Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lenin, Fidel and the role of the individual in history

Excerpt:

....As all the great revolutionary leaders of the working class have taught us — from Marx and Engels, to Lenin and Fidel — no one becomes a Marxist without being a student of science and history. Not history as it is taught in the academies — an incomprehensible catalog of names, dates, events, and above all rationalizations for the "existing fact" of capitalist social relations.

What I'm talking about is living history, in which we — working people — are the protagonists. "The existing class struggle," "the historical movement going on under our very eyes," to use the words of the Communist Manifesto. And always from the point of view of a person who automatically asks Was tun?

"And what is to be done?"

It is in that spirit that Isabel and the compañeros of Ciencias Sociales invited me to participate today. Pathfinder Press, where part of my activity is centered, has published dozens of books on the Bolshevik Revolution and its ongoing continuity. Some of them are available on the table at the side of the room.

And, as the pamphlet you all received a copy of explains, Pathfinder itself Was Born with the October Revolution.

Two great socialist revolutions

Last November, in the hours following the death of Fidel, Jack Barnes, the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, sent a message on behalf of the party to compañero Raúl. I want to begin by quoting from that letter, which states with clarity the theme of my remarks today: "Lenin, Fidel and the Role of the Individual in History." You each received a copy of this message as well.

Dear Compañero Raúl,

There were two great socialist revolutions in the twentieth century, one in Russia, the other in Cuba. Neither was the product of a single individual. Both were the result of the operations of capitalism itself. But without the presence and political leadership of Vladimir Lenin and of Fidel Castro Ruz at decisive moments in those historic battles by working people, there is no reason to believe either revolution would have been victorious.

Apart from Lenin and Fidel, the history of the twentieth century — and the twenty-first — is unthinkable. Both of them, Marxist students of science and history, gave their lives to uprooting the dog-eat-dog exploitation, oppression, and compulsion on which the capitalist world order depends and replacing it with a workers state, with new social and economic relations based on the liberating capacities of working people and the youth they inspire….

[Fidel's] highest achievement was forging in struggle a revolutionary cadre, a communist cadre, capable of leading the workers and farmers of Cuba to establish the first free territory of the Americas and successfully defend it for more than five and a half decades against the determination to destroy it by the mightiest and most brutal empire the world has known….

His life work, Cuba's socialist revolution — its example, and above all its ongoing march — stand as his monument. He needs no other.

A tribute to Lenin and Fidel

Our discussion here today is as much part of the Havana International Book Fair's tribute to Fidel — and his political leadership of the Cuban Revolution — as it is to Lenin and the 100th anniversary of October. No other events did more to change the course of history in our epoch and open the road forward for all humanity. And, as the message to Raúl says, it is likely that neither revolution would have succeeded without the presence and leadership of Lenin and Fidel at decisive turning points.

Debate among revolutionists over the reciprocal action of objective and subjective factors in the historical process is not new, of course. It goes back to the foundations of Marxism. Georgi Plekhanov's classic 1898 essay on The Role of the Individual in History — a polemic against the Narodnik current in Tsarist Russia, which exalted the lone hero as an autonomous creator of history — was one sided and mechanical. But it influenced the generation being won to Marxism in the years before the betrayal of the leadership of the Second International in face of the first interimperialist slaughter.

Would the October Revolution have succeeded without both the presence and the political leadership of Lenin at decisive moments in 1917? Could another revolutionary leader, or a combination of them, have assumed Lenin's place?

Leon Trotsky, whose standing in the leadership of the Bolshevik Revolution was second only to Lenin's, wrote about this question more than once in the years after Lenin's death. As those of you here today are well aware, Trotsky was the organizer of the insurrection and then of the Red Army that successfully defended the young Soviet republic from the combined forces of domestic and international reaction — from London and Paris, to Tokyo and Washington, to the so-called White armies of Russia's defeated landlords, capitalists, and monarchists.

And for those who come from a different political past than I do, I'll add that despite Trotsky's differences with Lenin's unwavering course that made possible the toilers' victory, after Trotsky unreservedly joined Lenin in rejecting conciliation with the Mensheviks and other class collaborationists in mid-1917, "from that time on" — in Lenin's words — "there has been no better Bolshevik."

From April to October and beyond

In his History of the Russian Revolution — in the chapter "Who Led the February Insurrection?" — Trotsky answered that question as follows: it was led by "conscious and tempered workers educated for the most part by the party of Lenin." Lenin's leadership was thus crucial not only after the February Revolution but in the years leading up to it, years during which Lenin was in exile.

Lenin's leadership took on a decisive and irreplaceable character, however, from his post-February political reorientation of the Bolshevik leadership — boldly presented in the "April Theses" — through the October insurrection and beyond. No one else could have taken Lenin's place, and he could not have led the working class to victory from afar.

There are moments in politics when timing — and unflinching determination — is everything. Fidel's clarion call to action in 1956, announcing to the world that before year's end the men of the Granma expedition "will be free or we will be martyrs," is such an example.

Lenin's presence on the front lines of the revolutionary struggle — sheltered by workers in the proletarian districts of Petrograd — was necessary to the success of the proletarian revolution. As was Fidel's leadership in the Sierras, protected by peasants and rural toilers among whom the Rebel Army began laying the foundations of the new social order.

And Lenin's political leadership of the Bolshevik party at critical moments was equally irreplaceable. The Bolshevik party led the workers and peasants to victory. But it was Lenin who led the leaders of the revolution. It was Lenin who stabilized the party and won the fainthearts in the Bolshevik leadership through the waverings of March and April, to the perilous July days, and beyond. It was Lenin who insisted on publicly announcing the date of the insurrection, without which it would have likely failed.

The political authority Lenin had earned among the cadres through years of revolutionary struggle was equal to none.

Chance played a role too. We can ask ourselves, what might have been the course of history had the German high command, for its own reasons, not allowed Lenin to travel by train through German lines to Sweden, and then on to Petersburg in April 1917? Or if Lenin had been mortally wounded by his would-be assassin in August 1918? Or felled by a stroke such as those that ended his political life a few years later?

Writing from exile in 1935, Trotsky's conclusion was unambiguous: "For the sake of clarity I would put it this way. Had I not been present in 1917 in Petersburg, the October Revolution would still have taken place — on the condition that Lenin was present and in command. If neither Lenin nor I had been present in Petersburg, there would have been no October Revolution: the leadership of the Bolshevik party would have prevented it from occurring."

From Moncada to 1959 and beyond

Returning to the Cuban Revolution, the parallels are inescapable. The historical conditions that gave rise to the Batista coup, the Centenary Generation, and the revolutionary struggle for power led by Fidel had been gestating for years. Objective conditions were more than ripe.

But without Fidel's leadership, would the bold call to action — the assault on the Moncada Garrison — have been organized? Would the Granma landing and the November 30 uprising in Santiago have occurred?

If by chance Fidel had been killed in any of these events, or struck down in combat during the revolutionary war, had he been felled by the traitor resting next to him in the Sierras — would the July 26 Movement and Rebel Army have defeated the offensive of Batista's 10,000 troops? Would they have won the political authority to displace the scheming bourgeois opposition leaders with their Miami Pacts and other conciliationist maneuvers?

Would the Cuban people have achieved the unprecedented feats of holding the imperialist empire to the north at bay for decades, defeating the army of the South African apartheid regime, and leading the epic battle of the Special Period to victory?

Without Fidel's steady moral, political and military leadership of the leadership — over more than 60 years — would Cuba's socialist revolution, despite all historical odds, still be on course today?

No one can prove a negative. But as historical materialists, we have to say that all evidence makes it unlikely.

A proletarian line of march

Fidel's leadership, like Lenin's, was proletarian leadership. Fidel spoke less frequently in class terms, but the class line of march was the same. As Raúl reminded us, Fidel led a revolution "of the humble, by the humble and for the humble."

Like Lenin and Che, he believed in the capacity of ordinary human beings to accomplish what others believed to be impossible, and, above all, to transform themselves in the process.

"Our revolution started from scratch, from nothing," Fidel said in 1987. "We did not have a single weapon; we did not have a penny, even the men who started the struggle were unknown, and yet …we confronted the thousands of soldiers, and the revolution triumphed because we believed in man."

The revolutionary war had one and only one objective: to take power as quickly as possible, with the least possible cost in human lives. "With a minimum of weapons and a maximum of moral values," to cite a Radio Rebelde broadcast from the Sierras in August 1958.

"Politics begin where millions of men and women are," Lenin told the Extraordinary Congress of the Russian Communist Party in March 1918, "where there are not thousands, but millions, that is where serious politics begin."

That is what guided the Bolsheviks during the tumultuous years of the Russian Revolution and its early struggle for survival.

It is what guided and continues to guide the Cuban leadership to this day.

Imperialism lost Cold War

Some twenty-five years ago, shortly after the collapse of the "meringue," to use Fidel's term, the Socialist Workers Party adopted a resolution entitled "US Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War." (It is published in the magazine of Marxist politics and theory, New International, and is available on the table over there.) At the time, there was hardly a soul on the planet who didn't think we were delusional. Including here in Cuba, where you were living through the darkest days of the Special Period.

Today, perhaps, we aren't so alone in holding to that view.

The "Cold War" was never about bringing down a bureaucratic caste in the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. For the imperialist rulers, it was always about trying in vain to hold off the inevitable acceleration and sharpening of the class struggle on both sides of what they called "the Iron Curtain." It was about trying to convince working people on both sides that they were enemies of each other — not allies — in order to divide, weaken, and conquer.

The meringue fell first, but today it is the European Union, NATO, and other institutions of imperialist rule that are cracking. All the unresolved contradictions of the last century are reemerging with explosive force. And the privileged classes everywhere are scrambling to try to find ways to protect their interests from the humble majority, those who Hillary Clinton during her presidential election campaign scornfully labeled "the deplorables."

The exploiters scramble to find ways to deny their fear.

On the 100th anniversary of the great October Revolution, there are those who say the occasion should be commemorated with angry denunciations and shouts of "Never Again!"

For our part, we can affirm with confidence, as Fidel did in his words to the closing session of the Cuban Communist Party congress last April, that it will not be another century before "another event like the Russian Revolution occurs, in order that humanity have another example of a magnificent social revolution that marked a huge step in the struggle against colonialism and its inseparable companion, imperialism." 
 
 




http://themilitant.com/2017/8110/811050.html

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Capitalist carnage

Below are the remarks by Mary-Alice Waters at a Feb. 10 presentation of three new books on the U.S. class struggle at the Havana International Book Fair (see accompanying article). Waters is a member of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party and president of Pathfinder Press. Copyright © 2017 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

....In his inaugural address three weeks ago, President Trump used the phrase “this American carnage” to describe the conditions of life faced by broad layers of US working people today, both rural and urban. That word — carnage — was singled out by the hysterical anti-Trump media as an example of the president’s twisted refusal to acknowledge what those who’ve benefited so greatly from the “Obama years” portray as an economic recovery.

It was a “dark” speech, these commentators said. It failed to recognize that “America Is Already Great,” echoing the imperialist sloganeering of Hillary Clinton’s liberal Democratic Party campaign.

But carnage it is.

That’s exactly the right word. It’s the word you’ll find in the pages of The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record, published months before the changing of the guard in Washington.

Its accuracy is backed up by massive documentation in the pages of these three books. Each of them recounts the consequences for US working people of the social policies put in place, with bipartisan support, over the quarter century ago since the inauguration of Bill Clinton, policies supported and continued by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

You’ll find here the machinations used to conceal the true level of joblessness, as well as workers’ declining real wages.

You’ll find the consequences of slashing social welfare programs for women and children.

You’ll find facts on the soaring prison population, the record numbers of deportations and prosecutions of immigrants, and the large increase in federal crimes for which a judge can impose the death penalty.

You’ll find the growing suicide rate among young adults, and the epidemic of narcotics addiction in small cities, towns, and devastated farming and mining areas.

You’ll find the toll on the working class of Washington’s endless wars and its repeated deployments of workers and farmers to Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. And much more.

More important than charts and statistics, however, is the visual evidence available to anyone willing to look as they drive across vast areas of the United States. I hope Fernando will speak about what he saw, with his own eyes, when the US Bureau of Prisons gave him the “opportunity” to drive through the rural Southwest in a prison bus transporting him to Safford, Arizona.

Growing class inequalities

It’s not only the social inequities that have accelerated in the last quarter century. It’s the class inequalities.

It’s not just the wealth of the multibillionaires, including Trump and family, or multi-multimillionaires like their rival Democratic Party family, the Clintons. It’s also the steady expansion of high-earning professional and upper middle-class layers who dominate the media and populate the universities, administrative and “intelligence” agencies of the federal government, “Silicon Valley,” and tens of thousands of “charitable” foundations and other “nonprofit” institutions that promote worldwide the capitalist and imperialist interests of their financial backers.

Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? — one of two books by Jack Barnes, National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party — that we’re presenting here today, deals with the growing significance of this social layer.

In these privileged circles, it’s common to hear someone remark that they can’t understand how Trump won the election — “I don’t know a single person who intended to vote for him.”

This class isolation was captured by a Washington Post columnist a few months ago who was voicing his fear of the rising anger of millions of working people in the US. “Never have so many people with so little knowledge made so many consequential decisions for the rest of us,” he wrote. “We must weed out ignorant Americans from the electorate.”

For him, this “ignorant electorate” clearly includes the overwhelming majority of the working class in the United States.

It is not Trump’s crude insults, his vulgar misogyny, or anti-immigrant demagogy that this well-remunerated social layer finds most unsettling. What they fear is something different. They fear the millions of men and women — Black and white, immigrant and native born, religious and nonreligious — who recognize their own lives, and the lives of their neighbors, in that word carnage.

When Hillary Clinton announced during the election campaign that those who weren’t going to vote for her — those who weren’t going to vote to continue the carnage — were nothing but a basket of irredeemable “deplorables,” at that moment she was finished.

Opportunities and responsibilities

The election was a protest vote in the framework of bourgeois politics, the only framework that exists today for the millions.

It registered the blows dealt since the 2008 world financial crisis to the stability of the two-party system through which the US capitalist class has long governed. Neither party will emerge intact.

Trump’s inauguration boast — “This American carnage stops now” — will not come to be, of course. There are no capitalist policies that can achieve that, and there is no imperialist politician who can change what is going to happen. The law of value is stronger than any of them, or all of them together.

Until we, the working class and our allies, are strong enough to put an end to their system, their crises will continue to be paid for by working people the world over in our flesh and blood, in the misery of hundreds of millions.

As a result of these conditions — and the disrespectful response by the rulers and their political servants to the victims among working people — there is today greater openness in the US working class than at any moment in our lifetimes to discuss the broadest social questions and political issues. For communists that means growing opportunities along with enormous responsibilities.

Contrary to the picture painted by the liberal media and across “the left,” there is less racism and less anti-immigrant chauvinism today among working people than ever before in US history. Ultraright fringe groups are more marginalized than ever following Trump’s victory.

There is more space, not less, to fight to organize the unorganized, demand amnesty for foreign-born workers, mobilize against police brutality, advance the struggle for women’s rights, and oppose Washington’s imperialist wars. There is more space to rebuild our unions as instruments of solidarity and struggle.

Most important, there are more opportunities than we’ve known in decades to win young workers and other youth to the need to build a party, a communist party, within the vanguard of the working class.

It is along that road that the men and women capable of making a socialist revolution in the US will be forged, as they were here in Cuba.

That is what the books we are presenting here today are about.

In the name of my party, the Socialist Workers Party, I want to say to you, however, that until that battle is won, we will continue to act on Fidel’s words to the Federation of University Students two years ago:

“I do not trust the policy of the United States” — here in Cuba, in the US, or anywhere else in the world. 
 

http://themilitant.com/2017/8109/810906.html

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Building a party of seasoned fighters, not summer soldiers

Dobbs: ‘Our task is to chart a revolutionary course’

One of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for February is Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs. Excerpted below is the concluding portion of a 1966 speech given by Dobbs, which is quoted by Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes in his introduction. Dobbs, a long-time leader of the SWP and central leader of the victorious battles in the 1930s that built the Teamsters union in the Midwest, was speaking to an audience substantially composed of Young Socialists. “Dobbs summed up the world historical view that best describes his lifetime political course; the class characteristics indispensable for any proletarian revolutionist; and what the working class demands of its leaders, above all,” Barnes says. Copyright © 1972 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.  

BY FARRELL DOBBS

We must be constantly aware of the key role of the United States in the world. United States imperialism is today the powerhouse of world reaction, as the war in Vietnam is abundantly demonstrating.

It is an iron fact that until capitalism is overturned here in the United States of America, the gang of imperialist mad dogs that rule this country are going to remain a mortal threat to all humanity. We must never forget that.

That means the showdown battle for world socialism is going to be fought right here in the United States of America. And when the revolutionary victory is won, outlived, decadent capitalism is going to disappear literally overnight from the face of our planet. Humanity is going to march forward to the building of an enlightened socialist society where people for the first time can really live together on this planet in peace and in security and with freedom. Humanity will finally realize the type of rewarding life that human intelligence is so abundantly capable of making, even at the present level of technological development. Once humanity learns how to conduct itself politically, organizationally, and socially, it can take advantage of these wonders.

That’s what we dedicate our lives to. We of the party, we revolutionaries in the United States — acting as best we can in solidarity with revolutionary fighters across the world — must always keep in mind that in the last analysis the fate of humanity rests on the socialist revolution in the United States. Our task is to build a party capable of leading that revolution, going up against the most heinous of the reactionary, monstrous ruling class regimes that exist on the face of this planet: the imperialist ruling class of the United States.

The road ahead in that struggle is going to be strewn with obstacles, and there are going to be many pitfalls. There’s no roadmap, no way you can find some kind of a detailed handbook that’s going to tell you what to do at each juncture. Our task is to chart a revolutionary course, based on a fundamental understanding of our program — a basic feel of our revolutionary strategy—and to hammer out the tactics in that direction as we go along.

There’s no timetable. Nobody can say how long it’s going to take or when it’s going to happen. I personally feel that those of you sitting in this room today, who have got all your youth going for you, have got at least Damon Runyon’s six-to-five chance of seeing that explosion.

But in saying so I want to add immediately: don’t make that a condition. Don’t adopt the criterion that the revolutionary change must happen in your time. Don’t take as a guide to your active life that narrow, provincial, self-centered notion that if it doesn’t happen during the time of your own subjective existence on this planet, it’s not important.

Always remember that history is magnificently indifferent to the problems of the individual. History doesn’t care whether you die at six or live to be seven hundred, if that were possible, or what happens during your particular lifetime. As the German poet Goethe once said, “History marches like a drunken beggar on horseback.”

A lot can happen during your limited lifespan, or you can live a dull existence. Some people have had the good fortune to live more in a year than others at a different historical juncture could live in their whole lifetime. Or, as Plekhanov once put it, “If it hadn’t been for the French Revolution, Napoleon would probably have ended up as a corporal in the French artillery.”

Don’t make it a condition that the socialist revolution must come in your lifetime. Be not only a citizen of the planet; be a citizen of time. Recognize that what’s fundamental is to be in rapport with the human race from the dawn of history, on to heights we can only vaguely begin to dream of.

And what’s the alternative? The alternative is to make a compromise with this rotten capitalist system. Do you know what people who do that are like? You remember the movie, The Devil and Daniel Webster? Jabez Stone, you know, sold his soul to Scratch, the devil. He did so on the promise that his personal ambitions would thus be served. Later he regretted the action and asked to have his soul returned. Scratch, who was played by Walter Huston, that magnificent actor, finally said all right, he’d give it back.

So Scratch took a small matchbox from his pocket. He opened the box and began poking around in it with his stubby finger trying, and trying, to find the mean little soul of Jabez Stone so he could give it back.

That’s symbolic of what you do to your own soul if you make a compromise with this rotten system.

Our job is to build a movement of men and women who emulate the seasoned fighters of the Continental line in the first American Revolution. Learn to be professional revolutionary fighters. Don’t be summer soldiers. Don’t dabble; don’t vacillate. Put nothing above the considerations of the movement. Maintain your place in the front ranks of the revolutionary fighters, and stand in that place for the duration.

There is no other way in which you can find so rich, so rewarding, so fruitful, and so purposeful a life.  


http://themilitant.com/2017/8107/810749.html

The Militant: focus on clarity in today's struggles

Calling Trump a ‘fascist’ disorients the working class
http://themilitant.com/2017/8107/810702.html

Anarchist ‘black bloc’ politics pose threat to working class
http://themilitant.com/2017/8107/810750.html

Join the protests! Demand amnesty!
http://themilitant.com/2017/8107/810720.html

Friday, February 10, 2017

Workers World Party attacks free speech and promotes violence against suspected Trump supporters

Excerpt:

....“The vibe in the crowd was a unified front against fascism. It was good to see young communists and anarchists working together. For example, we commandeered a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat from a hubristic white male who decided to walk through our crowd. We worked together to take his hat and start that f*cker on fire, using communist flyers and an anarchist’s lighter.”

http://www.workers.org/2017/02/07/an-appeal-to-the-movement-on-why-unity-is-needed-to-defend-j20-resisters/#.WJ2zy3NOnqB

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Free speech and censorship

From a friend on Facebook

"I'm for free speech, but that doesn't mean that bigots and fascists are entitled to a platform at our university. The vast majority of the students here reject hate speech and bigotry, and we won't tolerate it in our lecture halls. We have no tolerance for the incendiary rhetoric of racists who incite violence towards the students of marginalized communities. We're under no obligation to give a lectern to hate speech, and they've got plenty of airtime elsewhere to espouse their views."

-Said the censors one and all

Don't let a racist troll with a book deal goad you from your democratic rights. We need that space that he's baiting you to choke and shout away, and we need it more than he does. We need to organize our own meetings, and bigger meetings.

We need those lecterns for prison leaders, revolutionists, traitors, "enemies of the state" etc... If the bigots can't rely on the cops to defend their meetings than it should be clear as all hell that we can't either.

We defend our meetings with disciplined organization, and by appealing to the broad democratic inclinations of the vast majority, who rightly detest anyone who tells them what they can and can't listen to. Don't deride that instinct, it's a good one. It's the instinct that gives those of us who hold a minority viewpoint the hope for a real hearing.

When you tell people that some ideas are too repugnant for them to hear, you're saying that they're:

A. Too stupid not to be hypnotized
or
B. Dormant bigots who just needs to hear what they believe already said through a microphone

If you believe either A or B there's not much for us to discuss. But I suspect that most of you don't. I suspect that most of you would-be censors are rightfully repulsed by racism, and that you're earnest in your desire to eradicate it from the earth. Good. We agree.

I think you do that the Cuban way, by organizing working people to make a revolution and reorganize society on the basis of human solidarity. Maybe you disagree, no problem. We can debate that. We could even hold a large public meeting debating revolutionary politics, and I bet we'd find a curious audience among the millions of working people searching for a way forward. A lot of people wouldn't like that though, especially as the social crisis in the United States deepens. A lot of them would say that we shouldn't get to organize that meeting, they may even try to shut us down. But fear not, I'm sure the cops would defend our right to speak, just like they defended that bigot troll with the bleached hair.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Marxolalia and Marxophasia

Having finished Volume 1 last week, today i began reading. Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. II: The Politics of Social Classes by Hal Draper.  It was initially published in 1978.
In the Foreword, Draper reviews his own strict procedures for the use of quotation in his exegesis.
He also spends some time on the question of unintentionally relaxed standards used in the quotation of Marx and Engels.
I get the feeling that the more Draper worked on this series of books, the more he felt compelled to settle accounts with 150 years of pseudo-scholarship.
Except from pages 14-17: