Where We Stand: An Alternative Statement of Revolutionary Socialism (40 Theses)
From New Interventions, Vol.3 No.2,1992
Capitalism and the Class Struggle
2. Today the developments in the world economy and the collapse of the "communist" states in the East are leading to new regional rivalries, renewed tensions and conflicts. The peoples of Eastern Europe expected western standards of living to go with the moves towards the market. However, a lack of capital to invest will lead to backward societies under the domination of the West. Western prices without western wages, and semi-Bonapartist regimes rather than the democracy promised, will fuel the class struggle. In the "third world" the formal independence of most former colonies has seen continued class struggle and the growth of new labour movements with immense potential.
Capitalist Development and Marxism
4. The Lenin school originated from the ranks of the Second International and attempted to break from it. Whilst a complete organisational break was achieved, politically it was less thorough. Although peaceful evolutionary socialism was fiercely criticised, the Third International inherited from its predecessor a view that capitalism was a system of permanent and terminal crisis – it would be incapable of further growth, as imperialism was its last or "highest stage". This was the basis for the characterisation of the epoch as one of "wars and revolutions". Whilst the epoch undoubtedly contained wars and revolutions, it also contained times of relative stability and reduced social tensions. The Third International confused its evaluation of the epoch with the different periods within it. The Communists became disorientated when the wave of revolutionary struggle ebbed after 1920, whilst the Trotskyist Fourth International was similarly stranded when the Second World War did not lead to absolute slump – instead the foundation for capitalism's greatest years of expansion was laid.
5. Capitalism has not led to immiserisation for the mass of the working class in the developed world, as had been expected by Marx. It has continued to develop the productive forces in the present "epoch".
6. In the "third world", industrialisation has taken place in countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and India. Partial democratisation has taken place in many of the old colonial countries too. The schematic theory of Trotsky's Permanent Revolution has been proven inadequate in this respect, as it ruled out industrial progress under capitalism and rejected the possibility of democratic aims, land reform, political democracy and national independence being achieved short of socialist revolution in the colonies.
7. The capitalist quest for profit cannot avoid crises, as it is afflicted by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, class conflict and capitalist rivalry. However, it is not a system of perpetual crisis and is unlikely to collapse (short of global nuclear war) without the conscious act of a revolutionary working class.
9. Lenin took over the Kautskyite conception of class consciousness, arguing that the proletariat could not by itself rise above trade union, or bourgeois, consciousness – only a highly disciplined Party could be a protector of revolutionary consciousness. However, the Bolshevik structures intended as barriers to economism and opportunism were also sectarian barriers to the movements of the masses and the changes in their consciousness. The clearest examples are the initially conservative responses of the Bolsheviks to Soviets and the revolutions of 1905 and February 1917. Bolshevism had tendencies of being separated from the working class, or, in Lenin's words, "Jacobins attached to the proletariat". In stead a revolutionary leadership must be forged from amongst the most militant and conscious workers, engaging them and the rest of the class in a continual dialogue. It should not be a separate bearer of a different (revolutionary) consciousness into the working class; rather it must aim to raise the existing consciousness of the class.
10. For Marxists class consciousness does not develop automatically. Trotskyism, for example, fell down partly because of a false analysis and perspective for the Stalinist USSR (which 1991 has just passed a final judgement on). The workers did not move to support Trotsky's opposition or engage in a political revolution because despite their numerical growth after industrialisation they had been exhausted as a class by the civil war, become atomised and had to learn from the beginning again. Their consciousness did not automatically respond to "revolutionary" promptings.
11. The consciousness of the proletariat is a key objective factor in revolutionary polities. As Marx and Engels wrote: "If these material elements of a complete revolution are not present (namely, on the one hand the existing productive forces, on the other the formation of a revolutionary mass, which revolts not only against separate conditions of society up till then, but against the very 'production of life' till then, the 'total activity' on which it was based), then, as far as practical development is concerned, it is absolutely immaterial whether the idea of this revolution has been expressed a hundred times already, as the history of communism proves" (K. Marx and F. Engels, The German IdeoIogy). However, for Trotskyism, consciousness was not an objective factor: "The subjective conditions – the consciousness of the masses, the growth of the revolutionary party – are not a fundamental factor" (L. Trotsky, "A Summary of Transitional Demands"). This undermined Trotsky's perspectives and partly explains the failure of him and his current to develop strategies for working class power in the advanced countries.
12. Marxists see the crisis of humanity as reducible, not to any "crisis of leadership", but to the failure of the proletariat to develop, in Marx's words, from a class "in itself" to one consciously striving "for itself". Marxists thus oppose all non-proletarian ideologies such as nationalism, feminism, and all forms of cross-class popular frontism which hinder the working class from developing its own class independence.
The Russian Revolution
The October Revolution was a genuine workers' revolution carried out in the name of the Soviets, the workers' councils, and led by the Bolshevik Party. But the Bolshevik Party of 1917 was quite different to the Bolshevik faction prior to 1917, or to the Russian Communist Party afterwards, or to the innumerable attempts to copy it that have been made throughout the world. The Bolshevik Party in 1917 was taken over by the workers, they joined it en masse and transformed it. Workers came to the Bolshevik Party not because of some pedantic split over rules at the 1903 Congress or because it was truly revolutionary – in February 1917 the Bolshevik Party was not. The workers came over to the Bolsheviks because they were the only ones prepared to act to end the war and promise land and bread. Trotsky's Inter-District Group joined the Bolsheviks at this time, seeing the Party's new mass membership "de-Bolshevising" it.
14. The Bolsheviks' party concept was based on the Party being the guardian of revolutionary consciousness. It was at best distrustful and at worst hostile to any other views in the workers' movement. Not only bourgeois parties but other workers' parties were banned if they opposed the government. After the Left SRs resigned from the government, over the Brest-Litovsk peace, they too were banned and the Bolsheviks became the only legal party. This rendered workers' democracy and the elections to the Soviets meaningless. By 1919 the Soviets were becoming bureaucratised and a rubber stamp for the ruling party. The excesses of the Bolsheviks' Cheka are often excused in the revolutionary movement by the desperate fight for survival in the civil war. However, whilst an internal security force of sorts was necessary, it could and should have been accountable to the class in whose name it acted. The Cheka was not. The ban on factions in 1921 took place after most of the civil war dangers were over and helped to kill off any chance of real dialogue between the Party and the class, preventing as it did the organisation of opposition to the leadership.
The problem was not just the civil war, but the whole Bolshevik concept of Party and dictatorship, which was not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but over the proletariat, by a vanguard defined by possession of a party card. It was the dictatorship of a party, not the class.
15. Trotsky played a full part in this dictatorship. His opposition from 1923 kept firmly to Lenin's party concept by not reaching out to the class and just concentrating on winning arguments in the Party apparatus. The Joint Opposition of 1927 defined "workers' democracy" as "mean[ing] freedom of open discussion by all Party members". But what democracy did workers outside of the Party have? The struggle between Stalin and Trotsky was not one between representatives of the bureaucracy and of the revolutionary proletariat, but between two bureaucratic tendencies. When Stalin introduced his industrialisalion policy from 1929, a large number of Left Oppositionists went over to him, so raising doubts about their real commitment to workers' democracy.
16. The working class began to lose power in Russia one year after the October Revolution as soviet democracy withered away. It had lost it completely by the suppression of the Kronstadt revolt in 1921, which, amongst other things, called for a return to soviet democracy and an end to the ban on factions. Bureaucratic rule predated Stalin. As Rosa Luxemburg had identified in her pamphlet on the Russian Revolution – Bolshevism led to bureaucratic rule.
17. The "socialist" USSR and its replicas that were created in China, Eastern Europe, etc., are best described as transitional systems – in between capitalism and socialism. The abolition of bourgeois rule, the introduction of nationalised property and planning (albeit bureaucratic) provided a basis for further moves towards genuine socialism. They were, therefore, progressive compared to the old capitalist orders. However, they were not workers' states (either degenerated, or of any other type) and did not constitute the dictatorship of the proletariat, but rather bureaucratic transitional systems with a dictatorship over the proletariat. Characterising statised economies as workers' states has led some "Marxists" to view backward right-wing capitalist regimes such as Syria and Burma as workers' states. In the Fourth International some seeds of "Pabloism" were sown with the workers' state position – if Stalinism (and third world nationalism) could create a workers' state, why not social democracy too?
The consequences of this view were immense, and live with us today. The Comintern's view of a traitorous labour aristocracy shifted its emphasis from the political to the organisational plane. Separate organisations, Communist Parties, would be created independent of the traitors and the twenty-one conditions of admission to the Comintern were introduced to separate out "centrist" elements on organisational grounds, e.g. demanding commitment to centralised and disciplined party regimes. The Comintern's failure to comprehend the wider roots of reformism, and its inability to appreciate the hold of reformist or openly bourgeois consciousness over all except the most militant workers, accounts for the failure of any of the Communist Parties to repeat the Bolsheviks' success of leading a socialist revolution. The Bolsheviks failed to understand reformism and the differences between Russia and the more socioeconomically and politically developed societies further west. The Third International could not develop a political method, strategy and tactics for revolution largely as a consequence of this.
19. The Bolsheviks set up the Third International after they had proclaimed the Second "dead". Yet the Second recovered after the Great War and remained the largest force in the international labour movement. The sectarianism of the Bolsheviks led them to oppose the Vienna Union, an international current of mass organisations which were moving away from reformism. Instead of joining with this force and fighting for their politics inside it, the Bolsheviks proclaimed their own International. This was dominated from the start by Moscow, which was why its formation was opposed by Rosa Luxemburg, who knew it would be a "Russian Shop". Communists who challenged Lenin et al in Moscow were marginalised or expelled, witness the case of Paul Levi.
20. The early congresses of the Third International were taken up with lofty proclamations of itself and denunciations of all others. The Trotskyists claim to stand by the first four congresses. However, there is very little of value to be found there. Revolutionary method, strategy and tactics, e.g. the workers' government, were never fully developed, as they were opposed by sectarians such as the Comintern President Zinoviev. When such work was developed elsewhere, for example by Levi, Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer in the KPD, it was not integrated into the work of the Comintern as a whole.
Militant workers rallied to the Comintern in many countries, inspired by the October Revolution and the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, but what the Comintern actually constituted was often the organisational method of Zinoviev with the political method of Bela Kun.
If the Bolsheviks' party concept, combined with the material conditions in Russia after 1917, led to the bureaucratic degeneration of the Revolution, then the Comintern spread the Bolsheviks' party concept internationally and the degeneration turned it into a tool of Moscow's foreign policy.
21. If the Comintern made an inadequate break from the Second International, that of the International Left Opposition/Fourth International (Fl) from the Third was even worse. Trotsky abandoned his pre-1917 criticisms of Bolshevism and henceforth became a super-Leninist – probably because of his factional dispute with the Triumvirate over who was the rightful heir to Lenin. Many of the weaknesses of the Third were carried over directly into the Fourth.
Trotsky revered the early Comintern and so failed to regroup with revolutionary forces who had been critical of it. Instead he blocked with Zinoviev, who had been the leader of bureaucratic methods in the Comintern. His factional battle with Stalin was an inter-bureaucratic one. Of great importance was Trotsky's proclamation of his faction as a left opposition. This schematic view encouraged his tendency to attract sectarians from the left wing of the Communist Parties when often the best elements were in the "centre" or "right wing". Trotsky's international current built itself around issues in the Russian faction fight – Soviet domestic policy, the character of the Chinese revolution and the Anglo-Russian trade union committee. But who was "left wing" on these questions was not necessarily the most revolutionary in their own class struggles.
22. The final feature of Trotskyisrn came with its dismissal of the Comintern as "dead" after Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Henceforth Trotsky tried to build a cadre outside of the mass organisations of the labour movement. His current tended to attract sectarian and/or petty bourgeois elements who often considered themselves experts on every class struggle in the world, but were incapable of relating to the one in their own country. Trotskyism was beset by squabbling cliques, splits and an inability to relate to the mass movements from the very start.
Trotskyism post-Trotsky, after 1940, is only a history of more of the same, except to say that without the "Old Man" it became incapable of any change, as its cult leader was dead. It became a crystallised tendency which can be characterised as bureaucratic centrism of a generally ultra-left type.
23. There are no finished alternatives that the revolutionaries of today can or should adopt. However, much can be learned from the different view of those in the Luxemburg tradition. They saw the International as a grouping of equal and independent parties who determined their own strategy and tactics based on their own experiences in their own class struggle, whereas Lenin, Trotsky et al saw the International as one world party whose sections always followed the same policies. Whilst Trotsky's concept of the International based on Russian fractional issues attracted intellectual elements interested in the questions raised but incapable of building anything in their own class struggle, the KPD "right" around Brandler was overwhelmingly proletarian, with militants experienced in leading workers.
Whilst opposing the Gramsci cult built by the Italian Stalinists to justify their rightwards move towards Euro-communism and the "historic compromise" with Italian bourgeois parties, revolutionaries need to evaluate Antonio Gramsci's writings which were influenced by his own experience in leading the Turin workers and, with his theories of "war of position" and "war of manoeuvre", provide an alternative look at revolutionary strategy.
24. Today no revolutionary workers' International exists, nor can one be built. "Marxism" has degenerated and stagnated, needing a new development. Perhaps the recent events in the East may provide the impetus, or the new moves to European integration. Even then there will only be the basis for an International after great events move the working class to ask for one. In the meantime an international revolutionary tendency, learning lessons from the past and turning its militants towards the mass workers' movement, should be the Marxists' aim.
If Stalinism is a bureaucratic tendency in the workers' movement resting on post-capitalist property relations, then reformism is a pro-capitalist tendency in the workers' movement resting on the labour movement, especially the trade unions, and committed to working in the democratic capitalist system. Like Stalinism, social democracy is against the genuine rule of the working class and opposed to real socialism. It is a counter-revolutionary force.
26. Whilst reformism rests on an accommodation with capitalism, this is not its only basis of support. Leninism saw social democracy as resting on a privileged layer of workers bribed by the super-profits of imperialism. Yet reformist consciousness exists throughout the working class, not just among a "labour aristocracy". Workers will naturally look to improvements in their conditions of life, but will not look to revolutionary means to achieve them unless their own experience of events leads them to draw such conclusions. Historical experience shows Marxists that even successful reforms may only be temporary under capitalism, as they can be reversed if the bourgeoisie decides it can no longer afford them.
However, different generations of workers need to appreciate this and overcome the illusions spread by bourgeois and reformist politicians of a peaceful evolution of society and class peace. With the discrediting of the Russian Revolution in the eyes of many workers after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, large numbers of socialist workers will draw the conclusion that revolution of any sort is discredited. This, together with the collapse of official "Communism" into social democracy will strengthen the hold of reformism over the international workers' movement.
27. Social democracy is a contradictory phenomenon – it allies with one class (the bourgeoisie) whilst resting on another (the proletariat). Whilst this contradiction lasts social democracy will be unstable. Even in times of economic growth the contradictions exist and express themselves in conflicts about the division of wealth in society, whilst economic crisis heightens the contradiction.
The inherent instability in social democracy has led some reformists to attempt a resolution of the problem by distancing themselves from the proletariat. In Britain this has taken the form of attempts to reduce the role of the trade unions in the Labour Party and to move towards a party based on individuals rather than collective class interests. In Spain the PSOE under Felipe Gonzalez has openly ditched socialism in favour of bourgeois politics. Similar tendencies are taking place elsewhere in social democracy. With the collapse of "Marxism" in the Stalinist states, "ideology" is discredited and this has encouraged social democracy to move even further towards bourgeois policies and solutions. The collapse of "communism" also leaves the social democracies free to move to the right without the threat of losing supporters to their old left-wing rival.
Despite these tendencies, social democracy remains a proletarian current. If the tendency becomes permanent (it achieves its aim of distancing itself from labour) then the social democratic parties will become little more than liberal parties like the US Democrats. This is yet to be achieved, however, and a renewed orientation to the working class can still take place.
28. Whilst the leaderships of the social democracies long ago abandoned any pretence of socialism, the left wing of these parties remains subjectively socialist. However, the left wing of social democracy is still committed to reforms within capitalism until some indefinite future when socialism might arrive. Thus, the left reformists limit their policies to capitalist limits and have no means of bridging the gap between the consciousness of workers and a socialist consciousness. The latter in fact is not even attempted by the left reformists as they are opposed to the self-emancipation of the working class. Left reformists say "leave it to us, we will do it all for you". This role has attracted petty bourgeois elements to perform its tasks from the old Fabians down to the do-gooding missionaries who have pushed out workers from many Labour Party branches in Britain.
29. Revolutionary Marxists are fundamentally opposed to the policies and methods of reformism, right or left. In the place of a party run by a bureaucracy with passive members committed to working within capitalism, a revolutionary party is needed, dedicated to helping the proletariat to overthrow capitalism The exact route to the building of a revolutionary movement and a socialist transformation of society will vary from country to country; however, nowhere has a workers' party been built by recruitment of ones and twos. The building of a socialist party must accompany the political evolution of whole sectors of workers. Workers naturally look to improve their existing organisations when they prove inadequate only the impatient petty bourgeois abandon them. To connect with this Marxists should direct policies an tactics towards the transformation of the established workers' parties so as to connect to the existing consciousness of the class. However, whether such transformations into real socialist parties are possible or whether splits will occur which can develop new revolutionary parties, is destined to be decided by the course of the class struggle, for which there is no blueprint or magic schema.
The Workers' United Front
The "united front from below" is not a united front at all – the rank and file of the mass movements will only respond to appeals to their leaderships.
Faced with popular frontist cross-class alliances the Marxists fight for the expulsion of the bourgeois components from its ranks, rather than a boycott of the front, though this may vary depending on the significance and role of the alliance itself.
Marxists reject the view that the united front is a tactic or a manoeuvre. The underlying principle of the united front is a strategy, although its exact application is a tactical question.
Working Class Politics
Marxists acknowledge the truth of Lenin's statement that "he who has the youth has the future", and seek to encourage the militancy of youth to develop in a revolutionary direction.
Marxists need to consider the extra burdens faced by women workers, minority workers and working class youth in the development of revolutionary programmes. However, the main orientation of Marxists is towards organised labour and especially towards those layers whose position provides them not only with the possibility of developing a militant class consciousness but also with the material strength to overthrow capitalism.
Marxists defend post-capitalist transitional systems and backward countries against imperialist attacks.
The Right of Nations to Self-determination
It is especially the duty of the Marxists in the oppressor country to maintain this principle.
Socialism and the Former Colonial Countries
For socialism to result from these movements, Marxists need to adopt the strategy of fighting for the accomplishment of any unfulfilled democratic tasks and the defence of those already achieved, if necessary by tactical alliances with non-proletarian forces in an anti-imperialist united front, together with the development of an independent working class movement.
With the collapse of official "Communism" in Eastern Europe and the USSR these movements will be deprived of aid and suffer materially, but they will also have more chance of developing independent working class politics. The backward countries will thus play an important role in the recompositiofl of the international workers' movement.
The Revolutionary Party, Programme and Leadership
37. Above all, a revolutionary tendency or party needs the method of Marxism, analysing society as it is and formulating programmes to show the way forward. Its programme must break with the past. Social democracy limited itself to capitalism whilst proclaiming socialism. The Comintern laid down a line for all its sections to follow regardless of the situation in their own class struggle. Whilst the Trotskyists' false conception of class consciousness and capitalist crisis tended to make their demands mere schemas – empty of the transitional quality they were supposed to possess.
38. Transitional demands are designed not to be achievable under capitalism – they offer solutions to problems that require going beyond capitalist limits and towards socialist revolution. However, they will only find a response from workers if the working class's needs, desires and willingness to struggle for them (its consciousness) are such that a fundamental challenge to the bourgeois order can exist. If it does not then the transitional demands become mere schemas and abstract slogans. This explains why most Trotskyist sects are in fact "fighting propaganda groups" – exchanging slogans with each other rather than leading the masses. Generally speaking, transitional demands cannot be effectively used outside of dual power situations. The masses must have radical ambitions produced by social tensions – they must consciously be preparing for power. Outside of dual power situations Marxists must strive to cohere the class to get it, or as much of it as possible, to fight for its immediate needs through a whole variety of social reform, democratic and partial demands. Where possible revolutionaries faced with non-revolutionary situations should utilise "interim" demands. These acknowledge the level of workers' consciousness but encourage workers' self-activity precisely because the demands are achievable under capitalism and without revolutionary consciousness, struggle and desires. The successful struggle for the demand should give confidence and ambition to the proletariat and so lead to new, more radical, proposals – each connecting to the needs and possibilities of the situation and consequently to the consciousness of the workers. Reformist programmes say "leave it to us", Marxist programmes say "this is how you can achieve it".
39. An international programme for an entire epoch is impossible. Such an error turned the 1938 Transitional Programme into a bible for sectarians. It could only have been a summary of political method and an outline of the type of programme(s) needed for a particular period. Each class struggle and each period requires its own programme, with further action programmes and perspectives for militants in different areas of work.
40. In 1992 Marxism is weaker than at any time since the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848. There is no uninterrupted line of continuity, nor any one tradition that should be copied. Social democracy, Stalinism, Leninism. Trotskyism, etc., are all inadequate. Marxists today have only a political method and a wealth of experience to draw on. If the lessons of the past are learnt then Marxism can have a future – if they are not then it will not have one.