[Marxism] Callinicos reacts to the NPA

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Tue Apr 14 17:50:28 MDT 2009

Luko writes: <<It is not enough to know what you are _against_ (it is called
the "anti-capitalist party"), but what you are _for.>>

I'm not going to try to be cute, or facetious, or obscure in this post, just
straightforward. I think Luko has put his finger on *precisely* what the
error is, at least expressed in ideological terms, which is that you have to
know what you are "for."

I believe, in counterposition to Luko and others, that the important thing
is NOT "knowing what you are for," at least not in any ultimate or even
quasi-definitive way that will STILL be true two or three years from now,
should a revolution break out, but knowing *who you ARE.* 

If you look at the programmatic demands presented in the Communist
Manifesto, and later iterations of attempts to draft a communist program,
all the way down to Trotsky's Transitional Program, what is striking is what
Engels says at some point late in his life in one of the introductions to
the Manifesto, that no special stress is laid on these particular measures
and demands. That is because at the OUTSET of a revolutionary process they
are inevitably partial, insufficient and even contradictory, and their
virtue lies solely in that they open the door to further measures making
even more despotic inroads on property rights until the whole mode of
production has been revolutionized. 

I think the key to understanding this is that, at bottom, what is being
worked on and changed are SOCIAL relations, relations between people and
groups of people, and NOT mostly relations between people (or groups of
people) and things, like the means of production. 

The idea of an "anticapitalist" party is in a way a lot MORE concrete and
meaningful than that of a "socialist" party might be given current
conditions. "Socialism" means anything from Obama and Brown to the most
blood-curdling manifesto of whoever is vying to occupy the space left vacant
by Pot Pol. 

I know it is hard for comrades who have dedicated their lives to the
quixotic quest to "build" that which cannot be built but instead can only
*emerge* from the actual social movements -- a genuine party of the working
people that can vie with the capitalists for political supremacy. But we
have been at this for many, many decades. If it were POSSIBLE to "build" a
revolutionary party through voluntaristic efforts as the traditional
"Leninist"/Trotskyist/Cannonist/Mandelist ideas present it, SOMEONE would
have succeeded by now. 

Instead, on the face of it, based on hundreds if not thousands of failures,
we must say that this is TERRIBLY hard to do. Yet the Bolsheviks did it the
first time out of the gate -- and despite some not entirely insignificant
political problems, like counterposing the party to the broadest organized
expression of the mass movements (the Soviets, in 1905); being pretty much
*completely* wrong on the stance towards movements of oppressed
nationalities (counterposing the workers movement to these); being
completely factionalized six ways to sundown, so much so that in the entire
history of the RSDLP and then the Bolsheviks BEFORE the October Revolution,
there wasn't a SINGLE dispute that was kept "internal" but instead ALL were
debated publicly in the press and special pamphlets (NOT "internal
discussion bulletins," which hadn't even been invented yet); and giving
backhanded, shamefaced "insofar as" POLITICAL support to the government that
emerged after the February, 1917, overthrow of the Tsar. 

To mention just a couple of issues.

Yet working with the likes of "the Kautskyite Trotsky" (as Lenin invariably
referred to him during WWI until 1917) and "scabs" (Lenin's term, and in
1917!) like Zinoviev and Kamenev, as well as Stalin, who Lenin eventually
saw through (see his last testament), supposedly THE QUINTESSENTIAL EPITOME
OF THE VERY DISTILLED ESSENCE of revolutionary partyhood was slapped
together in a few months despite momentary contratemps like official party
line editorials in the central organ denouncing Lenin's "April Theses."

Thus providing a sure-fire automatic recipe for baking socialist revolution,
which even the most brilliant minds of subsequent generations have proved
unable to master.

And then let's look at the OTHER outstanding example of a movement that
carried out a socialist revolution in the 20th Century, which I believe is
the Cuban Revolution. THESE were the guys who spoke in such crystal-clear
scientific language that six months AFTER the expropriation of the ENTIRE
bourgeoisie as a class, their central leader, Fidel Castro, upon confessing
that, yes, actually, technically this WAS a socialist revolution, could
think of no better definition of what that meant than to parrot Abe
Lincoln's "of the people, by the people, for the people" phrase from the
Gettysburg address, only substituting the term "los humildes" --literally,
"the humble," but contextually, the poor-- where Lincoln had all the people.

What does this tell us? That Lenin had all the foresight of a blind bat and
Fidel the scientific precision of a brick? Or that perhaps, what we have
been taught about "revolutionary continuity"  and programmatic purity is
BUNK, the ACTUAL movement, in the real world, is social --material-- AND NOT
IDEOLOGICAL. And the way to judge the Fidels, Lenins, Trotskys, and, yes,
the Ho Chi Minhs, Titos and Maos, is through their relationship to and
leadership of actual social and political movements. 

Thus, in my book, the French comrades are 100 times right in following the
advice of The Who that "The Kids are All Right" instead of trying to
restrict the movement towards the constitution of a political force of the
working and oppressed peoples within the French state to those who can
recite from memory AT LEAST the first page and a half of "The Death Agony of
Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International."

I *think" Trotsky and even Cannon, had they lived to our days, would agree
with me on this, but at any rate, I'm certain that Lenin and Engels would
have, and, of course, Fidel does (or to be more accurate, I agree with
Fidel) -- just read the latest reflection about Obama and Cuba.


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