This is an old book review by MIM (Maoist Internationalist Movement) of a work by Ludo Martens entitled, The Collapse of the Soviet Union: Causes and Lessons: For the Revolutionary Revival of the International Communist Movement. I am not a Third-Worldist or a Maoist, but this review has a principled theoretical stance regarding the International Communist Seminar and Brezhnevism as a whole.
I post it here despite misgivings about the defunct MIM, including their “defense” of Mao’s collaboration with U.S. imperialism and comparing a two-year non-aggression pact before killing Hitler to a decade of supporting Mobutu, Nixon and Pinochet.
Ludo Martens, while he has taken Marxist-Leninist stances in the past and has written some good works, since 1995 has chiefly worked in the service of “pan-socialism,” seeking to unity Marxist-Leninist and revisionist currents in a strategy that would make Ceaușescu blush.
This critique of Martens’ work and “pan-socialism” is a very important point to be made in the revolutionary struggle between revisionism and non-revisionist Marxism-Leninism and the teaching of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
It should be noted that they toss around the old Maoist canard “Hoxhaite” and claim that “certain sections of international Hoxhaism fell” for Gorby, without providing any evidence of such claims (and even tries to say that the M-L / revisionist struggle was chiefly Mao’s doing), although MIM does laugh at Gossweiler’s attempt to say Albania had “nationalist” reasons for opposing the Soviet Union, which earns them more credit than most American Maoist organizations.
The Collapse of the Soviet Union: Causes and Lessons: For the
Revolutionary Revival of the International Communist Movement
by the International Communist Seminar
Brussels, BELGIUM: 1998, 313 pp. pb
reviewed by International Minister, December, 2000
This book represents a triumph of the work of Ludo Martens and his Belgian PTB, a party seeking to reconcile with Castroites, Brezhnevites and Hoxhaites. Doing so, Ludo Martens is very close to the numerical center of gravity amongst those calling themselves communist in the world, since there are still many revisionists hanging on to their world views.
To the Maoists, Ludo Martens encourages “constructive engagement” with revisionist parties. By befriending the revisionist parties, one could receive the impression that the revisionists are gaining someone to talk to other than their revisionist selves. Such would be a tactical justification for a a Maoist to do what Ludo Martens does.
On the other hand, such a tactic cannot be justified beyond a certain price. Seminar participants are supposed to all uphold Stalin, but in fact, some Trotskyists hang about and the Castroites are allowed in and welcomed despite Castro’s many statements of praise of Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping. (See http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Senate/5973/leftover.html )
Hence, it is one thing to have tactics of “constructive engagement,” but it is another thing to allow someone to call him or herself “Marxist-Leninist” when s/he does not truly defend Stalin. Yet, such is not surprising since Ludo Martens himself and a portion of international Hoxhaism fell for Gorbachev–that being another story about “Back to Leninism” for another time.
Thus the seminar supposedly unites to defend Stalin, but on page 10 we already learn that the vast majority of seminar participants welcomed the party representatives from Cuba and Korea and upheld “the defence of socialism in Cuba.” For MIM, that puts this conference of 136 organizations beyond the pale from a proletarian point of view.
Whenever MIM raises phony communist Cuba, we never hear about the mode of production in Cuba, but we always hear about the geopolitical necessity of defending Cuba against invasion. Such is the tell-tale sign that Marxism has taken the backseat to geopolitics.
There is nothing special about Cuba facing imperialist invasion. Panama saw Yankee troops. Somalia saw Yankees land and so did Iraq. None were “socialist” countries and still the Yankee invaded. Opposing Yankee invasion is not something we do only for countries like Cuba calling themselves “socialist.” Opposing Amerikan imperialism is an internationalist duty. Creating a “special deal” for Cuba and Korea despite their modes of production is an example of neo-colonialism, very typical of the kind of revisionism that would rather fight than switch to scientific Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. It is the ideology of those hoping to restore a Soviet social-imperialism and a new neo-colonial orbit.
Thus, from these forces it is as if nothing in the world has changed, largely because they wish to restore the Soviet social-imperialist realm. These parties cannot admit their own failures with regard to defending Stalin and so now they continue defending the same old politics without missing a beat. The collapse of the Soviet Union might as well have not happened, because these people are essentially not interested in the mode of production. They are communists in sentiment in some cases and manipulators of geopolitics in others, but they are not Marxist-Leninist in any case.
The first interesting essay in the book with something new in it is from Dr. Kurt Gossweiler of the former East German revisionist party. Gossweiler seems to realize that there might be some criticism that he is in for given the ruinous collapse in East Germany.
His analysis is that China was a large and independent country which was why its communist party was able to resist Khruschev revisionism. His analysis of Albania is that it had selfish reasons of self-defense against Yugoslavian annexation to oppose Khruschevite revisionism. However, such material analyses of the respective parties would be more persuasive if Gossweiler did not end up excusing the German party leaders essentially because of their geopolitical situation, something we hear about Castro all the time too.
We are told that because of the Western troops on its border and because of the force of the USSR, the leadership of the East German communists wanted to side with Mao but did not. “It would be wrong to call the SED a revisionist party. Under the leadership of Walter Ulbricht it put up the maximum resistance possible at that time to the revisionism of the Khruschev clique, and it did so to such an extent that in October 1964 its activities were suppressed.”(p. 83) This statement by Gossweiler is indeed something new in the world.
Because of Honecker’s anti-fascist role, Gossweiler also excuses him when he replaced Ulbricht at the request of the USSR. “It was more a question of exchanging one of the most gifted leaders, and one of the most seasoned in the German and international class struggle, for a well-meaning party functionary who was too easily led astray owing to his poor leadership qualities.”(p. 84)
Gossweiler also gives Honecker credit for repressing Gorbachev’s statements in East Germany and states that a violent repression of the pro-Gorbachev demonstrators would have missed the real counter-revolutionaries. Thus, overall, we have some notion that the party in East Germany deserves criticism, but we are told that the true inside story is that all that could be done was done under Ulbricht while Honecker was simply incompetent when he implemented revisionism.
Whether Cuba’s Castro, China’s Hua Guofeng or East Germany’s Ulbricht and Honecker, we are told there are good reasons not to hoist the banner of communism. Had Ulbricht done it, invasion would have resulted. Had Cuba not gone along with Khruschev, we are told Cuba would have been done in.
Essentially we hear again and again that the geopolitical situation demanded compromise of the mode of production itself without an open fight, without an open call to the people to attack revisionism.
To take such a stand is to put geopolitics in its own right above Marxism. It is one of the root reasons for the continued division of the revisionists from the genuine international communist movement; even though the Soviet Union is dead. The mere death of the Soviet Union did not erase all the fallacious pseudo-Marxist methods of thought ingrained in the Soviet Union’s revisionist followers. As long as geopolitics is put above the mode of production’s advance, Marxist-Leninists have no chance of uniting. It is Marxism’s attention to the material world that makes unity possible, while making cardinal principles of geopolitical calculation means endless division.
Next in the book follow some essays from the Castro brothers and North Korea–as if nothing has changed in the world and as if Gorbachev and Yeltsin could have occurred without some major betrayal in the Soviet CP. These people just go on singing the same old revisionist song.
After the grossly reactionary documents from Cubans and Koreans, we received another even more reactionary contribution from a Syrian Ammar Bagdache, who seemed hell-bent on being social-fascism incarnate. In the split between Khruschev and Mao, Ammar Bagdache still cannot discern one side being more correct than the other. (p. 174) Instead, it is clear that this particular persyn seeks the restoration of the Soviet empire. Like the Nazis before, Ammar Bagdache focuses his hatred of parasitism on the Jews. This would be one thing on the West Bank, but according to A. Bagdache, the Jews a.k.a “Zionism” were mainly responsible for the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union.(p. 165) Most of Khruschev’s advisers and the “main” force behind revisionism is supposedly Zionism.(p. 168)
While MIM is all for having Marxism-Leninism-Maoism take national forms, what Ammar Bagdache is doing is a violation of the universal aspects of Marxism-Leninism and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. It’s not surprising that this reactionary essay was also allowed in the book. Again, it is not focused on the mode of production, only how geopolitics–in this case Mideast geopolitics–intersects with capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union. This geopolitical focus goes to such an extent that it wipes out the parasitic nature of imperialism except for the Jews. From the proletarian view, this is the class essence of Hitler’s ideology too–an attack on parasitism of the Jews in essence to cover for the parasitism of imperialism generally. It’s a sacrifice of some parasites to let the much bigger bloodsuckers off the hook. Anybody who thinks Amerikan imperialism would miss an imperialist beat if the United $tates had no Jews has major illusions. Such illusions create a major escape hatch for imperialism when it gets into trouble like Germany in the 1930s.
The DKHP-C Turkish comrades also have an essay in the book. Once again, the focus is geopolitical. “It is a matter of fact that it is much easier to create the conditions for open interventions and to put them into practice since the USSR is not a factor of balance anymore, and since the USA is the sole ‘superpower.'”(p. 256) This is exactly the kind of reasoning that says, “because the USSR is powerful in a geopolitical sense, we will call it socialist.” However, Lenin did not call the Kaiser socialist when the Kaiser gave him a railroad car to ride back to Russia.
Furthermore, we heard the traditional Brezhnevite and Trotskyite complaints about Mao from the DKHP-C: “The CP of China, who regarded the USSR as the ‘main enemy’, went even so far as to confront progressive and revolutionary movements, if they were supported by the USSR. The support for the counter-revolutionary FNLA and Unita in Angola, and even for Pinochet in Chile were consequences of this policy.”(p. 259)
On this point, DKHP-C is one of many parties that has adopted the white man’s double standard toward the Soviet Union and China, a standard so white that even some Trotskyists uphold it though it means giving some credence to Stalin. Almost without exception, these organizations accepted and defended the Stalin-Hitler pact, which included real material aid such as the shipment of raw materials from the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany, but let Mao so much as recognize Pinochet or shake hands with Nixon, and these hypocrites attack Mao with no shame–even seeing the obvious today of capitalist restoration in the USSR. If there were all these progressive and revolutionary forces backed by the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union, these critics of Mao should show us one that has a socialist society to show for it. There aren’t any, because these forces were all revisionist. Furthermore, as MIM documents elsewhere, Mao supported all the anti-colonial forces in Angola. Perhaps the DKHP-C thought that exclusively supporting the Soviet side was more important than ejecting Portuguese colonialism! That’s how important neo-colonialism is for these people to make such a principle of it before colonialism is even done with!
[Please note the admin of this blog does not support Maoism, the “Three Worlds Theory,” the idea that the social-imperialist Soviet Union was the “greater threat,” or justify Mao’s support of reactionary forces in the name of China’s geo-political interests, and condemns MIM’s pathetic attempts to equate Mao’s support of U.S. imperialism with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.]
Entire parties have split around the world over the question of the Three Worlds Theory–that’s how much the pseudo-Marxists have managed to convince us that geopolitics is so cardinal instead of a matter of strategic calculation of the balance of forces, and not something that would come up in a conference first attempting to regroup around cardinal questions. In the realpolitik world of geopolitics-first thinking, it is not surprising that Great Russian nation interests come to the fore easily and without a second thought, while Mao has to justify himself several times over or entire parties will split. It’s exactly the kind of garbage that explains why the Soviet Union under Brezhnev was an equal superpower to the United $tates, but also an equally capitalist society. Pragmatist geopolitical considerations can in no way guide the revolutionary advance of society on a consistent basis. Doing that requires knowledge of the mode of production.
The essay by Harpal Brar does the most to discuss the actual economic conditions in the USSR, but on the whole, none of the essays in the book systematically cover the factual situation of the mode of production in the USSR. One last essay worth mentioning is so stuck in the past, it still has not theoretically admitted that the bourgeoisie in the party — not landlords or imperialists outside the party–restored capitalism in the USSR. The Iniziativa Comunista (Italy) would appear to be one of those organizations too far brain-dead to make sense of current events: “While acknowledging the non-antagonistic character of the contradictions amongst the internal classes, we have to be conscious of the antagonistic relationship that exists between the socialist countries and their capitalist counterparts.”(p. 302) Although Yelstin joined the Soviet CP in 1961, the Italian Stalinists have the nerve to tell us that there were no internal contradictions with the enemy in the Soviet Union!
Hello, hello, hello supposed Stalinists! It was not the landlord class or the imperialists or even the cultural intellectuals you mentioned who restored capitalism outright in the Soviet Union. It was Ramiz Alia, Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, Khruschev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachev and Yeltsin who restored capitalism–the bourgeoisie in the party. Not in a single case did the imperialists invade or the landlords rise up in armed struggle to restore capitalism.
Yes, we must uphold Stalin’s last great work, the “Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR.” Without understanding this work, it is impossible to understand the material basis for capitalist restoration.
Why “social-fascism” and “social-imperialism”
In 1993, Ludo Martens of the Belgian PTB attended a conference to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, a meeting very important in attempting to regroup Maoist parties, some of whom met for the first time and challenged each other with scientific issues not found in their own countries. At such a meeting, and indeed, at all international conferences of the moment, cardinal questions should be the order of the day.
It is often stated that for Mao Zedong, political line was merely a matter of intention. Nothing could be further from the truth. When Mao analyzed the superstructure and its connection to the mode of production, he did so scientifically and giving full accord to the economic base’s active role in determining the superstructure.
Today’s neo-revisionist and Brezhnevite critics of Mao dovetail because of their underlying combination of Menshevik views. One component of Menshevism is anarchist idealism or nihilism when it comes to the state or leadership under socialism. When it suits them, these Mensheviks criticize power-holders for holding power! How remarkable! The Mensheviks have discovered that people hold power and have self-interests! Such infantilism underlies much of the criticism of Mao Zedong with regard to the Soviet Union and foreign affairs.
Since the Soviet Union called itself “socialist,” but its mode of production was capitalist, Mao had no choice but to refer to the USSR as “social-imperialist.” Even more problematically for the critics of Mao — who in many cases, such as Ludo Martens or the now defunct “Communist Workers Party” of the U$A and countless others, believed that the political leadership of the Soviet Union was degenerate under Khruschev and Brezhnev–the critics admit that the Soviet Union after 1956 was not a bourgeois democracy. So what was it? The Soviet Union was a dictatorship, but of what class and in what form? Once again, it is the mode of production that prevails in deciding the question. If the mode of production is capitalist, but the superstructure is not bourgeois democratic and in fact is openly dictatorial, then “social-fascist” is the right term. Not for nothing the Nazis also claimed to be “socialists,” as a matter of historical coincidence.
In his 1993 speech, ” Mao Zedong et Staline,” (See http://www.wpb.be/doc/doc.htm) Ludo Martens (like many others in the world before and since) raised this question in an opportunist way. He said that Mao opposed the Soviet Union and called it the main enemy for a spell, because of China’s self-interests. Yet, here we are talking about something purely superstructural. Ludo Martens accuses Mao of “bourgeois nationalism,” and connects that to what he considers the incorrect “social-imperialist” thesis, but what national bourgeoisie is he referring to? Certainly he is not referring to the bourgeoisie in the Chinese party which wanted to follow the path of Khruschev and Brezhnev. It was not their self-interests creating this “bourgeois nationalism.” Then what is Ludo Martens talking about? He is talking about an idea detached from the mode of production, a nitpick if even 100% correct would have no business being raised as a cardinal question at an important conference marking Mao’s 100th birthday. Mao Zedong did not own any means of production. China did not have a mode of production driving it toward incorrect foreign affairs positions. That is the cardinal issue at stake.
At most if we accept all of Ludo Martens’s observations, some of which are historically jumbled (another subject for another date), we will prove that Mao made errors. These errors might even reach to the level of “deviation,” but these errors would not change the fact that the Soviet Union was social-imperialist and social-fascist. Strategic and tactical calculations do not change the mode of production in the Soviet Union and Mao’s errors were unconnected to a capitalist mode of production in China. Errors are not of cardinal importance. All leaders will make errors: that is guaranteed.
To say Mao did something against the Soviet Union to protect his own power is the anarchist strain of Menshevism. Mature Marxist scientists become tired of learning that people hold power, a truism as true as the rising sun each morning until the day of communism established internationally. It’s not interesting to us anymore to hear that people hold power.
We want to know about the mode of production, and the superficial nature of pseudo-Marxism stands exposed when geopolitics takes the main theoretical role in discussion. Geopolitics can only be the expression of underlying modes of production. If there are no capitalist relations of production there will be no imperialism, and that is the real cardinal question at hand, but Ludo Martens, the Workers World Party (USA), the Trotskyists, the defunct CWP and countless contributors in Ludo Martens’s seminars held in Brussels with parties from around the world say that geopolitics is decisive. It’s not just that Ludo Martens is saying political line scientifically arrived at is decisive. No, he and the other anti-Mao troopers are saying that geopolitics is decisive, and doing so, they seek to take us into a “lesser evils” world of foreign policy. In one of the few great errors in his life, W.E.B. Du Bois advised the Chinese in 1936 to abide by Japanese occupation as a lesser evil than European occupation and Mao subsequently proved that more was possible than this seemingly lesser evil. Yet, in 1936, Du Bois did not claim to be a scientific Marxist-Leninist yet. The geopolitical pragmatists masquerading as Marxist-Leninists have systematized Du Bois’s error and have called it Marxism-Leninism.
Although Ludo Martens did catch onto the idea of the “new bourgeoisie in the party” from Mao Zedong, he never really confronted the mode of production in the USSR. In fact, he and his party in 1993 could be heard saying that there was no unemployment in revisionist China, when even the social-fascist regime there was admitting 8 digit unemployment. That is how far removed from economic realities these geopolitics-is-decisive-folks are. If geopolitics or other sentiment demands it, these people are fully prepared to say there is no unemployment even when the regime in question does not say so. For this sort of superficial reason of geopolitics, Ludo Martens objected to the term “social-fascism.” Since Stalin and Dimitrov had established that fascism is the rule of the most reactionary segments of the bourgeoisie and with no pretense of democracy or civil liberties, and since the USSR was capitalist, Mao had no choice within Marxism-Leninism other than to refer to the USSR as “social-fascist.” Certainly it was not a bourgeois democratic society.
Like many others including many Trotskyists, Ludo Martens says that the leaders of the USSR were parasites on a mainly socialist economic foundation mostly in order to justify a certain easily understood line on foreign policy. “The socialist basis of society was not yet destroyed,” he says in his essay called “Balance of the Collapse of the Soviet Union, April 2, 1992.” A thing is always a unity of opposites, but one of the opposites is always principal. Never is there complete purity, so that in a struggle in the worst situation–bourgeois prison for instance–even in such circumstances, the enemy does not obtain 100% of what it wants and the proletariat does not obtain 100% of what it wants.
Hence, Ludo Martens wants to say that the economic base under Khruschev and Brezhnev was at least 51% socialist and somehow the superstructure was more reactionary and out of synch, so it needed to wait till Gorbachev to implement total capitalism. In this way, Ludo Martens justifies his and others’ belief that Chinese foreign policy should have been pro-Brezhnev, if not in reasoning, then in substantial alliance. What it means is that Ludo Martens is willing to ape Trotsky on a disjunction between the Soviet mode of production and the state and hold to such an idealist analysis for a generation or two of the Soviet Union’s existence, all so that he can defend a certain geopolitical approach that was popular in the 1960s to the 1980s and still exerts its influence on the minds of older revisionists Ludo Martens is seeking to reconcile with.
The problem with this understanding of having the superstructure out of synch with the mode of production for decades aside from its idealism and obvious Trotskyist origins–and this is true of his review of the USSR called “Balance of the Collapse of the Soviet Union, April 2, 1992” and his 1993 remarks at the Mao Centennial organized by Joma Sison–is that it presents the Stalin era as having no new bourgeois elements despite the victories of class struggle. Yes, Stalin won out against the bourgeois lines of Trotsky, Bukharin and Tito. Yes, collectivization went forward. Yes, World War II was won. It is our duty to defend all these gains under Stalin. Yet, at the same time, our current dialectical materialist understanding must be that the new bourgeoisie did not disappear. Quite the contrary, many of the necessities in fighting the war involved a material basis for the new bourgeoisie.
A word on the creation of the new bourgeoisie under Stalin is not to be found in Ludo Martens’s discussion of cardinal subjects, only reference to the usual exploiters–the rich peasants, imperialist spies and so on that Stalin tended to.
Although we talk about many things in regard to Soviet history — Khruschev’s “three peacefuls” and capitulation to imperialism for instance–there was only one factor needed to push the new bourgeoisie over the top from dominated to dominating, and that was Khruschev’s loosening of the atmosphere in the party, his creation of the “dictatorship of the whole people.” The moment when the bourgeoisie in the party knows it will no longer face a strong possibility of being violently repressed is the moment it takes charge, not because the superstructure is decisive mainly, but because the new bourgeoisie is already in a very good position and getting a good portion of what it wants even under socialism. Perhaps it is determining 35% of what is going on and goes to 51% or 70% with Khruschev’s attack on Stalin. It is not a case that the new bourgeoisie started from no where and instantly became 51% as the Trotskyists like to caricaturize our views. So the superstructure is only decisive at a certain moment of time, that being the time when the new bourgeoisie no longer faces violent repression in the case of the USSR and China.
The bourgeoisie is not entirely “gutless.” This view is a mistake. One only need witness various intra-bourgeois civil wars to know that the leaders of the capitalist class will take risks for their rule, (even though the oppressed classes do most of the fighting in civil wars) and such is even more true when fighting socialist rule on behalf of the whole capitalist class. Hence, it takes considerable violence to keep the capitalist class underfoot.
Anyone who has stopped to consider the careerists in the CPSU, anyone who has read any anecdotes or talked to any of the common people of the Soviet Union knows that the state and the means of production attract careerists like flies. Such people mouth communism at the proper moment, but everyone knows that they don’t really know how or desire to apply communism in practice. These people protect their own interests and careers, but damage the interests of the proletariat, if they even know what they are since many have not studied politics in any systematic way. The only counterweight to such people in a society where there is yet a contradiction between leaders and led, the only counterweight to these careerists is violent repression, for they will certainly chance being criticized for implementing capitalism.
When a Khruschev comes to power almost by inertia (and only almost because he still did have to stage a coup), the reason is that the material situation of the bourgeoisie is already good. Layers and layers of the bureaucracy with access to the means of production in that peculiar superstructure known as socialism in the 20th century already exist ready and willing to follow and support a leader who will only “relax a bit,” maybe focus on making some goulash and taking off his shoes in the UN.
As the bourgeoisie has centuries of training leaders behind it and propertied ruling classes more than centuries, and because there is a shortage of trained proletarian leaders, and also because it is not easy to discern those with genuine socialist conviction and those mouthing phrases at the appropriate moments, “democracy,” “relaxation” and “free speech” become the excuses and battering rams of the new bourgeoisie seeking to oppress the proletariat in this era of imperialism. Once Khruschev erased the fear of a leader like Stalin, the new bourgeoisie implemented the things it always wanted to implement, and partially did implement under Stalin. The revisionists emphasize that it took more than a generation to restore capitalism, because they deny the role of force in history in addition to the fact that the new bourgeoisie does not have to start from scratch. The revisionists deny the role of Khruschev’s coup and use of the military against Molotov and Stalin’s other allies, and more importantly, they deny the role that the leadership has to play in violently repressing the would-be ruling bourgeoisie in the party, a group of people who do after all have access to the means of production once the government plans production under socialism (but not in the stages leading up to the socialist revolution unless there are base areas where the party is running the economy).
Recently we had a discussion with a member of the PTB who asked us about the band “Rage against the Machine” which had just done benefit concerts for Tibet. Ironically after discussing with us how many still put geopolitics above the mode of production, the PTB comrade asked why “Rage” did what it did. MIM answered that probably with all the watering down done by revisionism, no one ever talked to them about the mode of production. Hence, the “Rage against the Machine” did not understand the advance over slavery that the communists including communist Tibetan slaves brought to Tibet. Instead “Rage” adopted simpler political ideas with regard to the national question. It’s not surprising that people focussed on geopolitics will have no real answer to the “human-rights” and “free speech” for slaveowners point of view and even bands like “Rage” will be unpersuaded. We do not defend Mao’s work in Tibet just because the United $tates opposes it. The pseudo-Marxists consciously and unconsciously seeing geopolitics as decisive have led us down a pragmatist road to endless division and revisionism.
[To see the “International Communist Seminar” speak for itself, go to http://www.wpb.be/icm.htm%5D