Uncle Joe

The Morning Star on November 7 published an article by former Moscow correspondent Kate Clark commemorating the 90th anniversery of the Russian Revolution. She noted the achievements of the revolution and its impact, and described the Chávez government in Venezuela as having “many similarities with the early soviets or councils in the Soviet Union”. She also referred to “Stalinist crimes ... clouding that bright image”, as in the 1930s “the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had become the sole remaining political party. Under the party’s leader, Stalin, all decision-making became concentrated in the CPSU.”

This mild criticism was too much for one reader, Karl Dallas, who in the letters page on November 14 accused comrade Clark of recycling “slanders” against a man who “led the Soviet people” to victory against Nazism, which “saved Britain from becoming a vassal state of the Third Reich”.

Interestingly, comrade Dallas adds that comrade Clark’s words in praise of Chávez “are similar to what used to be said about the man we then called Uncle Joe”. He comments on what he calls the inconsistency of praising Chávez while criticising Stalin and ends: “I await her eventual demonisation of the Venezuelan president with interest.”

In comrade Dallas’s eyes it is probably a compliment to Chávez to compare him with Stalin. In reality it is a gross insult and unfair. Chávez is not like Stalin at present, although possibly there is a danger that his regime may evolve in a Stalinist direction if the people do not gain democratic control over him and his government.

Uncle Joe
Uncle Joe

No value

Hillel Ticktin quite rightly says: “Exchange-value determines prices. So what determines exchange-value? The answer is value, and value is determined by labour-time or, more accurately, socially necessary labour-time” (‘Potential for working class struggle’, November 15).

It would be useful, however, if Ticktin were to discuss II Rubin’s interpretation of Capital on this question in greater depth than he does. Rubin points out that one use-valuable commodity is exchangeable with another because they are qualitatively equal within the exchange relationship in which their value appears. Therefore, they must share a common property of substance: a “third thing”, which belongs to each commodity as its “intrinsic value”, of which exchange value is merely an expression. It is true that commodities are “products of labour”, but within capitalism this particular labour, as labour-power expressed as value, no longer possesses the same characteristics as when it is the creator of use-values (see www.marxists.org/archive/rubin/value/ch12.htm and Marx’s concept of intrinsic value by Andrew Kliman, 2003).

Secondly, Ticktin’s statement that “under socialism abstract labour will be abolished and hence value” needs standing on its head. Apart from the problem of the phrase, “under socialism” (which should been taken out and shot years ago), it is important to recognise that only the physical uprooting of value-production - and not top-down statism - can end abstract labour. Marx, in the section in chapter one of Capital on the fetishism of commodities, does not present capital as mere illusion or ideology: we really are dominated by the things we produce; human relations take on the form of relations between things, because that is the way they really are.

The veil is only removed when material production becomes production by freely associated humans and stands under their conscious and planned control. The question, ‘What is value?’, can only be adequately posed in a ‘negative’ sense; it only becomes a real question in the light of what is needed - in the material sense - to make it irrelevant.

No value

Kronstadt foam

Edward Eisenstein’s letter on the 1921 Kronstadt rebellion is based on the amalgam technique of lumping different opponents of the Communist Party together as if they were the same, and furthermore resorts to using ‘authoritative quotes’ as if these were themselves evidence. For example, the claim that “Subjectively the [Kronstadters] were doubtlessly highly moral revolutionists. But objectively it was a filthy counterrevolution” is highly tendentious, but goes without explanation.

However, not only were the Kronstadters’ aims fundamentally different from those of the whites - who were hardly partisans of slogans for ‘free soviet elections’ and ‘workers’ control’ in industry - but it is not true that they excluded communists from their soviet.

The city’s equivalent of a soviet was convened at the Kronstadt Engineers’ College on March 2 1921. Three hundred and three ship, dock, army unit, workshop, trade union and soviet institution delegates participated, with communists representing over one third of those attending. The meeting elected a Provisional Revolutionary Committee in which anarcho-populist Maximalists (not Makhnovists) held great influence, and fresh soviet elections were planned.

In the March 4 edition of its paper Izvestia the PRC published the appeal of the independent provisional bureau of the Kronstadt section of the Russian Communist Party, formed by long-standing local communist leaders Ilyin, Pervushin and Kabanov:

“Do not believe the absurd rumours that communist leaders are supposedly being shot or that communists are preparing for armed action in Kronstadt. They are spread by a clearly provocative element, which wishes to provoke bloodshed. These are lies and absurdities, and it is on such as these that the agents of the Entente, working to achieve the overthrow of soviet power, wish to play.

“We openly declare that our party, with weapon in hand, has and will defend all the achievements of the working class against the open and secret white guards who wish the destruction of the soviet power of workers and peasants.

“The provisional bureau of the RCP recognises new elections to the soviet as necessary, and calls on all members of the RCP to take part in these new elections.”

The Kronstadt sailors, workers and soldiers demanding free soviet elections - a slogan raised at the March 1919 Putilov works strike as well as in February 1921’s Petrograd strikes - was no call for bourgeois counterrevolution. Indeed the Kronstadters had rebuffed the right Socialist Revolutionaries, who wanted to replace soviet power with a constituent assembly, as can easily be divined by reading their 15 demands (the Petropavlovsk resolution).

It in any case seems perverse to foam at the mouth attacking the Kronstadt workers’ council for alleged exclusions, given that the Communist Party leadership had brutally suppressed numerous strikes such as that of workers at the Aleksandrovskii workshops in February-March 1919 and the Petrograd general strike of March 1919, coopted the factory committees into official unions and replaced workers’ control with one-man management, and clamped down on dissidents within the Communist Party itself at the March 1921 10th Congress. Along with the atrophy of soviets and the lack of independent unions, this meant a severe disenfranchisement of the working class.

What those who tell us that Kronstadt was a counterrevolution do not get is (a) that it was possible to criticise the communist leaders at certain given junctures from a revolutionary point of view, not a reactionary one, and (b) that working-class self-rule is the revolution itself (ie, the reason why it has become the ruling class), and this cannot be put on ice or abandoned in the interest of some higher military-strategic goal. Even if well-meaning, sincerely revolutionary and beset by difficult circumstances, the Communist Party undermined workers’ power by crushing those who wanted to democratise the soviet apparatus and restore working class authority over such organs. Yet, according to Edward, anarchists are “unable to settle things in a comradely fashion”!

The claim that the rule of the Kronstadt workers’ council meant ceding ground to imperialism, but that invading the city and killing thousands upon thousands of people was to defend its workers’ authority, is beyond my comprehension. Why would the Kronstadters who declared soviet power in May 1917 and March 1921 not resist a white invasion? Much as I am not an anarchist, I think it perfectly possible to isolate different anarchist organisations in different episodes and judge when they are supporting workers’ power and when they are not.

I suggest that Edward reads Israel Getzler’s book, Kronstadt 1917-1921: the fate of a soviet democracy, and Ida Mett’s pamphlet, The Kronstadt uprising of 1921.

Kronstadt foam

Harsh words

Mike Macnair’s attack on Lenin and Trotsky’s ‘anti-imperialism’, equating it with popular frontism, totally misses the point (‘Ditch the strategic illusion’, November 8). His inability to understand modern imperialism leads him to charge Trotsky, Lenin and the Bolsheviks with capitulating to the national bourgeoisie in a total failure to understand the national question. Lenin and Trotsky’s standpoint was the world revolution and the raising of the class-consciousness of the world working class to achieve that revolution.

Mike’s examination of the consequences of the effect of the three instances Trotsky wrote about - the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Japanese invasion of China in the 30s and a putative war between Britain and the Vargas dictatorship in Brazil in 1938 - considers only their effects on national working classes as isolated entities. It is clear that comrade Mike has not considered the world revolution at all: “In other words, for the workers’ movements in imperialist countries not immediately involved in the colonial war to argue for ‘victory to’ the semi-colony involved can all too easily be merely to fall in line behind their own governments .... Hence, the argument for ‘defencism’ or ‘victoryism’ for the colonial country in colonial wars, if it means anything, is a policy for communists in the colonial countries. It is an argument about the road of the working class to power in a colonial or semi-colonial country under attack from an imperialist power.”

We are sure that the enemies of revolutionary socialist internationalism will tell all manner of lies about our motivation, and neither do we deny that there will be a difference in emphasis in different countries, depending on the interests of our ‘own’ bourgeoisie. But we must be able to argue the same fundamental line in every country or else we are Stalinists and not revolutionary socialists.

This shows that there is a real substance to Steve Freeman’s stand in the Campaign for a Marxist Party for an internationalist party. A world party is not the sum total of a series of national Marxist groupings, but a party based on the need to expropriate the globalised capitalist economy and institute a global planned economy which must base itself on the globalised class-consciousness that is produced as a result. There is still much ‘socialism in a single country’ contained in the CPGB’s ideology, although we would have thought that if anyone would have sloughed that off it would have been comrade Mike, who had a long political Trotskyist education as an international socialist.

It is particularly galling to see Trotsky’s position on these events misrepresented so badly and then damned with faint praise: “Trotsky cannot be very much blamed for these errors. He was making polemical points without careful study of either of the countries involved.” Thank you for your magnanimity, comrade Mike, but we would respectfully suggest that Trotsky was far better informed about “the dependency relations and inter-imperialist conflicts involved” than yourself.

His point was that a defeat for world imperialism would strengthen the working class internationally, that we had to be unequivocal about that and seek the defeat of our imperialism without for a moment neglecting to fight for the class independence of the working class in the semi-colonial country under attack. In inter-imperialist conflicts we would be defeatist on both sides.

It is on this very point that comrade Mike commits an unpardonable sleight of hand in quoting Trotsky on China. Trotsky was very conscious that he might be quoted out of context and was very careful never to pen an ambiguous sentence. But never being ambiguous in half a sentence was beyond even him. When comrade Mike produced his ‘killer quote’ from Trotsky - “the duty of all the workers’ organisations of China was to participate actively and in the front lines of the present war against Japan …” - he followed it with an ellipsis. What might those three dots have said? My edition of Trotsky’s writings did not contain the reference, but I found it online: “… without abandoning, for a single moment, their own programme and independent activity” is the second half of that sentence. This half of the sentence completely invalidates Mike’s subsequent argument that “Trotsky’s line at this moment happens also to have been Moscow’s line for the Chinese Communist Party.”

We invite readers to check out for themselves the whole of Trotsky’s letter to Diego Rivera (September 23 1937) at www.zhongguo.org/trotsky/revbetrayed/images/China/58.htm to see if there is a word of truth in this allegation. Trotsky’s entire argument is against both Stalinist popular frontism and sectarian abstentionism.

But Mike has borrowed wholesale from the sectarian and abstentionist Eiffelite document that Trotsky polemicised against so effectively. Trotsky quoted them thus: “The only salvation of the workers and peasants of China is to struggle independently against the two armies, against the Chinese army in the same manner as against the Japanese army.”

Trotsky replied: “To participate actively and consciously in the war does not mean ‘to serve Chiang Kai-shek’, but to serve the independence of a colonial country in spite of Chiang Kai-shek. And the words directed against the Kuomintang are the means of educating the masses for the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek. In participating in the military struggle under the orders of Chiang Kai-shek, since unfortunately it is he who has the command in the war for independence - to prepare politically the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek … that is the only revolutionary policy.”

What comrade Mike proposes for the Iranian masses now - because we are really talking about Iran 2007 and not China 1936 - is Maoism: “Mao, while remaining a Stalinist, insisted on maintaining the autonomy of the Chinese CP’s military forces, and, indeed, has been plausibly accused of subordinating the anti-Japanese struggle to this goal. The upshot was the victory of the Chinese communists in 1948.”

Anyone who understood what happened in 1948 knows that it was not a socialist revolution - the working class did not win power - but Mao’s peasant army surrounded the cities from the country and overthrew capitalism over the next few years. This was not their initial aim - the Korean war, coupled with advancing internal counterrevolution, forced their hand.

Likewise Mao rejected subordinating his peasant army to Chiang Kai-shek not out of any theoretical clarity, but out of the simple motive of self-preservation; he did not seek another Shanghai soviet massacre. And just to demonstrate how essentially Stalinist he still was on popular frontism, he imposed this very policy on the Indonesian CP, which resulted in the massacre of up to a million communists by Suharto in 1965.

No, comrade Mike, we do not need a peasant army, as the phrase “the autonomy of the Chinese CP’s military forces” signifies, but the urban working class to defeat both imperialism and islamic reaction in Iran.

Mike’s line is identical with the Eiffelites, who, Trotsky said, “counterpose the policy of ‘class struggle’ to this ‘nationalist and social patriotic’ policy. Lenin fought this abstract and sterile opposition all his life. To him, the interests of the world proletariat dictated the duty of aiding oppressed peoples in their national and patriotic struggle against imperialism. Those who have not yet understood that, almost a quarter of a century after the world war and 20 years after the October revolution, must be pitilessly rejected as the worst enemies on the inside by the revolutionary vanguard.”

Harsh words indeed, but surely deserved by those who cannot see how to evolve a programme to fight imperialism and the native bourgeoisie at the same time. Comrade Mike cannot be unaware that amongst the ranks of the opponents of Ahmadinejad are forces who seek the victory of imperialism over Iran and there are far more who are confused on the issue.

To spread confusion with a false understanding of imperialism, to deny the existence of oppressed and oppressor nations is to open a path for these forces within Hands Off the People of Iran and to reject revolutionary socialism.

Harsh words
Harsh words