Archive for category: #Socialism #Communism #Anarchism
On 5 March 1953, Joseph Stalin, the gravedigger of the October Revolution, died. His regime had been characterised by monstrous repression, with a river of blood separating his dictatorial rule from the genuine traditions of Bolshevism established by Lenin.
It was also a reign marked by spectacular catastrophes, such as the famine of the 1930s and the needless loss of millions of Red Army soldiers in the first stages of the war.
Stalin died in fairly suspicious circumstances. The longer he held power, the greater his paranoia grew. By the 1950s, having instigated an antisemitic campaign against mainly Jewish doctors, Stalin was preparing for another mass purge. Fearing the ramifications for themselves, and for wider Soviet society, it is believed top figures of the bureaucracy may have hastened his end.
Yet how had the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 come to this?
On this day in 1953, Joseph Stalin, the man who spearheaded the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union, died following a stroke. In this video, Alan Woods explains how Stalin came to play this ignominious role.
🔗 https://t.co/pUOa9gr9S0 pic.twitter.com/UlygnaVOWu
— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) March 5, 2023
Origins of Stalinism
There is a perfidious lie that the regime of Stalin was a natural continuation of that of Lenin. This is false to the very core.
The regime established by Lenin and Trotsky was amongst the most democratic in history, basing itself as it did on the soviets. These were organs of the working class, peasants, and soldiers, which reflected the mood of the masses far more accurately than any parliament.
The soviets provided direct representation, and established the right of recall. This meant that deputies who were out of tune with the masses could be replaced. This was a far cry from the totalitarian dictatorship of Stalin.
So how was it that this brutish figure came to usurp the October Revolution and roll back many of its gains?
To understand this, we must look at the situation in which the fledgling workers’ state found itself.
From the outset, the young workers’ state faced enormous challenges. These undermined the basis for a healthy regime of workers’ democracy.
The October Revolution provoked horror and dread amongst the ruling classes of the world. Immediately, the young Soviet republic was invaded by 21 imperialist armies, who supported the efforts of the counter-revolution in Russia. This plunged the country into a bitter civil war.
The civil war – along with WW1 before it – completely shattered industry. In 1920, the production of iron ore and cast iron fell to 1.6% and 2.4% of their 1913 levels. The output of industrial commodities stood at just 12.3% of their pre-war level. Similarly, agriculture was ruined, with the 1921 harvest producing just 37.6 million tons of various crops – just 43% of the pre-war average.
Isolation and backwardness
Perhaps the most crucial consequence of the civil war was the direct impact it had on the working class. The war itself claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers. Many of those who survived migrated to the countryside, so desperate was the breakdown of society in the towns and cities.
By the end of the war, the working class had been decimated, and the material conditions required to maintain genuine workers’ democracy had been further eroded.
The industrial collapse undermined one of the major conquests of the October Revolution – the eight hour day. In order to produce even the most basic articles of consumption, workers had to work 10, 12, or even 14 hour days, and had to forgo their weekends.
In short, the time necessary for workers to engage in the soviets simply didn’t exist. As a result, workers’ control in society, industry, and politics was impossible.
Moreover, the historic backwardness of Russia meant most workers were illiterate, and consequently were unable to take part in the management of industry.
In all regards, a healthy regime of workers’ democracy was impossible. This was the material basis for the cancerous growth of a bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.
Even more decisive was the isolation of the revolution. Lenin and Trotsky correctly saw the October Revolution as the beginning of the world proletarian revolution. Yet tragically, the revolutions that did spring up in the years after 1917 – in Germany, Hungary, Italy, and China – were all defeated.
The responsibility for many of these defeats rests with the reformist leaders, who consciously betrayed them. Yet in a number of them, Stalin also played a decisive role, as we shall see.
As a result of the delay of the world revolution, there existed a deep contradiction within the USSR. On the one hand, the working class was incapable of running society. But on the other hand, the bourgeoisie had been defeated and capitalism had been overthrown.
It was from this vacuum that a permanent layer of functionaries emerged: the former managers and administrators of Tsarist Russia. These opportunistic, well-to-do ladies and gentlemen formed the basis of the bureaucracy. And as their weight in society increased, with the revolution isolated and the working class exhausted, Stalin would increasingly come to embody the bureaucracy’s interests.
The bureaucracy crystallised around Stalin in part because he was almost their living embodiment. He held a narrow, bureaucratic outlook. He was a competent organiser. And he was ruthlessly ambitious.
This bureaucratic caste was keen to maintain and increase its own power and privileges. This meant ending the upheaval of revolution, establishing order, and maintaining the status quo.
It was for this reason that Stalin would come to champion the ‘theory’ of ‘socialism in one country’, which provided a cover for abandoning socialist internationalism and the goal of world revolution.
In the eyes of the short-sighted, parochial bureaucracy, world revolution was unrealistic and undesirable. Instead, they wanted to strike deals with capitalist regimes. These careerists had what they wanted from the revolution, and wanted it to go no further.
‘Socialism in one country’, in reality, meant socialism in no country. At first, it reflected a general cynicism from Stalin that the workers couldn’t take power and transform society outside of Russia.
This was seen in his approach to the extremely favourable situation for revolution in Germany in 1923. “In my opinion, the Germans should be restrained and not spurred on,” Stalin wrote. Given the inexperience of the German communists, this advice was fatal, and the revolution was defeated.
Similarly in the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27. Stalin’s complete lack of faith in the Chinese working class led him to pursue a completely opportunist alliance with the bourgeois Guomindang party. This led to a disastrous policy of the young Chinese Communist Party subordinating itself entirely to a bourgeois nationalist party. The end result was the smashing of the Communist Party by the Guomindang and the defeat of the revolution.
These defeats of the working class internationally further demoralised and isolated workers in the Soviet Union. This, in turn, emboldened and strengthened the bureaucracy. But it was not the only layer of Soviet society that was encouraged by these reversals of the world revolution.
In 1921, the Bolsheviks had been forced by the isolation of the revolution to adopt the New Economic Policy (NEP). This meant reintroducing market relations in the countryside, in order to incentivise peasant proprietors to produce more food.
The problem was that the policy disproportionately benefited the kulaks – the rich peasants. They had larger landholdings, which allowed them to produce agricultural goods more efficiently. This meant that they could profit more from selling their surpluses.
The trade between peasants and the cities, in turn, was facilitated by so-called NEPmen – a class of petty merchants and speculators who spied an opportunity to make a quick buck.
These layers were naturally hostile to Soviet power, and sought the restoration of capitalism.
Trotsky and the Left Opposition had consistently warned against this threat. Stalin, meanwhile, leaning on Bukharin’s Right Opposition, had encouraged the kulaks to ‘get rich’, in order to develop the economy.
The ramifications of this policy came to the surface by around 1927. The kulaks began to withhold grain, and the threat of starvation in the cities loomed once more. And Stalin, the crude empiricist that he was, suddenly made an about face in 1929 – breaking with Bukharin and calling instead for the liquidation of the kulaks as a class.
Stalin began to adopt huge swathes of the Left Opposition’s programme. But did so in a crude, distorted, caricatured manner. This created huge problems.
Industrialisation was massively accelerated, to the point of adventurism. Infamously, Stalin even called for the first five-year plan to be completed in four years. Crucially, these measures were combined with the most brutal suppression of the Left Opposition itself.
Trotsky and the Left Opposition were the proletarian vanguard. But this proletariat had been drained by events. In a physical sense, they’d been devastated by war. In 1917, there were 3,000,000 industrial workers in Russia. By 1920, this figure had fallen to 1,240,000. Politically, meanwhile, workers had witnessed defeat after defeat on the international plane.
The clash between Stalin and Trotsky was ultimately a struggle of living social forces. The exhaustion of the working class thus enabled Stalin to exile Trotsky to Alma Ata in the Kazakh Soviet Republic, before exiling him from the USSR altogether in 1929.
Alongside this, there was a wave of expulsions of anyone hostile to Stalin’s policies. His grip on power – reflecting the strengthening of the bureaucracy – became absolute. As Trotsky put it:
“In its struggle against the Left Opposition, the bureaucracy undoubtedly was dragging behind it a heavy tail in the shape of Nepmen and kulaks. But on the morrow this tail would strike a blow at the head, that is, at the ruling bureaucracy…As early as 1927, the kulaks struck a blow at the bureaucracy, by refusing to supply it with bread.”
This crisis accelerated Stalin’s Bonapartist grip. The bureaucracy was petrified that it could be overthrown from the left or the right. In Stalin, this bureaucratic caste saw a strongman who could defend their privileged position from these acute threats.
Many a sneering liberal has tried to claim that socialism inevitably leads to the kind of bloodletting and horrors that Stalin oversaw. Yet this entirely misunderstands who this violence was directed at, and for what reason.
The chief target of Stalin’s purges were the Old Bolsheviks themselves – anyone who had a connection with the October Revolution.
So it was that, of the Bolshevik Central Committee that led the working class to power in 1917, only Stalin and Kollontai were still alive by 1940. Most were murdered by the GPU (the Soviet Union’s secret services) at Stalin’s behest. Even the total capitulation of figures like Kamanev, Zinoviev, and Radek did not save them.
True enough, many of the victims of the purges were bureaucrats themselves. Does this suggest that, in a hamfisted way, Stalin was striving to defend workers against the bureaucracy?
In reality, layers of the bureaucracy were targeted for the same reason that a doctor might recommend an amputation: to cut off the part to save the whole.
Stalin leaned on the workers to strike blows against the most rotten elements of the bureaucracy: those whose voracious greed threatened to stir the workers and topple the entire edifice; those whose ambition represented a threat to Stalin’s position and to the bureaucratic machine as a whole.
So it was that over a million perished – not to establish socialism, but to preserve the rule of a parasitic caste of functionaries.
The purges were a culmination of what Trotsky characterised as the ‘Thermidorian reaction’ in the USSR.
Basing his analysis on the analogy of the French Revolution, Trotsky concluded that what had occurred in the Soviet Union was a political counter-revolution from within.
Having overturned the old order in October 1917, the working class had subsequently lost political power. Nevertheless, the social conquest of the revolution – the nationalised planned economy – remained.
This was comparable to the process of the French Revolution. Robespierre’s Jacobin faction, the most revolutionary section of the movement, was deposed by more conservative elements from within the revolution.
Eventually Napoleon Bonaparte seized power. In 1804, he proclaimed himself Emperor, undoing the political gains of the republic. Yet Napoleon did not restore feudalism in France. Instead, he based his regime on the new capitalist relations that had been established by the revolution.
Similarly in the USSR, Stalin based himself on the nationalised planned economy. Representing the bureaucracy, however, he had politically usurped the working class. Socialist property relations remained, but many of the gains of the revolution were rolled back.
The most obvious expression of this was the complete annihilation of workers’ democracy inside the Soviet Union, in favour of the rule of the bureaucracy, alongside the counter-revolutionary role played by Stalinism internationally.
Zigzags and catastrophes
Stalin never really grasped the Marxist method. Indeed, the Old Bolshevik Yeveny Frolov claimed that “Stalin struggled to understand philosophical questions, without success”. Instead of applying dialectical materialism to problems, he adopted a crude empiricism approach – with disastrous consequences.
This first manifested itself with Stalin’s adherence to the New Economic Policy. He viewed its relative success – in comparison to the previous period of ‘war communism’ – as proof that there was no need for a change of course.
Neglecting to analyse the NEP in an all-sided manner, such as its impact on class formations, he failed to see the latent political danger that it carried: strengthening market relations and emboldening the kulaks and petty traders.
Empirically, Stalin later drew the conclusion that private capital accumulation in agriculture was not the way forward. Consequently, he did a volte-face, launching a campaign to forcibly collectivise agriculture and liquidate the kulaks as a class.
No consideration was given to whether collectivisation was possible; whether the country’s industry could furnish peasants with the machinery and resources required to make collective farming successful.
As a result, the policy led to a total and utter catastrophe in agriculture, provoking a famine that killed millions, and leaving a lasting scar in the countryside.
Stalinism can be defined as the bureaucratic (mis)management of the planned economy. From this flows the political dictatorship required to protect the power and privileges of the bureaucratic caste. But did this system die with its boss?
In his ‘Secret Speech’ in 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev attempted to pin the blame for all the horrors and catastrophes of the preceding decades onto Stalin and his ‘cult of personality’.
Stalin had placed emphasis on developing heavy industry at a blistering pace, at the expense of consumer goods and housing. This meant that living standards were still much lower in the USSR than in the West.
By the 1950s, this was preparing a social explosion, particularly as the bureaucracy furnished itself with limousines and dachas. According to historian Roy Medvedev, wage differentials between top bureaucrats and workers stretched to as much as 100-to-1.
Under Khrushchev, therefore, economic concessions were granted from above in order to prevent political revolution from below.
Between 1955-58, the average factory wage was raised from 715 roubles a month to 778. Meanwhile, official prices remained fixed, and some were even cut. Shorter hours were introduced for young workers, without a loss of pay, alongside longer holidays.
Given the decades of accumulated discontent, particularly in the satellite states of Eastern Europe, it did not take long for these concessions to encourage a movement from below.
As French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville perceptively noted: “The most dangerous moment for a bad government is generally that in which it sets about reform.” And so it was for the Soviet bureaucracy.
In October 1956, revolution broke out in Hungary. Workers and students were resentful of totalitarian rule, Soviet domination, and the deteriorating living standards that flowed from this. Indeed, disposable income for Hungarian workers in 1956 was two-thirds of what it had been in 1938 – a consequence of the Soviet Union draining the country through post-war reparations.
Contrary to the claims of the Stalinists, however, this was no counter-revolution. The manifesto under which the revolution was fought was issued by Péter Veres, the president of the Writers’ Union. The second demand of this read:
“The social and economic system of Hungary should be socialism built up by democratic means in accordance with our national characteristics. The 1945 agricultural reform and the public ownership of factories, great industrial enterprises, mines and banks, have to be maintained.”
Even more instructively, the revolution saw the formation of democratic workers’ councils – i.e. soviets. Yet what was the response of Khrushchev and co? It was to send in the tanks and brutally repress the Hungarian Revolution.
As Ted Grant put it at the time: “If the Kadar government really represented the masses and not the counter-revolution in Stalinist form, it would have based itself on the soviets or workers’ committees, as Lenin did in 1917.”
Stalin’s death, therefore, heralded no qualitative change. Stalinism remained in place, with tragic consequences for the working class, in Russia and internationally.
The bureaucratic monolith, which Stalin had stood at the head of, eventually came crashing down in 1991 – just as Trotsky had predicted in his masterpiece Revolution Betrayed.
This was Stalin’s real lasting legacy: to pave the way for capitalist restoration in the land of the October Revolution.
In marking the anniversary of his death, our role – as the philosopher Spizona once stated – is neither to weep nor to laugh, but to understand.
Today, disgusted by capitalism, a new generation is turning towards communism. Our task is to organise and educate these class fighters in the genuine ideas of Marxism, and to prepare for the revolutionary upheavals that impend.
Luke Pickrell and Myra Janis critique the 2019 updated party program of the Communist Party, USA, arguing that the CPUSA’s continued commitment to the Popular Front produces an unwieldy document incapable of charting a strategic path forward for socialists.
Cover illustration of the Illinois CPUSA’s 1934 Election Platform
The Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2019 and signs would appear to augur well for the organization in the coming years. Recently, the party discussed running candidates for office.1 Membership numbers are rising,2 and the party credits itself and its allies for the “broad front” that defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.3 Having abandoned the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization in a crisis of political direction, and gazed upon the desolate expanse that is revolutionary socialism in the United States, some comrades have turned away from the red rose toward the tried and true hammer, sickle, and gear. Unfortunately, these comrades will not have escaped the politics of class collaborationism by fleeing DSA and may find themselves in even hotter water.
The CPUSA marked its centenary with an updated version of the party platform: “The Road to Socialism USA.”4 Reading through the document is daunting. An astounding 61-pages long, it meanders across ten disorganized primary sections and dozens of subsections. Boundaries are porous: the introduction contains a conclusion, ideas repeat, and lists of occasionally intriguing demands are relegated to sidebars. Friedrich Engels’ critique of the German Social Democratic Party’s Erfurt Programme – “The fear that a short, pointed exposition would not be intelligible enough, has caused explanations to be added, which make it verbose and drawn out”5 – applies just as accurately to the CPUSA. These comrades, hoping to attract as large an audience as possible, have thrown everything but the kitchen sink toward the proverbial wall in a desperate attempt to make something stick. Asked to accept the program, one struggles for solid footing. How can one determine agreement with such an incomprehensible document?
But determination brings rewards. Cutting through girth and clearing away the tired abstractions (“injustice,” “a better world,” “the 1%,” “epic struggles,” “the greed of the few,” “fascism”)6 reveals two fundamental flaws: a commitment to the decades-old People’s Front policy of alliances with anything left of the “extreme right” and dedication to the Constitution and the parameters of the capitalist state. In other words, socialism with American characteristics.7 What follows is an elaboration on these two flaws. While the comrades in the CPUSA may be motivated by a genuine desire to fight for the interests of the working class, their program provides no path forward and opens the door to opportunistic zigzags and the internal rule of bureaucrats.
Continuing the People’s Front
This is far from an exhaustive chronicle of the ups and downs of the Communist Party (a job that E. J. Hobsbawm described as presenting unique difficulties).8 Rather, reading the CPUSA program allows one to reflect on the rise and fall of American Communism and the world socialist movement more generally. At its height, the Party contributed several victories to the class struggle in the United States. It carried out exceptional work in organizing the unemployed during the Great Depression and defended the Scottsboro Boys when the NAACP refused.9 The Party’s victories in states such as Alabama and New York are well-documented.10
The United Front strategy – how the party relates to the political institutions of the capitalist state to win members and strengthen the fighting power of the working class – began during a period of global defeat for communism.11 Having emerged victorious from the Russian Civil War, the newly formed Third International expected a quick succession of civil wars and Communist victories across Europe. But defeats in Germany, Poland, and Hungary augured ill. The working masses had not rallied behind the banner of the Communist Parties, and the Bolsheviks were left isolated in Russia. After fending off his ultra-left detractors, Lenin oversaw the entry of the Communist Parties into alliances with non-Communist working class political forces (including Social Democratic parties) under the explicit condition of retaining organizational independence and freedom to criticize the reformist leadership. In theory, the United Front was sound.
Principled alliances with reformist parties were scrapped when Stalin came to power. The Communists had zigged right, only to zag left during the Third Period of 1928 to 1933. The Peoples’ Front (America’s version of the Popular Front) began a final lurch back to the right in 1935 in the context of impending war and the rise of German Nazism. Ben Rose described the People’s Front as a “gradual shift towards a search for alliances and influence with the leadership of organizations believed to be instrumental in fighting domestic and international fascism, as well as those capable of pressuring the Roosevelt administration.”12 Tactical alliances with a section of the capitalist class subordinated working class independence to the goals of capitalists. The goal of socialism in America was abandoned, and in 1937 the Party dropped its slogan, “Toward a Soviet America.” The day-to-day practice of fighting for reforms submerged the goal of a classless society, and socialism with American characteristics – socialism, after all, being just as American as baseball and apple pie – became the norm. As Mike Macnair explains: “‘Official communist’ and Maoist parties committed themselves to rejection of the most elementary Marxist principle – the independent political organization and representation of the working class – in favor of ‘democratic’ coalitions which repeat the projects Marx and Engels fought against – or, worse, in favor of coalitions for ‘national independence’, which subordinate the working class to the party of order.”13
The call for a People’s Front continues today. In the name of fighting the extreme right – a nefarious entity that is “inadequate and incompetent” and “backward” one moment, and “fascist” the next – the program urges unity with all progressive forces in “defeating the extreme right’s implicit and explicit drive toward fascism.”14 Divisions within the capitalist class “contain opportunities for working-class and progressive forces. On some issues, the more moderate, more realistic sections of the capitalist class and their political operatives move parallel to the people’s movements, as important though partial and temporary allies. They can be pressured to adopt a more progressive stance by the strength of the people’s movements and mass sentiment.”15
The program encourages alliances with the Democratic Party because it is “not identical” with the Republican Party.16 The Democratic Party’s history – the “main vehicle used by African American and Latino communities to gain representation, as well as the main mechanism used to elect labor, progressive, and even Left activists to public office…”17 – supposedly demonstrates differences with its elephant brother. Furthermore, alleged rifts within the Party can be used to workers’ advantage. One reads: “[T]here exists an internal struggle within the Democratic Party among centrist forces who collaborate with the right wing, centrist forces opposed to the right wing, and more progressive, even socialist, trends.”18 Any desire to build a mass party must bow to the existing facts of the power of the capitalist class and the Constitutional regime.
With Friends Like These…
Calls for an alliance with the Democratic Party and the NGO complex against the far right are equivalent to asking the fox to guard the hen house: the fox eats its plump ward every time. Such proposals are the equivalent of trusting the bourgeoisie of the French Third Republic to eradicate the threat of a clerical-monarchical Thermidorian reaction. During the Third Republic, the proletariat was lured away from independent politics by liberals who incessantly hollered about a grave threat to the Republic as justification for uniting under one banner. With danger knocking at the door, this was no time to wage the class struggle. Karl Kautsky explained the reality behind the facade: “…the bourgeois liberal politicians have every interest in the struggle against the Church, but by no means in triumphing over it. They can only count on an alliance of the proletariat as long as this struggle continues.”19 Ultimately, a definitive victory is illusory. The imperative to unite against a bigger-bad never ends. How ironic that the Communist Party now advocates politics far to the right of those espoused by Second International Marxism’s famous pope-turned-renegade during his period as a revolutionary thinker.
The Democratic Party is more concerned with maintaining the rule of law than prosecuting an effective campaign against an increasingly right-wing and authoritarian Republican Party and its hangers-on. See, for example, their impotent attempt to understand and resolve the events of January 6th, 2022, compared to their focus on the chauvinistic conspiracy theory of Russiagate. The state’s repressive apparatus is far more concerned with countering perceived threats from the left than from the right. The bourgeois state fundamentally cannot grapple with the real social issues (poverty and economic precarity, first and foremost) upon which the seeds of far-right extremism germinate. Without class independence, the proletariat stays moored to the dock of bourgeois politics. Worse, if the working class does not create independent organizations of political power, it will be unable to stop a real fascist threat. One finds a terrifying historical specter in Chile during the Allende period when the Popular Unity government disarmed its supporters in the face of an impending coup. When the time came, the working class could not defend itself or the Allende government from Pinochet’s forces.
The CPUSA program describes the all-people’s-front as an “essential strategy for this historical period, not just a temporary tactic.”20 Socialism is thus always something for the distant future, a goal to pursue once the present task is complete. Yet, like Sisyphus and his boulder, the task is never concluded. An all-people’s-front will not permanently defeat the far right. Only a socialist republic can eliminate the excrement produced by capitalism in decline, and only a socialist political party can make a new republic a reality.
Bill of Rights Socialism and Constitutional Cultism
The Constitution is an eminently undemocratic document that stands in the way of working-class political rule. It creates an entire “political playing field” that sucks in well-intentioned reformers and keeps them busy fiddling over minutia.21 The Constitution cannot be ignored or corralled through tricks or slights of hand. Yet, the CPUSA program ducks the issue by proposing a “Peoples’ Bill of Rights” and explaining that “Once the power of the corporations is broken, the vast majority of the country can use the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, a Socialist Bill of Rights, and local governments to build real democracy and equality.”22 The Party’s belief that a “fundamentally new economic system” can be built on the existing Constitution is explicit; it is a hallowed document equivalent to the sacred tablets of the Ten Commandments. This devotion is apparent when they describe a speculative people’s Bill of Rights as “guaranteed” upon being “enshrined” in the Constitution.23
The insistence on maintaining the existing state apparatus is an abdication of the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Once in power, the party must implement the minimum demands to upend and transform the existing state apparatus into a democratic republic – the state form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. From this position, the working class can begin the transition to communism. The CPUSA comrades are correct that the fullest expression of democracy is in the interests of the working class. Democracy is the light and air needed by the proletariat to wage an effective struggle.
However, the extension of democracy does not cease at the doors of the White House, the shrine of the Constitution, the halls of the Supreme Court, or the pentagonal grounds of the Department of Defense. The indirectly elected president holds an ever-increasing amount of power and directs the military of the world’s foremost imperial power. The Constitution (designed to guard against change) enshrines the separation of powers to hedge against the boogeyman of popular will in the House of Representatives (the only body with a nominal claim to popular representation) and slows down the process of legislation by directly elected representatives. The Supreme Court is not elected by universal and direct suffrage and works primarily to defend the Constitution. The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade also led many people to question the Court’s ability to take up lower court rulings. Finally, the Department of Defense provides the physical force necessary to safeguard the sanctity of private property and bourgeois law and order.
The CPUSA’s loyalty to the Constitution leads them to abandon a revolutionary position. The demand for a Socialist Bill of Rights leaves the bourgeois state unscathed; in fact, it strengthens the state. So long as the existing constitutional order remains intact, demands for “liberty, and equality; free quality health care and education; living-wage jobs and decent housing; and a healthy environment” are just reforms.24 While the revolutionary party does include reforms as part of its demands, they exist as a means to create a democratic republic. A set of demands that leave the existing state intact serves only as a screen to hide bourgeois rule. The party plucks the fig leaf from absolutism only to become “oneself a screen for its nakedness.”25
In trying to adapt Marxist-Leninism to the United States, the comrades have absorbed all the elements of the constitutional regime and dropped most of the Marxism they carried. What little remains lies mutilated beyond recognition. The program’s assurance that “socialism in the United States will have distinctive characteristics because it will emerge from our unique political culture” is just another superficial justification for reformism.26 Minimum demands must strengthen the working class while weakening the state. Such demands include a single legislative assembly elected by proportional representation; the abolition of the independent presidency and the Supreme Court’s right of judicial review; the election of judges and other state officials; the expansion of jury trials and state-funded legal services; the unrestricted right of free speech; the abolition of copyright laws and monopolies of knowledge; and the abolition of police and standing army in favor of a people’s militia characterized by universal training and service, with democratic rights for its members. The process could begin with organizing a nationwide election via direct, universal, and equal suffrage for an assembly tasked with writing a new Constitution for popular consideration rather than the radically minoritarian process enshrined in Article 5 of the existing Constitution.27 Enacted in full, these demands smash the existing order and create a democratic republic.
Monopolies and Stages
Like a Matryoshka doll that has gone west, the CPUSA program contains multiple programs corresponding to different stages on an imagined path to socialism. The first stage is the formation of a People’s Front to defeat the extreme right. After eliminating the first threat, the People’s Front will grow in strength, evolve into an anti-monopoly coalition, and turn its attention toward “the multinationals” (the nationalist assumption being that ‘genuinely American’ capitalists would join the fight). The defeat of the multinationals will signal the beginning of a new stage in which the anti-monopoly coalition will build proletarian consciousness and progress toward socialism. Multiple coalitions will merge with the Communist Party to create a force capable of pushing through the Socialist Bill of Rights. At some point, communism will emerge.
To the untrained eye, the discussion of monopolies is a bizarre aspect of an already strange program. Yet, references to the despotic power of monopolies – along with constant references to “the people” – have roots in older forms of American populism that pitted “the people” versus “the elites.” The affinity towards populist rhetoric is explained by the reformist character of the CPUSA and its desire to create cross-class alliances in which, ultimately, workers’ interests play second fiddle. In addition, the program’s conception of revolution beginning only after defeating a series of foes follows the stagist theory of history often, though incorrectly, attributed to orthodox Marxism.28 In decades past, the stagist model was used to justify the fundamental impossibility of communism in one country. Today, it appears in the CPUSA’s program as a justification for continued reformism.
Road to Nowhere
The Communist Party’s program contains noble sentiments. We do not doubt these comrades’ desire to realize a “system in which working-class people control their own lives and destinies.”29 Socialism is the fullest extension of democracy. The social republic overcomes the division between social and political existence. The final goal remains a society in which everyone contributes what they can and receives what they need to actualize their unique potential.
The CPUSA comrades are correct in declaring the need for a revolutionary party. They correctly state that victory is not abstract: it “relies not on slogans, gimmicks, or conspiracies but rather on developing the understanding of millions cultivated in hard struggles, an understanding that grows into full class and socialist consciousness.”30 Yet, their program is brimming with slogans. Take the assertion that the revolutionary party must be “dedicated to the interests of the whole class, dedicated to the long-term vision necessary for winning fundamental change.”31 An intrepid reader finishes the program without understanding the meaning of fundamental change. After so many pages, the phrase remains a floating signifier capable of the most opportunistic interpretations. This reversion to obscurity is a long way away from the concluding paragraph of the Socialist Party of America’s 1912 program: “Such measures of relief as we may be able to force from capitalism are but a preparation of the workers to seize the whole powers of government, in order that they may thereby lay hold of the whole system of socialized industry and thus come to their rightful inheritance.”32 As a party founded by the principled Left-Wing of the SPA and once animated by the fire of the Bolshevik Revolution, the CPUSA has fallen quite a long way.
The program is the loadstone of a socialist political party. A good program presents the demands necessary for taking power and creating a democratic republic (the minimum program) to initiate a transition to the ultimate goal of communism (the maximum program). Means and ends are united and never lose sight of each other. Demands are expansive though concrete, and resonate with the condition of all oppressed minority groups. Furthermore, a good program is clear, concise, and memorable. It leaves elaboration to party propagandists and trusts in the ability of the masses to decode an unfamiliar term and infer what is left unsaid. The latest CPUSA program is a mess. Quantity does not transform into quality; in this case, the former works against the latter. The working class will not find a road to power within its numerous pages. Its confusing proposals will lead only to the underwhelming and all-too-familiar dead end of class collaboration within the existing constitutional order.
Today, the Communist Party USA rests upon a mixed historical legacy marked by moments in which it acted as a vanguard of the working class in the highest sense of the phrase, as well as a long period in which it continues to be plagued by the lowest possible opportunism. In criticizing its present class collaborationist program, we hope to provide a resource to those in the Communist Party chafing under this orientation. As in the Democratic Socialists of America, the time has come for genuine communists to rebel against the dominant opportunism of the largest organizations of the working class political movement in the United States. We encourage Marxists in the Communist Party USA to begin openly discussing the course and future of their party and the entire socialist movement. The pages of Cosmonaut are open to them, and replies from defenders of the Communist Party’s current orientation are welcome as well – if only to train the arguments of their critics.
May the rebels prevail!
The post Socialism With American Characteristics appeared first on Cosmonaut.
“Feminism—despite all our efforts—is still largely a middle-class movement and ideology,” Ehrenreich wrote in 1984—words that are still relevant today.