Tag Archive: lenin

SF Logo2The Marxist theory of the state:
Deformed and Degenerated Workers’ States and Capitalist States

From Socialist Fight (British Section, Liaison Committee for the Fourth International) 
The post WWII debate in the Fourth International of the late 1940s and early 1950s on the class character of the ‘Buffer States’ in Eastern Europe was resurrected in 1989-92 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR following the Yanayev coup and Yeltsin’s counter-coup of August 1991. We will see from the struggles we have outlined below that the Stalinist bureaucracies became divided into three camps following the defeat of the Brezhnevites by Gorbachev in 1989; those Gorbechevites on the left who wished to retain the degenerate and deformed workers’ states by opening up the economic plan by glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), those in the middle (Yanayev and Deng in China) who sought the restoration of capitalism by slow, planned measures, maintaining the Stalinist bureaucracy as the vehicle of restoration and those on the right like Yeltsin who sought a rapid capitulation to western Imperialism and their own enrichment by plundering the state assets in alliance with western transnational corporations. We can observe at least elements of these three tendencies in most of the counter-revolutionary overturns of 1989-92.

The first debate on the nature of the East European countries behind the ‘iron curtain’ in the FI in the late 1940s eventually resulted in the correct conclusion that they were deformed workers’ states, but much confusion remained. We will look at the position again as it emerged in the debate over the class character of Cuba in the early 1960s and the debate about the class character of Cambodia in the late 1970s following the invasion by Vietnam on 25 December 1978. And of course, as we have mentioned, the debate following the victory of the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism in Eastern European and Asian states in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Continue reading

Capitalist Control – How do they do it

From the Kingston Socialist Workers Party – Smarter than your average swappys.
Capitalism, as we have seen, is a class divided society based on exploitation. Under capitalism a tiny highly privileged minority rules over the large majority and lives off their labour. How do they get away with it ?

The answer, as the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci pointed out, is by a combination of force and consent. In reality force and consent are very closely intertwined and mutually reinforce each other, but for the moment I shall discuss them separately.

The element of force is primarily exercised by the state, that network of interlocking institutions – armed forces, police, judiciary, prisons, government bureaucracies etc – which stands over society and claims general authority, including a monopoly of legitimate force.

This state apparatus claims, at every level of its operation, to represent society as a whole – the so-called national or public interest. Hence the perennial assertion by police, judges, generals and so on that they are politically neutral. But the idea of a common national or public interest is a myth. The nation consists of classes, exploiters and exploited with opposed interests, and the society which the state represents is not society as such but specifically capitalist society, based on capitalist property relations and capitalist relations of production. The first duty of the state is to secure the preservation of this capitalist order. and since this order embodies the supremacy of the capitalist class, the state is, in the words of Marx ‘ but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’.

The class character of the state is reflected in its composition. The upper ranks of the military, the police, the judiciary and the civil service are drawn overwhelmingly from the bourgeoisie and retain economic, family and social ties with that class. But the intrusion into this milieu of the occasional individual from the lower orders changes nothing. On the one hand the actual class position of such an individual is changed by the fact of their promotion and their outlook will tend to change accordingly. On the other hand acceptance of the capitalist mode of operation of the state is the condition of such promotion.

The consequence of the capitalist nature of the state is that force, or the threat of force, underpins almost every aspect of daily life. Consider some examples: a worker goes to work and makes some products. At the end of the day he or she tries to take all or some of them home. The worker will, of course, be forcibly arrested and forcibly detained in a police cell. Or the workers at a factory decide to go on strike, but only ninety per cent of them come out while ten per cent try to continue working. The law, in the shape of a substantial number of police, will immediately arrive at the factory to ensure the scabs’ ‘right to work’. But if the factory bosses decide to close down and make all the workforce redundant, the police will also arrive, this time to ensure that everyone goes home and no amount of appeals to the ‘right to work’ will move them in the slightest.

In all these cases the police will say they are ‘only doing their job’, but that is the point – their job is the enforcement of capitalist exploitation. The examples I have given may seem slightly strange precisely because they are so obvious, so taken for granted, but that is also the point. Capitalist exploitation would not last five minutes without state law, backed by state force, to sustain it.

Most of the time state force remains as far as possible low key and in the background but it comes to the fore the moment there is a real challenge to the interests of the capitalist class. If the challenge comes from abroad this takes the form of war; if the challenge is internal it is met with repression. If the challenge comes from an elected government it can take the form of organizing a military or fascist coup, as happened, for example, with General Pinochet in Chile in 1973 or as has been attempted recently against the Chavez government in Venezuela.

This last point – the potential use of state power on behalf of the bourgeoisie and against the government of the day – is very important. First it completely undermines the official constitutional view (and the view promulgated by political science and taught in the education system) that the state apparatus is subordinate to the elected government. Secondly it raises a key issue in Marxist theory which was ignored or distorted by most supposedly socialist or Marxist parties in the twentieth century.

The strategy of these organizations, beginning with German Social Democracy before the First World War, was to win ‘power’ by means of parliamentary elections, thus acquiring control of the state apparatus which would then be used to construct socialism. But Marx, on the basis of the experience of the Paris commune, had argued that it was not possible for the working class to take over the existing state machine and use it for its own purposes. The existing state was organically tied to the bourgeoisie and could not be used for socialism; rather it had to be broken up – smashed – and replaced by a new state apparatus created by the working class.

Marx’s genuine theory of the state was rediscovered and vigorously reasserted by Lenin in his great book, The State and Revolution. More than that it was put into practice in the Russian Revolution by means of soviet power, i.e. the power of workers’ councils. Later, however, the international communist movement, under the direction of Stalinism reverted to the idea of a parliamentary road to socialism and taking over the existing state apparatus.

But, the objection is often raised, the modern state, with its armies, tanks, bombs, planes etc is too powerful to be smashed, even by the largest mass movement of the working class. This, however, leaves out of the equation the crucial weakness of the state and of all the power of the ruling class which is the fact that for all its operations it depends on the collaboration of a section of the working class. Every gun needs a soldier to carry it, every tank a driver, every plane a team of mechanics. Almost the entire apparatus of the state is staffed, at its lower levels by workers and what happens in a mass revolution is that the pressure leads to many or most of these workers breaking from their officers and joining the people. This is how the state is broken. What this makes clear however is that the final analysis the rule of the bourgeoisie depends not just on force but also on a kind of acceptence.

The Role of Ideology
As we have seen the dominance of the ruling class rests fundamentally on force, exercised first and foremost through the state. However, if it rested on force alone it would be highly vulnerable to overthrow by the working class who constitute the large majority of society. The power of the capitalist class and its state is greatly strengthened by the fact that most of the time it is able to secure an acceptence of its rule from the majority of the very people it oppresses and exploits.

It is the role of ideology to obtain and maintain this consent. Every society has a dominant ideology – a set of ideas, a worldview, which serves to explain, justify and sustain the existing social order and its institutions. It is part of the strength of the dominant ideology in modern capitalist society that, generally speaking , it does not name itself or even acknowledge its own existence . It does not say to people this is ‘capitalist ideology’ and you must believe it all. Rather it presents itself as a series of individual ‘common sense’ propositions which are supposed to be either self- evident or definitively proved by history, like: ‘ Management and workers should work together for the benefit of all’, or ‘ Nobody is above the law,’ or ‘ Obviously, firms have to make a profit’ or ‘There will never be complete equality, it’s against human nature.’

In reality these are not separate ideas but parts of a systematic ideology which, like the state apparatus, serves the interests of the capitalist class. Its basic principle is to depict capitalist relations of production as eternal and unchangeable, and every challenge to capitalism as hopelessly unrealistic and/or downright wicked. But why do those who are disadvantaged by these ideas, namely working people, frequently accept them, at least in part ?

Marx gave a clear answer to this question:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force in society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. ( The German Ideology)

The means of mental production – the schools, universities, publishers, press and media generally – are today enormously expanded (mass education, TV, radio, film etc) compared to Marx’s day, but they remain almost entirely in the hands of the capitalist class and its state. This means that for the large majority of people almost every item of news, almost all their knowledge of history, of economics, of science, and most of the teaching they receive on morality and religion is brought to them within the framework of capitalist ideology. This cannot fail to have a massive effect on their thinking.

In addition to this bourgeois ideology has the advantage of long tradition and of often appearing , at least on the surface, to reflect reality. For example, firms that fail to make a profit do go out of business and their workers do lose their jobs. And, crucially, just as capitalist ideology legitimizes the state, so the physical force of the state backs up the ideology. As I stated in the last column force and consent interact and reinforce each other. Put this way the real question becomes not why do so many working people accept bourgeois ideas but how can the hold of these ideas be broken?

The great weakness of capitalist ideology is that it fails to correspond to workers’ experience – their experience of exploitation, poverty, unemployment, injustice etc. As a consequence the grip of the ruling ideas is never total. Most working people develop what Gramsci called ‘contradictory consciousness’; they reject some parts of the dominant ideology while continuing to accept other parts of it. For example a worker may display a clear understanding of the class struggle in the workplace but hold reactionary attitudes towards women or migrant workers. At the same time there will be a small minority who break with capitalist ideology as a whole and adopt a coherent socialist and Marxist outlook. This minority is extremely important because in certain circumstances it can win the leadership of many or even the majority of workers whose consciousness remains mixed.

What are these circumstances? First, when the objective conflict of interest between the classes turns into an open struggle such as a strike, especially a mass strike. Second, in conditions of serious economic and/or political crisis, such as a major slump or disastrous war, when the gap between the dominant ideology and reality becomes so wide that its hegemony starts to disintegrate. But above all when these two sets of circumstances coincide. Then it becomes possible for the coherent minority not only to lead the majority of the workers in struggle – on the basis of the progressive side of their consciousness – but also to start to transform the consciousness of the majority into all out opposition to the system.

The element of mass struggle is crucial because the level of workers’ consciousness is closely related to their confidence. The less confidence workers have in their ability to challenge and change the system the more they are likely to accept the dominant ideology, especially those aspects of it , such as racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia etc, which divert their anger and bitterness onto scapegoats. The higher their confidence, the more their horizons widen and they become open to new ideas. In mass struggle they get a sense of their collective power and the advantages of solidarity prove themselves in practice.

Then what becomes decisive is the size, influence and organization of the coherent minority and its ability to give a clear political focus to the anger and aspirations of the masses. It is this combination of circumstances, ideas and action that break both the hold of capitalist ideology and the power of the capitalist state.

Leon Trotsky on the Sino-Japanese War – An Example of the Anti Imperialist United Front

Written: September 23, 1937
First Published: Internal Bulletin, Organizing Committee for the Socialist Party Convention
(New York), no. 1, October 1937. 

Dear Comrade Diego Rivera:
During the past few days I have been reading some of the lucubrations of the Oehlerites and the Eiffelites (yes, there is a tendency of that sort!) on the civil war in Spain and on the SinoJapanese War. Lenin called the ideas of these people “infantile disorders.” A sick child arouses sympathy. But twenty years have passed since then. The children have become bearded and even bald. But they have not ceased their childish babblings. On the contrary, they have increased all their faults and all their foolishness tenfold and have added ignominies to them. They follow us step by step. They borrow some of the elements of our analysis. They distort these elements without limit and counterpose them to the rest. They correct us. When we draw a human figure, they add a deformity. When it is a woman, they decorate her with a heavy moustache. When we draw a rooster, they put an egg under it. And they call all this burlesque Marxism and Leninism.

I want to stop to discuss in this letter only the Sino-dapanese War. In my declaration to the bourgeois press, I said that the duty of all the workers’ organizations of China was to participate actively and in the front lines of the present war against Japan, without abandoning, for a single moment, their own program and independent activity. But that is “social patriotism!” the Eiffelites cry. It is capitulation to Chiang Kai-shek! It is the abandonment of the principle of the class struggle! Bolshevism preached revolutionary defeatism in the imperialist war. Now, the war in Spain and the Sino-Japanese War are both imperialist wars. “Our position on the war in China is the same. The only salvation of the workers and peasants of China is to struggle independently against the two armies, against the Chinese army in the same manner as against the Japanese army.” These four lines, taken from an Eiffelite document of September 10, 1937, suffice entirely for us to say: we are concerned here with either real traitors or complete imbeciles. But imbecility, raised to this degree, is equal to treason.

We do not and never have put all wars on the same plane. Marx and Engels supported the revolutionary struggle of the Irish against Great Britain, of the Poles against the tsar, even though in these two nationalist wars the leaders were, for the most part, members of the bourgeoisie and even at times of the feudal aristocracy . . . at all events, Catholic reactionaries. When Abdel-Krim rose up against France, the democrats and Social Democrats spoke with hate of the struggle of a “savage tyrant” against the “democracy.” The party of Leon Blum supported this point of view. But we, Marxists and Bolsheviks, considered the struggle of the Riffians against imperialist domination as a progressive war.l77 Lenin wrote hundreds of pages demonstrating the primary necessity of distinguishing between imperialist nations and the colonial and semicolonial nations which comprise the great majority of humanity. To speak of “revolutionary defeatism” in general, without distinguishing between exploiter and exploited countries, is to make a miserable caricature of Bolshevism and to put that caricature at the service of the imperialists.

In the Far East we have a classic example. China is a semicolonial country which Japan is transforming, under our very eyes, into a colonial country. Japan’s struggle is imperialist and reactionary. China’s struggle is emancipatory and progressive.

But Chiang Kai-shek? We need have no illusions about Chiang Kai-shek, his party, or the whole ruling class of China, just as Marx and Engels had no illusions about the ruling classes of Ireland and Poland. Chiang Kai-shek is the executioner of the Chinese workers and peasants. But today he is forced, despite himself, to struggle against Japan for the remainder of the independence of China. Tomorrow he may again betray. It is possible. It is probable. It is even inevitable. But today he is struggling. Only cowards, scoundrels, or complete imbeciles can refuse to participate in that struggle.

Let us use the example of a strike to clarify the question. We do not support all strikes. If, for example, a strike is called for the exclusion of Negro, Chinese, or Japanese workers from a factory, we are opposed to that strike. But if a strike aims at bettering— insofar as it can—the conditions of the workers, we are the first to participate in it, whatever the leadership. In the vast majority of strikes, the leaders are reformists, traitors by profession, agents of capital. They oppose every strike. But from time to time the pressure of the masses or of the objective situation forces them into the path of struggle.

Let us imagine, for an instant, a worker saying to himself: “I do not want to participate in the strike because the leaders are agents of capital.” This doctrine of this ultraleft imbecile would serve to brand him by his real name: a strikebreaker. The case of the Sino-Japanese War, is from this point of view, entirely analogous. If Japan is an imperialist country and if China is the victim of imperialism, we favor China. Japanese patriotism is the hideous mask of worldwide robbery. Chinese patriotism is legitimate and progressive. To place the two on the same plane and to speak of “social patriotism” can be done only by those who have read nothing of Lenin, who have understood nothing of the attitude of the Bolsheviks during the imperialist war, and who can but compromise and prostitute the teachings of Marxism. The Eiffelites have heard that the social patriots accuse the internationalists of being the agents of the enemy and they tell us: “You are doing the same thing.” In a war between two imperialist countries, it is a question neither of democracy nor of national independence, but of the oppression of backward nonimperialist peoples. In such a war the two countries find themselves on the same historical plane. The revolutionaries in both armies are defeatists. But Japan and China are not on the same historical plane. The victory of Japan will signify the enslavement of China, the end of her economic and social development, and the terrible strengthening of Japanese imperialism. The victory of China will signify, on the contrary, the social revolution in Japan and the free development, that is to say unhindered by external oppression, of the class struggle in China.

But can Chiang Kai-shek assure the victory? I do not believe so. It is he, however, who began the war and who today directs it. To be able to replace him it is necessary to gain decisive influence among the proletariat and in the army, and to do this it is necessary not to remain suspended in the air but to place oneself in the midst of the struggle. We must win influence and prestige in the military struggle against the foreign invasion and in the political struggle against the weaknesses, the deficiencies, and the internal betrayal. At a certain point, which we cannot fix in advance, this political opposition can and must be transformed into armed conflict, since the civil war, like war generally, is nothing more than the continuation of the political struggle. It is necessary, however, to know when and how to transform political opposition into armed insurrection.

During the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 we attacked the policies of the Comintern. Why? It is necessary to understand well the reasons. The Eiffelites claim that we have changed our attitude on the Chinese question. That is because the poor fellows have understood nothing of our attitude in 1925-27. We never denied that it was the duty of the Communist Party to participate in the war of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of the South against the generals of the North, agents of foreign imperialism. We never denied the necessity of a military bloc between the CP and the Kuomintang. On the contrary, we were the first to propose it. We demanded, however, that the CP maintain its entire political and organizational independence, that is, that during the civil war against the internal agents of imperialism, as in the national war against foreign imperialism, the working class, while remaining in the front lines of the military struggle, prepare the political overthrow of the bourgeoisie. We hold the same policies in the present war. We have not changed our attitude one iota. The Oehlerites and the Eiffelites, on the other hand, have not understood a single bit of our policies, neither those of 1925-27, nor those of today.

In my declaration to the bourgeois press at the beginning of the recent conflict between Tokyo and Nanking, I stressed above all the necessity of the active participation of revolutionary workers in the war against the imperialist oppressors. Why did I do it? Because first of all it is correct from the Marxist point of view; because, secondly, it was necessary from the point of view of the welfare of our friends in China. Tomorrow the GPU, which is in alliance with the Kuomintang (as with Negrin in Spain), will represent our Chinese friends as being “defeatists” and agents of Japan. The best of them, with Chten Tu-hsiu at the head, can be nationally and internationally compromised and killed. It was necessary to stress, energetically, that the Fourth International was on the side of China as against Japan. And I added at the same time: without abandoning either their program or their independence.

The Eiffelite imbeciles try to jest about this “reservation.” “The Trotskyists,” they say, “want to serve Chiang Kai-shek in action and the proletariat in words.” To participate actively and consciously in the war does not mean “to serve Chiang Kai-shek” but to serve the independence of a colonial country in spite of Chiang Kai-shek. And the words directed against the Kuomintang are the means of educating the masses for the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek. In participating in the military struggle under the orders of Chiang Kai-shek, since unfortunately it is he who has the command in the war for independence—to prepare politically the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek . . . that is the only revolutionary policy. The Eiffelites counterpose the policy of “class stroggle” to this “nationalist and social patriotic” policy. Lenin fought this abstract and sterile opposition all his life. To him, the interests of the world proletariat dictated the duty of aiding oppressed peoples in their national and patriotic struggle against imperialism. Those who have not yet understood that, almost a quarter of a century after the World War and twenty years after the October revolution, must be pitilessly rejected as the worst enemies on the inside by the revolutionary vanguard. This is exactly the case with Eiffel and his kind!
L. Trotsky

Hunter, Fisherman, Shepherd, Critic: Karl Marx’s Vision of the Free Individual.

A lot of nonsense is talked about Karl Marx, most of it from people who have never read him. Many consider his work to be discredited by the dictatorial regimes that were set up in his name. But what did Karl Marx actually have to say?  

Was he in favour of dictatorship? Did he think that the state should impose dull uniformity, rigid regimentation and boring work on its citizens? Did he think that human nature and talents should be suppressed in the name of equality and altruism and for the benefit of a collectivity?  

No. In fact, Karl Marx’s driving passion his whole life was the free development of the individual. Karl Marx was not opposed to the capitalist ideas of choice, liberty and individual freedom. He supported these ideas, but opposed the society that prevented them becoming a reality.  

He wanted to be able “to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic”.  

This is the very essence of Marxism. Only through socialism can Karl Marx’s vision of the free individual be achieved.  

SUACS Logo (Wage Slavery)

SUACS Logo (Wage Slavery)


Bottom-Of-Post - Anti-Police

Bottom-Of-Post - Anti-Police