- Category: Theory
- Created on Friday, 01 October 2010 11:45
- Written by Bob Avakian
Intro by Mike Ely
Alain Badiou was a leader of the group generally known in France as "les Maoïstes." In 1979, he wrote a play called The Incident at Antioch, which poses questions about the revolutionary process. In that play (now excerpted within Badiou's new work "The Communist Hypothesis") two characters debate how victorious revolutionaries should view their new state and new order.
Badiou is arguing that "failing" at revolution is always very close to "winning."
In that dialog, one of the characters, Paula, pulls out a big sheet of paper covered with elaborate plans and says:
"Look at this military chart.... There's the dream, there's the childhood. You really would have liked to conquer the world, just like any old king."
Two years later, Bob Avakian (who was by then also in Paris) wrote a work called "Conquer the World: The International Proletariat Must and Will."
Whether Bob's title was a polemic with Badiou's play, I honestly do not know. It is, at the very least, a remarkable coincidence, because there is, contained within Avakian's "Conquer the World," the (crude) beginnings of a explicit polemic with the views of Badiou's Maoïstes, who were also known as the UCFML.
Yesterday we posted Badiou's essay on the Cultural Revolution -- which is at the same time a sharp exploration of previous forms of Party-State and the Leninist party in general. To supplement that, we will post a series of excerpts from Bob Avakian's defense of the inherited Party-State.
Our purpose here is to join (and contribute to) a discussion-in-progress -- and to help situate Badiou's arguments against the Party-State in the context of a contending view (among revolutionary communists) that such a state is required by the material realities of communist revolution.
There are two issues raised by the excerpt posted here in "One Defense of the Party-State, Part 1":
1) Badiou argues (in one of the central theses of his work on Mao's Cultural Revolution (GPCR) that the experience, innovations and failure of that great upheaval should deeply influence how we view our work and our goals -- including now in the period of preparation. He argues that the GPCR marks the "saturation" of a previous conception of the Party-State (as first developed in the Soviet revolution), and that the great clashes of the GPCR indicate the problems (and perhaps some of the solutions) to that saturation. By contrast, Avakian (in the piece that follows) asserts that Leninism "is the bridge" (between Marx and Mao), and the Leninist party (in particular) needs to be actively reaffirmed in preparatory revolutionary work now, and in the defense of socialist state power later.
2) In reply to the UCFML's embrace of Maoism (and its view that Mao's experience challenges key principles of previous leninism) Avakian rejects the label Maoist, and argues that revolutionary communists should adopt a different self description. (Avakian's proposal was later abandoned when other, powerful forces in the international Maoist movement made on the label Marxist-Leninist-Maoist a deal-breaker in regoupment efforts.)
In the following days we will post a series of excerpts from Avakian's much more developed defense of the Party-State, contained in the essay known as "the K. Venu Polemic."
Today's first excerpts are relatively primitive (from 1981), they are a denunciation and demarcation without much substantive engagement (as you will see). More elaborated defense of the Party-State will come in later parts of this series.
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"To put it somewhat provocatively, Marxism without Leninism is Eurocentric social-chauvinism and social democracy. Maoism without Leninism is nationalism (and also, in certain contexts, social-chauvinism) and bourgeois democracy."
"...there are those so-called and pretended “Maoists” who think that because of the experience of the Cultural Revolution in China the basic principle of the Leninist party, of democratic centralism and so on, has been superseded and surpassed and is no longer correct and applicable, and that some new form, that is, a new bourgeois-democratic form, can be found in which to eliminate in fact the role of the party."
CONQUER THE WORLD? The International Proletariat Must and Will
Section 3: Leninism as The Bridge
by Bob Avakian
By that I mean that in today’s situation Leninism is the key link in upholding and applying Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought. To put it somewhat provocatively, Marxism without Leninism is Eurocentric social-chauvinism and social democracy. Maoism without Leninism is nationalism (and also, in certain contexts, social-chauvinism) and bourgeois democracy. Now those may sound like nice little axioms but they apply, and have real importance, and this is, in my opinion, a summation from experience of some phenomena that exist in the world and around which there must be deeper struggle.
Now, having said that, by way of a rather sharp and provocative introduction, I want to say a few words more on the question of revolutionary defeatism in terms of its opposite, social-chauvinism. Just a brief comment in passing on reading over a particularly outrageous point in Sooner or Later38 and an article printed by an Australian group which puts out a bulletin where they’re having a debate on this very question of social-chauvinism and the “three worlds” theory. Members of this Australian group are generally supportive of Mao and against the Chinese revisionists but they are apparently dividing sharply between Leninist internationalist policy and social-chauvinism, three worldism.
In one of the articles upholding the three worlds theory, as in the Sooner or Later pamphlet, one of the most nauseating things is to read this completely sophistic version of “internationalism.” It says that it would be extremely narrow and nationalist of us just to struggle against our own bourgeoisie and not think about the whole world situation and the whole world struggle, which translated means: “It is narrow and nationalist of us to fight against and try to overthrow our own imperialism, our own bourgeoisie; to be internationalist we should support and prop up our own imperialism and our own bourgeoisie.”
And in this Australian article it came out rather sharply because the author went into a whole nauseating, syrupy argument about how, “here we are and we’re being exploited and oppressed by U.S. and Western imperialism and we could easily forget all about the people in other parts of the world who are being exploited and oppressed by Russian imperialism and the fact that it’s posing the greatest danger to the people of the world, and we could just think about ourselves and the fact that our imperialism is exploiting us—that would just be nationalism.” Immediately what leapt to my mind is that the real problem such people are focusing on is that “Russian imperialism is not giving us any of the benefits of its plunder in the world, but our imperialism is,” and this, translated and boiled down to its essence, is the internationalism of these people. But moving on...
I want to say a few words about national nihilism and national pride. Here again is an example of where it’s a fact that Lenin went against Leninism, even though we didn’t say so in print, in publishing the national nihilism article. But some people (in particular the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA, formerly COUSML) did point out the contradiction. They dragged out this article by Lenin in 1914 called “The National Pride of the Great Russians”39 in which, instead of saying they shouldn’t have any, he went into this whole attempt to combine two into one, frankly. You can see the pressure was on him: the war had just started and there was not only severe repression for opposing the war but also a wave of patriotism (chauvinism) that swept through Russia. Now Lenin doesn’t go against the revolutionary defeatist line, he upholds that line but he basically combines two into one in the sense of saying basically that it’s because we have national pride that we can’t stand to see Russia play this imperialist role in the world and be under the domination of these reactionary classes. Frankly, it’s almost down the line the very arguments that he refutes, and rather powerfully, when they are put forward by Rosa Luxemburg under the pseudonym Junius, as exemplified in his article on the “Junius Pamphlet”40 and, also, very powerfully and slashingly in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky.41 But in this 1914 article Lenin actually goes against the overall thrust of Leninism on this crucial question.
As stressed before there is Leninism and there is Lenin, and if Lenin didn’t always live up to Leninism, that doesn’t make Leninism any less than what it is. And this, in a certain way, harkens back to the point referred to earlier on the general line put out by the Comintern—that is, the united front against fascism line—because this very article, “The National Pride of the Great Russians,” and this very point were singled out and harped on by Dimitroff and used to build up this whole line in his report and the whole formulation of the united front against fascism to single out the fascist states as the main enemy.
In an imperialist country, the national banner is held firmly by the imperialists. Underlying this is a very important point of Marxist-Leninist political economy. Imperialist capital must operate on an international plane; it requires this as a condition of its reproduction. And it does at times, as Lenin pointed out, speed up economic development in some of the backward countries. But this occurs in the framework of domination and oppression and, closely related, for all its “internationalism,” imperialist capital remains profoundly national and anchored in its national market, and thus has a profound material stake in defense of the interests of its nation. This is a crucial point analyzed and developed in a thoroughgoing way in the forthcoming America in Decline.42
I think that the line put forward in the article in Revolution, “On the Question of So-Called ‘National Nihilism,’” is not only correct but extremely important to grasp and to deepen. There have been serious problems on this, even among the best in the international communist movement, and there needs to be further destruction and radical rupture. It’s a process we’ve only begun and we have to forge further ahead under the glorious ideological banner of “national nihilism.” Now that’s a central point about which a lot of people, either from the direction of so-called “Marxism” and so-called “Maoism,” not only disagree but will openly often attack Lenin for, saying that Lenin is now passé or that this doesn’t apply any longer.
Similarly with the phenomenon of economism, imperialist economism in particular, which is a phrase Lenin used a little bit differently than I’m using it here, but with basically the same central point in mind. He used it from the standpoint of referring to people who denied the right of political independence to oppressed nations, particularly the colonies. These imperialist-economists tried to bolster their arguments by pointing to the truth that no country unless it was really socialist (and we can see now more clearly that not even in an absolute sense is that true) but no country could be free of the entanglements and the domination of finance capital, at least in a qualitative way, unless it was socialist. From this truth they made the opportunist leap to saying that there was no use in talking about political independence and national liberation.
Lenin called this “imperialist economism” and said these people were incapable of grasping the dialectic between politics and economics and how in fact the question of the struggle for national liberation, in the colonies particularly, was extremely important and couldn’t be negated on the basis that ultimately it was impossible to be really independent without breaking completely with the domination of imperialism (finance capital) in the economic sphere. But here we’re using the term, (though I won’t go into it at real length since other things are being discussed and written about this) in a little bit different light, particularly with respect to those people who downplay the role of politics and internationalism in the imperialist countries.
Let’s face it, economism is bad enough in any form, and even where the masses are suffering desperately, where the economic struggle takes on a much more acute form and becomes the struggle of people for bread, for fuel and literally to survive and has much more potential to become a sharp struggle and become part of a revolutionary uprising or revolutionary movement among the masses and to contribute to that movement, even in those conditions, which existed in Russia when Lenin was struggling against economism, all the things that Lenin stressed about economism are true. But it’s so much the worse when you’re talking about it in an imperialist country with not only a powerful labor aristocracy, but broad, thoroughly bourgeoisified strata, where it would be stretching it to even describe a lot of the so-called economic struggle as struggle, and certainly stretching things to call it any kind of significant struggle.
In that context, to preach economism to the workers and to focus their attention on the narrow sphere of their relations with their employer, or even frankly on the narrow sphere of their relationship with their own bourgeoisie, without focusing their attention on the world as a whole, is what I call imperialist or chauvinist economism. Such imperialist economism not only limits the movement to reformism but leads it into the service of counter-revolution, particularly the more so if it’s a conscious policy. In fact, with regard to imperialist countries, if one takes the standpoint of the nation, especially in view of what was said earlier about lopsidedness and international production relations, it might be better to remain imperialist. But if one takes the stand of the proletariat—which can only mean the international proletariat—it would be better to make socialist revolution and turn an imperialist country into a base area for the advance of world revolution and the advance to communism. The point is not to blame the workers, even the backward ones, who are spontaneously economist, but to blame the communists who tail behind this and who promote this in the name of the working class and socialism and communism.
And here’s just sort of a side point. Lenin, you know, raised the point in What Is To Be Done?: what is there in common between terrorism and economism? And Lenin was very clear that communists oppose the methods of individual terror, assassinations, etc. And genuine communists do oppose that, but they oppose it not because these things are super-revolutionary, as their adherents sometimes insist and as their bourgeois opponents sometimes claim, but because, in fact, they are not ultimately revolutionary, do not lead to revolution and are not a strategy for revolution. It’s not a question of condemning them, it’s a question of recognizing and struggling against them as tendencies, because they are not a strategy for revolution and can’t lead to revolution.
This is true even of those variations that attempt to take on an additional dimension and link up with anarcho-syndicalist tendencies and try to talk about the transformation of society and struggle more broadly than in just the military sphere, but which have in common with the economists, whether in capitalist or in socialist society, the fact that they leave aside, or at least significantly downplay, the crucial question of the superstructure, of politics, ideology, world affairs and internationalism. And as I said, there are those people who sometimes from the terrorist side and sometimes from the economist side (or often a combination of both), even if they talk about revolution in all society or even the world revolution at times, reduce things to the narrowest sense of how to transform production relations and how to control, even sometimes literally, a single factory and precisely leave aside and downplay the critical question of politics, ideology, world affairs and the superstructure—which is where these questions are in fact concentrated and fought out in a concentrated way.
That’s a side point but an important one because this question of where do you concentrate the attention of the workers, as I said, is important in all countries. Economism is bad anywhere. But especially in the imperialist countries, downplaying the question of the superstructure, politics, ideology and focusing the attention of the workers narrowly on the sphere of their relationship with their own employers or even their own bourgeoisie and their own state is in fact a recipe for turning the workers against the rest of the international proletariat. Whether that’s done with revolutionary rhetoric or even acts which in the form of terrorism take on a revolutionary appearance, still, at the essence and at bottom, it is a question of narrowing the workers’ sights and turning them, not only away from revolution in general but against the rest of the international proletariat.
Now, I want to briefly touch on the question of the party, which is a much and, I would have to say, continually underrated point down to today in our own history. In concluding I will return to it in a little more depth. What I’m attempting to do here is sketch out some of the key points of Leninism that in fact make it the bridge, and what I mean by the bridge is precisely the bridge between Marxism and Mao Tsetung Thought, what today is the key link in giving Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought its overall integral character and synthesis as the science of revolution and the revolutionary ideology of the proletariat.
It’s in this context that I’m leaping from the point of revolutionary defeatism versus social-chauvinism and the question of focusing the workers’ attention on the question of politics and world affairs in opposition to economism, in particular to imperialist chauvinist economism. These are crucial points around which people who claim to be Marxists, claim to be Marxist-Leninists, even claim to be Maoists frequently coalesce and make a stand in opposition to Leninism in one form or another, and often openly. And after all, the party is a sphere where Lenin’s contributions and the Leninist line have been a qualitative advance in Marxism and the struggle of the international proletariat. Therefore, not surprisingly, it’s also a sphere where, from the “classical Marxists” or the newborn “Maoist” forces, there is often sharp and bitter struggle in opposition to the Leninist line.
From the angle of the “Marxists,” a lot of them reject the Leninist party and see in it, as I’ll come back to a little bit later, the germ or the seed or the basis of the whole degeneration of the revolution in Russia, they see in it a dictatorship of the party and of a handful of bureaucrats. On the other hand, there are those so-called and pretended “Maoists” who think that because of the experience of the Cultural Revolution in China the basic principle of the Leninist party, of democratic centralism and so on, has been superseded and surpassed and is no longer correct and applicable, and that some new form, that is, a new bourgeois-democratic form, can be found in which to eliminate in fact the role of the party. You will notice in that quote I read earlier about the Paris Commune, Mao makes the point that we have to have a party; even though he says sarcastically, “I don’t care if it’s a communist party or social democratic party,” he is talking about a communist Leninist party and that’s clear, and we can say that without fear of being confused with Enver Hoxha!
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After distancing himself from the "Maoists" (particularly of France) based on the issues mentioned above, Avakian goes on to propose a new (if typically awkward) different self-label here:
Now I would like to say that I think we should sharply contrast our trend not only to straight up bourgeois politics, but also, rather than simply contesting the phony communists and saying “they’re not communists, we’re real communists,” we should to a certain degree and in a certain context, let the revisionists have the “communist” banner. And what we should say is, “yes, there are different tendencies: there’s the socialists and the social democrats, some of them are in power in different countries, you can see what they do, they’re more or less a straight up bourgeois trend; then there’s the communists, that is, the revisionists, they’re in power in some countries too, and in other countries they want to be in power on the same basis, you can see what they’re about; and then there’s our trend, which is the revolutionary communist/proletarian internationalist trend.” I say this not at all facetiously.