An excellent suggestion was made by the Indian Comrade Chandan Debnath to begin preparing the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution with international discussions of what Bolshevism is and what we do to foster it today. In line, we hope, with this suggestion we offer a contribution occasioned by a split in the American section (Socialist Alternative, or Soc.Alt.) of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), with the aim of addressing theoretical and practical deviations from and violations of Bolshevist program and organizational principles. In any case, this is a treatment of the CWI we had promised our readers some time ago, and now it is even more timely with the split of their Mobile, Alabama branch members.
After the CWI’s international leadership squeezed Bruce Wallace out of their U.K. mothership for defending the Marxist theory of Capitalist Crises and emphasizing the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall as the principal cause of the 2008 economic collapse, the Soc. Alt. National Executive Committee, with blessings from the Taffe leadership in the U.K., roped Soc. Alt.’s members into an all-in reformist campaign for Bernie Sanders without consulting the party base or even the National Committee. We fault Wallace for not finding a correlation between the basic theoretical departure from Marx and the programmatic consequences of such departures for the class struggle in the U.K. (“Does the ‘minority’ critique of the CWI leadership position on the causes of the crisis get to the roots of its empiricist method?“). We fault the Sawant leadership of Soc. Alt. for erecting a Menshevik barrier to Bolshevism in their electoral tactic of 2016, a wholesale exercise in miseducation of hardworking youth who deserve better, who deserve training in Bolshevik-Leninism. Among other things strict adherence to Fourth International Statutes, but also and in the first place a dialectical understanding of democratic centralism. These are far from fetishes. They are historic conquests of application of the Marxist method to the organizational question, and are not something alien in relation to the party program. Consider how the Mensheviks were on the one hand for a Manichean movement and on the other hand trying to shut Lenin up. This is how our modern day Mensheviks act in their organizations, in public forums and on the streets.
Lenin in 1906 faced the same unity-mongering-muzzling from Menshevik reformist champions of the liberal Kadet party…:
“We have more than once already enunciated our theoretical views on the importance of discipline and on how this concept is to be understood in the party of the working class. We defined it as: unity of action, freedom of discussion and criticism. Only such discipline is worthy of the democratic party of the advanced class. The strength of the working class lies in organisation. Unless the masses are organised, the proletariat is nothing. Organised—it is everything. Organisation means unity of action, unity in practical operations. But every action is valuable, of course, only because and insofar as it serves to push things forward and not backward, insofar as it serves to unite the proletariat ideologically, to elevate, and not degrade, corrupt or weaken it. Organisation not based on principle is meaningless, and in practice converts the workers into a miserable appendage of the bourgeoisie in power. Therefore, the proletariat does not recognise unity of action without freedom to discuss and criticise. Therefore, class-conscious workers must never forget that serious violations of principle occur which make the severance of all organisational relations imperative.” – “Party Discipline and the Fight Against the Pro-Cadet Social-Democrats”, Lenin, 1906
“The principle of democratic centralism and autonomy for local Party organisations implies universal and full freedom to criticise, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action; it rules out all criticism which disrupts or makes difficult the unity of an action decided on by the Party. “ – “Freedom to Criticise and Unity of Action,” Lenin, 1906
The present revolt may seem to place its weight on the foot of high-handed bureaucratic misuse of the membership, but in the letter of resignation by Albert Terry we see some critique of class-collaboration and of pandering uncritically to class enemy ideologues in identity politics movements. Terry sees what others refuse to. He sees forces in intersectionalism who have no aims in common with fighters for socialism, and sees Soc. Alt. adapting to and tailing them. We see “objectivism” running wild in Soc. Alt. in his account, and now with their endorsement of Jill Stein, they have gone over whole hog into bourgeois electoral politics, with the excuse that behind her they are defending all women with a ‘political alternative.’
As a member of the Committee for a Workers International, Soc. Alt. is the American reincarnation of the Labor Militant Tendency. Soc. Alt. burst on the national scene with the campaign of Kshama Sawant in Seattle running for city council as a “socialist” who actually fights in the streets for social change rather than depending on the capitalist parties and capitalist state to implement “change” that favors the working class. The big contribution of Sawant, they tell us, is that they won $15 per hour for workers in a referendum and helped build the movement nationwide, pressuring the SEIU to support this campaign. Nowhere in the Soc. Alt. press do you find talk of a true living wage based on true local costs. Rather their one size fits all $15 minimum (where it will be implemented at various times in the future, Seattle in 2017, in NY state in 2018, in SF 2018, in all California by 2022, etc.) does not account for the inflation which has occurred since the FF$15 campaign opened in 2012, nor does it account for the actual cost of living in many of the major cities where it is being campaigned for. In cities like SF, NYC, Oakland, Seattle, etc., $15 is by any stretch a poverty wage. At best it is a living wage in tent cities and refugee camps!
Soc Alt’s offered the working class and the young militants attracted to their apparent militancy their red shirts and growing national prestige among the Left Forum, Green Party and World Social Forum types, and an organization in which to militate. Over the last two years their reformism became more apparent, first through the fawning over the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and then endorsing the capitalist Green Party. So it is a healthy sign for the workers movement that ruptures are developing in the organization!
It is the intention of this letter/article to attract militant youth and workers to the pages of the historic program of the working class torn out and discarded by opportunists like Taaffe and his American protege Sawant in their misguided, non-dialectical method which seeks to influence the “left” wing of the labor bureaucracy. Like others before them (Alan Woods of the International Marxist Tendency, ex-SWP leader Frank Lovell, Alan Benjamin of Socialist Organizer, etc.) who believe that with concerted effort the labor bureaucracy could be pressured ‘just to lift its little finger’ and the labor party of the future would be birthed and the road to the transition to socialism would be cleared. Their dream is for a parliamentary/legislative transition to socialism incrementally, starting with FF$15 and (what?!) eventually achieving a living wage. For some this path runs through Constitutional Amendments substituting for political independence and the armed self-activity of the workers movement alongside their specially-oppressed allies.
Militant students and workers attracted to Soc Alt. in the wake of the Occupy upsurge have had a lesson in popular front politics, the tying of the working class to a liberal wing of the capitalist ruling class and the suppression of a working class political program, in the form of the Movement for Bernie. This abandons the political independence of the working class under the guise of “Trotskyism,” denaturing and slandering the revolutionary essence of Trotskyism by association and in the same breath. This is not even at the level of classic Bernstein social democracy, which at least had their own independent working class party in the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany.)
If the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election does nothing else the socialists making their mark on the political moment must advance how to win decent jobs for all at living wages, how to stop imperialist wars, how to arrest the environmental crisis. If a socialist group does not do this with a socialist program it is not socialist.
Rather than raising minimum demands like FF$15, in the aftermath of the election, socialists must raise the demand for the shorter work week with no reduction in pay, 30 hours work for 40 hours pay as a transitional demand which exposes the nature of the social contradiction between social production and private accumulation. And make it clear that a decent social wage cannot be won legislatively but can only be extracted from the bosses in class struggle, through building militant unions and a fighting workers/labor party which establishes a workers government.
Not one of the objectivist tendencies on the ‘left’ understands how “Jobs For All” is integral to fighting special oppression. Where objectivists want you to fight for “democratically elected” police review boards, real Marxists view this as a worse than useless repetition of an idea that jerked the Civil Rights movement around in the Lindsey “fun City” era. Instead we see class battles from the perspective of the shop floor, where the battle against racism and sexism should begin. This is ‘where the meat is.’ This is where the union bureaucracy will not stand with the rank-and-file. This is where we will not accept exclusion of any minority or sex from employment and where we fight ‘last hired first fired’, where we fight sexist promotion practices and unwanted intimacies. This is where we fight the anti-homosexual behaviors, speech and retributions of the bosses, who are the ultimate source of these assaults on the unity of the working class. Soc. Alt. gets this all wrong. So does the Freedom Socialist Party, as do any number of others. The method of the Transitional Program never does cross their minds.
You would never guess that there exist historic conquests of the working class or that we live in the continuing era of wars and revolutions. Not from Soc.Alt.’s bed jumping from the Bernie Sanders campaign to the Stein candidacy in the last election. And certainly not from any faith in any revolutionary potential of the present day working class. All of Sanders’ Shepherd dogs, including Soc. Alt., betrayed the workers to the Democrats in a bloc with the liberal likes of Michael Moore and Glenn Greenwald (see Class Warrior, Vol. 2, No. 1, “Election that Never Was: Votes We’ll Never Cast”.) For the ‘objectivists’ opportunism is not a real concern. The fiftieth anniversary of the rise of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense for them is only an occasion to recall that the Panthers raised the demand for Community Control of the Police. This was actually a contradiction in the program of that party, but it was relatively blameless in the historical context of the role they played organizing trained and armed Black self-defense and the lack of experience with and reflection upon the dead-end materializations of this demand. When the Panthers raised this demand they called for community control of the hiring and firing of the cops. We are supposed to learn from history, but opportunists tell you ‘none of that, now.’ We say the police are not workers but gunsels for Capital, and their violence against the oppressed is the policy of our class enemy. Therefore, the police should be driven from the workers’ movement and the labor federations. We salute the African-American and Latina/o caucuses of SEIU Local 721 and the resolution of U.A.W. Local 2865! We support the formation of labor, black and brown self-defense guards for the protection of the communities of the oppressed and to defend labor actions against state terror.
The C.W.I. internationally would have you believe they are Bolsheviks and at the same time tell you that police are workers! Their party in South Africa has squirmed every day for the four years since the Marikana miners were slaughtered by the ANC government’s police. Soc. Alt. likewise says police are workers. This while claiming to support Black Lives Matter but in action attacking Outside Agitators 206.
Rather than tail-ending a “Democratic Socialist” who took no stand against imperialism, consider how Obama has used assassination-by-drone bombing more indiscriminately than Bush. Then consider Bernie’s statements that he would use this tactic ‘more selectively’ against U.S. imperialism’s enemies than Obama. How democratic of him. How is this socialist? We know about the kind of elected socialists who pursue imperialist wars.
Internationalists, socialists and communists must use the election outcome as a platform to expose the structures of imperialism, the dominance and decline of U.S. imperialism, the role of its bloc with the EU imperialists and the flash points developing around the globe as the national democratic revolution is suppressed and squabbled over in a scramble for resources, markets and geo-strategic control by the emerging China/Russia imperialist bloc (witness Duterte’s wobbles between the blocs.)
Where is the program for expropriation of the expropriators advanced by those who claim to be socialists? Instead they take the opportunity of the election campaign to win a handful of disgruntled liberals to their ranks. But truth be told, why are we supposed to believe this is Bolshevism?
Where is Soc. Alt. going? (And where are YOU going?!)
Whether the membership of Soc. Alt. recognizes it or not the leadership has gone into bourgeois politics with both feet. Now we are told that the problem is not what the Democratic Party IS (!) but only “corporate backed politicians.” What this means is that the leaders have adopted the position of the liberal democrats and not merely adapted to them, and belated cries that the result signals the doom of lesser evilism does not cover up the Soc. Alt. leaderships crime against socialism. Like the liberal democrats they are telling you there was a qualitative difference between Clinton and Trump and not just the particularities of a loose cannon playboy blowhard vs. a Wall Street spin master. Theirs is a plan to go for Bernie AGAIN in 2020! If you realize you’ve been had, and that the Green Party is also a bourgeois party and that the Stein campaign could never have any lasting powers of mobilization, being a bourgeois electoral apparatus only, then you know there is no plausible case for concluding that socialists within the Green Party are advancing society toward socialism. So we say don’t be stuck with no workable programmatic conclusions you can use on the street ala Bruce Wallace. Make a complete break from the Taffeite reformist dead-end. Join the Communist Workers Group!