- Category: History
- Created on Sunday, 29 May 2011 16:03
- Written by Mike Ely
This is written quickly while I am on a week's walk-about (please forgive any mistakes made in haste) I may only participate sporadically in the ongoing discussion.
Several people have asked that we sort out the threads on psychology and the Moscow trials. And so now you have ways of discussing these things separately. Feel free to move your own earlier comments from the earlier thread into this one, if it helps the discussion.
by Mike Ely
In our nearby discussion, there have been exchanges on the Soviet communist leader Nikolai Bukharin between Carl Davidson, ( a consistent and outspoken admirer of Bukharin) and Grover Furr who claims to have evidence that Bukharin was in fact in some way a foreign agent and a "truly revolting person."
I would like to speak in opposition to both of these views -- both the capitalist roader view of Carl and the Stalin-era view of politics Grover -- and lay out an approach to these historical questions of line that rests on Mao's most important contribution, in his theory of classes in socialist society and how powerful restorationist forces emerge within socialism.
(In his comments, Grover rejects the concept of socialist transition itself, in the way promoted by Progressive Labor Party, that is its own issue, and its own mistake, which I won't take up here.)
Bukharin the first capitalist-roader
1) I have long thought (after protracted study) that Bukharin was the first example of what we now call a "capitalist roader" (or specifically what Maoists in China called "from bourgeois democrat to capitalist roader.") And he was (in many ways much more than Trotsky) a major figure and force within the Soviet revolution -- and over two decades, developed a specific and articulated series of programs for how Soviet society should develop.
By that, I mean that his overall line (program and proposals for the direction of Soviet society and revolution) would have led to an accommodation to, and a restoration of capitalism. This had to do with his approach to the heavy capitalism of the countryside and to methods of planning. (In that regard, Bukharin was the father of the school of state planning that proved key to the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and provided the basis for the later state-capitalist approaches from Liberman to Kosigin to Gorbachev.)
In passing, I would like to recommend Joseph Stalin's work On the Opposition as one place to learn about those line questions. And the relative quality of Stalin's political polemic here (at the level of line and program) is worth studying, and also worth contrasting to the approach Stalin himself takes on these same oppositions (a decade later) as they are accused of treason, put on trial and shot.
Without (obviously) making some blanket endorsement of method or line in the early Stalin, I believe we should learn from the more positive aspects of approach and line analysis of that period, and consciously reject the mechanical materialism, conspiracy theories and police-state methods that came to dominate the later Stalin period. (And to be clear, there is much criticism to make of the methods used in collectivization and industrialization, and the thinking that led to those methods -- much of which, again, was summed up by Mao and laid the basis for his different approaches.)
I'm noting precisely that Grover Furr has chosen to make a campaign out of championing the horrific events of the late 30s, while he consciously avoids discussion of political and ideological line that was concentrated in both Bukharin and Stalin's approach. In that sense Furr represents the opposite of what I'm advocating, and concentrates much of what should be discarded from that period, and obscures precisely those conflicts over policy and direction that may prove of value.
Material basis of capitalist restoration was inner-party forces, not old imperialist networks
2) The fact that there was a life and death struggle over line (and over the socialist road) in the Soviet Union does not mean that capitalist roaders were (somehow) agents of foreign powers, or even were consciously pro-capitalist.
In that thread, I reprinted an excerpt of the official charges/verdict on Bukharin before he was executed in the third Moscow trial.
We have learned a lot from the 1930s (and a lot more since the 1930s)-- and the key contribution of Mao Zedong to communist theory was precisely his understanding... i.e. that capitalist roaders are not (somehow) agents who have wormed their way into the party and who acting as representatives over overthrown capitalists and foreign imperialists, who are (traitorously) seeking to destroy socialism and bring back the old order.
On the contrary, history shows that capitalist-roaders emerge from the difficult and complex choices within the heights of the communist party itself -- from among the tested cadre and leaders of that revolution -- as they seek to find a way forward and deal with the objective contradictions within socialism itself. their politics can be objectively counter-revolutionary -- and at key moments is precisely the program of the counterrevolution (I.e. Deng in 1976), but the way this develops and played out is not according to the crude agent-spy-conspiracy theories of the late Stalin era. Those theories and claims were mistaken -- and (interestingly enough) were rooted in the assumption a) of a mechanical relationship between class and politics, and b) on the mechanical assumption that the expropriation of capitalists and landowners in the USSR had eliminated the<em>material basis</em> for capitalist roaders (within the party, within the society), and so c) the rise of oppositional forces now (by mechanical analysis and logic) had to be rooted (paid, directed, inspired) by either old class forces or foreign imperialist forces.
3) The Chinese Maoists developed the understanding of "bourgeois democrats turned capitalist roader" -- though this theoretical work was (in ways we can discuss) in the process of refinement and development precisely as the 1976 coup happened in china (and there were even, unfortunately, known works that were destroyed and are unavailable to us).
They argued that many different kinds of people joined the communist movement and the communist parties with a desire to revolutionize and change the world. But that experience had shown that often those whose vision of socialism tended to be influenced by bourgeois democracy, there was a tendency to congeal around the capitalist road at later points in the socialist revolution. As the struggle sharpened over how to advance through socialist difficulties toward communism (or toward capitalism), some people (the Maoists said) announce "This is my stop, this is where I get off."
This is very different from the Stalin era view of these problems: Which viewed defeat leaders of opposing lines as people who were somehow nothing but vicious traitorous scum who had deceitfully entered the movement to destroy it from within. In a very strange way, their theory of lines was precisely a theory of personalities: I.e. this was not a legitimate and inevitable struggle over direction, but an uncovering of sinister criminal elements who had been plotting (often from the beginning) to destroy the revolution.
In the case of Bukharin, the sentencing at the Moscow trial also included charges that he was (somehow) involved in the 1918 attempt to assassinate Lenin, and so on. In other words, the discovery of important line differences (from 1927-1937) was twisted into an argument that these were criminal matters -- and the representatives of different lines were (somehow) nothing ore or less than agents, assassins, spies etc.
4) There is a sharp conceptual difference between the Maoist analysis of line struggles (under socialism) and the Stalin-era view (that the police and party needed to uncover networks of criminals).
And in fact, the Stalin era view was mistaken, and represented a whole series of misunderstandings of the process of socialist transformation. (It assumed that the correct road was obvious, and only a criminal in the communist leadership would oppose it, it equated opposing lines with criminal and traitorous behavior, it treated important political disputes as police matters, it conducted these controversies among the people as lurid and paranoid police exposures rather than important matters of line, it therefore demobilized the political life of the people and did not raise their understanding of cardinal matters but instead intensified endemic conspiracy methodologies in the place of communist political understandings.)
5) And (as we have discussed) the mistaken Stalin-era theory of where capitalist roaders come from let to the fabrication and invention of charges against former communist leaders like Bukharin -- on the assumption that there "must" be connections between a circle like Bukharin's and deposed Russian capitalists and with foreign impeiralists -- because (in this mechanical thinking) what else would be the material basis for an elaborate counter-program of politics and strategy?
Did stalin know that these things were being fabricated? I think (resting in part on Getty's research) that there is evidence that he assumed there "had to be" conspiracies, and so demanded that his subordinates find it. In other words, the mistaken theoretical assumptions of how things had to be led to tremendous pressure (on police subordinates) to manufacture evidence and charges to fit the assumptions. However as time went on (and as the initial purges became a kind of "mop up operation" against all visible dissent and all previous oppositional activity, the manufacturing of evidence became much more cynical (on everyone's part), and the beatings of prisoners (to extract "information") became explicitly authorized and demanded -- clearly, the interest of those in authority was less to uncover "plots" than to provide a thin veneer of public justification and quasi-legal cover for a wholesale imposition of whateverism (i.e. the demand for simple, automatic and unquestioning response to demands of the center). Molotov (in an interesting passage) remarks how these were (of course) terrible events, but the silence from the body politics afterwards was nonetheless wonderful. (I'm on walkabout and so cant find the actual wording from Molotov, but I believe my paraphrase captures his point.)
6) There were in fact assassins. After all, Kirov <em>was</em> shot dead under suspicious circumstances (it is always suspicious when an assassin is himself quickly dealt with). And there were powerful conflicts in the Leningrad organization at that time (between Kirov's forces and Zinoviev's old apparatus) that may have played into that assassination. Such things happen in political life even in communist movements. (We have all learned about the mutual shootings within the Panthers, or the dramatic semi-mysterious events around Lin Bao's death).
So, in fact, in the world (and in communist revolutions) there are spy networks, and assassinations, and there certainly is in a post-revolutionary society sabotage. Their existence is not the issue here. (Just as it is not "police-baiting" for me to warn people that there is a highly suspicious person who has repeatedly tried to participate in the activities, in dangerous ways, among communists in North America.)
It was wrong, and we should not repeat it
The dispute around the Moscow trials is around two things:
1) Can we understand the complex line struggles of the Soviet Communist Party in the 1930s as the uncovering of a vast Nazi Japanese conspiracy that enlisted former communist leaders to assassinate, spy, sabotage and then carve up the Soviet Union? Or was there (inevitably) within the Soviet revolutionary process the emergence of opposing political and ideological lines that represented opposing programs and (in various ways) represented struggle over whether to take a capitalist or socialist road?
The 1930s view that their line struggles were the result of foreign (Nazi) conspiracies, and further that there was not (anylonger) any <em>internal</em> class basis for political class struggle (because of the expropriation of capitalists and land owners) was a mistaken theory. (Mistaken on every level).
And (based on that experience and history) the next socialist revolution (in China) produced a far more sophisticated and insightful theory (concentrated in Mao's view of capitalist roaders emerging from within the party, the state and the socialist process itself). And Mao's analysis of capitalist-roaders not only explains the class struggle in China (and formed the basis of the Cultural Revolution) -- it also enables us to understand what was happening in Stalin's USSR, far better than Stalin (and his killer Yerzov) did.
2) The second issue is whether we want to look over the history of socialism in the 20th century and (for some reason) pluck out the Moscow trials and the surrounding purges of hundreds of thouasands as something to uphold.
It has been said that the communist experience has things to celebrate and things to grieve. In fact the purges (and the Trials within them) are something to grieve -- they were illconceived on every level, and gave rise to great injustice and great negative changes in the Soviet socialist experience.
Those experiences (including the execution of literally hundreds of thousands of people with barely a figleaf of evidence or trial over an intense period of years) are something we should not uphold -- and that we should criticize on many levels (on the level of historical accuracy, morality, communist theory, political and ideological line and more).
Put another way: for very good reasons, many different kinds of people will ask communists (from now on) what we think of the purges and Moscow trials. And they will be asking: does your view of society allow for such things in the future? Do you plan to accuse and punish people without real evidence on the basis of sweeping and unjustificed suspicons? do you believe that even mild criticisms of your organizations and leaders should be punishable by harsh means (imprisonment, exile, denunciation and even in some cases death)?
And frankly, if we answer that yes we uphold such things, who in their right mind will give our movement a second look? Who wants to support a revolutionary movement that might consider (at osme future point) carrying out a repeat of the late 30s? And that hasn't, in a serious relentless and honest way, grappled with how such a terrible series of mistakes can be made.
We need to embrace the history of socialism in the twentieth century (it is OUR history, and more it is the pre-hsitory of the emancipation of humanity) -- but we need to do it with a sharply critical and serious approach... sorting out those things we uphold and those things we have learned not to repeat.
Mao gives us the theoretical and practical tools to start a sharp critique of Stalin's actions in the late 1930s -- an approach that (precisely) does not do so from an <em>anti-communist</em> or <em>anti-revolutionary</em> perspective/purpose -- but (instead) from an approach of learning from the experience, deepening our understanding of how to envision sharp conflict under socialist conditions. To try to ressurect the original justifications, charges, conspiracy theories and verdicts of the Moscow Trials is exactly wrong. It is utterly unjustified by the massive evidence of history, and it is politically unsupportable (given our goals, our tasks and our communist morality).