A New Notion: Two Works by C. L. R. James: "Every Cook Can Govern" and "The Invading Socialist Society"by C. L. R. James
Portraying C. L. R. James as a leading figure in the independence movement in the West Indies and in the black and working-class movements in both Britain and the United States, this volume provides an extensive introduction to James's life and thought before presenting two critical works that illustrate the tremendous breadth and depth of his worldview. Both
Portraying C. L. R. James as a leading figure in the independence movement in the West Indies and in the black and working-class movements in both Britain and the United States, this volume provides an extensive introduction to James's life and thought before presenting two critical works that illustrate the tremendous breadth and depth of his worldview. Both long-out-of-print pamphlets display James's contributions to Marxist and revolutionary theory as he documents and elaborates on the aspects of working-class activity that constitute the revolution in today's world. Fully encapsulating James's thoughts on democracy and workers' emancipation, these essential works represent the principal themes that run through James's life: implacable hostility toward all "condescending saviors" of the working class and an underlying faith in the power of ordinary people to build a new world.
"It would take a person with great confidence and good judgment to select from the substantial writings of C. L. R. James just two items to represent the 'principle themes' in James' life and thoughts. Fortunately Noel Ignatiev is such a person . . . A concise but thorough introduction." John H. Bracey Jr., professor of African-American studies, University of MassachusettsAmherst
"C. L. R. James has arguably had a greater influence on the underlying thinking of independence movements in the West Indies and Africa than any living man." Sunday Times
"It remains remarkable how far ahead of his time [C. L. R. James] was on so many issues." New Society
"It is crucial that these texts, so long circulated on the Left in pamphlet form, be made available to new generations of readers and activists. PM Press and Noel Ignatiev . . . are to be thanked for this." XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics no. 23
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A New Notion
Two Works by C.L.R. James
By C.L.R. James, Noel Ignatiev
PM PressCopyright © 2010 PM Press
All rights reserved.
World War II and Social Revolution
One of Trotsky's last contributions to the Fourth International was a hypothetical prognosis of social development if the world revolution failed to come during or immediately after the war. Contrary to the belief of all the incurable Mensheviks and the panic stricken, this failure of the revolution was not, and could not have been conceived by Trotsky, of all people, metaphysically, as a point in time, one month, six months, two years. It was a dialectical forecast of a stage in the development of the international class struggle. If, in the crisis that Trotsky foresaw, the bourgeoisie could restore economic stability and its social domination over the proletariat, then he could not conceive another situation in which the proletariat could conquer.
In 1938 when Trotsky posed the question stated above, he drew the conclusion that, given the failure of the world revolution, the evolution of Russia might prove in retrospect to be the social basis for a new evaluation of the laws of scientific socialism. Russia remains, the world revolution has not conquered, and as a result in every section of the International, from the I.E.C. downwards the process of re-evaluation is taking place.
As far back as 1941 the W.P. Minority (Johnson-Forest), believing with Trotsky that under no circumstances could bourgeois relations of production save society from barbarism after the impending crisis, revised the official Russian position in the light of the present stage of development of capitalism, statification of production, and the consequent deepening of the mass revolutionary struggle. The W.P. Majority, (Shachtmanites), revised the whole Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist strategy in the light of the Russian degeneration. The official Fourth International, under the blows of the "delayed" revolution, has continued to seek theoretical stability in the "progressive character" of the degenerated workers' state or to use its recurrent phrase "the dual character of the bureaucracy." Where the Kremlin and the Red Army advance, there the revolution has advanced. Where they retreat, there the revolution has retreated. Where Trotsky saw the nationalization of production as the last remaining conquest of proletarian power, the Fourth International today accepts nationalization of production as a stage in revolutionary development even if the revolution itself is brutally suppressed. Where Trotsky saw the Russian proletariat as dependent upon the impetus of the revolution from the proletariat outside, the I.E.C. sees as progressive the incorporation of millions from outside Russia into the totalitarian grip of the Russian bureaucracy.
A. TROTSKY 1940, GERMAIN 1947
The first thing to be done once and for all is to destroy Germain's illusion that he is interpreting Trotsky's positions of 1939. Trotsky in 1939 believed that the bureaucracy of the workers' state would give an "impulse" to revolutionary action among the oppressed masses in the areas it invaded in order to create a basis for itself. But this achieved, its Bonapartist tendencies would then assert themselves and crush the revolutionary masses. As he proved unmistakably, this is what happened in Poland and was posed in Finland in 1939.
Events at the end of the war took an entirely different course. The Russian Army did not call upon workers and peasants to revolt in order to create a basis for the bureaucracy. For country after country in Eastern Europe, Germain repeats with wearisome insistence: "The approach of the Red Army unloosed a revolutionary upheaval." Undoubtedly many workers and peasants in Eastern Europe believed that Stalin's army was revolutionary. But it was the break-down of bourgeois society which unloosed the revolutionary upheaval not only in Poland and Rumania, but in Italy, the Philippines and Paris. In reality, the agents of the bureaucracy carried on a systematic campaign against all the revolutionary elements in Poland before, during and after the uprising. The Russian army, the vanguard of the counter-revolution, in collaboration with British imperialism, took pains to have the Warsaw proletariat, the vanguard of the European revolution, destroyed by the Nazi army. Russia kept Marshal Paulus and the German Junkers in reserve against what it called "a repetition of 1918 in Germany." Ilya Ehrenberg, special propagandist for the European theatre, led the Stalinist pack in an unprecedented international vilification of the German people, which reached its height in the declaration that if the German workers made a revolution and approached the Red Army as brothers, they would be shot down like dogs.
Despite this, the Russian Army found revolutionary formations in existence, Soviets, factory committees, and militias. There was no bourgeoisie and industry was in the hands of the workers. The Russian Army arrested, deported or murdered the revolutionary elements. It destroyed step by step the traditional Polish workers' parties and created new ones in its own image. It restored remnants of the Polish bourgeoisie to positions of power and created what Germain admits is a bourgeois state. Germain admits that the Russian Army sanctioned nationalization because where it entered, a virtual nationalization had already taken place. Then he coolly informs us, "The activity of the Stalinist bureaucracy inevitably exhibits a double character: on the one hand it has facilitated [facilitated, if you please] in however limited a measure, nationalization, agrarian reform, the establishment of factory committees, etc.," on the other hand it established the police regime. Then he dares us to deny "the dual character of bureaucratic intervention." (Fourth International, Feb. 1947.)
Whoever wishes to advance this infatuated inversion of great historical events may do so but he will do so on his own authority and under his own name. He will not in our movement get away with this as "Trotsky's position."
We have declared and will declare again our opposition to Trotsky's policy of 1940. But before attacking a policy, it is necessary to understand it. It is even more necessary to do so when defending it. In 1940 Trotsky argued:
1) that the defeat of Russia could mean the dismemberment of the U.S.S.R., and give imperialism a further long lease of life;
2) that only the defeat of the bureaucracy by the revolution would preserve state property in the U.S.S.R.;
3) that the Stalinist parties abroad would desert the Kremlin regime and capitulate to their own bourgeoisies.
Which of these judgments does Germain still defend? He does not even face them.
1) He and his school are probably the only persons in the world who believe that the imperialism of today, shattered beyond repair, can have a long lease on life by the dismemberment of Russia. This indeed is faith in capitalism.
2) Further, if we understand the 1939 Trotsky at all, if we watch the iron laws of economic development today and observe the barbarism that is eating away at bourgeois society, the patching up of the universal ruin of another war could not reverse but would accelerate the movement to the nationalization not only of national but continental economies. But Germain continues to agitate himself about the prospects of capitalist restoration after a new war by millionaire collective-farmers.
3) Finally, it is clear to all (again except Germain) that the Stalinist parties are tied to the Kremlin by roots far deeper than Trotsky believed. They did not join their national bourgeoisie during the war. They did not collapse and abdicate to the Fourth International the leadership of millions. We thus have today in fact a more complicated relation of fundamental forces and perspectives than those on which Trotsky based his positions.
To these fundamental problems Germain has his answer ready: "planned economy" and the "dual character of the bureaucracy." There is not a trace, not one drop of Marxism, of the dialectical method, in this.
Socialism in a Single Country is Dead
What is so terrible is that fundamental concepts are being changed, altered, transformed, shifted around, without the theoreticians ever stopping to think of what they are doing. If is proceeding, for the most part, unconsciously and empirically.
It is still our common belief that we subscribe to the Leninist analysis of imperialism, as the struggle of conflicting imperialisms for the re-division of the world. It is obvious that the I.K.D. and Shachtman do not believe this. For them there is only one significant imperialist state in the Leninist sense of the word. That is American imperialism. (It is ridiculous to consider Britain as a serious competitor with the United States.) They call Russia "bureaucratic imperialism" whatever that may mean, but this has no scientific relation to American imperialism, i.e., a relation within the capital–labor antagonism in the context of the world market.
But Germain also has completely reorganized in his own mind the foundation of our period. For him also the world market is similarly destroyed. For him also there is only one imperialist state. Wall Street is engaged in a struggle not with another imperialism but with a degenerated workers' state that can be transitional to socialism. Thus the one world trust aims at dominating the rest of the world. There is no imperialist rivalry between American imperialism and the U.S.S.R. There is the capitalist enemy and its projected victim.
Thus both Germain and Shachtman destroy all our conceptions of the laws of the world market and the domination of the capital–labor relation by these laws. It is not only possible but perfectly legitimate to take these tremendous theoretical steps. But it is absolutely intolerable that such tremendous theoretical reevaluations should take place without their being clearly stated and the conclusions drawn.
It is when the normal trade connections of the world-market are destroyed that the law of value imposes itself with unrestrained ferocity. Russia must fight for world domination or perish. It is subjected to all the laws of the world-market. Socialism in a single country is dead even for Stalin. All theories built on this are also dead.
The bourgeoisie sees Stalinist Russia, nationalized property, as "attacking the capitalist world." Germain sees nationalized property as "defending" itself. Thereby Germain is unable to reaffirm what the bourgeoisie seeks to destroy – the revolutionary unity of the world proletariat, the only solution to the contemporary barbarism.
The greatest enemy of the United States is not Stalinist Russia (this is a purely bourgeois conception). Its greatest enemy is at home, the American proletariat in alliance with the world revolution. But in the new necessity for world rule, equally, the greatest enemy of Russian domination is not American imperialism but the Russian proletariat. As in the moment of victory it collaborated with Hitler to destroy the revolutionary proletariat of Warsaw, so Stalinism will and must collaborate with American imperialism for the maintenance of the condition of their joint existence – the suppression of the world proletarian revolution. It was possible (possible, if wrong) at one time to speculate about the revolutionary aspect of the bureaucracy, its preservation of a planned economy to save Russia from dismemberment and ruin and the consequent strengthening of imperialism. Those days are over. Today the task is to save the proletariat from a power which contends with by no means inferior forces for world mastery.
This is not a question of Germany or defense of Russia. Germain, viewing all historical development through the eyes of the theory of the degenerated workers' state, is eating away at the theoretical foundations of our movement, i.e., the revolutionary mobilization of the proletariat as the sole solution to all the problems of the contemporary barbarism. We join Germain in holding off Shachtman and the other guerrillas in order to face him with the origins and consequences of his utterly false political position.
Lenin and Socialism
The struggle for socialism is the struggle for proletarian democracy. Proletarian democracy is not the crown of socialism. It is its basis. Proletarian democracy is not the result of socialism. Socialism is the result of proletarian democracy. To the degree that the proletarian mobilizes itself and the great masses of the people, the socialist revolution is advanced. The proletariat mobilizes itself as a self-acting force through its own committees, unions, parties and other organizations. This is not the "Russian question." It is Marxism. Lenin based everything, yes, Comrade Germain, everything on this.
The civil war against the bourgeoisie is a war which is democratically organized and waged by the poor masses against the propertied minority. The civil war is also a war, and consequently must inevitably put 'force' in the place of right. But force ... cannot be realized without a democratic organization of the army and the 'rear.' The civil war first of all and at once expropriates banks, factories, railways, large agricultural estates, etc. But it is precisely for this very purpose of expropriation that it is imperative to introduce the election by the people of all the officials and the army officers; to accomplish a complete fusion of the army, which wages war against the bourgeoisie, with the masses of the population; to introduce complete democracy in the matter of the control of food supplies, of production and distribution, etc. ... But this aim can be attained neither from a purely military nor economic nor political standpoint without a simultaneous introduction and propagation of democracy among our troops and at our rear – an introduction and propagation which will develop in the course of that war. We tell the masses now. ... 'You must lead and you will lead a really democratic war against the bourgeoisie and for the purpose of actually carrying out democracy and socialism'. (Bolsheviks and the World War, pp. 227–228.)
The same principle applies to the self-determination of nations.
Without actually organizing the relations between the nations on a democratic basis – and hence without granting freedom of secession – there can be no civil war of the workers and the toiling masses of all nations against the bourgeoisie. (Ibid., p. 228.)
We shall pursue Germain remorselessly until he faces this issue and answers.
The Commune, the first decisively proletarian revolution, nationalized nothing. For Marx, "The great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence," its democratic mobilization of the masses of the people. In the 1917 revolution, the socialist revolution, we have precisely the same theory and therefore the same practice. In 1917 Lenin attacked mercilessly not merely nationalization but confiscation. "The vital thing will be not so much confiscation of capitalist property as the establishment of universal, all-embracing workers' control over the capitalists and their possible supporters." And then, Comrade Germain, note this: "Confiscation alone will lead us nowhere..." Lenin left no room for ambiguity on this question. He declared that the Bolsheviks never used the term "workers' control" except in association with the dictatorship of the proletariat, "always putting it after the latter (by which) we thereby make plain what state we have in mind."
State control – that was "a bourgeois-reformist phrase, in essence a purely Cadet formula..." The Junker-capitalist state in Germany during war time was exercising complete class control over the economy and it meant "military penal labor" for the workers. For Marx and Lenin, the regime transitional to socialism was the dictatorship of the proletariat, the power of the working class, not the regime of nationalized property. For Lenin "the fundamental idea which runs like a red thread through all of Marx's works" is that "the democratic republic is the nearest approach to the dictatorship to the proletariat." The democratic republic with its opportunity for mass mobilizations, not bourgeois nationalization of property. This explains Lenin's merciless enmity to the bourgeois regulation of economic life as a whole "according to a certain general plan." In fact, the leaders of the October Revolution specifically excluded confiscation of property from their immediate program. They were concerned with something else – the democratic, i.e., self-mobilization of the masses.
Excerpted from A New Notion by C.L.R. James, Noel Ignatiev. Copyright © 2010 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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Meet the Author
C. L. R. James is a major figure in Pan-Africanism and the author of a wide array of fiction and nonfiction, including Beyond a Boundary, A Majestic Innings: Writings on Cricket, and The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults. Noel Ignatiev is a teacher at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, the editor of Lesson of the Hour: Wendell Phillips on Abolition and Strategy, and the author of How the Irish Became White. He lives in Boston.
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