Some critical questions on left practice
The new phase of structural crisis of capitalism started brewing up in the late sixties or early seventies. Amidst the Cold War framework, the peasant and popular upsurges especially in the third world countries came to the centre stage to set the left activism anew. Lenin envisaged the revolution in developed countries after breaking the weakest link of capitalism in Czarist Russia. But the revolution in
This skewed vision developed within the garb of revolutionary activism and revolutionary zeal to complete the imminent revolution in third world left many questions out of the purview of left discourse within the practicing left circles. After the disintegration of Soviet Russia, and when the facts, hitherto remained unnoticed or discarded being treated as the conspiracy of the capitalist roaders, started pouring out abundantly in a neo-liberal environ from within the Chinese society confirming its reversal from socialist trend, the most of the practicing left became puzzled and started questioning Leninist position on imperialism and Mao’s path of revolution. Instead of dwelling on the ‘really existing capitalism’ and the mistakes in the socialism building process and thus improving the concept of ‘theory and practice’ behind the revolutionary success story to fit in a new set of existing parameters, they preferred to go for a paradigm shift from the Leninist and Mao’s position. The defeatist tendency instilled in the minds of millions of left activists has actually provoked some left intellectuals to delineate the present situation in such a way that being far from Leninist position justifies the left inactivity or activity without the immediate agenda to defeat imperialism and to transcend capitalism. This, at least for the time being, suits the activists to cope with the argument of eternal capitalism.
The three main premises on which the aberrant and skewed vision have its fall out can be identified as (1) the question of imperialist rivalry (2) the socialist democracy (3) the revolutionary organization.
On the first question of imperialist rivalry, a section of the left intellectuals want to describe the current phase of capitalist competition as ‘collaborative competition’ that nullifies the Leninist formulation on imperialist rivalry and war. Aizaz Ahmad asserts an element of fundamental novelty of present situation by stating “the first specificity of this regime (in the United Sates) lies in the fact that, thanks to the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, this is the first time in human history that a single imperial power is so dominant over its rival that it really has no rival, near or far, precisely at the time when it has the greatest capacity to dominate the globe”.1 He further asserts that Lenin’s conception of ‘inter-imperialist rivalry’ arose in the course of a conjunctural analysis required by an intense debate on whether a world war was imminent or not. He also points out, “the specificity of the conjuncture in the imperialism of our time, as different from Lenin’s, is that its core – consisting of advanced capitalist countries – is comprised of neither rivals nor equals”.2 He even rules out the idea of inter-imperialist rivalry being shifted from the Atlantic zone to Pacific zone as less plausible and more or less futuristic. Evidently any form of ‘imperialist rivalry’ in Leninist sense of the term does not hold good in his scheme of things depicting the present time.
Lenin locates the nature of imperialism in the modes of behaviour of monopoly capitalism to protect and increase their profit. Among the essential features of the imperialist stage, according to Lenin, are the economic struggle (or alliances) among sectors of finance capital for division of markets and investment opportunities in the advanced as well as the underdeveloped nations, and the military and diplomatic struggle among the imperialist powers for control and influence over weaker nations, industrialised as well as non-industrialised. Lenin emphasises imperialism as the culmination of inherent dynamism of capitalism and imperialist rivalry as the extension of the logic of this inherent dynamics rather than as formulation evolving from conjunctural analysis of Lenin’s time. The imperialist rivalry is the basic tenet of capitalism in monopoly phase, the only difference is that at a certain point of time, one power-center may be economically and politically much more powerful than others who may strive to avoid full-blown conflict as a tactical move. But this armistice among the imperialist powers is not a primary feature of the time, rather the intrinsic crisis as well as monopolistic interest set the trend to face one another as rivals to combat. The basic premise of Lenin’s theorisation of imperialism as monopoly stage of capitalism, during which finance capital is in the ascendancy and the imperialist rivalry do hold good in the present time and provide us the necessary framework to analyse the situation unfolding at this juncture. Harry Magdoff describes the features of the post-World War II years as the integration of military production with the dominant industrial sectors, the drive of multinational corporation toward worldwide control of the most profitable and newest industries in both the periphery and advanced countries and the priority of the interest of military-multinational industry on the affairs of the state. He is right when he states, “true, this describes primarily the situation in the united states, but at the same time it outlines the path now being followed in rival imperialist powers – a process that may well be speeded up in view of the weakness now being revealed in the internal and external position of U.S. capitalism”.3
The second premise on which the main stream left discourse that enables the heartbroken left-activists to remain complacence in coping up with the existing system and striving for reform is the question of socialist democracy. This discourse is based on Stalinist theoretical enunciation that withering away of state would occur through its reinforcement and leading role of the party. These two ideas combined give rise to strengthened state-power with the communist party at its overwhelming control. Going by the Stalinist conception, they believe that this state cannot exercise ‘function of repression’ because in the socialist state, exploitation is suppressed, the exploiters no longer exist, there is no one to be suppressed. As the democracy and politics get withered away with the withering away of state as the instrument of suppression and dominance, there cannot be any socialist democracy. So only task on the question of democracy is to attain purest form of bourgeois democracy in a bourgeois state and as a result, the struggle for democracy is limited to rectify the aberration in bourgeois democracy in a bourgeois state, not to extend it. The task of simultaneously weakening the state power and strengthening the social power under the leadership of working class gets obliterated from communist proggramme that revolves around the reformist act of taking corrective measures to attain purest form of bourgeois democracy and then discard the essence of this democracy altogether instead of extending it in the futuristic project of socialism building. Charles Bettelheim writes, “the Stalinist ideology of the state and of its relationship with citizens thus enunciates a double discourse : a “democratic discourse” which is in contradiction with facts and an absolutist and repressive discourse which is a commentary on actual practice. This duality is an expression of a social schizophrenia. It reflects the deep contradictions of an economic and political system which oppresses this masses, subjects them to repression and exploits them with an intensity rarely attained in history”.4
The third most important aspect that needs to be discussed and debated is the question of communist organisation. The skewed vision on the question of communist organisation can be traced back even to Lenin’s time and as such demands a historical-anecdote of the period of the heydays of communism. This aspect is not restricted to the main stream left only, but extends to the fringe groups who are in essence radical in other fronts. Lenin’s idea of ‘Vanguardism’ is ripe with implications that can arrest the process of working class self-consciousness. Being the vanguard, the communist party and its activist-leaders are indoctrinated as the infallible mass-leaders who only bear the knowledge to lead the civilization ahead. Mao’s idea of communist activist as ‘the fish in the water’, though a better extension of vanguardist idea, is also problematic in initiating the process of development of mass-consciousness. This metaphor that symbolises communist organiser as ‘fish’ and society as ‘water’ is closely inter-related with the question of being declassed. As the fish can be brought from outside and thrown into the stagnant water, a communist activist becomes leader of the working class from outside and it does not entail the communist who is evolved from within the class and the mutual interaction between the activist and society to ensure the raising of self-consciousness of working class. As the activists constitute the basic foundation of the party-strength, the party is bestowed with responsibility to train them who in turn repose high esteem to the party high-ups for preparing the theoretical materials to train them. Thus the social division of mental and physical labour starts replicating itself within the party life and sets the ground for cultism. Recently the ruminations on this question are becoming visible within the practicing left circle, after the demise of “really existing socialism” and extreme loss of ground and discredit of the main stream left forces. It is now being felt that the organisational practice of the communists till date is not in keeping with the Marxist concept of withering away of state and politics. So keeping in view the Lenin’s theoretical concept of consciousness to the masses from without and proletarian vanguard, Stalinist practice, Gramsci’s concept of organic intellectual and Rosa Luxembourgian critiques, this organizational question needs to be discussed & debated at length.
On the organization question, Luxemburg took an overall organic view. Her polemics against Lenin can be understood when she says, “let us speak plainly, historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful and more valuable than the infallibility of the best of all possible central committees”.5 But over-dependence on spontaneity may distract the party organiser from its educator role and transform the party-leaders into quotidian activists in a sterile situation or quixotic in a vibrant situation with a built-in ‘empiricist outlook’. That Luxemburg was aware of this is clear from her passage that states, “On the one hand, we have the mass; on the other, its historic goal, located outside the existing society. On one hand, we have the day-to-day struggle; on the other, the social revolution. Such are the terms of the dialectical contradiction through which the socialist movement makes its way. It follows that this movement can best advance by taking betwixt and between the two dangers by which it is constantly being threatened. One is the loss of its mass character; the other the abandonment of its goal. One is the danger of sinking back to the condition of a sect; the other, the danger of becoming a movement of bourgeois social reform. That is why it is illusory, and contrary to historic experience, to hope to fix, once for always, the direction of the revolutionary socialist struggle with the aid of formal means, which are expected to secure the labour movement against possibilities of opportunist digression”6. Like Lenin, Gramsci also finds the remedy of the problem in democratic centralism. But in his opinion, democratic centralism must be elastic, it comes alive in so far as it is continuously interpreted and adapted to necessity. It needs continual renewal. Democratic centralism, again, must be ‘organic’ in the sense that both the leaders and the rank and file must obey the rule of democracy. So the central core of the organizational problem lies on the question of organic nature of party members and the continuously evolving and extending the party democracy vis-à-vis overall democracy. It must be emphasized that the evolving consciousness of the masses should transform their status from object of history to the subject with the withering away of the party itself and in this context, mass-action is to be given utmost importance as Rosa Luxemburg envisaged.
Iran, Afghanistan : The Imperialism Of
Our Time, by Aijaz Ahmad, LeftWord Books, March 2005, page 239. italic words in
parenthesis are additions of the author of this article.
(2) Ibid, page 242.
(3) Imperialism : From the Colonial Age to the Present, by Harry Magdoff, Monthly Review Press 1978. page 111.
(4) Cass Struggle in the
Third Period : 1930-1941, Part 2: The Dominators, by Charles Bettelheim, T R
Publication Pvt Ltd 1996, page 17
Readings in Revolution and
Organization : Rosa Luxemburg And Her Critic : Selected and Introduced by
Sobhanlal DattaGupta, Pearl Publishers, September 1994, page 139.
(6) The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, edited by Peter Hudis & Kelvin B. Anderson, Cornerstone Publication August 2005, page 263.