- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Wednesday, 17 November 2010 12:00
- Written by Liam Wright
Kasama received the following letter from Liam Wright. In it, he steps away from the RCP -- after being a long-time supporter and ardent advocate.
For the last 5 years Liam has been active in public political work around the RCP in Seattle, and participated in several national mobilizations including: the Denver Democratic National Convention in 2008 and the Louisiana Gulf oil disaster in 2010.
"We need a new path. We need to go to work, studying the world in order to understand it and change it. We need to go back into the history of our movement and revolutionary trends more broadly and open the debate on all the big questions as we do this. We need to involve all kinds of people in this process and through a dynamic of unity-struggle-transformation we can develop something radically new and tremendously liberating. We will develop our lines of demarcation and our strategy, our summations and our policies. ...
"We need to take up the approach of reconceive as we regroup a new communist movement that has a real chance of connecting with the masses of people and winning when the time comes.
"Join in this tremendous and liberating undertaking."
* * * * * * *
On the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA:
Criticizing a Residue of the Past
By Liam Wright
I have become convinced that the Revolutionary Communist Party cannot lead the masses of people to make revolution or, more importantly, lead them to communism. In addition to this, it is clear that it is not possible for the RCP to be won to a fundamentally different line. We do not have a vanguard party in the US. And it is more necessary than ever that a new road be forged, that we find the way to make revolution. That we, here in the belly of the beast, be daring enough to chart the course to do away with this imperialist monster and open up the possibility for the masses of people to finally be free.
With this in mind, I ask my comrades reading this, to keep an open mind and engage with what is being said here. There is little doubt that I, like others before me, will be slandered as “counter-revolutionary” and “unprincipled.”
But what is at the heart of the matter is two-line struggle. And, if we are to carve out the road that must be traveled, then we must be willing to struggle, to engage, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us or how much it goes against “how we've been trained.” It is in the spirit of this and a sense of responsibility to the people of the world that I am leaving the RCP's orbit and am embarking on a different course; in order to fight for a new road.
None of the arguments in this criticism are targeted at any particular individual in the RCP's orbit. My arguments revolve around questions of line. In other words, this isn't personal. Those that I have met around the RCP generally have very high aspirations, the best intentions, and honestly believe they have taken up the correct line. I have a great deal of love and respect for my comrades around the RCP, in particular those that I have been working with for years. So, again, none of this is targeted at any one of those people personally, but rather is written in order to win them. This criticism is a repudiation of Bob Avakian's “New Synthesis.” In this piece I also advocate for developing a new revolutionary communist approach.
My arguments are unfolded in five, interrelated but distinct, sections:
- Dogmatism & Getting Ahead of Material Conditions,
- More on Dogmatism: The Revolution in Nepal & “The Question of Building a New Type of State,”
- Distorting Dialectical and Historical Materialism,
- Idealism & A Wrong Line on Leadership, and
- A Line That Falls far Short of Revolution... Much Less Communism.
Dogmatism & Getting Ahead of Material Conditions
“Both dogmatism and revisionism run counter to Marxism. Marxism must certainly advance; it must develop along with the development of practice and cannot stand still. It would become lifeless if it remained stagnant and stereotyped. However, the basic principles of Marxism must never be violated, or otherwise mistakes will be made. It is dogmatism to approach Marxism from a metaphysical point of view and to regard it as something rigid.” -Mao Tsetung
The RCP's method and approach to understanding and changing the world are characterized by dogmatism.
It ignores concrete conditions and is therefore unable, in any significant way, to change those concrete conditions. At the same time, it attacks and slanders those that are applying the scientific approach of communism to conditions where they are at. It treats strategic and foundational principles as tactical and is therefore rigid, unyielding, and stuck in isolation from the masses of people. This approach has come along with an abandonment of the mass line and a rejection of a dialectical understanding of the relationship between changing conditions and changing consciousness. (I will not be focusing as much on the two latter points, but it is important to note.)
An example of dogmatism is the RCP's Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). In an editorial on the Revolution newspaper website it says,
“Right in the middle of a cruel, rotting empire, a vision of something entirely new—something very radical and far better than the present way that people are forced to live—will be set forth from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. People who get it will find a visionary—and extremely concrete—model of a future revolutionary socialist society and government. They will read a clear description of how the new power would be constituted, and exercised, in the revolutionary society. They will get a feel, and an in-depth understanding, of how that new, revolutionary state power could work to truly usher in a new world. And they will see a place for themselves in this new world, a world in which people would want to live and could truly begin to flourish.” (revcom.us, emphasis mine)
First, the question of rigidity related to this. If one looks at history with a materialist eye, one can see that there is no telling what conditions one would be facing after seizing state power: What alliances revolutionaries will have made, what polarization would be faced, what the international alignment would be, and what necessity one would be facing related to meeting people's basic needs.
To try to develop a new constitution, even the framework of such a constitution, in present conditions where revolutionaries are not on the cusp of coming to power and do not have even a shell of a revolutionary people or a revolutionary situation, runs counter to any kind of real strategy for revolution and the establishment of a new state power. Lets imagine, for a moment, if this had been the method of the Bolsheviks before the 1905 Revolution and the 1917 Revolution and Civil War. What if Lenin had come out with a “socialist constitution” in, lets say, 1899? Would they have been in a position where they could have co-existed with what was the essentially capitalist, bourgeois-democratic Constituent Assembly in 1905? No. Doing so would have robbed the Bolsheviks of the ability to make the alliances necessary at that time, in those conditions, and the opportunity for them to expose the fragile government for what it was, as well as for the masses of people to see through practice that this new state and government was not in their interests.
In addition, the method of the RCP to now develop this “draft proposal” ignores the role of other political forces who will be in alliance with the communist party at the seizure of power. If this method had been employed by the Bolsheviks in their time it would have deprived them of crucial maneuvering room as well as in a basic way robbed the proletariat's governing institutions, the Soviets, participation in setting the terms for the new Soviet Republic.
However, frankly, with the RCP's method and approach, had they been around during that time, probably would have discounted this as “revisionism.” In short, it would have meant the lack of recognition of their concrete conditions and the revolution would have failed.
Developing this draft constitution sets a precedent that “all this is solved.” That we have the model of the socialist state we need. But in actuality we cannot predict, at this stage, the particular form the dictatorship of the proletariat will take in our revolutionary struggle. And this constitution, as a part of the larger method of the RCP, trains communists to be rigid, inflexible, and cut off from new things or forms that are brought forward (sometimes through spontaneity, e.g. the Soviets).
Revolutions progress through stages. And what is applicable to one set of conditions or one stage is not applicable to another. In the future, developing a framework for a constitution of a new socialist state, based on the actual conditions and necessity revolutionaries and the masses of people are facing, would be very appropriate and necessary. However, this turns into its opposite when applied to conditions where this is not actually applicable. The RCP's method here represents a “formulaic model” of how revolution will unfold and how to consolidate power. It is a slightly different formula than what has come before, but a formula nonetheless.
As a side note, the “draft proposal” the RCP just released indeed has a “very radical” conception like requiring that 30% of the Congress of the new state be people recommended by the Revolutionary Communist Party. This is definitely something to “inspire people” and “get them to think in new ways.” Is this what is meant by Avakian's conception of “letting society go to the brink of being drawn and quartered?” In actuality it continues mistakes of the past of merging two-into one between democracy by the proletarian class and the state. It is a recipe for power concentrated in the hands of the party, representing the classes interests, instead of power wielded by the class. This has, in the Soviet Union, led to a stagnation of participation in the revolution by masses of people and the proletariat's ruling institutions. It helped pave the way for (while not the same thing as) capitalist restoration in full by Khrushchev. But, in all honesty, this “draft constitution”, was written by “a writing group,” with only secondary or tactical disagreements admitted in any serious way. This is the character of “democratic centralism” for the RCP. It certainly gives a real “liberating” feel for how a new society would be run.
More on Dogmatism: Revolution in Nepal & “The Question of Building a New Type of State”
The RCP wrote a polemic against the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), titled, “On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008.“ This polemic is an important example of approaching the world dogmatically, without consideration of concrete conditions and applying strategic principles tactically. The RCP discounts any creative and imaginative application of Marxism to the real world as “revisionism.”
In this polemic the RCP makes several blaring distortions of a piece by a leading Nepalese communist, Baburam Bhattarai, “The Question of Building a New Type of State”...
I would contest that Bhattarai's piece contains important communist thinking and is an example of creative application of communist theory to the concrete conditions in Nepal. Even with some problems with his summation of the history of the communist revolution, as well as some other secondary shortcomings, the main aspect of the piece is overwhelmingly positive and thoroughly communist.
Upon going back and revisiting both articles it became clear that there is not really a valid argument in the RCP's criticism. There is so much wrong with the article I cannot seek to counter it all in this piece. I will instead focus on 3 main arguments made by the RCP: They claim that Bhattarai's piece, ”basically placed the extension of formal democracy (including elections with competing political parties) at the heart of the socialist transition and as some kind of supposed “guarantee” for the prevention of capitalist restoration,” ”proposed that upon reaching socialism the standing army could be dissolved and replaced by militias,” ”the model of the Paris Commune, with direct elections and recall of officials, was raised as a more positive model than the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and China.”
“...basically placed the extension of formal democracy (including elections with competing political parties) at the heart of the socialist transition and as some kind of supposed “guarantee” for the prevention of capitalist restoration.”
It never makes any assertion of the kind. Bhattarai's piece is grappling with the relationship between dictatorship and democracy under socialism and what new forms they could take in the concrete conditions of Nepal. In his piece he does assert: “...drawing correct lessons from the bitter experiences of failure of the masses to stage organized rebellion against counter-revolution in the past, we should ensure a system in the new context whereby political parties may be allowed to get organized keeping within definite progressive and revolutionary constitutional limits and they may be encouraged to function not only in a ‘cooperative’ manner but in a ‘competitive’ spirit vis-à-vis the formal Communist Party.
There can be no objective and logical reason for the Communist Party claiming itself to be the representative of the majority proletarian and oppressed classes to hesitate to enter into political competition within a definite constitutional framework, once the economic monopoly of the feudal and bourgeois classes over land and capital and military monopoly over the mercenary professional army, which are the sources of their political hegemony, are thoroughly smashed. One should earnestly acknowledge that this is not an advocacy of bourgeois pluralism but is a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist method to objectively solve contradictions among the people as long as the class division in society exists. Though it could not be practiced for various reasons in the past, the fact that Mao himself was contemplating in that direction can be deduced from his following statement:
‘Which is better, to have just party or several?As we see it now, it’s perhaps better to have several parties. This has been true in the past and may well be so for the future; it means long-term coexistence and mutual supervision.'”
It is important to note that he is not saying that the dictatorship of the proletariat should be up for a vote. He is saying that within a definite constitutional framework the new state should allow organizations and parties to compete.
In another part of his article he firmly makes the point that the communist party must have control over the military. He is talking about 1. Not letting everything go and holding onto power and 2. That the masses of people should have the freedom to learn through practice, compare and contrast programs and policies, as well has have the power to discard a political party if it loses its revolutionary character. Another important dimension that Bhattarai grapples with is the potential of other avenues through which political power can be asserted. (e.g. the media, culture, etc.) He notes that the bourgeoisie uses these forms to great affect and that we should more fully utilize them than in the past.
One last quote on this point:
“If one attempts to divorce democracy and dictatorship from each other or to merge them both into one, then there occur serious problems and accidents. This has been proved by the bitter experiences of building new type of state in the past century. Democracy and dictatorship are two sides of the same coin. In a class divided society democracy for one class is dictatorship against another class and dictatorship over one class is a democracy for another class. Hence in the new proletarian state to apply dictatorship over the handful of exploiting classes is to provide democracy for the overwhelming masses, and to expand the scope of democracy for the masses is to tighten the noose of dictatorship over the reactionary classes. In this sense democracy is also a form of state and as soon as the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes unnecessary democracy, too, becomes unnecessary or withers away. Hence the revolutionaries should be freed of the hypocritical illusion of absolute democracy or ‘democracy for all’ as spread by the bourgeois.”
There are some problems with this statement. But the main thrust here is that he is calling on revolutionaries to not fall for the ruse of “democracy for all.” He is saying that we must in actuality exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat and not substitute it for bourgeois democratic pluralism. He is making precisely the opposite argument that the RCP accuses him of.
“...proposed that upon reaching socialism the standing army could be dissolved and replaced by militias...”
Again, basically straight up distortion.
The actual quote they are referring to is
“….it should be guaranteed that the people’s army of the 21st century is not marked by modernization with special arms and training confined to a barrack after the capture of state power but remains a torch-bearer of revolution engaged in militarization of the masses and in the service of the masses. It is only by developing armed masses from both ideological and physical point of view that one can resist foreign intervention and counter-intervention; this fact must be made clear before the armed forces right from the beginning. The main thrust of work for the 21st century people’s army should be to complete the historical responsibility of developing conscious armed masses so that they may learn to use their right to rebel.”
Lets analyze this:
1. He is talking about working to develop militias but it does not talk about dissolving the professional military under socialism.
2. He is arguing that the principle role of the military should be training and arming the masses of people ideologically and politically. This is in part due to a strategic view that the socialist state must contain seeds of its own withering away. It also has to do with the immediate necessity the Nepalese revolutionaries and their new state will be facing if or when they successfully come to power. They will be immediately presented with the very imminent danger of intervention by India, who's military is roughly ten times the size of Nepal's. The CPN(M)'s strategy acknowledges that they could not win against such an intervention with conventional warfare and that their only chance of winning has to do with relying on the armed masses of people.
Now this is important because Bhattarai is using a dialectical method and is not crudely saying things one-sidedly. There is nuance to his position. (Well in fact this has been the position of the CPN(M) since 2004.) They are grappling both with the necessity of the masses of people to be politically conscious as well as for them to be able to defend the revolution. (Speaking specifically to their own conditions as well as to the coup in China. In that situation masses of people did rise up but were unable to defeat the well trained Red Army. There was a question of militarily not having the training, etc to win and more fundamentally not being conscious of what the coup represented.) What Bhattarai is arguing for is a deeply dialectical and historical materialist position.
”...the model of the Paris Commune, with direct elections and recall of officials, was raised as a more positive model than the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and China.”
Not mainly. Again, Bhattarai's summation of the history of the dictatorship of the proletariat is one of the biggest problems with his piece. However, the main thrust of his citation of the Paris Commune was not to claim it as a “more positive” model. In fact he sites the GPCR as the most advanced experience in the dictatorship of the proletariat. He was principally making the point that the dictatorship of the proletariat can and must take many different forms and was seeking to draw out the lessons for why the Paris Commune was destroyed. Bhattarai is arguing that based on the conditions in different countries it is necessary that the rule by the proletariat takes different forms. For instance, the particular form of democracy and dictatorship they are advocating for is not one they would advocate for everywhere.
A big part of why competitive elections are an important theme in the model they have taken up is because one of the biggest felt needs of the masses of people in Nepal has been for competitive elections. They also have a large diversity of oppressed nations that are united with the CPN(M)
The dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union wasn't envisioned going forward in the way that it did. It was through a mixture of necessity and accident that the Soviets became more or less a “conveyer belt” for decisions made by the party in the Soviet Union under Stalin. In fact, in State and Revolution
An aside on the accusation by the RCP basically claiming that the CPN(M) has given up on revolution and is instead opting for realpolitik. This is simply and totally not true.
They are carrying out a strategy of people's war followed by insurrection. The Nepalese communists have recently formed a number of parallel governments in different regions that are autonomous and under the control of various oppressed nationalities. This is a part of paving the way for final insurrections in Nepal. They have succeeded in getting the puppet Prime Minister to step down. And in this historical moment where there is no prime minister, even after 10 rounds of elections attempting to elect a new one, they are using this opportunity to show the illegitimacy of the peace process and the current state's instability that will lead to it's collapse. Because their party has actual debate over big questions there are different lines in contention right now. Bhattarai wants to consolidate the current government to finish wiping away feudal forces. While Prachanda and his camp believe the current government will seek to maintain the status quo. They argue that insurrection is the first step in facing off with India. Bhattarai, however, believes that the current government can be won to patriotic end goals.
Distorting Dialectical and Historical Materialism
The book Away With All Gods was hailed before its release with: