Part 4: The next stage for the working class: submission to totalitarian suppression.
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- PART 1: THE STALINIST APRIL 1978 COUP AND THE RUSSIAN DECEMBER 1979 INVASION
- PART 2: GRANT AND TAAFFE HAIL THE STALINIST COUP AND BACK THE INVADERS
- PART 3: MILITANT/SOCIALIST PARTY AND STALINIST REVOLUTIONS
- PART 4: MILITANT/SOCIALIST PARTY AND STALINIST EXPANSION
But in this rosy perspective, Grant dismisses the working class entirely for the whole next stage of history in most of the world!
The working class has no role to play except to 'support' the semi-automatic ascent of the alien social formations that Grant calls proletarian Bonapartism. The system that they must support is one in which the working class is to be mercilessly suppressed and denied all civil or political rights. No wonder Grant needs to tell himself again and again that this is nevertheless 'a tremendous victory for the world revolution'.
What should the working class, or the socialists, in the countries where proletarian Bonapartism is the inevitable 'next stage', do? Bow down low before the imperious decree of history, as revealed by Ted Grant?
Before 1917 the great majority of the Russian Marxists were convinced that bourgeois society was the inevitable next stage for Russia. The Bolsheviks advocated that the working class should not tail the bourgeoisie, but should strive to do the job themselves, even to the point of forming a coalition government which would inevitably be short-lived. The Mensheviks thought that the revolution could be made only by coaxing and prodding the bourgeoisie to do it; but they said to workers - organise, defend yourselves, fight for liberty in the bourgeois republic.
And Grant? By definition workers' self-defence is not allowed under proletarian Bonapartism. Any civil liberties would hinder the proletarian Bonapartists in their progressive work. So what can the workers do?
In fact, any worker or socialist who took Grant's 'perspectives' seriously would - if they did not despair and die - ... join the bureaucracy. There would be no shortage of ideological, political and historical rationalisations, after all, would there?
In his 1978 article - to anticipate - Grant is even clearer: 'For a transition to a Bonapartist workers' state such organs of workers' democracy, indispensable for a healthy workers' state, would be an enormous hindrance...'
Does Grant want the workers to be suppressed by the proletarian Bonapartists? Speaking of someone with 50 years as a would-be Trotskyist' it is tempting to say: of course not. He has just not thought it through.
I'm not sure. Passages like this - which state a central truth about the Stalinist system - go ill with Grant's fervent advocacy of the glories of proletarian Bonapartism. The contradictions are
blurred by Grant's stance of vast philosophical detachment, his sweeping perspectives in which the activity of the majority of the world's working class is lost as a tiny detail in the 'magnificent movement of history' - but they are there. Comrade Grant, you advocate and justify the system that you describe as 'a one-party totalitarian state machine where the proletariat is helpless and atomised'. You recognise it as necessary, you greet it as progressive.
14 YEARS LATER; SOUTH VIETNAM, SOUTH KOREA, THIRD WORLD INDUSTRIALISATION
The second article was written 14 years after the first. A lot had happened in that period.
In 1964 Grant had written. 'In Asia, the remorseless peasant war of liberation in Vietnam... is nearing success...' Be predicted confidently - as he would continue to do year after year - that the US would soon negotiate a compromise resulting in 'a nationalist-Stalinist regime in Vietnam... independent of China, like Yugoslavia is independent of Russia'.
In 1965 the US started bombing North Vietnam, and built up its forces, previously small, to 125,000 men in Vietnam. By the end of 1966 it had 400,000 troops there. At the end of 1972, in eleven days it dropped a greater tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than the Allies dropped everywhere in the world in the whole of World War 2.
Finally, in 1975, the Vietnamese CP emerged victorious. The war had seriously shaken the whole economic and political structure of metropolitan capitalism.
In 1978 all Grant has to offer on Vietnam is a harangue on how events have confirmed his perspective, and how 'The latest events in Indochina have served again to show the ridiculous contortions of the policies of all the sects...'
In 1964 Grant had compared South Korea to South Vietnam. 'The American position in South Vietnam tomorrow in South Korea, is becoming untenable... The military police states in South Vietnam and South Korea and other areas of South-East Asia can only be compared to the rotting regime of Chiang Kai Shek in the period before the Second World War'.
By 1978 South Korea had gone through probably the most rapid process of capitalist industrialisation ever seen anywhere. Industrial output there grew 17% per year in 1960-70, 13.6% per year in 1970-82. South Korea is now the second biggest shipbuilding nation in the capitalist world, and threatening to outstrip Japan.
Grant in 1978 comments: 'There is no possibility of a consistent, uninterrupted and continuous increase in productive forces in the countries of the so-called Third World on a capitalist basis. Production stagnates or falls...'
True, any development of productive forces under capitalism will not be quite 'uninterrupted and continuous'. It will be spasmodic and uneven. But that is not the same as stagnation.
South Korea - where growth was much accelerated by the US's vast Vietnam war spending - is exceptional. But generally Third World capitalism has shown an elasticity which proves Grant's mechanical picture of society at a dead halt not only methodologically unsound but empirically ridiculous.
From the early 1960s manufacturing industry began to grow quite fast in the Third World. In 1960 the Third World made only 5% of the capitalist world's steel. By 1980 it produced 15%. Overall since 1950 manufacturing output in the Third World has grown around 6% per year, and output per head at around 3 to 4% per year. That average is twice as fast as the growth of British manufacturing industry in the 19th century.
In Mexico manufacturing cut put rose at an average of 8.5% per year in 1960-82. In Brazil, at 8% in 1970-82. In Kenya, a country specifically named by Grant as doomed to stagnation, at 8% per year in 1970-82. In Pakistan, again supposed to be absolutely static, at 6.5% per year in 1960-82. Great misery often goes with this growth; but it is not stagnation!
EGYPT AND SYRIA
In 1964 Grant had confidently seen Egypt as on the road to proletarian Bonapartism. In 1978 he has no comment. He hailed Syria as a workers' state in 1965 (in a document which is published in the collection 'The Colonial Revolution'). In 1978 he repeats that assessment.
What is the reality?
The Economist Intelligence Unit reports as follows on Egypt:
'Under President Nasser, Egypt built up a dominant public sector of the economy. In the '50s banks, insurance, transport, major trading, mining and even agriculture were all brought under the overall control of the state. Regulated pricing, purchasing and profit margins were the order of the day.
'Over the next 20 years some valuable national assets were built up, particularly the iron, steel and other heavy industries. (Even today some 75% of industrial production comes from the public sector). But growth tended to be sluggish. Wars with Israel depleted currency reserves; there was little domestic demand to stimulate the economy.
'In 1974 the new president, Sadat, decided to reverse the centralising economic policy of his predecessor. His law 43 of that year instigated infitah, the open door policy, and gave the green light to increase foreign and domestic private investment.
'The latter half of the 1970s saw some spectacular improvements in economic performance. Real GDP rose on an average of around 9% a year from 1974 to 1981. However it soon became apparent that much of the growth was being fuelled by four significant sources of revenue: oil sales, Suez Canal tolls, tourism receipts, and workers' remittances. The actual effect of the open door policy was fairly limited.
'Law 43 companies provided much needed stimulus to their Egyptian counterparts, particularly in banking''.
And on Syria:
'Although President Rafez al Assad rules in the name of the Ba'ath party, Syria's economic system and political structure do not rigidly conform to Ba'athist ideals: indeed, the Assad regime's will to survive rather than the party doctrine is often the most important determinant of events. The private sector still plays an important part in most areas of the economy and a whole stratum of nouveaux riches has been allowed to develop. Its members tend to have strong links with the regime, often coming from the Alawite minority to which Assad himself belongs. Corruption and nepotism are rampant ...
'The foundations of a socialist economy were laid in the period of the first union with Egypt (1958-61), largely on the lines of President Nasser's own policies in Egypt, and have been consolidated by the Ba'ath party from 1963 onwards. The main measures implemented to change the structure of the economy were land reform and nationalisation of the major industries and financial institutions.
'In addition the government controls utilities, transport, communications and internal and external trade, and operates a wide-ranging system of price controls. Public investment predominates, but is largely funded by outside transfers.
'In Syria there is considerable but far from total central control over resource allocation and current operations in the productive sector of the economy. Much private enterprise remains, however, and has been actively encouraged in recent years.
'Of the total sum of S£101.5 billion to be invested in the Fifth Plan (1981-5), S£23.3 billion or 23% was to come from the private sector.
'Private sector operations in industry tend to become more efficient than their public sector counterparts. The black economy has grown increasingly important in recent years, and the government has made no determined effort to stamp it out. The military is heavily involved in the black economy and in smuggling from Lebanon...'
CAN THE BOURGEOISIE CREATE 'PROLETARIAN BONAPARTISM'? THE IVORY COAST
Egypt and Syria show that Third World bourgeoisies - or sections of them - can opt for state capitalism as a measure of expediency. The same lesson can be drawn from a number of Third World regimes with no pretence whatever at socialism which have nevertheless developed industry on the basis of extensive state ownership and control.
The Ivory Coast has possibly the most vocally pro-capitalist government in the Third World. ''The state seeks to promote a stratum of entrepreneurs... The creation of a rural bourgeoisie... is also the explicit target in agriculture. The effort on the part of the state to persuade Ivorians to invest their savings in industry, and thereby diminish state intervention, is another example...' (this quotation, and all following quotations in this section, from HS Marcussen and JE Torp, 'Internationalisation of Capital').
Moreover, the Ivory Coast state has clearly been governed by the bourgeoisie. Under French rule, the country was mostly exploited in the form of French-owned plantations worked by forced labour. When the forced labour system was abolished in 1946, a native planter class began to develop.
'The struggle for independence was carried out by a layer of larger plantation owners... this group of larger plantation owners ... took over the colonial administrative apparatus and... gradually developed the state apparatus to what it is today'.
Yet the state totally dominates the economy. It controls marketing of agricultural produce. It owns the biggest plantations and the ancillary factories. 'The Ivorian state... share of total (industrial) capital has grown from 10% in 1976 to... 53% in 1980'. Almost all the rest of industry is foreign capital operating under detailed conditions imposed by the state. Marcussen and Torp could find only five people in the country who could be described as private industrial capitalists, and even the big private planter class has declined relative to the state.
On this basis industry grew at about 8% per year in 1965-83. 'In 1950, the total industrial sector consisted of two small canneries, some soap factories, two factories producing beer and mineral water, a spinning mill and some saw mills. Today a varied industrial sector exists consisting of... 705 enterprises in 1980'.
Samir Amin, a well-known academic Marxist economist of Maoist leanings, wrote a detailed study on the Ivory Coast in the mid-1960s: in which he concluded that substantial autonomous development there was possibly only through socialism. Marcussen and Torp point out that the vocally pro-capitalist regime has actually done through capitalism what Amin said could be done only through socialism!
And the Ivory Coast should pose a problem for Grant, too. If Syria is a workers' state, then why isn't the Ivory Coast? If (as we saw above) any petty bourgeois formation in Iraq - either the CP, or the left nationalists, or the army officers who carried out a right-wing coup against the left nationalists - could become the vehicle for 'proletarian Bonapartism', then why can't the bourgeoisie in the Ivory Coast be 'proletarian Bonapartism' too?
By the logic of Grant's theory, we would be driven to the conclusion that when the bourgeoisie - in the interests of making profits better - nationalises enough of industry, then the bourgeoisie becomes proletarian!
In fact a high level of nationalisations in industry is common throughout the Third World, under regimes of the most varying colours.
CHINA, 1978 VERSION
But the bulk of Grant's 1978 article is simply repetition of his theses from 1964.
''At a time when Mao and the Chinese CP had the programme of capitalism and 'national democracy'', boasts Grant, 'we could predict the inevitability of proletarian Bonapartism as the next stage in China'.
'Here was a perfect example of one class - the peasants in the form of the Red Army - carrying out the tasks of another'. (I.e. here, of the working class. Elsewhere Grant identifies the proletarian Bonapartists as carrying through the tasks of the bourgeoisie). 'It is amusing now to see the sects swallowing the idea that a 'workers state' was established in China by the peasant army without turning a hair only because at the head of the army was the so-called 'Communist' Party. In classical Marxist theory this idea would be precisely considered hair-raising and fantastic. The peasants, as a class, are least capable of assuming a socialist consciousness. It is an aberration of Marxism to think that such a process is 'normal'. It can only be explained by the impasse of capitalism in China, the paralysis of imperialism, the existence of... Stalinist Russia; and most important of all, the delay in the victory of the revolution in the industrially advanced countries of the world'.
But for Grant, in fact, the process is much mere uniformly and mechanically a 'norm' than it is for the 'sects' he is lambasting! Grant reconciles it all in his own mind, first by a stance of philosophical detachment (the battles of most of the world for half a century are only a marginal distortion in the grand sweep of History), and second by the notion that it doesn't matter who creates 'Proletarian Bonapartism'. Any force to hand can be pressed into service.
SOCIALISM AS THE DOCTRINE OF MIDDLE-CLASS INTELLECTUALS
Continuing his account of China, Grant makes it clear that his concept of 'proletarian Bonapartism', under the labels, is in reality a concept of a new class, a new historical epoch, midway between capitalism and workers' revolution.
'On a capitalist basis there is no longer a way forward particularly for backward countries. That is why army officers, intellectuals and others affected by the decay of their societies under certain conditions can switch their allegiance.
'A change to proletarian Bonapartism actually enlarges their power, prestige, privileges and income. They become the sole commanding and directing stratum of the society raising themselves even higher over the masses than in the past. Instead of being subservient to the weak, craven and ineffective bourgeoisie they become the masters of society'.
So 'proletarian Bonapartism' is a process whereby the middle class carry through their revolution? with the conscious and central intention to become the ruling class (Grant calls it caste) on the basis of collectivised property, using the state as their instrument.
Long ago Mikhail Bakunin, the anarchist opponent of Karl Marx in the First International in the 1860s, described 'state socialism' as no more than a proposal by middle-class intellectuals to enslave the workers. Grant's 'proletarian Bonapartism' is more like that than any 'distorted' version of Marxian socialism.
But why is it proletarian Bonapartist? Why are they workers' states? Remember that Grant emphasises again and again that these states have nothing in common with the revolutionary USSR of Lenin and Trotsky except nationalised property, and that they cannot enable a transition to socialism without a further workers' revolution. Before that further workers' revolution all they can do is carry out certain tasks of the bourgeois revolution and develop industry. Why is that proletarian?
Grant's implicit answer is that the one workers' state - the USSR - defines the many similar to it. In fact the vast expansion of the deformed workers' state theory to include Syria, Burma etc. - and the relegation of the conscious factor, the revolutions, the social overturns, to the status of inessentials - inescapably implies that the many do define the USSR - as a new form of class society.
That is the last thing Grant wants. In the 1940s he attempted to refute Tony Cliff's theory of state capitalism in the USSR by arguing that state capitalism was a logical impossibility. Unlike Trotsky he rules out even the theoretical possibility that nationalised property could be other than proletarian. But ideas have their own logic.
Grant's notion that we are in a whole epoch of progressive Stalinism - that this distinct form of society is the only and inevitable way to develop the productive forces in most of the world - implies that the bureaucracy in Russia was no aberration but something rooted in the fundamental needs of Russian society. The bureaucracy were not the usurpers that Trotsky says they were, but a legitimate historical ruling class.
'In Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, Syria, Ethiopia - the petty bourgeois intellectuals, army officers, leaders of guerrilla bands, use the workers and peasants as cannon fodder, merely as points of support, as a gun rest, so to speak. Their aim, conscious or unconscious, is not power for the workers and peasants, but power for their elite'. All distinctions between a genuine mass mobilisation and revolution, and palace coups, are suppressed by Grant.
DEVELOPING THE PRODUCTIVE FORCES - AT WHOSE EXPENSE?
The workers and peasants, in Grant's 'perspective'', are fated to be 'cannon fodder'. But 'proletarian Bonapartism', is still a tremendous step forward. 'These regimes... can... develop the productive forces with seven league boots. They carry out in backward countries the historic job which was carried out by the bourgeoisie in the capitalist countries in the past'.
Why should carrying out the jots of the bourgeoisie define army officers in Syria or anywhere else as 'proletarian'? Grant's argument depends on his repeated assertions about the absolute stagnation of capitalism (therefore, any system that sees development cannot be capitalist) and dogmatic manipulation of phrases from Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution (only on a proletarian basis can the bourgeois tasks be carried out).
But, labels aside, why do the Stalinist regimes develop the productive forces fast? Grant knows well enough, even though he would say that the progress is primarily a product of the nationalised economy and planning. The workers are under semi-slave conditions. The state has totalitarian control over them. All means of working-class self-defence are destroyed and systematically rooted out.
Such methods are inseparable from the results desired and advocated by Grant. (Notably, the least repressive of the Stalinist-type states, Cuba, has had a rate of economic growth not particularly impressive by comparison with capitalist countries).
Implicitly - with such conclusions as his attitude on Afghanistan - Grant is saying that 'the development of the productive forces' is more important than the working class and its struggles. And he is utterly fatalistic and dogmatic about the inevitability and progressiveness of 'proletarian Bonapartism'.
In fact there is a substantial proletariat in many Third World countries. Working-class revolution is not ruled out; and even if it were, socialists could not abandon the cause of the working class for the sake of ''the productive forces'. Far from adopting Grant's 'proletarian Bonapartism' as part of its programme (until socialism comes in the metropolitan countries), the working class in the Third World should fight, with guns and any other weapons at their disposal, and to the last ebb of their strength against the imposition of a Stalinist totalitarian state.
Of course no individual in Militant holds this attitude of welcoming Stalinism consciously, lucidly, and coherently. Yet the logic is there, for certain.
The major new experience - apart from Afghanistan - dealt with in Grant's 1978 article is Portugal. His fantastic account of the Portuguese revolution and implicitly of what our programme in it should have been shows that it is not only for the Third World, but even for the less-developed countries of Europe, that proletarian Bonapartism is on the agenda.
In April 1974 Portugal's crumbling semi-fascist dictatorship was brought down by an army revolt, As Portuguese politics radicalised, the top army ranks round General Spinola attempted a coup to clamp down on the revolution in March 1975. Their defeat by a workers' mobilisation opened a period of intense struggle.
Workers' commissions were set up in the factories, neighbourhood commissions in working-class districts. Factories and banks were brought under workers' control and nationalised. One shaky provisional government succeeded another, dominated by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and/or radicalised officers.
Many army officers started talking about revolution and socialism; and the first act in the coup, in November 1975, which halted the development of the revolution, was the removal of the left-wing general Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho and his unit, C pcon, from posts round Lisbon.
What account does Grant give? 'Under conditions of the crisis of capitalism in Portugal, a semi-colonial country, a majority of the officer caste... moved in the direction of revolution and 'socialism'. Only our tendency explained this process.
'This gave an impetus to the movement of the working class, which then reacted in its turn on the army. This affected... even some admirals and generals who were sincerely desirous of solving the problems of Portuguese society and the Portuguese people...
'True enough, because of the reformist and Stalinist betrayal of the Portuguese revolution - by preventing it from being carried through to completion [by the 'admirals and generals'?] - there has been a reaction. The army has been purged and purged again to become once more a reliable instrument of the bourgeoisie.
'But how far this has succeeded remains to be tested in the events of the revolution [sic] in the coming months and years'.
Rather than stressing the need for working-class independence, Grant looks to the officers. And not only in 1975! Three years later he is still looking hopefully for 'proletarian Bonapartists' to come forward.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Militant has transformed the Trotskyist idea that the Stalinist states are deformed and degenerated workers' states into a programmatic norm for most of the world. It has incorporated the so-called proletarian Bonapartist stage, which it says is now inevitable, into its programme, in the place held by the bourgeois revolution in the pre-1917 social democracy. It also explicitly says that Stalinism has not yet outlived its progressive role in the USSR.
Of course it talks about political revolution at a future stage, but its message to the workers in most of the world - including countries such as Portugal, it seems - is that 'proletarian Bonapartism' is a progressive stage in history which should be supported. 'Proletarian Bonapartism' is as distasteful to them as the notion of the inevitability of a capitalist stage was to Marxists in countries like Russia, but they consider it just as inescapable.
Even if Militant were right about the probable course of historical development in the Third World there are fundamental class reasons why Marxists could not endorse 'proletarian Bonapartism' in the way that pre-1917 revolutionaries endorsed bourgeois development in underdeveloped countries.
CAPITALISM AND STALINISM
In 19th century Europe capitalism developed industry, cleared away feudal restrictions, and also developed the working class. Marx and Engels argued for a recognition of the progressive role of capitalism, and an alliance between the working class and the middle-class revolutionaries.
Stalinism today in underdeveloped countries - so Militant's argument runs - develops industry, develops the working class, clears away feudal remnants. So why not 'critically' support the Stalinists' efforts to drag Afghanistan into the 20th century.
Why not? In the first place, Marx and Engels also argued for independent anti-capitalist activity by the working class at every stage. Lenin developed this emphasis with great sharpness in relation to capitalist development in Russia, denouncing the Mensheviks' passive self-limiting policy of accepting that the bourgeoisie was preordained to lead all and any general revolutionary movement for the foreseeable future.
Yet nothing the Mensheviks did comes near to equalling the fatalistic prostration of Militant before the Afghan Stalinists and the Russian Stalinists in Afghanistan.
Even the worst of the Mensheviks tried to organise workers independently for their immediate interests. Militant accepts that such workers' organisation is impossible under Stalinist rule. It deplores the fact, but accepts it as an inevitable feature of a whole stage of development in which the active agent, deserving of support for its progressive work, is the Stalinist bureaucracy.
At the end of that stage Militant sees the political revolution. But no practical conclusions follow for now.
Although Militant gives an accurate description of who dominates now in Afghanistan, of what the motives for the Russian invasion were, and although they describe the bureaucracy as totalitarian, at no point do they draw conclusions about actively opposing the oppressive, anti-working- class character of the regime that the Russians will create. They know that there will be 'totalitarian deformations', but that is not important, it is a secondary aspect of a fundamentally progressive phenomenon.
Trotskyists say that the bureaucracy can be (and has been) in certain circumstances revolutionary against the bourgeoisie, treating it (as Trotsky expressed it) as a competitor for the surplus product. It is in all circumstances counter-revolutionary against the working class. Militant might accept this formula. But it adds: even so it is progressive in backward countries.
Militant portrays the fact that the Russians will probably be able to create a stable regime in Afghanistan as reason for hope in the circumstances. It assumes, takes for granted, that the workers will support the transformation, and blandly sets aside the fact that this means co-option of individuals into the new bureaucracy and repression for the masses.
The monstrous logic of this argument is softened for Militant by a gross Eurocentrism. The Mensheviks, while organising workers independently, also fought actively to bring about the bourgeois 'stage' that they foresaw. Militant remains aloof, contenting itself with the thought that proletarian Bonapartism will be created by 'the magnificent movement of history'. It was notoriously inactive even in solidarity movements like the campaign to help the Vietnamese against US imperialism.
Again and again, Militant contents itself with a purely metropolitan-centred perspective. 'Once the decisive battle is joined in the metropolitan centres, the world situation will change completely... A Socialist Europe, Japan and America, would then lead Asia, Africa and Latin America direct to Communism in a world Federation''. (1964 document).
A FALSE ANALOGY
The presentation of Stalinism as a progressive historical force analogous to early capitalism is fundamentally false - and moreover undermines, as we shall see, the ritually-proclaimed perspective of political revolution.
Under the regime of Stalinist totalitarianism the working class is bound hand and foot, deprived of all rights by a highly conscious and militantly anti-working-class state apparatus which concentrates the means of production in its own hands, together with immense powers of oppression and terror.
It was possible, within developing capitalism, for Marxists to look to a capitalist evolution and still to relate to the working class, support its struggles, and try to organise it independently. The prospect was not that if the bourgeoisie established their regime, then the working class would be held in a totalitarian vice. On the contrary, even in the worst and most repressive capitalist hell-holes, the working class retained individual rights and could take advantage of loopholes to organise itself.
Bourgeois society offered the possibility of the workers organising themselves and developing politically and culturally. This did not happen without struggle, repression and setbacks - but it was not ruled out. It could happen and it did happen. And otherwise the Marxist policy would have been a nonsense.
A specific repressive and terribly reactionary regime is inseparable from Stalinism. Economic development was separable from the often repressive early capitalism regimes because the exploitation of the working class did not rest on its loyal status but on economic (market) transactions and the bourgeois ownership of the means of production. Stalinist economic development is inseparable from totalitarian oppression of the working class: the economics are not separable from the regime, and to opt for one is necessarily to opt for both. The surplus product is not seized primarily through market transactions, both via the wine-press grip of the bureaucracy. For this reason, the analogy with the capitalist development of the means of production is a piece of monstrous Stalinist nonsense.
THE BROAD SWEEP OF HISTORY
But in the broad sweep of history is it not true that the development of industry lays the basis for progress? In the broad sweep, yes - on condition that the working class liberates itself and seizes the control of the means of production from the hands of the bureaucracy.
But politics is necessarily concerned with a more immediate, sharper focus. In that focus the idea that the suppression (and slaughter, deportation, etc, which has been the stock-in-trade of the Stalinist bureaucracy ruling the USSR), is a detail in the broad sweep of history, is a monstrous anti-Trotskyist nonsense.
It loses the viewpoint of the militant who stands with the working class and with oppressed peoples, trying to organise them to make themselves the subjects of history, not its passive objects, in favour of the viewpoint of the historian/'prophet', the man in the ivory tower.
An entirely different set of values, priorities, concerns and considerations belong to the militants compared with the philosophers in the watch-towers. Of course Marxist militants inform their work with the general historical considerations. They do not allow them to override their goal of mobilising, organising, and rousing up the oppressed. They do not allow the goal of industrial development on the back of the masses to supplant the goal Trotsky outlines in the quotation at the beginning of this pamphlet.
THE STALINIST BUREAUCRACY AS NEW RULING CLASS
In the Grantite view of Afghanistan everything is eventually - and quickly - to be made right by the workers taking political power from the bureaucracy in Russia and elsewhere. Such a view is rational only on an analysis of Stalinism such as Trotsky's, which identifies the bureaucracy as being in fundamental contradiction with the basic socialised relations of production. (In the final analysis, that is because it is in fundamental contradiction with the working class).
Yet Grant presents a different picture: the bureaucracy (the Russian one or its would-be Afghan duplicate) is the bearer of a higher civilisation and will do for Afghanistan what capitalism did not Europe. The bureaucracy is at one, at least for a whole historical period, with the collectivised means of production, which for that epoch of history are 'its' means of production.
The implication is inescapable that Stalinism, which has a progressive role in the backward countries, has had a progressive role in Russia too. We have been through, and are still in, an epoch of progressive Stalinism.
And it follows necessarily that - whatever tags we call them by - the Stalin1st states are stable class societies, whose ruling group is not a usurping bureaucracy in contradiction to the property relations but a historically legitimate ruling class, whose role in history is to develop the forces of production. Grant, in fact, like Isaac Deutscher, is a Shachtmanite (bureaucratic collectivist) disguised within the verbiage of Trotsky's theory, and placing a plus sign of appreciation against the new class society between capitalism and socialism, while Shachtman placed a minus sign, calling it barbarism,
In that perspective, it is not clear why the working-class political revolution against Stalinism in Russia should be on the order of the day now, or even on the agenda of the next epoch at all.
DEFENCE OF THE USSR
But doesn't the Trotskyist commitment to defence of the USSR against imperialism necessarily imply support for the armies of the USSR in Afghanistan? No. Defencism is fundamentally a position against imperialism, against according it any progressive role, or allowing it to strengthen itself, against looking to anyone but the working class to deal with the bureaucracy, against allowing imperialism once again to feed off the areas taken out of its control in the USSR and later the other Stalinist states.
The remnants of the conquests of October are defended against imperialism despite the monstrous totalitarianism that is grafted onto them.
Already in 1939-40 Trotsky and his comrades declared: 'We were and remain against the seizure of new territories by the Kremlin'. The experience since then has vindicated and reinforced this position one hundredfold: in an advanced capitalist country like Czechoslovakia with a mass labour movement and a mass Communist Party (a real party, not a ruling apparatus created by the Russians), Russian control meant the annihilation of the labour movement.
Trotsky's view, in fact, was that the property relations were potentially progressive. Imperialism should not be allowed to destroy that progressive potential, but working class revolution was necessary to realise the potential. 'In order that nationalised property in the occupied areas as well as in the USSR become a basis for genuinely progressive, that is to say socialist development, it is necessary to overthrow the Moscow bureaucracy' (Trotsky). The USSR 'as a whole' - property relations plus bureaucratic tyranny - was a reactionary force.
Trotsky and his comrades categorically repudiated and denounced the 'pro-Soviet' propaganda of the professional friends of the Soviet Union - among them long-time Fabian enemies of Marxism in Britain like the Webbs and Shaw. The Trotskyists did not indulge in propaganda about the wonders worked by the nationalised economy, because they knew that would imply a shamefaced endorsement of 'socialism in one country'.
Of course, we supported the Vietnamese, for example, against imperialism, despite the Stalinist leadership. In the case of Afghanistan there is nothing to support but a very isolated Stalinist middle-class leadership, and the brutal extension of Kremlin power.
To say that the overthrow of already established nationalised property by imperialist intervention is reactionary and should be resisted is one thing. It is another to support the Russian bureaucracy against the people of an invaded country. We say to imperialism: hands off Afghanistan. We can't, or we should not, say that to the people of Afghanistan.
The view that Stalinist collectivism contains progressive or potentially progressive elements compared to imperialism or imperialist-backed alternatives is one thing. To slip from that into the view that the Stalinist regime is progressive even while it atomises and oppresses the working class and the plebeian population, is another. That is to accept the bureaucracy as the protagonist of history - for the 'next stage'. It is a reactionary and elitist position. No wonder Woods finds himself talking about the 'dark masses' of Afghanistan.
TROTSKY ON FINLAND AND POLAND
Many would-be Trotskyists think that Trotsky supported Stalin's expansion into Poland and Finland in 1939-40, and sometimes they cite this as authority for supporting the USSR in Afghanistan.
Nothing of the sort is true. Trotsky denounced Stalin's expansion, but also argued that the whole issue had to be seen in the context of the world war then in progress, in which attempts by imperialism to certain in the very short term. He regarded Finland as an outpost of Anglo-French imperialism.
In addition, Trotsky argued that revolutionaries must recognise that the Russian Army was likely to stimulate revolutionary struggle which the Stalinists would use against the Polish and Finnish ruling class - and then strangle. Revolutionaries should support any such independent working-class and poor-peasant-mobilisation, and align themselves with it. They should at the same time try to warn the workers and peasants against the Stalinist Russian state and all its instruments, as deadly enemies. They should immediately fight for political independence from the Stalinists - and prepare to fight them with guns.
It was a policy for the orientation of revolutionaries in a situation where (Trotsky assumed) the 'Red' Army still had a revolutionary prestige and authority with Polish workers and peasants, and with the oppressed Ukrainians in Poland - where its call to seize land, etc could be expected to evoke responses of a revolutionary sort. Nothing like that can be even imagined in Afghanistan. The Russians alienated even former supporters of the PDP.
And, as far as I know, Trotsky's assumptions about Eastern Poland and Finland were seriously mistaken. (He was starved of information). Even in 1939 the 'Red' Army's power to rouse revolutionary action was minimal. Its power to kill off Poles was much greater. Between one million and 1.5 million Poles wore deported to make Poland safe for Stalin. (The Poles numbered 5 million out of 13 million in Eastern Poland, the rest being Ukrainians and White Russians: unknown numbers of these went the way of the million and more Poles).
Trotsky partly acknowledged his mistake (see 'In Defence of Marxism'). And in any case he did not hesitate to describe the fate of the people of East Poland, in so far as they were subjugated by the 'Red' Army, as that of becoming 'the semi- slaves of Stalin'.
Where is the analogy in Afghanistan? World War 3 is not in progress. And Militant is supporting no mass movement, but the implied 'promise' of nationalisations and agrarian reform which are to be carried out by a totalitarian state once it has imposed itself by force against the resistance of the people of Afghanistan.
Where Militant parts company with Marxism is clear at this point: they do not relate to the working class and its struggles and interests.
The Stalinist 'revolution' will impose a savagely oppressive regime, which will destroy and continually uproot any elements of a labour movement. To go from the clear and simple idea of 'defencism' - that the conquest of the Stalinist states by imperialism and their return to capitalism would be reactionary and should be opposed by socialists - to go from that to support for the conquest and hoped-for transformation of Afghanistan is to travel light-years away from revolutionary socialism.
It is to take up residence on the grounds of Stalinism. It is to accommodate to the existing Stalinist bureaucracy with the 'perspective' (i.e. passive confidence) that after the totalitarian 'stage' will come a better stage.
Finally the supporters of Russia's conquest of Afghanistan have the fall-back argument: if the Russians go, there will be a bloodbath.
This argument was used intensely by the Mandelites and the SWP-USA in 1980; then they changed their minds and forgot about it.
In 1980 the short answer was: If the Russians stay there will be a bloodbath. There has been a bloodbath, and the bloody colonial war continues.
The argument always was and is now thoroughly dishonest. It is also incompletely stated. The complete version would say, and not just imply - a bloodbath of PDP people and collaborators with the Russians.
This is not a humanitarian objection, but taking sides with the Russians and their supporters. It is a variant of the idea that it is better if the Russians do what the PDP/army aspirant bureaucrats could not do - subjugate the population and make a Stalinist 'revolution'.
That has to be argued for and justified politically. For how many of the Afghans will the Russians shoot? Or napalm, or bury in the ruins of villages bombed for reprisal? And why is such a brutal transformation by conquest necessary?
Why should it not be what the majority of the peoples of Afghanistan want that occurs? Even if assimilation by the USSR is ultimately desirable, as Militant says, why can't this area wait until the majority of its own population decides to fight for social change, or until a socialist revolution in other countries makes it possible to attract its people to the work of transforming their own country? From the point of view of the international socialist revolution, there is no reason why not.
Something basic is involved in the bloodbath argument. It is impossible to work out a serious independent working-class political assessment on the basis of such gun-to-head questions as: do you want the right-wing Muslim reactionaries to triumph? Yes or no?
In any acute situation where a large revolutionary working-class movement does not exist, the gun-to-head appeal to responsibility, humanitarianism, and the lesser evil can almost always be counterposed to an independent working-class political assessment. For example, in 1969 when the British army was deployed to stop sectarian fighting in Derry and Belfast, enormous pressure was generated to support the use of the troops, or refrain from opposing their use, on the ground that they had probably saved Catholic lives and that Catholics had welcomed them. No doubt they did save Catholic lives, and certainly Catholics welcomed them, including the Republicans.
A lot of socialists succumbed to the pressure. The SWP (then IS) did. The small minority at the September 1969 IS conference who resisted and called for opposition to the British imperialist troops were met with hysterical denunciations and slandered as 'fascists' who 'wanted a bloodbath'. Yet it was those Marxists who refused to be panicked or to abandon their understanding of Britain's role in Ireland who had the better grasp of reality.
But then, Ted Grant might say, it was plainly a matter of a reactionary imperialist army. And in Afghanistan... it is a matter of the thoroughly reactionary anti-working-class army of the Russian bureaucracy.
If the Russians withdraw it might well prove to be the case that the final result of the strange episode of the seizure of power by the putschist PDP/army 'bureaucratic revolutionaries' would be a massacre of PDP supporters (though presumably most of them would leave with the withdrawing army). That would be a tragedy.
But it cannot follow that because of this, Marxist socialists should abandon their programmatic opposition to the expansion of the area under Kremlin control, or should abandon the idea that the consolidation of a Stalinist regime in Afghanistan would be a defeat for the working class.
We cannot abandon independent working-class politics for the lesser evil - for the PDP and the supporters of the Russians - in a situation which the putsch, the policy of the PDP/army, and the Russian invasion has created for them. They are not, to quote Trotsky, the inspectors general of history.
The political independence of the working class, and in the pioneering place the political independence of the Marxists, is the to-be-or-not-to-be question for socialism - independence from the bourgeoisie, from the labour bureaucracy, and from the totalitarian state bureaucracies of the Stalinist states. This is the immediate political question for people who may take Militant's pro-Stalinist line on Afghanistan for Marxism.
While Militant is unlikely to influence events in Afghanistan, it does influence people in Britain (and perhaps elsewhere). It influences them away from independent working class politics and towards the role of cheerleaders for the 'progressive' Stalinists in Afghanistan.
For more than five years now Militant has supported the USSR's attempt to subjugate the Afghan peoples by way of a murderous colonial war. In Afghanistan and in relation to Afghanistan Militant has abandoned the basic commitment to working-class political independence, as well as the Trotskyist programme.
Militant insists that the proper role for socialist militants is to line up firmly with one of the international counter-revolutionary blocs. It deplores the lack of class consciousness and failure to relate properly to the 'major' contradiction of our time on the part of the British CP because it does not support the Russian invasion. Militant even criticised the Tribunites, as we say, for not basing themselves on the actual relations between the great powers!
Even the most wretched of the left reformist currents is too independent for 'Labour's Marxist Voice'.
Click here to read whole text as pdf
- PART 1: THE STALINIST APRIL 1978 COUP AND THE RUSSIAN DECEMBER 1979 INVASION
- PART 2: GRANT AND TAAFFE HAIL THE STALINIST COUP AND BACK THE INVADERS
- PART 3: MILITANT/SOCIALIST PARTY AND STALINIST REVOLUTIONS
- PART 4: MILITANT/SOCIALIST PARTY AND STALINIST EXPANSION