How the Communist Party of Australia exposes the Democratic Socialist Party's 'Trotskyism'
The Activist - Volume 10, No 7, August 2000
By Doug Lorimer
[This article first appeared in the Democratic Socialist Party's internal discussion bulletin, The Activist, volume 10, number 7, August 2000.]
The Communist Party of Australia has recently published a pamphlet by David Matters entitled Putting Lenin's Clothes on Trotskyism which claims that the DSP's rejection of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution is really a cover for its support for Trotskyism. However, the real purpose of the pamphlet is to criticise the DSP's position on the 1998 waterfront dispute.
This is made clear in the introduction to Matters' pamphlet by CPA general secretary Peter Symon:
“In writing Putting Lenin's clothes on Trotskyism, David Matters has contributed to the task of clarifying ideas and maintaining the validity and truth of Marxism...
The attack on Marxism in the name of Marx, or on Lenin in the name of Lenin, is a particularly pernicious form which can easily mislead those who are not familiar with what Marx, Engels and Lenin actually said and wrote.
The pretension that Trotsky was a great Leninist is one of these misrepresentations and was refuted time and again by Lenin.
Trotsky's followers today in Australia continue this misrepresentation. The distortion of Leninism is no more obvious than in their attitude to trade unions. They echo the views of Trotsky on this question, views that Lenin severely criticised in the early days after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. The same divisive actions and views as were expressed by Trotsky, found expression during the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) dispute, as David Matter's [sic] booklet recalls.
The MUA dispute and the DSP's `divisive views'
Matters is unable to cite any examples of "divisive actions" engaged in by the DSP during the MUA dispute. Instead, he focuses his attack on the "divisive views" of the DSP, i.e., its criticisms of the role of the Laborite Australian Council of Trade Unions-MUA leadership -- of their strategy of relying on the courts rather than the direct action of workers.
Matters quotes the following passages from the introduction by DSP National Committee member James Vassilopoulos to the DSP pamphlet MUA here to stay! (published during the dispute):
“While we hear words of support from the ALP for the maritime workers, there is no way they will support national strikes, or organise a people's movement against the Coalition.
Now is not the time for words but action. What is needed is for unions and the ACTU to mobilise, to demonstrate and to strike, in order to defeat the Liberals' attacks.
Faced with Patrick's assault on the MUA, the Democratic Socialist Party demands that the ACTU launch an immediate industrial campaign by the whole of the trade union movement, that it involve bans and limitations on operations crucial to the functioning of the Howard government, Lang Corporation and the National Farmers Federation, while causing as little inconvenience as possible to the community and be run by mass meetings of union delegates.”(1)
Instead of clearly explaining what he finds wrong with these passages, Matters goes on to quote some paragraphs from a document written in 1938 by the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, and then begins a polemic against a caricature of what Vassilopoulos wrote. While Vassilopoulos called upon the ACTU to "launch an immediate industrial campaign by the whole trade union movement, that" would "involve bans and limitations on operations crucial to the functioning of the Howard government, Lang Corporation and the National Farmers Federation, while causing as little inconvenience as possible to the community", Matters implies that the DSP advocated a "political general strike". Readers are then treated to a lecture on the conditions necessary for effective utilisation of such a form of struggle:
The use of the political general strike requires careful planning and preparation, a high degree of consciousness among the working people and a well-organised vanguard. The Democratic Socialist Party pamphlet recalls the struggle against anti-trade union legislation when, in 1968 [sic], Clarrie O'Shea, a trade union leader, was jailed under this legislation [O'Shea was actually sent to jail on May 15, 1969 -- DL].
Many trade unions had taken protest action over a period of years against the legislation. The jailing of Clarrie O'Shea was a virtual "last straw". Labor Councils called for action and stoppages erupted across Australia. Workers walked off jobs demanding the release of Clarrie O'Shea from jail and that the penal powers legislation be repealed. These events were a high point in the movement but would not have occurred without years of campaigning and the political leadership of communists and a widespread unity on the issue involving the whole labour movement. Many unions led by officials who were members of the ALP immediately joined the action and had been part of the long campaigning.
In the article written by James Vassilopoulos that recalls this dispute and calls on today's trade union movement to emulate this dispute, there is no analysis or understanding of the differences between 1968 [sic] and today. It is used as a means to attack the leadership of the MUA and the ACTU. There is no talk about unifying forces opposed to the employers' attacks.
Matters obviously assumes that his readers -- members and sympathisers of the CPA -- will not have read the DSP pamphlet he polemicises against. Otherwise, he would not have felt so confident in making the above cited accusations. In the article in the pamphlet on the "Lessons of the `Free Clarrie O'Shea' campaign", Vassilopoulos wrote:
The lessons of 1969 are clear. The unions had a clear strategy to defy the unjust laws and were not prepared to just cop them. There was consistent mobilisation of members over at least a two-year period, which changed the balance of forces between worker and capitalist.
When the tramways union was attacked, other unions supported it. Facing the power of solidarity, the government could not victimise or crush the union.
Pat Clancy, NSW secretary of the Building Workers Industrial Union and a leader of the Communist Party, explained later: "Planning and strategy of action against penal powers [needed to include] stepping up the ideological campaign to explain the anti-democratic nature of these laws. The important thing was to develop a struggle against these laws on every occasion they were used. Tactics needed to start from the basis that united action was essential, that circumstances required a more militant and forthright confrontation."
Unions didn't accept the lie that the arbitration commission is a "neutral umpire", as seems to be the consensus these days. Clancy explains that "penal laws were a logical development of the system of compulsory arbitration, which itself was a denial of democracy. Compulsory arbitration is a pernicious system designed to tie the unions to the capitalist state."
Such a strategy is again needed to defeat the secondary boycott laws. Union officials may have to be prepared to go to jail and take measures to protect union funds and assets from the state. Unions must stand with other unions facing attack and be prepared to take united industrial action. If this is not done, workers will face some serious defeats.(3)
What Matters really objects to about the DSP's approach to the MUA dispute is only hinted at in his pamphlet, i.e., that it criticised the rotten deal the Laborite MUA-ACTU leadership negotiated with Patrick's boss Chris Corrigan to end the dispute. The outcome of the dispute was well-summarised in an article in Green Left Weekly by Bob Carnegie, a branch organiser with the south Queensland branch of the MUA until July 1998 and former Queensland president of the Maritime Union Socialist Activities Association (MUSAA). Carnegie wrote:
For the MUA to have survived such a ferocious attack was a victory for workers everywhere. It was, however, an extremely short-lived one: what was won on the picket lines has been handed over at the negotiating table.
It is hard to generate solidarity if your team has a trade-off mentality. The cost of this dispute cannot be measured by dollars and cents or how many union members the MUA can't recruit.
This dispute claimed the jobs of 700 permanent workers, add another 500 if you take the redundancies at Patrick's rival, P&O, into account. Casualisation in the industry is now rampant and, amongst the workers I've spoken to, there's a certain despair in the way they see the industry heading.
Corrigan has created the atmosphere he wants for his business and he's now the toast of the town. Since the dispute, the share price of Patrick's parent firm, Lang Corp, has risen a staggering 800%.
On the union side, the dispute has shown that the strategy that "The union can't do this and that, because of the laws" is a strategy doomed to failure. It is a strategy which creates an enormous gap between the leadership and the membership. Danger does not pass by by burying your head in the sand or counting on the election of a Labor government.(4)
Matters says absolutely nothing about the course and outcome of the MUA dispute. His coyness is understandable: the CPA went along uncritically with the Laborite MUA-ACTU leadership's strategy and endorsed the deal with Corrigan that has led to the outcome described by Carnegie.
In a July 1998 article in the CPA's paper The Guardian, Peter Symon tried to justify the CPA's support for the MUA-Patrick's deal with some limp arguments about it being the "best in the circumstances". But as the DSP's Dick Nichols pointed out in a response to Symon's arguments in the August 5, 1998 Green Left Weekly:
Even if you believe that there was no industrial alternative to accepting the deal, any party calling itself communist should, at a minimum, have told the wharfies the truth: "This deal stinks, but we can't fight on because our fair-weather ACTU and ALP leaders will desert us".
The CPA's tone is the exact opposite: "The CPA cherishes its unity with the MUA membership and leadership which reflects our aim to build the unity of the working class in its struggle against capital". (Emphasis added.)
But the MUA leadership has no political perspective other than trailing behind the ALP, and the ranks are divided, angry and confused... All the standard CPA noise about "unity of the working class in its struggle against capital" means zero when its practice is to bloc with a leadership that is trapped in Labor's embrace.(5)
This is what lies behind Matters' pamphlet -- an attempt by the CPA to justify its opportunist "unity" at-all-costs orientation toward the ALP leaderships of unions like the MUA and the ALP- dominated ACTU leadership.
Lenin and Trotsky on trade unions
Matters seeks to counter any criticism of this opportunist orientation by presenting the DSP's approach to the Laborite trade-union leaderships as "echoing" the anti-union campaigns of the employers: "By leveling vicious attacks on the Labor Party in its entirety, union `bureaucrats', meaning every trade union leader, and the ACTU in its entirety, the DSP, in effect, echoes the campaigns of the employers."
He tries to show that the DSP's approach to the Laborite trade union officialdom is contrary to the approach that Lenin advocated toward the trade unions and is a continuation of Trotsky's mistaken position during the 1921 debate in the Russian Communist Party over the role of the trade unions in Soviet Russia. Thus he writes:
At the time of Lenin's death, Trotsky was actively engaged in factional opposition to Leninist policies in the party. It was on the question of the role of the trade unions in Soviet Russia and their relationship to working class rule that Trotsky came out in opposition to Lenin...
Trotsky had written a pamphlet called The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions and was severely taken to task by Lenin. This debate remains of considerable interest because the views put forward by Trotsky at that time remain the attitude of Trotskyist organisations towards the trade unions today.
Commenting on Trotsky's pamphlet Lenin in December 1920 said: "I am amazed at the number of theoretical mistakes and glaring blunders it contains". (Lenin Collected Works Vol 32 p 19)
Lenin went on, "Trade unions are not just historically necessary; they are historically inevitable as an organisation of the industrial proletariat and, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, embrace nearly the whole of it. This is basic, but Comrade Trotsky keeps forgetting it; he neither appreciates it nor makes it his point of departure, all this while dealing with The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions, a subject of infinite compass.
"It follows from what I have said that the trade unions have an extremely important part to play at every step of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But what is their part? ... On the one hand, the trade unions, which take in all industrial workers, are an organisation of the ruling, dominant, governing class... But it is not a state organisation; nor is it one designed for coercion, but for education. It is an organisation designed to draw in and to train; it is, in fact, a school: a school of administration, a school of economic management, a school of communism... Within the system of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the trade unions stand ... between the Party and the government. In the transition to socialism the dictatorship of the proletariat is inevitable, but it is not exercised by an organisation which takes in all industrial workers. Why not? ... What happens is that the Party ... absorbs the vanguard of the proletariat and this vanguard exercises the dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship cannot be exercised or the functions of government performed without a foundation such as the trade unions ... the trade unions are a link between the vanguard and the masses, and by their daily work bring conviction to the masses, the masses of the class which alone is capable of taking us from capitalism to communism. On the other hand, the trade unions are a `reservior' of state power." (Ibid p 20)
In concluding what was a very important discussion, Lenin said: "The net result is that there are a number of theoretical mistakes in Trotsky's and Bukharin's theses: they contain a number of things that are wrong in principle. Comrade Trotsky's `theses' are politically harmful. The sum and substance of his policy is bureaucratic harassment of the trade unions. Our Party Congress will, I am sure, condemn and reject it." (Ibid p 41-42) The Congress did resoundingly reject Trotsky's ideas.
Lenin's criticisms of Trotsky's 1921 positions on the role and tasks of the trade unions in the Soviet workers' state were certainly correct. But readers who had to rely solely on Matters' pamphlet for information about the 1921 debate would be at a complete loss to understand why, since he never bothers to inform his readers what the issues in dispute were. Here is a brief summary of the Trotsky-Bukharin position given by E.H. Carr in his three-volume work The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923:
The Trotsky-Bukharin programme ... called for "the transformation of the trade unions into production unions, not only in name, but in substance and method of work". The party programme of 1919 had provided for a concentration in the hands of the trade unions "of the whole administration of the whole national economy considered as a single economic entity". But this presupposed "the planned transformation of the unions into apparatuses of the workers' state"... The Trotsky-Bukharin programme possessed a high degree of logical consistency. But the underlying assumption that the industrial worker could have no interests distinguishable from those of the Soviet state as a whole, and therefore [did not require] protection from independent trade unions ... had little foundation in fact -- if only because the existing state rested on a running compromise between the industrial worker and the peasant...(6)
Lenin captured the essence of what was wrong with the Trotsky- Bukharin position in his December 1920 speech "The Trade Unions, the Present Situation and Trotsky's Mistakes" when he noted that Trotsky "seems to say that in a workers' state it is not the business of the trade unions to stand up for the material and spiritual interests of the working class... The whole point is that it is not quite a workers' state... For one thing, ours is not actually a workers' state but a workers' and peasants' state... [Moreover] ours is a workers' state with a bureaucratic twist to it... We now have a state under which it is the business of the massively organised proletariat to protect itself, while we, for our part, must use these workers' organisations to protect the workers from their state, and to get them to protect our state."(7)
The reason why Matters does not bother to inform his readers as to the actual issues in dispute during the 1921 trade union debate is because that would expose his complete intellectual dishonesty and shabbiness in attempting to claim that the DSP's approach to the social-democratic-led trade unions in capitalist Australia is the same as Trotsky's position in 1921 on the role of the Marxist-led trade unions in a workers' state. Here's how Matters makes the "connection":
In another document of which Lorimer speaks highly, the Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, written in 1938 almost 20 years after his debate with Lenin, Trotsky's mistakes towards the trade unions continue. He had, apparently, learnt nothing from the sharp debate with Lenin years before:
"... the Fourth International resolutely rejects and condemns trade union fetishism. equally characteristic of trade unions and syndicalists", wrote Trotsky.
"(a) Trade unions do not offer, and, in line with their task, composition, and manner of recruiting membership, cannot offer, a finished revolutionary program; in consequence, they cannot replace the party. The building of national revolutionary parties as sections of the Fourth International is the central task of the transitional epoch.
"(b) Trade unions, even the most powerful, embrace no more than 20 to 25 per cent of the working class, and, at that, predominantly the more skilled and better-paid layers. The more oppressed majority of the working class is drawn only episodically into the struggle, during the period of exceptional upsurges in the labor movement. During such moments it is necessary to create organisations ad hoc, embracing the whole fighting mass: strike committees, factory committees, and, finally, soviets (my Italics -- DM)
"(c) As organisations expressive of the top layers of the proletariat, trade unions, as witnessed in all past historical experience, including the fresh experience of the anarcho- syndicalist unions in Spain, developed powerful tendencies toward compromise with the bourgeois-democratic regime. In periods of acute class struggle, the leading bodies of the trade unions aims to become masters of the mass movement in order to render it harmless. This is already occurring during the period of simple strikes, especially in the case of the mass sit-down strikes, which shake the principle of bourgeois property. In time of war or revolution, when the bourgeoisie is plunged into exceptional difficulties, trade union leaders usually become bourgeois ministers.
"Therefore, the sections of the Fourth International should always strive not only to renew the top leadership of the trade unions, boldly and resolutely in critical moments advancing new militant leaders in place of routine functionaries and careerists; but also to create in all possible instances independent militant organisations corresponding more closely to the tasks of mass struggle against bourgeois society, and, if necessary, not flinching even in the face of a direct break with the conservative apparatus of the trade unions" (my italics -- DM) (Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution 1977 edition p 117-118)
This position of Trotsky's and his followers can only be described as bureaucratic bullying from below. If they do not get their way or do not approve of leaders chosen by workers they reserve the right to split the trade unions and cause disunity in the working class by establishing networks outside and even opposed to the trade unions.
Matters conveniently does not quote the paragraph that immediately precedes those he cites, which set the passages opposing "trade union fetishism" in context:
“The Bolshevik-Leninist stands in the front-line trenches of all kinds of struggles, even when they involve only the most modest material interests or democratic rights of the working class. He takes active part in mass trade unions for the purpose of strengthening them and raising their spirit of militancy. He fights uncompromisingly against any attempts to subordinate the unions to the bourgeois state and bind the proletariat to "compulsory arbitration" and every other form of police guardianship -- not only fascist but also "democratic". Only on the basis of such work within the trade unions is successful struggle possible against the reformists, including those of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Sectarian attempts to build or preserve small "revolutionary" unions, as a second edition of the party, signify in actuality the renouncing of the struggle for leadership of the working class. It is necessary to establish this firm rule: self-isolation of the capitulationist variety from mass trade unions, which is tantamount to a betrayal of the revolution, is incompatible with membership in the Fourth International.(9)
Matters claims that the above highlighted passages from Trotsky's 1938 Transitional Program outlining how Marxists should relate to the trade unions in capitalist countries are a continuation of his 1921 positions on the role of the trade unions in a workers' state, and as such are contrary to Lenin's approach to the trade unions. Let us see if Matters is right: here are some extracts from a document reflecting Lenin's views on the Communist approach to the trade unions in capitalist countries. They are taken from the resolution on "The Trade-Union Movement, Factory Committees and the Third International" adopted by the 2nd congress of the Communist International in Moscow in August 1920:
“The trade unions were created by the working class during the period of peaceful development of capitalism as organizations through which the workers struggled to increase the value of their labour on the labour markert and improve working conditions. The revolutionary Marxists attempted to use their ideological influence to link the unions with the political part of the proletariat, with Social Democracy, in a joint struggle for socialism. During the war [i.e., World War I -- DL] most of the trade unions proved to be part of the military apparatus of the bourgeoisie, assisting the exploitation of the working class and spilling the blood of the proletariat in the interests of capitalist profit. In the same way and for the same reasons international social democracy showed itself, with few exceptions, to be an organization serving the interests of the bourgeoisie and restraining the proletariat, rather than a weapon of the revolutionary proletarian struggle. The trade unions were composed mainly of organized workers who were skilled and well- paid, and whose political understanding was limited by their craft narrowness and by the bureaucratic machinery which isolated them from the masses. The unions, corrupted by the opportunist leaders, betrayed not only the social revolution, but even the struggle for the improved living conditions of the workers they represented. They abandoned struggle with the bosses in favour of a programme of maintaining peace and agreement with the capitalists at any price...
The old trade-union bureaucracy is prepared to go to any lengths to preserve the trade unions as organizations of the labour aristocracy... the union bureaucracy breaks down the powerful river of the workers' movement into small streams, substituting partial, reformist demands for the general revolutionary aims of the proletariat, and generally hindering the transformation of proletarian struggle into a revolutionary struggle for the destruction of capitalism...
The Communists in all countries must join the unions in order to develop them into bodies consciously struggling for the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of Communism...
The Communists consider the goal and life of the union organization to be more important than the external form they assume, and therefore should not shrink from splitting the union organizations if a refusal to do so would signify a refusal to engage in revolutionary activity in the unions, attempting to transform them into a weapon of revolutionary struggle, and a refusal to organize the more exploited sections of the proletariat. But if a split proves necessary it must be carried into effect only when the Communists have succeeded -- through consistent struggle against the opportunist leaders and their tactics and by active participation in the economic struggle -- in convincing the broad masses of workers that the split is being undertaken not for the sake of some distant revolutionary aims which they do not yet understand, but for the sake of the most immediate and concrete interests of the working class and of the development of the economic struggle...
Where organizations have been established either inside or outside the framework of the trade unions, such as the shop stewards' committees and factory committees, which struggle against the counter-revolutionary tendencies of the trade-union bureaucracy and support the spontaneous direct action of the proletariat, they should, it goes without saying, receive maximum support from the Communists. [my emphasis -- DL]
As for Matters claim that in advocating that Marxists "should always strive to renew the top leadership of the trade unions, boldly and resolutely in critical moments [i.e., during union elections for example -- DL] advancing new militant leaders in place of routine functionaries and careerists", Trotsky was departing from Lenin's views, in the "Theses for the Fundamental Tasks of the Communist International" that Lenin presented to the 2nd congress of the Comintern he wrote:
The dictatorship of the proletariat is the most determined and revolutionary form of the proletariat's class struggle against the bourgeoisie. This struggle can be successful only when the most revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat has the backing of the overwhelming majority of the proletariat. Hence, preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat entails not only explanation of the bourgeois character of all reformism, of all defence of democracy, while private ownership of the means of production is preserved; it entails, not only exposure of such trends, which are in fact a defence of the bourgeoisie within the labour movement; it also calls for old leaders being replaced by Communists in proletarian organisations of absolutely every type -- not only political, but also trade union, co-operative, educational, etc. The more complete, lengthy and firmly established the rule of the bourgeois democracy has been in a given country, the more the bourgeoisie will have succeeded in securing the appointment to such leading posts of people whose minds have been moulded by it and imbued with its views and prejudices, and who have very often been directly or indirectly bound to it. These representatives of the labour aristocracy, bourgeoisified workers, should be ousted from all their posts a hundred times more sweepingly than hitherto, and replaced by workers -- even by wholly inexperienced men, provided they are connected with the exploited masses and enjoy the confidence in the struggle against the exploiters.(10) (my emphasis -- DL)
The positions on trade unions that Trotsky set out in his 1938 Transitional Program quite obviously does not contradict those advanced by the Communist International when it was under Lenin's leadership. In fact, they are largely a restatement of those positions. While this fact may not be enough to sway anyone's opinion as to whether or not Trotsky was a Leninist (great or otherwise), it clearly demonstrates that on this subject Matters and Symon certainly aren't.
Defending Stalinist totalitarianism and capitalist restoration
Matters is a defender of the Stalinist system of totalitarian rule over post-capitalist societies by materially-privileged officials (bureaucrats). But to deflect attention from this, he accuses the DSP of providing "objective support to the counter- revolutionaries -- Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, Havel, the Croatian and Bosnian separatists and a number of others. These `dissidents' and `reformers' all prepared the way for the overthrow of socialism in their respective countries and helped to re-establish capitalism." Continuing in this vein, Matters writes:
There are some that seek to understand the problems of the setback to socialism in the Soviet Union within the context of the Trotsky/Stalin era. In the main, however, history has already judged this period and its mistakes and errors. It also has to be judged as a period of huge achievements. The setback in the Soviet Union needs to be discovered in the post-Stalin era and in the introduction of "new thinking" and the abandonment of many socialist tenets, particularly by Gorbachev who literally opened the gates to imperialism and sold his own country and socialism to imperialism.
Earlier in the pamphlet, Matters states that the Democratic Socialist Party was "a fervent supporter of `Gorby'," neglecting to mention that the DSP gave support to the Gorbachev leadership's policy of glasnost, but not its turn in 1990-91 toward capitalist restoration. Matters also forgets to mention that the CPA (then called the Socialist Party of Australia) also gave political support to the Gorbachev reform process during the 1980s. A resolution adopted by the SPA Central Committee on June 4, 1989, for example, stated:
The international communist movement and, in particular, the existing socialist states are in a period of transition. Far- reaching changes are taking place in politics, the economy and social life. For some decades, problems were allowed to accumulate and were not attended to, thereby aggravating the problems, slowing the expected growth and dynamism of socialism...
Recognition of this state of affairs came with the April 1985 meeting of the CC CPSU which took a decision to accelerate the development of Soviet society and commenced to put an end to the period of economic, social, political and ideological stagnation in the Soviet Union. The slogans of "perestroika" and "glasnost" have come to express the policies of the CPSU for renewal of socialism in all respects in that country.(11) (my emphasis -- DL)
As for "New Thinking", this was also endorsed by the SPA/CPA leadership. In an article in the March 1989 issue of the SPA's theoretical journal, Australian Marxist Review, Peter Symon wrote:
Internationally, the term "new political thinking" is often specifically used in connection with the danger facing humanity created by the existence of nuclear weapons...
"New thinking" in this context called for a more flexible and vigorous foreign policy and this has been ably demonstrated by the present leadership of the CPSU in particular.(12)
If Matters is going to accuse the DSP of providing "objective support" to the "counter-revolutionary" Gorbachev because it supported the glasnost policy of democratisation of Soviet political life in the 1980s, shouldn't he also -- if he were honest -- make the same accusation against the SPA/CPA leadership? But an honest account of history is that last thing that Matters is interested in providing his readers.
According to Matters "it was Gorbachev ... who destroyed socialism in the Soviet Union and dismembered the country -- all under the pretext of building `a better socialism'." Let us leave aside the fact the Gorbachev himself opposed the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991; Matters' "explanation" poses an obvious question: What were the other members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union -- all 20 million of them! -- doing while Gorbachev was single-handely destroying "socialism in the Soviet Union"?
Matters seeks to attribute the destruction of "socialism in the Soviet Union" to Gorbachev alone so as to avoid recognising that the driving force behind the turn since 1991 toward the restoration of capitalism in Russia (and the other former Soviet republics) has come from the governing caste of privileged administrators in the government ministries and economic organisations of the former Soviet Union -- all of whom were members of the CPSU. It also enables Matters to avoid providing an explanation of the origin of this governing caste of bureaucrats, or of why after 57 years of "socialism in the Soviet Union" (Stalin claimed that "socialism" has been achieved in 1936), the vast majority of Communist Party members supported the restoration of capitalism.
According to Matters: "Green Left, under the byline of Eva Cheng, supports the so-called `democracy' activists in China... There is a mish-mash of rhetoric maintaining that China is taking the capitalist road, a viewpoint that is also assiduously spread by all the media." He offers no refutation of this "viewpoint", nor any explanation as to why it is "spread by all the media".
He states that, "If these so-called `democratic' activists had come to power in China, China would have suffered the same fate as has overtaken the Soviet Union", i.e., a drive by the governing authorities to restore capitalism.
This is Matters' disingenuous way of excusing the SPA/CPA's endorsement for the Chinese ruling elite's bloody repression of the June 1989 protests by workers and students against the complete lack of democracy in "socialist" China. Furthermore, he and the CPA leadership refuse to recognise what everyone else in the world does, i.e., that capitalism is being restored in China and that the driving force behind this is not the "democracy" activists that Matters refers to, but the ruling bureaucracy of the Communist Party of China.
At the 15th CPC congress in 1997, the CPC leadership adopted a report, given by CPC general secretary Jiang Zemin that set out a perspective for converting "large and medium-sized state-owned enterprises into standard corporations so that they will become corporate entities and competitors adaptable to the market... Relying on market forces, we shall establish highly competitive large enterprise groups with trans-regional, inter-trade, cross- ownership and transnational operations."
Jiang went on to state that: "We shall encourage Chinese investors to invest abroad in areas that can bring China's comparative advantages into play so as make better use of both Chinese and foreign markets and resources."
Matters and the CPA defend the CPC's course toward the restoration of capitalism in China as "building socialism". And yet they claim that it is the DSP -- which has opposed the CPC's dismantling of the centrally planned economy and the social benefits it brought to Chinese workers (job security, free education and health care, subsidised housing, basic foods, etc.) -- that is providing "objective support" for re-establishing capitalism!
`Permanent Revolution' and Leninism
Matters spends the first nine pages of his pamphlet arguing that the DSP's rejection of the central tenet of Trotskyism -- Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution -- is really an attempt by the DSP to dress up Trotskyism in Lenin's ideological clothes. Here's how Matters makes his case:
Doug Lorimer, a leading ideologist of the Democratic Socialist Party has written a booklet entitled Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution -- A Leninist Critique. One is entitled to be intrigued when a dedicated and long-standing member of a Trotskyist Party purports to become a critic of Trotsky. It is not so surprising that he has attempted to do this in the name of Lenin. It has been a long-standing practice of Trotskyist organisations to claim that Trotsky was the greatest Leninist after Lenin. It is necessary to have a look at this "critique" and to ask the question: "Why?"
About 25 per cent of the book is made up of direct quotes from Lenin with about another 25 per cent being the author's paraphrase of Lenin. Instead of examining fresh experiences with real examples we have an abstraction of quotations and paraphrases. The book is yet another "neo-Trotskyist" attempt to use the legacy of Lenin to attack and depart from Marxism. It is petty-bourgeois politics at its best (or worst), and is reactionary and anti-communist in its direction.
It is not difficult to anticipate a response to this critique of his critique. No Marxist is allowed to make criticisms of Trotsky without being branded a "Stalinist". But it is important to put the record straight and to read what Lenin actually had to say about Trotsky on important questions.
The author's historical perspective is stuck in the prism of the world of Trotsky, Stalin, Lenin, Kamenev, Zinoviev and others. In presenting himself as a defender of Lenin and an alleged opponent of "permanent revolution", Lorimer dresses up Trotsky's permanent revolution in a Leninist garb. On page 16 of the pamphlet Lenin is paraphrased:
"Thus the October revolution began as a worker-peasant democratic revolution and, then, eight months later, developed uninterruptedly into a proletarian-socialist revolution. It was the continuity of proletarian political leadership that gave the transition from the bourgeois revolution to the socialist revolution its uninterrupted character, ie, made them two stages of a single, uninterrupted revolutionary process."
But this is what Lenin actually wrote about this period:
"In October 1917 we seized power together with the peasants as a whole. This was a bourgeois revolution, in as much as the class struggle in the rural districts had not yet developed ... the real proletarian revolution in the rural districts began only in the summer of 1918. Had we not succeeded in stirring up this revolution our work would have been incomplete. The first stage was the seizure of power in the cities and the establishment of the Soviet form of government. The second stage was one which is fundamental for all socialists and without which socialists are not socialists, namely, to single out the proletarian and semi- proletarian elements in the rural districts and to ally them to the proletariat in order to wage the struggle against the bourgeoisie in the countryside. This stage is also in the main completed." (The Paris Commune and the Tasks of the Democratic Dictatorship LCW Vol 28 p 208)
This quote, of course, does not come from the article "The Paris Commune and the Tasks of the Democratic Dictatorship", which was written in July 1905 (12 years before the October Revolution!), but from Lenin's report "On Work in the Countryside" to the Russian Communist Party's 8th congress held in March 1919. Furthermore, it is to be found on page 203 of Volume 29 of Lenin's Collected Works -- not Volume 28, as Matters mistakenly credits it. In seeking to "put the record straight and to read what Lenin actually had to say", Matters did not feel it was necessary to bother with checking the actual source of his "abstraction of quotations"!
Continuing his exposition of how Lorimer has put "Lenin's Clothes on Trotskyism", Matters writes:
The author of the booklet actually quotes the above paragraph but then paraphrases it to include references to "uninterrupted revolution", etc. But there is not a single word in Lenin's statement that justifies such references.
Doug Lorimer has actually drawn on Trotsky, not Lenin. Trotsky wrote of this same period as follows:
"I proceeded precisely from the bourgeois democratic character of the revolution and arrived at the conclusion that the profundity of the agrarian crisis could raise the proletariat of backward Russia to power. Yes, this was precisely the idea I defended on the eve of the 1905 revolution. This was precisely the idea that was expressed by the very designation of the revolution as a `permanent' one, that is, an uninterrupted one, a revolution passing over directly from the bourgeois stage into the socialist ... What meaning can there be to the permanency of the revolution, that is, its uninterrupted development, if all that is involved is a metre leap?" (Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution. Results and Prospects Pathfinder Press, New York edition, 1976, page 136)
The connection between the two quotes from Trotsky and Lorimer is the use of the word "uninterrupted". Lorimer ascribes the concept of an "uninterrupted revolution" to Lenin. This misrepresentation of Lenin belongs to Trotsky. If anyone has any doubts I quote again Trotsky's Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25) p. 102, Pathfinder Press, New York:
"The expression `permanent revolution' is an expression of Marx, which he applied to the revolution of 1848 (in Germany -- DM). In Marxist literature, naturally not in revisionist but in revolutionary Marxist literature, this term has always had citizenship rights. Franz Mehring employed it for the revolution of 1905-07. The permanent revolution, is an exact translation, is the continuous revolution, the uninterrupted revolution."
Thus, according to Matters, the concept of "uninterrupted revolution" has nothing to do with Lenin's conception of the revolutionary process in Russia: it is nothing but Trotskyism under a different label. Indeed, he informs us that:
Concepts of "permanent revolution, "uninterrupted revolution" and "continuous revolution" take no account of the class forces involved or the specific circumstances that will vary from time to time and place to place. Transitionary stages may be short or long. Another factor is the necessity to consolidate gains made, train new forces, real forces after a particularly hard struggle, etc. The imposition of dogmatic theories of uninterrupted or continuous offensives inevitably leads to errors.
It is this concept of permanent or uninterrupted revolution that has led to theoretical errors and turned revolutionaries towards reactionary positions when the aspirations for a "permanent revolution" are not fulfilled. This muddle arises because there is no analysis of the time, place and circumstances of the revolution and the dogmatic assertion that a revolution must necessarily be "permanent", "uninterrupted", "continuous". All these words are used interchangeably.
Matters continues on in this vein, claiming that:
The attempt to find universal schema for revolution is built around the concept that the Russian Revolution was the only model for revolutionaries to follow... The revolutionary movements of China, Cuba and elsewhere were successful because they developed their theory in the practice of their own situations.
Since Matters cites the revolutionary movement in Cuba to bolster his case that Leninism has nothing to do with a "universal schema" of "uninterrupted revolution", let us hear what the Cuban Communists have to say on this subject. Here is an extract from the Programmatic Platform adopted by the 1st congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1975:
The Cuban Revolution -- while presenting a whole series of specific features deriving from concrete national pecularities and conditions and the international situation in which it is unfolding -- has taken place in accordance with the fundamental laws of the historical process discovered by Marxism-Leninism, and has confirmed the main Leninist thesis on the revolution and the possibility of its uninterrupted course until turning into a socialist revolution...
As a first step an anti-imperialist, agrarian, democratic and popular revolution was necessary to resolve the contradiction between the demands of the development of the productive forces and of the existing production relations.
The national bourgeoisie was incapable of leading such a revolution because of its economic weakness, its subordination to Yankee imperialist interests and its fear of the action of the popular masses. This made it oppose even the measures of a national-liberation character of the first stage.
The interwoven economic interests of the Yankee monopolies, the bourgeois latifundist oligarchy and the rest of the national bourgeoisie would make any measure affecting any of these sections bring about immediate opposition and resistance of the bourgeoisie as a bloc. In conditions of economic and ideological domination by imperialism, measures that do not even go beyond the bourgeois democratic framework are generally rejected by the bourgeoisie of dependent countries. In these countries, the bourgeoisie fears that the development of the revolutionary process will inevitably lead to socialism.
This situation in which the objectives of national liberation and of a democratic nature had to be implemented by the working class at the head of the State power, conditioned the close interrelationship between the measures and tasks of the first and second stages of our Revolution and the uninterrupted character of the transformation leading to the transition from one stage to the other in the context of a single revolutionary process.(13) (my emphasis -- DL)
My God, David, Fidel Castro and the rest of the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party appear to have succumbed to "neo- Trotskyism"!
There is, of course, another explanation for the gross disparity between Matters' account of the "Leninist theses on the revolution", on the one hand, and the almost word-for-word coincidence in the accounts given by the Cuban Communists and by the "neo-Trotskyist" DSP, on the other hand: Matters hasn't got the faintest idea of what the real differences were between Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution and Lenin's policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution. He has consequently identified the latter with the former and thus ended up actually rejecting the Leninist theses as "neo-Trotskyism".
As evidence of this, I will simply cite some comments on the subject by someone that I doubt even Matters would accuse of being tainted by "Trotskyism", i.e., J.V. Stalin:
In the pamphlet The Foundations of Leninism, the "theory of permanent revolution" is appraised as a "theory" which underestimates the role of the peasantry. There it is stated:
"Consequently, Lenin fought the adherents of `permanent' revolution, not over the question of uninterruptedness, for Lenin himself maintained the point of view of uninterrupted revolution, but because they underestimated the role of the peasantry, which is an enormous reserve of the proletariat."
This characterisation of the Russian "permanentists" was considered as generally accepted until recently...
This does not mean, of course, that Leninism has been or is opposed to the idea of permanent revolution, without quotation marks, which was proclaimed by Marx in the forties of the last century. On the contrary, Lenin was the only Marxist who correctly understood and developed the idea of permanent revolution. What distinguishes Lenin from the "permanentists" on this question is that the "permanentists" distorted Marx's idea of permanent revolution and transformed it into lifeless, bookish wisdom, whereas Lenin took it in its pure form and made it one of the foundations of his own theory of revolution. It should be borne in mind that the idea of the growing over of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into the socialist revolution, propounded by Lenin as long ago as 1905, is one of the forms of the embodiment of Marx's theory of permanent revolution. Here is what Lenin wrote about this as far back as 1905:
"From the democratic revolution, we shall at once, and just to the extent of our strength, the strength of the class-conscious and organised proletariat, begin to pass to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. (My italics -- J. St.) we shall not stop half-way...
"Without succumbing to adventurism or going against our scientific conscience, without striving for cheap popularity, we can and do say only one thing: we shall put every effort into assisting the entire peasantry to carry out the democratic revolution in order thereby to make it easier for us, the party of the proletariat, to pass on, as quickly as possible, to the new and higher task -- the socialist revolution" (see Vol. VIII, pp. 186-87 [Vol. 9, pp. 236-37 in the English-language Collected Works -- DL].
These comments come from Stalin's January 1926 pamphlet Concerning Questions of Leninism which is reprinted in the collection On the Opposition (Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1974, pp. 273-75).
The fact that Matters' view of what the differences were between Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution and Lenin's policy contradicts Stalin's account of the differences does not prove that Matters isn't a Stalinist: it just demonstrates that Matters is a particularly ignorant and stupid Stalinist.
That Peter Symon's rump CPA would think it worthwhile to publish Matters' pamphlet, and to even claim that it "has contributed to the task of clarifying ideas and maintaining the validity and truth of Marxism", is sad testimony to the complete deficiency of Marxist thought within the leadership of this sorry outfit.
- J. Vassilopoulos, MUA here to stay! (Resistance Books, Sydney, 1998), p. 5.
- L. Trotsky, The Transitional Program & the Struggle for Socialism (Resistance Books, Sydney, 1999), p. 29.
- Vassilopoulos, ibid., pp. 43-44.
- B. Carnegie, "the best and the worst of the union movement", Green Left Weekly, No. 417, August 23, 2000, p. 24.
- D. Nichols, "MUA fight: the CPA failed a crucial test", Green Left Weekly, No. 327, August 5, 1998, p. 14.
- E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution (MacMillian, London, 1952), Vol. 2, p. 225.
- V.I. Lenin, Collected Works (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964), Vol. 32, p. 24-25.
- L. Trotsky, ibid., p. 28.
- A. Adler (ed.), Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International (Ink Links, London, 1980), pp. 106-09.
- V.I. Lenin, On Trade Unions (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976), pp. 359-60.
- "Developments in the Internaional Communist Movement", Australian Marxist Review, No. 23, August 1989, pp. 28-29.
- P. Symon, "What is New Thinking?", Australian Marxist Review, No. 21, March 1989, p. 15.
- Programmatic Platform of the Communist Party of Cuba (Havana, 1976), pp. 47, 55-56.