The Tankies' Tankies/ 4

Submitted by AWL on 12 April, 2004 - 9:57

"Soviet willingness to desert Afghanistan must be put in context, the context of world revolution. The fact is that the world revolution has reached a particularly complex interregnum.
"The official world communist movement is disintegrating, and as for the monolithic unity (albeit imposed with an authoritarian iron hand) of the world socialist system, it has long gone. For all Gorbachev's talk of unity in diversity what we are seeing today is the decay of living socialism from within (we only need look at Rumania, Poland. Hungary, China and the turn to 'market socialism' in the USSR to see that) and a growing danger of the erosion of the socialist world at its periphery, at its weakest links. And what is Afghanistan if not a weak link of socialism?

"The fact that this is happening is primarily due to the growing [only now?] influence of opportunism. This is particularly dangerous in the Soviet Union. It is the world's revolutionary centre and hence commands tremendous influence and prestige [in fact, power]. Gorbachev sees its interests in narrow, purely national, terms. [When, since the early days of the Stalinist counter revolution was it different? In Jack Conrad's opinion, evidently, it was different until quite recently, in the days of Stalin or even Brezhnev]. Hence, where the Soviet Union was once prepared to selflessly and heroically fight for the world revolution, now faced with a US imperialism set on a redivisionist World War III winning war drive, Gorbachev has turned to appeasement".

Again, Jack Conrad is not too far from Posadas! Talk of imminent World War Three was prominent in The Leninist. It was used to explain Gorbachev and the USSR's turn from a supposed heroic (recent!) past to "appeasement".

There is in all this a massive dimension of playacting, of suspended disbelief, of telescoping the history of the USSR so as to pretend that what was true when the working class ruled, before the new ruling class seized power more than sixty years before, remained true. In fact other articles in The Leninist showed that they were passably knowledgeable about the real USSR. The pretence was not ignorance. It was either wilful playacting or paranoia.

"In the name of 'new political thinking' and perestroika [Gorbachev] treacherously used the platform of the 27th Congress of the CPSU to offer the US cooperation in defusing so-called international 'hot spots'. I.e. countries in the forefront of the world revolutionary struggle, like Afghanistan, Angola, El Salvador, Nicaragua and South Africa. If the Afghan Revolution is allowed to go under, which revolution will be next?

"The Soviet Union's long term interests do not lie in using living revolutions as bargaining counters to appease US imperialism. No, the world's revolutionary centre can only become invincible through the victory of revolutions in one 'hot spot' after another. If Gorbachev refuses to recognise such a basic Marxist-Leninist truth he should go, and go quicklyÂ…"

Russian withdrawal a "betrayal"?

But the Moscow bureaucrats would not listen to Jack Conrad. The prophet was not without honour except amongst his own people - the dastards-yet-comrades who had seized control of the "world's revolutionary centre".

"Ian Mahoney" [Mark Fscher]] in The Leninist, 23 May 1988:

"Revolutions are not for saleÂ…

"On May 15, Soviet forces began to pull out from Afghanistan. This paper has consistently fought against this treachery. For there is little doubt that the withdrawal of Soviet troops will leave the revolutionary People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan government in Kabul severely weakened. The 40,000 strong Afghan armed forces [he doesn't attempt to explain what has happened to over half the Afghan armed forces since April 1978Â…] will soon lose the support of 150,000 Soviet troops, their high grade technical equipment, their helicopter gunships and their fighter aircraft. This can only be a severe blow to the morale of these troops. They have been shamelessly deserted.

"Thus, not only has the military balance shifted - perhaps decisively - towards the counterrevolutionary barbarians of the various Mujahedin factions: their brutish jihad has been bolstered morally by what is a Soviet betrayal.

"Under Gorbachev [unlike what things were like under his glorious predecessors like Brezhnev, Khrushchev and Stalin?], the Soviet Party has begun to treat living revolutions as little more than pieces of marketable real estate, bargaining counters to he traded with the US imperialists in exchange for paper agreements on armsÂ…

"The savage irony of Gorbachev's willingness to betray revolutions in other countries in order to appease imperialism should not escape us. Whatever temporary respite he wins by giving in to imperialism's rapacious demands, it can never be satisfied.

"Imperialism's redivisionist hunger is ultimately aimed at the world revolutionary centre - the USSR itself. Thus, objectively, Gorbachev and the opportunists who head the Communist Party of the Soviet Union effectively undermine defence of the Soviet Union, by their Judas deals. Defence of the USSR begins in AfghanistanÂ…"

And why? because it isÂ…

"Â… the frontline of the world revolution!

The undignified scramble of the Soviet leadership to high tail it out of Kabul, and to hell with its revolution, is a stark illustration of the extent of the political degeneration the Soviet Party has undergone since Lenin's day".

Mahoney is here akin to very old people who are said to have a good memory for the distant past, and some awareness of now, but are amnesiac about the decades in between!

"Concomitant to this has been the progressive separation of the interests of the Soviet Union from the world revolutionÂ…"

In fact this "progressive separation", and the qualitative change from one attitude to its opposite, which began in the 1920s, is now 60, or even 65 years in the past. Mahoney's declamations rest on wilful make-belief. And on the choice to interpret the Russian seizure of half of Europe during the Second World War not as the Russian imperialist aggrandisement that it was, but as an expansion of the workers' revolution.

Some of the make-believe may be a romanticised expression of Jack Conrad and Mark Fischer's personal experience. For the first decade or 15 years of Jack Conrad's political life the USSR was again, as in the 1940s, engaged in a sort of international expansion. Until it invaded Afghanistan that was usually done via proxies and via linking up with initially non-Stalinist forces.

"As Lenin pointed out, the Russian revolution itself was possible not simply because of the contradictions internal to the Tsarist regime: the victory of the working class in Russia was above all a product of the contradictions arising from the world economyÂ… The existence of the world economy poses the necessity for rational planning on a world wide basis. Capitalist imperialism represents the barrier to this historically necessary development: to remove it requires a world revolution".

So far this passage is an example of the frequent practice in The Leninist of eclectically taking on board parts of Trotsky's politics and garbling them. Here Trotsky's insistence on a world perspective is combined with the make-believe that the advance of Stalinism - which, in Eastern Europe and China, imposed models of autarkic economic development, with each state developing its own heavy industry complex - had anything to do with breaking the limitations imposed on the productive forces by capitalist state rivalries.

Having taken his stand on part of Trotsky's critique of mid-1920s Stalinism, Mahoney hastens to separate himself from the "Trotskyites" by endorsing and reiterating the Stalinists' founding dogma: socialism in one country. He probably thinks - he says so now, anyway - that he does not subscribe to socialism in one country, and that the passage just cited expresses the opposite of socialism in one country. He is mistaken.

His view of how things stand is possible only if you miss the nodal point of the mid 1920s controversy about socialism "in one country". The central point wasn't about "one country". The USSR was in fact, as the Stalinists of the 1930s fervently boasted in such books as "The Socialist Sixth of the World", by the "Red Dean" of Canterbury, Hewlett Johnson, a giant cluster of countries and nationalities, covering a sixth of the globe. After the proclamation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Stalinist realm covered a full third of the world.

The fundamental point of Trotsky's opposition to socialism in one country was not that the USSR was not big enough, but that socialism could not be built up from backwardness, in prolonged competition with capitalism. That idea, Trotsky rightly insisted was a reversion to the central idea of the pre-Marx utopian socialists.

Stalin did not proclaim the end of attempts to spread "the revolution" to other countries. He denounced Trotsky's "lies" when Trotsky pointed out the anti-revolutionary implications of socialism in one country. As it turned out, Stalin was ready, when the chance presented itself, to grab as much extra territory as he could.

After Russia's post World War Two expansion, "orthodox" post-Trotsky Trotskyists such as the young Ernest Mandel triumphantly proclaimed that Stalin himself had refuted in deeds his old theory of socialism in one country. Missing the point, they tumbled into unwitting acceptance of the fundamentals of socialism in one country - the "utopian" absurdity that the comparatively still backward Stalinist states could by competition with capitalism on a world scale outproduce and outstrip it. This would happen in an unfolding "World Revolution" whose manifestation was the expansion (in varying ways) of Stalinism - and which would of course need to be cleaned up, in some Stalinist states requiring a full-scale "political revolution" to complete the "process".

The WV idea, picked up by The Leninist, that the USSR was "the world revolutionary centre", was a variant of the same train of thought. The WV/Leninist variant was a preposterous one, rooted in ascribing to more or less every Communist Party a character it did not have and a role which it was not playing.

Comparatively lucid depictions of day-to-day reality of the "opportunist" CPs went hand in hand with a fetishisation of a supposed underlying revolutionary essence in those parties, so that even such a miserable, politically right-wing nonentity as the British Stalinist party, the CPGB, could be seen as the preordained "vanguard party of the working class". This delusion-mongering could go on right up to the collapse of the USSR, when The Leninist called on the "communists" in the CPSU to act for "communism".

Jack Conrad (or rather his Turkish mentors) thought that because they advocated the spread of (Stalinist) revolution, they thereby rejected socialism in one country. In fact they continued to advocate its fundamental tenet: that socialism could be built up in backward countries - in the Afghan case, one of the most backward on earth! - bypassing capitalism rather than building on its contradictions and potentialities.


"Capitalist imperialism represents the barrier to this historically necessary development: to remove it requires a world revolutionÂ…"

- but this dilemma is to be resolved not by working-class action, building on the achievements of capitalism, but through revolutions which are "working-class" by attribution or decree, made by Stalinist parties in backward countries which they will then develop "socialistically" by force.

"Of course this does not happen all at once. Revolutions break out first and foremost at imperialism's weakest links, not those where capitalism is most advanced. This forces backward and medium developed capitalist countries to the forefront of the world revolution; a phenomenon full of problems and contradictions but nonetheless it is precisely revolutions in such countries which have dominated the history of our 20th century.

"For dogmatists whose 'Marxism' is a crude mechanical restatement of abstractions, building socialism in such countries is impossible. This was the view of the Mensheviks in Russia. They argued that because capitalism was so undeveloped, the revolution in Russia would have to be a bourgeois one, and take place under the hegemony of the bourgeoisie. Only after many years of capitalist development - and the growth of the size of the working class - would it be possible to pose the question of socialism.

"Lenin took an opposite view. His genius lay in recognising that the proletariat could - indeed had to - take the lead in the 'bourgeois revolution', not in alliance with the bourgeoisie, but instead with the peasant masses against landlord and capitalist alike. Having done this the proletariat should not hand power to the bourgeoisie - become a party of extreme opposition as the Mensheviks advocated - but fight to maintain their hegemony over the revolution from the position of governmental powerÂ…"

Note that - Mahoney, not Lenin - "from the position of governmental power"Â…

"Â… and take it uninterruptedly from the tasks of democracy (the bourgeois revolution) to the tasks of socialism. This was the programme of Bolshevism".

It is the Stalinist gloss on it. Just as he misses out decades between Lenin and Gorbachev, confusing the workers' revolution with the Stalinist counterrevolution, so also Mahoney misses here the decades that Lenin saw between the bourgeois and socialist revolutions, decades certainly not filled with the "governmental power" of a party, working-class by self-decree, which will eventually deliver "socialism" to the people. The account here is an ideological construct, a product of Mahoney's "Stalinite" bias against Trotsky's permanent revolution.

"There are many groups that pay lip service to the Russian revolution but stand against the living revolutions of today, like Afghanistan, which have followed in its wake. These groups include the reformists of social democracy and the centrists of the right moving 'official' communist movement in the imperialist countries, also the entire spectrum of the decomposing Trotskyite milieu. From Socialist Organiser to Workers' Power, from the WRP to the Spartacist League, the Afghan revolution was dismissed as an army coup, nothing more and nothing lessÂ…"

Part 5

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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