On several occasions, we have welcomed the emergence of revolutionary groups and elements in Eastern Europe, and in particular in Russia. They are clearly appearing within an international context. On every continent, the proletarian political groups that represent the tradition of the communist left have in the last few years been making contact with this kind of element. We should therefore understand this as a characteristic medium-term tendency of the present period. Ever since the collapse of the USSR and its imperialist bloc, the bourgeoisie has been triumphantly proclaiming the bankruptcy of communism and the end of the class struggle. Already unsettled by these events, the working class could not but retreat under the hammer blows of the bourgeoisie's ideologica the bourgeoisie's ideological campaigns. But outside period of counter-revolution, a historic class cannot help reacting against attacks which call so deeply into question its own being and perspective. If it is unable to defend itself through the generalisation of its economic demands, then it will do so by strengthening its political vanguard. The isolated elements, discussion circles, nuclei and little groups should not look to themselves or to coincidence to find the reason for their existence. They are a product of the international working class, and a heavy responsibility lies on their shoulders. They must first recognise the historic process of which they are a product, and fight to the utmost for their consciousness and their political clarity, without being put off by the difficulty of the task.
In the countries at the periphery of the great capitalist powers, these small minorities are confronted with innumerable difficulties: geographical dispersal, language problems, economic backwardness. To these material difficulties are added political ones, resulting from the weakness of the workers' movement and the absence of a solid tradition of revolutionary marxism. In Russia, the “land of the great lie” as Anton Ciliga put it (in his book Au pays du grand mensonge, published in 1938), where the Stalinist counter-rhe Stalinist counter-revolution was at its most terrible, the destruction and distortion of the communist programme was pushed to the limit. The potential contained in these new revolutionary energies can be measured by the way in which they strive to overcome these difficulties:
by the assertion of proletarian internationalism, as we can see in their denunciation of the war and all the imperialist camps in the wars in Chechnya and ex-Yugoslavia,
in their search for international contacts,
- through their rediscovery of the political currents which were the first, during the 1920s, to take up the fight in the name of communism, against the degeneration of the communist movement, and the rise of Stalinism and opportunism.
This has always been the terrain for the development of revolutionary marxism: international, internationalist, and developing a historical viewpoint.
The demarcation with leftism
This approach reveals the truly proletarian nature of these groups, which were rapidly confronted with the need to set themselves apart from present-day Trotskyism - which can always find good reasons to invite the workers to take part in imperialist war - and Maoism, that pure offspring of Stalinist “national-communism”. This is a class frontier sepa class frontier separating the internationalist communist left from “leftism” [i].
Obviously, all these proletarian elements, produced by the same situation, are very heterogeneous. To refuse to accept the identification of Stalinism and communism, to denounce the most outrageous assertions of the enemy's propaganda, is not the most difficult, since their bourgeois nature comes quickly to the surface. “It was Lenin that laid the foundations for the regime which was later to be called 'Stalinist'”. For the less subtle journalists, the proof “is that Lenin was the founder of the Communist International, whose aim was 'world socialist revolution'. By his own confession, Lenin only undertook the October revolution because he was convinced of the inevitability of a European revolution, starting with Germany” (from L'Histoire, n°250, p.19). But the bourgeoisie's offensive is not limited to this caricature. We still have to identify and defend the fundamental significance of the Russian revolution and Lenin's work. Here we come up against, not just the subtle degradation of marxist theory by leftism, but also a series of dangerous confusions, or programmatic points which remain th which remain the object of fierce discussion within the proletarian political movement.
There is thus a whole process of clarification to be undergone, which all these elements have not necessarily taken to its conclusion. In order to understand Stalinism, it is necessary to confront the Trotskyist theory of a “degenerated workers' state”, the anarchist idea that this is nothing but the inevitable product of an “authoritarian socialism”, or the perfectly mechanistic marxism of the councilists, which sees Bolshevism as an instrument adapted to the needs of capitalism in Russia. Behind these questions, lies the problem of the communist programme's historic descent and coherence. The rejection of activist impatience, and confrontation with this problem, is a condition for joining the ranks of those anonymous militants, who today continue the struggle for the same communism that Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto presented to the proletariat 150 years ago.
But what is the thread linking the proletarian struggle yesterday, today, and tomorrow? To pick it up, we must always start from the proletariat's last revolutionary experience. Today, this means starting from the revolution of October 1917. It is not a matter of religious respect for the past, but a critical evaluation of the revolution, it of the revolution, its magnificent steps forward but also its errors and its defeat. The Russian revolution itself would have been impossible without the lessons drawn from the Paris Commune. Without the critical balance-sheet of the Commune, drawn up in the “Addresses” to the General Council of the IWA, and Lenin's superb synthesis in State and Revolution, the Russian proletariat could not have conquered. Here lies the profound unity of theory and practice, of the communist programme and action. And it was the Fractions of the Communist Left which undertook the heavy task of drawing up a balance-sheet of the Russian revolution. A balance-sheet which will be every bit as vital for the next revolution as it was in the past.
This is why we warmly welcome, and support with all our strength the efforts aimed at reappropriating this balance-sheet. On our side, we have tried not only to make available all the documents of the communist left that these comrades need, but also to make known their own most important positions when the problems of translation could be overcome, to take part, in a militant spirit, in the controversies on the most important political questions, with that openness and solidarity which characterises discussion among communists.
We have already given an account of the evolution of the he evolution of the proletarian political milieu in Russia, in the International Review n°s 92 and 101, and in our territorial press. In this article, we intend to make public our correspondence with the Southern Bureau of the Marxist Labour Party. The MLP places itself within the continuity of the workers' movement, and in this sense the term “Labour” refers directly to the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In this correspondence, the comrades are writing in the name of the Southern Bureau, since they cannot commit the whole MLP to all the details of their positions, given that the discussion is still continuing within the MLP itself. But let us leave them to present, themselves, their political struggles since their first congress in March 1990, which decided on the formation of the “MLP - The party of the dictatorship of the proletariat”[ii].
“A general good humour presided at the creation of a new communist party, which clearly distinguished it from Gorbachev's CPSU, which still existed in the USSR at the time. But the ideological make-up of the participants at this first congress was as varied as it was unstable,as it was unstable, and a first split took place, with a small group of 12 people (who thought that Russia was a “feudal state” with a large-scale developed industry, and that the USSR would therefore have to go through a bourgeois revolution before arriving at the socialist revolution); immediately after the split, they met in an adjacent room and set up a committee for the formation of a 'democratic (marxist) labour party'. But they came to nothing and dissolved” (letter of 10/07/1999).
“There were no Trotskyists as this first congress, but there remained a few Stalinists and supporters of the 'industrial feudalism' idea who, unlike the splitters, did not think that a bourgeois revolution was necessary. Nonetheless, all the participants united around the slogans: 'The working class must organise itself' and 'The power of the soviets is the workers' power'. The second congress also took place in Moscow in September 1990. It adopted several texts of the party, including the programme. The idea of the state capitalist nature of the USSR was adopted. It goes without saying that the remaining defenders of “industrial feudalism in the USSR' left the party during this congress, and formed their own 'Party of the dictatorship of the proletariat (Bolshevik)'. The Stalinists, of whom there were very few, there were very few, also left the party” (idem).
“The MLP's first conference in February 1991 dropped the term 'The party of the proletarian dictatorship' from the group's name. In 1994-95, a little fraction formed inside the party, which thought that the mode of production in the USSR had been neo-asiatic. In early January 1996, this fraction split and joined the (Argentine) Morenist Trotskyists of the International Workers' Party, who are quite active in Russia and the Ukraine” (idem).
The programme adopted at the Second Congress included in particular, the following basic principles:
- “The necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat for the transition to communism (socialism), and the necessity of this transition itself;
more precisely, the dictatorship of the urban working class is necessary, but not of the party of the proletarian dictatorship or that of 'all the workers', still less of 'all the people';
the ruin of the Russian party of the proletariat in the 1920s, and the necessity for its creation today;
- the recognition that the 'dictatorship of the class' and the 'dictatorship of the party' as a vanguard of the class, are not one and the same thing”.
And the comrades end by saying that: “Although the 1990 programme did not contain a criticism of the theory of 'socialism in one country', or the necessity for the world revolution, these ideas for us are a commonplace, and were understood as being self-evident” (idem).
We can see how bitter was the struggle in Russia, how vital it was to break with the defrocked Stalinists who still took themselves for revolutionaries. We can also see the pressure exerted by a whole panoply of Trotskyist sects, each trying to sell its own patented revolutionary recipe. In 1980, the Western trades unions (CFDT in France, AFL-CIO in the USA) hastened to contribute their logistic support to Solidarnosc, against the struggle of the Polish workers. Today, it is the Trotskyists who are rushing eastwards, with their good advice and their subsidies, to prevent the rebirth of a proletarian political milieu. For the moment, this rebirth can only concern a minority, faced with a multitude of expressions of a ruling ideology which is, by definition, omnipresent.
The question of a historical heritage
In their letters of the 15th March and 20th March 2000, the comrades took position on our polemic with the IBRP published in International Review n°100, on the class struggle in the countries ofle in the countries of the capitalist periphery, but above all they developed a series of official positions of the MLP's Southern Bureau.
The author of the two letters is explicit: “The other members of the SB of the MLP agree with the main positions of this commentary. You can therefore consider the above as our joint position” (20/03).
Let us explain first of all that the comrades were somewhat disconcerted by the polemic between the ICC and the IBRP, simply because they had not yet had the possibility of examining closely the fundamental positions of each organisation. This is why they had some difficulty in identifying the real disagreements, and saw them as mere squabbles, emphasising one aspect of reality rather than another, “since they are very often two sides of the same dialectical unity”, as they say. In the end, “You are all right”, depending on one's viewpoint. We think that experience and discussion will allow them to get a clearer view of what the proletarian camp has in common, and where the disagreements lie. The comrades write: “We think that the weakness of the Communist Left in Western Europe is this: instead of co-operating successfully as equals, either you ignore each other, or else you 'unmask' the others by 'pulling the blanket to youing the blanket to your side of the bed', as the Russians say (...) For us, the SB of the MLP, all the Left Communists, the 'statecapists' [ie those who recognise the state capitalist nature of the USSR], should work together as scientific collaborators in the same research institute!” (15/03).
We are not afraid of irony, which all the great revolutionaries enjoyed, for our purpose in putting forward the real positions of our adversaries is to show where they lead, and to defend firmly what we consider to be marxism's untouchable principles. Our attack is not directed at any particular person or group, but an opportunist approach or a theoretical error which we will pay for dearly tomorrow. This is why revolutionary intransigence never contradicts the need for solidarity among communists.
On the basis of this first impression, the comrades conclude that the whole Communist Left is weak, as a historic current. And it is above all this idea that we want to criticise. Seeing that the IBRP and the ICC disagree on the questions of imperialism and the decadence of capitalism, the comrades consider that this is an error of method, that it is not a matter of “either ... or”, but of “both ... and”. Indeed, the same reproach is often made of the communist left. It is obvious that we havevious that we have not adopted all the positions of the Communist Left as it began to emerge from the Communist International. By contrast, it has been wrongly accused of being anti-party, characterised by an activist impatience, a facile radicalism unable to make concessions, and leanings towards anarchism, leading in the end to a sterile purism which was unable to see questions other than in terms of black and white: one thing or the other. All the leading members of the Communist Left were profoundly marxist and deeply attached to the idea of the party. Their aim was precisely to defend the party against opportunism. This was the job at hand. “Comrade”, wrote Gorter in his Reply to comrade Lenin, “the formation of the Third International has by no means done away with opportunism in our own ranks. We can see it here and now in all the communist parties, in every country. Moreover, it would have been a miracle, and contrary to all the laws of development, if the disease of which the Second International died had not survived it inside the Third International!”. Bordiga took up the same idea: “It would be absurd, sterile, and extremely dangerous to claim that the party and the International are mysteriously safe from any relapse into opportunism or any tendency to return to it!” (Dn to it!” (Draft Theses of the Left, Congress of Lyon, 1926). This was a sign that it was necessary to work as a fraction, not simply as an opposition, which was to lead Trotsky's current to a dead-end, then to complete bankruptcy. The Left thereby asserted itself as the true heir to the marxist current in the history of the workers' movement. It returned to the task that Lenin had begun in 1903 against opportunism within the 2nd International, which had allowed the Bolsheviks to denounce both imperialist camps in 1914, to remain faithful to the principles of communism, and so allow the party to play its part to the full in the insurrection of October. It was a work for the party, not against the party. They had to fight to the end despite the exclusions, and all the barriers put in their way by the formal discipline of the leadership. This was the true spirit of Lenin, which inspired the left. In 1911, Lenin gave systematic expression to the notion of the fraction, using the experience that the Bolsheviks had gained since the formation of their fraction at the Geneva conference of 1904: “A fraction is an organisation within the party, which is united not by the workplace, nor by language or any other objective condition, but by a system of common conceptions on the problems posed to the party” (On the new fraction of conciliators, the virtuous). Revolutionary intransigence is absolutely not opposed to realism, it alone can really take account of the concrete situation. What could be more realistic than the Italian Left's rejection of Trotsky's position, that 1936 saw the opening of a new revolutionary period?
The fraction is central to the question of a historical heritage. It is the fraction that ensures the link between the old party and the new, provided that it is able to draw the lessons of the working class' experience, and translate them into a new enrichment of the programme. For example, revolutionaries had seen, since the First World War, that the role of the bourgeois parliament had been completely transformed. But it was the communist left which drew the consequences on the level of principles: the rejection of revolutionary parliamentarism and any participation in the elections of bourgeois democracy. It was the Italian Communist Left which worked out the role of the fraction in greatest depth:
- “The transformation of the fraction into a Party is conditioned by two elements which are intimately linked:
- The elaboration, by the fraction, of the new political positions capable of giving a solid framework to the proletariat's struggle for the revols struggle for the revolution in its new, more advanced phase (...)
- The overthrow of the class relationships within the present system (...) with the outbreak of revolutionary movements which will make it possible for the Fraction to take the leadership of the struggle with a view to the insurrection” (Bilan n°1).
The comrades of the MLP remind us that for dialectical materialism, the movement of reality is a complex phenomenon where a multitude of factors enter into motion. But they forget that the system of contradictions that produces reality opens at certain moments onto a clear-cut alternative. Then it is either one thing, or another, either socialism or barbarism, either a proletarian policy or a bourgeois policy. The centrist drift of the leadership of the International, from the slogan of “conquering the masses” onwards, lies entirely in the search for immediatist short-cuts which profoundly altered its class policy; both the councils and the unions, both the extra-parliamentary struggle and revolutionary parliamentarism, both internationalism and nationalism... And it was a disaster. Each political innovation was a step further into defeat. Far from strengthening the parties anning the parties and communist nuclei, the alliances with Social-Democracy did nothing but drain the forces which could only develop on the basis of a clearly communist programme. Lenin's book, Left-wing communism: an infantile disorder, symbolises this centrist turn. He set out to criticise what he considered the inevitable and passing errors of an authentically revolutionary current: “Obviously, the error represented by left doctrinairism in the workers' movement is, at the present moment, a thousand times less dangerous and less serious than the error represented by right doctrinairism...”. But he ends up mixing the positions of the Left with those of anarchism, while at the same time he raises the prestige of the right on the grounds that it still dominates large sections of the proletariat. That is centrism. And the right made extensive use of the authority thus conferred on it to isolate the Left.
Wage labour and world market, two fundamental characteristics of capitalism
The comrades write: “We consider that the 21st century will witness new battles for national independence. Despite capitalism's power (and even decadence, according to you), in the highly developed countries, capitalism in the backward countries continues to develop, to grow at its own pace, so to say. And this is not a question of principles, it's objective reality!” (15/03).
This is indeed an important point of disagreement within the proletarian political milieu. As the comrades know, we think that Lenin was mistaken when he answered Rosa Luxemburg: “National wars in the colonies and semi-colonies are not only likely, they are inevitable in the epoch of imperialism” (On the Junius pamphlet, October 1916). but it is important to insist that this does not lead the comrades to abandon proletarian internationalism, even if - in our opinion - it weakens it. Their concern is to define under what conditions the unity of the international proletariat is possible, not to hide behind Lenin to support one or other imperialist power as the leftists do.
“You have doubtless remarked how little Leninist we are. Nonetheless, we think that Lenin's position was the best on this question. Each nation (attention! Nation, not nationality or national or ethnic group, etc...) has a complete right to self-determination within the framework of its ethnico-historic territory, to the point of a separation and creation of an independent state (...) What interests marxists is the question of the proletariat's free disposal of its self-determination within this or that nation, in o or that nation, in other words the possibility to dispose freely of itself, if it exists already as class for itself, or else the possibility for the pre-proletarian elements to form themselves as a class within the framework of the new bourgeois national state. This is the case in Chechnya. Chechnya-Ingushetia was industrialised under the Soviet power, but more than 90% of the workers were of Russian origin; the Chechens were petty-bourgeois peasants, intellectuals, state functionaries etc. Let the new Chechen bourgeoisie create the national Chechen proletariat, let it begin to exploit its national proletariat, its peasants, its indigenous population (the Russian workers won't come back now to be decapitated by the nationalists), and then we'll see what will become of the 'solid unity of the Chechen nation'! The unity of Russian and Chechen proletarians will become an objective possibility then, and not before” (15/03).
Nonetheless, this position leads to a series of contradictions which the comrades fail to solve simply by declaring that “For us, the recognition of the objectivity of the national struggle does not mean to 'justify' it (and by the way, what does the term 'justify' mean?), or even to call for an alliance with fractions of the national bourgeoisie!” (20/03).
The whole problem is to know what is this objective reality that the comrades are talking about. In fact, it corresponds to a past epoch, the epoch of the formation of bourgeois nations against feudalism. Have the comrades really analysed the nationalist motivation of the Chechen bourgeoisie? If they had, then they would have realised that these national demands no longer have the same content as they did at a previous stage of social development. Rosa Luxemburg sums it up thus: “During the great revolution, the French bourgeoisie had the right to speak as the Third Estate in the name of the 'French people', and even the German bourgeoisie could consider itself, up to a certain point in 1848, as the representative of the German 'people' (...) In both cases, that meant that the revolutionary cause of the bourgeois class, at that stage of social development, coincided with that of the people as a whole, since the latter was still, in relation to the bourgeoisie, an undifferentiated mass opposed to feudal domination” (The national question and autonomy). What the comrades fail to see is that the stage of social development is not determined by the local Chechen situation, but by the social environment, the general situation. Caught up in the bloody game of imperialism, completely depe, completely dependent on the world market, Chechnya has long since shed the main characteristics of a feudal society.
According to the comrades, a progressive bourgeoisie exists in a certain number of countries: “because national capitalism continues to arise spontaneously from the traditional sectors, in conformity with the general laws of the development of peoples in the epoch of the second social super-formation, that of private property. There are three of these formations: the formation of the primitive community (n°1); then the formation of private property - including the slavery of antiquity, feudalism, and capitalism (n°2) - and finally the formation of an authentic communism (n°3). This is the triad according to Marx (see the drafts of his reply to Vera Zassoulitch, 1881). But there are few countries - and there will be fewer and fewer - where a self-developing national capitalism predominates. Where this does happen, the progressive bourgeoisie can come to power with the support of the people (including the workers, especially since they are at a pre-proletarian stage!). But all that is very temporary, since more and more depends on the world imperialist bourgeoisie, as the case of Afghanistan shows us (...) Capitalism can be compared to a wave in the 'sea' ave in the 'sea' of the second super-formation (see above) and not to a wave but to the process of waves! The second super-formation (Marx also called it 'economic') engenders these waves itself from within! But the limits, the boundaries of this 'sea' of the 'economic super-formation' are at the same time the limits of capitalism, they are the coast on which capitalism's undulation 'breaks'.
The essential characteristic of this 'sea' of the economic social formation (the second in the triad) is the law of value. But the 'wave process' begins, is excited by and receives its impetus from... the small owner-producer! He was, is, and will be the active agent of the law of value over the whole extent of the economic social formation (the 'second', that of private capital). This is why capitalism cannot destroy the small producer! And this is why state monopolism cannot be either complete or long-lasting. The wave will ebb! If the Left Communists had analysed things from this point of view, they would have avoided many problems, including in their own relationships! And the place and the role of the world social proletarian revolution would have been much more comprehensible” (20/03).
How are we to explain this perspective of n this perspective of a regression in state capitalism that the comrades defend? Every day confirms the tendency towards the management of the economy by a single collective capitalist, as Engels anticipated in his Anti-Dühring. Everywhere, it is the state that regulates the mergers of the great multinational corporations and imposes on them its orientations. Any state that abandoned such a control would immediately find itself in a position of weakness in the trade war. Their position is doubtless to be explained by the collapse of the USSR. In this case, the comrades are generalising from a specific situation. The USSR was marked by its economic weakness, and what collapsed was not state capitalism, but its most caricatural form, where the vast majority of the economy was nationalised. Direct state ownership of its enterprises is always a sign of weakness. In the most developed countries, state capitalism is just as real, but it is far more flexible since the state only has part ownership in some companies, or else satisfies itself with laying down the economic regulation which every company must obey.
One can understand why the comrades present state capitalism as a passing phenomenon, since for them it is the small independent producer who best symbolises private property and the law of value. It is true thatvalue. It is true that capitalism took off within a society characterised by private property and commodity exchange; indeed capitalism is its logical conclusion, its high point, when commodities are transformed into capital. It is also true that capitalism will never be able to eradicate completely the small producer. But it is equally true that the small producer is constantly under attack from competition. Today, when overproduction has become generalised and permanent, a part of the bourgeoisie is ejected into the petty-bourgeoisie, but at the same time innumerable small proprietors are ruined and become unemployed, or survive with a small business which is often at the limit of legality. The small producer is therefore not characteristic of capitalism, but rather a survival of pre-capitalist societies, or of the first stage of capitalism's development. In bourgeois mythology, the capitalist is always presented as a small producer who has become a big producer thanks to his own efforts. The small artisan of the Middle Ages has become the great industrialist. Historical reality is quite different. In decomposing feudalism, it was not the urban artisans who emerged as the capitalist class, but rather the merchants. Moreover, the first proletarians were often none other than these same artisans subjected to the formal domination of capitmination of capital. The comrades forget that before being a producer, the capitalist is first and foremost a merchant, a trader. He is a merchant who trades mainly in labour power.
It seems that the comrades have drawn their inspiration from a passage in Left-wing communism, an infantile disorder. Lenin explains that the bourgeoisie's power “lies, not only in the strength of international capital, the strength and durability of their international connections, but also in the force of habit, in the strength of small-scale production. Unfortunately, small-scale production is still widespread in the world, and small-scale production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale” (published on https://www.marxists.org). Let us remember the context. We are in 1920, and since 1918 a controversy has been developing within the Bolshevik party between Lenin and the Left Communists who published the paper Kommunist. The Left's leading figure, Bukharin, soon rejoined the majority of the party, after finding himself in the minority over the Brest-Litovsk treaty. But the group continued the controversy over the question of state uestion of state capitalism, which Lenin presented as a stage on the way to socialism, and therefore to a step forward. It is true that the victorious proletariat was confronted not just with the fury of the old ruling classes, but also with the dead weight of the vast peasant masses, who had their own reasons for resisting any further advance of the revolutionary process. But these social strata weighed on the proletariat above all through the state which, with its natural tendency to defend the social status quo, tended to become an autonomous power in its own right. All the revolutionaries knew that isolation would be fatal to the Russian revolution. The problem was whether bourgeois power would be re-established through a military victory of the White armies, or under the enormous pressure of the petty-bourgeoisie. From this standpoint, the party was unable to see the process that was to lead to a rebirth of the Russian bourgeoisie through the formation of a state bureaucracy. The Left's criticisms contained many weaknesses (how indeed could it be otherwise in the heat of events?), and Lenin often rightly put his finger on them. But the Communist Left demonstrated its full strength when it denounced the danger of state capitalism. We find the same approach later on, in the German Left which was the first to analyse Stalinist Ruyse Stalinist Russia as state capitalist. In the passage quoted above, Lenin expresses profound confusions on capitalism's nature, which were already present in his 1916 pamphlet Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. On this point as on others, today it is possible to synthesise the contributions of all the Communist Left, despite its diversity and sometimes contradictory positions, because it remained fundamentally faithful to the marxist method and communist principles: “State capitalism is not an organic step towards socialism. In fact it represents capitalism’s last form of defence against the collapse of its system and the emergence of communism. The communist revolution is the dialectical negation of state capitalism” (International Review n°99).
In our opinion, it is a mistake to present the small independent producer as the agent of the law of value. More generally, it is not the capitalists who make capitalism, but the reverse: capitalism engenders capitalists. Applying this marxist approach to Russia, we can understand why “the state did not function as we intended”, to use Lenin's words. The power that imposed its direction on the Russian state was far greater than the NEP-men, or private capitalism, or small property: it was the vast impersonal power of wimpersonal power of world capital which inexorably determined the course of the Russian economy and the Soviet state. If the comrades have difficulty in grasping the fundamental nature of capitalism, or of state capitalism as an expression of a decadent system, it is doubtless also because they are looking at things in the very long term, at the same level as Marx in his letter to Vera Zassoulitch when he divides humanity's history into three periods: the archaic social formation (primitive communism), the secondary social formation (class society), and modern communism, which re-establishes collective production and appropriation at a higher level. For Marx, the examples of primitive societies were one more proof that the family, private property, and the state are not inherent to human nature. These texts are also a denunciation of a fatalistic interpretation of economic evolution, and of the bourgeois vision of a linear progress, without contradictions. But if we remain on this terrain, then it becomes impossible to examine precisely what is specific about capitalism, and above all to see that capitalism itself has a history, that it changes from being a progressive system to become a serious barrier to the development of the productive forces. Not that the foundations of such an analysis are not already present in the Communist Manifesto, as in other texts by Marx. After the Paris Commune and the end of the great national struggles of the 19th century, Marx was able to see that the bourgeoisie in the major capitalist countries no longer played a revolutionary role on the historical stage, even if capitalism still had a vast field of expansion before it. A new period, of colonial conquest and imperialism, was opening up. This approach made it possible for marxism to anticipate historical evolution, and to foresee capitalism's entry into its period of decadence. This is very clear in this passage in the second draft: “The capitalist system is past its apogee in the West, approaching the point where it will no longer be anything but a regressive social system” (quoted in Tedor Shanin, Late Marx and the Russian road, January 1985)
Marx's reflections on the Russian rural commune were to be travestied by certain leftists. The American Shanin, for example, sees them as the proof that socialism could be achieved through peasant revolutions on capitalism's periphery. Without sharing his admiration for Ho Chi Minh and Mao, Raya Dunayevskaya and the News and Letters group have taken the same approach. They consider that the Marx of the 1880s is looking for a new revolutionary subject, other than the workinother than the working class. A part of leftism thus presents the working class as one revolutionary subject amongst others: primitive tribes, women, gays, blacks, youth, the peoples of the “Third World”.
October 1917, a product of the world situation
Such aberrations have nothing in common with the ideas of the Russian comrades. But as we will see, their defence of the possibility of national wars today leads them to an original analysis of the October 1917 revolution.
“As for ourselves [the SB of the MLP], we think that history has already refuted this cornerstone Leninist conception of the 'weak link'! But attention, in a very original manner: it has sown that it was possible to break 'the chain of imperialism' and even to 'build socialism' in backward countries (or 'retarded' as you call them, although I would make a distinction here: socialism began to be 'built' not only in capitalistically retarded countries, in Russia for example, but also in Mongolia, Vietnam, etc, which are really backward). And we see: yes, it is possible to break the chain, to make a 'socialist revolution', it is even possible to build socialism in separate countries and to set it up (in other words, 'finish building it')... But! But all this does not in any way lead to communism! Never and in no way>! Never and in no way [in English in the original]! Why, from a theoretical point of view, were the Bolsheviks able to take this path, why were they able to deceive themselves and many others, including the Left Communists? The cause of all that lies in... just one word (and the question, the problem is not my subjectivism: under this word is hidden a whole incorrect, fundamentally anti-marxist conception!), this word (this 'order' of the day!) is 'the socialist revolution'! When Marx, and above all Engels, accepted such a travesty of the concept of 'the social revolution of the proletariat', of the world communist revolution! As for the 'socialist revolution', it ends sooner or later in 'building socialism', and then it turns out that this 'socialism', whether 'state' or 'market' or 'national', etc, in reality does not break with capitalism!” (15/03).
“Where the exogenous capitalist sector exists, the progressive bourgeoisie plays a role and has an influence inversely proportional to the sector's degree of maturity: the bourgeoisie of the imported capitalist sector weighs on the progressive national bourgeoisie and corrupts it, without speaking of the world (transnational) imperialist bourgeoisie. These two sectors were present in Russia at the beginning oia at the beginning of the 20th century, and Russian marxism was the expression of relationships within the exogenous capitalist sector. But then the Bolsheviks decided to speak for all the exploited: in the sector of imported developed capitalism, in that of national capitalism (and even in the agricultural sector with its surviving rural community). And so, they became 'social-jacobins' and proclaimed the 'socialist revolution'” (20/03).
“You deal with the problem of the objective and the subjective in the world proletarian revolution, and this is correct. But why do you not have the slightest doubt that 'objectively the revolution has been possible since the world imperialist war of 1914', etc? Did not Marx and Engles also, in their time, think that 'the revolution was objectively possible'? Remember the categories of the dialectic: possibility and reality, necessity and eventuality! As we know, it is necessary to distinguish abstract (formal) from practical (concrete) possibility. Abstract possibility is characterised by the absence of the main obstacles to the object's becoming, nonetheless not all the necessary conditions are present for its realisation. Practical possibility possesses all the conditions necese conditions necessary for its realisation: latent in reality, it becomes a new reality under certain conditions. The change in these conditions as a whole determine the transition from abstract to practical possibility, and this latter is transformed into reality. The numerical measure of the possibility is expressed in the notion of probability. Necessity, as we know, is the mode of (the) transformation of possibility into reality, for which there is only one possibility in a certain object, that which is transformed into reality. And, on the contrary, eventuality is the mode of (the) transformation of possibility into a reality for which there are several different possibilities within a certain object (under certain circumstances, of course), which can be transformed into reality, but only one of which will actually be realised” (15/03).
We do not understand why we should say that the construction of socialism in one country is both possible and impossible because it does not break in any way with capitalism. We prefer to stick to the assertion that socialism in one country was a mystification which had no relationship with reality, a weapon of the counter-revolution. What the comrades seem to be saying is that at some point the Bolsheviks ceased to defend the interests of the proletariat. That the proletariat. That was indeed the Stalinist counter-revolution. The whole difficulty of the problem, which many revolutionaries have struggled with since the 1930s, is that the counter-revolution only comes at the end of a whole process of degeneration and opportunist drift. In such a long, and sometimes imperceptible process, we have in some sense a transformation of quantity into quality. What was at first no more than a problem within the workers' movement has become the bourgeois counter-revolution. But the break in the nature of the Soviet regime is no less clear for all that: it takes place through Stalin's elimination of the Bolshevik old guard, the replacement of the perspective of world revolution by the defence of Russian national capital. The weakening of the power of the workers' councils, and of a Bolshevik party undermined by opportunism, followed parallel paths until the establishment of the power of the Russian state bourgeoisie. The memory of the real movement of class confrontations at the end of the 1920s in Russia arms us not only against bourgeois propaganda, but also against any weakening of revolutionary theory such that it might see a continuity, whether objective or subjective, between Lenin and Stalin.
The comrades end up with just such a weakening when they lose sight of the Stalinist counter-revolutiinist counter-revolution, and introduce the idea that “ the Bolsheviks decided to speak for all the exploited”. When and why such a decision? Do the terms “all the exploited” mean all the workers, in other words several classes including non-exploiting classes like the peasantry and the rest of the petty bourgeoisie, which are exploited classes under capitalism, as well as the proletariat? If that is the case, then they are accepting as a reality the talk of Stalin, and Mao in particular, on the “bloc of four classes”. At all events, we cannot follow them in their assertion that Marx and Engels accepted (?) the concept of a socialist revolution which “does not break in reality with capitalism”. It is true that some of Marx and Engels' formulations can lead to a confusion between the nationalisation of capitalism and socialism. This is readily understood, at an epoch when the proletariat could still, under certain circumstances, support the progressive bourgeoisie against the remnants of feudalism. Consciousness and programme are the result of a constant battle against the ideology of the ruling class. When revolutionaries sharpen, make more precise, the letter of the programme, they thus remain, and must remain, faithful to the spirit of the previous generation of marxists. Thation of marxists. The definitive correction of the surviving “state capitalist” errors in marxist doctrine was made possible by the experience of the 1917 Russian revolution. But its premises are already present in Marx, through his definition of capital as a social relationship, and of capitalism as a system founded on wage labour, the extraction and realisation of surplus value. Seen like this, the transformation of individual capital property into collective state property in no way changes the nature of society. Moreover, the germ of their critique of the progressive nature of collective state property is already contained in Marx and Engels' struggle against Lassalle's state socialism, which wanted the workers to use the state against the capitalists, and against the Liebknecht/Bebel current within the German social-democracy, who allowed Lassallean formulations to pass through into the Gotha programme.
We might summarise the comrades' thinking as follows. Bolshevism was at first a marxist current expressing the interests of the proletariat in the framework of developed capitalist relationships. But these were foreign in origin, while there existed within Russia a less developed young capitalism which needed an anti-feudal revolution. Thus, the Bolsheviks did not succumb to the Stalinist counter-revolution: they haer-revolution: they had already succumbed to the charm of national capital, and had decided to become “social-jacobins”. Here we see the difference between their vision and that of councilism. For the latter, the Russian revolution could only end in state capitalism, and the Bolsheviks were a reflection of this destiny from the outset. This discovery came late, since it dates from the 1930s when Pannekoek, who by this time had become a councilist, managed the tour de force of revealing Bolshevism's original sin in Lenin's book Materialism and empirio-criticism, written in 1908: “He is clearly and exclusively in the image of the Russian revolution, for which he exerted all his strength. This book is so far in conformity with bourgeois materialism that, had it been known and correctly interpreted in Western Europe... it would have been possible to foresee that in one way or another the Russian revolution could only finish in a kind of capitalism founded on the workers' struggle” (Lenin as philosopher).
The marxist method is based on the concept of the whole, whence it “rises” to comprehend more concrete situations. By starting from the small independent producer, or from a local situation, the comrades are moving away from the marxist method and end up by mistaking a few vesti mistaking a few vestiges of feudalism for a general characteristic. It is useful to remember that in 1917, Russia was the world's fifth industrial power and inasmuch as capitalism's development had largely by-passed the development of artisan production and manufacture, Russian capitalism had already adopted the most modern and concentrated forms: the Putilov factory for example, with more than 40,000 workers, was the world's largest. It is this tendency which gives the key to the situation in Russia, not the opposition between an exogenous and an endogenous capitalism. The development of economic relationships had arrived at a point which had nothing in common with the epoch of the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. “Since the Crimean war, and its modernisation through reform, the Russian state apparatus survives largely thanks to foreign, mostly French, capital (...) For the last two decades, French capital has served essentially two aims: railway construction thanks to state guarantees, and military spending. To meet these two needs, a powerful large-scale industry has been born in Russia since the 1870s, sheltered by a system of reinforced customs duties. French capital has given rise in Russia to a young capitalism which in turn needs to be constantly supported by substantial imports of machines and other means of production from the leading industrial nations, Britain and Germany” (Rosa Luxemburg, Introduction to political economy). The example of Poland is equally significant. “The great majority of the Polish bourgeoisie is foreign in origin (it settled in Poland at the beginning of the 19th century), and has always been hostile to the idea of national independence. All the more so in that during the 1820s and 30s, Polish industry was focused on exports, even before the creation of a domestic market. The kingdom's bourgeoisie, instead of seeking a national reunification with Galicia and the Principality, always looked to the East for support, since the massive export of textiles to Russia was the foundation of Polish capitalism's growth” (Rosa Luxemburg: The national question and autonomy). The formation of the world market is a major feature of the capitalist mode of production, it is this process that destroys pre-capitalist relationships. It is this dynamic process that creates the conditions for the unity of the international proletariat, not the autonomous development of a national capital. The 1905 revolution gave the first practical demonstration of this process. By contrast, the slogan of the “right of peoples to self-determinationelf-determination”, which the Bolsheviks tragically supported, has only reinforced the division of the proletariat. Has this not been confirmed in practice during the 1920s?
The decadence of a social formation
Neither the Bolsheviks, nor any modern bourgeoisie, can be compared with the Jacobins. The end of the formation of the world market, and the crisis of overproduction, have eliminated the possibility of any real development. The Chechen bourgeoisie will never create a national proletariat. Where would it find an outlet for its commodities? Only the proletarian revolution can lay the foundations for an industrialisation of the backward countries. The Communist Manifesto describes very well how the bourgeoisie creates a world in its own image, by exporting cheap commodities and expanding its commercial relationships. But it reaches its limits long before industrialising the whole planet. Marx and Engels had already shown how the insoluble contradictions springing from the relations of wage labour could only lead capitalism to its decadence. Charles Fourier's penetrating critique had already sketched an outline of this idea: “Fourier, as we see, uses the dialectic method in the same masterly way as his contemporary, Hegel. Using these same dialectics, he argues against the talk about illimitable hbout illimitable human perfectibility, that every historical phase has its period of ascent and also its period of descent, and he applies this observation to the future of the whole human race” (https://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877-ad/p3.htm#c1). Marx explains this phenomenon. At a certain moment in capitalism's development, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall can no longer be compensated by an increase in the mass of surplus value, due to the saturation of the world market. “Now, [the capitalist] has all the more need to find outlets in that his production has increased. Indeed, the more powerful and costly means of production that he has set in motion allow him to sell his commodities more cheaply, but they also force him to sell more, to conquer an incomparably greater market for his commodities (...) Finally, in the same measure in which the capitalists are compelled, by the movement described above, to exploit the already existing gigantic means of production on an ever-increasing scale, and for this purpose to set in motion all the mainsprings of credit, in the same measure do they increase the industrial earthquakes, in the midst of which the commercial world can preserve itself only by sacrificing a portion of its wealth, its products, and even its forces of production, to the gods of the lowe gods of the lower world -- in short, the crises increase. They become more frequent and more violent, if for no other reason, than for this alone, that in the same measure in which the mass of products grows, and there the needs for extensive markets, in the same measure does the world market shrink ever more, and ever fewer markets remain to be exploited, since every previous crisis has subjected to the commerce of the world a hitherto unconquered or but superficially exploited market” (Marx, Wage labour and capital, https://www.marxists.org). It remained for the Left Fractions, with Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg in the lead, to show how the outbreak of the first imperialist world war was the sign that capitalism had entered into its declining phase. The communist revolution was no longer only necessary, it had at last become possible.
At the end of this first response to the comrades of the MLP, while we regret that we have been unable to translate their texts[iii] from the Russian, we call for the development of the debate and reflection.
We hope that the discussion, and mutual criticism, will continue. But we also urge that this debate should not be limited to ourselves: it should be opened to include be opened to include other comrades in Russia, as well as to the other groups of the proletarian political milieu throughout the world.
iSince May 1968, the term “leftism” has passed into common usage to describe, not the oppositions within the Communist International which Lenin criticised fraternally and which were expressions of the Communist Left, but all those extra-parliamentary currents which, like the Trotskyists and the Maoists (here we should distinguish the “Maoists” of the western countries which we describe as “leftists” from Mao himself who, in theorising a sort of “peasant national communism” never had anything to do with the workers' movement. His was more an “oriental” version of Stalinism), betrayed internationalism, and critically supported the parties of the bourgeois left (socialists and Stalinists) and the unions. It is therefore a term to describe a political tendency which belongs clearly to the bourgeoisie's political apparatus.
iiThis correspondence was originally written in French. The translations are ours, and we have of course done our best not to distort the comrades' meaning, as we understand it.
iiiMost of the texts that we possess, in English or in French, are letters.