[Marxism] The ISO, "State capitalist theory", and dialectics

M. Junaid Alam mjunaidalam at msalam.net
Mon Nov 1 22:31:07 MST 2004

"I'm in the IS in Canada, and I've found that the theory of state

capitalism *is* an aide in recruiting. People seriously considering 
involving themselves in a revolutionary organization *are* grappling 
with "old" questions of what was the nature of Soviet Russia, 
present-day Cuba, etc. Individual socialists, socialists in the NDP, 
progressive activists of all stripes and even anarchists, commonly 
reject revolutionary socialism and Marxism because of what they know of 
Stalinism and what they see in Cuba and North Korea. Reading Cliff's 
"State Capitalism in Russia" or Abbie Bakan's "The Great Lie" removes a 
barrier for many, and allows many to pursue Marxism and become involved 
in revolutionary politics. Understandably, people will reject 
revolutionary socialism if they think Stalin is the natural outcome."


I'm not quite sure this is something to encourage.

Well, sure it's an "aide in recruiting", only in the sense that it's a total 
intellectual cop-out. No one has to cope with the oh-so-dreadful feeling 
that they are ideologically or morally chained to the big bad wolf known as 
what was really-existing socialism. Running around with the wonderfully 
simple quote from Karl Marx, "only the workers can emancipate themselves", 
is not some kind of garlic and cross solution that can be used to fend off 
the vampire of historical reality; it's not as if the Russians and the dozen 
or so other states that went socialist - oops, I mean, "state capitalist" - 
bumped their foreheads somewhere along the line and forgot that Marxism
 was *really* about emancipating workers and not about whatever they 
themselves created or ended up with. Theories can't be built around "maxims" 
or slogans anymore than deserts can be created around the Arctic.

The question is one of serious engagement with the concrete realities
and difficulties socialism faced. You don't have to be a Stalinist to
understand and evaluate the context in which socialist revolutions
were attempted and carried out. It is intellectual and political cowardice
of the worst sort to simply swallow whole the entire capitalist narrative
about why and how socialism failed, as various anarchists and progressives
do. This is not what we call "grappling"; this is what we call capitulating.

We are talking about fundamentally underdeveloped societies, which attempted
massive economic and social transformation under conditions of severe
pressure and isolation. They bore the disproportionate burden of capitalism's
inequities and brutalities, and their very abject condition was a consequence of
and a requirement for the maintenance of the imperialist system. So naturally they
turned to an alternative which promised solid progress and a way to break out 
of the existing system. Of course that didn't quite work out, for a lot of reasons,
but the bottom line is that the Soviet planners could not increase economic growth
after 1970, began to lose faith in their own system. The rest is history.

None of that means any serious person should shrug off 80 years of important
events and struggles with a quiet wink and nod of acceptance to the mainstream
explanations of why what happened happened. It may save you the trouble of having
to actually think things through, but it has some serious consequences, as well.
Look at what the anarchists have managed to accomplish after the initial impetus of
the Seattle shakedown: surprisingly little. The system got its shit together, and turned
these kinds of protests into carnivals or penned-in extravaganzas, prepared to act with
severe police violence and provacateurs for those frustrated with the setup. Miami 
illustrated that in no uncertain terms.

Thus you can put together the best and brightest of these anarchists and progressives, all
of whom feel very good about themselves in not worrying about whatever happened under Sino-Soviet
Marxian systems, as you often do at these WSF events, and you'll have no program, no model, 
no solution, no theory, and no overarching political bloc. There's a reason for that, namely,
that at some point you need to move beyond opposing this, that, and the other thing, and 
actually start coming up with a framework for some answers.

So while I personally don't make a big deal about state-cap or no state-cap, I definitely
wouldn't say it's a "removal of barriers" to invite people to avoid navigating big historical
questions just so you can make them feel better about fears that are larglely imposed by a lot of
caricaturing and slandering by capitalism. By your own admission, it's a means of allaying these
fears and has nothing to do with them actually even agreeing with whatever ostensible tenets comprise
state-cap theory. That's just asking for trouble down the line.

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