesa de victoria (1948), Munis is even more enthusiastic:
"Once industry -- excepting small-scale units -- were expropriated, the workers put it to work by organizing themselves in local and regional collectives, and also according to industrial branches. This is a phenomenon in marked contrast to that of the Russian Revolution, and confirms the intensity of the Spanish revolutionary movement. The great majority of technicians and, in general, skilled workers, collaborated courageously with the collective workers from day one. They didn't show any evidence of not wanting to integrate themselves into the new economy. Administration and production benefitted by this; the step towards an economy without capitalists was taken without the obstacles and productivity losses caused by the technicians' sabotage in the Russian Revolution of 1917. On the contrary, the economy ruled by the collectives made quick and enormous progress. The stimulus of a triumphant revolution, the delight of working for a system that would replace the exploitation of man with his freedom from the misery of wage slavery, the conviction of giving hope to all the earth's oppressed, the opportunity of victory over their oppressors, all this created marvels. The productive superiority of socialism over capitalism was brilliantly shown through the work of the worker and peasant collectives. The intervention of the capitalist state, ruled by the political good-for-nothings of the Popular Front, did not rebuild the yoke destroyed in July (1936)". (Munis, Jalones de derrota: promesa de victoria (Espana 1930-39), Mexico 1948, p.340. Title in English: Banner of Defeat: Promise of Victory (Spain 1930-39)
'This is not the place to continue a polemic on the Civil War in Spain. We have already published a lot on that tragic chapter of the counter-revolution which opened the door to the second imperialist massacre. (See the articles by Bilan in the ICC's International Review: Nos 4, 6, 7 and the article ‘The Myth of the Spanish Collectives' in No.15) Here we will briefly state that Munis and FOR have always defended the erroneous idea that in Spain there was a so-called ‘revolution'. Nothing is further from the truth. Although it is true that the working class in Spain destroyed the bourgeois political apparatus in 1936 and that in May 1937 the class rose, too late, against Stalinism and the Popular Front government, this doesn't deny that the class was defeated, and absorbed by the inter-imperialist conflict between the Republic and Fascism. The class caved in ideologically under the weight of this wretched anti-fascist campaign. It was massacred in the war and killed off by the Francoist dictatorship, one of the worst in this century.
The collectives were ideal to deflect the attention of the proletariat from its real immediate objective: the total destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus with all its parties, including the left ones. The latter had revived the state apparatus after the armed workers had disorganized it in 1936. After the class had done this, it was nevertheless seduced by the struggle of the Popular Front against the Franco insurrection. The collectives and the factory committees capitulated in front of this filth. The state apparatus was reconstituted, and it integrated the working class into the military front, channeling the class struggle towards the bourgeois massacre. Bilan (of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left), opposed any idea of support for the so-called ‘Spanish Revolution'. They correctly affirmed:
"...when the proletariat is not in power -- as is the case in Spain -- the militarization of the factories is the same as militarization of the factories in any capitalist state at war." (International Review No.6, p.15)
Bilan supported the working class in Spain during those tragic hours: it pointed out the only path to follow:
"As for the workers of the Iberian Peninsular, they have but only one road today, that of 19 July: strikes in all industries whether engaged in the war or not; class struggle against Companys and Franco; against the ukases (edicts) of their trade unions and the Popular Front; and for the destruction of the capitalist state." (ibid, p.18)
How distant are these words from the phrase mongering about ‘the superiority of socialism over capitalism' shown by the collectives! No, the truth has to be confronted: in Spain there was no social revolution. Capitalism survived because the working class in Spain, isolated from the agonizing world revolution, was led to ‘self-manage' a ‘collectivized' war economy on behalf of Spanish capitalism. Under such conditions, to affirm that the ‘Spanish Revolution' went beyond the Russian Revolution at the level of ‘non-capitalist' relations is pure ideological humbug.
Munis and FOR reveal here an incapacity to understand what was the October Revolution and what was the counter-revolution in Spain. This is a profound mistake for a revolutionary tendency. To minimize the content of the former in favor of the latter is simply incredible. In reality, when Munis and FOR defend the collectives, they are ‘theorizing' the support given to the Republican government by the Trotskyists during the Civil War. There just isn't any other way of explaining this fanatical devotion to the collectives, which were the trap of the Republican bourgeoisie in 1936-37. We know already that according to FOR, the Trotskyist tradition is revolutionary -- FOR considers itself its historic inheritor. But let us examine in passing what was being said by the Trotskyists of the Bolshevik-Leninist section (for the 1Vth International) during the Civil War:
"Long live the revolutionary offensive!
No compromises. We call for the disarming of the reactionary Republican Nation al Guard (Guardia Civil) and of the Shock Guard. The moment is decisive. The next time it will be too late. We call for a General Strike in all the industries that don't produce for the war effort. Only proletarian power can guarantee military victory.
For the total arming of the working class!
Long live the unity of action of CNT-FAI-POUM!
Long live the revolutionary proletariant front!
Create revolutionary defense committees in the workshops, factories and neighborhoods!"
(Munis, in Jalones, p.305)
Trotskyism's reactionary position immediately catches the eye: "...guarantee the military victory." And for whom? For the Republic! According to the Trotskyists, this ‘military victory' must not be threatened by irresponsible strikes in military industries. Yes, that was -- and is -- a fundamental difference between Trotskyism and Marxism. The first couldn't distinguish between revolution and counter-revolution and the Marxists not only could, but also confirmed the primacy, the fundamental need, of insuring political power before any attempt at ‘re-organizing' society. If the bourgeois war in Spain did anything for revolutionary theory, it was to confirm this lesson of the working class.
In chapter XVII of Jalones, titled ‘Property', Munis openly claims that in Spain "...a new economic system was being born, the socialist system." (Munis, ibid, pp.339-340) The future communist revolution, Munis warns us, will have to continue and perfect this project. Munis doesn't care that all that ‘socialist' effort was pledged to a 100% capitalist war, to a massacre and preparatory beheading of the second world butchery, with its 60 million corpses. In the final analysis, Munis continues to support the anti-fascist war of 1936-38, and, from this standpoint, he hasn't broken with the Trotskyist myths. The mystification suffered by the proletariat is something Munis admits, but without knowing what to do about it: "the proletariat continued to consider the economy as its own and capitalism definitively gone." (Munis, ibid, p.346)
Instead of criticizing these mystifications of the proletariat, Munis adapts to them, idolizes and ‘theorizes' them. Therein lies what is negative, retrogressive in FOR and its tin pan serenades about the ‘Spanish Revolution'. Its criticism is purely economic, dealing above all with the lack of planning at the national scale. For Munis, "the seizure and putting into action of the productive centers by their workers was a necessary first step. To stay there would have been lamentable." (Munis, ibid, p.345) Munis also mentions political power later, saying that it was ‘decisive' (!) for the revolution. But this is to inform us that the CNT wasn't up to scratch, implying that the CNT was an organ of the class (another swindle). According to FOR, the CNT was a proletarian organization that forgot the ‘common place' of political power. This is the way the clear and trenchant FOR presents the ‘Spanish Revolution'.
Munis' book appeared in 1948. It is possible that his ideas have changed. But it should be marked that in the Re-affirmation written in March 1972 (at the end of the book), Munis makes no comment or criticism of the Trotskyist activities in Spain during the Civil War. In this sense, Munis has not changed his ideas about the ‘Spanish Revolution' in more than 45 years. To be attached too much to the ‘Russian model' is not a crime for revolutionaries. It may be a ‘conservative shackle', but as it belongs to the history of our own class, that is why we must absorb all its lessons, because it was a proletarian revolution. It's the opposite regarding the so-called ‘Spanish Revolution'. Our class never took political power there; on the contrary, in part through the collectives, it was convinced that was a ‘common place' better left in the hands of Messrs CNT-FAI-POUM. Thus the class was immobilized and massacred by the Republicans and their Stalinist henchmen, plus the Franco troops. For Munis, this massacre doesn't tarnish at all the sublimely redeeming task of the collectives. Faced with such lyricism, we say that to be attached -- even by a tiny bit -- to the ‘Spanish model', is a monstrous error for revolutionaries!
For Munis and FOR, the political power of the class appears sometimes as something important and decisive and sometimes as something that could -- and should -- come after. It's something like a ‘commonplace', not worthy of much discussion since ‘we all know that'. But in fact FOR doesn't know it. The Spanish experience shows, in a negative manner, the primacy of political power over so-called ‘socialist' measures or relations. Munis and FOR don't seem to realize that in the Spanish war political power and ‘collectivist' mystification existed in inverse proportion. The one cancelled the other, and it couldn't have been otherwise. (As we have said, Munis sometimes insists that political power is decisive. See, for example, Jalones, pp.357-358. This is a dualism that constantly haunts the FOR!)
"The longer we look back at 1917, the greater is the importance acquired by the Spanish Revolution. It went deeper than the Russian Revolution ... in the realm of thought, only despicable apologies for theory can be made if the contribution of the Spanish Revolution is ignored; more precisely, if what is ignored is that contribution which contrasts with that of the Russian Revolution, transcending or negating it." ( Munis, ibid, p.345)
For our part, we prefer to base our perspectives on the real experiences of the proletariat and not on modernist ‘innovation' like those of the FOR. Being an exploited and a revolutionary class, the working class expresses this complementary nature through its historical struggles. It uses its economic struggles to help itself reach an understanding of its historic tasks. That revolutionary understanding finds an immediate obstacle in each capitalist state, which has to be overthrown in each country by the working class. But the working class can't dissolve itself as an exploited category except on a universal scale, because that possibility is intimately linked to the world economy, which goes beyond the resource of each national economy. Luxemburg's concept of global capital is important in this respect. The capitalist state can be overthrown in each national economy. But the capitalist character of the world economy, of the world market, can only be eliminated on the universal plane. The working class can institute its dictatorship (although not for long) in one single country or a handful of countries, but it can't create communism in one country or region of the world. Its revolutionary power is expressed by its undiluted internationalist orientation, directed foremost to helping destroy the capitalist state everywhere, to destroy that police apparatus of terror throughout the planet. That period may last a few years, and as long as it isn't finished, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to adopt real and definite communist measures. The total destruction of the economic bases of the capitalist mode of production can't be but the task of the whole world working class, centralized and united, without nations, or commodity exchange. In a certain way, until the working class reaches that level, it will remain an economic class, since the condition of penury and economic disequilibrium will persist. It is thus that the exploited and revolutionary natures of the working class join hands, tending to consciously fuse in the long historic process of the proletarian dictatorship and the total communist transformation.
We don't pretend to consider this important discussion closed. But we did want to put forward our criticism of the FOR's conception regarding the problems of the proletarian revolution. Nothing that FOR adduces in support of an ‘immediate communism' convinces us that the way Rosa Luxemburg posed the question is wrong (see quote at beginning of article). Even worse is then the idea that the Russian Revolution wasn't as deep as the ‘Spanish Revolution'. FOR's ideas on ‘the tasks of our epoch' are connected to this vision of a socialism that can be reached in any moment and whenever the proletariat wants it. This immediatist, voluntarist conception has been criticized often in our press. (We mention, among others, Internationalism no.25, review of The Alarm, and no.27, in which the positions of Munis/FOR regarding the recent mass strike in Poland are discussed.)
The dangerous confusions of FOR hide an incapacity to grasp what is the decadence of capitalism and what are the tasks of the working class in this historic period. Equally, FOR has never been able to understand the meaning of the historic courses that have unfolded this century after 1914. It never grasped, for example, that the struggle of the Spanish proletariat in 1936 could not change the course towards a second imperialist war. What crucially confirmed this was the tremendous political confusion of the proletariat in Spain. Instead of continuing its struggle against the state apparatus and all its political and trade union wings, it allowed itself to be shackled by the latter, and abandoned its class terrain. (In a recent and excessively vitriolic polemic, FOR repeats its usual sayings about Spain 1936, without adding anything new -- the famous ‘Spanish Revolution' persists as ever. See ‘Broken Trajectory of Revolution Internationale'.) There's the real tragedy of the world proletariat in Spain!
But for FOR, this ‘jalon de derrota' (ie banner of defeat) in reality confirmed the ‘superiority' of socialism over capitalism. But how mistaken is this vision of the communist revolution, a view incapable of seeing when that movement for the total liberation of mankind has fallen into the blackest pit. If the proletariat is not able to understand when and how its struggle, its perspectives and its most selfless efforts were displaced by the enemy class and recuperated by it momentarily, the proletariat will never be able to raise itself to its historic mission. The proletariat's future world liberation requires constantly a profound balance sheet of the last 50 years. When FOR realizes this need, and more than anything, what was Trotskyism, and the so-called ‘Spanish Revolution', only then will it be able to really go forward and blossom into the promise of all that enormous revolutionary passion contained in its publications.