Editorial: Theory Becomes Practical - The Crisis of Capitalism and the Dilemma of the Left
from the Fall 1971 issue of The
Campaigner (9.8 MB PDF image file)
page numbers from source included to facilitate verification
Revolutionaries, like all other members of bourgeois societies tend not to respond to ideas as ideas but rather react on the sociological basis of organizational norms and institutional affiliations. Were this not the unfortunate case, and did revolutionaries actually display a correspondence between professed commitment and social practice, the National Caucus of Labor Committees would today be the dominant socialist organization in the United States, with the Communist parties and the "Trotskyist" organizations reduced to empty shells.
For today, no thinking individual can deny that the political and economic analysis presented by the NCLC and the strategy flowing from it stand completely and absolutely vindicated by the events of August, while the miserable pretensions to economic theory of the CP, the SWP, Sweezy, etc., must be regarded as completely refuted and discredited by these events.
The devaluation of the U.S. dollar, the kingpin of world capitalism as was the British pound in 1931 has thrown not only the capitalist political system but the socialist movement as well into a severe crisis. While the political crisis of capitalism is obvious to the most casual observer, the theoretical-practical crisis erupting within the socialist movement is not even generally clear to the participants themselves. The scathing refutation in reality of the self-comforting notions of "neo-capitalist" stability, of "next generation" socialism, poses the most fundamental questions to this generation of socialists. Their resolution is of the most critical importance to humanity as a whole, for what is at stake is nothing less than the determination of whether socialism or fascism and barbarism will be the final outcome of the 1970's great depression [i.e. the economic collapse which was set in motion at that time, and which has been gradually worsening, but which will become undeniable in 2008 - they saw where the process was leading, even then].
These are the compelling terms in which questions of the competence and quality of socialist leadership must be debated. The nature of the present political-economic conjuncture and the program and strategy necessary
to establish socialism within the decade: these are the interpenetrating principal questions facing the movement today - other questions are at best diversionary and at worse outright counterrevolutionary.
THE PRESENT SITUATION
Capitalism today is plummeting into a classic breakdown crisis of the same fundamental sort as that of 1929- 31. That crisis was resolved politically through fascism in much of Europe, and through "New Deal" measures in the U.S.; economically, the crisis was never resolved but was simply swept over by World War II. Following the war, Marshall Plan investment in Western Europe laid the basis for a new round of capitalist expansion which had reached its lawful limits by the mid-1960's. At that point, as investment outlets were saturated, world capitalism entered into a series of monetary crises the phenomenal expression of the underlying growing discrepancy between capitalist credit expansion - the spiraling broth of capitalists' capital - and the production of real use-values. To avert a general liquidity collapse, the capitalists, especially since about 1965 have been forced to loot constant and variable capital in order to meet the expanding demands of fictitious capital, as a means of shoring up the liquidity and credibility of various sectors of world capitalism.
This is not simply a matter of greedy capitalists out for more profits as the commonplace "left" explanation of wage-price controls, higher taxes, etc. goes. To stave off a general monetary collapse and an ensuing depression, the capitalist class is forced to take on the labor movement even though they themselves are not prepared for a head-on confrontation.
Under modern state capitalism, in its initial stages this assault is less likely to take the form of direct wage cuts than tax increases, cuts in wage-equivalent public services (local budget crises), undertaken while inducing various sections of the working class to fight it out among themselves. This latter tactic has manifested itself in various "domestic CIA" community control schemes pitting community against community and community residents against unionized teachers etc., and in union-busting
schemes such as the notorious Philadelphia Plan. The ruling class has had no small assistance in these vicious anti-working class schemes from left-radicals pushing various ''local community control" chimeras as well as openly strikebreaking and scabherding, as in the New York (1968) and Newark (1971) teachers' strikes.
As the inevitable hour of reckoning for the bloated capitalist credit system approaches, the ruling class is forced to resort to direct attacks on the labor movement, such as Nixon' s wage-price controls and open strike-breaking. As parliamentary democracy breaks down, the capitalist class finds itself unable to rule by the normal method of cooptation and selective concessions and is forced to break the ties that bind the working class to the bourgeoisie, such as the labor-Democratic alliance. The "normal" mode of government under such circumstances is no government at all as we see in contemporary Italy. Attempts to rule through non-fascist police state measures must eventually give way to opening the door to genuine fascist forces as the bourgeoisie exhausts all its alternatives.
The situation summarized above has been consistently foreseen and analyzed by the Labor Committee and its predecessor organization since 1966. Prior to that, theses predicting a late 1960's monetary crisis and a new world depression were circulated in the socialist movement beginning in 1958-59 by L. Marcus, the founder of the Labor Committees while a member of the Socialist Workers Party.
"MARXISM'' AND MARXISM
Why is it that every socialist organization - with the notable exception of the NCLC - was caught unawares by events, generally even denying their existence or at best plagiarizing "explanations" from The New York Times?
The first point to note is that the Marxian method has never - with a handful of exceptions - been the basis of "Marxist'' organizations. "Marxist'' was an appellation used to designate the factional opponents of the anarchists, LaSalleans, and pure-and-simple trade unionists in the First International. To call oneself a "Marxist'' meant that one identified one' s factional position in the movement as opposed to anarchist and various forms of reformism; it never signified an actual comprehension and assimilation of Marx's dialectical method as developed in Marx's 1844-46 writings.
With the present-day exception of the writings of Marcus, Marx's actual method regarding economic analysis has been replicated only by Rosa Luxemburg. Particularly since the founding of the Third International, the methods employed by communist organizations has been that of canonical adherence to "official" sacred texts and creeds - among which Lenin's erroneous economic views have had holy status, while Luxemburg's opposing views were anathematized by such Comintern high priests as Bukharin and Zinoviev.
Lenin's blundering analysis of imperialism - borrowed from Hilferding - views capitalism as a ''closed system" and designates the export of capital as the mediating feature of relationships between the capitalist and the colonial sectors. This has been decisively and dramatically refuted while Luxemburg's opposing views identifying primitive accumulation - the looting of real capital - as the essential relationship between capitalist and non-capitalist sectors has been undeniably vindicated by the past fifty years of world history. Nonetheless, it is a measure
of the theoretical bankruptcy as well as the intellectual dishonesty of the "official" socialist movement that Lenin's IMPERIALISM continues to be regarded as a sacred catechism while Luxemburg' s ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL is patronizingly dismissed out-of-hand, with a few Bukharinite slanders thrown in for good measure.
One must secondly note the role of "theory'' in today's "official Marxist" organization. The CP or SWP will serve as excellent examples. "Theories," that is, quotations from the "classics'' plus a few standard liturgical recitations, serve only to rationalize the most outrageous discrepancies between professions of belief and the actual movement of hands and feet. They are there to be dragged out on ceremonial occasions and other appropriate times e.g., note the socialist rhetoric of the sham CP and SWP electoral campaigns, while the main thrust of their actual organizational practice in the anti-war movement and elsewhere serves to boost the electoral stock of capitalist politicians such as McGovern, Hartke, and Lindsay. Theory as a guide to action? Perish the thought! First find the action, then one can surely dig up a theory someplace to justify the most degrading opportunism as "a step toward the revolution."
LEADERS OR THE LED?
The consequences of this theoretical buffoonery we see around us today: allegedly revolutionary socialist organizations, with a commitment - at least in principle - to defending the working class against fascism and to establishing socialism. Yet these parties are like ships tossed about on the sea; having lost any semblance of theoretical grounding, they find themselves incapable of even grasping the nature of the present crisis much less responding to it in a manner worthy of the "heirs of Lenin," rather than as the miserable tail-ending opportunists they are. With the world on the verge of a new depression with the situation crying out for revolutionary solutions we see the CP and SWP obliviously carrying on as if they had fifty years to tag along after bourgeois politicians and narrow interest-group struggles. Supposedly committed to establishing working class control and management of the worldwide productive forces, they stand mystified and stupefied by the operations of the economy. Yet they expect working people to entrust their lives and their futures to this leadership.
The irony of the present conjuncture is that just when socialists are presented with the concrete opportunity to explain capitalism' s inability to expand and provide for the needs of the population, the two largest socialist organizations in the U.S. are absolutely incompetent to even recognize the nature of the crisis much less to explain it or offer any way out.
The capitalists themselves are doing more to demonstrate the invariability of capitalism than are the CP and SWP. Just at the point in history when socialism begins to become a practical alternative to working people, the leading socialist organizations are incapable of presenting ANY practical alternative. (The SWP recently disgraced itself and its own history to an unprecedented degree by announcing that the main difference between socialists and capitalists is that capitalists lie! Who needs socialism ? Who needs theory? Who needs Marxism? All we need is a truth squad!)
Both organizations offer nearly-identical explanations of the economic crisis-not surprisingly, since they both use the same method cribbing from the New York Times - that the war in Vietnam is the cause of inflation, unemployment, and budget crises, that the monetary crisis results from the combination of war-induced inflation and ''rivalry'' between competing imperialist powers. As if these fierce "competitors" were anything but satrapies of a unified world-wide U.S. imperialism! For embellishment, both organizations occasionally enlighten their audiences with polite references to "overproduction" - a piece of Marxism via Keynes.
Both the CP and SWP, proceeding on the basis of the most elementary sense-impressions, delude themselves that they are somehow ''radicalizing'' economic issues by explaining them in terms of the war, when in fact what they are accomplishing is explaining away the lawful and recurring general collapse of capitalism. In other words there's nothing wrong with capitalism that electing McGovern and ending the war won't solve. (Incredibly, the Daily World recently scolded McGovern for saying that the economy is a more important issue than the war!)
The CP, it should be noted has at least directed its reforming toward the working class and the strike wave while the "Trotskyist" SWP proceeds to "build the mass (sic) movements," helping to fragment the political working class into more pieces than Humpty-Dumpty - women, blacks, Chicanos, gays, high school students, Chicanas, black women, black gay women, black gay women high school students and so on and so forth. The recent concessions granted by the SWP proprietors to the SWP pro-labor faction in no way alters this madness; it simply adds the call for a labor party to all the other parties the SWP is calling for just one more "constituency."
Among the three leading socialist organizations in the U.S. today, only the National Caucus of Labor Committees has shown that it has any comprehension of the actual ABC'S of Marxian method and revolutionary practice.
We are, nonetheless, aware that trapped within the CP and SWP are many genuinely committed revolutionaries
who are finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile their own organization's incompetence and ineptitude with the goal of revolutionary socialism it professes. In spite of our most damning attacks on their organizations, we recognize that such individuals are valuable cadre whose commitment to socialism - manifest by the fact that they have joined a self-proclaimed revolutionary organization - makes their positive contributions essential to the process of establishing socialism.
Every thinking revolutionary - whether presently in an organization or not - is faced with the necessity of deciding through which of the existing organizations he or she can actualize his commitment to socialism. He must evaluate which organization has the theoretical understanding, the moral qualities, and the theoretical and practical competence to organize and lead a revolutionary movement in the 1970's.
We in the NCLC are convinced that only our organization can pass such critical scrutiny regarding the necessary qualities of revolutionary leadership. We do not, however, insist of every revolutionary that he or she immediately genuflect, apply for membership in the NCLC, and pledge us unquestioning obedience and loyalty. We do demand of every genuine revolutionary socialist that he honestly confront the nature of the organization through which he presently mediates his political practice. If he thinks that his organization can become transformed in order to become capable of fulfilling its historic responsibility we urge him to try while at the same time collaborating with us on a united front basis wherever principled agreement now exists. If he does not think that his organization can be reformed, then it is his responsibility to either factionalize or immediately split out, amidst the greatest political clarity and begin to collaborate with us in joint work and discussions.
The socialist movement has always developed and progressed through a process of splits and fusions. The currently convulsed political and economic environment means that this process will be accelerated in the coming months. It is through such a sifting-out and distillation process that an actual vanguard leadership is molded and tempered; in this arena the eminently practical question of theoretical hegemony - and thus the future of history - is presently being determined.
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