A Contribution to the Confusion
By Manuel R. Chávez López
In the following text I will lay out a critical commentary on the conference titled Socialism is Much Better than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Much Better World presented by Raymond Lotta (RL) at the Facultad de Filosofía at the UNAM in May 2006. This is the same talk that was previously published in the newspaper Revolution, voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party of the United States, numbers 25-31, December 5, 12, 19 and 26, 2005 and January 8, 15, 22, 2006 and reprinted as a pamphlet. For our analysis we will use the Spanish version distributed as a pamphlet.
My commentary is grounded in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) and its objective is to lay a basis for a serious and profound debate among Maoists, who find ourselves divided on a series of fundamental problems, such as the character of the democratic revolution, socialism, the restoration of capitalism, the October Revolution, the role of Stalin in the restoration of capitalism in the USSR, the Chinese Revolution and the Cultural Revolution. The polemic among Maoists must be guided by the principle of unity-criticism-unity, because we are dealing with ‘contradictions among the people’ and by no means ‘antagonistic contradictions.’
In the introduction, Raymond Lotta, who presents himself as a ‘Maoist political economist,’ when, in reality, he is an ‘economist’ (both by academic background and his political and ideological position), informs us of two things: first, that “a whole generation” has only heard “that socialism failed and that capitalism is the best possible world” and “that socialism is a nightmare” and; second, that this “revising of history has also affected many progressive intellectuals.” Starting points that it is very hard not to agree with.
The “Setting the Record Straight” project, that RL is promoting, has the goal of “turning the ideological attack on communism into an energetic debate in the universities” about the past and future of communism. Lotta’s conference is an important part of this project, a harangue delivered in several universities (and certainly repeated straight from the text of the pamphlet, as was the case in Mexico).
The first thing that comes to view is a very simple issue: such a striking, pretentious and determining name for the project, when, all things considered, it doesn’t accomplish adequately nor objectively what it promises: to set things straight. In effect, RL’s dissertation—with a length of about 90 minutes—tries to clear up several complex problems: “to confront the lies about socialism, analyze the experience and accomplishments of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917-1956 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949-1956” and, as if that was something small, to put forward “Bob Avakian’s new vision of the communist project.”
There is a popular saying: “That which tries to encompass too much gets hold of very little.” I believe that RL’s talk, from its conception, suffers from this deficiency. The problems that it proposes to illuminate are so many and complicated, that it is very difficult to really seriously and deeply get into each one of them in such a short time, even for the best speaker; but, the truth is, that after 30 minutes of irritated screaming it is difficult to pay attention to the sermon, even more so when delivered to an audience that doesn’t speak English and, therefore, must pay attention to the simultaneous translation. Consequently, RL deals with his subjects like a bird in flight, that is, offering a limited and superficial interpretation, without rigor or intellectual honesty.
But this is not the paramount problem. The principal contradiction is in the subjective (anti-Marxist) form that RL employs in explaining the proposed topics (except the last).
Before fully getting into confronting RL’s point of view, I would also like to quickly comment on the place selected for carrying out the campaign to set things straight: the universities. It is really noticeable that the talk is designed for centers of higher education and not for workers and peasants, people’s neighborhoods, community centers, immigrants, minorities, political and social organizations, etc. There is no explanation for this decision in RL’s intervention (and perhaps he had no reason to give one, but I think it would be of great use to better understand this perspective of the campaign). I can come up with four possible justifications, although I run the risk of erring. First: the comrades who organized the campaign are thinking of recapitulating the old theses from the ‘60s sketched mainly by Marcuse, who, incorrectly analyzing the development of capitalism and incapable of linking Marxist theory with the struggles of the working masses, put forward that the working class had been integrated into capitalism and lost all revolutionary potential, therefore, students were the new historical revolutionary subject and the universities the main scenes of action.
Second: the comrades are interested in mechanically transferring the experience of the Chinese student movements(which almost always played an important role in the beginning of revolutionary movements, for example: 1919-against the Versailles treaty, 1935-in the patriotic struggle against Japan, 1966-the Cultural Revolution) to the USA.
Third: the comrades are impregnated with academic or legal Marxism, and prefer the tranquility of the classrooms and auditoriums to the scandalous factory centers and unsanitized agricultural fields, or in other words, they’ve decided to develop political work among fractions of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie instead of industrial workers and agricultural laborers.
And fourth: the comrades think that university students are the main receptacle of the anticommunist positions put forward by the bourgeoisie and its ideological apparatus, including the academic centers. Therefore, the universities constitute the heart of the field of ideological battle in defense of MLM, socialism and communism.
Who is Raymond Lotta’s audience? It is noteworthy that the type of people attending the peroration is known in advance: “Today there are many people here who desire an alternative to this system; who want to dedicate their lives to doing something for the benefit of humanity.” So they are certain that in the audience there is no one who has been weighted down for years by hearing the dominant anticommunist discourse, and with whom, for sure, Lotta and the RCP are thought to have an “energetic debate.” From RL’s words one can deduce that the majority of those in attendance are or will be full-time political activists for the revolution, and are part of the same cause. That’s how it is, the project to argue and set things straight is a farse, because in the final analysis he’s talking only to convinced activists or, in the worst of all possible worlds, sympathizers of his ideological and political position. The idea, then, is to polemicize among people who share the same positions on the subjects being discussed or only to stimulate them to ask questions, which are but simple petitions for clarification (as occurred in the Facultad de Filosofía at UNAM).
An important omission. When RL says the first steps toward communism were the Russian and Chinese revolutions, he incredibly forgets to mention the Paris Commune (although later he refers to it in a certain pejorative sense: “They were the first steps, apart from the brief Paris Commune,” as if the brevity—two months’ duration—were sufficient reason to denigrate it), which also suffered a defeat and inspired the revolutionaries of the 20th century, starting with Lenin and continuing with Mao Zedong.
The serious problems begin precisely when RL puts forward the question “Why is it important to know the truth about the Russian and Chinese revolutions?” Because the “future of humanity” is at stake, certainly, without a doubt. But to demonstrate that capitalism is a “horror” he relies on facts such as the following: the deaths of 35 millions children every day, the three richest men in the US have more assets than the GDP of the 40 poorest countries, the eco-balance of the planet is in jeopardy, one in every eight African-Americans between the ages of 20 and 30 is in prison. But continuing along these lines of demonstration the list could be longer and more striking. In RL’s arguments exposing the horror of capitalism, there is no (and this is no mistake) reference to the terrible situation which the working class in the US and the rest of the world suffers: length of the working day, miserable wages, inhuman conditions of work, workplace accidents, forms of contracting labor, mass layoffs, working multiple jobs, increase in the industrial reserve army, ruthless competition among workers, productivity and behavior bonuses, disappearance of unions and other forms of workers’ organization, weakening of labor laws, under-employment, growth in the population dedicated to the informal economy, etc. The most hidden secret of the whole capitalist social edifice is left out: the relations of production based on wage labor; that is where the true horror of capitalism is found, and from which the others emanate.
The key to the system of capitalist exploitation is not the existence of poverty, injustice, racial-gender-religious discrimination, ecological debacles, or the concentration of wealth, although all are important problems, they are not, we reiterate, the essence for understanding and explaining the capitalist mode of production. The bourgeoisie can apply—at determined moments—political economies to diminish poverty, to reduce the breach between rich and poor, to reform the judicial system, etc. That is to say, to implement a capitalism with a human face with the goal of avoiding the aggravation of social contradictions, that is, the class struggle.
Let us remember, that in the 19th century some ‘socialist’ thinkers affirmed that capitalism regulated by the bourgeois state was the equivalent of a ‘state socialism.’ But the bourgeoisie and the state will never get rid of wage labor, the source of surplus-value and the basic condition for the system of exploitation, although they can moderate it by giving the appearance of employing precapitalist production relations.
How is it possible that a ‘Maoist political economist’ skips over Marx’s most elemental critique of political economy in Capital? In the Grundrisse, Marx affirms that capital is a relation and can only be a relation of production. One might think that only in this part of Lotta’s speech is there such an omission and that it would be immediately corrected, but that’s not how it is. This omission goes for the whole text. Therefore, we believe that this is a conscious position, an economist deviation.
In the definition that RL makes of communism, the description of the relations of production is done in a form which loses all relevance and, on the other hand, there is no commentary on the character of the productive forces characteristic of such a society. In good Lennonist language (from John Lennon) he says that we can imagine communism as a society where the “people know the world and consciously transform it… where the chains of tradition and ignorance are broken… where people work collectively to produce basic articles and also to utilize art, culture, science—and they enjoy doing it!... where the scientific point of view and the imagination reinforce each other… where there is unity and diversity, and there is broad debate and ideological struggle over the direction and development of society, but without class antagonisms… where human relations are based on mutual respect, love of humanity and a real interest in its well-being… where all classes and class differences will have been overcome; [where they will have] abolished all systems and relations of exploitation; done away with all social institutions of oppression and relations of social inequality (such as racial discrimination and the domination of women by men); and left behind all retrograde and oppressive values and ideas.”
A society with these characteristics, RL says, is communist. And we ask: Why is there not even one single reference to such important questions as the state, democracy, the ownership of the means of production, markets, money, wages, the division between mental and manual work, the division between city and countryside, or labor discipline? The silence of the grave. With a definition of this nature he is closer to the island of Utopia than to Russia and China. In other words, RL’s vision is more identified with Thomas Moore (who I have a profound respect for, but that doesn’t stop him from being an exponent of utopian or pre-Marxist socialism), than with Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Lenin and Mao Zedong.
RL’s diatribes reach the extreme of saying that “the proletariat is the class that emerges from the socialized productive forces of capitalist society.” In our day, in effect, capitalist society is characterized by a more socialized use of the productive forces, that is, the impressive development of productive forces requires a more complex division of labor. But seeing things that way, one might erroneously think that the proletariat is a social class that has just recently appeared in history, and that it is the product of the division of productive labor. RL’s words give rise to such an interpretation. However, in Capital, Marx dedicated the chapter on the primitive accumulation of capital to demonstrating how two fundamental (but not the only) classes arose with capitalism during the 16th century—a concept that he consolidated in the chapter on machinery and large-scale industry. The pseudo-explanation of RL throws overboard all Marxist study in order to tell us in six words that the proletariat “arises from the socialized productive forces.”
The development of the capitalist productive forces and their socialization is the result of the competition among capitalists to increase the level of exploitation of the workers’ labor power. One simply has to read the form in which Marx explains the origin of absolute, relative and extraordinary surplus value to understand why capital requires those two elements: development and socialization. I would add, concentration and centralization.
The proletariat, RL maintains, “represents the collective labor and forces that correspond to the socialized character of the productive forces.” No, mister “Maoist political economist.” This explanation is subjective, superficial and one-sided. The existence of the proletariat reminds us every minute, every hour and every day that the collective labor and forces in capitalist society develop through a relationship of exploitation of man by man: wage labor. The proletariat represents the class contracted (for a determined number of hours and a certain quantity of money, wage, for its lack of means of production and subsistence) to put the productive forces to work (which are the property of the capitalists, with the exception of the productive power of the worker, thus, the necessity of employing him) and carry out the productive process (relations of production systematically forgotten by RL).
Later RL lets loose a crucial question for the whole problematic put forward by the conference, What is Socialism? “socialism is a transition from capitalism to communism, to classless society.” Up to this point I agree with RL. “Under socialism the proletariat and its allies (which are the great majority of society) consciously transform the economic structures, social relations and ideas that perpetuate social class divisions. The creativity and initiative of those who have been at the bottom of society are unleashed. The socialist revolution establishes a new system of government: the dictatorship of the proletariat, which stops and controls the old exploiting classes and those looking to overturn the new system. This system gives the masses the right and ability to change the world, to participate in every aspect of society and be masters of society… The socialist revolution establishes a new economy based on the social ownership of the means of production and social planning; cooperation in solving problems and meeting social needs; and a whole set of completely new economic and social priorities. The dictatorship of the proletariat exercises dictatorship over the capitalists and supports a system that allows liberation from capitalism.” Here I have several problems to explain.
The first thing that stands out in this explanation—perhaps because it wasn’t considered necessary, or was considered obvious—is the omission of a discussion about how to get to socialism (that possibly needed a previous phase of people’s democratic revolution or new democracy). You need the triumph of a revolution led by the proletariat and its vanguard party that, in turn, is guided by a revolutionary theory based on Marxism.
Later we have two unpardonable omissions for a Maoist: one, there is not even a single reference to the type of State that is established under socialism. However, I think that RL agrees that a “system of government” is not the same as a State—if he does think that, then we have a major problem. And two, there is a total absence about the role of the proletarian party in the period of revolutionary transition.
The dictatorship of the proletariat does not “stop and control” its enemies, as RL states, rather it is a tool in the hands of the proletariat and its allies for unleashing a hard-fought class struggle against the counter-revolutionary classes, that desire the restoration of capitalism. But still more: the dictatorship of the proletariat has as its primary objective to create the conditions for its own extinction, through a simultaneous process that requires, among other things, the disappearance of all social classes.
If socialism is a period of transition between capitalism and communism, then we have the reproduction of the capitalist system, therefore, the State exists: proletariat, bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie, peasants, struggle among diverse classes, capital, wage labor. And therefore, exploitation, habits, traditions, bourgeois ideology, bourgeois legal norms, etc., all exist. In sum: there are material and cultural conditions (in the base and superstructure) that permit capitalist reproduction, which even in the first stages of socialism, are strong and refuse to disappear. All this, therefore, is what the proletariat in power needs to destroy and substitute with new communist elements, which for a period of time won’t exist or will be very few and weak. For this reason there is the danger of capitalist restoration. These concepts, however, are not there in RL’s discourse. He holds a pre-Marxist, or utopian, vision of socialism.
With these basic principles of utopian socialism Raymond Lotta sets out to “set the record straight” about the Russian and Chinese revolutions. But uh oh, look out, he’s now used up 30 minutes of the 90 that his intervention will last and he’ll still need to comment on the supposed contributions of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party of the USA, to the theory of communism.
Before beginning to analyze RL’s version (revision) of the history of the Russian Revolution, I also want to affirm that the synthesis made by RL of the nature of socialism is not that which guided Lenin when he went to battle in October 1917. It is enough to look through Letters from Afar, The April Theses, Resolutions of the VII National Conference of the RSDLP(B), The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, etc. Texts written before October 1917. The first measures implemented by the Soviet government were, in great measure, the result of the chaotic conditions in which the country found itself during four years of imperialist war and almost a year of revolution and, of course, of the class struggle unleashed by the proletariat and its allies, first, against its internal enemies, and, later, against its internal and external enemies.
“The events of February 1917 open the way for the October Revolution in Russia.” What were the ‘events’ of February? RL cites: “Large strikes and protests in what is today Saint Petersburg overthrew the Tsar and a liberal coalition took power.” Greater contempt for the revolutionary events of February is difficult to find, and worst is that it comes from a Maoist. The ‘events’ that occurred in the month of February and the first days of March were a Revolution, the first of two revolutions that developed in 1917. If we are not precise with the language that we use to designate great revolutionary accomplishments of the armed working masses, we soon won’t lack for people calling the October Revolution a simple ‘event.’ And it could even be someone from this side of the barricades.
The February Revolution carried out by the workers, soldiers, peasants and students ended the Romanov dynasty, which had ruled Russia since 1613.
Those insurrectionary masses that obtained an overwhelming victory created their organ of power: the Petrograd Soviet, where the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries had an immense majority (the Bolsheviks were a minority in the Soviet, almost insignificant). And these were the two tendencies charged with turning power over to a reduced group of members of the Provisional Committee of the Duma. Through this negotiation a provisional government emerged. This is where the central problem of the February Revolution was located. The treason committed by the Mensheviks and SRs let the victorious revolution made by the masses transfer the power taken from the monarchy into the hands of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist landlords.
But, “What was the situation before the revolution? The majority of the population lived in the countryside, where they still worked the land with wooden plows. Religion and superstition were rooted in daily life, and sowing the earth was governed by the holy days. Husbands beat their wives. Cities suffered great epidemics. Autocracy governed through an enormous network of spies, police and prisons. The dialects and cultures of ethnic groups were suppressed. That was ‘normality’ before the revolution, and it became more intolerable when Russia entered World War I and the peasants and workers were drafted by force.” Summing up: the situation in Russia before the revolution was characterized by peasants who worked with wooden plows, domination of religious ideas, domestic violence, sickness, repression, attacks on minority nationalities, forcible recruitment.
Incredible, but true. According to RL, there was no brutal exploitation of the working class in Russia (work days of over ten hours, meager wages, worse conditions for child and female labor, work accidents, prohibition against forming unions, violent strikes, combative marches, enflamed rallies, revolutionary propaganda, etc.), nor an extraordinary exploitation and oppression of peasants (concentration of land in large-scale ownership, expropriation of land from communities, extended reproduction of precapitalist forms of exploitation—feudal and Asiatic—combined with wage labor, expulsion of peasants to the cities where industry was growing, peasant rebellions, etc.), but also standing out by its absence in RL’s description, the illiteracy of the immense majority of the population, and generalized hunger and poverty.
With the explanation that RL gives us about the situation before the revolution, one gathers that the motives that unleashed the revolutionary fury in the cities and countryside were the existence of ‘epidemics,’ beaten women and ‘wooden plows.’ It’s true that the furious repression against workers and peasants, the attacks suffered by minority nationalities and the resistance of the workers of the city and countryside to the draft played an important role in the revolution. In the face of this exposition of the ‘Maoist political economist’ we can only say one thing: we are really surprised by the poor application of dialectical and historical materialism in analyzing a concrete situation, or worse still, the nonexistence of a Marxist analysis of a concrete situation at a concrete moment.
In October, the Bolsheviks led the insurrection of armed masses that overthrew the provisional government. It was the second revolution of 1917. The Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets, meeting from 25 to 27 October, approved (not ‘two resounding decrees’ as RL says), but three: to bring Russia out of the imperialist war, divide the land among the peasants, proclaim a new government led by Chairman Lenin, but under the control of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets. Certainly, the soviet government that arose from the October Revolution was a ‘workers and peasants’ government,’ and not exclusively of the workers. Even more resounding: it was not a dictatorship of the proletariat, but a “democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants” (Lenin’s words).
Raymond Lotta puts forward another incorrect explanation of the Russian Revolution: “Different from the other forces in Russian society, the Bolshevik Party was prepared to lead a mass uprising.” Where, how and when did the Bolsheviks acquire that revolutionary skill? There is no indication. It is taken as settled. The truth is otherwise and very different. When, in the middle of September 1917, Lenin came to the conclusion that the Bolshevik Party had to take state power, through an armed insurrection in Petrograd and Moscow (without setting a date), the Central Committee (CC) decided to participate in the Democratic Conference called by the Mensheviks and SRs to create a ‘Pre-Parliament,’ before which the government would be to a certain degree responsible. We can see then that at the end of September the Bolshevik Party began to walk two different paths. Still more: Lenin was in the minority in the CC and the Party. And still worse: Lenin was in Finland.
In this critical situation, Lenin made strong declarations against his close friends that, according to RL’s version, were already ready to lead the insurrection: “And there is not the least doubt that if the Bolsheviks had fallen into the trap of constitutionalist illusions, of ‘trusting’ in the Congress of Soviets, and in the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, in ‘waiting’ for the Congress of Soviets, etc.; there is no doubt that those Bolsheviks would be miserable traitors to the proletarian cause;” “the Bolsheviks would cover themselves with opprobrium forever and would have been reduced to nothing as a party. Because to let this moment pass and ‘wait’ for the Congress of Soviets is a complete idiocy or a complete betrayal;” and “In view of the fact that the Central Committee has even left unanswered the persistent demands I have been making... I am compelled to regard this as a ‘subtle’ hint... that I should keep my mouth shut, and as a proposal for me to retire. I am compelled to tender my resignation from the Central Committee, which I hereby do, reserving for myself freedom to campaign among the rank and file of the Party and at the Party Congress. For it is my profound conviction that if we ‘wait’ for the Congress of Soviets and let the present moment pass, we shall ruin the revolution.” (Lenin, “Heroes of Fraud and the Mistakes of the Bolsheviks” [Lenin Collected Works, 4th English ed., vol. 26, pp. 43-51], “From a Publicist’s Diary” [LCW 26:52-58], “The Crisis has Matured” [LCW 26:84]).
From October 10 Lenin, who had returned to Petrograd days before, made his position known and in a series of virulent discussions was again able to convince the majority of the CC and the Party to prepare the machinery of insurrection (without setting a date). Before the opposition of a minority to the insurrection, the topic of armed insurrection was again discussed the 16th of the same month, and it was approved by a majority. But still on October 24 there were doubts and hesitations in the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Military Committee. Lenin urged: “to delay the insurrection would definitely mean death.” The divisions, uncertainties and disorganization were held in check and the Party acted with perspicacity, decision and audacity. In two days of combat the revolution had triumphed. What type of preparation does RL talk about? The Bolsheviks lacked experience in organizing insurrections, just as they did governing.
Raymond Lotta jumps to another erroneous commentary on the period of the civil war. “The Bolsheviks took the reins of a war economy on the edge of ruin.” Thanks to the relatively basic truce reached with Germany (the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, which the “Maoist political economist” so committed to setting things straight forgot entirely—it was a fact that simply didn’t merit a single word), the workers’ and peasants’ government could debate and approve a program of general reorganization. The same as one finds in Lenin’s important work: The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government [LCW 27:235], which also passed unmentioned by RL. The immediate tasks could not be carried out because of the beginning of the internal counter-revolution and the invasion of the imperialist powers. This abrupt change forced the workers’ and peasants’ state to radically modify its policies to survive a new war. They found themselves forced to implement a set of provisional measures encapsulated in the name of ‘War Communism.’ Drastic measures that were applied from June 1918 to March 1921, when the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russia Soviets decreed the substitution of the requisitioning regime with the tax in kind. The policy of ‘War Communism’ allowed, however, the victory of the Red Army and the crushing defeat of the ‘Whites’ and their external allies. But still more: ‘War Communism’ put the worker-peasant alliance in imminent danger and, therefore, also the existence of the Soviet state, and consequently, the revolution (workers’ strikes, peasant uprisings, soldiers’ discontent that finally ended in the Kronstadt rebellion of February 1921). For these reasons, the democratic state of workers and peasants changed from ‘War Communism’ to the ‘New Economic Policy’ (NEP), after a tumultuous political struggle inside the Bolshevik Party and the workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets. And certainly, the New Economic Policy was not understood in its full dimensions by a great majority of Bolsheviks, including Stalin, and that’s why he sent it ‘to the devil’ in 1928 (to use Stalin’s words).
Well then, in the course of ‘War Communism’ and the worst possible conditions, the workers created, locally and transitionally, communist production relations: the communist Saturdays, where the workers worked extraordinary hours with no remuneration and achieved a growth in productivity. Wage labor was replaced by free and conscious labor by the railway workers. With the help of the state, Lenin affirmed, the sprouts of communism (created by the conscious masses) would continue being consolidated until the total victory of communism over capitalism. However, these new production relations soon disappeared because of the conditions existing at that time.
In the midst of the grueling civil war, the Third Communist International was formed (1919-1920), which constituted a milestone in the history of the revolution and the international communist movement.
But none, absolutely none, of all these complicated things were important for he who promised to speak of the ‘difficulties’ that the October Revolution faced.
At this point in the analysis, it’s essential to make a stop on the road and ask if RL’s exposition allows us to “know the truth” about the Russian Revolution. I believe he doesn’t deliver what he promises, he stays very, but very, far away from a serious, complete and objective interpretation. With this rickety theoretical baggage, to say the least, it is impossible to go out and decently “confront and refute” the dominant anti-communist distortions in North American and Mexican society. Why was Mexico chosen for the campaign of clarifications? Interesting question.
After that pause, I’ll continue confronting and refuting RL’s distortions of the October Revolution. I will take two or three more problems of the Russian Revolution and conclude.
Let’s see now what the communists did in power. RL mentions four things that, of course, we consider to be the most relevant to him: emancipating women, eliminating the oppression of ethnic groups, launching national education campaigns and promoting health. Again, what were the reasons that RL picked only these four aspects, when we have so many, including some more important from the perspective of laying the basis for building socialism? Let’s recall some, because the list is enormous (between 1917 and 1924): the decree on workers’ control, the declaration of the rights of working and exploited people, the creation of the higher council on national economy; the nationalization of all the banks, the creation of state capitalism under Soviet control, the expropriation of large industry, the land reform, the deep changes of the NEP, the nationalization of foreign commerce, proletarian democracy, fighting the capitalists and reactionary landlords, increasing productivity, fighting lack of discipline, the work code, the agreements with the production and consumption cooperatives.
“After the death of Lenin, in 1924, Joe Stalin took over the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Again, RL does not consider it pertinent to explain the struggle for succession. The process of consolidation of Stalin’s leadership (1922-1929) came through strong contradictions (which were dealt with using non-Marxist methods, let’s be clear: with excessive violence) with first Trotsky, then Zinoviev and Kamenev, and finally Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky. All of them were later killed by Stalin, except Tomsky who committed suicide in 1936 (obviously pressured by events inside the Party). On these purges, RL confesses: “I have to frankly say that deeper investigation is needed into what happened in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the ’30s.” But then immediately justifies the assassination of the old guard Bolsheviks with the “growing international tensions,” that is to say, external causes; there is no analysis of internal contradictions. Stalin and other leaders, RL continues, “didn’t know for sure if some regional leaders of the Party would comply with central directives.” But there’s the fact that Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov and others were not ‘regional leaders’ but historical leaders of the October Revolution.
RL does well to say that Stalin doubted that they would comply with central directives, because that was the method imposed by force by Stalin, there was no longer open, passionate discussion based on arguments to define the lines to follow, as in the era of Lenin. Now the general secretary demanded total compliance with the directives elaborated and imposed by him from on high. And by that simple fact they were a priori correct. Stalin replaced proletarian democracy with political totalitarianism. He finished off the worker-peasant alliance as the basis for the soviet democratic state and implanted the dictatorship over the working class of the countryside and city (in 1928, when he finally ‘sent the NEP to the devil,’ he also sent the Leninist NEP ‘to the devil,’ which was a system of class alliances meant to preserve the workers’ and peasants’ democratic dictatorship).
RL contends that Stalin “also couldn’t fully trust the high command of the army” because it had signed pacts with Germany. But here arises an obligatory question, Stalin wasn’t aware of the treaties signed by his officers with the military of other countries? Then what type of leader are we talking about. Stalin who controlled everything, according to RL’s explanation, the officers had a kind of ‘relative autonomy’ and could do dangerous things behind the back of their supreme leader. Incredible! Where is the dialectical and historical materialist analysis? It continues to stand out by its absence.
Summing up: according to RL Stalin didn’t trust the comrades of the CC, the high party and state leaders, the regional leaders, the high command of the army, and, for that reason, carried out the great purges. A method that, from whatever angle you want to see it, is totally and absolutely anti-Marxist. Stalin didn’t try to cure the disease to save the patient, with him you killed the patient. Or “dead dog, no rabies.” And that is a bourgeois method, with which we cannot agree.
RL adds: “Stalin fought to defend the revolution and wouldn’t allow the Soviet Union to step back to capitalism nor bend its knee to imperialism.” We can make a series of basic reflections on this declaration of RL: Stalin fought alone to defend the revolution? There were no other Communist Party leaders the revolution could depend on? How is it possible that the most outstanding figures in the state and party became traitors on the road of capitalism and imperialism? Why didn’t Stalin have faith in the masses either? Why didn’t he mobilize the masses to correct the problems of the state and party? Who did Stalin really rely on? I believe, definitively, that RL has an urgent task to carry out: get to seriously studying the Russian Revolution before going into the streets (sorry, the universities) to preach about setting things straight.
Now let’s deal with, en bloc, a series of ‘errors’ committed by Stalin, and recognized by RL. Four of Stalin’s ‘errors’ that RL mentions: 1) He began the collectivization of land before the peasants were ready for it. 2) He launched a campaign to increase “production and discipline in the factories, thinking the development of the productive forces would guarantee socialism.” On the other hand, he “put a brake on the social and cultural experimentation” of the ’20s and beginning of the ’30s, “the consolidation process was carried out in a form that reinforced traditional relations.” 3) He considered “the defense of the Soviet Union exactly the same” as the defense of the world revolution, that is to say, “he fomented patriotism in place of proletarian internationalism.” 4) “Instead of being guided by dialectical materialism, he tended toward mechanical materialism” committing “serious errors of method with negative consequences,” for example: “his analysis of the contradictions and struggles under socialism had errors.”
It is worth mentioning that Raymond Lotta’s position is dominant among Maoists, but that by no means means that it is correct. For more than 20 years we’ve heard the same words, not more nor less. There has not been one centimeter’s advance in the study of the theory and practice of Stalinism. The criticisms of Stalin stop at precisely this point, that is, at the recognition of a series of ‘errors’ including ‘grave errors’ with negative consequences, but there is no more. This position is the result of a mechanical analysis, not a Marxist one. To rest content with the detection of some ‘errors,’ without moving on to clarify what their sinister consequences were for the revolutionary process means stopping at the surface, stopping at one-sidedness, implying, at the end of the day, stopping at subjectivism. We’ve never been able to read, for example, what were the unfavorable effects for the revolution as a result of Stalin’s gross (in every sense of the word) vulgar evolutionism. Mao claims that vulgar or mechanical or metaphysical evolutionism is a bourgeois philosophical position. If Stalin was metaphysical and not dialectical, don’t we have there a very, but very, serious problem? Or are we going to say that he was just a bit (tended, comments RL) mechanical, or better still, that he was 60% dialectical and 40% metaphysical? To hell with trying to treat this problem dialectically. We need to throw ourselves in the rough seas of revolution to know how this bourgeois position impacted the construction of the Soviet Union. Socialism or social-capitalism?
RL accepts that in the ’30s, the process of accelerated industrialization was based on reinforcing ‘traditional relations’ and the inventive capacity of the masses was ‘sent to the devil’, this meant, then, the deepening and extension of wage relations of production, and consequently capitalist relations. The working class continued producing surplus value for those who were behind the state property of the means of production, who then appropriated it and distributed crumbs. People who were also interested in increasing surplus value through the socialization and development of the productive forces. That is, in this problem one also must go deep in the waters of economic construction to know what were the dominant production relations in the production process. And not to stay back singing the praises of super-accelerated industrialization and a supposed social property of the means of production.
At the end of the ’20s, the peasants were not prepared for the collective use of the land and instruments of labor, RL correctly states relying on Mao Zedong. Therefore, Stalin opted for the expediency of violence and the violence was not exclusively against the kulaks, but also against the middle and poor peasants, it was a generalized measure. The very idea of violence against the middle and poor peasants, insisted Lenin, was the most absurd thing for the worker-peasant alliance. The agricultural communes, when the moment would arrive to create them, declared Lenin, had to be based on the free initiative of the peasants, respecting their personal decisions, because acting violently would mean losing everything. Without a doubt, Stalin’s violence in the collectivization of land meant breaking the worker-peasant alliance and, in consequence, ‘losing everything.’ The pseudo-collectivization of the land was, in reality, an expropriation of the peasants who benefited from the land reform of the revolution. What then came from this process? And we’ll ask again, socialism or social-capitalism?
RL points out, correctly, that in the ’30s Stalin fomented patriotism in place of proletarian internationalism. You can call it an ‘error,’ but it was a position that was repeated time and again. Let’s remember that in 1922-23 Lenin unleashed a fierce political struggle against Stalin, based on the problem of ‘autonomization’ and on the deeds that occurred in Georgia. The importance of Lenin’s struggle on these questions had to do with the issues in play: the conflict between a proletarian internationalist line and a righist line tending to identify with Great Russian nationalism, despite Stalin being a Georgian. “I declare a war to the death against Russian chauvinism,” declared Lenin. For Lenin, Stalin was leading a movement inside the party with a clear tendency for authoritarian patriotism. He had acted as a Russian imperialist, and that was unacceptable. The ‘error’ of Stalin was present in 1922 (if not before) and of course was never corrected; on the contrary, we can say that he tended to consolidate this position. Does this not mean then that Stalin’s actions corresponded to a conscious and clear political line and not just a simple ‘error’? Again, let’s ask, what were the profound consequences of the Stalinist line of ‘true Russian nationalism’ in the party, on the national question, on proletarian internationalism and the world revolution?
So, Raymond Lotta and, together with him, many Maoists who accept the conception of the ‘errors committed by Stalin,’ interpret said ‘errors’ as blinders for a grand sunset. Stalin, in the final analysis, was a leader who made mistakes or ‘errors’ in the work of constructing socialism.
To finish. “After the death of Stalin in 1953, new bourgeois forces in the Communist Party maneuvered to take power. In 1956, Khrushchev took the reins, consolidated the power of a new capitalist class and led the systematic restructuring of state capitalism.” In other words, the capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union was due to a ‘coup d’etat’ carried out by the new general secretary of the Communist Party and revisionist comrades in league with him. Who can believe this pseudo-scientific explanation of capitalist restoration propagated by Raymond Lotta and company? Unfortunately, many Maoists. Here we also repeat, just because it is the most propagated/accepted theory does not make it correct.
The theory of the plot or coup d’etat is another of the great falsifications made by RL and company about the Russian Revolution. From 1936 on, Stalin had maintained that social classes did not exist in the Soviet Union, there were only three ‘friendly social groups:’ workers, peasants and intellectuals. In consequence, the class struggle had also disappeared. This conception was not a Marxist but a metaphysical explanation of existing reality. If the workers remained there was also a bourgeoisie: one cannot exist without the other, it is a basic principle of Marxist dialectics. Who did such a mechanical theory benefit? Where, how and when did the bourgeoisie form? Stalin didn’t notice the existence of the bourgeoisie? Or, worse still, he created, protected and consolidated that bourgeoisie? Where could this bourgeoisie be found? Without a doubt, the state had become the sole owner of capital, the state was the collective capitalist, to use a category deployed by Marx, and not the individuals, functionaries, specialists or cadres; only the capitalist class collectively owned and collectively appropriated the surplus value of the workers, through the intermediary of the state.
On the death of Stalin a raw power struggle was unleashed between different factions of the bureaucrat or state bourgeoisie, in which the faction headed by Khrushchev triumphed. The proletariat and all those “at the bottom” (“the masters of socialist society” that had the “right and capacity to change the world, to participate in every aspect of society,” according to the words and utopian socialist account of RL) witnessed this change at the top from afar, that is to say, they played no protagonist role in this class struggle for power. The state capitalist model constructed by Stalin was very little altered after his death, although there were some surface changes on the political and ideological level.
So, the insolently pretentious project of Raymond Lotta and company to set things straight, when not even they themselves have things straight, is a tremendously irresponsible and massive political fraud. To this metaphysical interpretation of the October Revolution, one can only say, What Fools!
To close his analysis of the Russian Revolution with a golden seal, in the “Soviet Revolution in Perspective” section, Raymond Lotta reaffirms his idealist historical outlook without blushing: “Great revolutionary leaders with vision and scientific methodology sum up the lessons, deepen the knowledge and forge new solutions to the challenge of creating a classless world.” For our distinguished “Maoist political economist,” the great men converted to “revolutionary leaders” are the makers of history. They, and only they, have a “vision and scientific methodology,” can synthesize “the lessons,” generate and “deepen knowledge,” in short, they and only they are blessed with finding “new solutions” to the complicated problems of building a communist world. Where, then, do the broad popular masses fit into the process of revolutionary transformation of society? What place does the class conscious proletariat occupy in the revolution? What purpose does the vanguard party armed with its Marxist-Leninist-Maoist theory serve then? What sense is there in building instruments for the revolution? RL has a resounding response to these questions: the people need a visionary, a savior, a God to lead them to the earthly paradise. The masses (men and women) do not intervene in the development of history, they play, at the most, a secondary role.
What is the difference between Raymond Lotta, Livy, Saint Augustine, Machiavelli, Vico, Hegel or Comte? Nothing. All are historians equipped with an idealist vision and methodology. For them, the strongest and most gifted men are the makers of history, that is, the heroes, those elected as instruments for high, divine purposes.
In RL’s idealist conception, the action of the working class and its allies against the bloc led by the bourgeoisie is roundly rejected. In its place appears a mythic personality gifted principally with intellectual power: the hero with “vision and scientific methodology,” etc. With this interpretation of history, the revolutionary theory of the proletariat is subjugated. This is a profoundly reactionary position that has nothing to do with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. For the crusade to get out the truth about the revolutionary experiences of the proletariat and combat the fake explanations of the bourgeoisie about the same, history is presented as the realization of ideas and not the objective product of class struggles.
With this idealist explanation of history, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong (and those not listed) are converted into real gods of the proletariat, to light candles, burn incense and pray rosaries to so they will bestow the miracle of building a classless society. The metaphysical or mechanical conception of history that RL argues for is not new in Marxism. This comes from some time back. It was Stalin, in reality, who imposed it as the hegemonic version in the USSR and in the international communist movement in the Thirties, although the fundamental ideas arose in the second half of the Twenties. For that reason, Marxism-Leninism became a state religion in the Soviet Union and its bloc. Marxism and Leninism ceased being a revolutionary theory in the service of the proletariat for analyzing and transforming reality with the purpose of getting to communism.
In sum, Raymond Lotta is a Stalinist and not a Marxist, is an idealist and not a dialectical materialist, is a positivist and not a historical materialist. Can the revolutionary project of the proletariat be defended and the bourgeoisie protecting the capitalist system of exploitation be fought using these theoretical weapons? The answer is simple: No, impossible. You will either end up confusing the masses further or openly defending, by other means, those you say you are fighting.
Now let’s move on to Raymond Lotta’s analysis of the Chinese Revolution. Despite there being only 20 minutes left in the talk. So then, in twenty minutes we will hear his explanation of the Chinese Revolution, the lessons of the Cultural Revolution, and the “contribution” of Bob Avakian to the theory of socialism and communism. However, I want to make one thing clear: the main problem with RL’s intervention is not of a quantitative character (length of the talk) but qualitative (the conception of the subjects broached).
Raymond Lotta asks “why was there a revolution in China?” The response to this question is one more demonstration of RL’s subjective and partial analysis. The revolution happened because the majority of the people were peasants who worked other people’s lands, lived under the boot of the landlord, lived through hardships, in years of scarcity they ate leaves and had to sell their children; women were beaten by their husbands; there were arranged marriages; low economic growth; women workers were locked inside textile factories; people lived in crowded hovels; millions were addicted to opium, etc. In other words, economic backwardness, exploitation, oppression, poverty and drug addiction gave rise to the Chinese Revolution. RL only distinguishes the elements that make up the objective factors of the revolution. Where were the subjective factors of the revolution? It’s impossible to find an answer to this question. Revolutionary Marxism teaches us, however, that the existence and dialectical combination of subjective and objective factors are necessary to make a revolution. For RL, the presence of a proletariat with class consciousness and organized in a vanguard party equipped with the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism, the construction of a guiding thought or path or revolutionary theory that leads the movement to victory, the concrete analysis of the concrete situation, the class alliances led by the proletariat and its party, propaganda campaigns, the creation of necessary instruments of revolution (people’s army, national united front, etc.), are not indispensable causes for unfolding the revolutionary process of the Chinese people. The existence of objective conditions are enough. If this were true, things already would have changed in the world a long time ago.
“On October 1, 1949 Mao Zedong spoke to millions of people gathered in the capital’s Tiananmen Square, after leading 20 years of armed struggle to overthrow the big oppressor landlords and kick out the foreign imperialists.” In this form, RL presents the triumph of the Chinese Revolution. What a capacity for synthesis! Or better put, what a quality of not saying anything substantial.
With a few words Raymond Lotta wiped out the struggles, experiences and contributions of the protracted revolution led by the Communist Party of China guided by Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. There is total silence on the participation of the communists in the Guomindang, the right deviation of Chen Duxiu, the rightist errors of Stalin and the International, Stalin’s alliances with Chiang Kaishek’s Guomindang, the murder of thousands of workers across China, the left errors of Qu Qiubai, the formation of the Red Army, the creation of liberated zones, the left deviation of Li Lisan, Wang Ming’s left opportunist line, Mao Zedong’s theoretical elaborations, the rise of the tendency led by Mao Zedong to leadership of the party, the dispute between Mao Zedong and Zhang Guotao, the Long March, the establishment of the base of operations in Yan’an, the struggle against Japanese imperialism, the formation of the national united front, the defeat of Japan, the intervention of the United States in China, the military victory of the People’s Liberation Army over the Nationalist Army, among other events that occurred between 1924 and 1949. Surely, those attending the university conferences were experts on the Chinese communist movement and, therefore, didn’t need to know anything about the four periods of the revolution.
In the section “Revolution Conquers Power,” made up of five paragraphs, he also consciously forgets to refer to the role of the communist party, the people’s army and the united front. There is not a single allusion to the “three instruments of revolution.” Without which, certainly, the Chinese proletariat and peasants would never have gained victory over their domestic (comprador bourgeoisie, feudals, landlords, Guomindang, warlords, some factions of the national bourgeoisie, etc.) and foreign (principally Japanese and U.S. imperialism) class enemies. On the contrary, the name of Mao Zedong appears five times in only two of the five paragraphs.
Raymond Lotta sets things straight, his idealist conception of history makes sense when concretely analyzed. For RL, Mao Zedong made history, revolution and the People’s Republic of China. While “Mao Zedong… after leading 20 years of armed struggle to overthrow” the enemies of the people spoke and warned of the problems of the future, the “millions of people gathered in Tiananmen Square” celebrated and cheered without seeing any further than that moment. The “crowd” listened, unworried, unthinking, unacting. The “crowd” awaited the correct line from the “revolutionary leader with vision and scientific methodology.” RL sets aside that the “crowd” was made up of “millions” of workers, peasants and petty bourgeois with arms in hand that had just gained the greatest military and political victory of the proletariat over its internal and external class enemies, but also, that they were committed to carry through the democratic revolution to its final consequences of transitioning to socialism and communism.
Then Raymond Lotta claims: “For Mao, the revolution didn’t end there. It entered a new stage of socialist transformation of the economy.” From these two assertions we can take several important elements for the analysis of the Chinese Revolution: First, what was the character of the victorious revolution of 1949? RL gives no response to this question. New democratic or socialist revolution? RL remains silent. Undoubtedly, the victorious revolution was a people’s democratic, not a socialist, revolution.
Second. Nine months after the victory of the Chinese people, Mao declared: “in the old liberated areas (with a population of approximately 160 million), agrarian reform has been completed, public order has been established, the work of economic construction has started on the right track, the life of most of the working people has improved, and the problem of unemployed workers and intellectuals has been solved (as in the Northeast) or is nearing solution (as in North China and Shantung Province). In particular, planned economic construction has begun in the Northeast. On the other hand, in the new liberated areas (with a population of approximately 310 million), since liberation occurred only a few months ago, or half a year or one year ago, the more than 400,000 bandits scattered in remote regions have yet to be wiped out, the land problem has not been solved, industry and commerce have not been properly readjusted, unemployment has remained serious, and public order has not been established. In a word, the conditions for carrying out planned economic construction are still lacking.” (“Fight for a Fundamental Turn for the Better in the Nation's Financial and Economic Situation” [Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Volume V (Peking: FLP, 1977), pp. 28-29.] For these reasons, Mao Zedong claimed the revolutionary work of the people had not yet culminated. And clearer still: “Our state system, the people's democratic dictatorship, is a powerful weapon for safeguarding the fruits of victory of the people’s revolution and for thwarting the plots of domestic and foreign enemies for restoration...” (“The Chinese People Have Stood Up!” [Ibid., p. 17.]).
These positions of the supreme leader of the communist party had their antecedent in two texts written by him years before: On New Democracy (1940) and On Coalition Government (1945). I consider it necessary to make some references to the text On New Democracy: the Chinese revolution had to “go through two stages, first, the democratic revolution, and second, the socialist revolution, and by their very nature they are two different revolutionary processes.” [Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Volume 2, pp. 341-2.] Therefore, “the Chinese revolution in this first stage (with its many sub-stages) is a new type of bourgeois-democratic revolution and is not yet itself a proletarian-socialist revolution in its social character... The first step or stage in our revolution is definitely not, and cannot be, the establishment of a capitalist society under the dictatorship of the Chinese bourgeoisie, but will result in the establishment of a new-democratic society under the joint dicatatorship of all the revolutionary classes of China headed by the Chinese proletariat. The revolution will then be carried forward to the second stage, in which a socialist society will be established in China.” [SW, vol. 2, p. 347.] On the economic terrain, the state had to be the owner of the “big banks and the big industrial and commercial enterprises.” [SW, vol. 2, p. 353.] However, the republic would not confiscate the “capitalist private property in general nor forbid the development of such capitalist production as does not ‘dominate the livelihood of the people.’” [Ibid.] Likewise, measures would be adopted “to confiscate the land of the landlords and distribute it to those peasants having little or no land,” applying the principle of “land to the tiller.” [Ibid.]
Third. The statement of Raymond Lotta contravenes the Maoism of the first years of the victorious revolution. Let’s remember that RL claims that the revolution “Entered a new stage of the socialist transformation of the economy,” words that are a sincere show of vulgar rhetoric. He presents no argument to demonstrate his asseveration. Why speak of a new stage of the socialist development of the economy? What had been the stage prior to socialist transformation? In effect, the “revolution immediately proposed changing the situation,” as RL says, but in a people’s democratic direction, not a socialist one. Notwithstanding the preceding, when RL analyzes the Cultural Revolution, he gets to the bottom of the lie: “In 1949, the worker-peasant revolution overthrew the government. It established a socialist political and economic system that gave power to the masses and generated much improvement.”
In June 1950, commenting on the immediate tasks of the revolution, Mao Zedong was striking: “The view held by certain people that it is possible to eliminate capitalism and realize socialism at an early date is wrong, it does not tally with our national conditions.” (“Fight for a Fundamental Turn for the Better in the Nation’s Financial and Economic Situation” [SW, vol. 5, p. 30.] It was necessary to fight with capitalism then. In other words, it meant carrying forward the agrarian reform, helping the poor peasants, preserving the economy of the rich peasant, securing economic and financial control, consolidating the budget balance, readjusting taxes, gradually eliminating the economic anarchy provoked by the war, readjusting industry and commerce, bettering relations between public and private sectors and between labor and capital. Democratic methods installed at the national level that, among other things, would permit helping the “intellectual and unemployed workers” and bettering relations with the “national bourgeoisie” (“Don’t Hit Out in All Directions” [Ibid., especially p. 34.]).
Still more, at the end of June 1950, Mao Zedong insisted: “This is how our country steadily advances; it has passed through the war and is undergoing new-democratic reforms, and in the future it will enter the new era of socialism unhurriedly and with proper arrangements when our economy and culture are flourishing, when conditions are ripe and when the transition has been fully considered and endorsed by the whole nation.” Driving it home: the moment for passing over to socialism “is still quite far off.” (“Be a True Revolutionary” [Ibid., p. 39.]).
For Raymond Lotta the revolution “established a new power: a form of dictatorship of the proletariat. It gave the workers and peasants the authority to start governing society and put down the old and new exploiters.” However, Mao was very precise: “The government will exercise the people’s democratic dictatorship in the whole Chinese territory.” Joint dictatorship of all revolutionary classes represented by the people’s parties and organizations, the people’s army, the diverse nationalities and democratic personalities. In 1949, the communist party didn’t establish a “form of dictatorship of the proletariat” but a “people’s democratic dictatorship” of workers and peasants with the goal of “building a new independent, democratic, peaceful, unified, prosperous and powerful China” (words of Mao Zedong). To what extent will the subjectivism of RL go, who asserts that the leaders of the party who were Mao’s enemies put forward the end of the revolution and the task of “building a modern and powerful China.”
But let’s get to the bottom of the issue. And for that let’s open a debate with multiple implications (which requires going back to the October Revolution, taking up the implicit risk of presenting a synthesized vision of the positions in conflict).
Despite all prior declarations on the democratic revolution, Mao Zedong started to proclaim in his text “Fight for a Fundamental Turn for the Better in the Nation’s Financial and Economic Situation” that “under the leadership of the socialist state sector” all the sectors of the economy should function in coordinated form. [SW, vol. 5, p. 30.] Therefore, Mao adopted a Stalinist thesis, which roundly negated Leninism. For Stalin equally as for Mao the state economy was a synonym for socialist economy.
In the first place, Lenin had put forward in the days before the October Revolution that, given the objective and subjective conditions existing in Russia, it was impossible to install socialism; therefore, it was necessary to move toward a transition, which would consist of several phases or epochs. On this route, the gradual implanting of state capitalism under the leadership of a “revolutionary democratic state” of workers and peasants “represented inevitably, infallibly, a step, steps toward socialism!” Measures such as the agrarian reform, the creation of state and collective granaries, obligatory work, piecework, labor discipline, the eight-hour workday, workers’ control, the nationalization of the banks and other capitalist consortiums, the construction of large enterprises controlled by the Soviet state or of mixed state, private and social (cooperative) capital, the reactivation of small and medium-sized enterprises, the broadening of education, the regulation of circulation and consumption, and the abolition of the commercial secrets, represented “a giant step toward socialism, a step after which it would be impossible, always and as long as a broad democracy is maintained, to return to capitalism without recourse to an unprecedented violence against the masses” (Letters from Afar, “April Theses” [The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution], The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the RSDLP(B), The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, The Bolsheviks Will Stay in Power). He continued to defend this thesis after the revolution and even went deeper into it and developed the general strategy of reconstruction approved by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets (The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government).
Moreover, when the Soviet people gained victory over the internal counter-revolution and the intervention of the imperialist powers, the radical and tactical measures of war communism were replaced by the New Economic Policy, which was, in substantial measure, a return to the line put forward in the texts cited above. In the Eleventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party (B)—March and April 1922—the Central Committee proclaimed: “Now we set ourselves the tasks of building the foundations of the socialist economy. Has this been accomplished? No, it has not been accomplished. We still don’t have a socialist base. The communists who imagine that we have one are totally mistaken.” A clearer statement would be impossible. Lenin considered the New Economic Policy as a general strategy that implied a contradictory combination of economic, political, social and cultural measures, whose principal objectives were, on the one hand, to consolidate the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat through a system of class alliances, where the peasants were the principal ally of the working class and, on the other, to gradually advance in building the foundations of the transition to socialism. After four and a half years of revolutionary power, the foundations of socialism had not been built, much less the complete edifice or a part of it.
In the second place, the road of Lenin was not the same as that of Stalin. The terms of the 11th Bolshevik Congress were drastically altered in the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) and we refer to this book because in the rest of Stalin’s works we do not find even one commentary on the decisions of the 11th Congress: “Lenin said that NEP meant a life and death struggle between capitalism and Socialism. ‘Who will win?’—that was the question. In order that we might win, the bond between the working class and the peasantry, between Socialist industry and peasant agriculture, had to be made secure by developing the exchange of goods between town and country to the utmost.” [English edition, p. 260, italics by MR.] In this fundamental work of the Stalinist ideological formation the existence of a socialist sector in large-scale industry is recognized, leaving outside of its analysis medium and small-scale industry and the rest of the economy (which, we suppose following Stalin’s argument, was capitalist). Now then, what is put forward in the History of the Communist Party as “socialist industry,” was nothing other than what Lenin was describing as state capitalism under the control and leadership of the workers’ and peasants’ power. The great confusion and mistake of Stalin lay in considering state capitalism (in large-scale industry, but, above all, in process of formation) as a socialist sector of industry (fully consolidated).
Several years earlier, Lenin, following Engels (From Utopian Socialism to Scientific Socialism), had warned against the error that state capitalism could be called “state socialism;” neither was state capitalism under worker and peasant control socialism, as we have insisted, rather it was a step towards socialism (State and Revolution). A necessary measure for laying the foundation for socialism.
However, Stalin’s position became dominant in the party, the state, the working class, the peasantry and, of course, in the Communist International in the second half of the ’20s.
A clear and striking example: Two years after Lenin died, Stalin presented the following central committee report to the 14th Bolshevik Congress (December 1925): “Our system of economy exhibits a certain diversity, it contains no less than five forms. There is one form of economy that is almost on the level of natural economy: the peasant farms that produce very little for the market. There is a second form of economy, the commodity production form—the peasant farms which produce chiefly for the market. There is a third form of economy—private capitalism, which is not dead, which has revived and will continue to revive, within certain limits, as long as we have NEP. The fourth form of economy is state capitalism, i.e., the capitalism that we have permitted and are able to control and restrict in the way the proletarian state wishes. Lastly, there is the fifth form—socialist industry, i.e., our state industry, in which production does not involve two antagonistic classes—the proletariat and the bourgeoisie—but only one class—the proletariat.” [J. Stalin, Works, vol. 7, pp. 310-311, emphasis added.] From this point on there is practically no text of Stalin’s that does not repeat and develop the thesis on the socialist character of state enterprises. Therefore, according to Stalin, complete socialism was established when the NEP was set aside, the campaign of accelerated industrialization was launched, the land collectivized, the means of production concentrated in the hands of the state, central planning established. In other words, Stalin set up state capitalism with bourgeois leadership through an accelerated process of primitive capital accumulation and capital accumulation proper. Therefore, the process of concentration and centralization of capital in the hands of the state meant the expropriation, exploitation, oppression and unheard of violence against the working masses in the city and the countryside.
Two things about Stalin’s text. First, Stalin corrected Lenin from the right. We see what Lenin put forward: “Nor, I think, has any communist denied that the term Socialist Soviet Republic implies the determination of Soviet power to achieve the transition to socialism, and not that the new economic system is recognized as a socialist order. But what does the word ‘transition’ mean? Does it not mean, as applied to the economy, that the present system contains elements, particles, fragments of both capitalism and socialism? Everyone will admit that it does. But all who admit this take the trouble to consider what elements actually constitute the various socio-economic structures that exist in Russia at the present time. And this is the crux of the question. Let us enumerate the elements: 1) patriarchal, i.e., to a considerable extent natural, peasant farming; 2) small commodity production (this includes the majority of those peasants who sell their grain); 3) private capitalism; 4) state capitalism; 5) socialism… It is not state capitalism that is at war with socialism, but the petty bourgeoisie plus private capitalism fighting together against both state capitalism and socialism… The workers hold state power and have every legal opportunity of ‘taking’ the whole thousand [referring to Lenin’s numeric example omitted here—Ed.], without giving up a single kopek, except for socialist purposes. This legal opportunity, which rests upon the actual transition of power to the workers, is an element of socialism… In the first place, economically, state capitalism is immeasurably superior to our present economic system. In the second place, there is nothing terrible in it for Soviet power, for the Soviet state is a state in which the power of the workers and the poor is assured.” (“‘Left-Wing’ Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality”, [Lenin Collected Works, 4th English ed., vol. 27, pp. 335-9, italics by Lenin and by MR]).
Second. Stalin’s text is a true compendium of liberalism, mechanicism and idealism: for Stalin capitalism (private and state) had to die when the NEP was sent the to devil, consequently, it couldn’t change into something different, namely socialism. Capitalism was going to disappear by decree. However, Stalin did not consider small mercantile production as a capitalist element (with production primarily destined for the market), petty bourgeois, that generated capitalist relations. On the other hand it was not correct, from the Marxist and Leninist standpoint, to make social classes, class struggle and the exploitation of wage labor vanish in the state enterprises. Just as it was also incorrect to liquidate capitalism in the process of socialist transition. If socialism is a period of transition between capitalism and communism, it is evident that capitalism would continue in existence after the end of the NEP. “One cannot exist without the other,” that is to say, the proletariat can’t exist without the bourgeoisie and communism cannot exist without capitalism in socialism. Stalin would make vanish one of the elements of the contradiction, when the contradiction had not disappeared. Stalin simply did not understand dialectics, he did not understand the identity and struggle between the aspects of a contradiction.
In 1950, Mao Zedong fell into Stalin’s error. The state sector of the economy was considered socialist, in the context of new democratic revolution, that is to say, of controlled reproduction of pre-capitalist and capitalist societies by the people’s democratic state, at the same time as the conditions for transition to socialism were being created. And where the step to socialism would arrive in “a distant future.”
The construction of a new democratic society in China that, when the right moment arrived, would become socialist and communist, couldn’t depend on “loans or aid from imperialism” in general nor from Soviet imperialism in particular. In effect, Soviet imperialism, sooner rather than later, found the right mechanisms for installing its state capitalist or false socialist model without regard for the objective, subjective and historic conditions of the Chinese people. An important clarification. At that time, the Soviet-Stalinist model was recognized by the Chinese and all other countries as a socialist model. Mao would take charge of demonstrating the capitalist and imperialist character of the Soviet social formation, before the decade of the ’50s would end. In this form, China was incorporated in the imperial orbit of the Soviet Union. It passed from the hands of some imperialists into the hands of others. The proletarian revolution was done for this?
Despite the enormous accomplishments gained in the first years of economic, political, social and cultural reconstruction, inside the Communist Party of China a debate was begun over what road to follow. A group of leaders led by Peng Dehuai was in favor of continuing with the Soviet, that is, Stalinist model (although Raymond Lotta doesn’t recognize it as such, because he speaks of the “Soviet model of development” in the abstract he doesn’t dare to characterize it or demonstrate how it forms a socialist model) same as already identified by: rapid industrialization, concentration and centralization of resources in large and modern factories, introduction of advanced technology, development of urban centers, leaving agriculture and the countryside on the second level, leaving centralized planning to experts, forming a vast army of specialists to administer the state apparatus, motivating workers with material incentives and salary differences, suppressing the initiative and conscious capacity of the masses. Also, RL forgets to mention the political, ideological and cultural elements that complemented the Soviet model of capitalist development, for example: the bourgeois character of the state apparatus, the dictatorship of the secretary-general through the Party and the state, the cult of personality, the predominance of authoritarianism and anti-democratism, the violent repression of any form of dissent, the religious conception of Marxism-Leninism as a way of negating the revolutionary content of Marxism-Leninism, elitist education, bourgeois methods of teaching and learning, the predominance of metaphysical philosophy, and the positivist interpretation of history. Therefore, the group of leaders identified with the Soviets and their model were partisans of a capitalist road.
Another group of leaders led by Mao Zedong began to distance itself and criticize in more and more forceful terms the Soviet-Stalinist model and it’s Chinese replica. The group went further than a simple recognition of the “errors of the model put into practice in the Soviet Union and also in China in the ’50s,” as RL puts it. For Mao and his followers it wasn’t a matter of finding the “errors in the model” to correct them, but of building a different road to socialism. Nor was it a matter of pursuing a different form of “social and economic development,” but of raising a new society as a whole. They were followers of a revolutionary line for building socialism on the communist road.
In the second half of the decade of the ’50s, the most important political dilemma was posed for the Communist Party of China: capitalist development dependent on the USSR or autonomous march to socialism. The contradiction between Mao Zedong’s line and the line of the Soviet bourgeoisie rapidly became antagonistic, and in effect, did not take long to give rise to the violent rupture between the two countries, which directly led to the division of the International Communist Movement.
To transform China into a “powerful socialist country,” in April 1956 Mao Zedong proposed a 180 degree turn with regard to the Soviet model: a 10-point general strategy, On the Ten Major Relationships. The ten relationships or contradictions were: the relationship of heavy industry with light industry and agriculture, between coastal industry and the industry in the interior, between economic construction and building national defense, between the state, the production units and the producers, between central and local authorities, between the Han and minority nationalities, between the Communist Party and the non-communist parties, between revolution and counter-revolution, between correct and mistaken ideas, and between China and the rest of the world. In the midst of a bloody class struggle, the break with the false socialist Soviet model and with the USSR was begun.
With the 1958 Great Leap Forward the zigzag process of transition to socialism and communism in China was reoriented. In general terms I agree with the text on the Great Leap Forward and the people’s communes presented by RL. But I disagree on the terrain of its historical meaning. Why? RL claims that from 1949 “a socialist political and economic system was founded.” Before he had modestly claimed that China “entered a new stage of socialist transformation of the economy.” When did this great leap occur in Chinese society? It’s unknown, because RL doesn’t give explanations for these insignificant(?) qualitative changes. Or we should understand that a “new stage of socialist transformation of the economy” means that same as “a socialist political and economic system was founded.” In brief, RL claims that China was socialist. That is what is important.
On the contrary, I formulate the following explanation. If the victorious revolution of 1949 was new democratic or people’s democratic, the first years were utilized to generalize the system of new democracy throughout the country (it had begun to be built in the areas controlled by the party after setting up in Yan’an, and unfolding the struggle against Japanese imperialism). When this task had been carried out, the Soviets maneuvered to impose their Stalinist model with the consent of the Chinese communists, who thought that said model was really socialist. The establishment of the Soviet model required time, it couldn’t be carried out overnight even as accelerated and hard as the process of implanting it was. This meant that the new democratic revolution was oriented toward state capitalism subordinated to the Soviets and not toward socialism. Before this process could be consolidated, the group of Maoist leaders initiated their break and passed rapidly to fighting this tendency of social and historic development. In 1956, Mao launched the general line of the Ten Great Relationships. In deeds, the process of building and consolidating dependent state capitalism was stopped and redirected toward new democracy in transit to socialism. In other words, rearranging things to build the foundations of socialism.
The general line of the ten major relationships (implemented from top to bottom and from below upward) was immediate accompanied by the formation of the people’s communes (implemented from top to bottom and from below upward), above all with this last measure wind was given to the first wave of communist transformation with the goal of going over to the socialist revolution, in the midst of unleashing a class struggle for power (where the Soviets supported their partisans). That is to say, the Maoist group took advantage of its hegemony in political power to unleash the Great Leap Forward and set up socialism as a period of transition between capitalism and communism.
This process, however, could not be consolidated because of the savage criticism of the capitalist roaders, backed by their Soviet partners and the governments of the western imperialist countries. Curiously, both coincided in condemning the Maoist line of the Great Leap Forward. Almost all the measures of the Great Leap Forward were put in the sights of the capitalist roaders, especially the people’s communes, which began to be dismantled or changed into something else (Mao was replaced in the presidency of the Republic by Liu Shaoqi, but preserved a small majority in the Central Committee and the party chairmanship).
In this context the rupture with the Soviet Union occurred in 1960. “In reprisal,” as RL puts forward, “the Soviets cut aid, pulled back their aids, carried off the plans for half-constructed industrial plants and left a heavy load of debt.” All ordered by Khrushchev, the new representative of the Soviet bureaucratic bourgeoisie. That aggravated difficulties, not just economic (as RL always simplifies) but also political, social, cultural and educational. The next step was the division of the international communist movement.
Between 1956 and 1966 the maneuvering for power or the two-line struggle reached a frenetic rhythm. None could establish predominance in the exercise of political power for a long time and thus their project of historical and social development. The principal contradiction inside the Communist Party was: either move toward socialism as a transition period to communism or retreat toward complete capitalist restoration (in the form of state capitalism). The future of the regime was not yet assured. It’s worth repeating a fundamental clarification: socialism is a period of transition between capitalism and communism, which on one side means the existence and more and more limited reproduction of capitalism, and on the other side the beginning and development of communism. The period of transition comprehends various stages in its march forward or backward. The socialist transition ends when the new is imposed on the old, that is, communism is consolidated and capitalism disappears, or vice versa, when capitalism wins and the communist elements are dissolved. In the socialist transition, the class struggle between the followers of the proletarian revolution and the bourgeois counterrevolution to win and keep state power decides everything.
In this complex situation, where the struggle between Mao’s followers and their opponents took the form of repeated offensive and counter-offensives, the moment of a decisive engagement had arrived. In 1966, the struggle against Peng Cheng, mayor of Beijing and member of the permanent committee of the politburo, who also was one of the figures most representative of the group whose opposition to Mao Zedong’s politics had become more and more insistent, was unleashed. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) had taken flight.
I agree with, in general terms, RL’s commentaries on the content of the GPCR. But I disagree on some questions I consider fundamental. RL says “In the mid-’60s, those capitalist roaders… were maneuvering to seize power. They wanted to reinstall the systems of exploitation.” One, the followers of the capitalist road were fighting to impose their definitive hegemony since the period of the “Great Leap Forward.” Their strength and presence in the State and the party had grown during the years preceding the GPCR, to the extent that they could apply their own political line and oppose, attenuate, obstruct and sabotage the application of Mao’s politics. Said opposition was not publicly expressed with all clarity. Mao’s adversaries did not present themselves as such, on the contrary, they declared themselves his partisans. This is what the Chinese called “opposing the red flag by flying the red flag.”
Two. How to reestablish what has not been destroyed? We insist, the capitalist system does not disappear when the revolution enters its socialist phase. Capitalism continues reproducing itself in the economic, political, legal, social, cultural, educational, and ideological structures. But that reproduction is controlled and directed by the existence of worker and peasant power (revolutionary class alliance led by the proletariat). At the same time the communist elements begin to come forward, a formative process that comes from the top down (at the initiative of the state and accepted by the working masses) or from the bottom up (on the initiative of the masses and accepted by the state and the party). Thus, the capitalist “systems of exploitation” (production relations based on wage-labor) existed at the moment the GPCR was launched, and were even dominant. But also dominant were factory despotism, material incentives, salary differences depending on individual abilities, one-man management of production units, bureaucratized institutions, the new state bourgeoisie, bourgeois practices in the party, bourgeois education at all levels, elitist universities, bourgeois teaching methods, capitalist and pre-capitalist customs, the difference between city and countryside, the contradiction between mental and manual labor, differences between men and women, old forms of art and culture, the supremacy of authoritarianism and anti-democratic attitudes, etc. All these elements made up the capitalist system controlled by the people’s democratic state. For that reason, the GPCR reached all levels of society. It was not unleashed exclusively in the ideological superstructure.
What was the Cultural Revolution? In my opinion, it was the second wave unleashed by the people’s democratic state and the conscious masses to push forward the generation and consolidation of communist elements (the first, as we saw, had been with the formation of the people’s communes, and was a more limited experience). The Cultural Revolution developed, like never before, including the Russian Revolution, the socialist stage. It is the main experience of the proletariat with the goal of systematically bombarding capitalism on the one hand, and on the other broadly and strikingly constructing a communist system. The class struggle between the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary lines had never reached such extremes of confrontation. For almost 10 years, the proletariat and its allies led by the Communist Party and its Marxist-Leninist-Maoist theory (without a doubt, between 1956 and 1976, the class struggle at the national and international levels let Maoism go from guiding thought to third epoch in the development of Marxism) maintained the initiative in creating and consolidating communist elements.
In 1976 the capitalist-roaders succeeded in overthrowing the proletarian power (a process that needs to be deeply studied, so as not to fall into the trap of subjective explanations: coup d’etat). The regressive transition was begun. The socialist transition suffered a process of historical involution toward the complete restoration of the capitalist mode of production and the elimination of the communist elements. The bourgeoisie obtained a decisive victory over the proletariat. After 30 years it is still in power (and will be for longer, because unfortunately there are not objective and subjective conditions for a new proletarian revolution).
Finally, to finish off his peroration, Raymond Lotta made a declaration inconceivable in a Maoist and, especially, in one who took on the task of going out to combat the “calumnies and superficial conclusions and promote a true analysis” about the historical accomplishments of the communist revolution: “Were errors committed during the Cultural Revolution? Yes, and sometimes serious ones. But in the context of great achievements, and in comparison with the horrors of capitalist society, those problems were secondary.” RL bid farewell to his audience demonstrating that he doesn’t understand dialectical materialism. Even his teacher Stalin would have got up to protest such reasoning with his classic expression: Success makes us dizzy. Adding that as RL only distinguishes the “great achievements” of the GPCR, the only thing he demonstrates is a dangerous and damaging “animated state” that, therefore, it is necessary to do away with that animated state (emphasis is Stalin’s).
In effect, RL’s logic on the faults of the Cultural Revolution is unacceptable from the point of view of Marxism: in light of the striking triumphs obtained over the reaction and the horrors of capitalism, why worry about the insignificant errors. RL’s error consists in not situating the deep meaning of the “quite serious” errors that were committed during the Cultural Revolution that were the main cause of the defeat of the proletarian road. RL doesn’t understand Mao’s words: “If a man wants to succeed in his work, that is, to achieve the anticipated results, he must bring his ideas into correspondence with the laws of the objective external world; if they do not correspond, he will fail in his practice. After he fails, he draws his lessons, corrects his ideas to make them correspond to the laws of the external world, and can thus turn failure into success; this is what is meant by ‘failure is the mother of success’ and ‘a fall into the pit, a gain in your wit’.” [“On Practice”, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, vol. 1, pp. 296-7.] The grave errors committed during the GPCR cannot be converted into a secondary problem or totally forgotten. On the contrary, they should be the central preoccupation of a proletarian analysis, because from the errors we learn more, always so that we don’t commit the same errors.
Raymond Lotta’s last words were dedicated to presenting the “vibrant vision” of Bob Avakian on socialism and communism. But if Bob Avakian “has cleared new ground in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” as RL puts forward, I can only say that I see pure utopian socialism and nothing more. But as it is incorrect and irresponsible to discuss the work of one author based on a brief commentary by another author, it is better to end my critical reflections with RL’s text-conference. Reflections that try to untangle some of the revolutionary experiences of the proletariat, on the long and winding road toward building a communist world.
The initiative of Raymond Lotta and company, following the arguments presented in his conference, to make known the truth about the historical achievements of the communist revolution, is an insult to all the comrades who struggle for a better world from the barricades of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. In fact, rather than help to set things straight, his senseless declarations contribute to obscuring, distorting and even creating real confusion. But that is not all, the confusion serves to articulate a rightist line within Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
[This completes the English translation of of this entire polemic. —Ed.]
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