Paul Mattick 1978

Introduction to “Anti-Bolshevik Communism”

Source: Anti-Bolshevik Communism. Paul Mattick, published by Merlin Press, 1978;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden, for 2003.

The reprinting of this collection of essays and reviews, which were written during the last 40 years, may find its justification in the current ferment of ideas by which a new left-wing within the socialist movement attempts to derive a theory and practice more adequate to the present situation and the needs of social change. As yet merely of a theoretical nature, this trend has led to a growing interest in the comprehension of past revolutionary movements. However, although its proponents try to differentiate themselves from the old and discredited labour movement, they have not as yet been able to evolve a theory and practice of their own which could be considered superior to those of the past. In fact, the ‘lessons of history’ seem to be largely wasted on the new generation, which often merely repeats in a more insolent fashion and with less sophistication the proven mistakes of the past. Instead of finding their orientation in the actual social conditions and their possibilities, the new leftists base their concerns mainly on a set of ideologies that have no relevance to the requirements of social change in capitalist nations. They find their inspiration not in the developmental processes of their own society but in the heroes of popular revolution in faraway countries, thereby revealing that their enthusiasm is not as yet a real concern for decisive social change.

Of course, there stands a theory behind this strange aberration, namely, the assumption that anti-imperialist struggles of the ‘Third World’ will abet the social revolution in capitalist nations, thus leading to world-wide social transformation. Although this theory may only indicate the revolutionaries’ present frustration in the given non-revolutionary situation, it was at one time the accepted doctrine of a revolutionary movement which briefly tried, but failed, to extend the Russian into a world revolution. In this respect, the ideas of the new revolutionaries still relate to the old Leninism, which Stalin described as the “Marxism of the period of imperialism.”

In Lenin’s view, it was not the strongest but the weakest link in the chain of imperialist nations that would, through its own revolution, release a world-revolutionary process. Moreover, as imperialism had become an absolute necessity for capitalism, the anti-imperialist struggle was at once a struggle against world capitalism. He envisioned the world revolution as a kind of repetition of the Russian Revolution on a global scale. just as the Russian Revolution had been a ‘peoples’ revolution’, embracing workers, peasants and the liberal bourgeoisie, without therefore, in Lenin’s mind, losing its socialist character, so the world revolution could be seen as a unitary fight of national-revolutionary movements and working-class struggles in the imperialist nations. And just as, according to Lenin, the existence of the Bolshevik Party in Russia guaranteed the transformation of the ‘peoples’ revolution’ into a communist revolution, so, on the world scale, the Bolshevik International was to transform the national-revolutionary struggles into struggles for international socialism.

More than half a century has passed since this theory was celebrated as a necessary extension of the theories of Marx, who did not emphasise the imperialistic difficulties of capitalism but based his hopes for a socialist revolution on the inherent contradictions of the capitalist system of production. In Marx’s view, a fully developed capitalism was a precondition for a socialist revolution, even though he thought it possible that such a revolution may receive its impetus from the outside, that is, from revolutionary occurrences in less developed nations. What Marx had specifically in mind was a revolution in Russia which could conceivably lead to a European revolution. Should the latter succeed, it was reasonable to assume that the character of the international revolution as a whole would be determined by the capitalistically-advanced nations. However, the Russian Revolution did not spread to the West and in its isolation could not realise a socialist society but merely a form of state-capitalism under the authoritarian rule of the Bolshevik Party.

It is of course true that bourgeois revolutions in the traditional sense are no longer possible. The monopolistic control of the world economy by the great capitalist powers and their productive preponderance excludes an independent national capitalistic development in underdeveloped nations. To aspire to this goal nonetheless requires their political liberation from imperialist rule, as well as from their native ruling classes, allied as they are with the foreign oppressors. Because the struggle for liberation has to base itself on the broad masses, it cannot use traditional capitalist ideologies, but must be carried on with anti-imperialist and therefore anti-capitalist ideologies.

These national-revolutionary movements are not signs of an impending world-wide socialist revolution, but just so many attempts at an independent capitalistic development — albeit in a state-capitalist form. To the degree to which the liberated nations succeed in freeing themselves from foreign control, they do increase the difficulties of capitalism and further its dissolution. To that extent, they may also aid the class struggle in the dominating capitalist countries. But this does not alter the fact that the goals of the proletarian revolution in the capitalist nations are necessarily different from those that can be realised in backward countries.

It would be ideal, no doubt, to combine the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles into one great movement against all forms of exploitation and oppression. Unfortunately, this is only an imaginary possibility; unrealisable because of the actual material and social differences between the various differently developed nations. The history of Russia since 1917, as the prototype of ‘socialist revolutions’ in backward countries, illuminates the objective limitations to their transformation. Today, we even experience the sorry spectacle of so-called socialist countries, all of them adhering to the Leninist ideology, facing one another in deadly enmity and preparing to destroy one another. It is quite obvious that the national interests of state-capitalist systems — like all national interests — contain in themselves their own imperialistic tendencies. It is thus no longer possible to speak of common needs of the national-revolutionary and the international-socialist movement.

The international socialist movement must of course be an anti-imperialist movement. But it has to actualise its anti-imperialism through the destruction of the capitalist system in the advanced countries. Were this accomplished, anti-imperialism would become meaningless and the social struggles in the underdeveloped part of the world would focus on internal class differences. To be sure, the weakness of anti-capitalist movements in the developed countries is one more reason for the existence of national-revolutionary movements. For the latter cannot wait for the proletarian revolution in the dominating capitalist countries; yet, where they succeed, they can reach at best only partial release from foreign exploitation but not the conditions of socialism. On the other hand, successful proletarian revolutions in the capitalistically developed nations could lead to the internationalisation of all social struggles and progressively hasten the integration of underdeveloped nations into a socialist world system.

That there are national-revolutionary movements in the backward nations but not as yet socialist movements in the imperialist countries is due to the greater and more pressing misery in the former. it is also due to the dissolution of the colonial structure resulting from the second world war and the re-organisation and modification of imperialist rule in the post-war world. Force of circumstances interconnects the national movements with the currently waged imperialist power struggles and ‘liberation’ from one type of imperialism leads to subordination to another. Under present conditions, in brief, national revolutions remain illusory, with respect both to real national independence and to its apparent socialist ideology. They may, however, be preconditions for future struggles for more realistic goals. But this, too, depends on the course of events in the capitalistically-advanced nations.

The preoccupation with national-revolutionary movements that still characterises left-wing radicalism has led, on an international scale, to a re-dedication to Leninist principles in either a Russian or Chinese garb and dissipates the energies thereby released into meaningless and often grotesque activities. By trying to actualise the Leninist ideas of revolution and its organisation in capitalistically-advanced nations, would-be radicals necessarily hinder the development of a revolutionary consciousness adequate to the tasks of the socialist revolution. Because new revolutionary socialist movements may arise in response to capitalism’s increasing social and economic difficulties, it is essential to pay renewed attention to the aspirations and accomplishments of former similar movements and here, in particular, to Bolshevism and its Leninist creed.

In this connection, it is particularly apt to recall another movement which emerged out of the shambles of the Second International and the expectations based on the Russian Revolution. Most of the items in this anthology concern themselves with the problems of the international labour movement at the turn of the century — that is, with the reasons for, and the consequences of, the growth of a labour movement that ceased to be revolutionary because of the resilience of capitalism and its ability to improve the living conditions of the labouring population. Still, the immanent contradictions of capitalism led to the first world war and while leading to the partial collapse of the old labour movement, also gave rise to a new radicalism culminating in the Russian and Central European revolutions.

These revolutions involved the organised as well as unorganised masses of workers, which created their own and new form of organisation for action and control in the spontaneously-arising workers’ and soldiers’ councils. But in both Russia and Central Europe the actual content of the revolution was not equal to its new revolutionary form. Whereas in Russia it was mainly the objective unreadiness for a socialist transformation, in Central Europe, and here particularly in Germany, it was the subjective unwillingness to institute socialism by revolutionary means, which largely accounts for the self-limitation and finally the abdication of the council movement in favour of bourgeois democracy. The ideology of Social Democracy had left its mark; the great mass of workers mistook the political for a social revolution; the socialisation of production was seen as a governmental concern, not as that of the workers themselves. In Russia, it is true, the Bolshevik Party advanced the slogan ‘All power to the Soviets,’ but only for opportunistic reasons, in order to reach its true goal in the authoritarian rule of the Bolshevik Party.

By itself, the workers’ self-initiative and self-organisation offers no guarantee for their emancipation. It has to be realised and maintained through the abolition of the capital-labour relationship in production, through a council system, which destroys the social class divisions and prevents the rise of new ones based on the control of production and distribution by the national state. However difficult this may prove to be, the history of the existing state-capitalist systems leaves no doubt that this is the only way to a socialist society. This had already been recognised by small minorities in the radical movement prior to, during, and after the Russian Revolution and was brought into the open within the communist movement as an opposition to Bolshevism and the theory and practice of the Third International. It is this movement and the ideas it brought forth, which this volume recalls, not, however, to describe a particular part and phase of labour history, but as a warning, which may also serve as a guide for future actions.

The revolutions which succeeded, first of all, in Russia and China, were not proletarian revolutions in the Marxist sense, leading to the ‘association of free and equal producers’, but state-capitalist revolutions, which were objectively unable to issue into socialism. Marxism served here as a mere ideology to justify the rise of modified capitalist systems, which were no longer determined by market competition but controlled by way of the authoritarian state. Based on the peasantry, but designed with accelerated industrialisation to create an industrial proletariat, they were ready to abolish the traditional bourgeoisie but not capital as a social relationship. This type of capitalism had not been foreseen by Marx and the early Marxists, even though they advocated the capture of state-power to overthrow the bourgeoisie — but only in order to abolish the state itself.

Although designated as socialism, state-control of the economy and over social life generally, exercised by a privileged social layer as a newly emerging ruling class, has perpetuated for the industrial as well as agricultural labouring classes the conditions of exploitation and oppression which had been their lot under the semi-feudal social relations of capitalistically-underdeveloped nations. That this new social system could also be applied in capitalistically more advanced nations was demonstrated after the second world war, through the extension of state-capitalist system into the West by way of imperial conquest. In either case, ‘socialism’ became quite generally identified with the prevailing state-capitalist systems. Movements exist everywhere whose proclaimed goals are precisely the establishment of similar regimes in additional countries, even though, for opportunistic reasons, these goals may be toned down at times, or even totally disclaimed. There exists then the danger that possible new revolutionary outbreaks may once again be side-tracked into state-capitalist transformations.

This possibility finds its support in the centralising tendencies inherent in capitalism itself. The concentration of capital, its monopolisation, and the rise of corporations in which ownership is separated from direct control, and, finally, the reluctant integration of state and capital in the mixed economy, with its fiscal and monetary manipulations, seem to spell a tendency in the direction of a fullfledged state-capitalism. What once constituted a vague hope on the part of social reformers and what in backward countries became a reality through revolution, appears now as an unavoidable requirement for securing the social relations of capital production.

Although the so-called mixed economy will not automatically transform itself into state-capitalism, new social upheavals may well lead to it in the name of socialism. It is true that ‘Marxism-Leninism’ presents itself today as a purely reformist movement, which, like the Social Democracy of old, prefers the democratic processes of social change to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. In some countries, France and Italy, for instance, relatively strong communist parties offer their services to capitalism to help it overcome its crisis conditions. But should everything fail, and an intensified class struggle pose the question of social revolution, there can be no doubt that these parties will opt for state-capitalism, which in their views, is the only possible form of socialism. Thus, the revolution would be at once a counter-revolution. The end of capitalism demands therefore, first of all, the end of Bolshevik ideology and the rise of an anti-Bolshevik revolutionary movement, such as has been attempted at the earlier revolutionary situation to which this book tries to draw attention.