Should state-capitalist and liberal forces be declared `socialist' , although one knows them to be 'corrupt'?

(from Communist Voice #24, June 14, 2000)


. Below ZN replies to the previously published exchanges between ZN and the Communist Voice. In the last issue this exchange dealt with whether public education, nationalized health care, social security, and even the "nationalizing of collapsed banks, as in Japan", are socialist institutions within capitalist countries, as ZN claimed. ZN advocated, essentially, that every reform was socialist, and that failure to call a reform "socialist" amounted to opposing that reform. Moreover, he claimed, activists should strive to push European social-democracy to the left, even though its current leaders were "conservatives disguised as social-democrats". Mark spoke against prettifying social-democracy and state-capitalism, discussed the stand of Marx and Engels on reforms and the state sector in capitalist countries (ZN had referred to the Communist Manifesto), discussed the role of the state in the transition to socialism, and the need to build up an independent class trend, distinct from all bourgeois trends.
. In this letter, ZN continues his defense of the idea of supporting, and calling "socialist", regimes and political forces which he admits are "corrupt". This leads him to express support for Zyuganov's Stalinist "Communist" Party of the Russian Federation. He even applauds Zyuganov's dirty alliance with the present free-market president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and he expresses support for Putin's brutal war against Chechnya.

February 2000

Dear Communist Voice --

. It seems to me that CV & myself agree very closely in theory. We both see Marxism-Leninism as the necessary political theory of the age, which must be put into practice in a practical way. We agree that Stalinism & Maoism were & are flawed. We agree that we as leftist propagandists must both present & promote Marxist-Leninist theory, & also suggest practical applications of theory. Where we disagree is on definitions, interpretations, & applications. I discussed certain measures in the Manifesto program as being inherently socialist, & I described how they were used both in capitalist countries & in Stalinist countries. You argue against defining the measures as being socialist, & then say I am somehow wrong in my attitude simply because the John Birch Society, like GB Shaw & others, agrees that such Manifesto measures are in fact socialist. There is nothing wrong with the entire political spectrum agreeing on how terms are defined. You seem to think it would be better if each group had a different vocabulary -- a political tower of Babel. This is in fact a common bourgeois ploy -- constantly changing definitions. My attitude is the opposite. I, for example, object that the Shining Path Maoists, yourselves, & other leftists have gone along with the bourgeois re-definition of Reaganite-type conservatism as "neo-liberalism." It only confuses issues, making communication even more difficult.

. I don't understand how you can say that I have not expressed my dissatisfaction with Stalinism. I tend to stress its brutality -- its fascist-like tyranny -- even more than its corruption. When I speak of the mediocrity of Cuban communism, what do you think I am referring to but precisely its corruption, & the resulting inefficiency which has made Cuban socialist society so unenviable, so uninspiring? When I talk about encouraging FARC to be more politically correct than Cuba, what do you think I'm talking about? But I support Cuba because Castro has been the least brutal of all Stalinists, & because the corruption of the Cuban government is as nothing compared to that of the CIA-infested US police state. And so I support a moderately corrupt Cuban socialism vs. a corrupt-beyond anything-before-seen-on-earth US capitalism, & you as Marxists can't understand my point of view?

. I have not commented on the corruption of Chinese communism? My whole explanation of how the "line of the right" got into Mao's ChCP, & now has the upper hand -- what do you think I am talking about but the corruption of the ChCP? And of course Stalin himself was regressive both economically, & also socially. Not only did he restore power to the bourgeois, he also reversed things like Lenin's socially LIBERAL divorce laws -- one of the reasons I object to re-defining "conservative" as "neo-liberal." Stalin was a social conservative with no respect for women's rights or human rights -- thus the brutality of most Stalinism. Reform of Leninism must begin with the idea that communist leaders must respect the people they lead. This may perhaps have some relation to your own expressed attitude.

. As for your criticism of non-purist opponents of the WTO, here again we are dealing with the two different roles of the Marxist propagandist. On the one hand we must try to spread Leninism among those disgruntled with the current capitalist imperialism represented by the WTO -- especially labor unions & workers in general, environmentalists, & indigenous peoples. On the other hand we must create ammunition that even the non-radical masses may use against the WTO. One should not condemn politically incorrect anarchists when they help turn WTO meetings into a disaster -- this is perhaps one of the few places where anarchists can actually be useful. And one should not condemn moderate rationales for condemning the WTO -- for example that the WTO must not take one more step "forward" so long as they don't enforce the human rights laws, labor laws, & environmental laws that they write for places like Mexico in NAFTA. It will be many blue moons before those hypocrites begin to practice what they preach, as they condemn the ChCP for its human rights record, & so long as we propagandists hammer this idea home to the middle-income US mainstream, they will not react negatively to beautiful fiascoes like that at Seattle, & the left can continue to propagandize & gain momentum.

. Similarly, you seem to think that it's bad to promote mild socialist measures like a Canadian-type universal health insurance for the US -- something the Democrats, unlike Canadian & European social democrats, can never accept. The US would need a third party to the left of the Democrats to promote any such PRACTICAL universal health care -- rather than -- impractically expensive private/public plans proposed by Mrs. Clinton a while back, & Bradley now. A purely government-run insurance like Canada's once again shows the cost efficiency of even mild socialist measures -- yes, even in a capitalist setting -- but here it is indeed the people, rather than the corporations, who would benefit, which is why the Democrats would never support it, & why the CIA tries to prevent, so far successfully, the formation of a social democratic party which would bring US health care up to the relatively humanistic level of Canada & Western Europe. Remember Lenin's "Infantile Disorder" essay. It IS necessary to promote mild socialism in countries not ready for revolutionary socialism. This is infinitely more true in the sole superpower US, because it would undermine US support of anti-revolutionary military & paramilitary activities in Third World countries like Colombia, besides shifting the US & world Zeitgeist to the left. This is a part of the strategy I propagandize, & it IS Leninist.

. As for Chechnya, speaking of corruption, the Chechen rebels acted like gangsters the first time around, so I did not support either them or the Russians. The Chechens won that round. Then they started to spread their gangsterism into Dagestan. So I tend to support Russia now. As with the Serbs & Austrians, I tolerate fascists & gangsters only if the don't try to spread their poison beyond their own borders, whether to Kosovo or the EU or Dagestan. But I do find your defense of only-slightly-less-gangsterized Russia as being the natural outcome of working-class evolution quite strange. As I say, Stalinist socialism should have been reformed, not destroyed. And so I advocate the reform of Chinese & Cuban socialism, rather than that they should follow the "natural evolution" into Russian-style gangsterism. Fortunately, the RCP is making a comeback in alliance with Putin. They are already less brutal than in the Stalinist era. They are already less corrupt than the Yeltsinites. Let us hope that they continue to "evolve." Again, nothing revolutionary, but these are not rosy times.




Mark replies:

What Lenin actually said in 'Left-Wing' Communism, an Infantile Disorder

Dear ZN,

. There are some things we agree on. We too, would consider various reforms, such as national health insurance, an advance for the workers. We too are encouraged by the mass movements, such as the demonstrations against the WTO. And we agree with your outrage at things like Milosevic's war on Kosovo and the U.S. intervention against the rebel forces in Colombia. As well, I think our discussion has had some value, particularly because many of the views you express reflect commonly held beliefs in the left today, albeit with your own individual variations.

. But our discussion also shows that we have diametrically opposed pictures and evaluations of the basic political features of the world. You have called your views "realpolitics." From what I can see, the gist of this realpolitics is this: 1) the only realistic course against the capitalist status-quo is to find something to support among the political forces that are already strong, no matter how corrupt; and 2) since we generally don't encounter ready-made powerful revolutionary trends today, activists should, for now, ignore the tasks necessary to establish a new revolutionary working-class trend.

Your support for the Russian war in Chechnya

. These basic premises not only have led you to support as "socialist" just about any measure, regime or trend that is not pure market capitalism, including bailouts of the Japanese bankers. But your quest to find something powerful to support, no matter how repulsed you claim to be by it, has now led you to reconcile with the criminal private capitalist gangsters running Russia in their shameful extermination of Chechnya. So driven are you to support one or another dominant force, that even though you consider both the Russian government and the Chechen leadership gansters, you must concoct some tortured reasoning to pick between them. In this case, we learn that the Chechen leaders are worse because they force themselves on others. Such alleged "realism" has blinded you to the simplest fact: that if it is wrong for some Chechen leaders to force themselves on the population of Dagestan, the Russian rulers are guilty of this same sin on a much grander scale when they subjugate the Chechen people by force.

Praising state-capitalism as "socialism"

. This same outlook manifests itself in your stand on the regimes in Cuba, China, or the former Soviet Union or the state sectors in countries like the U.S., Europe or Japan. You are critical of them, you say. But no matter how disappointed you are with China, Cuba, etc., this doesn't prevent you from supporting them. It is not just a matter of you calling a regime "socialist" and we using some other term. You call them "socialist" so as to prettify them and ignore the need for building of a class trend opposed to them. The Cuban and Chinese leaders may be corrupt and Stalinism may be fascist-like, but it's all socialism. It may not be revolutionary socialism or even particularly good socialism. But socialism is everywhere nevertheless. If the Japanese capitalist government bails out a bank, that's "capitalist socialism." National health care is an example of "mild socialism." If a regime you like has contradictions with the U.S., that is all that is needed to qualify as presumably "anti-imperialist socialism." The corrupt regimes evidently represent "corrupt" or "tyrannical" socialism. If by your previous critique of what happened in China, the CIA-backed right-wing forces have run things for decades, that doesn't mean China isn't socialist. I guess it would be "CIA socialism." No matter how dreadful your "socialism," it is basically OK and merely in need of some reform.

. This type of "criticism" of what you consider the socialist trends does not help inspire the workers with a perspective of genuine socialism. It does not clarify that the concept of socialism fought for by Marx, Engels and Lenin is not tyranny and corruption over the masses. It does not explain that the capitalist state sector or social programs are a far cry from socialism. Rather, the concept of socialism is reduced to anything that isn't pure market capitalism. It can't even inspire you. Yet this degradation of the concept of socialism is all your "realistic" criticism offers. Indeed you openly declare for promoting reformist "moderate socialism" as opposed to revolutionary socialism, at least in the U.S.

. Nor can your support for the rulers in China or Cuba or the state sector here be compatible with support for the workers' movement. What happens when workers try to organize independently of the corrupt bureaucrats in the phony communist countries? These state-capitalist regimes try to crush them. Public sector workers in your alleged socialist institutions in the openly capitalist countries are mistreated by their "socialist" managers who do not hesitate to call in the professional strikebreaking apparatus, otherwise known as the courts and the cops, when their workers rebel. Workers need to get organized against your fake socialists. Nothing in your letter shows any recognition of the need to encourage a workers' trend against this oppression or to support and agitate in defence of workers in these struggles.

Should differences in the movement be kept quiet?

. Indeed a big theme of yours is that even if you know a trend is corrupt, it should remain private knowledge and not discussed among the masses. Look how you deal with our articles on the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Activists everywhere are summing up their experience with different political trends there. But you consider it wrong for us to put forward a critical perspective on any of the political trends involved. You complain that because our agitation goes beyond "moderate rationales for condemning the WTO" we alienate the "middle-income U.S. mainstream." In other words, don't go beyond the mild politics of the mainstream trends like the trade union bureaucrats and liberal reformers who fear a powerful class movement and worked to confine the militancy of the activists in Seattle. Nor should we have any public criticism of the stand of the Black Bloc anarchists in the anti-WTO protests. You think it suffices that you know there is something wrong with anarchism. But here too, you prefer to remain silent about it in front of the mass of the activists.

. Your wishes aside, the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Activists everywhere have been vigorously debating the issues you want to evade. Such attempts to sort out political trends by activists in the course of struggle are inevitable, and it's critical if the movement is to advance. Without it, the dead-end trends that are now dominant will always remain so. If we in the CVO and other revolutionary-minded activists had followed your advice to just say what the mainstream is already saying, it would not have meant that the differences in the movement would all go away. It would simply mean that the reformist critique of anarchism and the anarchist critique of reformism would dominate, while only revolutionary criticism of both would be silenced.

Lenin's approach in "'Left-wing' communism

. You say your approach is real Leninism, in line with Lenin's famous work, "Left-wing" communism -- an infantile disorder. But Lenin's approach here is at odds with yours. For one thing, Lenin emphasizes the immense importance of the creation of new revolutionary trends in the proletariat even thought they were often initially, at least, much smaller than the established opportunist "socialist" trends. In particular, Lenin emphasized the need for these new groups and parties to denounce in front of the masses the opportunist "socialists" such as the leaders of the social-democratic parties or the Labor Party in Britain. You ignore this issue and tout the big opportunist trends. (Incidentally, in this work, Lenin mocks the use of the word "socialist" to describe the social-democrats and the British Labor Party leaders and denounces them as servants of the bourgeoisie.)

. No doubt Lenin saw the need for the proletarian party to form, under certain conditions, temporary alliances or agreements with other parties. His famous recommendation to the British communists groups at the time to provide electoral support to the Labor Party candidates is an example. But Lenin did not do so to create any illusions in the "socialist" character of the opportunists, but to further expose them in front of the masses and rally the masses around the revolutionary communists. Hence, Lenin emphasized that should such an electoral agreement be entered into, the revolutionary proletarian forces must "retain complete freedom of agitation, propaganda and political activity" so as to "get complete freedom to expose the Hendersons and the Snowdens in the same way as (for fifteen years -- 1903-17) the Russian Bolsheviks demanded and got it in respect of the Russian Hendersons and Snowdens, i.e., the Mensheviks." (Section IX, "'Left-wing' communism in Britain") Lenin said without this condition, any agreement would be "treachery." You, on the other hand, fault our agitation for being different than the mainstream opportunists. And you recommend hiding from the masses the double-dealing and service to the bourgeoisie of the "mild socialists."

. Here I am not dealing with whether this or that agreement is appropriate today. But the advisability of a particular agreement is not what you raise. Rather, you present a general approach of reconciling the masses to the dominant opportunism and hiding its corrupt nature. This is why I say that despite our agreement on certain things, we have dramatically different political approaches.


Mark, for Communist Voice

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Last modified: October 15, 2001.