- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Sunday, 03 October 2010 05:08
- Written by Bob Avakian
From Conquer the World:
"So what [Mao's] dealing with [in his critique of using "Commune" for new governments during China's Cultural Revolution] is not really the name at all.
"He’s saying, “look, we live in a world where we’re surrounded by imperialism and it’s one thing to have a People’s Republic but if you try to have a commune you’re going to run into the problem of the state, both in terms of internal class enemies and in terms of the external, the international class enemies, and that’s too advanced a form, we’ll be crushed.”
"He says, “They won’t recognize us,” and so on, but it’s his own way of getting at a much more profound problem—and it is obvious if anyone’s a Marxist-Leninist that what he’s really dealing with is that question: What form is most appropriate for the class struggle in China and the suppression of enemies there and the class struggle internationally?
"He then goes on to make a very important point....
“If everything were changed into commune, then what about the party? Where would we place the party? Among [Shanghai] commune committee members are both party members and non-party members. Where would we place the party committee? There must be a party somehow! There must be a nucleus, no matter what we call it. Be it called the Communist party, or social democratic party, or Kuomintang, or I-kuan-tao, it must have a party. The commune must have a party, but can the commune replace the Party?”"
Intro by Mike Ely
There is an important ongoing communist engagement over the concepts and practices associated with the Soviet Party-State. Is it a necessary form for the socialist transition to the withering of the state? Are other forms of state possible (including the open interaction of a multiplicity of revolutionary parties). How does the supervision by the people best function under socialism -- is it appropriate for one party to hold a monopoly of power, or to establish one codified ideology as the only one seen as revolutionary, are independent mass forms of organizations important for "exposing our dark side openly and from below" (as Mao put it)?
The Terrain of Debate
This terrain of theory and practice is a place where a number of different worldviews meet. We have (here on Kasama) posted views by some of the most thoughtful contributions:
1) Badiou: The French Maoist and philosopher Alain Badiou has, since the 1970s, unfolded an elaborate philosophical exploration of the Maoist experience in China. This work has, most recently been gathered in Badiou's new work “The Communist Hypothesis.“)
We would like to urge our readers to start by tackling (together!) the now available Badiou work on the "The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution?" which we have recently posted here on Kasama.
2) Nepal: The revolutionary leaders of the UCPN(Maoist) have argued that it is possible to create forms of socialist transition that do not rest on a one-party monopoly on power. They have argued that much more open debate and contention of political posts (including between competing parties of a new socialist mainstream) will create conditions that help prevent the conservatization of the main leading vanguard communist parties. Their theories on this have been politically described, but not fully articulated in theory (at least in English translation). However one important, controversial contribution has been "The Question of Building a New Type of State"by Nepali revolutionary leader Baburam Bhattarai. And we have, in addition, we have shared here on Kasama, a commentary by Rosa L. Blanc exploring " Bhattarai’s “New Type of State” and the Nepalese Maoist Re-envisioning of Communism in the 21st Century."
3) Kasama: This website has published some of our own original commentaries on the Paris Commune, the Shanghai Commune and the related issues -- starting with our initial arguments in the 9 Letters to Our Comrades and then a few questions raised in a 2008 essay "How Do People Rule and Criticize After the Revolution? We have posted Mao Zedong's own discussion of his attempt at a revolutionized state and party in socialist China.
This Kasama exploration has continued through literally dozens of posts and sharply contested discussions (that we should, at some point, assemble in a coherent way). This has included essays by Antaeus criticizing Mao's approach to the Shanghai Commune.
4) Defense of Party-State: Now over the next week or so -- Kasama would like to share a series that defends the inherited communist practice of a one-party state (the so-called Party-State, of 1917-1976, developed under Lenin and then refined in different ways by Stalin and Mao Zedong).
Sharing a Defense of the Party-State
We have chosen a series of excerpts from writings by Bob Avakian, the chairman of the U.S. party RCP, who had personally chosen to spend a great deal of time on these questions. In a following multi-part series Kasama will now excerpt from two of Avakian's writings on this: From his 1981 work “Conquer the World: The International Proletariat Must and Will.” (where he initiated some of the first steps toward his own ideisyncratic Marxist "synthesis'), and in a later polemic with an Indian Maoist K.Venu. That work is formally burdened with impossibly kludgy and Avakian-self-referencing title "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That" (A World To Win magazine 1992/17.) but we will simply avoid that problem by calling it "the K.Venu polemic" (as everyone else does).
At the core of Avakian's argument for the Party-State (a term he does not employ) is a highly critical view of democracy, its class character, weaknesses, and association with bourgeois right. This is articulated through a discussion of relatively direct forms of democracy (like the Paris Commune, the Soviets and the Shanghai Commune), which are often put forward by some communists as a more democratic and accountable alternative to the Party-State. He makes the argument (as did Lenin and Mao) that these forms are too weak to successfully thwart counterrevolution. And then Avakian discussing issues of leadership, representation, popular will, and bureaucracy in the development of a society that can advance on a socialist road toward classless society.
Badiou argues that the Party-State is "saturated" and historically obsolete. Avakian argues (here and in following excerpts) that the need for such a form is embedded in the objective conditions of the revolutionary process itself.
Our purpose here is to join (and contribute to) a discussion-in-progress — and to help situate Badiou’s arguments against the Party-State in the context of a contending view (among revolutionary communists) that such a state is required by the material realities of communist revolution.
Here in Part 2 (and then in Part 3), are a number of excerpted criticism of an overestimation of the Paris Commune form -- and in particular attempts to raise the Commune as a form of revolutionary state that may prove inherently superior to party-state developed under Lenin and Stalin, and adapted by Mao to China.
On the Commune forms:
A working class and popular uprising in Paris (March 18 to May 28, 1871) that took power surrounded by warring armies, and then suffered a bitter and bloody defeat by its enemies. The Commune is one of a very few examples of a revolutionary communist-oriented moment of power without a Leninist vanguard party.
The other is the January Storm in Shanghai, where the Chinese Communist Party lay in shambles and where its leading bodies were, in many ways, targets of the revolutionary uprising. (As Maoists said: We Party members need to be both arrow and bull's eye! Both motive force and target!")
What can we draw from those party-less moments of the past? And is this a place, even a model, where we can find solutions to the real and urgent problems posed by the communist experience with the Leninist theories and practice of both party and state?
* * * * * * * *
CONQUER THE WORLD? The International Proletariat Must and Will
Section 1: Further Historical Perspectives on the First Advances in Seizing and Exercising Power — Proletarian Dictatorship — and Embarking on the Socialist Road.
(Note: This involves Kasama's excerpting of Section 1. The whole piece, and the larger work is available online.)
First, some thoughts about the Paris Commune. In reading over Marx’s most systematic summation on the Paris Commune, The Civil War in France, which also has an introduction by Engels, it’s striking in light of all the experience and development not only in the practical struggle but in the theoretical realm since then that Marx’s summation is at one and the same time extremely far-sighted and rather primitive (and this goes also in general for Engels’ introduction highlighting Marx’s summation).
This is not too surprising given that the Paris Commune was the first actual successful seizure of power and lasted only approximately two months before it was drowned in blood. It’s also not surprising in that the First International of which Marx was, at least in an ideological sense and a general theoretical sense, the leader and in which he was also very active in a practical way, was itself a mélange of a number of different tendencies. Scientific socialism hadn’t thoroughly differentiated and distinguished itself from a number of utopian and other forms of unscientific socialism, even within the First International itself, which is a point the ramifications and implications of which will be touched on a little bit later.
In terms of his being farsighted, if you read what Marx has to say it’s very clear that he was able to draw out and concentrate a lot of key lessons from a very brief and primitive experience of two months of power in just Paris—I mean it’s a significant city, but still just one part, even if it’s a very significant part, of France. And the decisive lesson that was both drawn out and driven home much more sharply by Marx at that time—that the proletariat cannot lay hold of the ready-made state machinery but has to smash and dismantle it and create its own machinery, its own revolutionary dictatorship—this was obviously an example of Marx’s scientific method. And based on that farsightedness, Marx was able to draw out that lesson and to illustrate it with a number of particulars from the brief and somewhat diffuse experience of the Paris Commune.
But at the same time, while the summation that Marx made in terms of what it contributed to the long-term struggle and the overall goal of the international proletariat was, like the Commune itself, immortal, looking at it in terms of the experience since then and what’s been summed up out of that experience, you can see some of its limitations. For example, this comes through in a number of the comments that Marx makes about the bureaucracy, the standing army, the question of universal suffrage and recall of officials, the question of no officials being paid higher wages than those of a working person, the way in which education and religion and culture in general are dealt with.
For instance, he says at one point that the priests (he says it more poetically than this but basically the point is that the priests) will be left to stand or fall, that is, they will be able to eat or not eat, on the basis of whether or not they can actually win support from their parishioners and they will not receive state subsidies. This was one of the experiences of the Commune. Well, obviously, historical experience has shown us that’s far from enough of a radical rupture to deal with that problem (and that’s just one small example). It’s not that Marx said exactly that it was, but his summation did not go farther than that. And the same thing is true where he says that one of the great things that the Commune had to offer, its real strong selling point, to put it crudely, to the peasantry was that it would be able to reduce significantly the bureaucratic encumbrance and parasitic body on society as a whole represented by the bureaucracy and thereby would be able to essentially cheapen the cost to the peasantry of the state apparatus. This is linked closely with the question of whether or not a standing army is necessary, whether or not you can trim down full-time officials in the bureaucracy so simply, as Marx seemed to feel and seemed to conclude from the experience of the Commune, and whether it would be possible to pay government officials wages no higher than those of a workman as was done by decree in the Commune.
All these things, by historical experience and particularly in that experience where the proletarian dictatorship was consolidated and existed over a period of time and where the socialist road was embarked on, have not been possible so far. Even where a correct line has been carried out, even where policy can’t be attributed to errors or to right deviations, it has not been possible to do all these things in the way that Marx, drawing on the experience of the Commune, thought not only possible but necessary key weapons in ruling and transforming society. Life has proved not to be so simple as that and in fact the possibilities for the proletariat in Paris to win over the peasantry, not just in the short run but to win over and maintain their support through all the twists and turns of the struggle, were not nearly so great nor was the question nearly so simple as Marx seems to treat it in The Civil War in France, the concentrated summation of the Commune.
And similarly, the question of the nation and the relationship of the struggle in a particular country to the international struggle was not clearly handled, not only in the Commune itself—in the outlook and policies of the people who were leading the Commune at the time, for example, in their appeals to the soldiers of the reactionary army on a patriotic basis—but even to a certain degree in the writings of Marx and comments of Engels in summing up the Commune. The distinction between the nation and internationalism was not as clearly drawn as it has been learned that it must be drawn. Of course, on the one hand this was in the era before imperialism but, on the other hand, France was an advanced capitalist country on the threshold of advancing to the imperialist stage (and it should be said in passing here, that Marx’s references to “imperialism” in The Civil War in France do not represent the same analysis of a new and special—in fact the highest and final—stage of capitalism as done later by Lenin).
Here I’ll just interject a comment which will probably get me in trouble with somebody somewhere, but one of the things that is rather clear to me in reading over Lenin’s polemics on the question of “defense of the fatherland” during World War 1 is that he has to do a great deal of work against Kautsky and others who were the accepted authorities on Marxism—much more so than Lenin—and who had all the quotes in stock to pull out of the cupboard to justify their opportunist lines, whether it was social-democracy or social-chauvinism. In reading this over it’s clear that, on the one hand, Lenin correctly made the terrain of the argument that people were misrepresenting and misusing quotes from Marx and Engels because they were dealing with statements by Marx and Engels before the era of imperialism when the only question, as Lenin said, is the victory of which bourgeoisie would be more favorable for the proletariat as a whole internationally. But it’s also clear, or at least in my opinion it’s clear, especially if you deal with Engels who lived more than a decade longer than Marx, that not only was it a question of being quoted out of context, out of condition, time and place, but also this approach of determining which bourgeoisie’s victory (or defeat) would be more favorable was still being applied when it was becoming no longer applicable. As late as 1891, for example, Engels was still talking about defending the fatherland in Germany in a war against the Tsar.
In other words, Lenin was correct—both in principle and also in tactics—in making the terrain of battle the fact that Marx and Engels were being distorted and quoted out of context, that is out of epoch. But it is also true that there’s a little bit of dragging some of this approach behind them, beyond the point where it is still applicable—particularly in the case of Engels all the way to 1895 (or at least 1891 when he made his last major statement that I know of on this question), and some of this is reflected a little bit in the writings of Marx and Engels on the Commune where they talk about the question of the working class being sort of the savior of the nation, the force to regenerate the nation.
Threads of that line and statements to that effect can be found in the summation; these were also commonly-held views among the Communards who themselves were not clear on the question of a radical rupture with the Republic; this was revealed even in the way they drew up their calendar which apparently was a continuation of that of the Republic. In other words, all the radical ruptures on the question of the nation vis-a-vis internationalism were not thoroughly made. Again, of course, the question of imperialism as analyzed by Lenin had not become fully developed and so was not, therefore, fully clear. But, with the further experience since then, it can be seen that there is in general a tendency in Marx’s summation of the Commune to extrapolate and generalize too much from that particular experience, and, more particularly, looking at it from the perspective of historical experience and its summation since the Commune shows the limitations of the approach of viewing things from the standpoint of which bourgeoisie’s victory would be most favorable for the international proletariat. We should remember that this was in the context of the war between Germany and France when Marx and Engels initially supported the right of self-defense, if you will, of Germany, and then, at a certain point, said “now they’ve gone over to aggression and so you can’t take a position of defense of the fatherland anymore in Germany.” The Communards took up the stand of defense against Germany in the face of the capitulation of the French government (which entrenched itself in Versailles in opposition to the Paris Commune), and were then forced in that context into a civil war against the French bourgeoisie as represented and coalescing around Thiers who decided at that point to make an arrangement with the German leader Bismarck in the effort to crush the Commune, which they succeeded in doing, as we know. So this is an extremely complex situation and trying to approach it from the point of view whether a nation has a right to self-defense begins already, in my opinion, to verge on turning into its opposite.
Interestingly enough, there is a comment by Lenin, I think, about how Germany had already passed into the era of imperialism before it ever got its nation together, and that’s one of the examples of what Lenin meant when he said that the boundaries in nature and society are conditional and relative. If you’re going to wait for Germany to get itself fully together as a nation before you say the question of its right to defense of the fatherland is over and done with, you will still be waiting because Germany is still not united, and a lot of people, a lot of social-chauvinists, are playing on that point right now. Anyway, you’re talking about the bourgeois epoch, the formation of nations, and all these things are relative and conditional—there’s not some perfect nation waiting to be formed—and the essence of the problem has long since become one of imperialism and not of nations in these advanced countries. In my opinion that was already becoming the case by the last several decades of the 19th century, even by 1870.
We can see some confusion in Marx and Engels, again especially viewed with the perspective we have from history and the lessons summed up from history, on this question of the nation and on whether or not it is correct to view the working class as being the inheritors and those best carrying forward the tradition, the “best” tradition, of the nation. This question is not completely clear, even in Marx, although it hardly needs saying, but should be said, just in case what I’m arguing might lead to any confusion, that Marx and Engels, both in their summation of the Commune as well as in their practice around the Commune itself, were obviously outstanding supporters and promoters of proletarian internationalism: that’s clear all the way through the summation of the Commune. Theirs is not a summation done from the narrow point of view of the French nation, but there is that confusion.
Returning to a more overall vantage point, it is important to note that Marx wrote in this very summation that the proletarians “will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men”1 and even before that, 20 years earlier in 1851, he had declared “we say to workers, you will have to go through 15, 20, 50 years of civil wars and international wars, not only in order to change existing conditions but also in order to change yourselves and fit yourselves for the exercise of political power.”2 This was, again, extremely insightful on the part of Marx and shows that he didn’t have a simplistic view of the process of transforming the world and achieving communism (and certainly the dialectical materialist method he used in summing up the Commune is not at all a simplistic one) even though some of the criticisms that I have just raised are, I think, valid—in terms of his overestimating, perhaps, the ease with which certain problems could be dealt with and resolved.
This itself is sort of a unity of opposites: On the one hand, even in the summation of the Commune as well as more generally, Marx was aware of the fact—and I think this is very, very significant, something worth pondering and this ties in with the “two radical ruptures,” property relations and ideas—that it’s not enough and it’s not simply a question of having to go through all this struggle and turmoil to change existing objective conditions. He says straight up, you must change yourselves and fit yourselves for the exercise of power. I think that’s a statement that shows a tremendous historical materialist outlook and method and historical sweep and this infuses the summation of the Commune. Nevertheless, what I am saying is that, viewed with historical perspective, we can see that there was, on the other hand, an underestimation of the complexity and difficulty of resolving a lot of these questions—which should not surprise us, but which needs to be summed up, especially if we are trying to get, at the same time, a more sweeping and a more particular view of some of the problems that are involved in advancing from the bourgeois epoch to the epoch of communism worldwide.
In general I think this problem is tied in with the fact that, as much as Marx and Engels did take note of and stand on the side of the oppressed in China, India and other parts of the world where the people were rising up against colonial domination and exploitation, still, largely (and correctly so from a scientific standpoint and in terms of where the major and most advanced political movements and struggles were at that time), they were considering the problem of, particularly the socialist revolution, the seizure and exercise of power and transformation of society by the proletariat, in a European context overwhelmingly—though not exclusively. Therefore, a lot of the complexity that has now come to characterize the proletarian revolution and the development of socialist society and the transformation toward communism in the world was something which did not fully confront them, because in fact there has been a shift in the general historical sense, over a period of time, from West to East of the focal point of not only revolution in general but even of proletarian revolution. (This is not to say that there has been a permanent, unalterable shift—history remains to speak on how all this will work out—and I’ll return later to correct and incorrect viewpoints of what the shift I am referring to implies—but there has been this shift.) And that has introduced even more complexity into the question of how to make the transition from the old order, sometimes even pre-capitalist order predominantly, not to capitalism but precisely to socialism and on the socialist road toward communism.
So just to make the point in another way, Marx did not fully grasp the meaning and implications of even what he himself had commented on earlier, both at the time of the Commune and 20 years earlier when he talked about the 15, 20 or 50 years of civil war. We’ve seen it’s been more than 15, 20 or 50 years since then and still this process he’s describing is only in its infancy in a historical sense. So it’s not surprising that he did not fully grasp the meaning and implications of what he himself said about how not only the changing of conditions but the changing of the proletarians themselves would have to go on in a historical, sweeping way before they would be able to be fit to rule, let alone to carry through the full transition to communism.
And in fact, all this is, in an overall sense, actually a confirmation of the Marxist theory of knowledge. Because the primitiveness of many of Marx’s particular observations reflect the primitiveness, the early stage of development, of the world historic process of proletarian revolution—which is not to fall into mechanical materialism and say that whatever was known was all that could be known. On the other hand, as should be clear by now, we have to emphasize again that with all the points that are being focused on, of how there was primitiveness in Marx’s observations, there was also a great deal of historical sweep and farsightedness. But in an overall sense, and viewing it in that way dialectically, it is a verification and an example of the Marxist theory of knowledge and the relationship between practice and theory and the ultimate dependency of theory on practice, that practice is the ultimate source and point of determination of theory and of truth. And it does reflect the primitiveness, the early stage of development of the world historic process of proletarian revolution toward the long-term goal of communism. This was, after all, the first practical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was a revolutionary movement of the proletariat still mainly, largely confined to Europe and stepping on to the stage of history still wearing much of the costume of the bourgeois republic and bourgeois democracy out of which it was issuing.
Now it’s interesting in this light to look again at a commentary on the Paris Commune made by Mao which was referred to in past reports from the Central Committee, in particular the one in 1979. In particular its very interesting to examine some points of Mao’s that were not referred to at that time. If you remember Mao was drawing out the point in his characteristic way, “If the Paris Commune had not failed, but had been successful, then in my opinion, it would have become by now a bourgeois commune. This is because it was impossible for the French bourgeoisie to allow France’s working class to have so much political power. This is the case of the Paris Commune.”4 I can just see Enver Hoxha and assorted types going wild over that kind of statement and retorting: “As if the proletariat has to ask the bourgeoisie for permission to have power.” But in fact Mao’s is an historical materialist summation and even though he doesn’t fully develop it, he goes on to talk about the Soviet Union and how Lenin’s Soviet was transformed into Khrushchev’s Soviet and begins to draw together the threads of his analysis of the restoration of capitalism with the rise to power of the bourgeoisie (this is in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, when he’s already made the essentials of that analysis and is beginning to synthesize some points to a higher level).
He then goes on; this is the part that in the ’79 Report was not quoted but which I think is particularly important and useful for us to focus on, both because we are and should be more acutely aware of the problem he is dealing with and because it will further deepen our own understanding of the bedrock importance of proletarian internationalism. He is talking about how the commune in Shanghai is not a viable form, but that poses a problem because the masses in Shanghai (despite what is said now) like the Commune so what are we going to do? It’s a tactical problem because it’s too advanced a form and we can’t popularize it throughout the whole country at this time.5 (They did actually try to implement a lot of the measures of the Paris Commune; for example, they tried for a while to implement the principle of appointment and recall of officials by the masses, the principle of no wages for officials higher than a worker’s wages, etc., and they had to sum up that they had to drop back a bit from some of those advanced positions and consolidate what they could. They basically adopted the form of the revolutionary committees that had been instituted elsewhere in the country as organs of power rather than the commune form. We also refer to this in our article against Bettelheim in The Communist.)
The point I want to go into now is not Mao’s summation that the commune form was not powerful enough a weapon or organ or form for suppressing counter-revolutionaries in China itself. But listen to this, it’s very interesting, he says,
“Britain is a monarchy. Doesn’t it have a king? The U.S. has a presidential system. They are both the same, being bourgeois dictatorships. The puppet regime of South Vietnam has a president and bordering it is Sihanouk’s Royal Kingdom of Cambodia. Which is better? I am afraid Sihanouk is somewhat better…”
He goes back, and after continuing in this vein for a while, says,
“Titles must not be changed too frequently; we don’t emphasize names, but emphasize practice; not form, but content. That fellow Wang Mang of the Han Dynasty, was addicted to changing names. As soon as he became emperor, he changed all the titles of government offices, like many of us who have a dislike for the title ‘chief.’ He also changed the names of all the counties in the country. This is like our Red Guards who have changed almost all of the street names of Peking, making it impossible for us to remember them. We still remember their former names. It became difficult for Wang Mang to issue edicts and orders, because the people did not know what changes had been made. This form of popular drama can be used either by China or by foreign countries, by the proletariat or by the bourgeoisie.”7
I remember reading something, was it PL or it might have been those people COUSML, or whatever they are calling themselves now, who were seizing on this saying, “Now this is absolutely outrageous, here is this Mao hung up on all these names and the formalities of all this stuff, whether or not he’s going to be recognized by all these bourgeois countries; how much he’s degenerated from the revolutionary”… they once pimped off. This is obviously missing the content for the form, because while he’s talking about the question of names and all that, he’s obviously making a point about whether or not that form—or more fundamentally in another sense the content—of the Commune, is applicable in the current conditions of China.
Then he goes on and talks about it in the larger, and for us right now, more interesting context of a socialist country in a world where there’s still largely an imperialist encirclement. He says,
“The principal experiences are the Paris Commune and the Soviet. We can imagine that the name People’s Republic of China can be used by both classes. If we should be overthrown and the bourgeoisie came to power [how far-sighted is this — BA] they would have no need to change the name but would still call it the People’s Republic of China. The main thing is which class seizes political power. This is the fundamental question, not what its name is.” He goes on: “I think we should be more stable and should not change all the names. This is because this would give rise to the question of changing the political systems, to the question of the state system and to the question of the name of the country. What would you want to change [the name] to, The Chinese People’s Commune! Should the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China then be called director or commune leader? Not only this problem but another problem would arise. That is, if there is a change it’d be followed by the question of recognition or non-recognition by foreign countries. When the name of a country is changed, foreign ambassadors will lose their credentials, new ambassadors will be exchanged and recognition will be given anew. I surmise that the Soviet Union would not extend recognition. This is because she would not dare to recognize, since recognition might cause troubles for the Soviet. How could there be a Chinese People’s Commune? It would be rather embarrassing for them but the bourgeois nations might recognize it.”
So what he’s dealing with is not really the name at all. He’s saying, “look, we live in a world where we’re surrounded by imperialism and it’s one thing to have a People’s Republic but if you try to have a commune you’re going to run into the problem of the state, both in terms of internal class enemies and in terms of the external, the international class enemies, and that’s too advanced a form, we’ll be crushed.” He says, “they won’t recognize us,” and so on, but it’s his own way of getting at a much more profound problem—and it is obvious if anyone’s a Marxist-Leninist that what he’s really dealing with is that question: what form is most appropriate for the class struggle in China and the suppression of enemies there and the class struggle internationally?
He then goes on to make a very important point, which I want to come back to several times here. He says, “If everything were changed into commune, then what about the party? Where would we place the party? Among commune committee members are both party members and non-party members. [Here he’s talking about the Shanghai Commune — BA] Where would we place the party committee? There must be a party somehow! There must be a nucleus, no matter what we call it. Be it called the Communist party, or social democratic party, or Kuomintang, or I-kuan-tao, it must have a party. The commune must have a party, but can the commune replace the party?”
Here, obviously he’s dealing with the fact that as long as there are classes and class struggle, there’s going to need to be a state and there’s going to need to be a party. And, he says,
“there must be a nucleus no matter what we call it.”
Again he’s getting to the essence of the matter—there’s still the contradiction that not everybody’s a communist. When we get to communism nobody exactly knows how the contradiction between advanced and backward will exist, but it will. But in that stage, as we understand it, there will not be the same kind of need for a party because the meaning of communism is that there will not be social classes and there will not be the kind of social divisions there are now, and there will not be a party to play the vanguard role in that sense—and until that’s the case we won t have communism. But he’s saying at this stage we cannot abolish the party, the party is absolutely essential, just as the state is.
I think it is very interesting to reflect on this. Not only is he saying—if you take in the whole what I’ve been pulling snatches from—that the Commune, had it survived, would have been turned into a bourgeois commune by now, regardless if it kept the name Commune, but he’s also saying, if you look at it historically, at least to me this is the implication we should draw out of it, that not only with respect to the French bourgeoisie but internationally, the conditions were such that it was very unlikely that a proletarian dictatorship could have then existed and survived, and that the question of a proletarian dictatorship existing and surviving surrounded by an imperialist world by and large is an extremely complex and difficult one and cannot be handled by conservative or by infantile means. It has to be handled by advancing the class struggle to the maximum degree at every point and consolidating rather than losing everything at certain points, in this sort of wave, or, better yet, spiral development of things. That is what becomes necessary.
So those are a few scattered points on the Paris Commune. In moving on we can say that Lenin relied to a considerable degree on Marx and Engels’ summation of the Commune in formulating his understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition to communism—especially as the question of seizing power came immediately on the agenda, that is in Russia itself in 1917—and this is given concentrated expression in State and Revolution. There and later also in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, in particular, he speaks correctly for example of the fact that nowhere in capitalist society is diplomacy carried out openly in front of the masses and by involving the masses. It’s always carried out in secret, through secret treaties, through government appointees and officials who operate in secret in terms of not sharing their knowledge openly with the masses. And it is true that when the Soviet Union was established, when the proletariat came to power with the Bolsheviks at the head, they did in fact open up and reveal the secret treaties of the imperialists. In fact there were even some heroic examples of mass initiative; untrained sailors, for example, spent sleepless nights on end figuring out how to decode secret codes so that they could reveal the machinations of the imperialists to the world. Not only for the survival of the Soviet Republic, which was very much bound up with this, but for the general advance of the struggle internationally. And this they did do, as they said they would.
But at the same time it has to be summed up that even under the leadership of Lenin and even when the line was most revolutionary, they were not able to conduct diplomacy completely out in the open either; in fact, they were not able to do so qualitatively more than capitalist states in the world. A cynic of today reading Lenin on this point would be able to say,
“Ah ha, you haven’t been able to do it either, so there’s another example of where there’s not really any difference…”
And while that’s obviously wrong, it is not an insignificant fact that nowhere in the world up to this point has the proletarian state been able to carry out diplomacy openly in the main, and, reflecting back on the Commune, it’s rather obvious that had it survived, and had to deal with this kind of tense and complex situation, it would not have been able to do so either—one could say that with a great deal of certainty.
It’s also not insignificant, and this is closely related, that every socialist state so far existing has, and I believe correctly and out of necessity (unavoidably in other words), had to maintain a large standing army, separate from the armed masses as a whole. And this of course relates to what Lenin, also in State and Revolutionand elsewhere, emphasizes as one of the touchstone points, one of the hallmarks of the genuine proletarian dictatorship. What is the essence of it? That it is ruled by the armed masses themselves. But, in fact, nowhere has it been yet possible to have rule, strictly speaking, by the armed masses. It has always been necessary to have, if you want to put it that way, a professional army, a separate standing army, an armed body of men and women separate and in a certain sense above the masses and this would be true even if the masses were organized broadly into militias, which has been the case when there’s been the revolutionary line in command.
Why is this so? As an aside we can refer to the article in Revolution magazine about the Spanish Civil War and the Spanish revolution—or the revolution that was not carried out in Spain. One of the essential things pointed out was that it became necessary in opposition to some of the anarcho-syndicalist and other lines to actually establish a single unified army to actually defeat the reactionary armed forces (who coalesced and were centered around Franco). It might have been nice in the abstract, but not nice in concrete reality, to wish that it would not have to be the case—but it was. The reason I say “not nice in reality” is because the tendencies to deny the necessity or undermine the actual moves toward establishing a centralized command (in that sense an overall centralized standing army to fight and defeat the enemy) could only contribute toward defeat.
Now it’s also true—and this is something that has many lessons for the Spanish Civil War and for history generally, and history is also replete with this lesson—that this is a contradiction that is repeatedly played on by revisionists and similar bourgeois forces of one kind or another to, in fact, stifle and suppress the revolutionary initiative of the masses and to take the revolution away from them and either drown it in blood and/or suffocate it in bureaucracy. This is a real contradiction. It can’t be wished or willed away because it is a contradiction. It has to be resolved as part of a much larger process and much more fundamental contradiction.
And here, a recent comment by a leading comrade of our Central Committee is most relevant. In responding to and as a retort to the most recent writings of Bettelheim in which he’s, as it was put, finally “dropped the other shoe” and come to the conclusion that from the time of the early ’30s and the consolidation of Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Union was capitalist and not socialist, our comrade pointed out,
“If the Commune could be considered the dictatorship of the proletariat, then the Soviet Union under Stalin’s leadership can be correctly considered socialism.”
And just to illustrate what is meant by that, I might add that after all here was the Paris Commune, a dictatorship of the proletariat with no Marxists! That is, there was not in any sense a Marxist leadership of the Commune, and yet it was treated, and correctly so, by Marx as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Engels summed up later and said: if you people who are afraid of authority and tremble at the words dictatorship of the proletariat want to know what it is, look at the Paris Commune; there was the dictatorship of the proletariat. From an overall historical standpoint, that was a correct and a very important stand. And the same can be said of the Soviet Union under the leadership of Stalin (more on that later).
But the immediate point here is that this gives us some historical perspective and gives us an understanding and illustrates the need to combine a sweeping historical view with the rigorous and critical dissecting of especially crucial and concentrated historical experiences, and to draw out as fully as possible the lessons and to struggle to forge the lessons as sharply as possible as weapons for now and for the future. And here I’m talking specifically about the immediate future, with the full focus on the conjuncture that is now shaping up. And this, after all, is the importance of summing up history. It is important to go deeply into it in its own right and to explore and dissect it from a critical scientific standpoint. But ultimately the purpose of that is to advance the overall revolutionary struggle toward the final goal, and if you lose sight of that, especially right now in the short term as well as in the long term, then it turns into academic exercise for its own sake, then theory degenerates and you become unable to determine and distinguish correct from incorrect. And this is a tendency which exists now, around and about, and it’s important to warn against it.
So that’s a few thoughts on the Paris Commune and Lenin’s summation of the Paris Commune....