By Sam Marcy
(April 19, 1990)
For a Marxist, the initial point of all social analysis is always the class criterion. What classes, what social groupings are involved? The politics of a particular grouping must always be regarded from the viewpoint of which class it represents. Politics, Marxism has taught, is concentrated economics. Unless we go behind the politics and look at the economic anatomy of society, which is divided into classes, any clear social analysis is impossible.
From the earliest beginnings of the socialist movement in every country, the class question has always been central. That is because the proletariat can only be liberated if it puts forth, clearly and unequivocally, its own program as distinct from that of the capitalists, who are concerned only with predatory exploitation and imperialist oppression. The proletariat has everything to gain and nothing to lose by openly and clearly speaking in its own name, for its own class ends.
The most advanced section of the workers and the most brilliant intellectual minds learned from the French Revolution that the glittering slogans of freedom, equality and fraternity were calculated to secure and promote the interests of the bourgeoisie as against the class interests of the workers and poor peasants. It was on the basis of this great lesson, among others, that Marx and Engels were able to elucidate the class struggle raging in capitalist society and to describe in detail why and how the proletariat must state openly and clearly its own objectives, the liberation of the proletariat from its principal antagonist, the bourgeoisie.
Nothing so much symbolizes the objective of the proletariat as the succinct slogan of the Communist Manifesto, still heard around the world: "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains."
But the bourgeoisie has a whole lot to lose by stating its aims unequivocally, let alone spelling out specifically what its aims and ends are. It must forever conceal them so that the workers will be blinded.
To do this, it is urgent that it have all sorts of intermediaries, especially from the petit bourgeoisie and its intellectual representatives, to blur and conceal the naked, brutal struggle that goes on between the two basic classes in contemporary society.
Social democrats and Eastern Europe
We have in mind a variety of social and political groupings which have concerned themselves for a long period of time with developments in what was the socialist camp. Few of them have been louder or more articulate as cheerleaders for freedom from Stalinist rule than the social democrats. They have joined with the imperialists in welcoming the great upheavals in Eastern Europe now referred to as revolutions.
For a long, long time the social democrats and their leftist supporters regarded this as the sine qua non for liberation, never once noticing that the bourgeoisie on a world scale was pushing the same slogans even more loudly and effectively.
Considering the magnitude of these events, we Marxists must first of all ask, what is the class character of these upheavals? What classes are the driving forces behind them?
We know what the class character of the French Revolution was. Notwithstanding the glittering slogans, it was a bourgeois revolution, as all now agree.
Or, take what in the United States is known as the war between the states, the Civil War. It is often properly called a revolution. The driving forces in that struggle were the class of slave owners on one side and the rising Northern bourgeoisie on the other. It was a class struggle, a struggle between two diametrically opposed social systems for hegemony in the hemisphere. The Northern industrial bourgeoisie found it absolutely indispensable to make the abolition of chattel slavery a principal objective in its struggle for domination over the United States.
Of course, even today the imperialist bourgeoisie minimizes the tremendous and indispensable slave insurrections that had been going on for centuries. Nevertheless, Marxists recognize that the war was a bourgeois revolution. Few serious historians have denied its class character. True, it was highly democratic and progressive, but its class content was the supremacy of the bourgeoisie over the chattel slave owners.
What was the class character of the February Revolution in Russia in 1917? Of the October Revolution? In both cases, workers and peasants participated. But what was the objective significance of these two revolutions?
Marxists characterize February as a bourgeois revolution, even though some of its results were highly democratic. Had the proletarian revolution not intervened, that struggle would have firmly entrenched the bourgeoisie, which would have continued its exploitation and oppression of the workers and peasants and prosecuted the imperialist war.
The October Revolution, on the other hand, is properly called a proletarian revolution. It was a revolution of the workers and peasants against the bourgeoisie. Its class content was unique and unprecedented at that time, with the sole exception of the Paris Commune of 1871.
The new workers' government broke with imperialism, made a clarion call for worldwide proletarian revolution, sounded the tocsin in the struggle of the oppressed people against imperialism, and created a new international organization to succeed the First and Second Internationals so as to revive and promote the world socialist revolution.
Coming back to the great social transformations in Eastern Europe, we must ask ourselves, what is their class character?
What is the class character of the transformations in Poland, Hungary and Romania, for example? The fact that workers may be involved in them is not decisive. Scarcely anything of great significance in modern times is done without involving great masses of the population.
What is class character of upheavals?
Sometimes large masses can be involved in counterrevolutionary actions, such as the destruction of the Paris Commune. The bourgeoisie draws the workers into involvement in imperialist wars and interventions. Workers and peasants are often used as mere cannon fodder to support imperialist profits. Are these not facts of history?
A forum held recently by the Socialist Scholars Conference was expected by many to address this burning question on the class character of the upheavals in Eastern Europe. There is scarcely a more significant world problem for socialists.
But that's the one thing they all avoided. They failed to call this most important phenomenon by its class denomination. Is the so-called revolution in Hungary a proletarian revolution because many workers participated in it, or is it a bourgeois, pro-imperialist revolution, a counterrevolution, as a Marxist would call it? Is the transformation in Romania a proletarian revolution, or is it a bourgeois counterrevolution? On this the socialist scholars are mum.
The umbrella of anti-Stalinism
Instead of proceeding according to the norms of Marxist analysis, they have instead adopted an all-embracing definition, an umbrella, which suits the bourgeoisie perfectly. It is dinned into our ears day and night, by the bourgeoisie first and foremost, that these revolutions are anti-Stalinist. Period.
But Stalinism is a political phenomenon which needs class analysis and elaboration. Can the socialist scholars deny that it is a political phenomenon and must be reflective of whatever classes exist in the Soviet Union, as well as the USSR's relation to the world struggle, particularly the struggle of imperialism against the socialist countries?
Let us go back to when the term Stalinist originated, following the death of Lenin. At that time there were three political tendencies within the Soviet Communist Party and the international communist movement. The first, the Bukharin-Rykov-Tomsky tendency, was regarded, at least by the left and center, as a right deviation. Leading the Left Opposition were Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev. The center, having control of the party apparatus and the dominant tendency at the time, was headed by Stalin.
Thus the anti-Stalin struggle at that time was one between political tendencies within the communist movement and for communist objectives.
The term Stalinism was understood as meaning Stalin's false measures in regard to collectivization, privileges for the upper stratum in Soviet society, and repressive measures within the party to stifle democratic centralist opposition. The anti-Stalinists were communists who were opposed to Stalin's policies, from both the right and the left. Stalinism referred to policies which were considered regressive in relation to the objectives of the world proletarian revolution and the construction of socialism at home.
Over a period of years, however, the world bourgeoisie intervened slowly but consistently in this struggle and began to convert the progressive anti-Stalin struggle within the communist movement into a struggle against communism altogether. This was a decisive turn of world historic significance. During the Cold War especially, the term Stalinism was used in such a way that hardly anyone could distinguish between a progressive struggle against Stalin from the viewpoint of the working class and a bourgeois, flagrantly pro-imperialist attack.
Thus a Sakharov, a Solzhenitsyn, a Sharansky all came to be in the camp of "anti-Stalinism," although they were thoroughly bourgeois, counterrevolutionary and pro-imperialist. To champion their cause is to champion the cause of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Yet hardly any among the so-called left anti-Stalinists would utter so much as a word to indicate a difference in social or class objectives with these agents of imperialism. All were under this great, all-embracing democratic umbrella.
The bourgeoisie placed its class interests under this umbrella and gradually absorbed all the other groupings. Most significant and sometimes most fervent in the anti-Stalin camp were the social democrats, their left wing most of all.
Social democrats on revolutionary violence
During the early twenties, after the Bolshevik Revolution, the social democrats clearly demarcated themselves from the communists in their opposition to the use of violence in the seizure of power to overthrow the bourgeoisie. Just as important to the bourgeoisie were their proclamations that their attachment to bourgeois democratic procedures was absolute and undeviating.
This demarcation between the social democrats and the communists is important in relation to Eastern Europe as well as the USSR, for both abstract, absolutist democracy and nonviolence clearly serve the ends of the bourgeoisie. There never has taken place peacefully a thoroughgoing socialist revolution where the workers and peasants took over the means of production and expropriated the lands and property of the bourgeoisie. Such a revolution requires the seizure of power by the workers and peasants and defense against the violent opposition of the bourgeoisie.
Finally, it requires the broadest participation of the masses in order to break up the violent state apparatus of the ruling class and replace it with one that serves the broad masses of people, as in the days of the Commune of Paris of 1793 when the Committees of Public Safety became the eyes and ears of the Revolution. This is what the social democrats have never understood.
The term democracy, this most valuable abstraction, if taken in its absolutist sense, is the nexus which ties social democracy to the bourgeoisie.
Yet the proponents of democracy who really come from the bourgeoisie proper do not entertain any abstract, absolutist conceptions of democracy or adhere to it in any measure. They solidly support only bourgeois democracy, the democracy that serves their ends. In Eastern Europe, this means to regain and strengthen their hold on the means of production from which they have been expropriated.
Does it ever occur to the social democrats, the leftist ones in particular, why it is that the bourgeoisie, who are so fervently for abstract, absolutist democracy in general, never cross over the class lines to support socialist democracy? Isn't that the nub of the whole question?
No bourgeois support for workers' democracy
The Paris Commune was democratic to a fault. There was complete workers' democracy during the Leninist period. And workers' democracy has thrived in Cuba and China. Why doesn't the bourgeoisie support that kind of socialist democracy? They are only interested in getting mass support for the kind of democracy which supports the expropriation of the workers' property in the interests of regaining it for themselves. That's the kind of democracy they have been preaching and promoting all these many years in Eastern Europe.
Before the Russian Revolution, European social democracy stood for the principle of the public ownership of the means of production, a planned economy and a monopoly of foreign trade. It stood for the building of socialism on the basis of the abolition of capitalism. But when the struggle for socialism actually began, the social democracy wavered and turned against the revolutionary seizure of power.
Thus the program of social democracy as it had existed in the pre-Leninist era was carried out by the Bolshevik Revolution. The progressive aspects of what had been the common program of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks (later to become the communists and the social democrats) were completely taken over the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks also took over the program of the Social Revolutionaries, land to the peasants, because the SRs hesitated and turned against land seizures by the peasants.
The historical role of social democracy was further limited by the vast Soviet industrialization, the institution of centralized planning, and the general increase in the standard of living of the masses in the USSR. Therefore social democracy's raison d'etre as a traditional political current of the left was wholly preempted by Bolshevism.
Social democracy's progressive role exhausted
Its only progressive role could be if it sought to advance still further the objectives of a planned economy, more widespread socialist construction, and collectivization based on democratic procedures. In none of this did social democracy play any role. It became especially clear after the Second World War that as an independent, progressive political current, social democracy had no further function.
None realized this more than the imperialist bourgeoisie, who opened their arms to what remained of the social democratic current and used it to bolster the remnants of the bourgeoisie in the USSR and in Eastern Europe. More than ever, the imperialist bourgeoisie broadened the term anti-Stalinism to mean pro-bourgeois restoration. And the social democrats joined this, wittingly or unwittingly.
Somehow, they would bring about a socialist regeneration by joining the bourgeois restorationists. The specifics were never made clear.
All sorts of leftists who advocated democratic rights did not distinguish themselves as an independent socialist or communist tendency but in fact liquidated in the general milieu of bourgeois dissidence whatever program they might have held subjectively. They became accomplices of the bourgeois restorationist movement.
For a while they were dazzled with the lies and deceit of the free market, even though the free market presupposes the existence of capitalist exploitation.
Cheers and moans
Now that they see the results, some react with horror. They moan and groan over the sight of the multinational corporations and the banks moving in to take everything and anything that formerly belonged to the workers' state, however badly that state might have suffered bureaucratic deformations. Not a day goes by when imperialist corporations are not moving into Hungary, Poland and Romania. The GDR, seemingly the most solid, is now being swallowed up by German imperialism in alliance with the U.S., Britain and France. It is a ghastly sight.
Yet, at the Socialist Scholars Conference, they intone their happiness at the passing of Stalinism while groaning at the takeover by the imperialist colossus.
Daniel Singer, one of the speakers, once painted an idyllic picture about how the Solidarity-led movement would lead to socialism in his book The Road to Gdansk. Instead it has led Poland into the hands of the Johnson & Johnson family, who say that they'll invest there (and pay steelworkers 50 cents an hour) if there are no more lucrative investments, with higher returns, elsewhere. Even Singer himself cannot deny that the dream has turned out to be a nightmare. As he now says, "A specter is haunting Europe--the specter of capitalism." Unfortunately, it's more than a specter. It's the reality.
To be progressive in relationship to Stalin's policy means first of all being thoroughly anti-imperialist and absolutely separate from bourgeois opposition to Stalinism. What's on the order of the day is the struggle against bourgeois restoration. But this is precisely what the social democrats want to hide--that the working class in both Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has to take on the bourgeois restorationist movement, which has brought back the imperialist monopolies, wage cutting, unemployment and inflation.
We have shown [in our book Poland--Behind the Crisis] that as early as 1979, the most formidable U.S. banks had gained control of the basic elements of the Polish economy. This was front-page news in the New York Times on Jan. 26, 1979, but unfortunately our leftist social democrats did not seem to notice it.
By 1985 Poland had piled up a debt of almost $30 billion because the capitalists would not open their markets as they had promised and because the Poles were unable to overturn the socialized economy so as to suit the bankers from the IMF and the World Bank. All this is indisputable. Having started on the road of bourgeois reforms and abandoning the socialized industries, the government found itself in a continuing impasse from which it could not get out. Ultimately it capitulated outright to the demands of the imperialist bourgeoisie.
In the age of satellites and electronics, it is absolutely impossible to have a socialist policy in any metropolitan imperialist country without having a firm, clear and undeviating policy in relation to imperialism, which is still the center of the world economy.
The fact that these socialist scholars did not deign to mention imperialism, whose overwhelming effect in Eastern Europe is manifest, demonstrates the bankruptcy of their policy.