The national question, democratic tasks & Stalinism

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at
Fri Oct 4 16:44:07 MDT 1996

Bob M writes:

>Any kind of marxist orientation goes right out the window when Adam starts
>spouting his state capitalism (social imperialist?) line here. Of course the
>death of Najibullah does not raise tears to the eye where as Richard starts
>posting revolutionary arbituaries. But the difference between mullah
>fundementalism and the "reforms" of the pro Soviet bureaucracy must and should
>be defended by Trotskyists. In fact i am almost to the point where i could say
>that even bougeois democracy could be defended against these Mullah
>fundementalist taking us back to the middle ages.

Whoa, Bob! Bourgeois democracy in a semi-colonial country is just a crazy
utopia. That's the whole point of the theory of permanent revolution.

So we're confronted with imperialist occupation, Stalinist occupation, some
version of petty-bourgeois nationalism or rule at gunpoint by sectarian
warlords. None of which provide a solution. Slavery, slavery, slavery or
slavery. It's a bit like the old conundrum of free trade or protectionism
-- do you want to be skinned by a foreigner or one of your own?

In semi-colonial countries, nothing will be solved unless the national
question is solved first, but the democratic tasks of which this is the
first can't be solved on a national bourgeois or petty-bourgeois basis any
more. No bourgeoisie or petty-bourgeoisie is willing to lead a revolution.
So the best you can get here is small armed groups with a petty-bourgeois
ideology leading the proletarian and poor peasant masses in a revolution
which contradicts itself by on the one hand overturning property relations
(China, Cuba) and on the other forcing the mobilization to remain within
national bounds and strangling any free development of workers' union and
political organization. Then you get aborted revolutions like the one in
Nicaragua which didn't even get near overturning property relations. The
worst alternative you can see in Liberia and Afghanistan.

This calls for a transitional strategy, agitating for the solution of
democratic tasks, and mobilizing the popular masses behind the leadership
of the working class. No other leadership will be able to provide a way
forward that doesn't involve the masses capitulating to some insufferable
tyranny or other. A working class leadership will also be the most
effective when it comes to mobilizing solidarity abroad, both for getting
help for the revolution at home and for spreading the revolution to other

A demand that is absolutely necessary, first perhaps mainly as propaganda,
but which as the revolution grows must become more and more agitational, is
for a regional federation of socialist states.

Adam writes:

>>A political alternative to fundamentalism in Afghanistan will only
>>become viable in the region when the working class in Pakistan,
>>Iran, and the Muslim states in the ex USSR moves into action again.
>>Stalinist politics, which we have seen here in the mourning of
>>Najibullah, are an obstacle to this. In fact, by identifying socialism
>>with a set of regimes which oppress ordinary muslims, Stalinist politics
>>directly strengthens the various shades of fundamentalism.

He's is right in so far as the repression of the voluntary exercise of religion
is in violation of democratic rights. In countries such as he mentions,
however, with the possible exception of the former Soviet Union, the
existence of vast semi-proletarian strata of poor and pauperized people
without the consciousness of industrial or even service workers must be
taken into account. They are probably proletarians in the sense that they
have nothing to lose but their chains, and only have the sale of their
labour power to live by, but will be more likely to mobilize for democratic
than socialist demands.

It is fatal to ignore the power of national and democratic demands. Labour
Militant misses this completely in its line on Ireland, for instance, and
in its position during the Malvinas, which failed to give unequivocal
support to the Argentine national and anti-imperialist demands, regardless
of the vicious brutality of the Videla dictatorship that was leading the
anti-British war.

The Argentine experience shows how such a war can be a spark to ignite
anti-regime mobilizations.

>>[ And quite what Gary's "the gains they represented for the workers" means
>>to some Uzbeck agricultural worker who has seen their country turned
>>into a cotton plantation by Russian Imperialism I don't know. There is a
>>more concrete basis to talk about "the gains they represented for the workers"
>>of your average liberal democracy. It doesn't make liberal democracies some
>>none capitalist "workers state" , however large the quotation marks. ]

Here is a very clear example of an incredibly contradictory mess, with the
national question taking centre stage. One of the progressive aspects of
the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union was its unwitting solution of
the problem of national oppression in a number of states. The gains of
October benefited the oppressed nationalities of the Stalinist regime in
the Soviet Union in an even more distorted and mediated way than they did
the working masses in Russia itself. But I think that the working masses of
these oppressed nations are realizing in the same way as the  rest what it
means to swap the combination of a vicious regime and a *workers' state*
(with an automatic place for every citizen in the means of production,
state control of the commanding heights of the economy, the financial
system and foreign trade, permitting planning over the whole economy,
universal health and child care etc) for a combination of a vicious regime
and the chaos of a state transitional between a workers' state and a
restored bourgeois state.

>>What I want to know is why the dregs of Stalinism, who have dissappeared
>>from the real world, have rematerialised on m1 ? Don't you lot understand ?
>>Your politics have died, gone, kaput. It's the end. You lot perverted the
>>real meaning of socialism for 60 years and now it's all over. The CPGB
>>understood this and had the good grace to commit political suicide. You lot
>>are like the living hairs on a corpse.

Or the worms in a zombie.

But political ideas don't disappear that easily, as we have seen here.
There are class roots to Stalinist principles and methods.

There are still the sectarian joys of being a big fish in a little pond,
but more importantly, as the examples of the SACP and the PCP-SL teach us,
there are still real live gun-in-hand mass movements with completely
Stalinist principles. Not to mention of course the BIG C in the East, and
the little c in the West. The pressures of the bourgeoisie on the mass
movement are of course enormous, and this together with the non-proletarian
origin and petty-bourgeois way of life of many leaders of the labour
movement and the lack of Bolshevik schooling in the mass movement for many
decades means that there is a broad social base for ideologies of class
collaboration, national limitations on workers' movements and comfortable
bureaucratic routines of obedience and irresponsibility in politicial life.

M1, unfortunately is more of a mirror than we might like to admit,
reflecting (echoing might be a better image) the opinions of fairly
important segments of the labour movement. Right now it's heavily
overrepresented in terms of academics and Stalinists, but that's probably
just a childhood disease, at least as far as the Stalinism is concerned.

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