An article by Israel Shamir, La saga de Woods, appeared on October 15, on the Spanish language web site Rebelión. Shamir brings out all his Stalinist venom against genuine Marxism – i.e. Trotskyism – but he also adds some of his own novel ideas. Alan Woods, basing himself on the classical writings of Marx, Engels and in particular Lenin, shows how Stalinism and Marxism are opposites.
I must confess that I had never heard of Israel Shamir before now. I have been informed that he is a writer and journalist who lives in Jaffa in Israel. Although we have never met, I have come to the conclusion that he must be a very clever man. He manages to do something that would be quite impossible for ordinary mortals. He answers articles he has not read. This is an art I confess I have never mastered. Some time he must tell me how he does it.
He seems to think that he has comprehensively demolished the ideas of Trotskyism. This reminds me of the Little Tailor in the fairy story who went around boasting that he had killed “seven with one blow”. People thought he was referring to seven men and were duly impressed. But when they found out he was only referring to seven flies, their admiration for the little man was somewhat diminished. In the case of Israel Shamir, he has not even killed one fly, but is merely flailing the air with his arms and making himself ridiculous.
Mr. Shamir is kind enough to describe me as, “the prolific Trotskyite writer Alan Woods” and, to give him his due, he publishes a link to the three articles I wrote in response to his attack on Celia Hart. But he immediately starts to complain about my “triptych” as he calls it. I regret to say that he found it, “an extremely lengthy response to my short piece”.
I regret that this reply will not be any shorter, and for this reason: it is easy to write distortions and lies in a few lines, but to answer them takes a lot more. As we have pointed on several other occasions like this, in order to nail a lie it is necessary to quote sources, facts and figures. This our critic never does in his articles, which is why they are worth about as much as the little tailor’s seven dead flies.
Israel Shamir cannot be bothered to read long books and articles, which is why he objects not only to “the prolific Trotskyite writer Alan Woods”, but also to the even more prolific writers Marx, Engels and Lenin, who he also has not bothered to read. There is a Spanish proverb that says “ignorance is audacious” (la ignorancia es atrevida). This is a classical case.
A few preliminary questions
Israel Shamir begins his latest diatribe with a warning: “Do not take my polemics with Alan Woods for a learned discussion of the Russian Revolution; the argument is not about Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin (let their souls rest in peace in the bosom of Marx in the Communist paradise) but about extremely relevant issues of our day, though presented in historical perspective.”
On one thing at least we can agree. There is nothing “learned” about what Israel Shamir writes. What we find here is a complete absence of scientific rigor and seriousness. The most scandalous assertions are put forward, one after the other without the slightest attempt to prove them. We have merely to accept everything our friend says and ask no questions. The general approach is light minded in the extreme.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with his tablets of stone and his face shining like the sun, the ancient Israelites prostrated themselves before him. They asked for no proofs. But that was in another, more credulous age. Now we are living in the 21st century, Stalin is dead, the Soviet Union has collapsed and sacred tablets are in very short supply.
For a long time after the death of Lenin the world Communist movement was required to accept everything the Stalinist leaders told them without question. Those who did ask awkward questions were labelled “Trotskyists” and expelled – or worse. This monstrous Stalinist regime had nothing in common with the Bolshevik Party, the most democratic party in history, or with the regime of soviet workers’ democracy established by Lenin and Trotsky in 1917.
Mr. Shamir obviously misses the good old days when no questions were asked. But those days are dead and gone. The collapse of the USSR has raised many questions in the minds of honest Communists everywhere. They are not prepared to accept the old sophistry and lies. It is in this context that the question is raised of a reappraisal of the ideas of Leon Trotsky by the Communist movement. People want to know the truth about the man who, together with Lenin, led the October Revolution and who, together with those Communists who defended the real traditions of October and Bolshevik-Leninism, opposed Stalinism.
To this very day the leaders of the Communist Parties internationally have not provided any serious explanation for the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are incapable of providing one. It is only in the pages of The Revolution Betrayed and the numerous other books and articles written by Leon Trotsky in the 1930s that you will find a genuine Marxist explanation of everything that happened after Lenin’s death in the USSR.
Trotsky not only predicted that the Stalinist bureaucracy would end by restoring capitalism in the USSR. He gave a precise description of what would happen afterwards: “The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture.” This is exactly what has happened in Russia over the last ten years or so.
Let us begin with some awkward questions for our Stalinist opponents. The first question is: if we accept what you say, that the Soviet Union was a socialist paradise, then how come it collapsed?
The second question will be: if, as you say, the CPSU was a genuine Communist Party led by committed Marxist Leninists, how does it happen that most of them have gone over to capitalism with arms and baggage and are now multi-millionaires through looting state property?
The third question will be: if there was a genuine workers’ democracy in the USSR, why did the Soviet workers not fight to defend the old regime? How does it happen that after over half a century of what Israel Shamir calls socialism, they could re-establish capitalism without a civil war?
Shamir covers his rear
Being a clever man, Israel begins by covering his backside. Having declared the “non-learned” (that is to say, completely arbitrary, frivolous and unscientific) nature of his articles, he then adds (contrary to what he said before) that argument is not about Trotsky and Stalin at all! Moreover, we are cordially invited to let their souls rest in peace.
We draw the reader’s attention to the self-evident tone of bourgeois cynicism in these lines, especially the phrase “in the bosom of Marx in the Communist paradise.” We have come across this kind of thing too many times in recent years. Marx and Lenin? Bah! That is old hat! What do we need them for? Let these old guys rest in peace! Let us deal with the problems of the modern world.
This is the position, not of a Communist, but of a bourgeois sceptic or rather an ex-Communist bureaucrat who has drawn the conclusion after the fall of the USSR that the idea of fighting for socialism (the “Communist paradise”) is completely utopian and must be abandoned, along with all those old-fashioned ideas of Marx.
Here we immediately come to the heart of the problem. The essence of this discussion is not whether the ideas of Trotsky are correct. It is whether the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin are correct and still applicable to the modern world.
In reality there is no difference between the ideas of Lenin and those of Marx and there is no difference between the ideas of Lenin and those of Trotsky. Trotsky and his followers called themselves Bolshevik-Leninists. It was the Stalinists who invented “Trotskyism”. But there is an enormous difference between Stalinism and Bolshevism – a line of blood separates the two. They have nothing in common.
The “three whales” of Alan Woods
The real significance of Isreal Shamir is that he expresses with admirable clarity the fact that Stalinism represents the absolute negation of Marxism and Leninism. We will now pass on to what Israel Shamir calls my “three whales”.
“Woods draws a full picture of the sort of communism he subscribes to, and wishes you to adopt it. It rests upon three whales, as did the world in ancient cosmography.”
As a matter of fact, I did not draw “a full picture of the sort of communism I subscribe to”, whatever that is. I did not deal with communist society at all. In my articles I wrote on the problems facing the Bolsheviks after the working class had taken power in Russia, an extremely backward country in which, as even Stalin knew, the material conditions for building socialism were absent. Lenin never claimed that socialism existed in Russia (let alone communism).
What existed in Russia after the October Revolution was neither socialism nor communism but a workers’ state or the dictatorship of the proletariat, as Marx called it. Moreover, as Lenin pointed out to Bukharin in 1920, given Russia’s extreme backwardness, it was a workers’ state “with bureaucratic deformations”. This is known to Marxists as the transitional period – the period between capitalism and socialism. Since Mr. Shamir considers that the ideas of Marx should be left in peace, we apologise for mentioning this, but it is a fact anyway.
Anybody who is even slightly acquainted with the “old” ideas of Marxism knows that between capitalism and socialism there is a transitional period, in which the bourgeoisie is expropriated and a nationalised planned economy is installed. This represents a colossal conquest and a big step forward, as the history of the USSR (and also Cuba) demonstrated. But it is not yet socialism.
This was ABC for every Marxist (including Stalin until 1924), although it is something completely new for Israel Shamir. For this great genius there is capitalism and there is socialism, and nothing else. Therefore, when Alan Woods says that it was not possible to build socialism in Russia as long as it remained isolated in conditions of frightful backwardness, he becomes apoplectic with rage.
Using that brand of sophistry peculiar to the Jesuits and certain types of scholastic rabbis of the Talmudic type, Shamir then concludes that Alan Woods is not in favour of the socialist revolution in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba – or anywhere else! What this shows is that, as usual, he does not have the slightest idea of what he is talking about.
What is the theory of the permanent revolution?
Prior to 1917 all the tendencies in the Russian Marxist movement agreed that the coming revolution would be a bourgeois-democratic revolution, i.e. a revolution produced by the contradiction between the developing capitalist economy and the semi-feudal autocratic state of Tsarism. But the mere general admission of the bourgeois nature of the revolution could not answer the concrete question of which class would lead the revolutionary struggle against autocracy.
The Mensheviks assumed by analogy with the great bourgeois revolutions of the past, that the revolution would be led by the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats, whom the workers’ movement would support. This was fiercely opposed by Lenin, and this constituted the central political difference between Bolshevism (proletarian revolutionism) and Menshevism (petty bourgeois reformism).
In all of Lenin’s speeches and writings, the counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeois-democratic Liberals is stressed time and time again. However, up until 1917, he did not believe that the Russian workers would come to power before the socialist revolution in the West. Following in the footsteps of Marx, who had described the bourgeois “democratic party” as “far more dangerous to the workers than the previous liberals”, Lenin explained that the Russian bourgeoisie, far from being an ally of the workers, would inevitably side with the counterrevolution:
“The bourgeoisie in the mass,” he wrote in 1905, “will inevitably turn towards the counter-revolution, towards the autocracy, against the revolution, and against the people, as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it ‘recoils’ from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!)” (Works, vol. 9, page 98)
In Lenin’s view the only class that could lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution was the proletariat, in alliance with and the peasantry:
“The proletariat alone can be relied on to march on to the end, for it goes far beyond the democratic revolution. That is why the proletariat fights in the forefront for a republic and contemptuously rejects stupid and unworthy advice to take into account the possibility of the bourgeoisie recoiling.” (ibid)
On the question of the attitude to the bourgeois Liberals the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky were in complete solidarity as against the Mensheviks who hid behind the bourgeois nature of the revolution as a cloak for the subordination of the workers’ party to the bourgeoisie. Arguing against class collaboration, both Lenin and Trotsky explained that only the working class, in alliance with the peasant masses, could carry out the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.
The only difference between Lenin and Trotsky on the perspectives for the Russian Revolution was that before 1917 Lenin thought that the working class would not carry through a socialist revolution in backward tsarist Russia before the socialist revolution had triumphed in the West. Here is what Lenin had actually did say on the class nature of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”:
“But of course it will be a democratic, not a socialist dictatorship. It will be unable (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) to affect the foundations of capitalism. At best, it may bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favour of the peasantry, establish consistent and full democracy, including the formation of a republic, eradicate all the oppressive features of Asiatic bondage... lay the foundations for a thorough improvement in the conditions of the workers and for a rise in their standard of living, and – last but not least – carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe.” (Works, vol. 9, page 57, my emphasis, AW)
Lenin’s position is absolutely clear and unambiguous: the coming revolution will be a bourgeois revolution, led by the proletariat in alliance with the peasant masses. The best that can be expected of it is the fulfilment of basic bourgeois-democratic tasks: distribution of land to the peasants, a democratic republic, etc. Not only did Lenin not believe in the possibility of building socialism in Russia, but before February 1917 he did not even believe that the Russian workers could come to power before the workers of Europe.
For Lenin, no other outcome was possible on the basis of a backward, semi-feudal country like Russia. Before 1917, the only Russian Marxist who put forward the perspective that the Russian workers could come to power before the workers of Europe was Trotsky. As early as 1904 he advanced the theory of the permanent revolution, which states that in underdeveloped countries like tsarist Russia (but also China, Cuba, Vietnam and Venezuela), the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution can only be carried out by the working class taking power into its own hands, placing itself at the head of the nation and expropriating the landlords and capitalists:
“It is possible [wrote Trotsky in 1905] for the workers to come to power in an economically backward country sooner than in an advanced country...In our view, the Russian revolution will create conditions in which power can pass into the hands of the workers...and in the event of the victory of the revolution it must do so...before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism get the chance to display to the full their talents for governing.” (Results and Prospects, page 195)
The correctness of the permanent revolution was triumphantly demonstrated by the October Revolution itself. The Russian working class – as Trotsky had predicted in 1904 – came to power before the workers of Western Europe. They carried out all the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and immediately set about nationalising industry and passing over to the tasks of the socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie played an openly counterrevolutionary role, but was defeated by the workers in alliance with the poor peasants. The Bolsheviks then made a revolutionary appeal to the workers of the world to follow their example.
Socialism in one country?
When the Mensheviks argued that the material conditions for socialism were absent in Russia nobody argued with them, least of all Lenin. He knew very well that without the victory of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, especially Germany, the revolution could not survive isolated, especially in a backward country like Russia. Did this mean that therefore the Bolsheviks should not take power? Not at all. That was precisely the argument of the Mensheviks.
If the Russian Revolution had been conceived as an isolated and self-sufficient act – the way in which the narrow nationalist Shamir sees it – then the Mensheviks would have been correct and the taking of power by the Bolsheviks would have been an adventure. But the whole point was that Lenin never saw the Russian Revolution in the way that Shamir sees it – as a purely isolated national act. He always saw the Russian Revolution as the first step in the European and world revolution.
This was the case even when Lenin still thought that the Russian Revolution could not go beyond the limits of an advanced bourgeois democratic revolution (a position he held up until 1917). He always stressed its international dimension and pointed out that the final destiny of the Russian Revolution would depend on the extension of the revolution to Germany and the other countries of Europe.
Israel Shamir does not want us to quote Lenin, but we must beg his pardon and do just this. In his book Two Tactics of the Social Democracy, Lenin explains that the Russian revolution will not be able to affect the foundations of capitalism “without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary developments.” What developments did Lenin have in mind? He says the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia will:
“...last but not least carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe. Such a victory will not yet by any means transform our bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution; the democratic revolution will not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships, nevertheless, the significance of such a victory for the future development of Russia and for the whole world will be immense. Nothing will raise the revolutionary energy of the world proletariat so much, nothing will shorten the path leading to its complete victory to such an extent, as this decisive victory of the revolution that has now started in Russia.” (ibid, page 57)
Lenin’s internationalism is in complete contradiction to the narrow nationalism of the Stalinists. Neither Lenin, nor any other Marxist, seriously entertained the idea that it was possible to build “socialism in a single country”, much less in a backward, Asiatic, peasant country like Russia. Elsewhere Lenin explains, what would be ABC for any Marxist, that the conditions for a socialist transformation of society were absent in Russia, although they were fully matured in Western Europe. Polemicising against the Mensheviks in Two Tactics, Lenin reiterates the classical position of Marxism on the international significance of the Russian revolution:
“The basic idea here is one repeatedly formulated by Vperyod [Lenin’s paper] which has stated that we must not be afraid... of Social Democracy’s complete victory in a democratic revolution, i.e. of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, for such a victory will enable us to rouse Europe; after throwing off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, the socialist proletariat in Europe will in its turn help us to accomplish the socialist revolution.” (ibid, page 82, my emphasis)
In April 1917 Lenin changed his mind. He immediately saw that the only way forward was that the working class should take power into its own hands (“all power to the soviets”). This idea – which was the same idea Trotsky had defended since 1904 – was opposed by the other Bolshevik leaders, Kamenev, Zinoviev – and Stalin. They had the same position of our friend in Jaffa, that the working class must not take power but must ally itself with the progressive national bourgeoisie. When Lenin submitted his celebrated April Theses to Pravda (then edited by Kamenev and Stalin) they were published in his own name as a personal opinion. But after a fierce struggle Lenin won the majority and, together with Trotsky, led the working class to victory.
What is socialism?
For Marxists the October revolution was the greatest event in human history. Here for the first time, if we exclude that glorious episode of the Paris Commune, the masses – those millions of ordinary working men and women – overthrew the old regime of oppression and at least began the task of the socialist transformation of society. The Bolsheviks expropriated the bourgeoisie and instituted a nationalised planned economy. They based themselves on workers’ democracy and the rule of the working class through the soviets. It was a tremendous victory. But was it socialism?
Marx once said that the socialist revolution would begin in France, be continued in Germany and finished in England. Russia was not even mentioned. The reason was that at that time capitalism had not yet developed in countries like Russia. There was no industry and no working class. But with the development of imperialism and the export of capital, the situation changed dramatically. Asia, Africa and Latin America began to enter the capitalist road as a result of foreign capital.
The law of combined and uneven development meant that even in underdeveloped agrarian countries like semi-feudal Russia, there were centres of industry with high concentrations of workers. This did not mean that the underdeveloped countries would experience an identical development to the metropolitan capitalist countries. The bourgeoisie of these countries had come onto the stage of history too late to play a progressive role. It was tied with a thousand threads to the landlords and to imperialism. On the other hand, the workers of Russia were open to the most revolutionary ideas.
This created the possibility of the working class coming to power in a backward country before the workers of Europe were ready to take power. Contrary to Marx’s expectation, the first workers’ state in the world came to power, not in a developed industrial country, but in backward agrarian Russia. The capitalist system, in Lenin’s words, “broke at its weakest link”. The Bolsheviks had the perspective of developing the revolution in Europe, especially Germany. They regarded the October Revolution as the beginning of the new world socialist order.
Socialism, as understood by Marx and Lenin, presupposes that the development of the productive forces has reached a sufficient level that it would eliminate all material inequality. The abolition of classes cannot be established by decree. It must arise from a superabundance of things that would universally raise the quality of life to unheard-of levels.
All the basic human needs would be satisfied, and therefore the humiliating struggle for existence would cease. A general reduction in working hours would provide the conditions for an unparalleled development of culture. It would enable men and women to participate in the administration of industry, the state and society. From the very beginning the workers state would be characterised by a level of democratic participation far superior to the most democratic bourgeois republic.
As a consequence, classes would dissolve into society, together with the last vestiges of class society – money and the state. This would give rise to genuine communism and the replacement of the domination of man by man with the “administration of things”, to use Engels’ expression. This, and nothing else, is what Marxists call socialism. Ultimately, the success of socialism can only be guaranteed by world socialism and a socialist planned world economy.
The nationalization of the productive forces was a great step forward, but it by no means guaranteed the victory of socialism in Russia. As Trotsky put it:
“Socialism is the organisation of a planned and harmonious social production for the satisfaction of human wants. Collective ownership of the means of production is not yet socialism, but only its legal premise. The problem of a socialist society cannot be abstracted from the problem of the productive forces, which at the present stage of human development are worldwide in their very essence.” (Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p. 1237)
Rather than building on the foundations of the most advanced capitalism, the Soviet regime was attempting to overcome pre-socialist and pre-capitalist problems. The task became “catch up with Europe and America”. This was very far even from the “lowest stage of communism” envisaged by Marx. The Bolsheviks were forced to tackle economic and cultural problems that had long ago been solved in the West.
What we had in Russia was not socialism but a workers’ state, and moreover a workers’ state in conditions of terrible backwardness, encircled by hostile capitalist powers. This backwardness, and the isolation of the revolution, began to bear down on the Soviet working class. Civil war, famine and physical exhaustion forced them into political apathy and gave rise to increasing bureaucratic deformations in the state and party.
The main task was to hold on to power for as long as possible. Lenin never envisaged the prolonged isolation of the Soviet state. Either the isolation would be broken or the Soviet regime would be doomed. Everything depended upon the world revolution. Its delay created enormous difficulties that were to have profound consequences. Instead of the withering away of the state, the opposite process took place. On the basis of destitution aggravated by the civil war and economic blockade, the “struggle for individual existence”, to use Marx’s phrase, did not disappear or soften, but assumed in succeeding years an unheard of ferocity.
International assistance was vital to ensure the survival of the young Soviet republic. The Bolsheviks tried to hold on to power – despite all the odds – for as long as possible until assistance came from the West. That is why Lenin and the Bolsheviks attached such importance to building the Communist International and carrying out the world revolution. On the basis of a worldwide plan of production and a new world division of labour, this would give rise to a mighty impulse to the productive forces. Science and modern technique would be used to harness nature and turn deserts into fertile plains. All the destruction of the planet and the appalling waste of capitalism would be brought to an end. Within a generation or so the material basis for socialism would be laid.
Lenin and “Socialism in One Country”
Whale No. 1., says Israel, is “No to Socialism in One Country”. Here, for once, Shamir manages to quote something I wrote: “At the heart of the ideology of Stalinism is the so-called theory of socialism in one country. The anti-Marxist theory of ‘socialism in one country’, first expounded by Stalin in the autumn of 1924, went against everything the Bolsheviks and the Communist International, had preached. Such a notion could never have been countenanced by Marx or Lenin.”
At once Israel springs into action, waving his sword and brandishing his shield: “Let us disengage ourselves from the Talmudic discussion about what exactly was said by Marx, Lenin or Stalin.” The shield here is considerably more important than anything else, since it is necessary to cover his bare backside. He does not want us to quote from Marx or Lenin, because he knows very well that his position is flatly opposed to everything they ever said or wrote.
He says that to quote Lenin is to fall into a “Talmudic discussion.” As Mr. Shamir knows, the medieval Talmudic scholars, like the Christian Schoolmen, were highly intelligent people and capable of very skilful argument on the minutiae of religious doctrine. If they had a fault it was that, in order to defend an untenable position, they resorted to what is known in philosophy as sophistry. This is precisely the method of Israel Shamir, who has thoroughly absorbed the most negative aspects of Talmudic thought. This is the “clever” method he uses throughout.
“Never mind what Marx, Lenin or Stalin said, he says. Just listen to me!” But if the argument is about Marxism, how can we not quote what Marx and Lenin actually said? Unless, of course, we accept the argument of the ex-Marxists that all that Marx and Lenin wrote is really “old hat” and not worth the paper it is written on.
We are obliged to quote Lenin to prove that these ideas were not invented by Alan Woods, but were, in fact, the ideas of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. And to save Israel Shamir a lot of time and effort by providing him with a few relevant quotes from Lenin’s Collected Works. The following are just a few examples. They could be multiplied at will:
24th January 1918:
“We are far from having completed even the transitional period from capitalism to socialism. We have never cherished the hope that we could finish it without the aid of the international proletariat. We never had any illusions on that score. The final victory of socialism in a single country is of course impossible. Our contingent of workers and peasants which is upholding Soviet power is one of the contingents of the great world army, which at present has been split by the world war, but which is striving for unity. We can now see clearly how far the development of the Revolution will go. The Russian began it – the German, the Frenchman and the Englishman will finish it, and socialism will be victorious.” (LCW, Vol. 26, pp. 465-72.)
8th March 1918:
“The Congress considers the only reliable guarantee of the consolidation of the socialist revolution that has been victorious in Russia to be its conversion into a world working-class revolution.” (LCW, from Resolution on War and Peace, Vol. 27. p. 119.)
23rd April 1918:
“We shall achieve final victory only when we succeed at last in conclusively smashing international imperialism, which relies on the tremendous strength of its equipment and discipline. But we shall achieve victory only together with all the workers of other countries, of the whole world.” (LCW, Vol. 27, p. 231.)
14th May 1918:
“To wait until the working classes carry out a revolution on an international scale means that everyone will remain suspended in mid-air. It may begin with brilliant success in one country and then go through agonising periods, since final victory is only possible on a world scale, and only by the joint efforts of the workers of all countries.” (LCW, Vol. 27, pp. 372-3.)
29th July 1918:
“We never harboured the illusion that the forces of the proletariat and the revolutionary people of any one country, however heroic and however organised and disciplined they might be, could overthrow international imperialism. That can be done only by the joint efforts of the workers of the world. We never deceived ourselves into thinking this could be done by the efforts of one country alone. We knew that our efforts were inevitably leading to a worldwide revolution, and that the war begun by the imperialist governments could not be stopped by the efforts of those governments themselves. It can be stopped only by the efforts of all workers; and when we came to power, our task was to retain that power, that torch of socialism, so that it might scatter as many sparks as possible to add to the growing flames of socialist revolution.” (LCW, Vol. 28, pp. 24-5.)
8th November 1918:
“From the very beginning of the October Revolution, foreign policy and international relations have been the main question facing us. Not merely because from now on all the states of the world are being firmly linked by imperialism into one, dirty, bloody mass, but because the complete victory of the socialist revolution in one country alone is inconceivable and demands the most active co-operation of at least several advanced countries, which do not include Russia. We have never been so near to world proletarian revolution as we are now. We have proved we were not mistaken in banking on world proletarian revolution. Even if they crush one country, they can never crush the world proletarian revolution, they will only add fuel to the flames that will consume them all.” (LCW, Vol. 28, pp. 151-64.)
20th November 1918:
“The transformation of our Russian Revolution into a socialist revolution was not a dubious venture but a necessity, for there was no other alternative: Anglo-French and American imperialism will inevitably destroy the independence and freedom of Russia if the world socialist revolution, world Bolshevism, does not triumph.” (LCW, Vol. 28, p. 188.)
15th March 1919:
“Complete and final victory on a world scale cannot be achieved in Russia alone; it can be achieved only when the proletariat is victorious in at least all the advanced countries, or, at all events, in some of the largest of the advanced countries. Only then shall we be able to say with absolute confidence that the cause of the proletariat has triumphed, that our first objective – the overthrow of capitalism – has been achieved. We have achieved this objective in one country, and this confronts us with a second task. Since Soviet power has been established, since the bourgeoisie has been overthrown in one country, the second task is to wage the struggle on a world scale, on a different plane, the struggle of the proletarian state surrounded by capitalist states.” (LCW, Vol. 29, pp. 151-64.)
5th December 1919:
“Both prior to October and during the October Revolution, we always said that we regard ourselves and can only regard ourselves as one of the contingents of the international proletarian army. We always said that the victory of the socialist revolution therefore, can only be regarded as final when it becomes the victory of the proletariat in at least several advanced countries.” (LCW, Vol. 30, pp. 207-8.)
20th November 1920:
“The Mensheviks assert that we are pledged to defeating the world bourgeoisie on our own. We have, however, always said that we are only a single link in the chain of the world revolution, and have never set ourselves the aim of achieving victory by our own means.” (LCW, Vol. 31, p. 431.)
End of February 1922:
“But we have not finished building even the foundations of socialist economy and the hostile powers of moribund capitalism can still deprive us of that. We must clearly appreciate this and frankly admit it; for there is nothing more dangerous than illusions. And there is absolutely nothing terrible in admitting this bitter truth; for we have always urged and reiterated the elementary truth of Marxism – that the joint efforts of the workers of several advanced countries are needed for the victory of socialism.” (LCW, Vol. 33, p. 206.)
As you can see, it is not at all difficult to establish beyond doubt Lenin’s position on the necessity for world revolution. Unless the Soviet state succeeded in breaking out of its isolation, he thought that the October Revolution could not survive for any length of time. This idea is repeated time after time in Lenin’s writings and speeches after the Revolution. In the end, the revolutionary movements in Germany, Hungary, Italy and other countries were defeated, but they were sufficient to halt the attempts of imperialism to overthrow the Bolsheviks by armed intervention. The Russian workers’ state survived, but prolonged isolation in conditions of extreme backwardness produced a process of bureaucratic degeneration that was the basis for the Stalinist political counterrevolution.
The Stalin School of Falsification
“This thesis of Woods means that in no country should Communists attempt to take over power; because if they will, it will be ‘socialism in one country’. Communists a-la Woods would peacefully wait until the world bourgeoisie surrenders its power on a planetary scale. If Woods were in the place of Joseph Stalin he would quietly return Russia to the Tsar or to Kerensky, in order to avoid this abomination of ‘socialism in one country’.”
This is a classic example of the Stalin School of Falsification. When and where has he ever found any article, book or sentence of mine that could be interpreted to mean that Communists should “peacefully wait until the world bourgeoisie surrenders its power on a planetary scale”?
Here and now I challenge Shamir to produce just one phrase from my “prolific writings” to justify this ridiculous affirmation. If he can do so, I will publicly say that Israel Shamir is right. But if he cannot, he must stand exposed before the world Communist movement as a liar and a charlatan.
What is the real position of Marxism on this question? It was already explained by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, where they wrote that the proletarian revolution, though national in form is international in content. The workers must first settle accounts with their own bourgeoisie and carry out the revolution in their own country. How could it be otherwise?
But here Shamir makes a major theoretical blunder. He confuses the building of socialism with the socialist revolution. As we have seen, the two things are not at all the same. The Russian workers, led by the Bolshevik Party under Lenin and Trotsky took power in Russia, not because the objective conditions for socialism existed (they did not) but because it was possible and necessary for them to overthrow tsarism.
The German Revolution
In one of my articles I wrote: “Lenin knew very well that unless the proletarian revolution triumphed in Western Europe, especially in Germany, the October Revolution would ultimately be doomed... How was it possible to construct a national socialism in a single country, let alone an extremely backward country like Russia?”
Israel Shamir says that “Woods ascribes this view to Lenin” That is to say, he claims I am putting words into Lenin’s mouth that he never said. What is the truth about Lenin’s attitude to the German Revolution?
Lenin’s internationalism was not the product of sentimentality or utopianism, but on the contrary, of a realistic appraisal of the situation. Lenin was well aware that the material conditions for socialism did not exist in Russia, but they did exist on a world scale. The world socialist revolution would prevent the revival of those barbarous features of class society which Marx referred to as “all the old crap” by guaranteeing at its inception a higher development than capitalist society.
This was the reason why Lenin placed such strong emphasis on the perspective of international revolution, and why he devoted so much time and energy to the building of the Communist International. Lenin saw the defeat of the first wave of the European revolution as a terrible blow that served to isolate the Soviet republic for a period. This was no secondary matter, but a matter of life or death for the revolution. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had made it abundantly clear that if the revolution was not spread to the West, they would be doomed.
Let us again allow Lenin to speak for himself. On the 7th March 1918, Lenin weighed up the situation:
“Regarded from the world-historical point of view, there would doubtlessly be no hope of the ultimate victory of our revolution if it were to remain alone, if there were no revolutionary movements in other countries. When the Bolshevik Party tackled the job alone, it did so in the firm conviction that the revolution was maturing in all countries and that in the end – but not at the very beginning – no matter what difficulties we experienced, no matter what defeats were in store for us, the world socialist revolution would come – because it is coming; would mature – because it is maturing and will reach full maturity. I repeat, our salvation from all these difficulties is an all-European revolution.” (LCW, Vol. 27, p. 95.)
He then concluded: “At all events, under all conceivable circumstances, if the German Revolution does not come, we are doomed.” (LCW, Vol. 27, p. 98.) Weeks later he repeated the same position: “Our backwardness has put us in the front-line, and we shall perish unless we are capable of holding out until we shall receive powerful support from workers who have risen in revolt in other countries.” (Ibid., p. 232. my emphasis.)
Is this not perfectly clear? Lenin attached extreme importance to the German revolution, which he considered fundamental to the survival of the Russian revolution. His standpoint was as far removed from the narrow nationalism of Israel Shamir as North from South. But let us let Lenin rest in peace! Shamir cheerfully continues: “In Woods’ view, this means that after the defeat of the revolution in Germany in 1920, the Russian communists were to crawl back underground.”
Israel Shamir cannot even get the dates of the German revolution right. There was indeed a revolution in Germany – but not in 1920. That was the year of the Kapp Putsch, which was actually not a revolution but a counterrevolution, although in general Israel Shamir does not seem to know the difference between the two.
The German revolution took place in November 1918. There was a general strike, the workers set up soviets, the army mutinied and the German fleet entered Hamburg and Kiel with red flags on the mast. In effect, power was in the hands of the German working class at that time. But there was no Bolshevik Party, and the leadership was in the hands of the Social Democrats who betrayed it.
The failure of the German revolution left the Russian revolution isolated. This was a heavy blow, but what conclusions should be drawn from it? Certainly not that the Russian communists should “crawl back underground.” (Where does he get this stuff from?). Under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky the Bolsheviks held onto power and did their best to develop the economy, while simultaneously striving to develop the Communist International and promote the world socialist revolution. Anything less like “going underground” it is difficult to imagine.
As a matter of fact, the revolutionary movement in Germany continued throughout this period, with the Spartakist uprising in 1919, the Kapp Putsch in 1920, the March Action in 1921 and last but not least the revolutionary situation in 1923, when the French army occupied the Ruhr.
This could have led to a socialist revolution in Germany, but when the German Communist leaders went to Moscow to ask for advice they met Stalin and Zinoviev, who advised them to do nothing and allow the German fascists to come to power first! The defeat of the German revolution in 1923 (which I imagine is what Israel Shamir means to say) did play an important role in encouraging the rise of the bureaucracy in Russia – and the Stalin tendency that represented it.
Counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism
The anti-Marxist theory of socialism in one country was only put forward by Stalin and Bukharin after Lenin’s death. They would not have dared to advance such an idea during Lenin’s lifetime. As early as 1928 Trotsky predicted that if this line were to be accepted by the Communist International, it would be the beginning of a process that could only end in the national-reformist degeneration of every Communist Party in the world. We shall show later how this worked out in practice. Meanwhile, let us return to our friend in Jaffa, who continues his diatribe:
“Such positions of the Trots turns them into dear friends of Western imperialism, for in their view, the nations of the world should endure their regimes until the Second Coming, i.e. the world revolution. Real Communists – branded as ‘Stalinists’ in the Trots’ vocabulary – were and are for revolution, a takeover of power and socialism everywhere – now! Mao and Lenin, Castro and Ho Chi Minh did not shy away from power, they did not say: ‘Oh no, we won’t seize power, our countries are too backward, we shall wait for the world revolution’; for they felt responsibility and love for their countries – for China and Russia, for Cuba and Vietnam.”
Having discovered, with some surprise, that I am violently opposed to socialist revolution, and therefore a counterrevolutionary, I now learn, with even greater surprise, that I am a dear friend of imperialism. I was rather under the impression that for the last 44 years I had been fighting against both capitalism and imperialism. But comrade Shamir says the opposite, and who am I to argue? But let us look at the record of Stalinism in relation to the revolution in the colonial countries, to which Shamir now refers.
Nowhere has Stalinism played a more counterrevolutionary role than in the colonial revolution. After Lenin’s death, Stalin and his supporters revived the old Menshevik theory of “two stages” in the colonial revolution. That is to say, the workers must enter into a bloc with the so-called “progressive non-comprador bourgeoisie” to carry out the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The socialist revolution must be postponed – relegated to a dim and distant future.
That was precisely the position adopted by Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev in 1917, which Lenin castigated so mercilessly. It is the same position that comrade Shamir has fished out of the dustbin of history, dusted down and now presents to us as the last word in political realism. What have been the results of this policy? Wherever it has been applied in the colonial world, the Stalinist theory of the “two stages” has led to one catastrophe after another.
In China the young Communist Party, which had a mass base in the working class, was forced into the ranks of the national bourgeois Kuomintang of Chiang Kai Shek, who, to use comrade Shamir’s language, was accepted by Stalin as a progressive representative of the national, non-comprador bourgeoisie. The Kuomintang was even accepted as a sympathising section of the Communist International, with only one vote against on the International Executive Committee – that of Trotsky.
Having used the Communists to cover his left flank, Chiang then proceeded to liquidate physically the Communist Party, the trade unions and the peasant soviets during the 1925-27 Chinese revolution. The reason why the second Chinese revolution took the form of a peasant war in which the working class remained passive was to a large extent determined by the crushing of the Chinese proletariat as a result of Stalin’s policies which Trotsky characterised as “a malicious caricature of Menshevism.”
By the way, it is entirely false to say that Mao took power in China on the base of a “Patriotic Alliance” with the nationalist bourgeoisie. He took power on the basis of a classical revolutionary peasant war that included a war of national liberation against Japanese imperialism. The national bourgeoisie led by Chiang Kai Chek was theoretically allied with Mao in this struggle, but in practice played a completely counterrevolutionary role. The nationalist army spent most of its time fighting the Red Army and hardly any fighting the Japanese.
The same is true of all the other national liberation movements – including the resistance movements against the Nazis in Europe during World War Two. In every case the real struggle against the Nazis was led by the Communists. The so-called bourgeois allies in Yugoslavia, Greece, France etc., played an insignificant role in fighting the German invaders and spent most of their time fighting the Communists.
The two stage theory and the Middle East
The effects of the “two stages” theory have been particularly catastrophic in comrade Shamir’s own part of the world – the Middle East. In Iraq in 1958 the Communist Party was a mass force, able to call a demonstration of a million people in Baghdad. But instead of pursuing a Leninist policy of class independence and leading the workers and peasants to the taking of power, they looked for alliances with the “progressive non-comprador” bourgeoisie and the “progressive” sections of the army. The latter, having taken power on the backs of the Communist Party, then proceeded to eliminate it by murdering and jailing their members and leaders. The end result was the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the present mess.
In Sudan, the same process happened not once but twice. In 1967 the CP was able to call a demonstration of two million people in Khartoum. Yet, instead of taking power, they supported the “progressive national non-comprador” bourgeois Nimeiri, who thanked them by smashing them. As in Iraq this policy led to the victory of the counterrevolutionary forces and the destruction of the CP. That is where the policies advocated by Israel Shamir have led the Communist Movement in the Middle East, where it has lost the powerful base it once had and is reduced to a shadow of its former self.
Even now the Sudanese Communist Party has a policy of a “Patriotic Alliance” with the guerrillas in the South (now backed by US imperialism) and the “progressive” bourgeoisie in the North against the fundamentalist regime. These so-called Communist leaders are like the Bourbons of old who “forget nothing and learn nothing.” Their policies are a finished recipe for one bloody defeat after another.
The most tragic example of the disastrous consequences of the two stages theory is that of Indonesia. In the 1960s the Indonesian Communist Party was the main mass force in the country. It was the biggest Communist Party in the world outside the Soviet Bloc, with 3 million members, as well as 10 million affiliated to its trade union and peasant organisations and even claimed the support of 40 per cent of the army (including sections of the officers). The Russian Bolsheviks did not have as much organised support at the time of the October revolution!
The Indonesian CP could have easily taken power and started the socialist transformation of society which would have had a tremendous effect in the whole of the colonial world, setting off a chain of revolutions in Asia. Instead of that, the leaders of the CP (under the control of the Chinese Maoists) had an alliance with Sukarno, a bourgeois nationalist leader who at that time had adopted a “left” phraseology. Those policies left the Communist Party completely unprepared when the bourgeoisie (under direct instructions from the CIA) organised a massacre of Communist Party members and sympathisers in which at least 1.5 million people were slaughtered.
Now comes the most monstrous of all Shamir’s numerous slanders. He claims that (“objectively”) Alan Woods is on the side of the US imperialists in Iraq:
“Now in Iraq, the US occupation forces have effectively opened up the Iraqi economy for a Western takeover by granting equal access rights to the foreign companies. This act brings Iraqi nationalist forces into greater conflict with the imperialists. Objectively, Woods is on the side of Western TNC, as he precludes nationalist defence of people. Communists a-la Woods won’t cooperate with Iraqi nationalists against American imperialism, for nationalism is their main enemy.”
What is this nonsense? In the first place, everybody knows that we have consistently fought against the monstrous imperialist aggression in Iraq and that I have written dozens of articles, documents and manifestos on this question. We stand for the unconditional right of self-determination and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq, including British troops. (I imagine that this is yet another example of my inability to appreciate the good works of my fatherland).
So much for the record of “Communists a-la Woods”. What about “Communists a-la Shamir”. Where are they? Well, the Iraqi Communist Party is certainly collaborating with somebody. They are members of the puppet government of Allawi! In what way this can be construed as cooperating with Iraqi nationalists against American imperialism is not quite clear, since America controls this government and all its works. Still, as our friend in Jaffa tells us, one must always be practical!
Stalinism and the Cuban revolution
The crimes of Stalinism are a matter of historical record. But Shamir knows nothing about them. He praises the Stalinists in glowing term and resurrects the old slander of “counterrevolutionary Trotskyism”. He makes a big issue of Cuba, which is natural since the whole polemic arose out of the decision of comrade Celia Hart to defend publicly the ideas of Trotsky.
Unfortunately, he could not have picked a worst example from his point of view. He evidently does not know what the role of the Cuban Stalinists was. Did the Cuban Stalinists support Fidel Castro? No, they did not. They supported the dictator Batista. Why? On grounds that our friend in Jaffa would surely approve of: they said that Batista was a progressive bourgeois nationalist. They regarded Fidel as an ultraleft – a Trotskyist, in fact. Only after the revolution had taken place did they change their tune.
The collaboration of the Cuban Stalinists with Batista began even before the Second World War. In November 1939, in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, there were coalitions: Batista and the Communists on one side and Grau’s Auténticos and the ABC on the other. The latter won, and the CP obtained aproximately 10 percent of the votes.
In the election campaign of 1940 when Batista enjoyed the total support of the Cuban Stalinists, who regarded him as a “national non-comprador bourgeois.” Batista was elected president by obscure means and in return by 1942 two Communists, Juan Marinello and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, entered the government. This is how the Cuban Stalinists understood the policy of “Patriotic Alliances”!
The Stalinists abandoned all pretence of an independent policy. Their support for Batista was completely uncritical and slavish. This is what they wrote at the time:
“Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar, one hundred percent cuban, a jealous guardian of the freedom of the fatherland, eloquent tribune of the people... foremost figure of our national, ídol of a people that thinks and cares for his wellbeing... the man who embodies the sacred ideals of a new Cuba and who, by his democratic activity, identified with the needs of the people, carries within him the seal of his valour...” (“Hoy”, organ of the PSP, July 13, 1940).
On the 28 January 1941 Blas Roca (General Secretary of the Cuban Comunist Party) wrote: “We remain faithful to the platform of Batista in every repect”. Juan Marinello declared a few days later: “The only ones loyal to the platform of Batista are those who are members of the Unión Revolucionaria Comunista”.
The dictator recognised the invaluable services of the Stalinists, when he wrote to the CP leader Blas Roca in the following terms:
With respect to your letter which our mutual friend, Dr. Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, Minister Without Portfolio, passed to me, I am happy to again express my firm unshakeable confidence in the loyal cooperation the People’s Socialist Party [the then official name of the Communist Party of Cuba] its leaders and members have given and continue to give myself and my government. . .
Believe me, as always, Your very affectionate and cordial friend,
These lines were quoted by the CP paper Hoy on the 13th June 1944.
They even changed their name to the People’s Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Popular), which was one of the most right wing parties in the Communist International. In its II Congress, the PSP considered it opportune to salute Batista with the following words: “(...) We wish to reiterate that you can count on our respect, love and esteem for your principles of democratic and progressive government.” (S. Tutino, L'Ottobre cubano, page 171).
They dropped their criticism of US capitalism, and in place of the nationalization of foreign property, they proclaimed “collaboration in a programme of economic expansion that would accept the payment of reasonable interest rates on foreign investments, principally English and North American.” (Ibid., page 179).
Such a programme and policy could have no appeal for the young revolutionaries who hated the Batista regime and were determined to fight against it. So when Fidel Castro raised the flag of revolt in Cuba, he did so not only outside the “Communist” party but against it.
But maybe the Cuban Stalinists changed their mind later and supported Fidel Castro? Far from it! They backed Batista all along. In line with their policy of national unity and forming blocs with the “progressive non-comprador bourgeoisie, they joined Batista in condemning Fidel Castro’s attack on the Moncada Barracks (July 1953):
“... the life of the People’s Socialist Party (communist)... has been to combat... and unmask the putschists and adventurous activities of the bourgeois opposition as being against the interests of the people...” (reported in Daily Worker, U.S organ of the Communist Party, August 10, 1953)
Because of the betrayal of the Stalinists, other forces led the revolution. They were courageous revolutionaries, but in the beginning they did not have a clear idea of where they were going. The Cuban revolution, much as the Venezuelan revolution, started as a national democratic revolution. The leaders did not at first pose the question of socialism or of socialist revolution. But their actions were a thousand times more revolutionary than those on the island who called themselves Communists.
Fidel Castro delivered a speech in reply to accusations by Batista of being a Communist. In which he says the following: “What right does Senor Batista have to speak of Communism? After all, in the elections of 1940 he was the candidate of the Communist Party... his portrait hung next to Blas Roca’s and Lazaro Pena’s; and half a dozen ministers and confidants of his are leading members of the CP” (H.M. Enzenburger, Raids and Reconstructions, London, 1976, p.200.)
Even after they had overthrown the corrupt and reactionary Batista government, the programme of the leaders of the revolution did not go beyond a democratic capitalist regime. But, as the Russian proverb goes, “life teaches.” Castro’s programme of progressive reforms was opposed by the Cuban bourgeois, behind whom stood the might of US imperialism.
The Cuban revolution shows the correctness of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution very clearly. It was not possible to carry out the programme of the bourgeois democratic revolution in Cuba within the limits of the capitalist system. Faced with the implacable opposition and sabotage of US imperialism, Fidel Castro expropriated the means of production. Without this, the Cuban revolution would have been lost.
Cuba and Venezuela
There are many parallels between the Cuban revolution and the Venezuelan revolution. The latter has inspired the workers, peasants and youth of all Latin America and on a world scale. The revolutionary masses have achieved miracles. But the Venezuelan revolution is not completed. It cannot be completed until it expropriates the oligarchy and nationalizes the land, the banks and the key industries that remain in private hands.
Like Fidel Castro at the beginning of the Cuban revolution, Hugo Chavez bases himself on the programme of the national democratic revolution. He has shown himself to be a fearless anti-imperialist fighter and a consistent democrat. But this is not enough. The Venezuelan oligarchy is bitterly opposed to his reforms. Behind it stands the might of US imperialism.
Sooner or later the Venezuelan revolution will be faced with the alternative: either, or. And just as the Cuban revolution was capable of carrying through the expropriation of landlordism and capitalism, so the Venezuelan revolution will find the necessary resolve to follow the same road. That is really the only way.
Once the Venezuelan revolution passes the point of no return, eliminating landlordism and capitalism for good, it can very rapidly spread to other countries in Latin America. That is the inner meaning of the Bolivarian revolution: the objective necessity to unite the divided continent of Latin America and raise it to a qualitatively new and higher level of development in accordance with its colossal economic potential.
This is the only possible perspective if we wish to put an end to the domination of Latin America by US and world imperialism. But it is a perspective that stands radically opposed to nationalism. It stands for the radical abolition of frontiers that have artificially divided and balkanised Latin America for 200 years. It is also of necessity an anti-capitalist (socialist) perspective, since it can only be achieved by breaking with the bourgeoisie. Power must pass to the working class and its natural allies, the poor peasants and the urban poor and semi-proletarians.
The idea of the Socialist United States of Latin America is a book sealed with seven seals for nationalists and Stalinists. But it is an idea that can unite and mobilize the masses of workers, peasants and revolutionary youth of Latin America. It is the slogan of the present that holds the key to the future.
Whale No. 2. No to Patriotism
Our friend Shamir, however, is blind to all this. He is not interested in revolutionary internationalism. Instead he sings rhapsodic hymns to the virtues of patriotism:
“Patriotism, love of one’s country, is a great force; this force should be fully utilised in our struggle against the enemy. Communism a-la Woods positions itself in favour of globalisation; love for one’s country, this proud ‘Patria o Muerte’ [Motherland or Death] is anathema for a Trot. A Woods Communist should dislike or ignore his country and his people, should wish to have its very name erased; and should never attempt to bring his compatriots together to fight a foreign invasion or imperialist takeover.”
As usual, our friend in Jaffa gets everything mixed up. It is an ABC proposition that Marxism is internationalist by its very nature. Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht never stood for the creation of a purely German party, any more than Lenin regarded the Bolshevik Party as a purely Russian Party. All of them stood for the creation of an International that would fight for world socialism. That much would also be known by a six year old. That it is not known to comrade Shamir is his misfortune, not ours.
Marx and Engels were not internationalists out of sentimentality but for scientific reasons. In the pages of the Communist Manifesto they explained that capitalism, which arises as a series of national markets and nation states, inevitably develops a world market. The crushing domination of the world market is the most important manifestation of the epoch in which we are living. No country, no matter how big, can cut itself off from the world market. Russia and China have discovered this. The old idea of building socialism in national isolation has everywhere ignominiously collapsed.
Does this mean we “support globalization”, as Shamir asserts? It does not mean that at all. But the tendency of capitalism to develop a world market, which was predicted in the Communist Manifesto, is a fact. What is the alternative to capitalist globalisation – that is, to the domination of the entire world by a handful of gigantic corporations and imperialist states? Shamir counterposes to globalization – bourgeois nationalism. We counterpose to it the class struggle and the fight for socialism nationally and internationally.
The fight for world socialism involves a fight against imperialism. Marxists will always distinguish between oppressor and oppressed nations. It is self-evident that we defend the latter against the former. But does that mean that we must defend nationalism and abandon internationalism? Such an assertion means the complete abandonment of Marxism-Leninism. It signifies the abandonment of the proletarian standpoint in favour of bourgeois or petty bourgeois national philistinism. That is precisely the standpoint of Israel Shamir.
As we know, Israel Shamir does not like us to quote Lenin for the obvious reason that everything Lenin ever wrote is completely opposed to his standpoint. Lenin always opposed imperialism and the national oppression of small nations but he was also implacably opposed to the national philistinism of small nations. The national question, like all other social questions, is at bottom a class issue. This was Lenin’s standpoint – and the standpoint of any genuine Marxist. In his work Critical Remarks on the National Question, Lenin explains this elementary proposition of Marxism with admirable clarity:
“Every national culture contains elements, even if not developed, of democratic and socialist culture, for in every nation there are toiling and exploited masses, whose living conditions inevitably give rise to the ideology of democracy and socialism. But every nation also has a bourgeois culture (and most nations also have a Black Hundred and clerical culture, too) that takes the form, not merely of “elements”, but of the dominant culture. Therefore, the general ‘national culture’ is the culture of the landed proprietors, the clergy and the bourgeoisie.” (LCW, Critical Remarks on the National Question, October-December 1913, vol. 20.)
Isn’t that clear? The national question is a class question. But one looks in vain in all the articles of comrade Shamir for even the slightest glimmerings of a class position.
Marxists must not gloss over the class contradictions, but on the contrary, bring them to the fore. This is no less obligatory in the case of an oppressed nationality as in that of an oppressor nation. As Lenin explains in Critical Remarks on the National Question “On the boards of the joint-stock companies capitalists of different nations sit together, completely amalgamated with each other. In factories workers of different nations work side by side. On all really serious and profound political issues sides are taken according to classes and not according to nations.” (Ibid.)
In another work he writes: “The interests of the working class and of its struggle against capitalism demand complete solidarity and the closest unity of the workers of all nations; they demand resistance to the nationalist policy of the bourgeoisie of every nationality.”
Lenin always wrote in a clear and unambiguous way. There is no way his meaning can be misunderstood. And his meaning is this: that for Marxists, at all times and under all conditions, the class question comes first. We stand for the sacred unity of the working class, irrespective of nationality, language, colour or religion. We are opposed to nationalist poison wherever it comes from.
Nationalism or internationalism?
Shamir goes on:
“This discussion of nationalism is not a new one, [true!] Marx and Lenin stated that communists should support nationalism of the oppressed nations and fight nationalism of the oppressors [also true!]. However, the New World Order introduced a new keynote in the old discourse, for even the nations of the First World – of North America and Western Europe – are being undermined by the new policies of their masters [aha!].
“For instance, Sweden, an extremely developed West European nation, is now losing its industry: the famous SAAB car plants were bought by the TNC, closed down and the production moved into more profitable areas. Tens of thousands of skilled workers lost their jobs, while thousands of local owners were proletarianised. The same process is taking place in the US, where industries migrate south, while their profits migrate to the Eastern Seaboard. Workers and small owners may now create a new nationalist coalition against their new trans-national masters.”
Despite all his Talmudic twists and turns, and the occasional nod to the memory of Marx and even Lenin, Shamir always get back to the same idea: Marxism is out of date. The class struggle is out of date. The working class must forget about socialism and socialist revolution for the next hundred (better thousand) years. They must not try to have an independent policy but must tie themselves firmly to the chariot of Capital and support their “own” (good) bourgeoisie against the (bad) foreigners.
Reading this, we see just how far the Communist movement has been thrown back. It is as if Lenin had never lived or written a single line! What Lenin never said is that Marxists must support the national bourgeoisie or the nationalist petty bourgeoisie. On the contrary, the fundamental premise of Lenin’s position on the national question was of absolute class independence.
The first principle of Leninism was always the need to fight against the bourgeoisie – the bourgeoisie of both the oppressor and of the oppressed nations. In all of Lenin’s writings on the national question there is an implacable criticism not just of the nationalist bourgeoisie, but that of the nationalist petty bourgeoisie also. This is no accident. The whole idea of Lenin was that the working class must put itself at the head of the nation in order to lead the masses to the revolutionary transformation of society. Thus in Critical Remarks on the National Question he writes:
“The awakening of the masses from feudal slumber, their struggle against all national oppression, for the sovereignty of the people and the sovereignty of nations is progressive. Hence, it is the bounded duty of a Marxist to uphold the most resolute and consistent democracy on all points of the national question. The task is mainly a negative one. But the proletariat cannot go beyond this in supporting nationalism, for beyond it begins the ‘positive’ activity of the bourgeoisie striving to fortify nationalism.” (Our emphasis.)
A little later he adds, for the sake of greater emphasis: “Fight against all national oppression – yes, certainly. Fight for any kind of national development, for ‘national culture’ in general – certainly not.” (Ibid.)
In order to combat the pernicious illusions peddled by the nationalists, Lenin warned that: “The proletariat cannot support any consolidation of nationalism, on the contrary, it supports everything that helps to obliterate national distinctions and remove national barriers, supports everything that makes the ties between nationalities closer and closer or leads to the amalgamation of nations. To act differently means taking the side of reactionary nationalist philistinism.” (Ibid.)
Is this not clear? The workers are duty bound to oppose all forms of national discrimination and oppression. But they are also duty bound to refuse to support nationalism in any shape or form. What a contrast with those like Shamir who pretend they are pursuing a Communist policy while advocating nationalist poison of the worst type. To blur the line of division between Marxism and nationalism is a violation of everything Lenin ever stood for.
Whale No. 3 Alliance with Jewish nationalism
Israel Shamir is a nationalist and obsessed with nationalism. He is himself, of course, an extreme nationalist – a Great Russian chauvinist, who has swallowed all the worst aspects of this most reactionary kind of chauvinism. He embraces enthusiastically all the reactionary ideas that have come flooding back into Russia along with the restoration of capitalism. And he pretends that this represents love for Russia – when in fact it is quite the opposite.
The liquidation of the nationalized planned economy and the switch to market economics has signified, as Trotsky so brilliantly predicted, a sharp decline of Russian culture. The capitalist counterrevolution has brought with it prostitution, drug addiction, AIDS, pornography, Great Russian chauvinism, the Black Hundreds, pogroms, anti-Semitism, astrology, superstition and the Russian Orthodox Church. These are the blessings capitalism has inflicted on the Russian people!
Lenin and the Bolsheviks swept away all the stinking reactionary muck of a thousand years of tsarism. Now it has flooded back and threatens to inundate Russian society, choking and poisoning every pore. What has Israel Shamir got to say about all this? He has no problem with capitalism, as long as the capitalists are good Russians and not Jews or foreigners. He is an enthusiastic advocate of Great Russian chauvinism and even that bastion of reaction the Russian Orthodox Church. He is also an apologist for anti-Semitism.
Attack is well known to be the best kind of defence. So to cover up for his own chauvinistic tendencies, he makes a most astounding assertion: “Despite his anti-nationalism, there is a sort of nationalism acceptable to Woods, namely, trans-national Jewish quasi-nationalism. A Woods communist would fight every nationalism save the Jewish one. For him, Stalin was bad, for he tolerated and utilised Russian nationalism and fought against Jewish nationalism.”
As usual, Shamir makes this incredible assertion without attempting to justify it. Not one quotation, not one fact is produced to show how, when or where Alan Woods defends Jewish nationalism. If it were not so serious it would be laughable. But enough of this clowning! The readers of Marxist.com are well aware of what our attitude to reactionary Zionism is, and always has been.
The real reason why Shamir makes such an outrageous accusation is to draw attention away from my statements to the effect that Stalin – Shamir’s idol – conducted a vicious anti-Semitic policy. I stated that one of the most repulsive features of Stalinism was its anti-Semitism. That is quite true and can easily be proved to be true. Shamir tries to bluff his way out of this:
“Does Woods mean that Stalin adhered to a racial theory of Semitic and Nordic races? Unlikely; this son of Georgia was not particularly Nordic.”
In the first place, anti-Semitism is not the sole prerogative of the “Nordic races” (whatever they are supposed to be). In the second place Stalin’s Georgian origin by no means signifies that he was free of national and racial prejudices. Quite the contrary, history knows more than one example of people coming from small oppressed nations who adopted the standpoint of the oppressor nations and became the most ferocious national oppressors.
Hitler himself was not German but Austrian, which did not prevent him from becoming the most rabid German chauvinist and imperialist. An even better example is Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a Corsican by origin and hence a member of a small nation oppressed by France. In his youth he even flirted with Corsican nationalism. But when he was installed in power in Paris he became an extreme exponent of French imperialism, militarism and bureaucratic centralism.
Stalin’s evolution was similar. Although he could not even speak decent Russian, he adopted the standpoint of the crudest Great Russian chauvinism – a fact that was understood by Lenin who denounced Stalin’s Great Russian chauvinism in the harshest terms and even broke off all personal and comradely relations with him.
Last but not least we have Israel Shamir, who lives in Jaffa and is presumably Jewish but has decided that he should defend the anti-Semitic policy of Stalin and denounce all his critics as “Jewish nationalists”. If it were just a question of Israel Shamir opposing reactionary Israeli imperialism, there would be no difference between us. That is a duty for any left wing or progressive person, whether Jew or gentile. But to go to the other extreme and try to excuse anti-Semitism, or at least find apologies for it, is frankly criminal. This kind of thing actually helps Zionism and discredits Communism. It is not Communism at all. It is only Zionism turned inside out.
Against all the evidence, Shamir denies that anti-Semitism existed in the USSR under Stalin. He protests indignantly:
“Does he [Alan Woods] mean that Jews were persecuted as a racial group under Stalin? Obviously not, for Stalin’s daughter was married to a Jew; some of his best comrades and party leaders had Jewish wives (Molotov to Voroshilov) – or Jewish sons and daughters-in-law (Malenkov, Khrushchev).
“So much for racism. Were Jews discriminated against under Stalin? In 1936, at the pinnacle of Stalin’s power, his government included nine Jews, among them Foreign Minister Litvinov, Home (secret services) Minister Yahoda, the foreign trade minister etc. Did Stalin ever expressed hatred or even acute dislike of Jews? No; he actually declared that every anti-Semite would be shot.”
This is absolutely incredible. It is common knowledge today that Stalin was a rabid anti-Semite. And as a matter of fact, the examples that Shamir tries to use prove the opposite of what he intends. More than anything else his attitude to this question reveals a completely reactionary standpoint, something absolutely alien to the traditions of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party.
The Bolshevik revolution gave freedom to the Jews, as the Cuban revolution meant freedom for the Afro-Cubans, on the basis of complete social, legal and political equality. After 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks even granted those Jews who wished to live in their own autonomous region, the area known as Birobidzan. This was a gesture on the part of the Bolsheviks to demonstrate that the new workers’ state was putting an end to all forms of discrimination. The vast majority of Jews did not take up the offer because they felt that their rights were now guaranteed in post revolutionary Russia.
But this was not to be the case under the Stalinist regime. Already in his struggle against the Left Opposition Stalin made use of anti-Semitism, stressing that Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev were Jews and that “the yids were causing problems on the Central Committee.” The leaders of the Left Opposition were all expelled from the Communist Party and arrested. Stalin had issued the edict: “It is no accident that the opposition is led by Jews. This is a struggle between Russian socialism and aliens.” Such remarks would have been a motive for expulsion from the Party when Lenin was alive. But for Shamir this was not only acceptable but praiseworthy, since there were “too many” Jews in the Communist Party!
In 1930 Stalin closed Yevslektsia, an official Soviet entity meant to expose anti-Semitic incidents, allegedly because the number of anti-Semitic incidents had declined. This was probably true. The Soviet working class was educated in an internationalist spirit by the Bolsheviks and would not tolerate racism. However, with the influx of raw peasants from the villages during the industrialization of the first five year plans the problem resurfaced and was encouraged from the top, first tacitly, then more openly.
The Bolshevik revolution began, as we have seen, with a campaign against anti-Semitism and promotion of the Yiddish language and literature. At one point, there were 400 Yiddish periodicals. By 1938, there were none. The Stalinists liquidated Jewish institutions, publishing houses, cultural associations and arrested their employees. The signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact gave the green light for the hidden anti-Semitism of the Stalinist bureaucracy to express itself more openly.
Shamir cites the case of Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the 1930s as proof that there was no anti-Semitism in Stalin’s Russia. What he fails to mention is that Litvinov was removed at the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact as a sop to Hitler. The Soviet Union could not send a Jew to talk to Hitler” This was not the only such “concession”.
During the Nazi-Soviet alliance from August 1939 to June 22, 1941, the Soviet media substituted the phrase “reactionary racism” for the word “fascism” which could no longer be mentioned let alone be criticized. Beria sent out a circular to the commandants in the prison camps forbidding them to call the prisoners “fascists” as an insult. It was ten days after the German invasion, July 2, 1941, before Stalin permitted any public criticism of Nazi Germany.
When the USSR was invaded by Hitler, anti-fascist agitation once more was permitted. In March 1942 the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAFC) was assigned the job of fund-raising in the United States for the Soviet war effort. Solomon Mikhoels, the talented actor and director of the Moscow Yiddish Art Theatre, and Itzik Feffer, a Yiddish poet, were sent to the United States in May 1943 on a six-month tour. It was highly successful.
However, the worst period of anti-Semitism came after the Second World War. Stalin was probably insane by this time and certainly paranoid. He saw enemies everywhere, particularly Jews. On November 20, 1948, the JAFC was officially dissolved. By January 28, 1949, some 100 committee members were in jail as “rootless cosmopolitans”. Later JAFC members were accused of being part of a Zionist-U.S. conspiracy against the Soviet Union.
Stalin ordered Solomon Mikhoels to be shot and then run over by a truck to make it appear he had died in an accident. The main authority for this revelation is Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, who heard her father in January 1948 telephone the order to liquidate the actor. There followed a great State funeral and a lavish obituary in Pravda mourning “the great loss”. This is absolutely typical of Stalin’s cynicism.
His next victims were some 110 JAFC members, all accused of espionage, nationalist propaganda, and of seeking to establish a Jewish republic in the Crimea as a “bridgehead” for American imperialism. The trial of the top 15 JAFC members began May 8, 1952. Thirteen of the 15 were executed by firing squad on August 12, 1952.
Stalin accused the Kremlin doctors of trying to poison him. They were all Jews. They were brutally tortured to extract a false confession and some of them died under torture, but Stalin was not satisfied. He grew increasingly angry when the MGB failed to provide the confessions he wanted. In December 1952, a few months before his death, he ranted to the CC:
“Here, look at you – blind men, kittens, you don’t see the enemy; what will you do without me – the country will perish because you are not able to recognize the enemy [...] Every Jew is a potential spy for the United States.” (p. 171)
Frustrated at his failure to obtain the confessions he needed, he instructed Ignatiev and Ryumin:
“Beat them! Beat them with deathblows. What are you? You work like waiters in white gloves. If you want to be Chekists, take off your gloves.”
In July 1951 Stalin ordered an inquiry into corruption and mismanagement in the MGB, resulting in the expulsion of many leading personnel, most of whom were Jewish. Stalin ordered the arrest of all Jewish colonels and generals in the MGB, and a total of some 50 senior officers and generals were taken in to custody. (p. 102) In 1952 Stalin told Ignatiev bluntly his opinion of the MGB officers:
“Chekists can see nothing beyond their own noses [...] they are degenerating into ordinary nincompoops, and [...] they don’t want to fulfil the directive of the Central Committee.” (p. 134)
(Quotes from Jonathan Brent, Vladimir Naumov, Stalin’s Last Crime. The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953, Perennial, New York 2004)
The reason for the Doctors’ Plot was that Stalin was preparing a new edition of the Moscow trials. He planned to liquidate all those who had been his closest colleagues, like Vyacheslav Molotov. Shamir cites the fact that Molotov’s wife, Polina Molotov (P.S. Zhemchuzhina), was Jewish. Where was the anti-Semitism, he asks, and does not wait for an answer. He forgets to mention that Stalin forced Molotov to separate from his Jewish wife, and that she was exiled in 1949 by a direct vote of the Politburo, Molotov abstaining.
Molotov’s wife was charged with treason, when the campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans” was unleashed. According to Roy Medvedev: “The day of Stalin’s funeral, 9 March, was also Molotov’s birthday. As they were leaving the mausoleum, Khrushchev and Malenkov wished him a happy birthday, despite the occasion, and asked what he would like as a present. ‘Give me back Polina,’ he replied coldly, and moved on.” Two years later, Mikunis bumped into Molotov in the privileged Kremlin Hospital at Kuntsevo [where Stalin had one of his dachas]. “I went up to him and asked, ‘How could you, a member of the Politburo, let them arrest your wife?’ He gave me a cold look and asked me who I thought I was. I replied, ‘I am the General Secretary of the Israeli Communist Party, and that’s why I’m asking you’.” (Quotes from Roy Medvedev, All Stalin’s Men, New York, 1985, pp. 98-99, 102-3.)
These were the years of the massive press campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans”, which was a barely disguised code name for Jews. Between 1948 and 1952 thousands of Jewish intellectuals, scientists, political leaders, state security personnel, and other professionals were arrested, interrogated, imprisoned, or discharged from their duties.
On the night of August 12, 1952, twenty-four of the leading cultural figures in the Soviet Union were rounded up by the MGB and shot to death in the basement of Lubyanka prison. That same night, 217 Yiddish writers and poets, 108 actors, 87 painters and sculptors, and 19 musicians disappeared as well. Most were sent to the camps of the Gulag in Siberia as slave labourers. It was equivalent to a death sentence and many would not return. Among the twenty-four murdered was Peter Markish, considered the best Yiddish.
Also killed were the poet Itzhik Feffer, a friend of Lazar Kaganovich, and the writer David Bergelson, who was a friend of Polina Molotov. On February 28, 1953 there were deportations to Siberia of a large number of Jews from Moscow. Plans were being made to commence mass deportations from other parts of the Soviet Union. Yet Israel Shamir can see no evidence of Stalin’s anti-Semitism!
Stalin and Israel
It is very surprising that Shamir does not cite one other striking piece of evidence to “prove” Stalin’s love of the Jews: his support for the setting up of the State of Israel. Presumably he does not want to mention this little detail because somebody might conclude that Stalin, and not Alan Woods, was the real Jewish nationalist. But since our friend in Jaffa seems to have lost his tongue for once, let us jog his memory.
In 1947 Andrei Gromyko (Ambassador to the United Nations) enthusiastically endorsed Jewish statehood in the UN. Even the Zionists were astonished by his unstinting support for their cause. In the UN debate, Gromyko stated, “The Jewish people had been closely linked with Palestine for a considerable period in history... As a result of war, the Jews as a people have suffered more than any other people. The total number of the Jewish population who perished at the hands of the Nazi executioners is estimated at approximately six million. The Jewish people were therefore striving to create a state of their own, and it would be unjust to deny them that right.”
In all his speech the Soviet diplomat never once mentions the little detail that the Land of Israel was occupied by millions of Arabs. Moscow’s approval in the UN Security Council was critical to the UN partitioning of Palestine, which led to the founding of Israel. This was not done out of concern for the Jews or Arabs, but purely as a manoeuvre of great power politics. At that time the Arab states were under the control of British and French imperialism. The Cold War was at its height and Stalin wanted to get a foothold in the Middle East at the expense of the Western powers. Israel was merely a pawn in this game.
Stalin’s policy on Israel was a disaster for the Communist Parties of the Middle East. In Damascus mobs looted the offices of the local Communist Party after Gromyko had made his speech in the United Nations in favour of the partition of Palestine. The Communist Party of Palestine had both Arab and Jewish members and had always supported the position of one state for two peoples. But because it was linked to the Soviet Union it also suffered a large fall in support. Traditionally it had had close contacts with the Communist parties and movements in the neighbouring Arab countries, such as Palestine, Egypt and the Lebanon, but these were now broken.
The establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine was a completely reactionary act, since the land was already occupied by the Palestinian Arabs. Trotsky said that this idea would be a cruel trap for the Jewish people. History has proved him right. The fact that Stalin backed the setting up of Israel in 1947 does not mean that he was pro-Jewish, but only that he placed the narrow national interests of the Moscow bureaucracy before those of the Jews, Arabs or the world working class.
Shamir on Russia
Shamir strongly disagrees with my criticism of Zyuganov’s “characterization of Russia today as a colony, oppressed by foreign capitalists” as “this analysis leaves the door wide open to a policy of collaborating with the ‘progressive national (Russian) bourgeoisie’ against the bad foreign capitalists.” He even tries to deliver me a lecture on this subject:
“Comrade Woods, Western capitalists are indeed bad for the health of Russians and other non-First-world nations. And real Communists – Stalinists to you – were for collaboration with the national non-comprador bourgeoisie against Western imperialism.”
Here we at last reach the heart of the matter! Shamir is not opposed to capitalism in Russia. He is only opposed to Western capitalists, not Russian ones. Moreover, he considers that the task of Russian Communists is not to fight capitalism, but to support the “national non-comprador bourgeoisie against Western imperialism”.
The dismantling of the nationalised planned economy in the USSR was a catastrophe for the working people. It has led to an unprecedented collapse of the productive forces and culture, a sharp decline in living standards and health and misery for millions of people. But for Shamir (and Zyuganov) the problem is not the absence of a nationalised planned economy but only the fact that foreign capitalists are involved.
The abandonment of Marxism-Leninism is here exposed in all its crudity. What we have here is precisely what I warned against in my last article. By presenting Russia as a “semi-colonial” country, the ex-Communists find an excuse to enter into a coalition with the Russian bourgeoisie against the interests of the Russian working class. This is what is undermining the CPRF and discrediting the very idea of Communism in Russia.
In the first place who are these so-called “national non-comprador bourgeois” of which Shamir speaks so fondly? Everyone in Russia knows that they are a bunch of thieves who are fighting among themselves to see who gets the lion’s share of the property that was looted from the people in the so-called privatisation (i.e. the plundering of state property). It is frankly a scandal that anyone calling themselves a Communist should support this counterrevolutionary activity in any way.
There is absolutely nothing to choose between any of these gangsters. Yet in the last elections the CPRF actually had more businessmen on its lists than any other party! That is why they lost so heavily. The workers were rightly disgusted at the spectacle of a party that calls itself Communist behaving in this way. Despite this, our friend in Jaffa defends the leaders of the CPRF against the criticism of Alan Woods. He advises them to continue along this road that will lead the Party from one disaster to the next. With friends like this one really does not need enemies!
The Communists of Russia are not little children, that they cannot understand simple questions. And the simplest question of all is this: that Communists must stand for the interests of the workers against the capitalists. Class collaboration is not the policy of the Communists! The CPRF, if it is to recover and play the role it ought to play, must decisively break with the bourgeoisie, fight against capitalism, and return to the revolutionary programme and policies of Lenin.
The Cuban revolution and internationalism
With the intention of achieving popularity in Cuba, Shamir also mentions in passing that in the Cuban revolution Castro “united Cubans against Yanks”. But wait a moment, Mr. Shamir! Don’t run so fast! Have you forgotten the small detail that Fidel Castro nationalised the economy and expropriated not only the foreign capitalists but also the Cuban ones? Do you not understand that had he not acted in this way, the Cuban revolution would never have succeeded?
As on every other question, Shamir distorts and falsifies the history of the Cuban revolution in order to force it into the Stalinist scheme. But unfortunately for him it will not fit! As we have seen, the people who were in favour of class collaboration (“uniting all Cubans”) was not Fidel Castro and his supporters, but the Stalinist Blas Roca and his gang. Castro did not “unite all Cubans” but the revolutionary masses – the workers, peasants and revolutionary intelligentsia, who supported the revolutionary expropriation of the Cuban bankers, landowners and capitalists, along with their imperialist masters.
How does this represent “uniting all Cubans”? The Cuban revolution did not triumph under the reactionary, anti-Marxist banner of class collaboration and national philistinism – the banner of Blas Roca and the Stalinists. It broke radically with US imperialism, and therefore also with that section of Cuban society that was organically linked to US imperialism. This is not called “uniting all Cubans”. It is called revolutionary class struggle. On this basis the revolution succeeded. But if Fidel Castro had followed the policies of Blas Roca and Israel Shamir it would have been destroyed.
This revolutionary policy brought down the wrath of US imperialism on Cuba and led to the Bay of Pigs intervention. The workers, peasants and progressive sections of the intelligentsia rallied to the defence of the revolution. But the bourgeois elements and their hangers-on were all united against Castro – in Miami, where they remain to this day.
The patriotism of the Cuban masses is inseparable from their devotion to the revolution and their pride in its achievements. The fight against US imperialism has naturally been a central question for the Cuban revolution since the days of the great Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti and even before. But the fight against US imperialism was not won by handing over the leadership of the revolution to the so-called “nationalist non-compradore” bourgeoisie. That was the bankrupt policy of the Cuban Stalinists, as we have shown.
Che Guevara’s internationalism
The Cuban revolution from the beginning was inspired by revolutionary internationalism. This was personified by Che Guevara, that outstanding leader of the Cuban revolution. Che was born an Argentinian and fought in the front line of the Cuban revolution. But in reality he was a true internationalist and a citizen of the world. Like Bolivar he had the perspective of a Latin American revolution.
After his tragic death there have been many attempts to turn Che Guevara into a harmless icon, a face on a tee-shirt. He is presented by the bourgeois as a well-meaning romantic, a utopian idealist. This is unworthy of the memory of a great revolutionist! Che Guevara was not a hopeless dreamer but a revolutionary realist. It was not an accident that Che attempted to extend the revolution to other countries, not just in Latin America but also in Africa. He understood very well that, in the last analysis, the future of the Cuban revolution would be determined by this.
From the very beginning the destiny of the Cuban revolution has been tied to events on a world scale. How could it be otherwise when the revolution was threatened at birth by the most powerful imperialist state on earth? The Cuban revolution – like the Russian revolution – had a tremendous international impact, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. That remains the case even today. Che tried to light a spark that would set the whole continent ablaze. Maybe he made a mistake in how he went about it, but nobody can question his intentions and his fundamental idea was correct: that the only way to save the Cuban revolution was to spread it to Latin America.
Unfortunately, some erroneous conclusions were drawn from the Cuban experience. The attempt to export the model of guerrilla war and “focos” led to one terrible defeat after another. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, the Cuban insurgency had taken US imperialism by surprise. But they soon learned the lessons and every time a “foco” appeared, they crushed it immediately before it could spread.
A more important fact was that the majority of the population in Latin America already lived in towns and cities. Guerrilla war is a typical method of struggle of the peasantry. Therefore, while it can play an important role as an auxiliary, it cannot play the main role. That is reserved for the working class in the towns. And tactics must be adapted accordingly.
This is shown by the experience of Venezuela, where the attempt to organize a guerrilla war was a complete failure. The Venezuelan revolution is unfolding as an essentially urban revolution, based on the masses in the towns and cities and supported by the peasantry. The Bolivarian Movement of Hugo Chavez has used the parliamentary struggle very effectively to mobilize the masses. But it has been the movement of the masses that has defeated the counterrevolution on three occasions.
The destiny of the Cuban revolution is now organically bound up with that of the Venezuelan revolution. They will determine each other. If the Venezuelan revolution is defeated, the Cuban revolution will be in the greatest danger. Every effort must be made to prevent this. But here we must learn from history. The Venezuelan revolution has accomplished miracles, but it is not yet finished.
Like the Cuban revolution, the Venezuelan revolution has begun as a national-democratic revolution. The programme advocated by Hugo Chavez is the programme of advanced bourgeois democracy. It goes without saying that the working class must fight energetically for every democratic demand that retains its force. But experience has already shown that the oligarchy and imperialism are the mortal enemies of democracy. They will stop at nothing to destroy the revolution.
Why is US imperialism so determined to destroy the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions? It is because of the effect they are having on a continental scale. The imperialists are terrified that Cuba and Venezuela will act as focal points. Therefore, they are determined to liquidate them.
The idea of Che was to open up twenty Vietnams in Latin America. That was not a bad idea, but it was not possible at that time, partly because the conditions had not ripened sufficiently, but mainly because of the false model of guerrilla war that was followed. But now things are different. The crisis of capitalism has had devastating effects in Latin America, and this has had revolutionary consequences.
The conditions for revolution are maturing everywhere. In fact, at the present time there is not a single stable capitalist regime from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. With correct leadership, there is no reason why successful proletarian revolutions should not occur in one or several Latin American countries in the next period. What is needed is not nationalism and blocs with the reactionary bourgeoisie, but a revolutionary socialist programme and revolutionary proletarian internationalism.
Incidentally, the slogan “Patria o muerte!”, far from being anathema to me in this case is perfectly acceptable. Once the revolution had been carried out, once the landlords and capitalists had been expropriated, it was (and still is) necessary to defend the Cuban revolution by every means against the aggressive policies of US imperialism and the plots of domestic counterrevolutionaries.
The objective content of the slogan “Patria o muerte!” is therefore defence of the revolution. That is how it is understood by the Cuban masses. And this is how we understand it also. And since we consider that it is the duty of all Marxists to advocate the unconditional defence of the Cuban revolution against imperialist aggression and internal counterrevolution, this slogan presents no more problem for me than the slogan: “Defend the Soviet Republic!”
Our attitude to this slogan is not determined by nationalism but by revolutionary considerations. Defence of Cuba means defence of the gains of the Cuban revolution. But if capitalism were to be restored in Cuba – something we totally oppose – would it be correct to continue with the same slogan and to support a particular section of the capitalist counterrevolutionaries, helping them to loot state property, on the grounds that they were “good Cuban capitalists”? To pose the question is to answer it.
Israel Shamir poses as a friend of Cuba. Before he and many like him posed as “friends of the Soviet Union”. They sang the praises of the USSR in an entirely uncritical way. They denied that there were any problems in the “socialist paradise” – until it collapsed about their ears. They must therefore be held partly responsible for the catastrophe.
Shamir’s “loyalty” is completely worthless. It is like the “loyal” sailor on the Titanic who told people who said there was an iceberg to shut up and go back to their cabin. Everything was perfect! The people of Cuba are not fools that they believe in fairy tales. And those members of the Cuban Communist Party who remain loyal to Communism (and there are many) are not interested in sugary illusions, false flattery and lies. They want to know the truth.
The truth is that in Cuba, as in the USSR, there are elements who want to go back to capitalism. It is not necessary to say that a return to capitalism in Cuba would be a terrible disaster, not just for the people of Cuba but for the workers and peoples of the whole world. This must be prevented by all means! But it will not be prevented if we deny that the threat exists. Moreover, the most dangerous pro-capitalist elements exist within the upper echelons of Cuban society, the state and even the Party.
To his great credit, Fidel Castro has remained implacably opposed to a return to capitalism. He firmly rejects the privatisation of the means of production and the dismantling of the planned economy. He has courageously stood up to the pressure and bullying of imperialism. This stand deserves support. But in itself it is insufficient to save the Cuban revolution.
What will happen when Fidel finally leaves the scene? We know that there are sections who are waiting in the wings, ready to push through a capitalist programme and seize the privatised assets as they did in Russia. And as in Russia, a large number of these elements call themselves “Communists”. They hold privileged positions and will use these positions when the time comes to plunder the property of the state and turn themselves into private capitalists.
The only hope is to trust in the Cuban workers and peasants and the revolutionary sections of the youth who have no interest in returning to capitalism. In the last analysis, however, the only real guarantee for the Cuban revolution is the extension of the socialist revolution throughout Latin America.
The most pressing need is to strengthen the proletarian vanguard and reinforce that sector that wants to fight to defend the nationalized planned economy and remains loyal to the ideas of Marxism Leninism. It is necessary to open up a serious discussion about the perspectives for the Cuban and Venezuelan Revolutions and for the Marxist movement on a world scale. Such a discussion would be incomplete without the participation of the Trotskyists, who are the firmest defenders of the Cuban and Venezuelan Revolutions.
A crude caricature
At this point our friend in Jaffa is beginning to foam at the mouth. Having run out of arguments, he resorts to crude abuse. His obsession with Trotskyists creates such a dark picture that will be enough to send a tingle of fright down the spines of the handful of old babushki who still parade up and down Red Square carrying portraits of Stalin:
“The saga of Woods is a timely reminder of present-day Western Trotskyism’s sorry state. The Western Trots keep themselves at arm’s length from other comrades; sabotage local revolution in the name of ‘world revolution’; they are anti-patriotic, anti-nationalist, unable to attract the masses, and are often connected to Jewish nationalist circles. Their slogans are attuned exclusively to minorities; they think of gays and immigrants, Jews and single parents; but the majority is of no interest for them. This explicit and obsessive attraction to minorities is a non-communist, even anticommunist trend. Communism is for majority against minority; for dispossessing the minority in the name of the majority.”
I suppose, in a way, this represents progress. In the past, people like Shamir wrote about Trotskyists as agents of Hitler and the Gestapo. Nowadays this is rather difficult, especially as the investigators into the Nuremberg War Trials had access to the files of the Gestapo, where they found no trace of any contact with Trotsky and his followers but quite a lot of contact with Stalin’s GPU, at least prior to the summer of 1941.
So our friend must make do with lesser calumnies. It seems that, apart from being all Jewish nationalists, we are attuned exclusively to minorities, and think of gays and immigrants, Jews and single parents. If the implications of all this were not so serious, it would be funny. If comrade Shamir would care to glance at Marxist.com he would be very hard put to find anything that remotely resembles this description. Naturally, he has not bothered to look, so he has not the slightest idea of what he is talking about.
As a matter of fact, the tendency to which I have the honour to belong is based on the workers’ movement. We fight for socialism nationally and internationally. Since we are not racists but internationalists we have no more connections with Jews than we do with Roman Catholics, Protestants or Flat Earthists, and probably less. In any case, unlike Israel Shamir, we do not consider people from a racial, religious or linguistic standpoint, but exclusively from the class point of view.
We do not have the position of single-issue politics that Shamir attributes to us, and never have had. We have waged an implacable struggle against bourgeois and petty bourgeois tendencies such as feminism. But when Israel Shamir states: “Communism is for the majority against the minority; for dispossessing the minority in the name of the majority” we have to say that this is just a crude caricature. He further says: “Preoccupation with minorities is, therefore a sign of anticommunists. Trots, indeed, provide imperialists with support from the left.”
Communists are for the interests of the working class, which in most countries today is the decisive majority of society. But Communists also understand the need to fight to defend all oppressed minorities. If that were not the case, the Bolsheviks would not have defended the Russian Jews – which they did – arms in hand, against pogroms organised by the Black Hundreds, extreme Great Russian chauvinists, who claimed to speak for the majority. This crude (and absolutely typical) distortion of Shamir is an absolute disgrace, which has nothing in common with Leninism.
During the Russian Civil War, the Whites accused the Bolsheviks of being “a gang of marauding Jews”. The same accusation was made many times afterwards by Hitler and his propaganda machine, and is now commonly made by fascists in Russia and other countries. It is frankly a scandal that anyone who claims to be close to the Communist movement should repeat it. But Israel Shamir does just that. Is this not simply disgusting?
Yes, we are unconditionally on the side of any oppressed minority. The difference between Communists and petty bourgeois Liberal tendencies is that we fight with the methods of the proletariat, we do not mix our banners with any section of the bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie, and we explain to the oppressed that the only real solution to their problems lies in the socialist transformation of society.
One of Lenin’s first state addresses was to mark the “emancipation of Jews” from tsarism. Lenin delivered a state address “on the pogrom slandering of the Jews” on a gramophone disc following the October Revolution. But Israel Shamir indulges precisely in that. His diatribe against the Trotskyists is tainted with a racist slur. It is a clear case of “pogrom slandering” in the best traditions, not of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, but of the crudest Black Hundred Russian chauvinism.
We stand for the Leninist policy of class independence and revolution. Shamir stands for national unity, that is unity of the working class and the bourgeoisie – not just the so-called progressive bourgeoisie that Lenin particularly detested, but with Black Hundred reactionaries against whom the Russian Bolsheviks fought to the death. This represents the complete abandonment of revolutionary class politics and their replacement by class collaboration, that is the complete renunciation of Marxism-Leninism and the total liquidation of the Communist Movement everywhere.
Trotskyism and the future of the Communist Movement
Our critic says the Trotskyist movement in the West is in a “sorry state”, although he clearly has no knowledge on this subject either. But as the Bible says: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considereth not the beam that is in thine own eye?”A sorrier picture than the one we have just seen in the writings of Israel Shamir is impossible to imagine. It is the picture of shameless Stalinism in the last stages of its senile decay. In the words of our great national British poet William Shakespeare (of whom I am immensely proud), it is “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
Shamir says we cannot influence the masses. But the Stalinists in Britain long ago lost all the influence they once had and have collapsed. The Communist Party actually voted to dissolve itself! In all other countries we have seen a series of crises, splits and decline. In Shamir’s own country the CP is a shadow of its former self and is on the brink of a split. In Austria it is the same story. And in Russia the CPRF is in a deep crisis following its defeat at the polls.
“Woods speaks disparagingly of the five-hundred-thousand-strong Russian Communist Party; I doubt whether his organisation has even five hundred members,” he growls.
When Trotsky criticised the abominations of Stalin and the bureaucracy, this was presented as an attack on the Soviet Union. That was a lie. Trotsky always stood for the unconditional defence of the USSR against imperialism and capitalism. It was the bureaucracy and the Stalinist leadership of the CPSU that undermined the planned economy and destroyed the Soviet Union.
People like Shamir always defended the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR against the criticisms of the Trotskyists. He must therefore accept responsibility for what happened to the Soviet Union. Now he does not want to talk about the past (let it rest in peace!) but has transferred his affections to the CPRF, or more correctly to its leadership. But just as the Stalinist bureaucracy was not the same as the USSR, so the CPRF is by no means the same thing as its current leadership.
Let me make our position clear: We by no means wish to disparage all members of the CPRF. I am convinced that in the ranks of this Party and its supporters there are many honest and dedicated Communists. But the leadership of this Party has abandoned the Leninist line and consequently has led the Party from one defeat to another. The way forward is to rearm the Party by returning to the ideas, programme and policy of Lenin. The first prerequisite for this is a radical break with Stalinism and those who defend it.
It is not a source of satisfaction to us that the forces of the Left have been so drastically weakened. But it must be honestly admitted that this situation is the result of decades of incorrect policies that has undermined the Communist Movement. It must also be stated that the origin and source of these false policies was nothing else but Stalinism and the influence of the Moscow bureaucracy that discredited Communism in the eyes of the masses. In order to reverse the decline a fundamental reappraisal is necessary.
As for the forces of genuine Marxism (“Trotskyism”), we have every reason to look to the future with confidence. As a matter of fact, even our friend in Jaffa has confidence in us, for otherwise it is hard to see why Israel Shamir should waste his precious time attacking us. Surely, a movement that is in such a sorry state should just be allowed to wither away of its own accord?
No. It appears we are having some success and that the Stalinists (the few of them who are still left) are rather worried about our success. With the collapse of Stalinism, the ideas of Trotskyism are attracting ever-increasing interest on a world scale. The fact that comrade Celia Hart has openly defended Trotskyism is not an accident. Nor is this an isolated case. It shows a natural tendency for those who have the interests of Communism at heart to find out the truth.
I have just received a copy of a most interesting article from Havana, written by Ariel Dacal Díaz, the editor in chief of the journal of the Social Sciences Publishing House of Cuba (la Editorial Ciencias Sociales de Cuba). The subject of the article is the cause of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Among other things the author writes:
“Stalin was the visible face and representative of the bureaucracy that gradually broke the link with the essence of Bolshevism and that did away with the weak mechanisms of political participation of the masses.”
The author continues:
“The soviet bureaucracy was formed out of a complex process that lies outside the historically known norms. Later it took power, dominated all knowledge and its dissemination, controlled the means of production of ideas, guaranteeing its reproduction for decades. The process of bureaucratisation had its origins in the very beginnings of the Revolution, but it was confirmed as the dominant sector of society in the 1930s.
“Lenin explained the emergence of the bureaucracy as a parasitic and capitalist excrescence on the workers’ state, born out of the isolation of the Revolution in a backward and illiterate peasant country .”
“Writing about this new group of leaders, who had their own ideas, feelings and interests, Trotsky emphasised that, ‘these men would not have been capable of making a revolution, but they have been the most capable of exploiting it’.”.
These lines are absolutely correct. They show that the most thinking sections of Cuban society are carefully pondering the lessons of the fall of the USSR and are seeking answers to their questions. I note with pleasure that among the sources cited by the author is the book I wrote together with Ted Grant in 1969, Lenin and Trotsky: What They Really Stood For.
The days when debates were settled by the ice picks of the GPU, the days of closed sections of the archives and prohibited indexes of books are long gone. Only hardened reactionaries like Shamir will mourn them. Now is the time for genuine Communists everywhere to participate in an open and honest discussion about the past, the present and above all the future of Communism.
Free debate is for the Communist movement what oxygen is to the human body. Without it there is no life. For too long, debate was stifled and criticism banned. It is time to listen to what other people have to say. If you have opinions you wish to discuss, please let us discuss them. Only let us not resort to falsifications and calumnies. Let us discuss together as Communists, in the Lenin school! What have we got to lose by that?
What is required is an honest and democratic debate involving all shades of Communist opinion, including Trotskyism. The genuine tradition of the Bolshevik Party was a tradition of democratic debate. That is the tradition that must be revived. That is the only way the Movement can be strengthened and its future guaranteed.