the left |
Tuesday October 31, 2006 07:37 by Wayne Price - NEFAC & NYMAA drwdprice at aol dot com
An anarchist leaflet
An anarchist leaflet given out at a conference of the International Socialist Organization in NYC which challenged its Trotskyist views.
On October 28, 2006, we attended the first day of a two-day Northeast Socialist Conference: Build the Left/ Fight the Right! in New York City. Despite its ecumenical title, the conference was organized by the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and limited to its point of view. We handed out the following leaflet. The ISO has the same politics as the British Socialist Workers Party and other members of its International Socialis Tendency, although it is organizationally distinct (due to some quarrel). Some of the leaflet is applicable to other variants of Trotskyism. (Full disclosure: I was a founding member of the ISO’s predecessor, the International Socialists--having previously been an anarchist-pacifist. )
You Trotskyists of the International Socialist Organization claim to have the same goal as we class-struggle social anarchists: a worldwide revolution by the working class and all oppressed, against the capitalists and their states (including the remnants of the “Communist” state capitalist regimes)--and to replace these states with associations of councils. But you ruin it because of your methods: your attempt to recreate the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, and to do what Lenin and Trotsky did in Russia. When you deviate from this attempt, it is only to use social democratic methods. We will demonstrate this.
*You seek to create a “workers’ state.” But there is no such thing as a “workers’ state.” Engels defined the state as a “public force” which “consists not merely of armed men but also of material appendages, prisons, and coercive institutions of all kinds....” Its officials are “organs of society standing above society....representatives of a power which estranges them from society....The state is an organization for the protection of the possessing class against the non-possessing class.” Does this sound like something the working class can use? All previous ruling classes have needed states because they were minorities who needed to hold down majorities. The working class and its allies is the big majority. In a revolution, it will not need a socially-alienated, bureaucratic-military, machine to hold down the pro-capitalist minority. It will need the self-organization of the workers and the oppressed themselves: workplace and neighborhood assemblies, federated councils, and an armed people, a workers’ militia. This is not a state. Because the Bolsheviks aimed for a state, they ended up with a state--a bureaucratic monstrosity.
*The Russian Revolution, led by Lenin and Trotsky, ended up as a totalitarian nightmare. You blame this, not on the Bolsheviks you admire, but on “objective circumstances”--Russia’s poverty, the failure of the revolution to spread, etc. All of which was real. But it is also true that the Bolsheviks never advocated multiparty/multi-tendency soviets, workers’ rank-and-file management of industry, independent trade unions, etc. By 1921, when Lenin and Trotsky were in power, they outlawed all other parties (and jailed and massacred the anarchists), banned all caucuses inside the one legal party, and insisted that the unions be controlled by the party. It was Lenin and Trotsky who legalized the single-party police state! Stalin built on what they had created. Trotsky and his Left Opposition fought Stalin while agreeing with the single-party dictatorship. Until his death, Trotsky continued to regard Stalin’s dictatorship as a “worker’s state” because the economy was nationalized.
*The topdown, centralized, vanguard party which you advocate is made for only one purpose: ruling a state. We are pro-organizational anarchists, in the tradition of “platformism,” especifismo, and the F.A.I. We believe that revolutionary anarchists should organize ourselves to spread our ideas in unions and other popular organizations. Our aim is to encourage the oppressed to take over society and run it through direct democracy and limited delegation. But your Leninist goal is for the party to rule society. You think that the workers can come to power only when your party is in power. Implicitly you aim to rule for the workers. Well, your party may come to power, but only to rule over the workers.
*Like your fellow Trotskyists of the Spartacist League, your goal is a centralized party, ruling a centralized state, managing a centralized planned economy, ultimately on an international scale. This would be a monstrously bureaucratized, inefficient, and oppressive system. Instead we propose federated associations, decentralized communities and regions, worker-run industries--all planned from the bottom up by negotiation among councils.
*Your centralized, authoritarian, political philosophy affects everything the ISO does. You have developed a deserved reputation for being manipulative and controlling, and for vacillating between sectarianism and opportunism. For example, you have actively built Ralph Nader’s campaigns, with and without the Green Party. Leaving aside our anarchist anti-electoralism, Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky advocated electoral activity only to develop the political independence of the working class (which did not work out very well, considering the history of the Social Democratic and Communist parties). Nader is a supporter of capitalism and its state, as is the liberal Green party these days. They are trying to create a liberal, third capitalist, party. For the ISO to campaign for Nader was to cross the class line. You did it to build the ISO, not out of any principle.
*Similarly in the labor movement: Your announcement for this Northeast conference says, “This past year has been an exciting time for labor....The Transit Worker's Union in NYC defied the draconian ‘Taylor Law’ and went on strike, inspiring workers throughout the tri-state and the nation. Forced back to work by the the MTA ...they organized their rank and file for a successful, surprise ‘no vote’ on [the] contract. “ This fails to mention the TWU bureaucracy which could have gone on “defying” the state, but which chose instead to cave in, to betray their workers, and to demoralize many workers--so that they eventually voted for the contract.
*In the antiwar movement, you have called for Support to the Resistance! It is right to express solidarity with the oppressed people of Iraq and Lebanon against U.S. imperialism. It is wrong to use these slogans which imply (to almost everyone) political support for nationalist, pro-capitalist, and misogynist leaders. Revolutionaries should participate in all popular movements, to build them, while raising our own internationalist working class politics--in opposition to the pro-capitalist leaderships.
*With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Marxism has been discredited for many people. Instead the radical impulse has flowed into the historic other radicalism, Anarchism. But the basic ideas remain: the evils of capitalism, the need to smash the state, the importance of the working class, the value of other rebellious forces (women, GLBT, racially and nationally oppressed, etc.) , the fight against imperialism, the need for international revolution--and the need to build a revolutionary organization to fight for these ideas. Trotskyism just isn’t the right program for the revolution.
To learn more about anarchism in New York and nationally,
Northeast Federation of Anarchist-Communism
New York Metropolitan Alliance of Anarchists
In their *Marxism and Anarchism* workshop, the ISO speaker said that anarchists do not accept any social authority over the individual, do not believe in democracy, and have no class analysis. (All untrue, at least for the anarchists I work with.) Anarchists, he said, were petty bourgeois and, especially, did not understand dialectics. (!) In the Spanish revolution of 1936, the anarchists of the CNT-FAI betrayed their program by joining with the bourgeois parties to form a Popular Front government to fight against the fascists, which led to capitulation to the capitalists and the Stalinists, and eventually to the fascists.
In the few minutes I got to respond, I agree with the criticism of the Spanish mainstream anarchists. But I pointed out that most of the parties in the Popular Front were Marxist: the Socialist Party, the POUM, and the Communists. As the ISO does not identify with those *Marxists,* so we do not identify with those *anarchists* but with the Friends of Durruti and others who opposed joining the Popular Front and advocated a revolution.
Anyway, it was absurd to be accused of Popular Frontism and capitulating to bourgeois politicians, when I had just come from an ISO workshop on Venezuela which urged “support” for Hugo Chavez, including voting for him in the next Venezuelan election. And in the US, the ISO had twice campaigned for the capitalist politician Ralph Nader. Forget Spain, you were crossing the class line here and now!
Several speakers denounced the leaflet because it blamed Lenin and Trotsky for laying the groundwork for Stalin. It was all objective factors, they insisted. These speakers were completely ignorant of the real history of the original Leninist regime and its authoritarian acts.
(The next day they were going to have Sam Farber talk about Castro, but they have not read his book, *Before Stalinism, The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy,* as one example.)
Privately, one ISOer objected to the leaflet for connecting the ISO with the Spartacist League as *fellow Trotskyists.* I agreed with him that the SL was pretty vile, but I insisted that it was a variety of Trotskyist, as was the ISO, and that they agreed on the goal of a centralized state and economy.
I doubt t hat any ISOers read the leaflet and suddenly saw th e light. But the ISO has a lot of turnover and I have met a number of anarchists who had been in or close to the ISO at one point. So we do not know if the seed we plant now may eventually grow an anarchist plant.
View Comments Titles Only
Comments (2 of 2)Jump To Comment: 1 2
I used to be a member of the Norwegian IST organization which basically has the same politics as the American ISO.
I've never written and distributed a leaflet to trotskyists. However, I was invited to speak at one of their meetings. It was interesting. Some, beeing surprised about how similar anarchism and their brand of trotskyism is in its goal, asked questions like "But, what are the differences then?" Other people tried blaming the tragic outcome of the Russian revolution completely on "objective factors" (among them the failure of the revolution to spread, most importantly to Germany). I then confronted them with the German communist party's politics at the time, and asked why they (and the Bolsheviks) didn't instead support the more radical and anti-parliamentary KAPD party.
They said it was difficult to remember the details (there were maybe 20 people attending). Neither had any of them ever heard of the large anarcho-syndicalist IWA, and generally they posessed the same prejudices as those you name (anarchists beeing anti-organizational, petty bourgois lifestylists who don't care about class, etc.). So much for many years of studies of the workers movement! It (once again) reminded me of how important it is to get sources from miscellaneous places (also for anarchists like us)!
As Wayne did, I tried to point out that I didn't criticize them for things the stalinist parties have done, and that they shouldn't criticize me for those anti-organizational anarchists. I guess a few agreed to this, but others thought it was too hard to confront my real politics and instead tried to criticize a type of anarchist tendency I don't belong to. Some were completely ignorant and retrieved into a defensive mode, instead of beeing open to new ideas.
I do keep contact with a few of those who thought my speach was interesting. However, they carry with them so much ideological baggage. Also we didn't have any organizational initiative then (I held the speach about two-three years ago I think). Now that there are quite a few more anarchists here, and that we are arranging a study group, a few of these trotskyist have attended a few meetings.
I think it's right to speak with those who are interested. However, I don't think it's worth getting bogged down in debate with trotskyists either. We gotta build our organizations to such an extent that trotskyism (or any other type of state socialism) just won't appeal to those who're new to the movement.
This is pretty good. I also once distributed a leaflet at an ISO socialist conference, at UC Berkeley. To get to the heart of the matter, I think it is necessary to point directly to the aspects of Leninist program and strategy that will almost inevitably lead to consolidation of a new class system, with a managerialist class dominating and exploiting the working class. To do this, however, requires having some idea of what the basis is of the dominating class in the "Communist" countries. If one has an understanding of how managers and top professionals as a class dominate workers, even within capitalism, we can see how the Leninist program will empower this class. In a matter of weeks of taking power, the Bolsheviks created a central planning body, the Supreme Council of National Economy, appointed from above, to plan the economy, top-down. Centralized planning and central state administration will tend to lead to imposition of a managerial elite in workplaces, so that the top planners and managers in the state will have people to carry out their instructions. Thus by the spring of 1918 both Lenin and Trotsky were beating the drum for one-managers, appointed from above, to replace elected workplce management councils. Bolshevik apologists usually present an unrealistic picture of the soviets as genuinely democratic, controlled by the workers. But in most cases the soviets, organized originally by the Mensheviks, were quite top-down, with power centralized into the hands of the executive committees, run by professional class party leaders. The plenaries were treated as rubber stamps. As Sam Farber points out in Before Stalinism, neither the Mensheviks nor the Bolsheviks had any concept of participatory democracy. Thus they defined "proletarian power" in terms of election of leaders to run things. This idea is derived from the pre-World War I Marxist social democracy. For example, "The Common Sense of Socialism," written in 1911 by the American Marxist social democrat John Spargo, also says workers will have power because they will elect the "workers party" to run the state. Spargo, like the Bolsheviks, conceived of socialism as a centrally administered statist economy, the state running everything. But even the idea of "proletarian power" as right to elect the leaders was abrogated by the Bolsheviks in the spring of 1918, when the Bolsheviks lost the elections to the soviets in 19 of 22 provincial cities in European Russia. In those cases the Bolsheviks refused to accept the election results and disbanded the soviets or refused to give up their seats. They used the party's control of the cheka to maintain their power, against the votes of the workers.
In regard to Spain, it is also worth noting that the CNT proposed the formation of a working class governance structure, to replace the Popular Front government, in Sept 1936, a joint CNT-UGT national defense council. But the two main Marxist parties, socialists and Communists, who controlled the UGT, turned them down. The Spanish Marxist parties -- POUM, PSOE, PCE -- all accused the CNT of not being accommodating enough to the petty bougeoisie, due to the expropriation by CNT unions of small businesses. Expropriation of small businesses is rather strange for a movement that is allegedly "petty bourgeois". Actually the two main Marxist parties in Spain, PSOE and PCE, had a very substantial middle class membership. In the case of the PCE, only 40% of its membership was working class.