Thinking Aloud on the “World Communist Movement” / by Kemal Okuyan

Posted by MLToday | Feb 20, 2023

Out of habit, we often tend to use the expression “world communist movement.” However, today we cannot speak of a phenomenon that deserves to be labeled as the world communist movement.

There are communists in almost every country in the world; parties or formations bearing the name of communists are active in many countries. Some of them are quite influential in their countries, some are in power. We can even say that the communist parties are much more wide-reaching today than they had been in 1919, when the Communist International was founded, and in the few years that followed.

But we still cannot speak of a movement.

Because a movement, despite all its internal contradictions, does have a trajectory. It is clear that the communist parties today do not have a common trajectory that we would expect from a movement.

Then we need to answer the question: Is it possible for communists today to be transformed to an international movement?

The “Communist Party” can be defined by its will and determination to lead humanity to a society free from classes and exploitation. While preserving the originality and richness of its components, a sum that is not characterized by this will and determination in its entire fabric cannot turn into a “world communist movement”.

This should not be taken as a criticism or a polemic, but as an objective assessment of the situation.

The struggle for democracy or peace, and being at the forefront of such a struggle, cannot replace the historical mission of communist parties. Similarly, while the struggle against US imperialism is an indispensable task for communist parties, it is not a distinctive feature for them.

We can benefit from the testimony of history to better understand what we mean.

We know that between 1933 and 1945, the world communist movement focused predominantly on the struggle against fascism, while other missions and goals were relegated to the background. But we still use the term “world communist movement” for that period. While explaining this with the existence of the USSR, what we should not forget is the fact that even during this period, the USSR maintained the central perspective of “a struggle for a world free from classes and exploitation”, and despite some mistakes, they kept their efforts in the name of seizing the opportunities that arose for a forward leap of the world revolutionary process.

If the Communist International could be reduced exclusively to the Popular Front politics, we could very well say that in the historical context the world communist movement was in decline starting from the 1930s.

It should be clear that this approach has nothing to do with denigrating the struggle against fascism or other similar tasks. It is only to remind us that the definition of the “world communist movement” requires a common trajectory in line with the historical mission of communism.

In fact, what we need to focus on is how to reach a moment in which this historical mission comes to the fore again, becoming a center of gravity that influences and shapes each of the communist parties with different paths and agendas.

It is obvious that for communism to reach such a level of influence and gravity in the international arena, there certainly is the matter of objective conditions. However, it would be a grave mistake to attribute the leap of the communist movement to some favorable conjuncture that will show up at some unknown moment, especially at our times when capitalism is facing an insurmountable economic, political and ideological deadlock in each and every country. Under the conditions where the rule of capital is tumbling from crisis to crisis and is unable to offer any hopes to humanity, even false hopes, it should be self-evident that communists need to prioritize the analysis of the subjective factor instead of complaining about those conditions.

We need to make bold debates.

The world revolutionary process had begun to have the necessary theoretical and political references for the difficult struggles ahead, following the few decades after the Manifesto of the Communist Party was penned with an unparalleled phrasing. Divergence and convergence always demand references. By the turn of the 20th century, Marxism had become the main reference for the working class movement, prevailing over its rival, anarchism. However, it did not take long for the Marxist movement to disintegrate. It was a split that even those who argued that “unity” was in any case something good considered as inevitable and necessary. Marxists had roughly taken two different courses, revolutionaries and reformists.

Over time it became clear that there could be no reformist interpretation of Marxism. Social democracy abandoned the revolutionary ranks, inflicting on the working class the worst betrayal in its history.

This also meant the launch of a period in which revolutionaries in the world, who now preferred the name “communist”, renewed and strengthened their references. The 21 conditions for joining the 1919-founded Communist International, could well be seen as the sharpest expression of these references.

As of 1924, when the revolutionary wave in the world retreated, a certain erosion in these theoretical and political references was inevitable. German fascism, and later on the Second World War accelerated this erosion.

In fact, the period between 1924 and 1945, contrary to the founding philosophy of the Comintern, confronted each of the young communist parties with their own realities and, in addition to that, imposed different responsibilities on each of them in terms of the general interests of the world revolutionary process.

Despite all these, the existence of the October Revolution and its most precious outcome, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as well as the will to establish socialism in those years, strengthened by the transition to a planned economy, industrialization and collectivization in agriculture, provided an immensely valuable historical framework for communist parties. Such will not only prevented deviations, but also served as the necessary ground for leaps forward. The defeat of fascism and the strengthening of socialism following the Second World War reinforced this.

However, the world communist movement was facing very serious internal problems that undermined the integrity it was able to preserve thanks to the prestige of the Soviet Union.

References waned, and “reformist Marxism”, which in some respects was assumed to have been abandoned, made itself vocal again.

The speech of Khrushchev, the then General Secretary of the CPSU, at the closing of the 20th Congress in 1956, cut the last strands anchoring the world communist movement in the safe harbors and, even more importantly, smashed down the optimism that prevailed since 1917.

What is interesting is that Khrushchev’s speech, full of distortions, did not lead to a sound debate and an accordingly split in the world communist movement.

However, the communist movement was expected to preserve and update the principles of 1919 and tie itself to more consolidated theoretical and political references. Instead, what has emerged is a disarray in which a large number of parties with no common ground had their individual relationship in their own way with the Soviet Union, which remained as the most important achievement of the world revolution.

The conflict between the People’s Republic of China and the USSR, which ended up in a violent split, also did not give way to a healthy partition. In the period that followed this split, the gap between the parties that maintained close relations with the CPSU continued to widen. As some of the ruling parties in the People’s Republics in Eastern and Central Europe tried to overcome their shortcomings during the period between 1944 and 1949 by ideological hybridization, the internal correlation of forces within the world communist movement became even more complicated. But the problem was much greater. For example, friendship with the Soviet Union was almost the only commonality between the Communist Party of Cuba -which in the 1960s brought a new dynamism to the communist movement not only on the small island where it came to power, but also throughout the Latin America and the world-, and some other parties that turned their faces to Euro-Communism. In the end, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union, no debate or split was realized that would push the world communist movement forward.

After 1991, neither the CPSU which held many, if not all, parties close to itself existed, nor was there an axis according to which the communist parties could adjust themselves.

By the very meaningful efforts by some parties, notably the Communist Party of Greece, it became a priority task to gather together whatever was left in the name of communism. The Communist and Workers’ Parties convened 22 times. This in itself has been extremely important. However, this period did not serve for the communist movement to rebuild its own references in the way it needed to.

And eventually, the view that the communist parties don’t actually need theoretical and political references, began to consolidate.

Today, we do not have a functional mechanism to examine the fundamental differences that can be observed when we look at not only the Solidnet member parties that participate in the International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties, but all the parties that identify themselves as communist.

It would be a big mistake to rationalize this lack of communication by hiding behind the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, despite being a principle we think must strictly be preserved in the period ahead.

In the final analysis, the world revolutionary process is a whole, and how each party identifying itself as communist relates to that process does concern all the other actors that are part of that process.

This article can be regarded as a modest way of thinking aloud on the different forms the relationships between communist parties should take under the given circumstances.

It is worth emphasizing at this moment what we can say at the end. Despite the undeniable and wide divergences among the communist parties today, there is no ground for a healthy partition or split.

We need to organize a debate, a really bold debate.

This should not be understood as an appeal for the communist parties to engage in an ideological showdown within and between themselves. The extent of the decay of capitalism confronts the communist parties with the task of channeling a real alternative as soon as possible. At this moment, we cannot limit ourselves with an academic, theoretical debate. [emphasis added].

What we need is the following: Establishing a clarification of the theoretical and political points of references from which each communist party acts. There is no sense in considering this as an internal problem of each party. Interaction is one of the most important privileges of a universal movement like Marxism.

Unfortunately, we are not passing through a healthy period for communist parties to listen to and understand each other.

What we need is for everyone to contribute to creating real grounds for discussion without labeling any other party.

Even if there are enough facts to label a party, the need to refrain from doing so is not a matter of political courtesy but is totally related to the particular conditions of today.

The process in which communist parties lost their points of reference has spanned almost over 70 years. The problem is too deep to be surpassed by premature attempts at splits or separations.

Undoubtedly, parties that have similar positions or those that consider forming strategic partnerships can and should establish bilateral, multiple, regional or international platforms to reinforce this. But the reality is that their contribution to the formation of these points references will be limited.

The organization of a healthy debate requires staying away from resorting to epithets such as reformist, sectarian, adventurist, or opportunist. As said above, political courtesy is not the decisive factor here. Indeed, in the past, much harsher and hurtful epithets have been used by Marxists. But each of these former conflicts matured over the points of references that were thought to exist and shared among them.

I suppose the point where we need to clarify what we understand by the word “reference”, is now reached.

We are talking about historical, theoretical and moral points of departure that have flourished in the bosom of Marxism and have been internationally endorsed.

For example, before the Second International was stained with the shame of 1914, categorically opposing imperialist war was a principled position that was unanimously endorsed. This principle was the outcome of Marxism acting upon common references, despite the differences on the issue were not yet fully crystallized by then.

Another well-known principle, not participating in bourgeois governments, was also stemming from the same references.

Such examples can be multiplied. What we need to keep in mind is that, what lies at the root of the conflicts and partitions among Marxists in the first quarter of the 20th century are these former common references.

This commonality was the reason behind Lenin blaming Kautsky and others as “renegades”.

As I have underlined above, the Third International developed codes that turned into new sources of reference for the communist movement after the deepening differences in 1914 that led to a split. While some parties were not brave enough to openly declare their distance to these references, some other parties sincerely advocated for and followed them. In any case, the world communist movement has moved within a theoretical and political framework.

I mentioned above that these references already began to lose their influence long before 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved, and besides, it is impossible today to establish a new framework that would be endorsed by all.

However, it is obvious that there will be grave consequences for the communist parties to act on a ground whose historical, theoretical and political boundaries are completely lost.

Debate and communication here should serve to establish a clarity on the set of principles that are binding for communist parties, without conceding to this lack of references.

Divergence (if it is inevitable) will serve for advancement only when it is the outcome of such a process.

It is of course possible and necessary in this process, despite all differences, to develop common positions and actions on international issues, such as war and peace, or the fight against racism, fascism and anti-communism. If we do not ignore and trivialize the differences, the positions taken can become more real and the joint actions more powerful.

The aim is certainly not division. The aim should be to help the communist movement, which claims to be the vanguard of the uneven and combined world revolutionary process, transform into a joint movement above and beyond the single elements.

What we mean by a joint movement is not of course to form a template not taking into account the particularities of struggles going on in different countries. On the other hand, we would all need to be preoccupied with the reason why the dichotomy of “internal issues” and “international relations” has turned into a comfort zone as never before in our 170-year-long history.

Debate, interaction and communication are important because of all these.

But how, and on what shall we debate?
At this point, there should be no room for “taboos” or untouched areas.

Of course, we will need to start from our own histories. TKP courageously made efforts to analyze a very critical turning point for itself, which is the complicated problem that arose right after its foundation, and included the murder of almost all of its founding leaders.

Relations with the Kemalist movement, which had an alliance with Soviet Russia yielding very important, albeit temporary outcomes, and the approach to the bourgeois revolution that led to the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, were among fundamental problems for TKP, which also had an impact in the following years. Our study on the history of the Party, whose first two volumes were published on the centenary of our foundation, proved that we can address such problems with a revolutionary responsibility.

We are trying to express the same courageous attitude in the face of breaks, splits, and liquidations in the history of TKP, and we are bearing the costs of an honest analysis of the party’s political and ideological preferences.

The issues we are discussing do not only concern Turkey. TKP’s struggle was never in an isolated country since its foundation in 1920. When we examine our entire history, we can see that the ground on which our party struggled interacted with Russia, Greece, Iran, India (and Pakistan), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria, Germany, Cyprus, Iraq, Syria and many other countries.

Beyond this, we cannot speak of the international influence of the class struggle in Turkey as if it is concerning only TKP. In this sense, TKP will never resort to the simplistic approach of “We are the owners of our problems” and take seriously any criticism, suggestion or evaluation that is elaborate and respectful.

TKP also conducts debates and studies within itself on the not-widely-discussed issues pertaining to the history of the communist movement, yet without jumping to conclusions or attaching labels. It is not favorable for communist parties to remain silent on many issues, including the 7th Congress of the Comintern, the Popular Front policies, the Spanish Civil War, or Euro- communism, and to leave the field open to anti-communists and the “new left”.

There is no issue to be brushed aside for those who witnessed the tragic collapse of the Soviet Union. For us, the idea that discussing certain issues would threaten the values that link us to our own past, is unfounded. What really threatens our values is today’s lack of reference. If we can prevent some issues from turning into a taboo, we will clearly see that the common history of the communist movement is much richer than assumed. [emphasis added].

The best example of what kind of adversities can arise when we move away from a healthy process of debate and evaluation, is the Stalin era, which after 1956, was turned into an obscured theme and eventually a taboo, and then into an object of either slander or glorification. It should not be forgotten that the years under Stalin’s leadership can turn into the most illustrative and honorable chapter of the world communist movement, when the fanaticism is left behind.

Communists should have no reservations about discussing any theme pertaining to the history of class struggles. However, more sophisticated mechanisms of debate are necessary if we are not to allow our discussions to be inhibited by our respect for the preferences of the communist parties struggling in each country.

It is worth elaborating a little more on the idea that the debates should not involve stigmatization. It is obvious that a communist party can label another, either explicitly or implicitly. Of course, we cannot consider all these as groundless. Today, it is no secret that there are some communist parties acquiring social democratic character. Identifying some parties that are practically and politically non-existent as “sloganist” or “sectarian” can also be taken as justified. However, we can observe that these labels do not serve the interaction and debate that we need most at the moment.

We already mentioned that common references in the international arena are lacking. Yet, another truth is that many parties bear within themselves the potential to change. We can characterize this change as positive or negative in each case. Nevertheless, we can also see that the aftershocks of the great earthquake which hit all communist parties in the second half of the 1980s still continue, and that many parties have not stabilized ideologically and politically.

It would be wrong to attribute a negative meaning to these pains of change, which sometimes lead to breaks and splits. What is wrong is actually that these internal conflicts often do not coincide with a tangible and perceivable process of debate or partition. The lack of “debate” among communist parties does play a role in this viciousness.

In this sense, we can argue that problems are caused by devaluation or denigration attempts disguised by politeness, rather than open accusations.

It is inevitable that relations will become unhealthier in the lack of a real platform of debate.

Until now, we elaborated on the consequences of the lack of theoretical and political references. Another problem arises in the criteria for evaluating communist parties. While evaluating a communist party, we pay attention to its program, ideology, organizational status, actions, its influence in the society, electoral performance, publications, and cadre standards. Some of these are purely qualitative, yet others can be measured quantitatively. However, leaving aside its ideological preferences, and not taking into account easy-put labels such as “reformist”, “sectarian”, “adventurous”, etc., we can judge a political party only by questioning if it is influential or not.

In this context, it is clear that the distinction of “big party-small party” is not a “revolutionary” criterion. In particular, there is no point in evaluating the magnitude of a party based primarily on electoral results.

There is no need to remind that we are making this emphasis not on behalf of a party lacking a parliamentary victory so far, but on the basis of the tradition that has been shaped since the beginning of the 20th century.

Since equality among communist parties is one of the most important and universally advocated principles, it is worth putting more emphasis on it.

The classification of “big party-small party” does not serve to encourage parties for advancement. But a real debate is absolutely beneficial. Today, any communist living in any country has the right, and the duty, to wonder how another communist party is reacting to the developments in that country, to ask questions, and to express opinions about it.

Whatever conditions it operates under, whatever opportunities it has, it is always possible for a communist party to act more, better and more revolutionary than before. So, the principles of mutual respect and non- interference in internal issues should not nullify critical approaches, and communist parties should not remain in a comfort zone where they are on their own.

Communist parties are not to grade each other, but they follow each other, discuss and look for ways of collaboration. The grounds for this can be created by evaluating communist parties with sound criteria.

Right at this moment it is worth addressing the situation of the communist parties in power today. All these parties are the bearers of immense historical legitimacy. Insofar as “revolution” and “political power” are of
central importance for the communist parties, there is no point in arguing about these parties having a weighted role in the world revolutionary process.

Today, we know that there is a wide range of assessments of the domestic policies of these parties, their ideological and class characters, and the role they play in the international arena. Of course, the historical legitimacy I just mentioned does not automatically create any impunity for criticism. All parties can freely make their own evaluations, given that a certain level of maturity and respect is preserved. It is also inevitable that part of these evaluations could be a bit hurtful. The ruling communist parties, to this or that extent, are also international actors that have influence on the class struggle in other countries.

Is it necessary for these parties to have a particular place among world communist parties, based on the above mentioned extent? We know that some parties struggling in capitalist countries are of this opinion. In some international meetings or bilaterals, we come across some proposals favoring the ruling communist parties to be at the forefront and to have a decisive, or at least a regulatory role.

Much can be said about the role of the CPSU within the international communist movement in the past, positive and negative. But today, the situation is widely different. The Soviet Union, at least until a certain point, tried to relate its own existence and its foreign policy with the world revolutionary process, even in the most difficult moments. The communist parties in power today clearly do not have such a positioning.

The reasons for this shall be the topic of another debate. In addition, the possibilities and conditions of each of the countries where communist parties are in power are quite different from each other. A totalist judgement has never been appreciated by TKP. Those who are responsible for the socialist struggle not being at an advanced position in capitalist countries are us, and our inadequacies as the communist parties in the capitalist countries.

Moreover, in today’s complex correlation of forces, it is obvious that for the agenda of the communist parties in power, other communist parties do not constitute a priority.

This alone puts the proposals that the ruling communist parties should play a more special role in question.

The outcome of the ruling communist parties today stepping forward in international meetings and in relations between communist parties would be that communist parties would start to analyze class struggles from a geostrategic perspective. Once again, this is not based on our “subjective” opinions about the foreign policy priorities of the ruling communist parties.

Even though we don’t stress it as much, the geostrategic approach would be the most dangerous choice if communist parties are to position themselves within the world revolutionary process. Communist parties shall approach the international arena by trying to harmonize the interests of the revolutionary struggle in their own countries with the general interests of the world revolutionary process.

This harmony might be difficult or even impossible at times. Yet, for communist parties, it is a must to acknowledge the costs of alienation from the goal of revolution in their own countries and create this harmony as sound as possible.

Geostrategy could at best be a complementary analytical element for Marxism. It is not sound to replace the perspective in which concepts such as imperialism, state, revolution and class struggle play a central role, with power struggles that can anytime trivialize these concepts.

And here, another problem needs to be brought forward.

Soviet Russia and later the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics exerted a serious ideological and psychological influence “in favor of socialism” on the working people and oppressed nations in the capitalist countries. And this was achieved even during the most challenging moments for the Soviet Union. This was achieved because hundreds of millions of people in the rest of the world felt that in the USSR the struggle for the “construction of an egalitarian society” continued.

Over time this influence waned. The Soviet Union disintegrated. This article is composed of reflections expressed aloud and pays attention to not highlighting negative examples. But I feel the need to move on with a positive example. We need to think about why Cuba, despite all the extraordinarily difficult circumstances in which the country finds itself, can still be a center of attraction for people in search of “another world”. This is possible because the Cuban Revolution, despite a series of setbacks, continues to defend a strong value system. [emphasis added].

The boundlessly implemented realpolitik, which is the inevitable result of geostrategic thinking, may excite some strategists, intellectuals and politicians, but it does not serve as a center of attraction for the working masses.

Communist parties are obliged to turn both the ideal of an egalitarian society and a value system compatible with this ideal into their banner. Even today’s indisputable and pervasive task of defeating or pushing back the U.S. imperialism, should not become a pretext to overshadow this ideal and value system.

The ruling communist parties should maintain their important roles within the family of communist parties with their historical legitimacy and prestige, but calls to give them a decisive role should not be insisted upon. Such insistence, should be kept in mind, could lead to a very harsh break within the communist parties.

After all, the principle of equality and non-interference, which is perhaps the most commonly recognized principle among communist parties today, does not allow for such an internal hierarchy.

Right at this moment, we can be more specific about what we mean by a “real debate”. What is behind the need of not leaving a single point in our own history unilluminated or not honestly assessed is certainly not academic rigor. When we examine carefully, we see that the “identification of the priority tasks” had been at the center of all debates, starting from the 1st International to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It is this simple question that determines the debates and divisions within Marxism.

The priority tasks were once defined as the overthrow of monarchy and feudalism, at other times the expansion of the working class’s right to organize and engage in politics, and in some other cases, the neutralization of the threat of fascism or war.

Now too, communist parties have different views on what is the priority task of the world revolutionary process, of which they constitute elements themselves.

The needs of the world revolutionary process are determining.

Naturally, each communist party evaluates these needs from the point of view of their own country and the interests of the struggle in their own country. The distance between the general needs of the world revolutionary process and the interests within one country is one of the most serious problems that communists have to solve or manage. Sometimes this distance can turn into a conflict. Here, too, the communist parties have a major role to play.

We must admit that today, the differences among the communist parties are yielded by the different responses to the question of what is the priority task of the world revolution.

A very widespread and long-standing approach states that expanding the space for democracy and freedoms is the priority task for the world revolutionary process.

Again, we are more and more hearing descriptions of tasks such as “pushing back the US imperialism” and “repelling the danger of fascism and war”.

It is obvious that these tasks cannot be neglected. However, such definitions of tasks can eventually turn into defending the foreign policy initiatives and moves of this or that country.

It is also a choice to define the urgent task with regards to the interests of the world revolution today as rendering socialism an timely option. This approach, which we also adopt, should be seen as the product of the determination to reject and put an end to the status in which socialism, the only alternative to capitalism, is going through its least influential and assertive moment over a period of 170 years.

Determining the main task on the basis of the timeliness of socialism, and therefore of the revolution, also means eliminating the adversities that can be caused by other approaches that limit or pacify the working class.

Realistically speaking, it is impossible for the working class in its present form to be the main force capable of pushing back US imperialism or neutralizing the threat of fascism and war. For communists to exert weight in these historical tasks, they need to have the will to fulfill their main mission.

The communist movement will have no future by imitating other forces, by fitting into a broader definition of the left. This is not even a kamikaze dive because it will not do any harm to the enemy. It is also not a harakiri because it will not lead to an “honorable” end.

As a growth strategy, the above mentioned priorities will not help the communist movement to flourish and develop.

Of course, we cannot speak of a sincerity test here. History is the fairest judge. But we all know that communism has red lines.

If these lines have become ambiguous, this can be a starting point for us. Without falling into repetition, without exhausting each other with slogans, quotations or parroting.

The great work of Marx and Lenin is in the totality of their thoughts and action. If what defines Marx’s life was his infinite hatred of capitalism, it is revolution and seizing the political power for Lenin.

In the previous years, at every moment when the communist parties forgot about their own raison d’être, they went through some troubles which today can be judged as “mistakes”.

For this reason, if instead of chaotic and unfruitful quarrels, communist parties can contribute to the debates by giving clear responses to how they relate to the world revolutionary process and by demonstrating appropriate ideological and political references, a collectively meaningful outcome will emerge for each of the communist parties. In this way, common positions, joint actions or separations will take place on a much more solid ground.

TKP will make its modest contributions to the international arena with this perspective.

    Kemal Okuyan is the General Secretary, Turkish Communist Party (TKP)

    Henry Winston, Communist and Black Liberation leader / by Charlene Mitchell

    Communist Party USA Chairman Henry Winston. | CPUSA Archives / Tamiment Library NYU

    The following article originally appeared in Political Affairs in 2012. It is based on remarks delivered by the late Charlene Mitchell at an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henry Winston, a leader of the Communist and Black Liberation movements who died in 1986. Charlene Mitchell was a long-time labor and political activist; the first Black woman candidate for President of the United States, running for the CPUSA in 1968; and a founder of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

    I count myself as among the lucky ones who had the privilege of working with Henry Winston over a number of years and in a number of struggles. Karl Marx wrote that: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” Henry Winston made history, but his contribution to history was not based on his unique genius, although he was a genius. The history he made was grounded in the world he lived in.

    Growing up in Hattiesburg, Miss., and Kansas City, he experienced first-hand the brutal oppression of the African American people and the callous exploitation of the working class. In Hattiesburg, in the early 1900s, more than one-half of the town was African American, yet only one percent of them were registered to vote due to the disenfranchisement of the African American people in the South.

    Communist Party leaders Henry Winston, right, with Gus Hall at the Federal building in New York City, Oct. 13, 1949, to hear the final arguments in their nine-month Smith Act trial. | AP

    His father was a laborer in a local sawmill, who struggled to feed, clothe, and house his young family on the meager wages of the mill. Thus, from birth, Winston’s life was intertwined with the two social forces that would mark his future life—he was a member of the working class, viciously exploited by the capitalist system, and he was an African American, subjected to the base degradations of national oppression.

    As a fighter, Winston grew to adulthood organizing against these twin forms of oppression. He was a leader of the Young Communist League, the Unemployed Councils, and the
    Scottsboro Defense Committee. In the midst of these struggles, he honed the theoretical and organizational abilities that would serve him so well later as a leading member of the Communist Party USA.

    Many of Winston’s most lasting theoretical contributions are in the areas of the anti-colonial and independence struggles of Africa and the movement for African American equality. Although his personal life experiences certainly gave him important insights into these issues, it was not a sense of nationalism that drove his analysis. Instead, it was a firm belief in the future of socialism and the historic role of the working class in bringing about that future. Winston was fully aware of Lenin’s admonition that Marxism cannot be mixed with even the most refined forms of nationalism.

    In a 1964 pamphlet entitled Negro Liberation: A Goal for All Americans, Winston referred to the African American question as “the touchstone in the struggle for democracy in this country,” adding that “the achievement of equality for the Negro people is the key in the struggle to defend and extend democracy for all.”

    Winston was an advocate of the centrality of the struggle for African American equality. He understood that the fight against African American oppression was “central” to the unity of the working class. He understood that this “centrality” could not be posed against the class struggle—as some social democrats attempted to do by insisting that only
    the class struggle is “central.”

    Instead, Winston understood the interconnection between the class struggle and the struggle against national oppression. He also understood that no movement would lead the U.S. working class toward the fundamental transformation of this system without a correct understanding of the centrality of the fight against African American oppression. The white sector of the U.S. working class will never break with bourgeois ideology without cleansing itself of the odious ideology of racial superiority—in whatever form it takes.

    Henry Winston with Angela Davis and Oliver Tambo, president of the African National Congress and leader in the anti-apartheid fight in South Africa. | CPUSA Archives

    These ideas, the struggle for a correct line in the African American and African support movement, are the centerpiece of Winston’s book, Strategy for a Black Agenda. In that work, which was a major intervention in the ideological struggle within the African American movement and among those in solidarity with African liberation and independence, Winston pulled the covers off of the Maoists, who under the guise of “anti-revisionism” sided with the imperialists in the struggle for the liberation of Angola.

    More importantly, Winston’s analysis demonstrated that these positions were not merely mistakes or errors in judgment by the Maoists, but were the logical outcome of an anti-Leninist, anti-working class philosophy.

    In that book and in his Class, Race, and Black Liberation, Winston also dissected the then-current Pan-Africanist movement. He demonstrated that the nationalism and lack of anti-imperialist grounding in that movement reflected that it owed more of an intellectual debt to George Padmore and Marcus Garvey than to DuBois’ conception of Pan-Africanism.

    He noted that they were quick to base their analysis on Dubois’ famous quote that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” However, Winston added, “Dubois said it was the problem, Dubois did not say it was the solution.” Winston went on to write, “As Lenin demonstrated, the solution lies in a strategy to overcome the disunity of the oppressed and exploited at the line of differences in color and nationality.”

    Henry Winston with Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban Revolution, 1970s. | CPUSA Archives / Tamiment Library NYU

    Comrade Winston’s leadership on these issues was not limited to the theoretical sphere. He played an active role in guiding mass movements in these areas. Winston was the organizational brains behind the formation of NAIMSAL, the National Anti-Imperialist Movement in Solidarity with African Liberation.

    Under his guidance, and through his connections with African leaders throughout the continent, NAIMSAL succeeded in injecting a consistent anti-imperialist content into the then-developing movements in solidarity with African liberation. NAIMSAL was one of the first organizations in this country to campaign for the freedom of Nelson Mandela and, with the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), launched a ,,petition drive that helped make Mandela’s freedom a national issue.

    Much of NAIMSAL’s work laid the basis for the larger African liberation support movement that
    developed in the 1980s.

    And under Winston’s guidance, the Communist Party helped build the largest political defense movement this country had seen since the Scottsboro defendants of the ’30s. I can still remember receiving a call from my brother, Franklin Alexander, in the summer of 1970 informing me that Angela Davis was facing arrest on trumped-up charges stemming from a shootout at a courthouse in San Rafael, Calif.

    I immediately went to discuss this development with Winston and Gus Hall. Both had no hesitation in throwing the weight of the entire party behind the movement to defend Angela, and both immediately saw this threat as an attack against the Communist Party, the African American movement, and the entire progressive movement.

    Winston, especially, demonstrated a particular sensitivity to the role of gender. It was an advanced attitude I had seen displayed by him over the years. In his work in defense of Angela, he consistently expressed the importance of the role of women in the movement’s leadership and in the broader society. This may have partially been due to the influence of Claudia Jones, one of his closest comrades from the “old days” and at one time chair of the Communist Party’s Women’s Commission.

    With Winston’s assistance, we rallied the Communist Party to build an international movement demanding the release of Angela and all political prisoners. This movement, more than any other single motion, helped rebuild the CPUSA’s image in the African American community and in the broad left. There are still many activists around who “cut their political teeth” in that movement. And in the process of building that movement, the party made many valuable contacts with activists across the country. It was this movement that positioned us to launch the NAARPR.

    In Winston’s last years, he had developed a particular concern for the plight of African American youth. He recognized that the general crisis of capitalism and the national oppression of the African American people were combining to stigmatize African American youth as, in Winston’s words, “social pariahs.” Decades later, we see Winston’s concerns manifested in astronomical youth unemployment rates, collapsing public education, and mass incarceration as a method of control of African American youth.

    Yet Winston was full of optimism about the long-range future.

    Charlene Mitchell applauds as Henry Winston delivers a speech. | CPUSA Archives / Tamiment Library NYU

    In a 1951 pamphlet, entitled What It Means to be a Communist, Winston wrote: “Those who see only backwardness, immobility, and disunity in the working class, are bound to ignore the essential truth that it is the working class that possesses all the necessary qualities to bring about the transformation of society, and build socialism.” The working class and its allies are the only force that can bring about the fundamental transformation of this society.

    It’s important that we honor the life and legacy of Henry Winston. But we must also recognize that Henry Winston was not a great man in spite of being a Marxist-Leninist. He became a great man because he was a Marxist-Leninist. He was not a great man in spite of being a member of the Communist Party. He became a great man because he was a member of the Communist Party.

    Nothing in his contributions makes sense if separated from the Communist Party and its ideology. And yet, his legacy belongs not just to the Marxist-Leninists or to the Communist Party.

    His legacy belongs to the African American people, to the working class, and to the oppressed people all across this world, who all strive for a better society and a better future.

    People’s World has an enormous challenge ahead of it—to raise $200,000 from readers and supporters in 2023, including $125,000 during the Fund Drive, which runs from Feb. 1 to May 1.

    Please donate to help People’s World reach our $200,000 goal. We appreciate whatever you can donate: $5, $10, $25, $50, $100, or more.

    Charlene Alexander Mitchell was born in 1930 in Cincinnati and moved as a child to Chicago where she grew up in the Cabrini-Green public housing project. In 1968 Mitchell made history as the CP’s presidential standard-bearer, becoming the first African American woman to run for the Oval Office. Her long career of unrelenting activism and persistence is most famously illustrated in the success of the campaign to free Angela Davis. In her solidarity visits, she met with CPUSA leader Claudia Jones who had been deported to England, Joseph Dadoo of the African National Congress, and other international leaders. In 1994 she served as an official observer of the first democratic elections in post-apartheid South Africa and was an observer at the congress of the South African Communist Party that year. She went to Cuba for rehabilitation medical treatment following a stroke suffered in 2007. Charlene Mitchell joined the Communist Party USA at 16 emerging as one of the most influential leaders in the party from the late 1950s to the 1980s. She later joined the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Mitchell died in New York City’s Amsterdam Nursing Home on December 14, 2022, at the age of 92.

    People’s World, February 22, 2023

    Some socialist wishes for the new year / by Zoltan Zigedy

    After the Democratic Party brought in legislation to block a national rail strike this month, 2023 may be the year the US left moves beyond the two-party system

    From social democratic dreams of coexistence with capitalism, to misunderstandings over the nature of imperialism, ZOLTAN ZIGEDY hopes the left’s confusion can be eased in 2023.

    AT this time of year, many people are coming up with their wish lists or sets of resolutions for the year ahead. My wish list follows.

    First, I wish that the idea of socialism would again become popular, but I would rejoice if it would at least be discussed seriously in the US.

    Now I don’t mean the weak-tea version of socialism associated with the Democratic Socialists of America or with Senator Bernie Sanders.

    That kind of socialism is really a cold war relic — a brew of schoolhouse participatory democracy and a minimalist welfare state stirred into a consenting capitalism.

    But capitalism doesn’t mix well with social democracy, except when capitalism anticipates an existential threat from real socialism, like the popularity of communism.

    The political marginalisation of European social democracy after a diminished communist spectre following the Soviet collapse of 1991 proves that point.

    Real socialism — to be crystal clear — cannot amicably coexist with capitalism. There can be no lasting peace treaty between capitalism and socialism, despite the best efforts of many socialists and communists (there have been few if any of the rich and powerful who sincerely advocated coexistence with socialism in the centuries since socialism was first envisioned).

    For real socialism to take root, the power of the state must be wrested from the capitalists. History shows no sustainable road to socialism through power-sharing with the capitalist class.

    That is not to say that there cannot be a transitional period in which capitalists and socialists struggle for dominance over the state, but that period will not be stable.

    That is not to discount the importance of parliamentary struggle in fighting to establish a socialist-oriented state. That is not to preclude a socialist programme that engages with national specifics, class alliances and shifting tactics.

    But socialism must be the professed and uncompromising goal of those who claim to be socialists and winning state power must be accepted as a necessary step to achieving any real socialism, where socialism is both the absence of labour exploitation and the ending of the dominance of the capitalist class. Any “socialism” that doesn’t respect these truths is engaged in self-deception.

    But what, you may ask, is People’s China? Clearly there is labour exploitation in the People’s Republic of China, where powerful private capitalist companies exist alongside state enterprises.

    And it is just as clear that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains a tight grip on state power. For over 40 years, the balance of forces between these two realities has shifted frequently, with the CCP leadership, nonetheless, claiming firm control and a commitment to socialism.

    Whether genuine Marxists in the CCP can ride this tiger is yet to be decided. Partisans of socialism must follow this development with a critical eye, but an open mind.

    Advocates for socialism — real socialism — are not so naive as to believe that socialism is around the corner or that socialism is likely to solve the immediate problems of the working class.

    It is useful, however, to be reminded that when Lenin left Zurich to return to Russia just months before the 1917 revolution, he spoke to young revolutionaries, explaining that he likely would not see socialism, but they surely would. He was spectacularly wrong.

    But even a heavy dose of pessimistic realism does not explain the absence of the word “socialism” in the political narratives of progressives, the self-styled left, and even self-proclaimed Marxists living in the US and Europe.

    Moreover, in conversation, eyes roll or go glassy when the idea surfaces. Everyone is an anti-capitalist; everyone is against some form of hyphenated capitalism — disaster-capitalism, neoliberal-capitalism, financial-capitalism, etc etc. But no-one is for socialism!

    You can see this dismissal in the current debates over inflation raging through the left. All disputants recount the effects of inflation on poor and working people.

    All recognise the negative consequences of official policy — raising interest rates — on all. All fumble for alternative solutions, most of which have a past history of failure.

    None will pronounce this as a contradiction — an intrinsic failure — of the capitalist system. All are too busy trying to repair capitalism to even hint that there might be a better alternative. Will there ever be a better time than today to inject socialism into the conversation?

    We suffer from the leftover fears of communism and socialism in the wake of the cold war. We are suffocated by the limited options allowed by our corrupted two-party system. And we are overwhelmed with cynicism and a poverty of vision.

    Surely a frank, honest discussion of socialism is in order.

    My second wish would be for left clarity and unity on the war in Ukraine. To a great extent, the left’s poor understanding of the relationship between capitalism, imperialism and war has spawned wide divisions in an already fractious left.

    On one hand, liberals and social democrats discount the history of conflict in Ukraine and mechanically apply a simplistic concept of national self-determination to what is, in fact, a civil war.

    They see Russian intervention as simply a violation of Ukraine’s right to decide its own future. Using their logic, it is as if the US civil war was construed as a war over the South’s right to self-determination and not a war over slavery.

    Or in a 20th century instance, it would be as if the war in Vietnam were viewed as a fight for the rights of the people in an artificial South Vietnam to choose their own destiny.

    Both the idea of the South’s right of secession (states’ rights) and the “freedom” of South Vietnam were abusive of any legitimate right to self-determination. Neither took the measure of the desire of the masses; both served the interests of privileged elites or foreign powers.

    Leading historian of the Korean war Bruce Cumings reminds us that civil wars are complex conflicts with complex histories and little is gained by pondering who started the war in assigning blame.

    Obsession with determining the immediate “aggressor” in the Korean war clouds the understanding of the deeper causes, colliding interests and political stakes at play to this day.

    Without a historical context, without understanding the conflict and clash of vital interests within the borders of Ukraine, a defence of US meddling in Ukraine constructed on the facade of self-determination is wrongheaded and dangerous.

    There can be no self-determination when the US and its allies undermined an elected government in 2014. That intervention effectively put an end to any pretence of Ukrainian self-determination.

    On the other hand, many self-styled anti-imperialists view the Russian invasion as a war of liberation, with Russia removing Kiev’s oppressive government, thwarting US and Nato aggression, or defending the interests of the people of eastern Ukraine.

    They both overestimate the selflessness of the motives of the now capitalist, former Soviet Russian republic and underestimate the dangers unleashed by an invasion that opens the door widely to a further reaching, more intense war.

    They also fail to see that in its essence the conflict in Ukraine has been a civil conflict since the demise of the Soviet Union. Without the ideology of socialism, that conflict has been driven by a scramble for wealth and power with ensuing corruption, manipulation and crude nationalism.

    Foreign powers — East and West — have manipulated this scramble, forcing it to a proxy showdown. Any escalation — whether it is a coup, an invasion, or the continuing arming of belligerents — would further risk pressing the war beyond the borders or at a greater tempo and should therefore be rejected.

    Behind some defenders of the Russian invasion is the neo-Kautskyian theory of multipolarity. This view sees US imperialism, and not simply the system of imperialism, as the force disruptive of a peaceful, stable and orderly world order.

    It is possible, even likely — according to the theory — for capitalist countries to conduct international affairs benignly if only a predatory US were tamed.

    They go beyond denouncing US imperialism as the main global enemy to imagining a viable, co-operative capitalist order without US dominance. Like Kautsky, multipolarity projects an era of “balance” between imperialist powers and the softening of rivalries.

    Lenin rejected this view. Like Kautsky’s theory of super- or ultra-imperialism, multipolarity reflects an inadequate understanding of class dynamics — the unlimited drive for competitive advantage by the capitalist state — and a failure to recognise that socialism is the only answer to imperialism’s destructive anarchy.

    The carnage of imperialism’s last hundred years since the Kautsky/Lenin debate surely underscores these truths.

    Along with the revival of Kautskyism, neo-Malthusianism threatens to confound the thinking of the left in addressing the critical environmental crisis.

    No-growth as a facile answer to the abuse of our environment is as misguided today as it was in Marx’s time. The critical question is how the global economy grows and not how much it grows.

    My wish is that the left does not ignore the class issues — nationally and internationally — in developing a programme to address this vital matter.

    A no-growth solution that freezes in place the internal and global inequalities, or exacerbates them, cannot be accepted. A programme that does not address the connection between imperialism, militarism, and war in despoiling the planet is inadequate.

    As the lights go out on the nine-and-a-half-billion-dollar midterm electoral extravaganza, leaving a bad taste and a strong sense of emptiness and disappointment, we can only wish that the US left will take a critical look at the two-party system with the idea of uniting to create some independent presence in electoral politics.

    May 2023 be a year of deeper discussion beyond chirping on the shallow platforms crafted for triviality and abasement by the ruling class.

    Zoltan Zigedy is a US-based writer. He blogs at

    Morning Star (UK), December 29, 2022,

    Russian ‘left’ split over Ukraine war / by Ilya Budraitkis

    Remembering Lenin’s birthday: CPRF chair Gennady Zyuganov (centre left) at a rally, 4/22 | Credit: Konstantin Zavrazhin · Getty

    Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s Communist Party has been a tame opposition kept on a tight leash. With a few brave exceptions, the party has eagerly supported the war in Ukraine.

    In his address on 22 February, just before Russia invaded Ukraine, Vladimir Putin set out his ideological justification for the war. He presented Ukraine, within its current borders, as an artificial entity created by the Bolsheviks, which today can ‘rightfully [be] called “Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine” ’.

    Putin, who on coming to power 20 years ago, described the break-up of the USSR as a ‘major geopolitical disaster’, now believes the real tragedy was the creation of the Soviet Union: ‘The disintegration of our united country was brought about by historic, strategic mistakes on the part of the Bolshevik leaders,’ he said, and criticised Lenin for giving every republic the constitutional right to leave the Soviet Union. By making the war in Ukraine what he calls a ‘real “decommunisation” ’, Putin wants to finally turn the page on Soviet history and return to the principles of the pre-revolutionary Russian empire.

    This overt anti-communism did not stop the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) — or rather, its leadership — unreservedly backing Putin’s ‘special operation’ in Ukraine. This is because the party, the second largest in the Duma, has in recent years undergone a major transformation of its activist base and especially its voters, some of whom are now suffering repression for being part of the anti-war movement.

    “Military force should be used in politics only as a last resort. All the military experts tell us that large-scale military action in Ukraine would be far from straightforward. I feel sadness over all those human lives, ours and others” ~ Oleg Smolin

    Although in the introduction to its manifesto, the CPRF claims to be the direct descendant of the Bolshevik party, its real history dates from 1993. Two years earlier, after the demise of the USSR, President Boris Yeltsin had dissolved the Soviet Communist Party, which then spawned a multitude of leftwing political groups fiercely opposed to the ‘shock therapy’ Yeltsin had administered to Russia’s economy. To sideline them, the government encouraged a new, moderate opposition that was prepared to play by the rules of the new political game. Yeltsin therefore authorised a re-formed communist party, having decided not to ban ‘criminal communist ideology’, as some Eastern European countries had done.

    In February 1993 the CPRF’s founding congress elected Gennady Zyuganov as leader (a position he still holds). After the forcible dissolution of the Supreme Soviet (Russian parliament) in October 1993, which was the prelude to establishing an authoritarian presidential system, the CPRF gained a virtual monopoly on the left wing of the new party system. In exchange, the party submitted itself to a tacit rule: no matter how many votes they won, the communists should not threaten the country’s strategic direction. In particular, this meant dropping their opposition to further privatisation and to the construction of a market economy. By channelling discontent, they contributed to the country’s stability for a long time.

    The largest activist base

    Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the CPRF remained the party with the largest activist base (500,000 members at its peak) and the only one that could mobilise tens of thousands of demonstrators. Its members’ enthusiasm meant it could run successful election campaigns despite limited finances and almost no access to television. The party came first in the 1995 Duma election and in 1996 Zyuganov reached the second round of the presidential election, only narrowly losing to Boris Yeltsin. Though this election was marked by significant manipulation (1), the communists recognised the result.

    After Putin came to power in 2000, Russia’s political system became progressively harsher and the Kremlin was increasingly unwilling to tolerate the CPRF’s success and relative autonomy. The presidential administration forced communist leaders to expel all radical elements and exerted greater financial control over them. Whereas in the early 2000s, membership fees had contributed over half the party’s income, that figure had fallen to just 6% by 2015. State funding, meanwhile, accounted for 89% (2).

    The docility with which the CPRF fulfilled its role as a ‘constructive’ opposition led to it losing members (only 160,000 remained by 2016) and losing at the ballot box. It found itself torn between the obligation to remain loyal to the Kremlin and the need for new supporters. In 2011, although it suffered most from ballot box stuffing, the Communist Party stayed away from demonstrations against electoral fraud, leaving the liberal opposition to carry the torch for public freedom.

    In the March 2018 presidential election, however, the CPRF took a first serious step towards electoral challenge. It put up as its candidate Pavel Grudinin, an entrepreneur at the head of a privatised former sovkhoz (state-owned farm), whose rhetoric departed from the usual communist tropes. Grudinin, virtually unknown to the general public, focused on current social problems, not the achievements of the Soviet past.

    Despite calls from the ‘non-systemic’ opposition figure Alexei Navalny to boycott the election (in which he was barred from standing), Grudinin came second in the first round with 11.7% of the vote (8.6 million) — an achievement in a presidential election traditionally dominated by Putin. This result inspired Navalny to change tack and launch ‘smart voting’ in autumn 2018. Navalny asked his supporters to vote for the candidates best placed to beat United Russia (which generally meant the communists).

    This change came hard on the heels of demonstrations in summer 2018 against the government’s decision to raise the retirement age (3). The measure was so unpopular it strengthened the opposition, especially the communists. In September 2018 the CPRF won elections in the Irkutsk and Khakassia regions and in some cities in the Ulyanovsk and Samara regions. It kept up this momentum in autumn 2019, taking a third of the seats in the Moscow city parliament (13 out of 45 seats).

    Changing electoral map

    A paradoxical situation was becoming apparent: some of the liberal urban middle class had started voting against their own principles and ideological inclinations. The electoral map of CPRF support was changing. Whereas in the 1990s and 2000s, the Communist Party’s voters came mainly from Russia’s agricultural south, they were by the end of the decade mainly in industrialised regions and in the big cities. In the most recent parliamentary election in September 2021, the CPRF won many votes in Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Khabarovsk and Chelyabinsk, although none of these cities of several million inhabitants belonged to the ‘red belt’ of the 1990s. In Moscow and St Petersburg, traditionally more liberal than elsewhere, the CPRF won 22% and 17.9% of the vote respectively, while the liberal opposition Yabloko Party suffered a crushing defeat. The Communist Party was clearly outstripping the rest of the opposition: it was more than 10% ahead of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, with which it had been on a par in the 2016 parliamentary election (at around 13%).

    Ideologically unchanged

    Despite its new support base, the party has not changed significantly in ideology or structure. Its official manifesto still bears the imprint of Stalinism, nationalism and the defence of a paternalistic welfare state in the spirit of the final years of the USSR. In it, the party states its attachment to ‘the dynamic Marxist-Leninist doctrine’, adding that ‘with the restoration of capitalism, the Russian question has become extremely acute’, condemning the ‘genocide of a great nation’ and asserting the need to protect Russian civilisation from the assault of the materialist, soulless West.

    In keeping with this, the Communist parliamentary group has even been an active supporter of the aggression against Ukraine: on 19 January, as Russian troops held manoeuvres on the border and Western leaders kept up their dialogue with Putin, 11 Communist MPs, including Zyuganov, put forward a resolution in the Duma calling on Putin to recognise the independence of the ‘people’s republics’ of eastern Ukraine and end the ‘genocide’ of their people.

    This demand was tantamount to ending negotiations on the Minsk agreements (which recognised Donetsk and Luhansk as part of Ukraine) and immediately starting a military conflict. At first, United Russia, which holds a parliamentary majority, did not back it, on the grounds that it was too radical. But it was this motion, approved by an absolute majority in parliament a month later, which later served as the basis for the invasion.

    On the first day of the war, the Communist Party put out an official statement affirming its full support for Putin’s policy on Ukraine, carefully avoiding the words ‘war’ and ‘military operations’. This statement echoed the official rhetoric on the need to ‘demilitarise and de-nazify’ Ukraine and asserted the urgency of countering the plans of the ‘United States and its NATO satellites to enslave Ukraine’. In a further statement on 12 April, six weeks into the war, the CPRF described Ukraine as the ‘world centre of neo-Nazism’ and called for ‘the mobilisation of Russia’s spiritual and economic resources to repel liberal fascism’, establishing a state of emergency and strict public regulation of the economy given the confrontation with the West.

    “The disintegration of our united country was brought about by historic, strategic mistakes on the part of the Bolshevik leaders” ~Vladimir Putin

    Even so, the only three Russian MPs with the courage to publicly criticise the invasion of Ukraine also belong to the communist group. One of them, Oleg Smolin, respected for his long-standing fight against the privatisation of education, said early in the war, ‘Military force should be used in politics only as a last resort. All the military experts tell us that large-scale military action in Ukraine would be far from straightforward. I feel sadness over all those human lives, ours and others.’

    Vyacheslav Markhayev, who represents Buryatia, also spoke out strongly against the war, saying that ‘the whole campaign for the recognition of the DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] and LNR [Luhansk People’s Republic] had a hidden agenda … very different [from the original plan put forward by the Communist MPs] … And here we are in full-scale war between two states.’ More soldiers from the oblast he represents in Siberia have been killed in action than from any other since military operations began.

    Several local CPRF representatives from the regions of Voronezh, Vladivostok, the Komi Republic and Yakutia have also taken a stand against the war. One of the most talented representatives of the party’s younger generation, Moscow city councillor Yevgeny Stupin, co-founded a leftwing anti-war coalition that brings together several political groups unrepresented in the Duma. For these activists, openly coming out against the war means defying the CPRF leadership’s line and being prepared to leave its ranks. Several of them were expelled even before they could hand in their cards.

    Other organisations to the left of the CPRF have taken an active part in peace protests. The Russian Socialist Movement (which has links with France’s New Anticapitalist Party) issued a joint statement with the Ukrainian left Sotsіalniy Rukh (Social Movement), a rare Russian-Ukrainian initiative. The statement condemns Russia’s criminal and imperialist war and supports all measures aimed at ending the conflict, including sanctions on oil and gas and supplying weapons to Ukraine for self-defence. This statement is especially significant as the Ukrainian security services have been targeting the domestic left, which they suspect of being unpatriotic. Russian anarchists in Avtonomnoe Deistvie (Autonomous Action) have called on ‘Russian soldiers to desert, disobey criminal orders and leave Ukraine immediately’.

    The war with Ukraine has only confirmed the division between those nostalgic for the era of USSR’s state power and those for whom being on the left means a commitment to a democratic, anti-authoritarian and forward-looking project. Today, when any call to resist imperialist aggression by the Russian government risks repression and hostility from the rest of society, the anti-war left looks isolated. But it’s worth remembering that in 1917, during the first world war, those who called on Russian soldiers to disobey their officers’ orders, against all expectations, came to power. And set Ukraine’s current internationally recognised borders — yet another reason for Putin to hate Lenin.

    (1) See Hélène Richard, ‘When the US swung a Russian election’, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, March 2019.

    (2) ‘Activités financières des partis à la veille des élections des députés à la Douma d’État’ (Financial activities of the parties on the eve of the elections of deputies to the State Duma), Golos, 4 August 2016,

    (3) See Karine Clément, ‘Russia looks after its rich’, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, November 2018.

    Translated by George Miller

    Ilya Budraitskis is an essayist and political theorist who teaches at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and the Institute of Contemporary Art Moscow. He is the author of Dissidents among dissidents: Ideology, politics and the Left in post-Soviet Russia, Verso, London, 2022.

    Le Monde Diplomatique (English), June, 2022,

    Lenin’s ‘The State and Revolution’ / by Louise O’Shea

    If they do me in, I ask you to publish my notebook: Marxism on the State (it got left behind in Stockholm). It’s bound in a blue cover… There are a number of remarks and notes… I believe it to be important.

    So wrote Lenin with characteristic modesty in July 1917. He was referring to what later became known as The State and Revolution, one of the most important contributions to Marxist thought of the last century.

    The short pamphlet was written in response to the turmoil that engulfed the socialist movement following the outbreak of World War One. Many socialist organisations that had previously professed to be revolutionary, and aligned themselves to the ostensibly Marxist Second International grouping, succumbed to the nationalist hysteria sweeping Europe at the time.

    The slow drift towards accommodation to capitalism resulted in 1914 in open support for their national governments and bourgeoisies. Where they held seats in Parliament, such as in Germany, socialist MPs voted to support the bloodshed and mass murder of workers. This abandonment of principles on the part of professed socialists horrified Lenin, along with other genuine Marxists.

    The State and Revolution represented his attempt to reassert the Marxist attitude to the state in order to show why the capitalist state needed to be destroyed—not tamed—and replaced with workers’ power. Such a restatement was important not simply to discredit the so-called socialists of the Second International, but also as a guide to action for the millions of workers across Europe whose struggles against war and the accompanying deprivation were beginning to rock the foundations of European capitalism.

    As Lenin wrote in the preface to the first edition:

    The unprecedented horrors and miseries of the protracted war are making the people’s position unbearable and increasing their anger. The world proletarian revolution is clearly maturing. The question of its relation to the state is acquiring practical importance.

    The starting point for his argument was the class nature of the capitalist state. Drawing on the writings of Marx and Engels, Lenin demolishes the idea that the state is a neutral body standing above social classes. Instead, he argues that the state exists as a means for one class to maintain its dominance over another. Far from being able to legislate away the conflict between workers and bosses under capitalism, “the state is a product and manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonisms objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable… The state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression by one class by another; it is the creation of ‘order’, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between the classes.” The arbitration system, courts and prisons, insofar as they legitimise wage labour and enshrine the property rights of the rich, are all examples of this today.

    Coercion is also central to the power of the capitalist state. As Lenin puts it:

    What does this power [of the state] mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc. at their command… A standing army and police are the chief instruments of the state power.

    Given the capitalist state exists to enforce the interests and property rights of the capitalist class, it cannot be taken over by representatives of the working class and used to introduce socialism as the reformists of the Second International ultimately argued. It must instead be destroyed and dismantled in order that the power of the capitalist class be neutralised, and the capitalists prevented from reasserting their dominance following a successful workers’ revolution.

    For this to happen, workers must become the dominant class in society. As Lenin described: “The overthrow of the bourgeoisie can be achieved only by the proletariat becoming the ruling class, capable of crushing the inevitable and desperate resistance of the bourgeoisie, and of organising all the working and exploited people for the new economic system.

    “The proletariat needs state power, a centralized organisation of force, an organisation of violence, both to crush the resistance of the exploiters and to lead the enormous mass of the population—the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, the semi-proletarians—in the work of organising a socialist economy.” So it is not enough to simply abolish the capitalist state, it must be replaced with organisations that embody and defend workers’ control of society.

    But such a state would have little in common with all previously existing states which have enshrined minority rule. The Paris Commune of 1871 provided the first example of what workers’ power might ultimately look like. A keen observer of the Commune, Marx described how:

    The first decree of the Commune… was the suppression of the standing army and its replacement by the armed people… The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of Paris, responsible and revocable at any time. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class… The police, which until then had been the instrument of the government, was at once stripped of its political attributes and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable instrument of the Commune… From the members of the Commune downwards, public service had to be done at workmen’s wages. The privileges and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the dignitaries themselves.

    The significance of the Commune and its contrast with the capitalist state for Lenin could not be overstated:

    The Commune [has] replaced the smashed state machine ‘only’ by fuller democracy: abolition of the standing army; all officials to be elected and subject to recall. But as a matter of fact, this ‘only’ signifies a gigantic replacement of certain institutions by other institutions of a fundamentally different type.

    Lenin also argued that a workers’ state differs from previous forms in its transitory nature. Societies in which the ruling class relies on the day-to-day exploitation and oppression of the majority require a permanent state structure to ensure social stability and compliance.

    Once in control, the working class does not have to oppress any other social class in order to run society effectively and provide for people’s needs. Without class divisions, there is no need for a state. In the long run therefore, a genuine socialist society would be one without the need for an oppressive state structure.

    The main function of a workers’ state then is to ensure the defeat of the capitalist class, and to prevent it being able to regroup or rearm to destroy the revolution and workers’ power.

    As Lenin explained:

    The organ of suppression, however, is here the majority of the population, and not a minority, as was always the case under slavery, serfdom and wage slavery. And since the majority of people itself suppresses its oppressors, a ‘special force’ of suppression is no longer necessary! In this sense, the state begins to wither away.

    For the organisations of the Second International, that had integrated themselves into the capitalist state and ruling structures in a way that did not incline them towards its smashing, Lenin’s arguments were somewhat unwelcome. The State and Revolution was decried as Blanquist and anarchist amongst the mainstream of the socialist movement.

    By contrast, among left-wing critics of the orthodox socialist movement of the time, including some anarchists, The State and Revolution was a revelation. Syndicalist Alfred Rosmer recalled its reception in France:

    for revolutionaries situated outside the mainstream of orthodox Marxism, for the syndicalists and anarchists, this… was a pleasant revelation. They had never heard such language from the Marxists they knew. They read and re-read this interpretation of Marx, which was quite unfamiliar to them.

    The all-too-common characterisation of Lenin as an authoritarian by anarchists today is thus both ironic and woefully inaccurate. Again and again throughout his political life, including in The State and Revolution, Lenin stressed the conscious activity of workers as crucial to the struggle to create a new and better world. In 1906, he wrote of his eagerness to see the working class “smash all the instruments for oppressing the people, seize power, and take what was regarded as belonging to all kinds of robbers of the people—in short, when the intellect and reason of millions of downtrodden people awaken not only to read books, but for action, vital human action, to make history.”

    The revolution Lenin lived through and led shortly after completing The State and Revolution is a testament to this. John Reed, and American journalist who was in Russia during the revolution described how “for the first time, millions of ordinary workers and peasants found themselves able to participate in the major decisions that affected their lives. Control of the factories was taken over by the workers, land was seized by the poor peasants, the embryo of an entirely new form of society was created.”

    The official structures of workers power reflected this: “At least twice a year delegates are elected from all over Russia to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets… This body, consisting of about two thousand delegates, meets in the capital in the form of a great soviet, and settles upon the essentials of national policy.” According to Reed, “no political body more sensitive and responsive to the popular will was ever invented.”

    The contrast between the participatory democracy of the most advanced form of workers’ power ever seen and the oppressive nature of the capitalist state could not be greater. It makes a mockery of those who reject state power as authoritarian regardless of which class is in control.

    More than one hundred years after it was written, The State and Revolution remains the clearest exposition of the role of the state and the need for the masses to destroy it in order to bring about a society without class divisions of any sort.

    Originally published: RedFlag on April 18, 2022

    MR Online, April 25, 2022,

    Understanding war: Lenin’s ‘imperialism: The highest stage of capitalism’ / by Tom Bramble

    The outbreak of World War I ushered in a new age of barbarism in Europe. It also triggered the collapse of the Second International, the international league of socialist parties that purported to be staunch opponents of war, but which lined up behind their own ruling classes when it broke out. Lenin’s pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, published in the middle of the horror and brutality of the Great War, aimed to answer two questions: why this imperialist war, and why the collapse of the Second International?

    Every nation involved in the war had a ready explanation for it, of course. Each accused its enemy of provocations and blood lust. Even the socialist parties took up some of these themes. In Imperialism, Lenin identified capitalism as the culprit. War was the product of the anarchic and competitive character of the capitalist world order.

    Lenin wrote that “If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism, we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism”.

    What were the characteristics of “monopoly capitalism”? First, the tremendous concentration of industry into fewer and fewer hands. In the mid-nineteenth century, what Lenin called “free market capitalism” had predominated. By the turn of the twentieth century, successive periods of economic boom and bust had led to waves of takeovers and bankruptcies that allowed the strong to destroy the weak. The victorious companies, on their own or organised into trusts or cartels, now dominated entire national markets.

    Second, monopoly capitalism was characterised by an enormous growth in the significance of banks, from mere intermediaries lending money to firms expanding their operations, to overseers of the advanced economies. By fuelling credit growth and liquidating bankrupt businesses, the banks contributed to the process of concentration of capital, the growth of bigger and bigger monopolies.

    What Lenin called “the coalescence of bank and industrial capital” that resulted from these trends created a new phenomenon, finance capital. The dawn of the twentieth century marked a “turning point, from the old capitalism to the new, from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital”. Henceforth, finance capital and the “financial oligarchy” would rule.

    As finance capital grew more powerful, so it became more concentrated in a small number of countries. By 1910, four countries—Britain, the U.S., France and Germany—accounted for 80 percent of the world’s financial securities (loans, bonds, shares etc). Lenin wrote: “In one way or another, nearly the whole of the rest of the world is more or less the debtor to and tributary of these international banker countries, these ‘four pillars’ of world finance capital”.

    The big creditor nations amassed a huge surplus of capital that could not be profitably invested at home. They invested it instead in colonies and less developed countries where the rate of return was higher because capital was scarce, the price of land was low, wages were low and raw materials were cheap.

    The biggest monopolies boosted their profits by organising market-sharing schemes to minimise competition and jack up prices. Such arrangements could not last, however. Inevitable disturbances in the balance of power resulting from differential rates of economic development, wars and crises led to constant battles for hegemony between the big companies, with governments weighing in to boost the fortunes of “their” monopoly capitalists. The outcome was new spheres of influence.

    This jockeying for control over international markets and raw materials between the rival powers drove the partitioning of Africa and Asia. By the close of the nineteenth century, this rivalry between various finance capitals backed by their states had led to the seizure of all those territories not occupied by one or another of the big powers. From this point on, one great power could advance its sphere of influence only by seizing territory from another.

    Lenin summarised imperialism as follows: “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed”.

    Imperialism was not, therefore, a “policy” adopted by governments but arose out of tendencies that were inherent in capitalism. In Imperialism, Lenin poured scorn on Karl Kautsky, the leading theorist of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, who had provided political cover for the party’s betrayal when it voted in 1914 for war credits in the German parliament. Kautsky argued that there was nothing inevitable about imperialism. It was only a “policy” of annexation preferred by finance capital and the arms industry and could be combated by another capitalist policy that did not involve annexation of territory and which would be advantageous for other sections of capital. Further, Kautsky argued, as blocs of finance capital came to dominate ever larger parts of the world, they might eventually unite in the form of “ultra imperialism”, what he called the “joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital”. The big powers would no longer need to go to war to settle disputes.

    Lenin took apart Kautsky’s “ultra imperialism”, for both its logical flaws and its political implications. The international cartels that Kautsky believed could be the basis for a peaceful division of the world were only an example of the division and constant re-division of the world. Specifically, the old imperial powers Britain and France controlled vast swathes of Africa and Asia; Germany, by contrast, had very few colonies. But Germany was the far more dynamic industrial power by the early twentieth century; it was inconceivable it would be content with its exclusion from large areas of the world. There could, therefore, be no “internationally united finance capital” sharing out the spoils of colonialism.

    This very dynamism of the world system meant that periods of peace could only give way to periods of war. How else could Germany break into markets currently dominated by Britain and France? Or, for that matter, the U.S. and Japan, two other latecomers to colonialism? Only force would allow them to build the kind of empires befitting their economic weight. That meant that alliances were constantly torn apart by internal tensions, the outcome of which would be decided in the ultimate instance by force. As Lenin put it, “Peaceful alliances prepared the ground for wars and in their turn grew out of wars; the one conditions the other, producing alternating forms of peaceful and non-peaceful struggles”.

    By appealing to the capitalists to come together to share markets peacefully, Kautsky was only trying to prettify capitalism. Monopoly capitalism, far from paving the way for peace, just heightened political reaction at home and national oppression abroad. Kautsky, Lenin argued, was only giving cover to those in his party who said that capitalism did not need to be overthrown. Kautsky must be condemned for “obscuring and glossing over the fundamental contradictions of imperialism” and, as a result, muddying the process of clarification in the workers’ movement between revolutionary and reformist politics.

    Lenin believed that the emergence of monopoly capitalism helped explain the material basis for the Second International’s capitulation in 1914. Monopoly profits earned from investments in the colonies allowed the capitalists to “bribe the upper strata of the proletariat”. This bribe was the material basis for reformism, the adaptation by the workers’ movement to its own ruling class, and explained why the workers’ parties of Europe supported their “own” ruling classes at the outbreak of World War I. Revolutionaries must do battle with these traitors in the labour movement and drive them out.

    Lenin’s pamphlet soon became a canonical text in the international revolutionary movement. Although only, as Lenin stated, a “popular outline” of theories that had been developed earlier by the English liberal John Hobson, the German socialist Rudolf Hilferding and Lenin’s own comrade Nikolai Bukharin, the Bolsheviks’ triumph in the October Revolution and the subsequent formation of the Communist International meant that Lenin’s work was by far the best known.

    Imperialism has tremendous strengths. In the midst of the carnage on the battlefields and misery on the home front, Lenin pointed out that capitalism was squarely to blame for the horrors unfolding across Europe. Capitalism could not exist without war. It therefore had to be overthrown not just to end this war but also to prevent future wars. For those fighting colonialism, Imperialism gave some theoretical underpinning to their struggles. They faced not just a particularly bloody government in London, Paris or Berlin, but a whole system of colonial oppression fuelled by capitalism. This was the basis for the formation of the Communist International in 1919—to bring together revolutionaries all over the world for a joint struggle to smash capitalism. Imperialism also pointed to the complicity of socialists like Kautsky who said that they were against war but who made excuses for the system that kept generating wars.

    Imperialism had tremendous predictive value. Lenin argued that unless capitalism was destroyed, any peace agreement between the imperialist powers to end the Great War would only give way to more wars in the future. And that is exactly what happened. Just two decades after the 1918 armistice, the world was plunged into a new world war that proved even bloodier and which was genuinely a world war, with whole areas of the Asia-Pacific drawn into the fighting. And, today, Imperialism helps us understand the new military tensions between the U.S. and China and now Russia, each trying to carve out or defend their spheres of influence.

    There are weaknesses with Imperialism. Its reliance on the “labour aristocracy” to explain working class reformism did not stand up to scrutiny even in Lenin’s day, and has little relevance in a world where the working class even in the imperialist countries is being constantly squeezed like it is today. The emphasis on the banks, capital export and the colonies again did not entirely fit the picture in all the main imperialist powers at the time—capital export, for example, was a big factor only briefly for Britain and nowhere else. And over the course of the 20th century, the imperial powers got rid of their colonies, driven out forcefully or otherwise, and did not collapse as imperial powers. The world’s biggest imperialist power, the U.S., is actually a debtor nation, not a creditor. And so on. But the basic argument, that the competitive and anarchic nature of capitalism constantly drags the world into wars and will do so until it is overthrown, still stands up. As in Lenin’s day, the duty of revolutionaries, and all those who want to see an end to bloody imperialist wars, is to overthrow capitalism.

    Tom Bramble is a socialist activist, author and retired academic based in Queensland, Australia. He taught Industrial Relations at the University of Queensland for many years and has authored numerous books and articles on the Australian labour movement. He is a member of Socialist Alternative.

    MR Online, April 23, 2022,