[Marxism] Re: The Teixeira thesis

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Sun Mar 7 22:29:57 MST 2004


Louis Proyect wrote:

>Excuse me? The US invaded Mexico, Haiti and Nicaragua without needing a 
>Communist bogeyman. Sandino was an anarchist who backed bourgeois 
>candidates who eventually betrayed him.

As I said, Louis' argument is not serious.  He now confirms it.  Louis said 
that, without the Soviet Union, there would have been no Cuban revolution.  
That is trivially true if by that he means the Fidel Castro-led revolution 
in power since 1959.  He's just saying that history in the 1950s would have 
been different if history in the 1910s had been different.  Of course, and 
of course events that happened before 1917 (e.g., the U.S.' invasion of 
Mexico of 1846) happened, well, before the Russian events of 1917 could 
affect them.  If the Cuban revolution could not have happened without the 
Soviet Union, then why would anybody think that the Sandinista revolution -- 
and the U.S. dirty war and contra sponsorship by the "Cold Warriors" in 
Washington -- was meant to happen even without the Soviet Union and the 
"Cold War"?

>The same sort of initiatives being taken Cuba today. But the USA 
>understands that this is not the capitalism it seeks. Club Med hotels 
>running under agreements hammered out with a government that sends 5,000 
>doctors to Venezuela is not quite in line with the State Department agenda.

Louis argued that Lenin rejected in the April Theses the need for "stages" 
and, in particular, the need for "an extended period of capitalist 
development" in building socialism in Russia.  Well, Lenin didn't rejected 
these views.  Given Russia's economic "backwardness," Lenin was an advocate 
of "private capitalism" and "state capitalism," i.e., of "transitional 
stages" in Soviet Russia in the early 1920s and until his death.  Again, the 
debate with Kautsky was about the nature of the political process in Russia, 
not about the chances of implementing cold turkey the economic program of 
socialism.  Lenin (like Marx or Engels before him) had no illusions about 
the possibilities of building socialism in Russia in isolation from a 
socialist victory in the West, even before the April Theses.  To confirm it, 
we only need to check Lenin's "stagism" in his earlier debate with the 
narodniki.  The explicit goals of the socialdemocrats in Russia until after 
the February revolution were overthrowing the czar's autocracy and 
establishing a popular democracy or -- in the terms used back then -- a 
"democratic dictatorship" of peasants and workers.

Kautsky believed that progress in Russia's conditions, capitalist 
development within the framework of a broad-based (peasants and workers') 
democratic state, could have been achieved within the framework of the 
provisional government and an ensuing constitutional assembly about to set a 
permanent democratic government.  Kautsky apparently dismissed that the 
Bolsheviks needed to take power in October 1917 (old calendar) to (1) 
prevent a brutal czarist restoration, (2) withdraw from the war, (3) 
distribute the land among the peasants, and (4) focus on restoring economic 
normalcy and inducing what economists now call "economic development."  In 
part, the danger of a reactionary coup had been facilitated by the 
provisional government's inability to withdraw from the war and to satisfy 
the demands of the peasants for land (thus breaking the material backbone of 
a czarist restoration and enabling further capitalist development in the 
countryside).

Basic democratic tasks could only be pursued pushing the provisional 
government aside, and by then -- by refusing to prevent a coup, by denying 
the peace to everyone and the land to the peasants -- the provisional 
government had deligitimized itself.  In the light of such urgent tasks and 
an ascending workers' movement, it would have been wrong to kneel down 
before the empty shell of the provisional government.  No doubt, the 
effective program of the Bolsheviks (as opposed to their programmatic 
documents) entailed an "unstable equilibrium," but not necessarily an 
unviable one.  IMO, just (1) and (2) above suffice to justify the Bolshevik 
insurrection on virtually universal moral grounds.  If Kornilov had staged a 
successful coup, he would have swept off the Provisional government and 
killed socialdemocrats, social revolutionaries, and KDTs across the 
spectrum, and Russia would have continued the war until its bloody end.  In 
contrast, the Bolshevik insurrection was virtually bloodless.  Clearly, the 
calamities caused by the counter-revolution count as liabilities in the 
moral balance sheet of the Whites, the foreign powers that fed them, and 
those who acted to sabotage Soviet power.

In retrospective, Kautsky's critique of specific measures taken by the 
Bolsheviks once in power, particularly those measures restricting the 
political rights of social revolutionaries and Mensheviks on the grounds 
that these rights would help the Whites, is more controversial.  Even 
someone like Isaac Deutscher (not a Kautskyst, but a Trotskyst) argued in 
Trotsky's biography that banning the SRs and Mensheviks from the legal 
political process was not indispensable and it was the tipping point in the 
bureaucratization of the CP.  In this light and in all fairness, Kautsky's 
concerns might have not been misplaced, although his approach and political 
timing were clearly wrong.  If Kautsky was seriously concerned about these 
dangers, then he should have called all international socialists to support 
the Soviets up and to the point Russian peasants and workers backed them up. 
  The stronger the Soviets, the less they would have needed exceptional 
measures restricting their law-abiding political opposition.

Kautsky seemed to view the Bolshevik's rise to power as a putschist, 
voluntarist undertaking, while ignoring the broad, active social base that 
supported them.  He viewed the move as strategically flawed.  He assumed 
that the socialists in power were compelled to immediately implement their 
economic program (something that many Bolsheviks also presumed they'd be 
doing once in power) and he stressed the impossibility.  Kautsky was wrong 
here because he was assessing the political evolution of Russia with a 
superficial criterion -- i.e., the ideological prejudices of the socialists. 
  Lenin was into something else.  The success or failure of the Bolsheviks 
lied NOT in whether their economic doctrines as they appeared in 
programmatic documents would be realized and when.  Circumstances had made 
these documents largely irrelevant.  Now the Bolsheviks were in power in a 
country with certain inherited conditions.  Lenin effectively marshalled 
Marx and Engels' argument in defense of the Paris Commune of 1871.  The 
basis to assess the Bolshevik rule was whether they were able to establish a 
viable democratic state, to ensure peace and normalcy in Russia's social 
life, to feed the hungry, to use state power to promote the interests and 
organization of the working people, and to hold the rock while socialism 
triumphed in Europe.  Those who had to do the assessment were not 
ideologues, but the working people themselves.  The tasks in and by 
themselves were, in Lenin's own terms, "reforms."  And Kautsky, still an 
authority in the international socialist scene, was not helping them come 
true with his snipping.

If we even vaguely agree on this, then the issue is not capitalism versus 
socialism.  The issue is rather the concrete political strategy to advance 
the interests of the working people in different capitalist settings.  Louis 
suggests this much in his remarks about Cuba and Venezuela above.  He 
suggests that the burning issue nowadays is between the kind of capitalism 
that the U.S. wants to impose in, say, Latin America, and the kind of 
capitalism that best fits the needs of the broadest masses of people in the 
region.  Whether *any* form of capitalism will ever be able to fully meet 
the needs of Latin American workers is something that Marxists and 
socialists have every right to doubt, but that cannot be settled a priori or 
ideologically.  The Latin American workers themselves will decide in due 
time what meets meet their needs and what doesn't.  And if we use an 
artificial ideological dispute (e.g., "socialism" versus "capitalism") as a 
wedge to refuse to join their movement in its meandering political journey, 
then we're really copping out.

As Melvin is used to saying, the task is to support the workers in their 
current struggle.  The current struggle is NOT a struggle between socialism 
and capitalism.  So Louis' distinction between "revolutionaries" and 
"reformists" is rather artificial.  What revolution is he talking about?  
And as Marvin asked, what revolutionary organization is he talking about?  
In the U.S., a good portion of those who participated in the largest 
progressive mass movement of the last decade last year (the movement against 
the invasion/occupation of Iraq) have taken the natural next political step: 
They have set out to join a broad coalition to evict Bush from the White 
House.  Instead of joining their fight wholeheartedly while providing a 
sober perspective about the struggles yet to come, Louis and a few others on 
the list have objected to the political vehicle these people have chosen to 
execute the task, the Democratic Party.  So Louis calls us to fight a 
sectarian fight instead.  The excuse is that the DP doesn't meet certain 
ideological standards.

Louis doesn't seem to notice his logical contradictions.  He correctly 
criticizes those who oppose Chavez because Venezuela's leader doesn't fit 
some preconceived profile and Chavez's policies don't conform to some ideal 
socialist program.  It's working people in motion to assert their interests 
that matter.  Yet in the same breath he asserts that the political dilemma 
facing the workers' movement today is between capitalism and socialism, thus 
implying that those who are not clearly for socialism are to be discredited 
or purged.  What does this mean for Venezuela?  Well, the reaction there 
screams that Hugo Chavez's goals are socialist.  Is this true?  As far as we 
can tell, either the answer is no or the question is irrelevant.  The 
current dilemma in Venezuela is clearly between a constitutional process 
that puts the broader democratic interests of the working people first 
versus the privileges of a handful of wealthy families with connections in 
the White House.

Something similar can be said about Brazil.  We really can't characterize 
Lula's policies as socialist, because socialism is not in Brazil's agenda 
now.  At least that is not the way Brazilians or the PT characterize their 
policies.  I'd think we need to measure Lula's actions with a different 
ruler.  And I believe the ruler is provided by the people of Brazil as 
judged by their demands -- they want jobs, food on the table, land, housing, 
basic health care, public services, basic respect and dignity, safety, 
fairness in the rule of law, etc.  That's "economic development" in the 
jargon of economists and that's "progress" for Brazilians.  That's the ruler 
we should use because that is the ruler the people of Brazil will use to 
measure Lula's and the PT's performance.

By his own admission, a good deal of Louis' daily "revolutionary" activity 
(quotes because his activity can't be revolutionary in the absence of a 
revolutionary movement and a revolutionary organization, although that 
doesn't mean that Louis' activity is always useless) is focused on 
criticizing people on the left who are not up to his strict "revolutionary" 
standards.  The critique is often aimed at personalities and their supposed 
shameful motivations, which means that his goal is too much to discredit 
people and too little to refute their ideas.

>China?!?! This country is utterly unrecognizable as having any kind of 
>revolutionary or socialist values and policies. I haven't given that much 
>attention to Vietnam, but I am skeptical that it will not follow exactly 
>the same road.

So the CP of China conducted their own political suicide in front of over 
one billion Chinese and billions of foreign witnesses.  Let's suppose Louis 
is right, that begs the next question: How did it happen?  Ideological and 
political shifts of this magnitude don't occur in a vacuum.  How did this 
tectonic shift happen in China's society and polity?  What lessons should 
the workers in the Third World draw from the largest Communist experience in 
history?  Should they just look at these events in terms of betrayal to 
"revolutionary and socialist values"?  Should they think that the reason why 
China didn't stick to the Communist path was that Marxmail had yet to be 
created and we were not around to prevent the derailment?

Julio

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