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Ludo Martens on Unity

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Soviet cogitations: 101
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 23 Dec 2011, 01:28
Post 26 Jan 2012, 15:54
Today, as a result of the restoration of capitalism under Gorbachov, the "pro-Soviet" tendency crumbled into innumerable tendencies. In the sixties, a "pro-Chinese" tendency emerged but split into various tendencies after Mao's death. There has been a "pro-Albanian" tendency, which also split after the collapse of socialism in Albania, and a so-called "pro-Cuban" tendency, mainly in Latin America. Some parties, finally, maintained an "independent" position vis-a-vis the tendencies mentioned. Whatever one's opinion about the correctness or the necessity of these splits at a certain point in history may be, it is nowadays possible to overcome these divisions and to unite the Marxist-Leninist parties, which are divided in different currents

The above is taken from Proposals for the Unification of the
International Communist Movement
which can be found here,

Martens considers the unification of all the Marxist-Leninist factions to be of highest importance, and I think it is easy to underestimate the inherent power of such a unification. I'm considering Canada here and we have 3 main communist parties that are one or another split of Marxist-Leninist, in addition to provincial splits in two of the larger provinces. But I'm more interested in how this can be extended to other political movements seeking the construction of socialism.

I think the crucial obstacle for unity is certainly based on some opportunism to have one's own sect, and many don't want to abandon this comfortable position. But, more important is the view of history. I don't come down particularly hard on stalin or trotsky's side, and I believe this is the case for many socialists. That being said, the role of revolutionary experience in history can't be ignored. If we consider Chavez and the pink tide in Latin America, he has discussed the socialist bloc and reviewed the successes and failures of that period of history. My biggest problem is that many in the west and on the left prefer to use a wholesale appraisal of history, effectively throwing decades of socialist experience in the trash. Not attacking the position of these well-meaning socialists, but in order to move forward there needs to be a recognition of the past as useful in some tangible way. Declaring the entire history of 20th century socialism as useless or irrelevant seems to be the main point of contention between different currents of socialism, because apart from that, the main goal: socialism, should still be the top priority.

The argument then goes, well there are too many stigmas and people already have these views, so instead of changing them we should work with them. I think there is some truth in this, rebranding for PR is very important, and it is successful, however it is a slippery slope. I find the trend to dismiss earlier history of socialism troubling, because it is very much a western view, if we look at the polls around the world inquiring whether the fall of the socialist bloc was a good thing, there are many mixed responses, sometimes a majority of the country thinks its a bad thing, so we know that outside, and sometimes even inside the west, people do not share a uniform view that hates the socialist experience. Therefore, we do have something to work with, despite decades of stigmatizing socialism. Perhaps in the United States, Canada, England, Australia and other European countries rehabilitating the socialist experience in the 20th century is not worth the time, but that is certainly not true for the rest of the world.

I'll give an example here, lets consider the Zeitgeist movement. I don't support it personally, and I would be surprised if any well-meaning Marxist did, but what is significant about Zeitgeist is the using of Marxist ideas like collective thinking, abolition of private property, and trying to construct an ideology around that. The strength is in changing the language, while meaning the same thing, as it pertains to those two issues. Immense popularity - but why? Many of these ideas are not new, I think much of it has to do with PR.

Using the kneejerk response of all hitherto socialism was totalitarian shows weakness. It shows that socialists do not stand behind previous experience to the extent that they can criticize it within a certain framework. Further, the divisions between bourgeois historians become blurred. I find these boards quite informative on how life in the socialist bloc was like, but we do see a similar view expressed in scholarly works like Dubravka Juraga, and also in Zsuzanna Clark's book on Hungarian socialism.

Falling into the trap of 'angels-and-demons' is all a part of this divide and rule strategy which weakens the socialist movement. I concede that many supporters of Stalin just resort to attacking anyone who doesn't agree with them, a true point and having seen it myself I think this is a warranted point to make. That being said, I find that many who take the independent position mentioned above, find themselves targeted as "stalinists" for suggesting that anything positive happened in 20th century socialism. Whether or not you feel positively about those experiences, it still contributes to negative stigma, just as it would if it appeared in a mainstream publication.

Michael Parenti wrote a good piece on Liberals and Conservatives, and how no matter how hard Liberals try, they will never impress upon the Conservatives, very much the same is true between socialists and liberals. You might be able to fundamentally convert someone to being more socialist oriented, but the objective is not to dilute socialism to the point that liberals might be interested in it. Concessions are not necessarily bad, but one has to be ready to defend past experience.

Western socialists would benefit from considering the parallels between Eastern Europe and Africa in the post-colonial era. Systematically Western scholars ignored both in terms of literature, art, and legitimacy, and they were largely written out of history for the longest time. There are certainly racial inferiority arguments, and they creep up throughout history again and again. Recognizing that the history is tainted with such views in western bourgeois historians would contribute to more unity between both sides I think. Further, we know that not everything the Soviet Union published was accurate or truthful, but we can usually concede the same for American sources. Yet, there was never any fundamental transformation where America started 'telling the truth' so to speak, yet we need to consider where is the source of all of this anti-Soviet information that the 'left' uses as ammunition. The sovietology departments, funded by military-industrial complex, the CIA was definitely involved, regularly turned out stories that fed into the propaganda machine. Together with backing away from the socialist narrative, using sources of the enemy more than sparingly is a glaring defeat in the eyes of many.

If people view the left as a defeated entity, one devoid of ideas, only capable of criticism, then thats where the problem is now. Defending history should not be the primary objective, that is true, and I think the great number of Marxist-Leninist publications, and online blogs, and what have you are not spending their time doing so. The anti-capitalist movement is growing, there needs to be a unified socialist movement capable of embracing and expanding with this movement. That said, we need to be talking about the experiences of Eastern Europe, they ARE relevant today. We need to be focusing on revolutions in India, Nepal, Colombia, the Philippines - its all about recognizing the Western propaganda here, if even their own information organs release poll which indicate their waning popularity, it could likely be an even more opportune situation.

For instance, coming out with a party like "Revolutionary Democratic Party" or "Social Union" etc, they are not stigmatizing name, and could be an umbrella organization for a great number of socialist organizations and raise conciousness that way. I'm not sure how I feel about the electoral group, internationally very few Marxist-Leninist parties have captured seats in an elected body unless they were out on the ground doing something meanwhile.

Little discussions about particular leaders and books is less important than pointing out the crucial flaw in accepting information from Western sources as the pinnacle of credibility. If the rise of alternative media means anything, it demonstrates the rising anger against what ordinary people interpret as lies. That can be extended to the treatment of socialism. I think there is a lot of potential to rehabilitate the name of socialism, personally, and it is certainly going to be much easier to do outside the West in many cases. But, noting that many of the members here are Marxist-Leninist of some variety, what are your thoughts? How would be the best way to achieve unity?
"The present is a time of struggle; the future is ours."
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Soviet cogitations: 3618
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 22 Oct 2004, 15:15
Ideology: Marxism-Leninism
Post 28 Jan 2012, 12:20
Well, you're certainly dealing with a lot of different subjects in a relatively small amount of space. So I'll just go from the top to the bottom and see whether there is anything meaningful to say about all these topics.

First of all, I agree with Martens on the need for principled anti-revisionist M-L unity. The problem with that, of course, is how you are going to define anti-revisionist. Martens himself mentions that there are still some unresolved differences on, for instance, the role of Mao and Maoism. Because the "pro-Soviet" and "pro-China" wings of the communist movement both tend to completely reject each other's legacy post-1956. Today, that translates to the fact that Maoist parties may still think Cuba is "state-capitalist" while a lot of the "pro-Soviet" parties will still be wary of all the "ultra-left" anti-revisionists and of the entire experience of the New Left in their own countries.

The party led by Ludo Martens is one example of a formerly Maoist party that managed to bridge this gap, so it makes sense that he promoted this position and worked to put it into practice. There is still a lot to do, but, along with the meetings organised by the KKE, communists once again have an international forum to exchange ideas. They base themselves on certain common grounds, but also with respect for differences. This unlike the Trotskyists, who form a new "International" whenever the opportunity arises.

I think that, eventually, we will get an international communist movement that defends the experiences of the 20th century, regardless of mistakes in the past, and one that recognises the fact that the velvet counter-revolution and the dissolution of the USSR was the conclusion of the restoration of capitalism, and that, while the revisionism of Khrushchev, Brezhnev, etc. helped pave the way for this, this rejects ultra-left theses that they "restored capitalism" and that the USSR was "just as bad" as the imperialist powers from that point on. Of course these are historical debates that a lot of people might consider irrelevant, but in fact, solving these debates also helps us understand what socialism means to us, so it is a debate that should at least stay alive internally, even as communist parties are spending most of their external attention on daily class struggle.

I totally agree with you in that sense that communists should not soften their positions in this historical discussion just to convince liberals. One can do what the KKE did and closely evaluate 20th-century socialism and emerge from this discussion with a much clearer position. Or one can be like the Belgian party and say: "The mistakes of the socialist countries were theirs, and not ours, because we do not consider any country a blueprint for ours. But we will never join in with the chorus and pretend that their experience was strictly negative just to please people, and we also don't feel the need to apologise for our own past positions."

I agree on the need to orient towards the struggles in India, Nepal, Colombia, the Philippines, etc., but it's difficult to just choose sides in them. On one hand, you have the Maoists in Nepal who are now part of the government, and on the other hand, you have the Left Front parties in India that have governed certain Indian states for decades, making vast reformist advances on one hand, but also working as the armed forces of the ruling class (as all bourgeois states do, in the end) against the struggles of the workers and peasants. The direct result being not only their defeat in the elections in Kerala and West Bengal, but also the direct confrontation with the Maoist rebellions. So should one support the Maoists in these struggles? Should one support the UCPN (M) that is now a part of the government?

One should also be careful that this kind of international solidarity does not turn into the same old third-worldism. Besides the obvious dangers of this, it is also the case that, even in countries with weak communist movements, even in areas like North America and Western Europe, there are are opportunities for communist parties, even the ones that have not had any kind of popular support for decades. Parties that are both firmly rooted in the masses and ideologically consistent, like the KKE, can profit a lot from this, whereas a party like the CPUSA completely fails. See, for instance: ... the-cpusa/

As for your point about the names of parties towards the end, I don't think it matters all that much. In many places, the name "communist party" may have its stigmas associated with it, but it is also a very strong identifier, it has very strong associations, both positive and negative. Umbrella organisations or electoral fronts that are supposedly more accessible rarely manage this. In fact, in elections, a coalition of left-wing forces often even manages to get less votes than the amount of votes that the different combined groups received. How weird is that?
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Soviet cogitations: 101
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 23 Dec 2011, 01:28
Post 28 Jan 2012, 17:35
I guess I share your optimism on the eventual settlement of disputes, not sure how long it will take but it is fairly recent all the same. I was more suggesting a sort of umbrella organization, unified movement as a means of building a base, Die Linke in Germany I thought did fairly well with having many different wings? I'm not really familiar with its history but I was under the impression they did really well in the former GDR area. I wouldn't pretend to know where to begin with the USA, you can't really just form a party and go from there, but in Canada there may be more leverage for creating such a movement, especially when the contradictions of the NDP party are realized as being little different from the Conservatives, whom they will inevitably come to replace.

I am divided on the issue of names, I think you bring up a good point, names like Marxist, Communist, Socialist, etc are all identifiers that may work favourably too. Against the thesis of "post-marxism" it can be very necessary to represent the vitality of the movement. Even if more votes are gained by different sects split up I don't think it is a good thing unless it is the case of Nepal maybe where each Communist party has a significant number of seats. I see the central problem to any of these parties is their inability to run a wide range of candidates. Not sure if this is the case anywhere, but in Canada you don't need to live in the riding you are running for, so essentially by amalgamating the party you could theoretically run in the maximum number of ridings, instead of splitting the vote in those ridings. You might capture overall fewer votes because the name is not a strong identifier, but you will have increased funding, you can fund a better PR campaign etc., I think it would take a few elections before gaining some seats, though I think there is promise in such a design.

I know certain groups feel it is better to exist outside the electoral system entirely, I definitely see the strength in this. With voter percentage going down, potentially below 50% and I think it has already reached such levels in the states, boycotting elections can be a better strategy to show the bankruptcy of the system. Participating in it then might not be helpful. I agree with the idea here, but still think by running candidates, especially in ridings outside the major cities, is a very effective way to spread message, gain members, increase following etc., which is the problem with many socialist movements today is they are rather confined to cities, part of this is due to division and having many small followings.

So, are you predicting an overall decline of the Trotskyist camp, or perhaps it will finally merge completely with other sections of the left into a social democratic alliance of some sort? The split between Maoists, Hoxhaists, and other ML is troubling because they just agree on so much more than they disagree on, reaching some sort of mutual level of respect is a necessity, but I think as you say, it will come in time. The other element we have to a certain degree is sympathsizers with socialism, potentially being a part of other socialist movements, but that too needs to be addressed. Certain leftists like anarchists, trotskyists will probably be more of a hindrance than a help as far as I can see, but many on the anti-war left and anti-globalization are certainly forming their own currents outside the trotskyist or liberal spheres, for example, so I think there is greater potential than ML, there needs to be greater partnerships.

I am very impressed with increasing of information on the internet relevant to the socialist cause, I think that now many have grasped the technological know how websites are improving and the appeal is definitely being worked on. The online zines, blogs, facebook pages that have emerged are doing really well, so will be interesting to see how this comes to unify.
"The present is a time of struggle; the future is ours."
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