Nando: History's Cruelty towards Trotskyism

Revolutions of last 50s did not follow Trotsky's scriptsby Nando

I feel i need to start with a dozen caveats. History has not exactly been kind toward revolution in general -- and the disappearance of socialist countries and movements generally is a large problems.

But I'm referring to a particular problem with the "record" of trotskyism as a political theory since it was codified by the fourth international during Trotsky's last years.

Radical Eyes wrote that he/she wanted,

"....bit more on how and why you find the core trotskyist concepts that you mention (”permanent revolution, program of transitional demands, emphasis on working class trade unionism, the theory of bureucratic degeneration of the Russian revolution”) are in your view “not correct.”

"I doubt that I am the only one out here who could benefit from some–principled and non-sectarian–back and forth about any of these concepts.

"Any takers? Or defenders of these concepts for that matter?"

 

 

Ok, i'll give it a try. But with an additional caveat: That I also think there is very limited value toward engaging these issues in this way. I worry that the thread that emerges from a post like this might prove that. But, then, if we confine it to just one thread, no great harm done.... right?

For those seeking a detailed Maoist critique of the historic issues around Trotskyism, I suggest “On Trotskyism: Problems of theory and history” by Kostas Mavrakis (luckily available online thanks to Marx2Mao!)– which explores those issues with substance and integrity. And which I have found quite convincing (as opposed to the far more dogmatic, Stalin-era mythology, “Trotskyism: Counterevolution in Disguise,” by M.J. Ogrin — a work and a history which would be embarassing for communists if it was not so tragic and damaging.

As I argued in an accompanying post ("On Engagement and Audience"): I think we need to engage on the terrain of today, not the terrain of 1924 or 1936 or....

 

But with that as a warning, I'd like to poke at questions Radical Eyes is interested in....

Just a Few Examples of History's Cruelty 

1) It was said (by Trotskyists in the 1940s), that the Comintern had beocme a counterrevolutionary force, and so any revolutions after world war 2 would only arrive from non-stalinist movements.

In fact Mao (breaking with stalin’s directives) led the worlds second great socialist revolution in 1949. Trotskyists, facing this dilemma had two “logical” ways to go: some simply said that china had not had a socialist revolution, others (associated with the Forurth International leader Pablo) announced that it was possible to have revolution “with a blunt instrument” — i.e. without a trotskyist vanguard leading. (It was a verdict with obvious liquidationist implications for Trotskyism as a trend, and led to an effort to "enter" the socalled "stalinist parties" around the world). 

2) Trotskyism’s theory of permanent revolution including a continuation of previous European socialist thought on the peasantry (which saw them as largely conservative, and only capable of revolutionary activity in close conjuncture with an urban working class uprising leading the way.) It had a particularly rigid view of what "working class leadership" meant in our epoch -- seeing it often in terms requiring literally leadership by urban industrial workers (a uncreative set of assumptions, sometimes shared by Stalin's comintern, that proved limiting, even devastating,  in the colonial world).

In fact (again especially after World War 2) the vast anti-colonial upsurge (spearheaded by China, and rippling through Indochina, Korea, India, Latin America, the Middle East and africa) showed that reality was quite a bit more complex: in many places anti-feudal agrarian revolution of peasants (especially under communist leadership) played a far more dynamic role than allowed in “classic” trotskyist theory (or in the politics of the trotskyists of those times).

The theory of permanent revolution viewed Mao's New Democracy as a form of "class collaboration" (because Mao saw a progressive anti-feudal role for sections of the relatively small, weak national bourgeoisie in China). But, there too, the development of the Chinese revolution, the transition from New Democracy to socialism, the development of class struggle, the emergence of a class of capitalist roaders as the basis of restoration (not the national bourgeoisie which was fairly peacefully absorbed into the socialist economy)... all of these things ended that debate (in practice if not always in theory) for those who cared to look.

3) A core trotskyist theory was that it was impossible to have “socialism in one country” — in fact, over the sweep of the twentieth century, it was revealed that it was quite possible to establish and deepen a socialist mode of production (at least in one or two large socialist countries), but (as Mao said) it was not possible to “fully consolidate socialism” or move onto communism itself, without the overthrow of imperialism on a world scale.

The early Trotskyist assumption (that socialist revolution could not succeed in stabilizing itself in the Soviet Union, much less in a country like china, without revolution in the “advanced countries” providing the most advanced forces of production) proved to be mistaken.

Clearly, the fact that revolution has (so far) taken place one country at a time has been a problem of socialist transition, filled with real and frustrating difficulties for communists. But it would be hard to argue today (after the experience of a century) that it is impossible to “take the socialist road” in one country, while supporting the advance of socialist revolution worldwide.

4) the Trotskyist theory of a degenerated workers state — holds that the Soviet Union (after 1924) became a new form of society led by a new kind of social stratum (i.e. that it was neither capitalist, nor truly socialist, neither led by the capitallists, nor by the revolutionary proletariat). It was held (by trotkyists) that it was a “workers state” but one that had degenerated (by being usurped by political representatives of a bureaucratic stratum.)

This was already a problem by the time Trotsky was assassinated -- because his assumption was (understandably) that a bureaucratic stratum could not rule in a stable way, and the society would fall into crisis and inevitably career one way or another -- i.e. toward capitalism or socialism, toward rule by the bourgeoisie or the proletariat.

As time went on, (first years, then decades) and as the Soviet Union went through major changes, invasion and political struggles (from 1924 to 1992) — it became more and more incredible to think that you had a society where the nature of its economic base (i.e. the non-capitalist economic forms emerging from the October revolution) were being administered (and even defended) by a ruling stratum that was neither capitalist nor socialist.

(How long can a society hang in a “bonapartist” limbo, with neither capitaist nor proletarian class exercising dictatorship in the modern world?)

In short: This was not a correct theory. The whole idea of a "workers state" going through "degeneration" has a whiff of platonic idealism (as if there is some ideal "workers state" and the reality we experience is its tarnished, degenerated manifestation. Second, Stalin proved, over the 1930s, to be a quite ferocious overseer of the bureaucracy, hardly their gray protector! And third, there was a conceptual problem with insisting that a large country was neither fish nor fowl, and its state not ruled by any specific class. I suppose such theories can exist, but it is hard to reconcile with Marxist views on the nature of the state. And finally, this "bureaucratic" schema proved very sterile when it came to understanding the major leaps and changes actually happening (in the real politics) of the Soviet Union, or in China, or Eastern Europe or Cuba (each of which were, in my opinion, radically different from each other in nature and development). it was a cookie cutter approach (with the SU being the degenerate one, and the others being "deformed workers states" etc.)

In any case, some trotskyists (the Shachtmanites of the "Third Camp" -- between "Stalinism" and imperialism) changed their minds, saying that the rise of Stalin had represented the rise of a new capitalist class (and so, by logical extension, if not particularly materialist analysis, they also concluded that the great Chinese revolution was jut another capitalist, nationalist power grab, not a socialist revolution.)

History gave another blow to this theory of a “degenerated workers state” as the Gorbachev years gave over to openly capitlaist forms. For Maoists this was “state monopoly capitalism becoming more openly private-traditional monopoly capitalism” — i.e. the change was largely in “form” (juridical form) of ownership (the socalled “enfranchisement of the nomenclatura”). But for trotskyists, this represented the destructions of the long-standing non-capitalist base (which had remained, in their opinion for seventy years fixed in its nature) without the civil wars and massive struggles that they predicted (and insisted) HAD to accompany a restoration of capitalism. Caught in this logical cunundrum (i.e. it CAN'T become capitalist without some civil war upheaval) some schools of Trotskyists STILL insist that Russia and China can't yet  be  capitalist….facts be damned. hmmmm.

My point here again is that history has not been kind to the three or four main theoretical postulates of “classic” trotskyism.

* * * * * * * *

All these views have been fairly well and systematically critiqued (from many sides), over the years (including by opposing schools of  trotskyism, or those departing trotskyism).

And the outcome of all these events themselves (the victory of china, the exprience of socialist road in USSR and china, the process of restoration, the experience of peasants in the world’s anti-colonial and antifeudal upsurges) all point strongly away from the assumptions, predictions and proposals of the Trotskyist framework.

Put another way: trotskyism was aimed (in many ways) at creating a politics for the European trade union movements (that had their heyday in the early twentieth century). but the world revolution moved farther and farther away from those movements, and the development of imperialism cemented those movements more and more firmly to social democratic politics. Trotskyism mainly survives today where some remaining  trade unionist hope flickers amid the debris surrounding British Labor “traditions” or (even more fragile)  in a few caucuses in the few unionised industries of the U.S.

I realize that these few paragraphs are, just that, a few paragraphs. They are not a serious disputation of trotskyist theories — but a sketch of why communists view trotskyism was a false start, and a mistaken direction, for any revolutionary aspirations. (Leaving aside here the important historical disputes within the Soviet Union, where, i believe, Trotsky also took basically the wrong stand on a wide range of issues.)

Trotskyism has found itself in a serious, terminal dead end — dissipating as a movement. It regularly attracts people who want radical change, but who are attracted to a socialism with major strains of bourgeois democratic and social democratic thinking.

But as a serious movement, it has made little progress anywhere. It has the dubious distinction of being a movement whose heyday was 1919 when Trotsky was head of the Red Army -- a generation before it came into being as an organized trend through the stillborn fourth international of the late 1930s. And if anything Trotskyism's “health” as a political contender has gotten steadily worse because of the objective conundrums mentioned above — that became splitting points, famously shattering trotskyism into countless warring factions with very little uniting them. (Even Trotskyists joke that "what do you fall two trotskyists in a room? The ideal making for three trotskyist groups." and so on.)

All that said, the experience of Trotskyists (including in the U.S.) is hardly confined to their crisis of theory. There is clearly much to learn from some of the scholarly work done by various trotskyists (including Tariq Ali, or Mike Davis or ), and there are probably things to sum up from the attempts by some trotskyists to give mouth-to-mouth to American rank-and-file trade unionism over the last forty years. And that probably doesn't even start the list of things worth knowing about.

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  • Guest - Bryan the Trot

    I think I'm getting sucked into "engaging" this website more than I'd like. Procrastination...

    The Trotskyist analysis of the Comintern is more full of complexities than you portray.

    Of the post-Trotsky Trotskyists, you fail to mention Ted Grant, who departed from Trotsky's post-war predictions but maintained the centrality of the working class, the Trotskyist theme in the transitional program, the permanent revolution, combined and uneven development and other central concepts.

    Ted Grant was also the only Marxist outside of China to predict Mao's victory well in advance. He called the Chinese revolution "the second greatest event in human history" while warning that a peasant army (rather than a proletarian insurrection) could only create a bureaucratic one-party state no matter how pure its subjective aims.

  • Guest - Chuck Morse

    Nando, the problem with this line of argumentation is that history has been no less cruel to Marxism . . . indeed, none of Marx's major predictions about historical development have been verified: Marx was wrong about the relationship between economics and politics (and economics and the state specifically); wrong about the revolutionary nature of the European industrial proletariat; wrong about the development of class consciousness; wrong about the development of the class structure; and wrong about the durability of capitalism. . . I am only mentioning the major issues here.

    I will also add that any discussion of Stalin must begin from the recognition that he was one of the greatest butchers and totalitarians of the twentieth century and that he did more to destroy the Russian revolutionary tradition than any other single individual.

  • Guest - um

    Chuck, always fun when bizarro orthodoxies are passed of as "Marxism" by opponents of Marxism.

    Can you tell me Marx's book on the revolutionary potential of the "European proletariat"?

    I'd like to read it. I've never seen it.

    Thanks.

    What is a commodity? Check.

    What is "labor"? Check.

    What is "development"? Check.

    Not only has this whole prediction nonsense struck me as funny, read Lenin or Mao or indeed any Marxist who actually led people about what "marxism" is and it has little do with the Trotskyite prep school version of neo-Christianity.

    Then again, check in the Communist Manifesto about the major things he saw coming... and pretty much all of them are old hat at this point. Its one of the only places he made programatic prescriptions, and they were fairly spot on.

  • Guest - Bryan the Trot

    Chuck is wrong on all the things he says Marx is wrong about.

    As for "um"--Can you tell me Marx’s book on the revolutionary potential of the “European proletariat”?

    EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM!!!

  • Guest - onehundredflowers

    Um, we want to keep the discussions on this site principled and focused on matters of substance. We strongly discourage the use of ad hominem labels, such as "Trotskyite."

    One of the worse features of the revolutionary left is the poisonous invective that often accompanied any debate between those of different and even antagonistic positions. If we're going to build a more viable revolutionary movement, we need an atmosphere in which we can debate honestly and respectfully.

  • Guest - Keith

    There are different kinds of science and different conceptions of science.

    Marxism is not a predictive science. Marxism is not about predicting the future. Marxism is a "guide to action." A guide to action does not tell us what will happen it tells us what we should do if we want to make things happen.

    Marxism is not a tool to predict lunar eclipses. Marxism is about human beings and we have something to say about what the future will be by our actions and that is not predictable.

    Is socialism inevitable? Yes. But that is not a prediction. That is a conclusion based on the theoretical findings historical materialism and the critique of political economy. As labor productivity increases commodity prices fall along with profit rates. As an economy approaches full automation the source of profit collapses. But when and how that will happen can not be known beforehand. Historical events do not prove or disprove the labor theory of value of the law of the tendency of the profit rate to fall. The theory allows us to understand something about how the world works so that it can be changed.

    The revolutionary potential of the proletariat is not proven or disproven by historical events. The proletariat are the revolutionary class because of their place in the capital class relation. That doesn't change. To disprove it you would have to show that the labor is not exploited by capital (

    I am not a Trotskyite because the practice of all the TRotskyites groups (Sparts, SWP, Bolshevik Tendency etc) I came into contact with as a young revolutionary quickly convinced me that there was something profoundly wrong with Trotskyism. Trotskyism has been a very ineffective guide to action. Soon afterward I extended my critique to the notion of the vanguard party itself, and I have been a happy Marxist ever since.


    It seems hard to say that the theory of permanent revolution has been rendered wrong by history while socialism in one country is rendered right. Neither was a raging success.

  • Guest - Keith

    I didn't mean any offense. "Trotskyist" is the preferred nomenclature?

  • Chuck writes:

    <blockquote>"Nando, the problem with this line of argumentation is that history has been no less cruel to Marxism . . . </blockquote>

    In fact, the record is far more complex, and far more positive than that. Trotskyism (as a movement and as a theory) has proven sterile (from its formulation in the thirties until now). But more revolutionary currents of marxism have (meanwhile) been leading armies, leading revolutions, establishing socialist states, experimenting with creating new culture, defeating the Nazis, confronting U.S. imperialists (in vietnam, in Korea...), developing liberated zones, and struggling (with various degrees of success) to develop their marxism in ways that correspond to experience, reality and changes around us.

    This is not to deny that significant parts of Marxist thinking have proven partial or faulty. It is not to say that some Marxists have fallen far short of revolutionary, or creative, or successful.

    But it is hard to argue that Marxism (as a whole) has proven barren and unsuccessful.

    You have argued this before, Chuck, and some of us have answered in this way before. So it sounds like (somehow) we are still speaking past each other.

    <blockquote>indeed, none of Marx’s major predictions about historical development have been verified: Marx was wrong about the relationship between economics and politics (and economics and the state specifically); wrong about the revolutionary nature of the European industrial proletariat; wrong about the development of class consciousness; wrong about the development of the class structure; and wrong about the durability of capitalism. . . I am only mentioning the major issues here.</blockquote>

    As others have mentioned above, this is confused at best.

    First, Marxism is not a matter of "predictions" major or minor. And to the extent that Marx had assumptions (or "predictions") based on his analysis and the world around him, they were often quite far-sighted.

    He said at one point that the socialist revolution would come through the combination of a Paris Commune with a second edition of the German peasant wars. In one way or another, that was the history (and the experimental field) of the next century.

    On the other hand, i do think it is worth speaking to the correct side of what you write:

    It is not just Marx who underestimated the "durability of capitalism," but every revolutionary I have heard about (including Lenin, and Mao, and most activists at the grassroots, including myself). I don't think that everyone was completely lost in illusions (few seriously thought we would destroy imperialism planet-wide in one lifetime). But certainly hopes mingle with expectation and influence planning.

    On the other hand: capitalism has also proven fragile in some ways. It has been punctured in two great revolutions (the russian and chinese) -- which (between them and their peripheries) embraced a third of humanity in the early 1950s. The anti-capitalist struggles of the last century have inspired and mobilized tens of millions of people in highly conscious struggle -- that one way or another have deeply impacted our world, and left a huge legacy of experience and new knowledge for us to sum up creatively.

    Let me put it another way:

    Capitalism took centuries before it was able to overthrow feudalism and establish a stable dominance in even one country. (from the hanseatic city states of the middle ages to the French revolution of 1789). And that first successful capitalist revolution was itself replaced by an emperor (Napoleon) after only one decade.

    So welcome to the complexity of major transitions! Welcome to the process (of victory and setback, revolution and counterrevolution) through which social revolution advances.

    I think some forms of Marxism <em>have</em> proven sterile and (frankly) just plain wrong. But I just can't see how anyone can argue that all of Marxism has proven to be a disaster in this way.

    * * * * * *
    Chuck writes:

    <blockquote>"I will also add that any discussion of Stalin must begin from the recognition that he was one of the greatest butchers and totalitarians of the twentieth century and that he did more to destroy the Russian revolutionary tradition than any other single individual."</blockquote>

    It was once said that it took a century after Napoleon's death before someone could mention his name in a French bar without provoking a fight. Some figures function on the edges of complex events and contradictions in such a way that their summation pokes deep into ongoing and highly controversial issues.

    yes, we need a discussion of stalin -- an ongoing, sober, fearless and materialist discussion.

    On a methodological point: I can't imagine why anyone would want to initiate a discussion by announcing (a priori) that their personal verdict "must" be where the discussion starts. "Must" we really adopt your view on this before we can "start" a serious discussion? And "must" we start the discussion by assuming that the issue we are discussing is the verdict on Stalin as a person?

    that kinda rules out both my approach to this question, and rules out my own tentative verdicts -- so it makes a discussion very hard.

    Here is what I think: Revolutions by their nature punch through when societies are in profound crisis and dislocations, and by their nature they deepen the crisis and dislocation. And the challenge for revolutionaries is to wrench a new and liberating order out of that dissolution. It is quite a difficult thing to pull off.

    In some ways, the modern developments of society make broaden the basis for a new and revolutionary society (by providing, for example, the means to eliminate scarcity etc.) -- but it also tremendously increases the complexity, fragility and interdependence of society (making it even harder to pull a new order out of the dissolution of an old one.)

    Russia went through the most horrific experience of world war 1 (world war is bad enough, but crushing defeat in such a war intensifies it). this was followed by famine and civil war -- all intensified by the breakdown of industrial production and the revolutionary transformation of traditional agricultural life. and then after barely a decade of breakthing room, this russian socialist experiment faced the rise of Hitler on its eastern border (a threat that soon materialized as the world's most mechanized army of millions preparing an invasion force.)

    these conditions both churned up a highly active mass revolutionary force, and also ground it down. these conditions unleashed powerful forces for the transformation of society, and also created a powerful necessity to stablize production and discipline society for major shocks. Revolution required the polarization of society, and military defense required its unification.

    So (and here is the heart of my view) we see a literally unprecedented experiment, the world's first socialist attempt in one country, emerging from truly horrific conditions, operating under incredible constraints and encirclement -- and we have a chance to look closely at the choices this gave to the revolutionaries, and we get to see (from our vantage point) where THEIR choices then led them.

    The words of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement have always represented my own sentiments: There is much here to celebrate and much here to grieve.

    but I am not particularly interested in simple condemnation. Yes, great injustices happened as part of the Soviet experiment. Yes, the often-desperate and isolated revolutionaries often resorted to means that (sharply, sharply) contradicted the morality and goals of communism. Yes, in the name of "defending socialism" there was (eventually) a maefending socialism" there was (eventually) a m<code>aafending socialism" there was (eventually) a maa

  • Guest - BobH

    Interesting that an anarchist's position on Stalin strikes me as more "authoritarian" than a Maoist's. It seems as if the question of Stalin is actually a useful litmus test -- <b>not</b> based so much on what we think of Stalin, but how we approach the question: as a question of history, politics and theory or as a largely moral one. The former is not likely to lead to much unity but helps our understanding; the latter doesn't seem to help much at all, except perhaps to feel better about ourselves. And in my more cynical moments, I suspect that feeling better about ourselves is a major factor in the North American left.

  • Guest - Bryan the Trot

    Marxism is a predictive science. Without analyzing the unfolding objective conditions and the likely outcomes, one cannot have a grasp of correct program, tactics, and emphasis. Without prediction (realizing its limitations), the Marxist ends up like a boat without a rutter.

  • Guest - Bryan the Trot

    The revolutions of 1949 and 1959 were what Trotskyists see as a confirmation of the permanent revolution: the democratic tasks of bourgeois revolutions could not be achieved through capitalism. Instead, to create land reform, end imperialist domination, etc., there had to be SOCIAL revolutions in China, Cuba, Angola, Vietnam, etc.

    Also, why history wasn't cruel to Trotskyism: the revolutions of 1949, 1959, etc were NOT working class revolutions. One-party states are not what Marxists aim to create. Working class self-emancipation is our goal. The revolutions of the mid-20th century overthrew capitalism and resulted in bureaucratically planned economies, but they did not result in socialism or communism.

    While Maoists can criticize the Popular Front, sectarianism and the Third Period, leading to the rise of fascism AFTER THE FACT, Trotskyists inherit a revolutionary line of continuity.

    Also, I see no difference between the Chinese and Cuban revolution, except that one declared its intentions from the start. Both ended with the same result. The fact that these two governments were on the opposite sides of the Sino-Soviet split shows that the split was over conflicting interests of bureaucracies, not over revolution and counter-revolution.

    While the two counter-revolutions in Russia were explained scientifically by Trotskyists, all I've seen from Maoists is denunciations of revisionism, classifications of "social imperialist," and no reflection on what was an ongoing social process.

    Seems history is being cruel to Maoists right now as the group you saw as the vanguard of world revolution (the Nepalese Maoists) are now the unapologetic heads of a bourgeois republic.

    I really need to get on to the writing I'm supposed to be doing. "Peace."

  • Guest - hegemonik

    I would challenge Bryan -- and other Trotskyists -- to challenge themselves to bother to separate the overheated rhetoric that submerges every party that belonged to the Comintern at some point as a Stalinist. It simply does not correspond to the facts.

    The Maoist break with the Popular Front did not happen "after the fact" -- in truth, Mao had broken with the Popular Front strategy as it was still in effect through much of Europe as well as the U.S. The record is quite clear that Mao himself was not interested in the Popular Front as a strategy, as when he brought substantive criticism of "everything through the United Front" line that emerged within the CPC during the Anti-Japanese War, maintained separate militia throughout the war, and had the Party moving against the Japanese in the waning years of the war.

    Similarly in political practice, Mao's pursuit of land reform went on during the anti-Japanese war and was only moderated to keep wartime production levels stable enough to keep the war effort going (namely, land reform demands were reduced to reductions of rent and interest rates). When the war against the Japanese was over, full land-to-the-tiller policy went forward.

    ---

    In general summation, I would say that a critical failing of Trotskyist method for historical analysis has been to reduce the line struggles of the International Communist Movement into two conveniently packaged dynasties of line (i.e., that of Stalin and Trotsky) against all evidence to the contrary. This is inadequate when one figures that the world did not simply revolve around the Soviet Union even when Stalin was around insisting that it did (as is evident by Trotskyist organizations' various splits not only over China, but over the status of Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Cuba, etc.) -- because none of these states conformed to the whims of Moscow.

  • Guest - Bryan the Trot

    I do not call my friends in groups like WWP and ROL "Stalinists" in public (although my ROL friend would probably wear the badge with honor). However, I think that the characterization of a bureaucratically planned economy and a one-party state applies to many of the revolutions we're talking about. Still, to be clear, I see all of those revolutions as a break with capitalism and a step forward.

    OK, so Mao broke with Comintern policy. So did Tito. That is clear. It still doesn't account for the rise of fascism in Germany without a street battle or a shot fired, and it doesn't deal adequately with the rise of fascism in Spain, etc.

    The Comintern wasn't a homogenous organization. I never said it was. However, I don't think that revolutionary continuity leads back to any of the organizations of the Comintern. The failure of the states created out of the various CPs of the world shows that many of Trotsky's analysis in "Revolution Betrayed" applies to those other states. Where it doesn't completely, I think that Ted Grant's analysis did a good job of picking up the pieces.

  • The notion of looking backward "revolutionary continuity" will help us solve the problems and sum up the experience of a world revolution that is in its early stages.

    The problems of the revolution were not solved in the past. though attempts and proposals and disputes were pressed through.

  • Guest - Keith

    I don't want to derail the conversation but since we are trying to compare theories it is worth arguing out the question of what a revolutionary theory is and what is science.

    I sd earlier that Marxism is not a predictive science and Bryan disagreed. He sd it is a predictive science.

    Consider this comment from Marx:
    "All science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly corresponded."

    For Marx the world is not as it appears to be. We can't get an accurate understanding of the world without actively theorizing it. In introductory remarks to Kapital Marx says that biologists have microscopes and social science has abstraction. (Marx also discusses abstraction in the introduction to the Grundrisse in the part called "The method of political economy.")

    In the Marx quote above we can also get a clear sense of what he means by science. The purpose of science is not to make predictions, it is explanatory. (The world is need of theoretical explanation because it is not as it seems)

    Marx shows that when productive relations are regulated through market exchanges the things exchanged become "fetishized" (Kapital v1 part 4 of chapter 1). So that what we see are exchanges between things and the establishment of relationships between things but what is in fact happening is that relations between human beings are established and specifically relations of production which organize the division of labor and the distribution of goods. The Market and the production and exchange relations organized by the market must be explained so that they and the exploitation of labor can be replaced with conscious planning and organization.

    The theoretical explanation is what allows us to become class conscious (knowledge of class relations) and that consciousness allows us to act in ways that subvert, transform, and overthrow the system. Th theory is a guide to action.

    Which leads to the last point. The idea of a predictive science is passive and contemplative. What is possible, what will happen in the future depends on us, on what we do, it can't be predicted.

    Even the idea of the inevitability of socialism is not a prediction but an explanation of how the system works. Capitalist development undermines its own foundations (see part 3 of Volume 3 of Capital). That is not a prediction but an explanation of how the system works. It is "true" before it happens and irregardless of when it happens.

  • Guest - Chuck Morse

    Regrettably, I don't have time to respond fully to the discussion here, but I wanted to jump in to say that Marx was and was not a predictive thinker... It is more accurate to say that he was a teleological thinker. He thought he had identified capitalism's essence and, for him, this essence included a specific historical trajectory. Capitalism had/has a telos.

    Capitalism has not followed the historical path that Marx thought it had to, which presents serious problems for anyone who hopes to build a revolutionary politics on the basis of Marxism. Can't happen. Won't happen.

    I will also say that Marx had a dialectical definition of truth, which admits the importance of facts but does not center on them alone. In any case, what happened (and did not happen) in the world really did concern Marx.

  • It is not teleological to say that a process has a trajectory, it is just teleological to say that it is inevitable -- and that the end goal is somehow inherent in the process (or as Engels put it that each process had a "characteristic way of negation.")

    It is teleological to say that the characteristic end for a barley corn is to germinate and sprout, and that when we grind it up we have created an "exception." I was recently reading (in Althusser's important 1962 essay "<a href="/http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1962/overdetermination.htm" rel="nofollow">contradiction and overdetermination</a>" a devastating critique of that notion of "excepton.")

    If I throw a ball, it has a trajectory. An observor can map the launch, and even get in position. He/she has identified a "specific historical trajectory" for the ball. And (if he/she is lucky) that analysis can put them in a position to "know the world to change the world" (and they can catch the ball.

    The ball's trajectory is not inevitable... a gust of wind (an external unanticipated event) can change it. A hunter may blow it out of the sky from a nearby field. Some other observer might make a great leap and catch it first, and so on.

    But it has a trajectory upon which we can make speculations, calculations and plans.

    In that sense too, capitalism has a number of dynamic trends (which sometimes work in opposition to each other).... it has patterns, tendencies, contradictions, and dynamics that arise from its nature (as capitalism) and from many other particular properties of this social system in various countries (feudal remnants, reliance on trade, historically conditioned wage levels, existence of resources etc.)

    Marx (and marxists) analyse these patterns and trends (based on analysis of the internal contradictions of capitalism and also the dynamic conditions that forms its historic context).

    We do not know yet if the world will follow the path that Marx thought it would. For the previous century, the revolutionary struggle shifted to countries emerging from feudalism. And after that century they are all (without exception) on the capitalist road. It may now be that marx's view (that socialist revolution would emerge on a certain degree of capitalist development) becomes MORE true (yet again), and the world process (now much more widely and thoroughly capitalistic after a century of revolutions, wars and capitalist expansion) now unleashes new dynamics that are marked by the identical polarities that defined the colonial world of early imperialism.

    You stand and look at a baby, and say "I think he may be a runner." and the kid gets up only to fall on his face. Chuck said "Your prediction is wrong." but the kid isn't even two yet.... really the verdict is out on many of these things, especially when dealing with a real process literally spanning centuries and a whole planet (!)

  • Chuck argues that history has been no less cruel to Marxism in general, than to the specific current of Trotskyism in particular.

    In fact, the historical record is far more complex, and far more positive than that.

    Trotskyism (as a movement and as a theory) has proven sterile (from its formulation in the thirties until now, i.e. over eighty years).

    But more revolutionary currents of Marxism have (meanwhile) been leading armies, leading revolutions, establishing socialist states, experimenting with creating new culture, defeating the Nazis, confronting U.S. imperialists (in vietnam, in Korea...), developing liberated zones, and struggling (with various degrees of success) to develop their marxism in ways that correspond to experience and the dynamically changing reality we are part of.

    This is not to deny that significant parts of Marxist thinking have proven partial or faulty. It is not to say that some Marxists have fallen far short of revolutionary, or creative, or successful. And it is not to say that even the best Marxists have not made serious errors, or fallen short in their objectives.

    But it is hard to argue that Marxism (as a whole) has proven barren and unsuccessful. You have argued this before, Chuck, and some of us have answered in this way before. So (somehow) we are still speaking past each other.

    Chuck writes:

    "indeed, none of Marx’s major predictions about historical development have been verified: Marx was wrong about the relationship between economics and politics (and economics and the state specifically); wrong about the revolutionary nature of the European industrial proletariat; wrong about the development of class consciousness; wrong about the development of the class structure; and wrong about the durability of capitalism. . . I am only mentioning the major issues here.

    As others have mentioned above, this is confused at best. Marxism is not a matter of "predictions" major or minor. And to the extent that Marx had assumptions (or "predictions") based on his analysis and the world around him, they were often quite far-sighted. He said at one point that the socialist revolution would come through the combination of a Paris Commune with a second edition of the German peasant wars. In one way or another, that was the history (and the experimental field) of the next century.

    <b>Where We Got Things Wrong</b>

    On the other hand, i do think it is worth speaking to the correct side of what you write:

    It is not just Marx who underestimated the "durability of capitalism," but every revolutionary I have heard about (including Lenin, and Mao, and most activists at the grassroots, including myself).

    I don't think that everyone was completely lost in illusions. (Few seriously thought we would destroy imperialism planet-wide in one lifetime). But certainly hopes mingle with expectation and influence planning.

    Just one example: Lin Biao (when he was playing a leading role within the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party and the Peoples Liberation Army) said,

    <blockquote>"Ours is the epoch in which world capitalism and imperialism are heading for their doom and socialism and communism are marching to victory. "</blockquote>

    This proved premature.

    On the other hand: capitalism has also proven fragile in important ways. It has been punctured in two great revolutions (the Russian and Chinese) -- which (between them and their peripheries) embraced a third of humanity in the early 1950s. The anti-capitalist struggles of the last century have inspired and mobilized tens of millions of people in highly conscious struggle -- that one way or another have deeply impacted our world, and left a huge legacy of experience and new knowledge for us to sum up creatively.

    Let me put it another way:

    Capitalism took centuries before it was able to overthrow feudalism and establish a stable dominance in even one country. (from the hanseatic city states of the middle ages to the French revolution of 1789). And that first successful capitalist revolution was itself replaced by an emperor (Napoleon) after only one decade.

    So welcome to the complexity of major transitions! Welcome to the process (of victory and setback, revolution and counterrevolution) through which social revolution advances.

    I think some forms of Marxism have proven sterile and (frankly) just plain wrong. But I just can't see how anyone can argue that all of Marxism has proven to be a disaster in this way.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    Disclaimer: although I no longer consider myself a Trotskyist per se, I come from that tradition, and still carry many of the ideas and lessons of that tradition. I agree that it is a dead end, and has been from the beginning, but there is much of value to be mined from it, including much that is positive.

    When I first saw the title of this essay by Nando, I expected something along the lines of a "truth and reconciliation." It hasn't just been history that has been cruel to Trotskyism, it is the communist movement. As a general tendency, we have been vilified (Khrushchev and Mao both called each other Trotskyites), but far worse, we've been exterminated physically. In the USSR, in China, in Vietnam, wherever Communists have taken power, one of the very first actions has been to slaughter the Trotskyists (one notable exception was Cuba).

    It's true, Trotskyism has not led any overthrows of capitalism since 1917. We have <i>contributed</i> to many struggles in a positive fashion: in China, in Vietnam, we helped overthrow the Bolivian dictatorship in 1952, we have led many significant labor struggles. So while history hasn't been kind to us, it hasn't been entirely one sided.

    The theory of permanent revolution may have problems, not least of which is that the tasks of the bourgeois revolutions have been carried out in almost all countries, rendering the theory moot. The proletariat no longer needs to carry out these tasks, that job is done. The job of the proletariat, world wide, is to carry out the socialist revolution. Just as Marx's hypothesis that socialism could be accomplished by parliamentary measures in the U.S. and U.K. have been rendered false by the march of history, so too has PR.

    As for the theory of the degenerated workers state, whatever problems it may or may not have, I think it is a far superior analysis than to claim that a change of a handful of leaders at the top would transform a country from a healthy socialist republic to a state capitalist social imperialist dictatorship.

    The victories of Stalin and Mao gave enormous prestige to their movements, which attracted millions. In such an environment, Trotskyism was a mouse among dinosaurs. But those movements have collapsed world wide. Stalinism has capitulated to social democracy, while Maoism has been reduced to a fringe movement throughout the world, the revolution in Nepal not withstanding. Meanwhile, Trotskyism has tens of thousands of adherents in Europe and Latin America. I suspect that Trotskyism is poised to grow and become the main Marxist movement in North America, Europe, and Latin America. I do not think this is a good thing.

    Trotskyism has very real problems, not least of which is its idealism. Trotskyism, in general, are fixated on having the correct ideas, much like Maoists, and yet they have no practical way to test those ideas. So rather than testing an idea and finding it wanting, every idea ends up necessitating a split so that it can have its own grouplet. While having a correct understanding of the world is important, most likely, we have incorrect ideas. If we hold fast to the notion that our ideas and our ideas alone are the key to truth, we will be unable to recognize truth when it trips us up, and kicks us to death on the ground.

  • Guest - Kalkin

    <i>In the Marx quote above we can also get a clear sense of what he means by science. The purpose of science is not to make predictions, it is explanatory. (The world is need of theoretical explanation because it is not as it seems)</i>

    This is an interesting debate. A debate on the same subject occurred in the International Socialist Review last year: Phil Gasper on the side of <a href="/http://www.isreview.org/issues/58/gasper-determinism.shtml" rel="nofollow">Marxism as explanatory</a>, versus Shaun Joseph &amp; Eric Rehder on the side of <a href="/http://www.isreview.org/issues/59/letters.shtml" rel="nofollow">Marxism as predictive</a>. As I've written elsewhere on Kasama, I don't think the question of whether Marxism is "scientific" has a useful answer. But I do think that Marxism, if it is to be a guide to action, needs to be predictive. Explanation is a vague word, which carries a hint of teleology from its sometime use as a synonym for justification. We can't stop at saying one theory is a better explanation of the world than another; we have to give a reason. And if that reason is to be a material one, it must be the kind that can eventually help us make predictions. To understand something is, among other things, to understand the ways in which it develops; that does not mean we must be able to know its precise state next April, but we do need to be able to say something about the ways in which it may develop, and the ways in which it may not.

  • Guest - Kalkin

    <i>Trotskyism has very real problems, not least of which is its idealism. Trotskyism, in general, are fixated on having the correct ideas, much like Maoists, and yet they have no practical way to test those ideas. So rather than testing an idea and finding it wanting, every idea ends up necessitating a split so that it can have its own grouplet.</i>

    This is a strange claim, given the historical disputes between Trotskyism and Maoism (questions like "socialism in one country", revolutionary possibilities among the peasantry absent the working class, etc). At most, I think, the sort of idealism described here is characteristic of sectarianism, in any tradition.

    Bill Martin, earlier on Kasama, accused Trotskyism of "economism", in a sense which seemed to include determinism. I would say by contrast that Maoism tends towards idealistic voluntarism, but I think Bill at least gets the axis of disagreement right.

  • Guest - Keith

    Interestingly, in the links provided by Kalkin, both sides of the debate are eager to argue against determinism and teleology. In my view, Marx was certainly a teleological and deterministic thinker. Those words have a bad name theses days but so do a lot of words....

    Marx, Hegel, and Aristotle are all teleological thinkers. They study how things develop according to their essences or natures. Capitalism has an essence and a nature, and it is knowable. Mike used an example of organic matter I think correctly. An acorn if it develops in the right circumstances will become a specific kind of tree. That is its telos, its nature. Capitalism also has a telos. I argue that despite this Marx is a not a predictive thinker because the theoretically proven fact that capitalism will develop into socialism is not falsifiable by historical events. (That is why Karl Popper, an empiricist, says that Marxism is not a science. For Popper a science makes predictions which can be empirically falsified and thus the theory is wrong).

    Say I have an acorn in my hand. I can predict it will become an oak tree. But what if it doesn’t?

    My prediction is wrong but all the same acorns still develop into oak trees.

    Marxism is not about predicting acorns will become oak trees. Marxism explains how and why and under what circumstances acorns become oak trees. Even if you are holding an acorn in your hand you have a better shot of getting an oak tree out of it if you know that acorns are supposed to develop into oak trees then if you think acorns are soap or fossil fuel.

    If you want to get socialism out of capitalism you have a much better shot if you know the nature and telos of capitalism, the general direction of its development and what in that development is necessary. Then you can distinguish necessity from accident, causality, and develop a reasonable guide to practice.

    I mentioned once or twice before by Scott Meikle’s book “Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx” is outstanding on this subject.

  • Guest - Jacob Richter

    I am curious as to why the Transitional Program hasn't been mentioned. In the "Counterrevolution in Disguise" website, very little about the TP was uttered. Besides the Trotskyist obsession with historical questions, the main problem in terms of their "here and now" lies in the broad economism of the Transitional Program. [This broad economism plagues most other leftists, as well - unfortunately.]

  • Guest - zerohour

    "The theoretically proven fact that capitalism will develop into socialism is not falsifiable by historical events. (That is why Karl Popper, an empiricist, says that Marxism is not a science. For Popper a science makes predictions which can be empirically falsified and thus the theory is wrong)."

    A couple of things here. The acorn analogy is misleading because acorns do produce trees as part of its inherent genetic makeup, but it is much harder to argue that a social formation necessarily produces another one as if one were simply the embryonic form of the next. This subsequent argument becomes a circular one which argues that a result is the only possible one because it's the one that exists. Even Marx surmised that capital's collapse may not lead to socialism but barbarism. This is due to contingency. Feudalism did not necessarily have to give way to capitalism. Capital has identifiable dynamics and trajectories but any complex system will produce unintended and unanticipated results whose impact can't be known ahead of time, eg, potential nuclear war or ecological collapse. There is an upper limit to its internal development, but bringing about a new system will require revolutionary political will, not just inheriting an existing infrastructure.

    As for science itself, it's been impossible to reduce it to one or a couple of characteristics since the actual sciences are varied. Physics deals with inorganic matter and so is more conducive to predictability. As far as quantum physics, it's not explanatory, but fundamentally descriptive. Physics has long been the master text against which all other sciences are measured because it's considered ontologically foundational. Other sciences such as geology, paleontology and biology are more explanatory. They are predictive in the sense that they predict that any new discoveries should be consistent with patterns they've already discerned from the historical record. The biologist J.B.S Haldane once remarked that if one found a rabbit skeleton in the Jurassic era, that would falsify evolution. Falsifiability is problematic itself as Thomas Kuhn pointed out the existence of anomalies is part of any structure, therefore just about everything is self-falsifying. In fact, Kuhn argues, that's how scientific theories change -because more and more anomalies can't be accounted for in the old framework making a new one necessary.

    Marxism isn't about understanding the nature of capitalism, fundamental as it is. Marxism is about revolution, about understanding that history advances through radical breaks, not a managed, orderly unfolding of Reason.

    I'd recommend Janet Abu-Lughod's <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Before-European-Hegemony-D-1250-1350/dp/0195067746/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1231393467&amp;sr=1-1" rel="nofollow">Before European Hegemony</a> for an account of how China, by the 13th century, shut itself off from world trade because the emperor was afraid that the infiltration of western mercantile ideas might undermine the Chinese system. This helped pave the way for European dominance of the world economy. The point is that this act was not necessitated by the logic of the economic system which actually impelled towards expansion. Economic forces exert great pressure, but human beings have tremendous room for initiative and [mis]judgement. It could have easily gone the other way [an assassination, shifting political alliances in the court, etc.,] and world history would be different.

  • Guest - Keith

    Zerohour, I think misses the point.

    Zerohour writes "the acorn analogy is misleading" but then when he discusses social formations he makes points covered by the analogy. An acorn may not become a tree. But if it is going to become anything it will become a tree. There is both necessity and contingency.

    Capitalism, if it is going to develop, must become socialism (if you don't understand that you have to read Marx... it is a long argument. But take a look at the chapter on the falling rate of profit in volume 3 and the second half of the Grundrisse for starters). That development includes people (like you know how to use a computer, computers are a part of capitalist development). But as Marx sd it is not a matter of what this or that proletarian thinks but what the proletariat will be compelled to do.

    It doesn't matter that capitalism has not already turned into socialism as Marx thought it would, justs like it doesn't matter that the acorn on my desk is not an oak tree.

    Zerohour is also mistaken here:

    "Marxism isn’t about understanding the nature of capitalism, fundamental as it is. Marxism is about revolution, about understanding that history advances through radical breaks, not a managed, orderly unfolding of Reason."

    To say Marxism isn't about understanding capitalism, it is about revolution is odd. I wouldn't counter-pose the two things. If the point is to emphasize that revolution is different from evolution that is fine... not an especially great insight. But "understanding capitalism" is not inter-changeable with "evolution." They are not synonymous. If you don't understand capitalism you will not be able to lead anything... just like if you don't understand an acorn you won't be able to plant an oak tree.

    The distinction that Zerohour makes between explanation and description is lost on me. If neither the natural world nor the social world are as they appear immediately to our senses then what is the difference between a descriptive science and an explanatory science? Don't descriptions explain and don't explanations describe?

  • Guest - Chuck Morse

    Keith, your comments don't make a lot of sense to me. . . Are you really asserting that Marx's claims about the nature of capitalism are true even if capitalism shows itself to have a very different nature than the one that Marx attributed to it? How could his claims be true in that case? True according to what standard?

  • Guest - Chuck Morse

    Mike,

    I've read over your comments here, which are of course very similar to comments you've made elsewhere, and your perspective strikes me as fundamentally religious in essence: you seem to think that there is this thing called The Revolution that grows and develops, suffers and deviates, but that will one day transform the world and redeem humanity. Everything, no matter how terrible or stupid, is just a lesson for the inevitable, inexorable growth of The Revolution.

    This kind of thinking was/is very common in the RCP, so it doesn't surprise me to see it coming from you, but the problem is that faith is a poor instrument for those who seek to understand--and change--society. Reason and analysis are much more potent.

    And, as an additional point, if you look at capitalist development in the twentieth century you can see that it did not in fact follow the path Marx said it had to follow. Sorry, but the facts are in and the judgments can and must be made.

  • Guest - zerohour

    Keith,

    Maybe I wasn't clear - it was pretty late when I wrote.

    I agree with you about the acorn/tree matter as regarding gradual development in a limited sense. I don't agree that it can be used as an analogy for social transformation. Socialism can emerge from the contradictions of capitalism, but it is not a natural, mature form of capitalism, it is not an inevitable outgrowth of capital's internal dynamics. Capitalist development lays a material basis for socialism, but the key element in the transformation of social relations and that is not a given.

    "To say Marxism isn’t about understanding capitalism, it is about revolution is odd. I wouldn’t counter-pose the two things."

    I didn't. Your confusion seems to arise from the same misunderstanding many have about Marx's 11th thesis on Feuerbach [which I won't quote here]. Of course we need to understand capitalism, but that's not the purpose of Marx's project. If that were all, he'd be known as a great sociologist. For Marxists, the point of understanding capitalism is to transform it. You are confusing a task with a goal. Maybe that's not profound but when it gets incorrectly downplayed, it needs re-assertion nonetheless.

    "But as Marx sd it is not a matter of what this or that proletarian thinks but what the proletariat will be compelled to do."

    But what will the proletariat be compelled to do? They will need to respond with the material and ideological resources at hand. Unless there is an effort to popularize revolutionary communist ideas, the proletariat are just as likely to experiment with different forms of capitalism, which might mitigate or displace their problems temporarily without resolving them.

    "Don’t descriptions explain and don’t explanations describe?"

    Not necessarily for the former, but yes to the latter. A description of a process does not explain the internal dynamics or external forces shaping that motion. You can describe trajectory of a car moving down the street but that will tell me nothing about its internal workings or the underlying physical principles. Scientists can tell you with a high degree of probability that, at the quantum level, when particle A interacts with particle B, the result is C, but they can't necessarily say why it was that result and not some other. It is a common error of empiricism to hold that observation = understanding.

    "If you want to get socialism out of capitalism you have a much better shot if you know the nature and telos of capitalism, the general direction of its development and what in that development is necessary. Then you can distinguish necessity from accident, causality, and develop a reasonable guide to practice."

    I agree with this point overall [I suspect we may diverge on what's "reasonable'] but I would extend it to theories as well. In order to account for gaps in the fossil record which may call evolution into question, Darwin proposed that they simply reflect problems in evidence-gathering and that when more evidence was found, it would show that evolution proceeded through gradual development. His friend, Alfred Russell Wallace [the criminally neglected "co-founder" of evolutionary theory as well as a socialist] argued that it was dangerous to speculate about the pace of evolution since it would only add more tension to an already controversial situation, but more importantly, it wasn't necessary for the theory. In the same way I would argue that the few teleological remarks contained in Marx can be discarded and the theory would not only remain intact, but would be strengthened by taking account of contingency and semi-autonomous agency.

    Chuck said: "And, as an additional point, if you look at capitalist development in the twentieth century you can see that it did not in fact follow the path Marx said it had to follow."

    What are the fundamental points about capitalism you think Marx was wrong about?

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    <blockquote><i>Trotskyism has very real problems, not least of which is its idealism. Trotskyism, in general, are fixated on having the correct ideas, much like Maoists, and yet they have no practical way to test those ideas. So rather than testing an idea and finding it wanting, every idea ends up necessitating a split so that it can have its own grouplet.</i>

    This is a strange claim, given the historical disputes between Trotskyism and Maoism (questions like “socialism in one country”, revolutionary possibilities among the peasantry absent the working class, etc). At most, I think, the sort of idealism described here is characteristic of sectarianism, in any tradition.

    Bill Martin, earlier on Kasama, accused Trotskyism of “economism”, in a sense which seemed to include determinism. I would say by contrast that Maoism tends towards idealistic voluntarism, but I think Bill at least gets the axis of disagreement right.</blockquote>

    I was digging at a deeper similarity between the two types of communism, an idealism which sees correct ideas as primary and necessary for moving action forward. If my assertion is correct, it stands to reason that Trotskyism and Maoism would be opposed, since they disagree over which ideas are true. Furthermore, both "churches" are riven by splinters and sects of their own, with dozens of different groups each in the U.S. alone (most of the Maoist groups have gone by the wayside and the last major group, the RCP, is collapsing in on itself).

    Sometimes there was a real basis for the split, such as the position various groups took on Angola. On the other hand, splits between groups that have different conceptions of the USSR (degenerated workers state versus state capitalism) are fucking pointless as far as modern day activism goes. There is no USSR to defend or not defend, so why split over it?

    What I'm really getting at is that both trends share a strong streak of dogmatism.

    Bill Martin's accusation towards Trotskyism in general of economism is hard for me to debate, because I don't know what Bill means by economism. He didn't define it as far, as I know. Economism, as Lenin used the term, certainly does not seem to apply (except to certain groups like Solidarity). My experience with Trotskyist groups is that they were no more economist than the New Communist Movement (in its early days), like comrade Ely, who threw themselves into labor struggle, and that they attempt to use those struggles as a way to point out the need for revolution. Some Trotskyists, like the ISO, even abandoned work in the proletariat for a time, arguing that the American working class was too reactionary, and they focused their efforts on students and youth (earning the moniker, "International Student Organization" from fellow Trots).

  • Guest - zerohour

    "Capitalist development lays a material basis for socialism, but the key element in the transformation of social relations and that is not a given" should say "...the key element in the transformation of social relations is a revolutionary politics and that can't be automatically inferred from capitalist relations of production."

  • Guest - zerohour

    Chegitz -

    "Economism, as Lenin used the term, certainly does not seem to apply (except to certain groups like Solidarity)."

    I think we should step back and remember that "economism" is a variant of pragmatism applied to the trade union context. In spirit, economism refers to the idea that we have to organize around people's immediate needs [labor-based or not] before we can organize them with revolutionary politics.

  • Guest - Bryan the Trot

    Yawn.

    Predictions should be balanced and re-assessed after events unfold. Without predictions, "tailism" is inevitable.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    <b>Bryan,</b>

    Please cover your mouth when you yawn.

    Thanks.

    <b>Zerohour,</b>

    Lars Lih's book (I'm never gonna stop pumping this book), <i>Lenin Rediscovered: "What is to Be Done?" in Context,</i> is largely about economism, especially in the Russian context. <i>WitBD?</i> is not a book arguing for a party of a new type, but rather is the <i>coup d'grace</i> in a several year struggle against economism. In order to put <i>WitBD?</i> in context, Lih devotes almost half the book to the specific individuals and arguments Lenin was attacking. Overall, economism was overtly anti-revolutionary (not merely saying that the time was not ripe) and anti-intellectual.

    The first economist tract, <i>The Credo</i> attacked the whole idea of revolution and argued that middle class intellectuals were hijacking the workers movement for their own ends, and that the workers could accomplish what they needed without resorting to revolution. There was a strain of thought that claimed that the time wasn't ripe in Russia for discussing revolution. Lenin attacked it as economism (a label those folks rejected) Lenin's argument against it wasn't that it was an inherently reactionary argument, but rather, that they were blind, that the problem with the movement wasn't that the workers weren't ready for revolution, but that the workers movement was growing so quickly that there weren't enough revolutionaries to meet the workers demands for leadership, propaganda, and news. Lenin also attacked the circle around <i>Rabochiya Dyelo</i> (<i>Workers Thought</i>) as economists, when they were the exact opposite of economists, but rather, opportunists instead, thinking that the moment for revolution was ripe in 1901. If we were to use this (incorrect, IMO) definition of economism, one could call the entire New Communist Movement of the 1970s economist.

    Just because the term was used in a particular way one hundred and seven years ago on the other side of the world doesn't mean we are beholden to that definition. We do need to be clear, however, what <i>we</i> mean by economism, and if it differs from Lenin, in what way. We can't simply toss out terms like that vaguely defined.

    your comrade,

    chegitz guevara
    SUN! SURF! SOCIALISM!

  • Guest - Jacob Richter

    Speaking of economism, there are two types: narrow and broad. Most of the talk here revolves around the narrow type. The broader type transfers the struggle for revolutionary socialism, communism, etc. from the economic (as seen by the elders of German Social Democracy, such as Wilhelm Liebknecht) to the political in order for that struggle to be the sole political struggle.

  • Guest - Keith

    apologies to Bryan the Trot for boring him, sometimes it is not so easy for the rest of us to grasp hold of the obvious so readily.

    Chuck Morse gets to the heart of the issue here. He writes:

    "Keith, your comments don’t make a lot of sense to me. . . Are you really asserting that Marx’s claims about the nature of capitalism are true even if capitalism shows itself to have a very different nature than the one that Marx attributed to it? How could his claims be true in that case? True according to what standard?"

    The operative word here is: "nature."

    The question is: how does science apprehend the nature of a thing (like capital)?

    Marx starts his investigation of capital by telling us that capitalism cannot be understood at the level of immediate appearance. In other words, if you want to understand the nature of capitalism you can’t just rely on history (although history is important). You have to use the theoretical method of abstraction. “In the analysis of economic forms,” Marx writes, “neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force of abstraction must replace both." For more on Marx’s method of abstraction see the intro to the Grundrisse especially the part called <a href="/http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch01.htm#3" rel="nofollow"> Method of Political Economy </a>.

    So, Chuck is right that Marx would be wrong if capitalism had a different nature than the one Marx discovers. But the nature of capitalism is NOT learned by verifying historical predictions. So, Chuck is wrong when he asserts that the history of the 20th century supplies evidence against the Marxist understanding of capital. Historical events are not a refutation of Marx’s theory. Just as an acorn sitting in a kids room, which will never become an oak tree, is not a refutation of the fact that acorns can grow into oak trees, and it is a part o the acorns nature to do so.

    If you want to refute Marx you have to attack his theoretical findings, the cornerstone of the whole thing is the labor theory of value, which is the first thing that neo-classical economics jettisons. But they don’t refute it, they just say “value” is unimportant, we only care about prices. In other words neo-classical economics only cares about appearances.

    Again, the point is that Marxism is not a predictive science but a guide to action. The concrete analysis of concrete conditions, that Lenin calls the living soul of Marxism, is not about predicting the future but about guiding action, telling us what we should do.

  • Guest - Eddy

    This dichotomy between 'prediction' and 'guide' introduces as many new confusions as it might resolve.

    ALL social sciences can only be 'predictive' in a general sense because the 'data' (that would be us, human society) is variable within broad parameters. Both the observer and the observed are subject to more-or-less continual ideological change (which typically proceeds as background processes), which presents itself as 'learned behavior'.

    But there are in fact external ('objective') parameters which delimit behavior, and that is why social sciences can be 'scientific'. Marxism can describe activity -- and therefore 'predict' likely outcomes -- within some of those parameters and cannot fully describe other activities because of that socio-cultural variability.

    Thus the observation that societies are organized around specific economic conditions and social relationships is 'verifiable', but a narrow 'toolkit' (i.e. type or quantity of productive technologies) description is necessarily much less generalizable and more societally specific.

    Two examples of the 'predictiveness' of Marxism: 1) the proletariat must overthrow capitalist state power and establish its own superstructure in order to revolutionize social relationships; 2) capital's attempts to resolve economic crisis lay the basis for subsequent and more extensive crisis. Both have been shown to be correct.

    Marxism is indeed a 'guide to practice', but then so are all true sciences which present theories which correctly summarize social practices or material reality.

  • Guest - Keith

    There is a problem with the line of thought proposed by Eddy.
    Eddy writes:
    "Two examples of the ‘predictiveness’ of Marxism: 1) the proletariat must overthrow capitalist state power and establish its own superstructure in order to revolutionize social relationships; 2) capital’s attempts to resolve economic crisis lay the basis for subsequent and more extensive crisis. Both have been shown to be correct."

    While it certainly could be argued that points 1 &amp; 2 in the above have been shown to be correct. The opposite could just as easily be argued.

    The "great depression" was the worse crisis of the 20th century and the subseqnet crisis were not as bad. From a purely historical view you could argue that capital has learned to deal with its crisis.

    The experiences of "really existing socialism" in the 20th century just as easily show that capitalist social relations can not be overthrown with state power so that capitalism has been restored everywhere it has ever been overthrown.

    This is the reason why Chuck Morse originally asserted that Marx's predictions were wrong.

    There is no way out of that argument and choosing one historical interpretation over another is a purely ideological choice that can not be resolved scientifically.

    Although I think Althusser was mistaken on a number of points these are the questions at the heart of his debate with EP Thompson and "Humanism." Althuser lays out his view in Reading Capital and sssays on the Humanist controversy. THompson wrote a book "The Poverty of Theory" attacking Althusser.

    "Predictive," "guide," "descriptive" or "explanatory" may all be somewhat imprecise as Eddy points out and therefore applying labels only adds to confusion. That may be true.

    The important point is that the unfolding of historical events is not proof for or against Marx's theory.

  • Guest - Eddy

    Keith writes:

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    The important point is that the unfolding of historical events is not proof for or against Marx's theory.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    Not only are you persistently mechanical, you now render Marxism ahistorical and asocial as well.

    No, you are wrong. Marxism is based on and theorizes the processes of development of social relationships, and social relationship are necessarily historical.

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    The "great depression" was the worse crisis of the 20th century and the subsequent crisis were not as bad. From a purely historical view you could argue that capital has learned to deal with its crisis.
    The experiences of "really existing socialism" in the 20th century just as easily show that capitalist social relations can not be overthrown with state power so that capitalism has been restored everywhere it has ever been overthrown.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    If you think that capital has learned to deal with crisis, what's your excuse for the present one? It is indeed based on factors that emerged out of the prior recessions (and specifically since the 1970s). I have presented a fair amount of empirical evidence in that regard in the essay <a HREF="http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/11/11/costs-of-empire-part-1-time-bombs-guns-risk-and-anarchy/" rel="nofollow">Costs of Empire</A> on this website.

    As Marx &amp; Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, 'the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.' Or as Mao put it, 'without state power, all is an illusion.'

    Socialist revolution is a process that extends across generations. The fact of counter-revolution (and capitalist restoration) only underscores the centrality of state power to that process.

  • Guest - carldavidson

    <blockquote>As Marx &amp; Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, ‘the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.’ Or as Mao put it, ‘without state power, all is an illusion.’</blockquote>

    I certainly agree with this from Marx, with the provisio that it may take more than one step. As for the Mao quote, there can always be illusions, with or without state power.

    I think one undercurrent in this discussion is the notion of progress through time. If combined with the notion of diversity in an emergent present, with boundaries, and an open future, it's fine. Otherwise, you're doing metaphysics. That means you can make predictions, but don't bet the house on them, since there are a lot of wild cards. Rather like the stock market!

    Steven Jay Gould has an excellent discussion on this in 'Full House,' where he takes on the metaphysics of inevitable progress through time. It's a good antidote to dogma, mechanical or dialectical.

  • Guest - Keith

    Eddy, I read your essay "Cost of Empire" but I don't remember any predictions or guides to action.

  • Guest - Chuck Morse

    Keith, you are completely entitled to your religious faith in Marxism, but Marx's claims about history are either correct or incorrect and we can and must determine which is the case by examining the actual course of historical development. Analogously, a geologist’s claims are either true or false, and we determine which by examining the earth's actual structure and substance, etc.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Of course, when making judgments about history, a little caution is required. I'm reminded of the story about Chou En-Lai's being asked what he thought of the French Revolution. 'It's too soon to tell,' was supposedly the response.

    But Keith's pretty much on target here. Neither Marx nor Engels were very big on making predictions; they were more concerned about understanding the present in light of the past. And to understand how capitalism works, you can't do very well without him, even though that's not to say that there's not new resources after and beyond Marx, some of whom don't call themselves 'Marxists.' No matter, neither did he.

    Being 'scientific' about the social world is more like meteorology than physics anyway. Experiments aren't reproducible, and there are a lot of wild cards. Still, under meteorology, we study the present social reality in light of the past mainly so we can CHANGE the future, not predict it. I think it was Lenin who pointed out that insurrection was both art and science, in that sense.

    My concern is to use science as its seen today, very cutting edge, and not trying to find 'just so' stories that fit with the old Hegelian dialectic, even if inverted, and then use that as the criterion of 'scientific according to DiaMat.'

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Sorry, a typo above. It's 'unlike meteorology,' not under it. My typing is hardly an exact science!

  • Guest - Chuck Morse

    Carl, whatever <i>you</i> may think, Marx's approach to history (and economics and politics, etc) was by no means ad hoc or pragmatic. He made strong claims about capitalism and history and his claims can be proven or disproven.

  • Guest - N3wDay

    Chuck,

    Can you stop making assertions and start posing arguments? So far all you've said is, "All Marx's most important theories are wrong." But, when someone responds like Keith by saying, "If you want to refute Marx you have to attack his theoretical findings, the cornerstone of the whole thing is the labor theory of value, which is the first thing that neo-classical economics jettisons. But they don’t refute it, they just say “value” is unimportant, we only care about prices. In other words neo-classical economics only cares about appearances." Along with other things, you simply re-assert Keith is wrong and religious, without saying why.

    Perhaps you can enlighten us, since the vast majority of us consider ourselves to adhere to at least some distant part of the Marxist tradition.

    Perhaps on some other site, most people would gladly pat you on the back and agree, then we could move on. However, here the bulk of people would most likely prefer to know what you actually mean, and what you're thoughts are, so we can know whether to disagree with you or not (that is, on a deeper level than simply, marx was wrong vs marx was right).

  • Guest - Keith

    Chuck, I think you misunderstand my argument. I am not arguing that Marx's ideas cannot be disproved. I am arguing that they cannot be disproved by the unfolding of historical events. The analysis of capitalism that Marx makes in Das Kapital is not the kind of historical analysis that can be proven or disproved by future historical events.

    Chuck why don't you put forth a "prediction" about history made by Marx. Please supply a citation, since the most common way of attacking Marx is ascribing views to him that he did not hold.

  • Guest - Keith

    I wrote my comment before I saw N3wDay's comment which I think makes the point I was trying to make. Sorry to be redundant.

  • Guest - Chuck Morse

    Keith, if, in your view, Marx’s historical claims cannot be judged by the “unfolding of historical events” then how shall we judge them? According to what standard? You suggest that we look at the labor theory of value... How would you recommend that we examine the labor theory of value if not by looking the actual historical experience of value?

    I think it is fair to judge social theory upon its ability to comprehend society. Right?

    And, to answer your question, Marx was wrong:

    - to claim that the European industrial proletariat would initiate the communist epoch
    - to claim that that capitalism would resolve itself into two classes
    - about the conditions in which people become class conscious;
    - about the revolutionary possibilities of pre-capitalist societies
    - about the dependency of politics on the economy
    - about the stability of capitalism

    etc etc etc

    It gives me no pleasure, or sense of satisfaction or originality, to point out Marx’s errors. Obviously he was a genius and provided some of the very things that make us human.

    But you can’t build a revolutionary politics upon his views, because he was wrong about very fundamental aspects of the world that we live in

    It's not just that communists have the wrong "line," to quote Mike, it is also that communists are confused about the very social context in which people act and produce "lines."

  • Guest - Chuck Morse

    I would like to add something to my previous comment . . . the dilemmas that revolutionaries face today are not primarily strategic in nature and to pretend that they are is to sow confusion and defeat.

    The obstacles that we confront are far deeper and are, fundamentally, conceptual: we need to reconceive and formulate our ideas about history, nature, and society ... to revisit all the major premises that we have inherited from previous generations of revolutionaries.

    I don’t have answers to the big questions; I am simply committed to keep them open and addressing them.

    This is why it is important to state Marx’s inadequacy in the frankest possible terms. . . There is no such thing as a shortcut to revolution, which is important to state on a webstite like this, populated by so many people who took Bob Avakian seriously.

  • Guest - Keith

    Chuck, if we are going to have this discussion then you have to provide more information. I mean specific citations. Where does Marx make the claims you list.

    What are the supposed claims (Chuck just lists some topics, but you don't tell us what Marx thought and why that is wrong).

    For example, Chuck says Marx was wrong about the relationship between politics and the economy. What is Marx's view? What is your textual evidence for ascribing to Marx this view? Why is it wrong?

    And Chuck you will have to read a bit beyond the Communist Manifesto (For example, It is true that Marx suggested in a youthful piece of propaganda that society was breaking down into two class, but that is not the view of Marx's mature scientific works... Marx argued that there are three main sectors of capitalists: merchants, productive capitalist, and bank capital. In addition there are landlords. The working class has productive and unproductive workers, in addition to being stratified according to skill. So when you say that Marx has a two class model Chuck, you are not teaching us that Marx is wrong, you are revealing your own ignorance).

    Chuck you accuse me of religious thinking but you are the one making dogmatic assertions.

    Dogma is assertion without evidence. It can't be argued against.

    In post #48 you provide a model of dogmatic thought. You are a dogmatic anti-Marxists. There is no way of arguing against anything you wrote in that post (except your assertion about two classes which I dealt with above). You say Marx was wrong about this and Marx was wrong about that as if it is self evident. I don't think you have read much Marx. You have read a few anti-Marxist hacks and you think they have done your work for you. Such gruel may satisfy some who were convinced before they started studying but you will have to do better if you want to debate serious students of Marx.

  • chuck writes:

    <blockquote>"There is no such thing as a shortcut to revolution, which is important to state on a webstite like this, populated by so many people who took Bob Avakian seriously.</blockquote>

    heh, I still take him seriously.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    <blockquote>- to claim that the European industrial proletariat would initiate the communist epoch
    - to claim that that capitalism would resolve itself into two classes
    - about the conditions in which people become class conscious;
    - about the revolutionary possibilities of pre-capitalist societies
    - about the dependency of politics on the economy
    - about the stability of capitalism</blockquote>

    It's not a cornerstone of Marxist philosophy that the European proletariat would make the first socialist revolution. Marx made a prediction based upon the level of economic development in his day. A prediction is not a foundation, so his being wrong is not cause for us to reject all of Marxism.

    Marx did not write that capitalism <i>would</i> resolve into two classes. He wrote that more and more, society is dividing into to great camps. That is, he was arguing that the primary class struggle in society was focusing more and more on the struggle between capitalist and worker. No where does he say that it was the only struggle or that it was always the decisive struggle.

    Marx himself came to understand that it might be possible for the peasantry to lay the foundation for socialism, if it accompanied a workers revolution in a developed country. So far, this has not been contradicted. The workers seized power in Russia, and served both as a pole of attraction to revolutionary peasants, and gave material assistance to them when they succeeded in taking state power.

    Marx did not believe that the economy was deterministic. In Vol III of capital, and Engels in his letters to Bloch, both show that they considered the relationship much more dynamic. The failure of Marxists after Engels to understand this doesn't disprove Marx.

    Marx was wrong about the ability of capitalism to sustain itself. Yet, capitalism has had to resort to barbarism on more than one occasion to continue. I don't think Marx put a lot of thought into how the system could sustain itself for centuries when he thought workers' revolution was rather likely to occur within a relatively short period of time. In any event, it doesn't undermine the foundation of Marxist philosophy.

    Time again, Chuck.

    your comrade,

    chegitz guevara
    SUN! SURF! SOCIALISM!

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    When Marx wrote, the majority of people in our country were small farmers. Today, small farmers are less than two percent, and the great majority are wage and salary workers, although highly stratified. On a world scale, this transition is still underway, in some places, like China, quite dramatically. The working class there has vastly expanded over the peasantry recently.

    Sounds like the Old Mole was on target with this point.

  • Guest - Bryan the Trot

    On Carl's Comment 53: Holy crap, I agree with Carl on something. Must take shower to cleanse self...

  • Guest - Leon Rao

    Trotskyism will be alive till world revolution arrives.

  • Guest - Swanson

    I’m a little surprised, I guess, that Kasama felt the need to publish this shallow old school Maoist attack on Trotskyism. Is it from a “Truth about Trotskyism” fact sheet handed out at some 1980’s RCP boot-camp? Maybe the problem is that it’s based on the writings of the curious Kostas Mavrakis, a favorite on the reading lists of Stalinists as well when it comes to Trotsky. There’s a bit of Stalinist & Maoist nostalgia going around, and part of that nostalgia seems to be as Stalin remarked, to “Bury Trotskyism as an ideological trend.” Trotsky made mistakes, and Trotskyists certainly have and do, but the Old Man's Marxism, and Marxist analysis' still hold up much better in today's world than that of the "Great Leader" and "Great Helmsman.”

  • Swanson.. could you elaborate a bit on your critique of Kostas Mavrakis? It seems you've listed here a series of things you think are invalid, but not explained any of your views or any substance.

    It is not true that Kostas Mavrakis is a favorite of "Stalinists." Actually, Mavrakis is a favorite of Maoists, because of its break with the comintern's methods of pig-baiting Trotskyists. Mavrakis instead presented a thorough and radical critique of Trotskyism that dealt with it on the level of actual practice and politics.

  • I agree with Eric here: Can you elaborate what you disagree with?

    Is every summation of a political trend "an attack"?

    The Mavrakis book stands out precisely because it is not a collection of cheap shots or a repackaging of Stalin era verdicts on Trotsky or Trotskyism. It is a distinct and different summation -- rooted in Maoist understndings of the problems of socialism.

    You are free to disagree with that, of course, but without explanation and substance your disagreement doesn't help any of us deepen the analysis or engagement.

    Some things you may not know:

    1) Nando is a pen name I used when I wrote this essay.

    2) It is not an analysis the RCP ever put out. In fact, the RCP never put out an analysis of trotskyism of even this one page depth.

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