28 June 2012

The State

State and Revolution, Part 2

Lenin, shortly after the Revolution

The State

This part of our course on “The State and Revolution” comprises Lenin’s lecture, “The State” (download linked below). This lecture was given in July, 1919, two years after the writing of “The State and Revolution”, and less than two years after the Great October 1917 revolution. It can help us to revise quickly the main considerations of the State and what that thing really is, as a partial preparation for study of the earlier work, which ranges much wider.

In “Bourgeois and Proletarians”, the first section of the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx wrote:

“The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

In other words: The modern State is the executive committee of the ruling bourgeois class, of which there is not, and cannot be, any other such ruling executive committee or totalising authority.

The State manifests itself in many ways. Not only is it Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, but it also includes the “Special Bodies of Armed Men” (police, intelligence and military), the “sovereign document” of the Constitution, the State Owned Enterprises, and “Delivery” departments like Education, Health, Public Works; and others.

Concerning the state, in his speech to the COSATU Central Committee on 28 July 2011, SACP General Secretary Dr Blade Nzimande said:

“There is a distinction but very close relationship between ‘government’ and the ‘state’. Government represents the highest most concentration of the power of the state, but government does not constitute the entirety of the state. The state is made up of its executive arm (Cabinet and the bureaucracy), the legislature(s) and the judiciary, as well as other organs of state. As to who the executive arm of the state and the composition of parliament is largely determined through electoral means, but the totality of the character and nature of the state is not principally determined by elections, but instead by the balance of class forces in broader society. It is therefore possible, as I will illustrate later in the speech, that a particular party can win elections, but at the same time its views and interests not be the dominant ones in the state. In 1994 we inherited an apartheid state apparatus, that we have not smashed entirely, and key components of the apartheid state still reflects itself in the bureaucracy, the judiciary and in various other areas of the state, not least the ideological orientation of the state organs.”

As communists we hold fast to the concept of the State as the instrument of class power that enforces and perpetuates bourgeois class dictatorship in our country. We do not believe that the State is neutral, or above class struggle. The State is the principal instrument of class struggle on behalf of the ruling bourgeois class.

We intend that there should as soon as possible be no class division and therefore that the State as we know it would become redundant and give way to social self-management, or in other words, to communism – true freedom.

Yet the term “State” is nowadays used in other, less strict senses, and we as political people who must communicate with others, do also use the word in other senses than the above. For example, we sometimes use the phrase “Developmental State”, which even if we ourselves would qualify its meaning, is nevertheless widely understood as meaning a State that is equally beneficial to all classes (i.e. is a “win-win”, or classless, or neutral state).

We are fortunate to have the lecture that Lenin [pictured] gave to students in Moscow in 1919 on this topic, wherein Lenin asks “what is the state, how did it arise and fundamentally what attitude to the state should be displayed by the party of the working class, which is fighting for the complete overthrow of capitalism - the Communist Party?”

Lenin referred his audience to Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”. This book of Engels’ sweeps through the whole human story and explains the fall of the women, as well as class struggle and the state. We will take it as our next part, and then, for the fuller treatment from Lenin, there is the extraordinary work that he produced between the two Russian revolutions of February and October, 1917: “The State and Revolution”, Chapter 1 of which will be our fourth part.

23 June 2012

Permanent Revolution

State and Revolution, Part 1a

1848 in Germany

Permanent Revolution

In the thick of revolution great questions are suddenly thrust forward demanding decisive responses, in circumstances where the revolutionary forces - the Subject of History - are hardly coherent and may still be largely clandestine, and therefore invisible. In 1917 the revolution managed to articulate itself, as we will see during this course on “The State and Revolution”, to a considerable extent by reference to previous revolutionary experiences. One such passage of history began in 1848 and involved Karl Marx, who, like Lenin, applied himself to making clear the necessities of the moment, the line of march to be followed, and the allies to be taken.

Karl Marx’s March 1850 Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League begins by describing the working proletariat as the “only decisively revolutionary class”, and ends with a battle-cry for the workers: “The Permanent Revolution!”

In the Address, Marx is advocating all possible means of achieving revolutionary change which, if not theoretically reversible, would nevertheless in practice not be reversed.

“The workers' party must go into battle with the maximum degree of organization, unity and independence, so that it is not exploited and taken in tow by the bourgeoisie,” said Marx, with the events of the previous two years in mind, when the bourgeois allies of the working class had treacherously sold the workers out as soon as they could secure favourable terms for themselves from the reactionary feudal powers.

Marx then very frankly reviews the competing self-interests of the contending classes and fractions of the bourgeoisie.

“There is no doubt that during the further course of the revolution in Germany, the petty-bourgeois democrats will for the moment acquire a predominant influence. The question is, therefore, what is to be the attitude of the proletariat, and in particular of the League towards them,” declared Marx.

“As in the past, so in the coming struggle also, the petty bourgeoisie, to a man, will hesitate as long as possible and remain fearful, irresolute and inactive; but when victory is certain it will claim it for itself and will call upon the workers to behave in an orderly fashion, to return to work and to prevent so-called excesses, and it will exclude the proletariat from the fruits of victory,” warned Marx.

The working class must “be independently organized and centralized in clubs,” and “it is the task of the genuinely revolutionary party… to carry through the strictest centralization,” wrote Marx. Reading this section, it becomes clear that Marx was convinced that the building of the democratic republic and the building of the nation had to be one and the same set of actions.

The working-class tactics in alliance with the bourgeois democrats should be to “force the democrats to make inroads into as many areas of the existing social order as possible,” and constantly to “drive the proposals of the democrats to their logical extreme”.

The workers must always look ahead to the next act of the revolutionary drama. They will “contribute most to their final victory by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, and by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat.”

22 June 2012

The April Theses

State and Revolution, Part 1

Lenin arrives at the Finland Station in April, 1917

The April Theses

This is the first part of our ten-part course on Lenin’s 1917 work “The State and Revolution”. The book has only six chapters, which we will take one at a time from part 4 to part 9 of the course. In the first three parts we will try to furnish some of the prior political context. In part 10 we will pose the question of where Lenin’s unfinished work would need to be taken, if it were to be extended in light of the now knowledge that we now have, nearly a century later after Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution.

The year of 1917 in Russia was actually a year of two revolutions, and another revolution had gone before, in 1905. The 1905 revolution had seen the formation of the parliament (the Duma) and also the organs of Russian popular power, the Soviets. Both the Duma and the Soviets still existed in 1917.

The “Great War”, or “First World War”, of 1914-1918 was still going on, involving tens of millions of armed men in unparalleled slaughter. It was an inter-Imperialist war. Russia was fighting Germany. The Bolsheviks (under Lenin’s leadership from exile in Switzerland) had refused to take part in this inter-Imperialist war in any way, and instead denounced it and opposed it.

The February 1917 revolution established something resembling a bourgeois-democratic republic based on the Duma. Lenin returned to Russia from Switzerland by train in April, two months later. All kinds of questions remained to be resolved. The question of war and peace was the most urgent. The nature of the revolution was still to be decided. In between April and October, Lenin pronounced the “April Theses”, and wrote “The State and Revolution”. We will begin with the first of these two.

The April Theses is a classic document, not because it is polished (it is rough), but because of its impact at a moment of history. It was given by Lenin verbally. The written version (download linked below) was prepared very shortly afterwards.

Lenin arrived in Petrograd (also called St Petersburg and Leningrad) barely a month after the February, 1917 revolution which had overthrown the Tsar and installed a bourgeois republican government. This bourgeois government had the intention of continuing the disastrous intra-Imperialist war in which Russia was involved.  At the same time, faraway South Africa was also involved in it.

It was among those South Africans who opposed the 1914-18 Imperialist war that the need for our communist party was first seriously raised. The Communist Party of South Africa was formed by admission to the Communist International in 1921. That Communist International (A new International.”) had been called for by Lenin in this document, the April Theses, in Thesis 10:

“We must take the initiative in creating a revolutionary International, an International against the social-chauvinists and against the ‘Centre’,” it says.  The Third International (also called Communist International or Comintern) was duly established in 1919.

The “social-chauvinists” of different individual countries (e.g. Germany, Britain, France and Italy as well as Russia) had supported the Imperialist war against each other, while the Russian Bolsheviks and the German Spartacists had opposed the war and had supported proletarian internationalism. The term “revolutionary defencism” was a code for the further continuation of the Russian war policy, which Lenin clearly opposes in Thesis 1.

The “April Theses” are short and do not therefore need a long introduction, but one can usefully highlight the following:

Thesis 2 says: “The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution — which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie — …

“This peculiar situation demands of us an ability to adapt ourselves to the special conditions of Party work among unprecedentedly large masses of proletarians who have just awakened to political life.”

There are echoes of this situation in South Africa today.

Thesis 4 says: “As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticising and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers' Deputies, so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience.” This led to the slogan “All Power to the Soviets”, and Thesis 5 then says “to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers' Deputies would be a retrograde step.”

Thesis 8 says: “It is not our immediate task to "introduce" socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers' Deputies.” In other words, the bourgeois dictatorship was to be replaced at once by a dictatorship over the bourgeoisie.

Thesis 9 proposes to change the Party’s name from “Social Democrat” (RSDLP) to “Communist Party.”

So much of this did come to pass, as we know, that it is difficult to imagine that Lenin’s support for these demands, among the leadership and even among the strictly Bolshevik leadership, was small.

But Lenin knew how the base of the Party was constructed and how it was reproducing itself. Hence he was able to be bold. He knew that the Bolshevik cadre force as a whole, and potentially the entire working masses of Russia, were behind his proposals, or soon would be. And so it came to pass.

21 June 2012

Lenin’s The State and Revolution

State and Revolution, Part 0

Lenin’s The State and Revolution

Short General Introduction

The State and Revolution is a book of Lenin’s that was written in the months between the February and October Russian Revolutions of 1917.

Interrupted by the Bolshevik Revolution, the book was never completed.

“The State and Revolution” is an uncompromising description of The State and of how it can be revolutionised, written as a revisit and a critique of the writings of Marx and Engels on the one hand, and of those of various reformist, opportunist and anarchist characters on the other hand, all the way up to Karl Kautsky.

Kautsky had been the leading renegade among the German Social Democrats of the 2nd International, at the outbreak in 1914 of the war that was still going on in 1917, and which did not come to an end until the following year. Kautsky continued to be a renegade until his death in 1938.

The State and Revolution is well worth studying in its entirety of six chapters. In form, it is ideal for the Freirean method of pedagogy through study circles. Each Chapter is of a suitable length for reading and discussion by a group that meets weekly. This Communist University course includes parts of some of the documents mentioned by Lenin in the book, with other relevant and related material, and is thereby extended to our standard course-length of ten parts.

One problem that appears in relation to the State is whether, or to what extent, the State can be treated as benign, or developmental? In the SACP we do not repudiate Lenin, yet we still praise state ownership and state “delivery”. How are these things reconciled?

If the State is benign, then why would we want it to wither away?

But if the state is but “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” [Marx/Engels, Communist Manifesto], and “an Instrument for the Exploitation of the Oppressed Class” [Lenin, State and Revolution] then how can it at the same time be beneficial?

We will reflect on these matters, among others, as we go through the work.

Lenin realised that the eventual transition to communism had to be secured in the process of the transition to socialism. He realised that there would be a moment of danger when it would be possible that the worker’s state could redevelop the characteristics of the bourgeois state.

This is what happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the eventual consequence was the collapse and break-up of the Soviet Union into a scattering of bourgeois states. The revolution was not permanent, after all. The undead bourgeois state re-grew itself like a “Terminator”.

The next post will open the discussion of Lenin’s The State and Revolution with Lenin’s return to Petrograd in April 1917, and his declaration, at the Finland Station, of the “April Theses”.

18 June 2012

ANC Strategy and Tactics, Polokwane

National Democratic Revolution, Part 10a

ANC Strategy and Tactics, Polokwane

This is the last item of the CU series on the National Democratic Revolution. It will be followed by a ten-part series constructed around Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”.

Static or revolutionary?

This, the second in this final part, where the main document is the SACP 2009 discussion document, is the current version of the ANC Strategy and Tactics - amended several times since the original was adopted in Morogoro in 1969 - as passed by the 52ndANC National Conference at Polokwane.

The ANC 52nd National Conference was otherwise considered a victory for the popular forces within the ANC. But from paragraph 90, this document launched a revision of the previously much clearer understanding of class and colour in South Africa.

Now, in the latest S&T, all are ranked in a single notional table, as “motive forces”. “Blacks in general and Africans in particular” become commensurate with “The Working Class”.

In the draft, monopoly capital, too, was going to be included as a “motive force”, thereby removing even the most oppressive factor from anti-popular side of the equation, but this was changed in commission at Polokwane. Monopoly capital is not officially part of the alliance.

This version of the S&T document remains above all marred by its static and non-revolutionary conception of “National Democratic Society” as a “Holy Grail” and final steady-state condition of what Thabo Mbeki used to call a “normal” society. The NDR has to be more than a set of tick-boxes.

The idea of closure on the NDR without its becoming something more, is close to Francis Fukuyama’s provocative 1992 “post-Cold-War” essay “The End of History and the Last Man”. History has not ended; and the “Last Man” is only a nightmare of the proto-fascist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).

We have not yet arrived at a closure of the NDR. The struggle continues.Hi

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Strategy and Tactics, Polokwane, 2007, ANC, Part 1 and Part 2.

15 June 2012

Hegemony in the NDR

National Democratic Revolution, Part 10

Hegemony in the NDR

On 14 September 2009 the South African Communist Party released a main discussion document (attached) in preparation for the SACP Special National Congress that took place in December 2009 at the Turfloop campus in Polokwane, Limpopo Province.

This document is titled “Building working class hegemony on the terrain of a national democratic struggle”. It is therefore directly in line with the previous eleven parts of this series on the National Democratic Revolution, and it presents an opportunity to conclude the 10-part series in an open-ended fashion that is suited to the present conjuncture.

The most relevant parts of this document to our discussion so far are Part 2.4 (“The politics of working class hegemony...versus the politics of a multi-class balancing act”) and the whole of Part 3 (“Towards a politics of mass-driven, state-led radical transformation on the terrain of a National Democratic Revolution”).

In an echo of Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”, the SACP document notes that the “sectarian left” (equivalent to Lenin’s “anarchists”) and the “centrist reformists” (Lenin’s “opportunists”) are twins in their subjective denigration of the NDR. Lenin said that the anarchists and the opportunists are twins.

This document was work-in-progress.

At the Congress, a Political Report was given which is downloadable in PDF format from the SACP web site, here. It is called “Together, let’s defeat capitalist greed and corruption! Together, build socialism now!”

As usual in the Freirean practice of pedagogy, we are not looking for closure, but rather to reveal and expose the problems of the moment: In short, to problematise. The second instalment of this part will be the Strategy and Tactics document passed at another Polokwane event, held two years earlier, the 52nd National Conference of the ANC; and that will be the end of the series on South Africa’s National Democratic Revolution this time around.

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Building hegemony on national democratic terrain, 2009, SACP, Part 1 and Part 2.

11 June 2012

The Brutal Side of Capitalist Development

National Democratic Revolution, Part 9b

The Brutal Side of Capitalist Development

The third document in this part of our NDR course wherein the main text is Joe Slovo’s “SA Working Class and the NDR”, is David Moore’s 2004 article, “The Brutal Side of Capitalist Development” (attached).

This article can stand as a representation of the growing realisation in broader South African circles that the class struggle is still the engine of history, including historical “development” in any useful sense of the word, and that class struggle has winners and losers, so that the idea of “win-win” development is wholly illusory.

By 2004 the promise of a beneficial New World Order following the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade-and-a-half previously had proved false. Instead, the USA and its “coalition of the willing” had mounted monstrous, plundering, Imperial wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, which are referred to briefly in this article. There was clearly to be no holiday from class struggle at any level.

In South Africa, the YCL had been re-launched the previous year (2003) and the SACP was undergoing a growth phase which is still continuing now, in 2011.

The ANC NGC in the following year (2005) showed that the ANC had become mature and democratic in its legal form, reborn since 1990.

COSATU’s affiliates had mostly stabilised into strong working-class negotiating machines capable of taking on any employer.

Moore’s article in the short-lived Johannesburg newspaper “ThisDay” was a groundbreaker. It reminded readers that development is class struggle. For practitioners of the National Democratic Revolution, this was a potential turning point.

These matters continue to be under discussion leading up to the three national conferences in 2012: The ANC's and the SACP and COSATU Congresses.

09 June 2012

Transformation, Not a Balancing Act

National Democratic Revolution, Part 9a

Transformation, Not a Balancing Act

The main text of this part is still Joe Slovo’s “The SA Working Class and the NDR”. The supporting texts begin with “We Need Transformation, Not a Balancing Act” (attached), published nine years after Slovo’s pamphlet, in 1997, the year following the beginning of what has since become known as the “1996 Class Project”, of which this document is an initial critique.

In the mean time, the SACP and the ANC had been legalised in 1990, the UDF had been disbanded, the CODESA talks had taken place, SACP General Secretary Chris Hani had been assassinated, the ANC had been elected to government in 1994, and Joe Slovo had passed away, on 6 January 1995.

All of this triumph and tragedy, and a lot more, constituted part of the National Democratic Revolution, not least the building of the ANC and the SACP as legal, open, organised structures around this large country with its population of approximately 40 million in the mid-1990s (now nearly 50 million).

This SACP document looked at a number of other documents published at that time, including from the ANC Youth League, from COSATU, and from the SACP itself, but in particular from the ANC in the form of a November, 1996 document called “The State and Social Transformation” (note that the Young Communist League was not re-established until 2003).

Nzimande and Cronin were saying that the ANC document stood out from the others in terms of its class-neutral “balancing act” approach. They conclude that the document should rather have been called “The State and Social Accommodation”.

Another way of putting this would be to say that the ANC document in question was selling class collaboration and not class alliance. “The State and Social Transformation” was selling the end of class struggle instead of the prosecution of the class struggle by alliance with favourable forces, and against unfavourable forces.

There is a difficulty in Nzimande’s and Cronin’s document. On the third page, under “Dealing with capital”, two conceptions of capital are described: “factors of production” and “capital meaning capitalists”. The authors say that in the ANC document these two conceptions are elided or confused, giving the impression that factors of production can only come attached to capitalists, which is not so.

What is mainly absent is the understanding of capital as a dynamic relationship, and the “accumulation” of capital as being the reproduction of that relationship and of all of the support to that relationship, including the grooming of the working class and the dominance of banks and markets.

Even in terms of pure money, what the capitalist essentially does with it is to throw it into circulation, not hoard it. Unlike the accumulated wealth of the miser, which is not capital, though it may be money.

The circulation of money as capital proceeds via the purchase of labour-power and the extraction of surplus-value. Therefore, we do not escape the reproduction of capital by making the state the owner of the capital.

The revolutionary escape from capital is achieved by accumulating the prerequisites of socialism, which mainly consist of the ever-increasing ability of masses of people to resolve and act together, consciously, and scientifically. This is the “Democratic” part of the National Democratic Revolution.

Nzimande’s and Cronin’s document does arrive at this point. It does, at the end, confirm that the free-willing collective Subject is both the maker and the product of revolution.

08 June 2012

SA Working Class and the NDR

National Democratic Revolution, Part 9

SA Working Class and the NDR

The previous week’s part of this 12-part series on the National Democratic Revolution was based around the ANC’s Morogoro Strategy and Tactics document of 1969. We took our examination of the development of South Africa’s NDR up to the beginning of 1976, when the document “The Enemy Hidden Under the Same Colour” was published following the treachery and the consequent expulsion from the ANC of the “Gang of Eight”.

Later the same year the “Soweto uprising” of youth began and spread all over the country.

Trade Unionism re-expanded from the early 1970s with strike waves in Durban and in the Witwatersrand where the watershed Carletonville Massacre took place in 1973. FOSATU, a syndicalist-led federation, was formed in 1979. It gave way to the National Democratic Revolutionary Alliance-aligned COSATU in 1985.

The United Democratic Front was launched in 1983.

All of these activities, amounting to the creation of living, democratic structures on a national scale, typify the National Democratic Revolution. They showed precisely how organisation into democratic structures formed the relentless collective Subject of History that became impossible to resist.

Joe Slovo published “The SA Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution” (see the link below) in 1988 at a time when he was the General Secretary of the SACP. The Party was still clandestine; the end of its 40-year period of enforced illegality was to come two years later. Like many political documents, this one takes shape around a polemical response to contemporary opponents who may no longer be well remembered. In this case it was the particular “workerists” and compromisers of the time that Slovo mentions on the first page of the document.

But as with the polemics of Marx, Engels and Lenin, in the course of the argument against otherwise long-forgotten foes, Slovo was obliged to set up a fully concrete, rounded assessment of the meaning of the NDR, which still remains today as the best single and definitive text on this matter. He succeeded brilliantly.

Slovo quickly establishes the class-alliance basis of the NDR and quotes Lenin saying that: “the advanced class ... should fight with… energy and enthusiasm for the cause of the whole people, at the head of the whole people”. 

This advanced class is the working class.

Slovo goes on to write of the continuity of the NDR and of the institutional organising work that produces the bricks-and-mortar of nation-building.

Slovo’s incomparable document has many possibilities as the basis for a discussion, and that is always our purpose: dialogue.

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The South African Working Class and the NDR, 1988, Slovo, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.