Lenin in Context
The next time you run into one of our latter-day "Marxist- Leninists" who trace their lineage to the historic split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in the Russian Social Democracy, give them a little quiz. Ask them to identify the authors of the following 2 opposing motions around which the historical split took place. One is Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks, the other is Martov, the Menshevik leader.
1. A party member is one "who recognizes the Party's programme and supports it by material means and by personal participation in one of the Party's organizations."
2. A party member is one "who recognizes the Party's programme and supports it by material means and by regular personal assistance under the direction of one of the party's organizations."
Lenin is the author of the first motion and Martov the second. As should be clear from this, the split between Bolshevik and Menshevik did not involve the kind of deeply principled questions that caused the Zimmerwald Movement to emerge as a counter to the socialist parliamentarians who voted for W.W.I.
It is essential to understand is that the whole purpose of the convention at which this historic split took place was to form a party where none existed. It was Lenin and Plekhanov's intention to form a new social-democratic party on the model of the Western European parties. It was not, as our contemporary "Marxist-Leninists" believe, an initiative to innovate some new "democratic-centralist" type of party. Plekhanov was the father of Russian Marxism and Lenin considered himself a disciple of Plekhanov. In the articles leading up to the convention, Lenin continuously pointed to the example of Kautsky's party in Germany as something Russian socialists should emulate.
As often occurs in the socialist movement, Lenin was confronted by roadblocks. The most important of these was "Economism". Economism was a current within Russian social democracy which tended to limit struggles to bread- and-butter issues at the individual factory level. It was suspicious of any efforts to make the struggle nation-wide and general, such as was the goal of more orthodox Marxists like Plekhanov and Lenin.
Lenin was a master of getting to the heart of underlying socio-economic dynamics. He explained that "Economism" was a reflection of the more primitive, handicrafts phase of Russian capitalism when shops were smaller and more isolated. He noticed the great concentration of large factories in major cosmopolitan centers and concluded that a more professional and more generalized approach was needed in line with the changed circumstances.
Economism belonged to Russia's past; orthodox Marxism was the way forward. He saw modern social democracy as corresponding to the highly complex and specialized nature of modern mass production. He saw socialist parties as the working-class equivalent of large-scale industrial plants. A centrally-managed, large-scale division of labor was needed to move the struggle forward, just as it was necessary to construct steam locomotives. Lenin was no enemy of capitalist technology and mechanization. Rather he sought to appropriate its positive features whenever necessary.
The split between Bolshevik and Menshevik took place at only the second convention of the Russian socialist movement not the 22nd or the 32nd. The basis goal of the convention was to establish the structure and purpose of a new Russian socialist party.
One of the key ingredients of a socialist party, according to Lenin, was a newspaper. He saw a national newspaper as a way of uniting and orienting social democrats. A newspaper would allow the party to have a national focus. It would allow all of the particular economic struggles to be politically linked together in a meaningful fashion.
Lenin did not envision the newspaper as a means of propagating a "party line".It had just the opposite role. The newspaper would be the vehicle for allowing opposing views to be compared and weighed against each other in order to allow the party to arrive at a political orientation.
Lenin argued that unity must be "worked for". He said:
"Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation. Otherwise our unity will be purely fictitious...We do not intend to make our publication a mere store-house of various views. On the contrary, we shall conduct it in the spirit of a strictly defined tendency. This tendency can be expressed by the word Marxism. ... Only in this way will it be possible to establish a genuinely all-Russian, Social- Democratic organ. Only such a publication will be capable of leading the movement on the high road of political struggle."
Another common source of confusion is Lenin's use of the term "professional revolutionary". In his view, "professional revolutionaries" are the key to the success of Russian social democracy.
In modern "Marxist-Leninist" groups, "professional revolutionaries" are those who are on movement payroll. People who are not full-timers but who contributed lavishly of their time and funds are lower on the hierarchy. They are like the drone bees who keep the hive functioning.
This of course has nothing to do with Lenin's understanding of the term. For Lenin, the need for "professional revolutionaries" arose within the context of the difficult and semi-clandestine nature of socialist activity under Czarism. Professional revolutionaries were needed at the core of the party to keep the apparatus functioning in case of police crack-downs.
As an extension of his ideas about divisions of labor in large-scale capitalist enterprises being adapted to socialist organizations, Lenin saw the need for gradations of skill, expertise and conspiratorial training appropriate to the levels of risk in each phase of organizational activity. At each level the degree of risk could be minimized by introducing specialization of function, so that, at no matter what level, activists would have the chance to become proficient in dealing with their own area of work.
As in every aspect of his recommendations for Russian Social Democracy, Lenin was operating within the concrete conditions of Russian objective conditions at a given time in history. In 1907 Lenin was very specific about the particular framework of "What is to be Done" which addressed problems in the 1899-1903 time-frame.
"Concerning the essential content of this pamphlet it is necessary to draw the attention of the modern reader to the following.
The basic mistake made by those who now criticize "What is to be Done" is to treat the pamphlet apart from its connection with the concrete historical situation of a definite, and now long past, period in the development of our Party."
So much for our contemporary Bolsheviks who use Lenin's writings the way amateur cooks use the recipes of French masters such as Jacques Pepin. If they don't follow the recipe to the letter, what comes out could be inedible. But we now have to create our own recipe, just the way Lenin did.
Let us conclude with an examination of the question of democratic centralism, probably the most vexing legacy of the period coincident with "What is to be Done" and one that has been most widely misinterpreted. In 1906 Lenin said that "the Russian Social Democracy was in agreement on the principles of democratic centralism, guarantees for the rights of all minorities and for all loyal opposition, on the autonomy of every Party organization, on recognizing that all Party functionaries must be elected, accountable to the Party and subject to Recall."
Later Lenin clarified how tolerant of political disagreements his concept of democratic centralism was. He wrote "The principle of democratic centralism and autonomy for local Party organizations implies universal and full freedom to criticize so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action; it rules out all criticisms which disrupts or makes difficult the unity of a definite action; it rules out all criticisms which disrupts or makes difficult the unity of an action decided on by the Party." Nowhere does Lenin suggest that democratic centralism applies to doctrine. Every member would of course have his or her interpretation of political questions, but once a decision had been made to build a strike or a demonstration, etc., it was incumbent upon each member to concentrate on building the action. Many contemporary "Leninists" attach some kind of apocalyptic meaning to the split at the second congress of the Russian Social Democracy in 1903 as if two radically different and irreconcilable sets of principles were counterposed to each other--Bolshevism and Menshevism. This split is seen as the fountainhead of all 20th century revolutionary politics, the dividing line between communism and opportunism or some such thing.
Those who think that the rival motions between Martov and Lenin constitute some kind of fault-line of revolutionary politics must then explain why Lenin told participants at this congress that, referring to Martov's motion, "we shall certainly not perish because of an unfortunate clause in the Rules."
Let's let this sink in. Lenin, arch-enemy of opportunism, said that the motion which caused the Bolshevik-Menshevik split was simply "unfortunate".
The differences between orthodox Marxists who were educated by Plekhanov and, on the other hand, the Economists who gravitated to the newspaper "Rabochaya Mysl" were principled and clear. The differences within the orthodox camp, which included the Bolshevik Lenin and the Menshevik Martov, were not so clearly defined. The Bolsheviks were anxious to rid the party of all elements who resisted the creation of a centralized Russian Social Democracy, while the Mensheviks tended to be more conciliatory to the Economists and the Bundists. The Bundists shared with the Economists a resistance to a centralized and unified Russian party that could coordinate struggles on a national level. Their particular interest was in preserving some kind of automony for their exclusively Jewish membership, a goal that was in conflict, needless to say, with creating one party for the entire working-class.
So when Lenin and Plekhanov triumphed, they maneuvered to isolate the Bundists and Economists as much as possible. This meant overruling the original Menshevik proposal that would have preserved some representation on the editorial board of Iskra for Bundists and Economists. The proposal passed by the new Bolshevik majority at the congress consisted of only three seats on Iskra, none to be allocated for the decentralizers.
It was this issue more than the original fight over Lenin and Martov's rival motions which precipitated the split. The narrowing of the Iskra staff meant that such long-time party leaders as Zasulich, Akselrod and Potresov would lose their posts. Why was Lenin so anxious to dump these old-timers? Was it because they were smuggling capitalist ideology into the pages of Iskra? The real concern of Lenin was much more practical, as befits a revolutionary politician who strived for professionalism above all else. In his "Account of the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.", Lenin describes the motivation for getting rid of them:
"The old board of six was so ineffectual that never once in all its three years did it meet in full force. That may seem incredible, but it is a fact. Not one of the forty-five issues of Iskra was made up (in the editorial and technical sense) by anyone but Martov or Lenin. And never once was any major theoretical issue raised by anyone but Plekhanov. Akselrod did no work at all (he contributed literally nothing to Zarya and only three of four articles to all the forty-five issues of Iskra). Zasulich and Strarover only contributed and advised; they never did any actual editorial work."
Lenin was simply interested in getting rid of dead wood, people who were not carrying their load. Those who simply "advised" were not needed. Lenin sought to place genuine contributors at the helm of the major newspaper of Russian Social Democracy. I empathize deeply with his lack of respect toward people who are simply "advisers". The revolutionary movement needs people who can get things done. If this Marxism list ever went through a split between "advisers" and people who know how to get things done, I'm sure that most of us know who these two respective groups would include.
Who did Lenin propose as the three people best qualified to lead the new Iskra editorial board? They were Lenin himself, the great Marxist educator Plekhanov and Martov. Martov, we should remind ourselves, was the individual who put forward a motion rival to Lenin's on the requirements of party membership. This motion has become synonymous with Menshevism itself. It is like the apple in the Garden of Eden for dogmatic interpreters of the historic split. The trouble is that these dogmatic interpreters can't account for the fact that Lenin then proposed to put Martov--the Serpent himself--in a leading position at Iskra.
Also, to be perfectly blunt, the reduction of representation on the Iskra leading bodies generated bitter personal rivalries. Personal rivalries! Can you believe that? Aren't you glad that we've evolved beyond those sorts of problems. As it developed, Zasulich and Akselrod were deeply insulted by their firing from Iskra. Martov, an old friend of theirs, rallied to their defense and then decided to step down himself from the newly re-constituted editorial board. Even Plekhanov, one of the most hard- line Bolsheviks, eventually drifted into the Menshevik camp. (Does this sound like typical movement wrangling over "petty" issues? Well, yes it does. Because, believe it or not, it is.)
The Menshevik Akselrod, who had every reason to be bitter at Lenin, saw no great principles involved in the split either. Years later he confided to Kautsky that personality was what caused the great divide between Bolshevik and Menshevik. Kautsky said:
"As late as May 1904 Akselrod wrote that there were 'still no clear, defined differences concerning either principles or tactics', that the organizational question itself 'is or at least was' not one of principle such as 'centralism or democracy, autonomy, etc.', but rather one of differing opinions as to the 'application or execution of organizational principles...we have all accepted'. Lenin had used the debate on this question 'in a demagogic manner' to 'fasten' Plekhanov to his side and thus win a majority 'against us'."
Would genuine political differences between the two factions eventually emerge? Certainly they would and sooner rather than later. In 1905 and 1906 major struggles between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks developed over how to overthrow Tsarism and to create a democratic republic. In 1903, however, at the famous "split" conference, there were none. Furthermore, attempts to derive some kind of new organizational approach to revolutionary party-building from the split are just as ill-advised.
When one of today's "Marxist-Leninist" groups votes to change the party line at a convention, then every member has to defend this new line in public. It would mean, for example, that CPUSA members would have been under discipline to defend Soviet intervention in Afghanistan publicly. Party rank-and-file members who oppose the line have to wait patiently for the next convention in order to persuade the majority of his or her position.
The problem, of course, is that in "Marxist-Leninist" formations, it is difficult to maintain such contrary positions and resist peer pressure to conform to the rest of the group in between conventions. When individuals or groupings decide to maintain dissident points of views like these, it is often the prelude to a split. This has nothing in common with Lenin's concept of democratic centralism. The Bolsheviks were free to criticize party positions publicly as long as they acted in a disciplined fashion with respect to demonstrations, strikes and other *actions*.
Comrades, brothers and sisters, we face the same types of problems that Lenin faced. We need a socialist party, but none exists. The self-designated "vanguard" parties will not do. The amount of consensus that exists in the general left- wing, socialist population which probably numbers in the 10's of thousands is sufficient to launch such an organization. We also need a newspaper that will allow us to discuss and debate with various points of view in order to arrive at a strategy for an American revolution. No such strategy exists today.
STALIN AND THE COMINTERN
"Our Party alone knows where to direct the cause; and it is leading it forward successfully. To what does our Party owe its superiority? To the fact that is a Marxian Party, a Leninist Party. It owes it to the fact that it is guided in its work by the tenets of Marx, Engels and Lenin. There cannot be any doubt that as long as we remain true to these tenets, as long as we have this compass, we will achieve success in our work."
What could this be, words from a Maoist sect's leaflet vintage 1967? Actually, the words are by Joseph Stalin, from "Foundations to Leninism". That Stalin could represent himself as the foremost Marxist thinker in the world from the late 1920's to the 1950's does more to explain the current crisis in socialism today than anything else. Not only did this hogwash pass for Marxism during this period, if anybody attempted to present a political alternative they would end up with broken teeth or a bullet to the head.
This type of simple-minded nonsense has pretty much disappeared from the world of Marxism, except for the occasional Maoist manifesto here and there. We can read the following in "World to Win", a theoretical journal started by retro-Maoist Robert Avakian and his co-thinkers in other countries. "By looking at the life and teachings of Mao Tsetung, a new generation who themselves never witnessed the dramatic changes wrought in revolutionary China could begin to understand that the poor and oppressed could indeed rise up and transform the world through revolution; that the imperialists' declarations that 'communism is dead' reflect their hatred and fear of the very class of proletarians that can and will do away with them forever; and that to move forward to all the way liberation, the understanding forged by Mao Tsetung in the Chinese revolution and summed up as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is the indispensable weapon for victory."
It was Stalin's intention to turn Marxism into this sort of crude dogma. He wrote in 1925 that the 'new type' of Communist leader should be no man of letters; he should not be burdened by the dead weight of social democratic habits; and he should be feared as well as respected.
Not only did Stalin do his best to persuade others to follow this model, he used state terrorism to eliminate those who refused to conform. In August 1936, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, Mrachkovsky and others stood trial. In January 1937, Piatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Muralov, Serebriakov and others faced charges. Marshal Tukhachevsky and a group of the highest generals of the Red Army appeared before a secret tribunal in June 1937. Finally, in March 1938, Rykov, Bukharin, Krestinsky, Rakovsky, Yagoda and others came before Soviet "justice". All of these individuals were leading Bolsheviks when Lenin was alive. Any one of them had more political experience, theoretical understanding and leadership qualities than any individual Marxist in the United States today. Soviet courts charged them with attempting to assassinate Stalin, restore capitalism, wreck the nation's military and economic power, and murder masses of Russian workers.
Controlling the Soviet Union did not satisfy Stalin. He made sure that every Communist Party in the Comintern obeyed him as well. He made the Chinese Communist Party submit to the strict discipline of the Kuomingtang. Soviet propaganda built up the image of General Chiang Kai-shek as the great leader of Chinese national re-birth. Socialism was not on the agenda in China, just an anti-feudal revolution under his leadership.
Mao obeyed Stalin's orders even after Chiang purged a thousand communists from the Kuomingtang and subsequently had them murdered in 1926. Chiang's forces arrested, tortured and killed over 50,000 Communists and their sympathizers as he consolidated his power in the second great purge in 1927. Mao managed to escape into high grass just over two hundred yards from the wall where the firing-squad was about to shoot him.
Let us take a close look at Stalin's intervention into the American Communist Party in order to understand how unlike Lenin's Bolshevik party these Comintern parties had become. Let us review what Lenin understood as Bolshevism in the early 1900's: simply put, democratic centralism in action and a newspaper that allowed various tendencies within Marxism to contend with each other.
In the initial fervor over the Russian Revolution, radicals all over the world made the decision to form parties on the Bolshevik model. They did not really have a very clear idea of just what such a party should be. They often brought often their own political experiences to bear on the formation of new organizations--as they should have. The American Communist leader, Charles E. Ruthenberg, explained Bolshevism early in 1919 as something that was not "strange and new." Bolshevism was merely the consequence of the same type of education and organization that the Socialist movement had been and was carrying on in the United States. His Socialist-syndicalist background showed in his description of the infant Bolshevik state as a "Socialist industrial republic". His instincts were completely correct.
By 1920, everything changed. A resolution passed at its second convention of the American Communist Party stated, "The Communist Parties of the various countries are the direct representatives of the Communist International, and thus indirectly of the aims and policies of Soviet Russia." Among the people voting for the resolution was James P. Cannon, who went on to form the Trotskyist movement in the United States. He retained the same hierarchical understanding of the relationship between an international center and member parties, except he switched allegiance from the Comintern to the pope-like authority of Leon Trotsky.
Let us examine the case of Jay Lovestone's fall from leadership of the American Communist Party to illustrate how harmful Stalin's heavy-handed interventions were.
In the 1920's, Bukharin was the top leader of the Communist Party and the Comintern. Bukharin spoke for the right wing of the Bolshevik party and had allowed the NEP to get out of hand. Rich peasants withheld their grain from Soviet authorities and food riots began to appear. Stalin allied with Bukharin for most of the 1920's but grew alarmed at the threat posed by the Kulaks. Stalin broke with Bukharin and lurched far to the ultraleft. He destroyed Bukharin politically while preparing a war against the Kulaks.
The moves against Bukharin did not appear all at once and it was Lovestone's misfortune to back him long after clues had come out of the Kremlin that Bukharin was in disfavor. The sixth world congress of the Comintern marked the beginning of the end for both Bukharin and any of his international supporters.
It was difficult for Americans to figure out what was going on behind the hearsay and gossip emanating from the Kremlin. People rose up the party ladder on the basis of their ability to anticipate Stalin's moves. James P. Cannon said, "They were required to 'guess' what it meant and to adapt themselves in time. Selections of people and promotions were made by the accuracy of their guesses at each stage of development in the factional struggle. Those who guessed wrong or didn't guess at all were discarded. The guessing game was played to perfection in the period of Stalin's preparation to dump Bukharin. I don't think many people knew what was really going on and what was already planned at the time of the Sixth Congress."
A faction opposed to Lovestone in the American party submitted a document called "The Right Danger in the American Party". It basically accused Lovestone of overestimating the power of US capitalism and underestimating the militancy of American workers. This faction included William Z. Foster, future CP leader, and James P. Cannon, future Trotskyist leader. This document tied Lovestone politically to the fading Bukharin. Lovestone, not sensitive to the power shifts already taking place in the Kremlin, told this gathering of the Comintern that yes, indeed, he did solidarize himself with Bukharin. At that point Stalin put a check-mark next to Lovestone's name in his little black book.
At the December 1928 plenum of the American party, Lovestone, commenting on the conjunctural situation of American capitalism, invoked Bukharin's authority: "What did Comrade Bukharin say about this? I still quote Comrade Bukharin. For me he does not represent the Right wing of the Communist International; although for some he does. For me Comrade Bukharin represents the Communist line, the line of the C.E.C. of the C.P.S.U. Therefore Comrade Bukharin is an authority--of the C.I." Stalin became enfuriated when he heard this.
Lovestone eventually began to get nervous over growing signs that Bukharin was on the outs. He decided to send his friend and old classmate from City College, Bertram Wolfe, over to the Kremlin to serve as American representative to the Comintern. (Wolfe, as Lovestone, eventually became a professional anti-Communist.)
Wolfe learned immediately that Stalin had plans to remove the Lovestone leadership. When Wolfe attempted to see Stalin to clear the air, Stalin refused to meet with him. When Wolfe tried to meet with Bukharin, Kremlin authorities told him that Bukharin was too sick to meet with anybody. Wolfe, who had become ill himself, did learn of a special presidium set for discussion of these problems on a day's notice. He stayed up the whole night, with a temperature of 104, drinking coffee and vodka, and preparing his defense of the Lovestone majority.
The next day he spoke under great emotional and physical stress. After a half hour, he collapsed at the podium. Only one person in the vast assembly, Eliena D. Stassova, head of the International Red Aid, came forward to assist him. She gave him two aspirins and pleaded with him to stop his speech. Wolfe refused unless the meeting was postponed. The presidium refused postponement and the feverish Wolfe continued with his speech.
A few days later, Wolfe bumped into Bukharin in front of the Hotel Lux, where Comintern officials lived. Wolfe confessed surprise at the hale and hearty appearance of the reputedly ailing Bukharin. Bukharin answered sardonically, "By a vote of five to four, I am too ill to function as Chairman of the Communist International."
On the eve of the Sixth Convention of the American Communist Party, Lovestone's strength seemed formidable. There were 104 delegates, and 95 supported Lovestone. There were two delegates whose votes were more important than all the rest combined, and whom Lovestone could never persuade. They were the Comintern's representatives to the convention: Philipp Dengel, a German CP'er and Harry Pollitt from England. Wolfe, the American representative to the Comintern, had not learned that the Kremlin had sent the two to the convention.
Dengel and Pollitt proposed to the convention that William Z. Foster, a member of the tiny minority faction, replace Lovestone. Stalin directed Lovestone to report to Moscow where he would function in the Comintern. Lovestone, to his credit, went ballistic and for the first--and last--time in the history of American Communist, a convention decided to disobey the Comintern.
Lovestone decided to have a showdown with Stalin in order to defend the legitimacy of his leadership. He put together a "proletarian delegation," headed by Lovestone and two other leaders, Benjamin Gitlow and Max Bedacht. The delegation also included William Miller, a Detroit machinist; Tom Mysercough, a mine organizer; William J. White, a steel organizer; Alex Noral, a farm expert; Ella Reeve Bloor, an organizer from California; Otto Huiswould and Edward Welsh, African-Americans.
The American Commission heard from delegations from the majority and minority factions in America. The commission included Stalin himself who generally remained aloof from such matters. This signaled its importance. Lovestone spoke for the majority and Foster for the pro-Stalin minority.
Stalin eventually delivered his judgment on the issues in a speech on May 6, 1929. He was conciliatory to the majority politically, especially in light of Lovestone's perceptible shift to the right, but insisted on handing control of the party over to the Foster minority. When it came time for the American delegation to vote on Stalin's proposal, Lovestone declared: "Whatever work is given to me I will do. But we have a deep conviction that such as an organizational proposal as the one aiming to take me away from our Party today is not a personal matter but a slap and slam in the face of the entire leadership."
The Lovestone majority composed more than ninety percent of the party. This did not impress Stalin. He explained in a speech to the delegation what the true relationship between the American Communists and the Kremlin was. "You declare you have a certain majority in the American Communist Party and that you will retain that majority under all circumstances. That is untrue, comrades of the American delegation, absolutely untrue. You had a majority because the American Communist Party until now regarded you as the determined supporters of the Communist International. And it was only because the Party regarded you as the friends of the Comintern that you had a majority in the ranks of the American Communist Party. But what will happen if the American workers learn that you intend to break the unity of the ranks of the Comintern and are thinking of conducting a fight against its executive bodies-- that is the question, dear comrades? Do you think that the American workers will follow your lead against the Comintern, that they will prefer the interests of your factional group to the interests of the Comintern? There have been numerous cases in the history of the Comintern when its most popular leaders, who had greater authority than you, found themselves isolated as soon as they raised the banner against the Comintern. Do you think you will fare better than these leaders? A poor hope, comrades! At present you still have a formal majority. But tomorrow you will have no majority and you will find yourselves completely isolated if you attempt to start a fight against the decisions of the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. You may be certain of that, dear comrades."
Later in the day, Stalin became more blunt. He told Wolfe, "Who do you think you are? Trotsky defied me. Where is he? Bukharin defied me. Where is he? And you? When you get back to America, nobody will stay with you except your wives." He also warned the Americans that the Russians knew how to handle strike-breakers: "There is plenty of room in our cemeteries."
After Stalin completed his fulminations, he strode toward the American delegation and offered his hand to Edward Welsh, an African-American delegate. Welsh turned to Lovestone and asked loudly, "What the hell does this guy want?" and refused to shake Stalin's hand.
In the following year, nearly everybody in the party lined up with Foster, because they saw that Lovestone was in disfavor. The American Communist Party certainly did not heed the advice Lenin gave to Zinoviev in an unpublished letter. "If you are going to expel all the not very obedient but clever people, and retain only the obedient fools, you will most assuredly ruin the party."
If the Communist Party were merely the creature of the Kremlin described above, we could conclude our discussion. The writings of Theodore Draper supplied much of the information in the section above. Draper was a historian who tended to focus on the control of the Kremlin over Communist Party leaderships. History, for Draper, revolves around such relationships.
We have to look at the CP dialectically. There was a whole other side to the CP at the grass-roots level that we can characterize as dynamic, militant and successful. People like Maurice Isserman and Mark Naison, part of a new generation of historians, have begun to focus on this aspect of CP history. Studying the writings of historians such as these is very important to those of us who are trying to construct a new socialist movement in the United States. More can be learned from their writings about how socialists can reach the masses than all of the literature generated by American Trotskyism.
In an essay "Remaking America: Communists and Liberals in the Popular Front", Naison discusses how the CP made the decision to implement the Popular Front in a very aggressive manner. Browder and the American Communists made a big effort to stop speaking in "Marxist-Leninese" and discovered many novel ways to reach the American people.
They concentrated in two important areas: building the CIO and fighting racism. There is an abundance of information about its union activities, but new research is bringing out important facts about its links to the Black community.
A "Saturday Evening Post" writer observed in 1938 that CP headquarters "is a place where every Negro with a grievance can be sure of prompt action. If he has been fired, the Communists can be counted on to picket his employer. If he has been evicted, the Communists will guard his furniture and take his case to court. If his gas has been cut off, the Communists will take his complaint, but not his unpaid bill to the nearest office... There is never a labor parade, nor a mass meeting of any significance in the colored community in which Communists do not get their banner in the front row and their speakers on the platform."
On the cultural front, the CP dropped its traditional rigidity in the most amazing fashion. In 1936, for example, the "Daily Worker" actually polled its readers to see if they wanted a regular sports page. When they voted in favor six to one, the paper hired Lester Rodney, who was not even a party member. Rodney, largely on his own initiative, opened up a campaign to integrate major league baseball.
John Hammond, a friend of the CP, put together a series of Carnegie Hall concerts that brought the best jazz talent together in an interracial setting. The success of these concerts inspired Hammond to such an extent that he started a nightclub called Cafe Society that also invited a racially mixed audience. On opening night, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday and the comedian Jack Gilford performed.
The party also spawned a new folk music culture. On the west coast, Woody Guthrie offered his services to California farm workers organizing under party auspices. Eventually Guthrie wrote a column in the west coast CP daily newspaper.
On the east coast, the party drew the black folksinger Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) close to its ranks. He was a fixture at parties and meetings. Eventually Leadbelly made a disciple of a 21 year old journalist-musician by the name of Pete Seeger. Naison observes, "Guthrie, Ledbetter and Seeger, employing rhythms and harmonies harking back to 16th century England and Africa, but writing of contemporary themes, created music that both sentimentalized and affirmed the populist aspirations of US radicals, enabling them to feel part of the country they were trying to change."
As the Popular Front deepened, party leader Earl Browder began to become more and more infatuated with the idea of the CP functioning semi-officially as part of the New Deal administration. When the Popular Front period started, he advocated support of the petty-bourgeois Farmer-Labor party. He soon came to realize that open support for FDR made more sense. There was lingering support in the CPUSA for the Farmer-Labor party when this overture was first presented to the party. Daily Worker editor Clarence Hathaway was calling for an orientation to the Farmer-Labor party as late as 1937.
Browder was for FDR all the way and took his case to Moscow, where it was presented to the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) in April, 1937. The delegation included William Z. Foster who resisted open support for FDR. The Comintern listened to the two arguments pro and con FDR and realized that Browder's plan dove-tailed with the USSR's foreign policy needs more closely. If war broke out, allies would be necessary and what better ally could there be than an American president who depended on Communists for a base of support. The Comintern approved Browder's proposals.
Foster was not happy. He continued his campaign against Browder. He appealed once again to the Comintern at the end of the year. Foster argued that if the CPUSA was going to be taken seriously as a member of a Popular Front, it should be accepted as a party, like the CP of France had been accepted into Leon Blum's Popular Front. Foster accused Browder of "tailing" FDR.
The Comintern considered the Foster-Browder dispute for two weeks before coming to a conclusion. It sided with Browder and stated, that his approach to major political and tactical questions was correct and "with this Comrade Foster should also agree." At this point, Foster entered the Comintern's doghouse. Dmitri Manuilsky, a Soviet Communist leader, enumerated Foster's shortcomings in public. Eugene Dennis, the American party's Comintern representative, taunted Foster by reminding him that Browder's position enjoyed domestic and international support.
And so Browder enjoyed Kremlin backing for the next 8 years until 1946 when the vicissitudes of the Cold War forced Stalin to shift to the left. Browder's pro-Democratic Party orientation became an inconvenience at this point and it was unlikely that someone as deeply committed to bourgeois politics would be tractable enough to move the American party in the sharp leftward direction that under way.
So Browder was dumped.
The way he was dumped will tell you a lot about the unsavory character of the world Communist movement under Stalin. In April, 1946 the theoretical journal of the French Communist Party published a scathing attack by Jacque Duclos, second in command of the party, on Browder. It took him completely by surprise. The article included quotes from numerous internal documents of the American party that only could have been made available from Moscow. Put bluntly, the Kremlin broke Communist discipline by supplying the French hack with these documents behind the back of the American party.
The crowning irony, of course, is that the French party itself was deeply compromised by the same sort of politics as Browder's. The French CP dissolved its armed Resistance detachments, the true state power in France in 1945 and threw its support behind DeGaulle as part of the negotiations between Stalin and the West at Yalta and Potsdam.
Browder was a remarkable figure. When and if the American people can ever get it together to build an authentic revolutionary party, the example of the American CP during the Browder years will be worthy of study. Browder insisted on the need for American socialists to be able to communicate with the working class in terms that they could understand. He was dead-set opposed to jargon and ultra-left sectarianism, god bless him. As I have stated a million times before, the Popular Front is a period that much good can be learned from. It was a period of "tailing" FDR; it was also a period when Communists sank roots in working class communities and fought racism and injustice.
The party we need to be build in the United States will have to build exactly the same kinds of ties to labor, the black community and artists and intellectuals. Except this time we will not have to answer to the Kremlin, only to the American people.
Let us review the aftermath of the 1928 world congress of the Comintern. Bukharin lost power to Stalin. Stalin then unseated Jay Lovestone, Bukharin's supporter and leader of the American Communist Party, and turned over party leadership to William Z. Foster, a Stalin loyalist.
There was another American Communist leader by the name of James P. Cannon who went his own way and aligned himself with the Trotskyist Left Opposition.
Cannon was born in Rosedale, Kansas in 1890 and joined the Socialist Party in 1908. He then also joined the anarcho- syndicalist IWW three years later. In the IWW Cannon worked with Vincent St. John, "Big Bill" Haywood and Frank Little as a strike organizer and journalist. He switched allegiance to the newly formed Communist Party in September 1919 and won an election to the Central Committee in 1920. He served on the Communist International Presidium from 1922 to 1923. Next he headed the International Labor Defense from 1925 to 1928.
After he declared for Trotskyism, the CP expelled him. Along with Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, he went on to form the Communist League of America, the first American Trotskyist group. This group eventually developed into the contemporary Socialist Workers Party, a tiny group that has disavowed any connection with Trotskyism.
Cannon set the sectarian tone of American Trotskyism at its infancy. In a speech to the New York branch of his movement, on December 23, 1930, Cannon defined the relation of the opposition to "class" and "vanguard".
1. The Communist Party was still the vanguard, but the Trotskyist opposition was the "vanguard of this vanguard."
2. The task of the opposition was to make the "opposition line the line of the proletarian vanguard."
Cannon invoked Trotsky's words to support his approach. "The revolutionary Marxists are now again reduced (not for the first time and probably not for the last) to being an international propaganda society....It seems that the fact that we are very few frightens you. Of course, it is unpleasant. Naturally, it would be better to have behind us organizations numbering millions. But how are we, the vanguard of the vanguard, to have such organizations the day after the world revolution has suffered catastrophic defeats brought on by the Menshevik leadership hiding under the false mask of Bolshevism? Yes, how?" ("The Militant", 1929)
Has there ever been an "ideological" vanguard, Trotskyist or otherwise? The answer is no. This is an idealistic conception of politics that has been disastrous for Trotskyism throughout its entire existence. A vanguard is a goal, not a set of ideas. The goal of the vanguard is to coordinate the revolutionary conquest of power by the workers and their allies. Building a true vanguard will require correct ideas but these ideas can only emerge out of dialectical relationship with mass struggles. To artificially separate a revolutionary program from the mass movement is a guarantee that you will turn into a sectarian.
Lenin had a totally different concept of a vanguard, but his idea was nothing new. It merely represented mainstream thinking in Russian and European Social Democracy. George Plekhanov, eighteen years before the publication of "What is to be Done?" stated that "the socialist intelligentsia...must become the leader of the working class in the impending emancipation movement, explain to it its political and economic interests and also the interdependence of those interests and must prepare them to play an independent role in the social life of Russia." In 1898, Pavel Axelrod wrote that "the proletariat, according to the consciousness of the Social Democrats, does not possess a ready-made, historically elaborated social ideal," and "it goes without saying that these conditions, without the energetic participation of the Social Democrats, may cause our proletariat to remain in its condition as a listless and somnolent force in respect of its political development." The Austrian Hainfeld program of the Social Democrats said that "Socialist consciousness is something that is brought into the proletarian class struggle from the outside, not something that organically develops out of the class struggle." Kautsky, the world's leading Marxist during this period, stated that "socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises under different conditions. Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge." The most detailed presentation of Lenin's concept of a vanguard occurs in the section of "What is to be Done" titled "The Working Class as Vanguard Fighter for Democracy". The notion of a vanguard emerges out of Lenin's struggle with the "economists", *not* the "Mensheviks". This fact is often neglected by those "Marxist-Leninists" who use the pamphlet as some kind of organizing handbook.
As opposed to Martynov the Economist who expects the class political consciousness of workers to develop from within their economic struggle, Lenin argues that "class political consciousness can only be brought to the workers from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers."
The Social Democrat should not aspire to be a trade union secretary, but instead the "tribune of the people." This tribune will "react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum of people it affects; who is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat."
Lenin's example of one such tribune is the German Social Democratic leader Wilhelm Liebnecht. The German Social Democracy was Lenin's *model* for what was needed in Russia. This type of party did not exist in Russia and it was his goal to build one.
Social Democracy would fulfill the role of vanguard insofar as it was able to act as such a tribune and develop class political consciousness among the proletariat. Rather than relying spontaneous struggles at the plant gate over economic issues to generate such consciousness, the Social Democracy would import these political lessons into the class struggle from the *outside*.
The clearest statement Lenin makes on behalf of this approach is the following: "Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny...It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm's refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against 'obscene' publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc."
So the vanguard in Lenin's view would embrace bourgeois progressives in a fight with a royalist, the rights of artists to publish smut and the power of the academy to choose its own academicians. What this sounds like to me is a prescription for a militant Socialist Party that fights on all fronts in the most uncompromising and non- sectarian manner. I agree with this concept of a vanguard.
However, a vanguard in Lenin's view is not something that a cadre declares at the outset on the basis of correct ideas. This notion was alien to Lenin's approach. It did, however, become the orthodoxy of world Communism. Both Stalinists and Trotskyists shared this interpretation. For the Stalinists, the American Communist Party represented the vanguard because it came closest to representing the ideas of Stalin on American soil. Since Stalin prevailed over actually-existing socialism, how could anybody question this definition? The Trotskyists, of course, challenged Stalin as a fountainhead of correct, revolutionary ideas. They saw Leon Trotsky as the ultimate authority. They traced his legacy through Lenin, who after all proposed that Trotsky become CP general secretary instead of Stalin, and then back to Engels and Marx. This concept of revolutionary continuity based on ideology is a mistake in either Stalinist or Trotskyist packaging.
There was an inevitability to American Trotskyists embracing this sectarian approach. Lenin had died and there was nobody left of any stature in the Communist movement who could challenge it. Trotsky had never been a Bolshevik and so was in no position to clarify ideas to his followers that he did not possess. This false notion of a vanguard persisted well into the postwar era and it is only breaking down today for reasons related to the collapse of both the Soviet Union and the Fourth International.
American Trotskyism advanced fitfully through the 1930's. Its "entryist" tactic into the Socialist Party was a defining moment for its sectarianism. Trotsky had noticed that the Socialist Parties worldwide were once again becoming a pole of attraction for radicalizing workers because many of these workers could not stomach the brutal, totalitarian Stalin regime. He advised his followers to enter the SPs as a bloc, capture the left-wing and then engineer a split in order to build Trotskyism and smash Social Democracy. The American Trotskyists were quite successful. They did wreck American Social Democracy and did expand their sect. After the success of the "entryist" tactic, American workers had 2 choices: 1) the CP 2)a Trotskyist party that would feature articles in its newspaper advising working- people to "vote Trotskyist." The loss of the SP as a left- wing alternative to the CP partially explains the weakness of American socialism today.
Another key element of Trotskyist sectarianism is its tendency to turn every serious political fight into a conflict between worker and petty-bourgeoisie. Every challenge to party orthodoxy, unless the party leader himself mounts it, represents the influence of alien class influences into the proletarian vanguard. Every Trotskyist party in history has suffered from this crude sociological reductionism, but the American Trotskyists were the unchallenged masters of it.
Soon after the split from the SP and the formation of the Socialist Workers Party, a fight broke out in the party over the character of the Soviet Union. Max Shachtman, Martin Abern and James Burnham led one faction based primarily in New York. It stated that the Soviet Union was no longer a worker's state and it saw the economic system there as being in no way superior to capitalism. This opposition also seemed to be less willing to oppose US entry into WWII than the Cannon group, which stood on Zimmerwald "defeatist" orthodoxy.
Shachtman and Abern were full-time party workers with backgrounds similar to Cannon's. Burnham was a horse of a different color. He was an NYU philosophy professor who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He reputedly would show up at party meetings in top hat and tails, since he was often on the way to the opera.
Burnham became the paradigm of the whole opposition, despite the fact that Shachtman and Abern's family backgrounds were identical to Cannon's. Cannon and Trotsky tarred the whole opposition with the petty- bourgeois brush. They stated that the workers would resist war while the petty-bourgeois would welcome it. It was the immense pressure of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia outside the SWP that served as a source for these alien class influences. Burnham was the "Typhoid Mary" of these petty-bourgeois germs.
However, it is simply wrong to set up a dichotomy between some kind of intrinsically proletarian opposition to imperialist war and petty-bourgeois acceptance of it. The workers have shown themselves just as capable of bending to imperialist war propaganda as events surrounding the Gulf War show. The primarily petty-bourgeois based antiwar movement helped the Vietnamese achieve victory. It was not coal miners or steel workers who provided the shock-troops for the Central America solidarity movement of the 1980's. It was lawyers, doctors, computer programmers, Maryknoll nuns, and aspiring circus clowns like the martyred Ben Linder who did. Furthermore, it would be interesting to do a rigorous class analysis of the Shachtman-Burnham-Abern opposition. Most of its rank- and-file members were probably Jewish working-class people who more than anybody would be susceptible to pro-war sentiment during this period. When the Nazis were repressing Jews throughout Europe, it's no surprise that American Jews would end up supporting US participation in WWII.
With Trotsky's help, Cannon defeated the opposition. Burnham shifted to the right almost immediately and eventually became a columnist with William F. Buckley's "National Review". Shachtman remained a socialist until his final years, but like Lovestone who preceded him, eventually embraced a right-wing version of socialism that was largely indistinguishable from cold-war liberalism. Unreconstructed Trotskyists might point to the trajectory of Shachtman and Burnham and crow triumphantly, "See it was destined to happen! The middle-class will always betray socialism."
History often moves in wayward directions, however. The next big fight in American Trotskyism began in the early 1950's around the question of whether Stalinist parties were moving to the left under the impact of world events. The European Trotskyists said they were and urged their co- thinkers everywhere to join the CP's. The American Trotskyist leadership saw this as an attack on the purity of Marxism-Leninism-Trotskyism and opened up ideological warfare on the Europeans.
Of course, the Europeans were completely correct on this question. Their main leader was an individual named Pablo. SWP leaders never mentioned his name without attaching the epithet "revisionist" to it. The CP did the same thing with Franco, except in that case the epithet was "butcher", and it was accurate.
The fight had culminated in a split in the world Trotskyist movement. The Europeans appeared totally vindicated in 1956, when the Krushchev revelations caused the CP's to go into a total crisis. Krushchev, the leader of the Communist Parties internationally, seemed to share the critique of Stalin that the Trotskyists had been advancing for decades. (The European Trotskyists have always been much more in touch with political reality and the mass movement than the Americans. In the global regroupment process that is taking place today, the European Trotskyists can conceivably play a vanguard role in fighting "vanguardism".)
CP'ers would have given Marxists a real hearing, if they were comrades instead of sideline critics. Cannon, however, would have nothing to do with the CP's. He preferred to remain pure in his little Trotskyist cathedral wagging his finger at the evil Stalinists. His sectarianism was palpable. The SWP did manage to recruit a few disillusioned CP'ers in the late 1950's and early 1960's. Nobody was able to forge a new left wing movement out of these important openings unfortunately.
A minority faction in the SWP supported the European perspectives. Did a new group of middle-class wastrels in top-hats and tails mount such an attack on the working- class vanguard perspective of revolutionary Marxism? No, this time the opposition was working-class to the bone. The leader was UAW veteran Bert Cochran, who had participated in some of the biggest organizing fights in the late 1930's. He was in Detroit and his supporters were industrial workers like himself. How did Cannon explain this anomaly?
This was simple. The Cochranites were simply "petty- bourgeoisified" workers. Here was Cannon's verdict:
"Since the consolidation of the CIO unions and the 13-year period of war and postwar boom, a new stratification has taken place within the American working class, and particularly and conspicuously in the CIO unions. Our party, which is rooted in the unions, reflects that stratification too. The worker who has soaked up the general atmosphere of the long prosperity and begun to live and think like a petty bourgeois is a familiar figure in the country at large. He has even made his appearance in the Socialist Workers Party as a ready-made recruit for an opportunist faction."
There you have it. Whether you are on an assembly-line or own a bagel shop, you can succumb to the dreaded "petty bourgeois" illness. It seems that the only prophylactic is to be a party full-timer. When Burnham refused Cannon's invitation to work for the party full-time, Cannon commented, "We deemed it unworthy of the dignity of a revolutionary leader to waste his [sic] time on some piddling occupation in the bourgeois world and wrong for the party to permit it. We decreed that no one could be a member of the Central Committee of the party unless he [sic] was a full time professional party worker, or willing to become such at the call of the party." There is little doubt in my mind that Burnham would have remained Burnham had he remained at NYU or had gone to work in the SWP apparatus. This mechanical conception of consciousness has nothing to do with Marxism. It is the crudest sort of economic determinism.
The SWP stumbled along throughout the 1950's and early 60's while a new radicalization was in preparation. This time the radicalization did not occur in the factories. It occurred on the university campus and in the civil rights movement.
The SWP had by then shrunk to a small cadre of aging factory-workers and full-timers, so Cannon's successors eagerly sought to replenish its ranks with some fresh blood. A number of students from Carleton College in Minnesota supplied this fresh blood just in the nick of time. Cannon's followers groomed Jack Barnes, the most promising of these students, for party leadership. Barnes was a bright, ambitious youth who knew how to articulate Trotskyist orthodoxies in terms acceptable to the older leadership. He had absolutely no roots in the mass movement, however. His detachment from a mass movement has marked his stewardship of the SWP since the 1960's. Except for a brief period during the late 60's and early 70's, this group has remained just as much of a purist church as it ever was under Cannon's leadership.
During this period, the American Trotskyists seemed to be making some kind of connection to the living mass movement. They participated in the Vietnam antiwar movement and began to recruit radicalizing students. Some of the older factory-based cadre grew nervous at the sight of all these young people in purple bell-bottomed jeans. What would a factory worker think if he or she saw such strange people? The only solution to this problem was to send the middle-class students into the factories where they would be "proletarianized". Of course, most of these students came from the primarily working-class based state colleges and universities. The Maoists tended to recruit the elite students from private institutions.
A faction fight broke out once again. On one side you had most of the older party leadership and the new generation under Barnes' leadership. They lined up against a small number of older cadre and their young supporters who had just left places like Harvard and MIT to get union jobs. These younger supporters tended to have nothing to do with the "petty-bourgeois" antiwar movement.
In the ensuing struggle, an older party leader named George Breitman who had impeccable proletarian credentials presented some interesting arguments against the workerist opposition. He said, "In the 1930s, some of us thought that the unions would play a central role in the revolution, perhaps even a role like that which the soviets played in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Today it seems less likely, because of the changes that have have occurred in the unions and in their relations with the capitalist state, because of the way they have been incorporated or integrated into the state apparatus."
Breitman saw the unions as part of a broad struggle involving the black and woman's liberation movement. He was very sensitive to the black struggle and was one of the Trotskyists who had noted early on the revolutionary implications of Malcolm X's black nationalism. Breitman was an unusually gifted political analyst who broke with Barnes in a few short years.
Breitman's enthusiasm for the mass movements, while well- intentioned, seemed short-sighted in retrospect. Most of these non-union based movements, and most especially the antiwar movement, went into a steep decline in the mid- 70's. The Barnes leadership despaired. What would it do with all of the middle-class students who had joined in the recent period and who threatened to unleash alien class influences into the proletarian vanguard?.
Barnes concluded that they were a threat to the party. He urged a "turn toward industry" that would transform these latter-day James Burnhams and Bert Cochrans into solid, loyal proletarian party activists. It was similar to getting an inoculation against a fatal disease. By working inside a steel mill or coal mine, a party activist could fight off alien class influences more effectively.
In order to motivate this turn, Barnes described an American political landscape that was about ready to erupt into major class struggles. He saw the American unions as hotbeds of radicalism. This was during the period so memorably captured by Michael Moore in "Roger and Me", a time when laid-off workers were thinking more about raising rabbits for food than proletarian revolution.
Barnes decided that the industrial unions would be the focal point for all political struggles. He said, "Our turn is putting us where we must be to apply our strategy in light of these changing conditions. That's where we are winning influence for our ideas, educating ourselves and our co-workers, taking on our political opponents. The industrial workplaces and unions are our arena to build support for the fight against nuclear power and weapons, for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, against racial discrimination, and around the other major political issues confronting our class. This is the central arena for all our party campaigns."
This was one of the great ultraleft mistakes in history, clearly on a par with Stalin's third period phase in the early 1930's. To assume that the industrial unions would be the place where all major political struggles took place was an act of faith bordering on madness. He presented this analysis without even subjecting the Breitman view to a thorough- going critique. As we know, the 1980's were not a time when the unions moved to center-stage in American politics. It was, on the other hand, a time when the capitalist ruling-class moved to center-stage and dealt the union movement powerful blows. Resistance to this onslaught is only first beginning appear today.
LEARNING FROM THE CUBAN REVOLUTION
For those who are willing to learn, the Cuban Revolution can teach a great deal about building a revolutionary party. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were not members of old- style Trotskyist or pro-Moscow formations. Despite this--or possibly because of this--they managed to reach the masses and lead them to a socialist victory. The July 26th Movement had more in common with Lenin's Bolshevik Party than those parties attached to the official iconography of the Russian Revolution.
Castro and Guevara never spent much time investigating organizational questions the way Lenin did in "What is to be Done". Their speeches and writings dealt with broader anti- imperialist themes, and issues directly related to the problems of building socialism in Cuba.
Regis Debray made a stab at devising a revolutionary strategy based on the July 26th Movement when he wrote "Revolution in the Revolution". This pamphlet defended "foquismo". "Focos", Spanish for columns, were to be rural guerrilla warfare formations that combined military and political tasks. Debray only understood superficial manifestations of the Cuban Revolution when he produced this work. To an extent, this reflected the inexact theoretical stance of the Cuban leadership itself. Che Guevara tried to implement a strategy of "foquismo" in Bolivia and it failed. Most Latin American revolutionaries abandoned the cruder aspects of "foquismo" as the years advanced.
Of much more interest are Castro and Guevara's incidental remarks on the character of the Cuban revolutionary movement. They both realized that they had stumbled upon something different from the traditional "Marxism- Leninism" of the Trotskyist or pro-Moscow CP's.
"Anyone can give themselves the name of 'eagle' without having a single feather on their back. In the same way, there are people who call themselves communists without having a single communist hair on their heads. The international communist movement, to our way of thinking, is not a church. It is not a religious sect or a Masonic lodge that obliges us to hallow any weakness, any deviation; that obliges us to follow a policy of a mutual admiration with all kinds of reformists and pseudo-revolutionaries."
These words are from the speech Castro delivered to the University of Havana in March 13, 1967. This was around the time that the Cubans began orienting toward the guerrilla movements in Latin America and away from the pro-Moscow CP's. They had arrived at the understanding that it is deeds and not dogma or party labels that determine true revolutionaries.
The Cubans organized conferences of the Organization of Latin American Solidarity (OLAS) during this period. They sought to coordinate struggles by guerrilla groups across national boundaries. This was the first attempt at genuine internationalism since the early days of the Comintern.
In a speech delivered to the first OLAS conference on August 10, 1967, Castro denounced dogmatism:
"This does not mean that it is enough to have a correct position and that is all. No, even among those who really want to make revolution many mistakes are made; there are still many weaknesses, that is true. But logically we will never have deep contradictions with anybody--no matter their mistakes--who honestly has a revolutionary position. It is our understanding that we must leave behind old vices, sectarian positions of all kinds and the positions of those who believe they have a monopoly on the revolution or on revolutionary theory. And poor theory, how it has had to suffer in these processes; poor theory, how it has been abused, and how it is still being abused! And all these years have taught us to meditate more, analyze better. We no longer accept any 'self-evident' truths. 'Self-evident' truths are a part of bourgeois philosophy. A whole series of old cliches should be abolished. Marxist literature itself, revolutionary political literature should be renewed, because by repeating cliches, phraseology, and verbiage that have been repeated for thirty-five years you don't win anyone; you don't win over anyone."
While Castro directed these remarks against the CP's of Latin America, he might have directed them equally against Trotskyism. The American Trotskyists in the Socialist Workers Party were not the self-critical sort, however. When they read these words, they assumed that "sectarianism" was someone else's problems, not their own. They elevated themselves above the Cuban revolutionaries in some respects. In "Draft Theses on the Cuban Revolution" delivered to a gathering of the Trotskyist faithful in December 23, 1960, the SWP leadership characterized the Cubans as "petty-bourgeois", a favorite word in their vocabulary.
As they sat in judgment on the Cubans, the Trotskyists gave them a passing grade. To those who questioned the need for Trotskyist parties, as well they should, the SWP leadership had an explanation: The Cubans were revolutionary, but the SWP was even more revolutionary. What did this aging group of sectarians that held the allegiance of less than one out of every half-million people in the United States know that the Cubans did not?
The North American Trotskyist critics faulted them on economic policy. "Take it from the economic side. Look at the delays that occurred down there in the process of the revolution, in expropriating the properties; they had to wait until they were pushed into it by American imperialism, slapped around, then there was a response, a defensive reflex to these blows struck by American imperialism. They were stumbling, fumbling, losing all kinds of valuable time which the bourgeoisie in the United States utilized in order to prepare the ground psychologically for the counterrevolution."
Now nobody could accuse the SWP of stumbling or fumbling, could they? They believed they knew every correct step on the way to socialism. Like most sectarians, they never asked themselves whether any concrete step they have taken has actually produced results. If they held themselves to the same strict standards that they held others to, they would have closed shop decades ago.
The SWP also saw another weakness in the way Cubans neglected democracy. "To any Trotskyist, any revolutionary socialist, it jumps out before your eyes, the weakness of the revolution on that side. And that weakness derives primarily from the weakness of the leadership, of its consciousness."
Some Trotskyists would not even give the Cubans this much of the benefit of a doubt. A minority in the SWP led by James Robertson and Tim Wolforth sneered at the Cuban leadership. Tim Wolforth, who had come to Trotskyism from social democracy, faulted Castro for not upholding institutions of worker's democracy. He instructed Castro to emulate Lenin, the architect of Soviet democracy. Tim Wolforth has returned to the social democracy fold. (Now he calls it by the less compromised term "democratic socialism.") Tim Wolforth still declares that Cuba lacks democracy, but blames it now on Cuba's stubborn adherence to Leninist norms. Tim Wolforth is hard to please. He spent most of the 60's and 70's as leader of the miniscule Trotskyist sect called the Worker's League. While others were organizing demonstrations against the Vietnam War, Wolforth and his followers were organizing meetings on "dialectics", an issue they believed that transcended everything. Robertson has also been consistent. He formed a new group called the Spartacist League in the early 60's that gave his sectarianism an even more virulent aspect. The cult remains faithful to the leader's religious beliefs to the present day.
The real breakthrough of the Cuban leadership was beyond the comprehension of the Trotskyists. The Cubans had built a revolutionary movement that succeeded in winning the masses. They used language and concepts that emerged out of the Cuban experience. Jose Marti was the icon of this revolution, not Stalin or Trotsky. The July 26th Movement did not ask people to join on the basis of correct positions on historical and international questions. You simply had to dedicate yourself to the overthrow of the Batista regime through armed struggle. You also needed to favor a government dedicated to agrarian reform, democracy and economic justice. In a manner similar to the Russian social democracy of the early 1900's, the Cubans favored an extremely wide definition of what it meant to be a revolutionary. Deeds counted more than words.
Che Guevara wrote "Notes for the Study of the Ideology of the Cuban Revolution" for the October 8, 1960 issue of "Verde Olivio", the magazine of Cuba's armed forces. He declared:
"This is a unique revolution which some people maintain contradicts one of the most orthodox premises of the revolutionary movement, expressed by Lenin: 'Without a revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement.' It would be suitable to say that revolutionary theory, as the expression of a social truth, surpasses any declaration of it; that is to say, even if the theory is not known, the revolution can succeed if historical reality is interpreted correctly and if the forces involved are utilized correctly. Every revolution always incorporates elements of very different tendencies which, nevertheless, coincide in action and in the revolution's most immediate objectives."
It is unfortunate that Guevara only produced these brief notes. He would have made much more of an impact on future revolutionary events by continuing this study rather than going to Bolivia. The single phrase "every revolution always incorporates elements of very different tendencies which, nevertheless, coincide in action and in the revolution's most immediate objectives" actually anticipates the trajectory of the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran revolutions which took place more than a decade later.
The Central American revolutions of the 1970's and 1980's are actually an extension of the Cuban model. The FSLN (Sandinista Front for the Liberation of Nicaragua) and the FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation) launched an armed struggle as the Cubans did. What is more important, however, is the manner in which they formed genuine vanguards of the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran people. They did not form such vanguards by first forming a tiny nucleus of a party and then recruiting people in twos and threes to a fully elaborated program. Their approach was like the Cuban's. They developed program and theory in tandem with mass action. They spoke in political language out of their national idioms. Their approach to revolution was undogmatic and non-sectarian. Their failure to win full emancipation for their peoples has more to do with the global relationship of class forces rather than in any lack of socialist principles or skill.
The most important assistance the Cubans have given the FSLN and FMLN is not material aid. It is rather the continuing advice on how to strengthen the revolutionary forces. The FSLN and the FMLN represent consolidation of different political tendencies. If they had not put the interest of the Nicaraguan or Salvadoran people over the interests of their own groupings, they would have made no progress toward victory. The Cubans, by everybody's recognition, have been instrumental in forging such unity.
Carlos Fonseca founded the Sandinista movement in 1961 along with Tomas Borge and Silvio Mayorga. Fonseca was an exceptionally gifted leader. He died in combat in 1976. In the early 1970's, the FSLN went through a series of crises and eventually split into three factions. Each faction regarded itself as the true and only vanguard of the Nicaraguan revolution.
The first tendency was the TP (Tendencia Proletaria). Itemphasized the central role of the proletariat in the coming revolution. A TP leader Jamie Wheelock wrote "Imperialism and Dictatorship" in 1974 and showed that an urban proletariat and agro-export based rural proletariat had become a major factor in the Nicaraguan class struggle. (Wheelock, of course, was doing exactly the sort of theoretical work that Lenin did in Russia when he examined the development of capitalist agriculture.)
The TP thought it was a mistake to rely on rural peasant- based guerrilla warfare. They saw only one answer to the needs of socialism in Nicaragua: the creation of a Marxist- Leninist vanguard party. They concentrated their efforts on the neighborhoods and factories of major cities like Managua.
The second tendency was the GPP (Guerra Popular Prolongada). Tomas Borge and Henry Ruiz led the GPP. It concentrated on rural guerrilla warfare in northern Nicaragua. In some respects, this formation had more in common with the "foquismo" approach followed by Guevara. The GPP did not connect to urban struggles however, an arena that belonged to the TP.
The third tendency was the "third force" or Terceristas. Another name for them was the "Insurrectional Tendency." They tended to stress bold, almost adventurist, actions to spur the masses into action. They recruited from the middle- class, including lawyers, academics, Church and lay workers, and even from lumpen elements. Daniel and Humberto Ortega were the leaders of this faction.
In actuality, the three factions simply represented contradictory class aspects of the Nicaraguan revolution. They were all correct in responding to local features of the revolutionary struggle, but were also incorrect in assuming that their own tendency had the inside path to victory.
Would they respond to Guevara's imperative? "Every revolution always incorporates elements of very different tendencies which, nevertheless, coincide in action and in the revolution's most immediate objectives."
The urgencies of the Nicaraguan class struggle did bring the three factions together. We also must assume that the Cubans gave them advice to find a way to unite. An upsurge in the mass movement in 1978 introduced compelling reasons for unity, especially in the military arena. That year, the three tendencies did not see themselves in competition any longer. They recognized that the Nicaraguan revolution was broader and more complex than any of its single aspects. By December of that year, the FSLN accomplished reunification. They then proceeded to build alliances with other forces on the left. They reached agreement with the pro-Moscow CP, which had been hostile to the idea of armed struggle for many years.
Eventually the FSLN won victory over Somoza and tried to the best of its ability to construct socialism in Nicaragua. Many on the left in the United States, including the super- revolutionaries in the SWP, fault the Sandinistas for not having built "another Cuba". We should blame the setback to Nicaraguan socialism on the inability of groups like the SWP to do more to prevent the Reagan administration from strangling the revolution in its cradle.
El Salvador is another case study of how the revolutionary movement achieved unity. Like Nicaragua, the left had split into a number of factions. In El Salvador, the divisions grew deep enough to provoke fratricide. The story of how they overcame those divisions is inspiring.
Salvador Cayetano Carpio started the first guerrilla group. Carpio was a baker by trade and a central leader of the Communist Party of El Salvador. He began to identify with the Castroist current during the time. He grew increasingly dissatisfied with the electoralist and routinist path of the CP and looked for an alternative. In 1969, Carpio broke with the CP and, at the age of fifty, started a guerrilla group. The group adopted the name "Popular Liberation Forces-- Farabundo Marti" (FPL) in 1972.
Carpio reflected the growing maturity of the Castroist current. He rejected "foquismo". Carpio based his rejection "on the experience of some guerrilla movements in Latin America and in other countries that were removed from the people, that failed to reach out to them and that succumbed to militaristic designs..."
Left-wing Christian Democrats formed guerrilla groups in the same period. In 1971, Joaquin Villalobos and other activists from this current formed the "Peoples Revolutionary Movement" (ERP). The ERP was by no means homogeneous. Villalobos said that it was "composed of different groups with different approaches to strategy, but sharing the desire to promote armed struggle in El Salvador."
The ERP experienced bitter factional divisions in the early 1970's. One wing thought the revolution was at hand and emphasized bold armed actions. The other wing doubted this and stressed the need for patient long-term political work. The poet Roque Dalton was a member of this latter faction. In 1975 the in-fighting became so bad that rivals from the other faction murdered him. Enemies of the ERP had spread malicious lies that Dalton was a CIA agent. Eduardo Galeano wrote, "We always meet death in a way that resembles us. I always thought Roque would meet death roaring with laughter. I wonder if he could have. Wouldn't the sorrow of being murdered by those who had been your comrades been stronger."
On July 30, 1975 the Salvadoran army fired on a peaceful demonstration of students. Government troops killed dozens of people. The event had as much of a galvanizing effect on Salvadoran society as the Kent State murders had in the United States. A number of distinct student groups coalesced together at this time and formed the "People's Revolutionary Bloc" (BPR). Most people called it "el Bloque". This was a new type of organization that began to typify the Salvadoran popular movement. These organizations of students, workers, women or peasants participated in political discussions for the first time in their lives. They worked in these organizations as an alternative to vanguardist or electoralist formations. They participated in civil disobedience, mass demonstrations and rallies.
Eventually a coalition of left and centrist politicians came together in the "Democratic Revolutionary Front." The most famous member of this formation was Guillermo Ungo, a member of the government in 1972 along with Jose Duarte. When the army launched a coup, Duarte remained in office while Ungo went into opposition.
Another important step forward occurred when the Communist Party of El Salvador decided to participate in the armed struggle. Their leader Shafiq Handal became an important and well-known guerrilla leader. The evolution of the CP in El Salvador indicated that years of sectarianism were dissolving at last. The movement included both Shafiq Handal and Guillermo Ungo.
All of these groups and individuals came to the realization that they had to unite to become effective. Once again, Guevara's observation that, "Every revolution always incorporates elements of very different tendencies which, nevertheless, coincide in action and in the revolution's most immediate objectives" was vindicated. They achieved such unity when they formed the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). The FMLN was the umbrella group that coordinated the armed struggle, while the FDR under Ungo's leadership conducted the legal struggle.
The Salvadoran revolutionaries acknowledged the importance of the formation of the FSLN in Nicaragua in influencing their decision to unify. The pressure of events persuaded each of the separate groups to put the needs of the Salvadoran revolution over their particular factional interests. Each grouping within the FMLN-FDR represented contradictory class aspects of the Salvadoran revolution. The FSLN and the FMLN shared with Lenin's Bolsheviks a very generous definition of what it meant to be a revolutionary. This is a lesson that the left in the advanced capitalism countries must learn. Again, we can only assume that the Cubans had a significant role in bringing this unity to fruition.
None of these formations--the July 26th Movement, the FSLN, FMLN--were conventional "Marxist-Leninist" formations, yet each one achieved powerful revolutionary breakthroughs. If the Soviet Union had not been going through such a profound counterrevolutionary shift, there was every possibility that socialism would have won substantial victories in both Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Nicaragua and El Salvador are important because they show the necessity of forging a common class-struggle approach above and beyond the narrow interests of party or sect. Today many people misunderstand the accomplishment of Lenin. They see Lenin as the great splitter. He split with the Mensheviks, then he split with the Second International and formed the Third, etc. This is an undialectical view of Lenin. Lenin was also the individual who helped to unite socialists in Russia when no organization existed. Lenin's great success was not in forming a new type of party in Russia, but simply building an uncompromised socialist party where none existed.
Another thing that the Bolsheviks and the Cuban model have in common is that they do not define themselves by historical or international questions. Lenin, like Castro, focused on issues of the class-struggle in his own country. He let the French, the Chinese and the English, etc. work out their own solutions to reaching the masses in their own countries. The Cuban-style formations did not stand on a decades long program that took positions on innumerable historical questions. To join the SWP today means to adopt the position that WWII was imperialist, while to join the CP presupposes the opposite position. We simply do not need this type of ideological baggage.
New socialist formations must be inclusive and pluralist in their political perspectives. Basically, they should accept members on the basis of agreement with Marxism, the way Lenin's Bolshevik party did. No group has the inside track on truth. The truth will only emerge after years of struggle in the trenches. Nobody today can predict how the American socialist revolution will unfold. There is almost complete ignorance about important new developments like the populism of the western states. Nobody has begun to describe the current status of the working-class adequately. What was true in the 1960's is no longer true. The United States is no longer a nation of economic security and prosperity. The differences between the United States and third world countries is narrowing. This has enormous political consequences.
Marxist thought can only evolve and prosper outside of a "vanguardist" framework. The kind of discussion that a socialist party requires is exactly the kind of discussion that takes place on the Internet: uncensored, democratic and critical. No "Marxist-Leninist" party enjoys that kind of discussion today, but the socialist movement can not move forward without it.