A response to Nestor and Eli
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Sep 29 10:32:59 MDT 2003
On some points Nestor and I disagree, and since "political
homogeneity" is not an objective of this list, we can continue doing
so. But on one point, which he thought I might be surprised by, I
experienced not surprise, but complete agreement. Nestor wrote:
"The reunification of Germany was a condition for history to begin to
again on its tracks. But it would be silly to deny that the way it
was processed was a _reactionary_ way, that for all its democratic
advantages and all that Western Germany was ... more reactionary, from
the point of view of global history, than the tremendously oppressive
GDR." In parenthesis, Nestor unfortunately withdraws his completely
correct remark about the "tremendously oppressive GDR," but I
nonetheless agree with the entire statement. Like myself, he's free
to contradict himself within a single sentence as often as he likes.
It was a sign of the political-social and popular weakness of the East
German bureaucratic regime that, unlike north Vietnam and north
Korea, they stood upon and defended the division of the country. This
posture helped deprive them of moral authority among working people on
both sides of the border. The refusal to stand for German unification
was related to the Stalinist tendency to often present the workers
state in the East as though it were part of the punishment the German
people had richly earned for Hitler's crimes.
I have to cavil, however, about the point that West Germany DEFEATED
East Germany. The victory that the imperialist West won in Eastern
Europe (leaving aside Yugoslavia which had a separate origin and
character and represented a different aspect of the process that needs
separate re-examination) was not their capacity to carry out a
successful counterrevolution in the East, but their ability to outlast
the profound internal decay of the Stalinist regimes (which reflected
the pressure of the imperialist environment but was not the direct
work of the imperialists). The Soviet and East European workers were
not defeated in battle by the imperialists, they were not conquered,
and the imperialists did not carry out overturns of the workers
states. The imperialists were not strong enough to carry out the
overturn in that way, which would have brought about many more gains
and much more stability for them. They had to settle for an outcome
that was certainly positive for them, but much more ambiguous and
unstable. Even the German imperialists are having to pay an economic
price for the fact that they were not strong enough to take the east
Partly, the tendency of the imperialists and the workers' movement to
see the victory the imperialists had won as more fundamental and
profound than it was contributed to the imperialist triumphalism from
the 90s through the current Iraq war, and concealed the profound
weaknesses that were not reversed or healed by the fall of Eastern
Europe and the Soviet Union.
The underlying weakness is highlighted by the reality that the Cuban
revolution has existed forty years side by side with the economically
and militarily strongest imperialist power in the world, vastly more
wealthy and (for broad layers) more prosperous than Cuba. Yet not
only has US imperialism not reconquered Cuba, but there is no reason
to assume that US imperialism will outlast it, as it outlasted the
Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies. It is the United States
that seeks to wall Cuba off from the United States and the world and
not the other way around.
In the same sense, I don't think that it is correct to describe the
fall of the wall as the last victory of of imperialism over October.
If the October revolution was reduced to the Berlin Wall as its last
"conquest," and the fall of the machine gun turrets and guard shacks
was the final defeat, the October revolution must have already been
gone, gone, gone before that happened.
If the wall truly represented the remaining conquests that the East
German workers were losing, they were absolutely right not to fight
I'm not saying this out of a general moral objection to walls. Good
fences sometimes do make better neighbors. But the wall never was
primarily an expression of East Germany's conflict with imperialism,
but of the profound antagonism between the regime and the people of
the country. It was a creation of bureaucratic reaction and it
deserved all the hatred that the masses of East Germany felt for it.
Nestor's statement on this tends to re-enforce my strong suspicion
that the victory of Stalinism in and over the world workers movement
from the 1920s through World War II was so complete that Stalinism
ended up very substantially shaping and reshaping its opponents,
including the Trotskyist movement. Sectarianization was one reflection
of this but, I tend to think, not necessarily the deepest one or the
hardest to reverse. I believe this reshaping and broad historical
adaptation to Stalinism (of which Stalinophobia was also an
expression), and not just small size and organizational weakness, is
the reason why new forces had and have to come forward, from outside
both the Stalinist and Trotskyist movements, in Cuba, Venezuela,
Grenada, Burkina Faso, and elsewhere.
The Socialist Workers Party, which I belonged to for a long time,
always enthusiastically greeted the independence of these leaderships
from Stalinism, but also always assumed that their origination outside
Trotskyism (or the SWP's communist continuity as it might be
formulated now that the SWP no longer characterizes itself as
Trotskyist) was a mistake, although perhaps one that arose necessarily
from difficult historical circumstances.
On the alcoholism question, I was guilty of hyperbole and romantic
exaggeration with the claim of "universality." Nonetheless, I think
that the statistics of former years (which tended to systematically
understate social problems in general, and I believe still do so)
understated this problem. I have also noted that standards of what
constitutes alcoholism vary, with countries where heavy drinking is
considered "normal" adopting a standard appropriate to that situation.
Books like Hedrick Smith's The Russians indicated that the problem was
much more widespread than admitted. Perhaps this was just imperialist
propaganda, but frankly, I think Smith's imperialist propaganda
(like the earlier propaganda around the Moscow trials and so forth)
consisted in substantial part of stating FACTS that made the enemy
look bad. The use of facts for propaganda does not abolish their
existence as facts.
I don't think the vodka monopoly provided any counter to this, and I
think the Left Opposition's criticism of the establishment of the
monopoly, which was part of the rise to power of the bureaucratic
regime, was correct and borne out by events.
In Cuba -- where the vast properties of the Bacardi family could not
be left to bootleggers -- I think they are beginning to face up to
some of the contradictions that arise when the state finances can seem
to benefit, viewed in a very narrow and bureaucratic way, from heavy
drinking and even alcoholism. As is their wont, they are beginning to
talk about the problem openly and take initial measures to try to
reduce its scope, prohibition not being a rational option.
Finally, Nestor quoted me: "But be that as it may, isn't it an
unanswerable condemnationof East Germany and what these workers
experienced that after 40-odd years of 'progressive' rule, they
overwhelmingly and peacefully accepted unification under the
imperialist German state. They were not conquered, they are not
occupied, and noone seems to be fighting for restoration of the former
Nestor then commented: "OK. Pass your condemnation. Now you feel
better, don't you." I feel fine, thanks. But Nestor is confused about
who issued the "unanswerable condemnation." It wasn't me. (I admit to
snarling about the East German regime for decades, but who listens?)
It wasn't imperialism. It wasn't the capitalist media. And it wasn't
the left. It was the population of East Germany, and the working
people in the forefront.
I made the same point more sharply later about the Soviet Union: "As
in East Germany, things have grown worse socially and economically
since the fall, which Soviet working people did nothing to prevent
and, to the extent that they were mobilized, helped bring about. They
on the regime they had experienced, as they were entitled to and just
as they will pass judgment on what they confront today."
One thing I have learned in my years in industrial jobs and union
situations is to have some basic respect for the opinions of my
coworkers. They often don't know a lot of things about the history of
the workers' movement, broader union struggles, the world (knowledge
about these varies from case to case, of course) but they usually have
a damn good feel (better than those of us whose political training
tends to make us start from our generalities) for what is in front of
their noses. I am convinced that the future of the working-class
fight for socialism depends in part on gaining a fundamental respect,
a basic willingness to hear and accept the judgment that the working
people of the Soviet bloc reached and passed.
In another post, Nestor talks about defending the bureaucracy against
imperialism. That's legitimate enough. I would defend the Saudi
dynasty against imperialism if it came to that so why not the
bureaucracy? I would point out however that the immediate agents and
beneficiaries of the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European
regimes was usually very large sections of the bureaucracies
themselves, and not the imperialists, WHO WERE NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO
CARRY THIS OUT IN A WAY THAT WOULD PUT THEM IN MORE DIRECT POLITICAL
AND ECONOMIC CONTROL. That fight is still being fought as Washington
tries to gradually beef up the troop presence in that region. The
collapse was a product not of imperialist attack on the bureaucracies
but of a social, economic, and political crisis that set off
disintegration and breakup of the bureaucratic machines in the face of
the stubborn and overwhelming hostility of the politically
disorganized and disoriented masses to the regimes.
Defending the bureaucratically ruled workers states against
imperialism was one thing, but defending these bureaucratic
machines -- which had no proletarian or progressive potential
whatever, once they had lost their last ties with and base in the
working masses -- against the hostility and contempt of the masses is
quite another, and we need to learn to recognize where one ends and
the other begins. Once you got to the point where the last defenders
of the workers state were a bunch of overweight generals in Moscow or
the Berlin Wall was the last fortress of October, the workers' states
were already gone. The way forward in the fight for socialism is to
accept the judgment that was passed on these regimes by those who
lived under them and go forward from there.
Reply to Eli re the red baiting-baiting of Camejo:
Eli writes, "Well, I haven't been accusing Camejo of redbaiting, but I
'directing fire' at him, so I suspect Fred is at least partially
me when he writes: 'anyone who directs
their fire against Camejo or the Green Party in the California
is simply forgetting which class is running the show in California,
which parties (and their candidates) are representing them.'"
Actually, I wasn't thinking of Eli or any other critic of Camejo in
the discussion. I was concerned about the indications I saw that some
person or persons were carrying out a special campaign to "expose"
Camejo on basically manufactured grounds which I don't think is a
working-class political axis for this election campaign, to put it
mildly. Of course, people are entitled to discuss Peter Camejo's
campaign or anyone else's and criticize what they like.
But I'm not impressed with Eli's specific criticism on Camejo's
statement on the inspections. It could be interpreted in positive or
negative ways depending on context and its relation to overall
comments on the war. For instance, it can simply be an attempt to
strike at Washington's position on the inspections by highlighting the
fact that Washington is seeking to guarantee its own nuclear dominance
and, in the Middle East region, that of its ally Israel.
In general, dissection of an isolated quote can be used to make useful
or clarifying educational points but proves very little about
someone's real overall position.
Frankly, I prefer Joel Britton's clear and frequently repeated call
for immediate, unconditional US withdrawal from Iraq (and other
countries) and I thought his action in writing to the eligible
California voters among the troops about this was a very good move.
But I don't have any beef with Camejo on this issue, and I am opposed
to tortured efforts to parse sentences to prove he is not really in
the antiwar camp or is not really speaking out against the war, which
he is in fact doing.
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