Nonrevolutionary times

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Fri Apr 21 05:51:42 MDT 1995

It's nice to have Ron on the list--aside from his considerable persobal
virtues we benefit by the participation of a member of one of the handful
of Communist Parties which is (a) not horribly compromised ethically and
(b) reasonably successful in attaining its goals. I wonder whether Ron
could say a bit more about the rationale, prospects, advantages, and
disadvantages of the South African government's strategy in tghe current
situation. I have a lot to learn about that.

In the wake of Lulu's defeat in the Brazilian elections the PT did a
self-criticism, saying that it had accomodated too much with the national
and other bourgeoisie, taken its popular base for granted, and failed to
mobilize effectively. Is the ANC making these errors? What choices does it
have in the circumstances?

In America and England the left is extremely remote fdrom having to worry
about what to do if it was in power or a contender for power. The
organized far left in America is probably less than 10,000
people--probably less than 5,000 if you leave out DSA and the Committees
of Correspondance (Chris & Ron: the CoC is the nonStalinist split from the
CPUSA). My group, Solidarity, is one of the "larger" formations at about
350 in a nation of 260 million. Those in some way sympathetic with the
aims of the far left in the US number probably less than 250,000--I arrive
at this figure by adding the subscription numbers for the dozen largest
left wing magazines, but there is a lot of overlap. (I am counted,
personally, about six or seven times by that criterion.)

I don't think the problem is splitting or expulsions. That period is over
in the US left--groups are disappearing and merging rather than splitting.
I don't know what the explanation is of the fact that, as Wener Sombart
noted at the turn of the century--when the left was far larger and
stronger--there is no socialism (no effectivbe organized socialist
movement) in the US. Some factors have to do with the US's peculiar
history--no anti-feudal or anti-absolutist or anticolonialist class
struggle, racism, the frontier, the rapidly growing economy, a peculiarly
savage anticomminism with a lot of government repression. (Ron and Chris
may not know that the CP was illegal from 1940 to, I think 1967, when the
Smith Act was ruled unconstitutional.)

But the left is in general decline
in the industrialized West. The collapse of the Communist states, despite
the fact that they were not what most of us regard as attractive models,
has in a way mnade things harder by removing the presense of some
alternative, however crippled and diseased, to the capitalist order. (In
the long run the missing contrast with Stalinist repression and
inefficiency may help, but it hasn't yet.) Anyway the problem isn't just
an American one.

Both the traditional models have failed--the Stalinist one, with the
concomitant Marxist-Leninist vanguard party stratregy of organizing and
the sociali-democratic one, wiuth the strategy of a union-linked mass
labor party. (Ron and Chris may also not know that union density in the US
is down to 12% and falling--that is, almost 90% of US workers are not
unionized.) AT this point no new model of socialism has any general
acceptance even in the tiny circles where socialism is not a dirty word
and no onne has any idea of what other strategies might work. Solidarity,
my group, works in unions and "mass" movements (women's rights,
anti-intervention, anti-racist, etc.) to build them up and establish a
credible socialist presence. We don't think this the The Way. we don't
know what The Way is.

I report this state of affairs as a fact. I don't have any brilliant
ideas. If I did I would not keep them tgo myself. Right now I have to get
back to organizxing for a student rally against the Contract on America.
We hope to get 250-300 people out from the whole state of Ohio, if it
doesn't rain (which it is now doing). If we do, we will consider the
affair a success. And this to defend _the status quo_--an exceedingly
limited and conservative object.

I'm full of cheer today, am I not?

Well, I at least can say that I think there is an argument to suppoort the
belief taht in the long run emancipation will win. But sometimes that long
run looks like Keynes'--the long run in which we are all dead.

--Justin Schwartz

On Thu, 20 Apr 1995, Ron Press wrote:

> Hi
> >>>>>>>>>>> From Chris Burford
> That is why I have tried to suggest from time to time on this
> list, for exploration and critical clarification, that curiously,
> for marxists in the "West" the decades old strategy of national
> democratic movement, (stripped of any nationalism), or a new
> democratic movement, is a serious route to explore.
> I don't want to lumber Ron with my terminology or my approach but
> some time ago he suggested that the South African political
> situation might have relevance more widely. I detected no positive
> response to what he said on this, and wondered if most of the list
> thought it was far-fetched. But I don't think it is far fetched
> for the reasons I have indicated above for myself.
> 			<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<,
> The discussions on the list recently have become much more
> practical. I myself do not know much about the various
> organisations mentioned but the postings remind me very much if
> the situation in the United Kingdom.
> It is extremely difficult to be a revolutionary in a non
> revolutionary situation. The result is that those who do not like
> what is going on spawn a myriad of organisations. In the fullness
> of time one or two of them survive.
> This process has gone on in many lands and in South Africa in the
> early thirties.
> We had a great advantage. A communist party that recognised that a
> broad organisation that represented the desires of the mass of the
> most oppressed people was necessary and that that organisation was
> the ANC, or at least that the ANC could develop into that
> organisation.
> This led to the alliance.
> This is not really unique or original. It is a variant on the
> Broad front strategy against fascism, or the Anti-Vietnam
> organisations, or CND in the UK, .....
> One thing seems for sure. That to present the mass of the people,
> especially at the present state of play, with the simple choice of
> the "socialist revolution" or nothing is counter productive.
> On the other hand to abandon the aim of socialism is likewise to
> lead the people of Israel into the desert without even the hope of
> a promised land.
> So what to do? The left needs a focus, a centre where tactics,
> strategy, agreements can be discussed and worked for. The left
> needs to act together in the unions, in the community, in the
> ghettoes, wherever there are problems to help the people. Not to
> decide for them but to learn from them in struggle, in action.
> It seems to me that the left is fragmented into sects. Arguing not
> even about how many angels can sit on the head of a pin but where
> the angels went wrong in trying to sit on the pin in the first
> place. Discussion fine. Philosophy fine. Disagreements fine. But
> about what? And to what end?
> It seems to me that the left tear its self to pieces. For power?
> What power? They love it when we fight amongst ourselves.
> I remember my mate Brian used to say "Why do the far left parties
> never grow?" " Because as soon as they recruit the third member
> they have a congress to expel one of the first two.?"
> The SACP used to do this in the thirties. They thankfully gave it
> up as a bad job. I am not saying that we do not argue and fight
> but we try as much as possible to stick together.  "Stalinists"
> "Leninists" "Believers" Democrats" we have them.
> The issue is who is the enemy and how can we organise the maximum
> number of people to fight them.
> The question of the present Government of National Unity is
> consistent with our general philosophy but also the result of an
> assessment of reality. There was no way we could (I mean the
> Liberation Movement) overthrow the regime militarily. So we had to
> do the best we could.  We still have an uphill battle to
> redistribute the good things of life to all the people, our RDP.
> Reconstruction and Development Plan. It is better to have our
> erstwhile enemies with us in cabinet and parliament, than to have
> them outside fomenting counter revolution.
> Sectarianism comes from the failure to recognise ones own
> weakness. When one is strong then tolerance comes easily (or
> should, one of Stalin's mistakes) When one is weak then only by
> recognising it and seeking allies can one become strong.
> We got help from China (A whole ship full of food for our camps)
> The USSR trained our cadres, India was one of the first to
> institute a boycotts, David Steel a liberal in the UK was
> president of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, Huddleston an arch
> bishop was also, Kenneth Kaunda was very supportive in concrete
> ways, so was Castro. We looked for friends wherever we could find
> them. We even approached the UK, The USA, West Germany, well they
> were more reluctant so we tried again later.
> History is very strange.
> In the 1980's the Tories declared the ANC and the SACP terrorists.
> ( Me included) In the early 1990's the British special branch of
> the police instituted special protection for us in the UK. (They
> Did d not like the South African special branch letting off bombs
> in London) In 1992 We were invited as observers to the Tory Party
> conference. Me a member of the SACP given a pass to enter and
> observe the Tories at work? Amazing. Then the other day Mendi
> Msimang my immediate chief in the UK for many years shook the
> Queens Hand.
> Moke you sick. Sometimes I wonder if we are on the right path. But
> when I look back we have travelled far and have far to go.
> So have you. I wish you would get on with it.
> Ron Press
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