The letter below was written in early 2001 by Daniel Bengoechea, at the time a militant of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) of Argentina and presently the editor of the Solidaridad website. It was first published in Proletarian Revolution No. 64 (Spring 2002).
Dear comrades of the LRP:
Here are my opinions on some of your documents. Of all of them I have chosen the article published by Sy Landy in Tribune of Debates and your political declaration on the convocatory declaration for the failed conference of last August.
I have decided to start with these two items since they in some sense synthesize the central axes of the discussion which we have intended to establish and which for a number of reasons beyond your control have been postponed. To facilitate the discussion I have followed the order established in your declaration. In the future I hope we will be able to broaden the discussion to other points and also deepen the debate on the points included here. Finally it is necessary to make clear to you that the opinions in the first item of the document do not correspond to the official position of the POR. Due to this, my comrades decided that this would not be published in the name of the party, and authorized me to do this in my own name.
For me, the fact that Stalinism definitively crystallized in the 30's into a counterrevolutionary force is not sufficient to determine a change in the class character of the USSR. This is always determined by the property relations, and these did not take on a bourgeois character until the 90's. Until that moment the Stalinist bureaucracy maintained the monopoly of foreign trade, the means of production remained under state control, and the gains of the working class had not yet been liquidated. If in fact these characteristics do not suffice to determine that a state is a workers' state, they are sufficient to demonstrate that the workers' state constructed in the October Revolution still survived in its death throes until the end of the 80's. Moreover, if capitalism was restored at the end of the 30's we would have to be able to determine who was the bourgeoisie in the USSR at the time.
On the other hand, I have to recognize that the definition of "deformed workers' states" used by us to characterize both the Stalinist states created after the Second World War and those resulting from anti-imperialist revolutions (China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea) is based on the repetition of the concept established by the Pabloite Fourth International. Assuming that the USSR was a workers' state until the Stalinist collapse of the 90's, the resounding similarity between these societies and the USSR made us assume pragmatically that they were, in a certain sense, the same. At any rate, we understand that the "deformed workers' state" definition always must be applied with much skepticism, lacking a better a characterization, and without attributing any sort of viability to those societies.
In your reasoning there are two central points with which I agree. The first is that workers' states can only be created by workers' revolutions, which in the postwar period either did not happen or were suffocated by Stalinism. The second is that the concept of a degenerated workers' state was conceived by Trotsky for a particular situation in the USSR which could not be indefinitely prolonged in time.
On the other hand, the weak point of your reasoning is the affirmation that the capitalist counterrevolution took place in the USSR at the end of the 30's. Just as you have done with the postwar Stalinist states, one can affirm that in the USSR there was no change in the state apparatus at that time. Before and after, the police, the army and the governing forces were the same. It seems to me that from your reasoning follows the necessity of the USSR having been a capitalist state since before the war, but by no means is this a fact that could have been inferred from the functioning of the Soviet economy. However, I have to admit that your book, The Life and Death of Stalinism, has had the virtue of making me initiate a process of reflection upon this theme, a process which continues and remains open.
I also agree with you on the need to distinguish between the defense of the gains won by the workers of the Stalinist and ex-Stalinist states, on the one hand, and the defense of the Stalinist state apparatus, on the other. Of course, on this question one must not lose sight of the counterrevolutionary character of the bourgeois leaderships of the masses, which made use of the processes of the 90's to the benefit of imperialist interests. To propose defeatism and fight on equal footing both Stalinism and the bourgeois leaderships of the masses has helped make some view the installation of the new regimes as a conquest of the masses. In that sense I agree with the LBI's criticisms of Morenoism and other centrist currents who were dazzled by the processes in Eastern Europe and who placed the necessity of defeating Stalinism above the defense of the gains of the masses. Of course, as you say, to defend these gains it was necessary to oppose the privatizations of the economies of the USSR and the rest of Eastern Europe, which implied also the necessity of a revolutionary opposition to the state and the Stalinist bureaucracy, which had initiated the attacks on the working class well before the changes in government.
But it was also necessary to combat the reactionary leaderships of the masses, whether these arose from Stalinism or not. And this was not done by the great majority of the Trotskyist movement, which was only preoccupied with the overthrow of the Stalinist regimes. In any case, I understand that it is an exaggeration on the part of the LBI and the POR to equate the defense of the gains of the masses with the defense of the Berlin Wall, since the Wall formed a part of the Stalinist repressive apparatus which supported the bureaucracy's attacks against the masses.
Finally, in the cases of China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam, if it is in fact true that the assault on the workers' gains is being led by the Stalinist bureaucrats, I suppose that you would also accept that these gains will fall more rapidly in the event of a military defeat of these regimes by imperialism. In that sense if in fact these states must be defended from imperialism like any other oppressed nation, there has to be special emphasis on their defense because the gains embodied in them are greater.
The term "Anti-imperialist United Front" has a tactical character for us, not a strategic one. In no way do we hold expectations in the national bourgeoisie, which in the current stage of capitalist development is incapable of finishing the democratic tasks that are still pending in our countries. The incorporation of bourgeois sectors in an "Anti-imperialist United Front" in now way implies the formation of political blocs with them. According to our interpretation, the revolutionary party must always maintain its political independence and must use, through the Front, criticism against its allies with the object of exposing them before the masses. In no way does the concept of the "Anti-imperialist United Front" imply the formation of political or governmental blocs with elements of the bourgeoisie. Much less does it imply that the revolutionary party proposes to the proletariat that it trust the anti-imperialist programs claimed by such elements. To sum up, the "Anti-imperialist United Front" must be understood as a tactical tool that serves to raise the democratic demands of the exploited masses but at no point should it be understood as a tool which can substitute for the revolutionary party, which would imply a popular frontist deviation.
I agree with you that the proletariat is the only force capable of making the socialist revolution. It is lamentable that almost a century after the October Revolution it is still necessary to make this declaration. I also understand that the process of the formation of consciousness is a process that must develop within the working class. In general history shows us that it is in struggle that the working class develops its consciousness. In general the working class begins to struggle with leaders who do not represent its interests, and only through the development of the struggle does it produce and select from the vanguard those who will form the political leadership of the proletariat.
To think that consciousness can be developed from outside by intellectuals is an idealist conception. Those who hold this conception always only crystallize a nucleus of pseudo-revolutionary intellectuals, which from outside the class tries to impose its conceptions without maintaining any contact with the class struggle. With this method, sooner or later they end up building a sect. A vanguard party must test its positions daily by applying them in concrete action. You are probably right when you say that this idealist conception, contrary to the thought of Lenin and Trotsky, is a reflection of the influence of the middle layers and the labor aristocracy within Trotskyism.
I agree that the convocatory statement to "advance in the discussion on the constitution of a new Fourth-Internationalist tendency" does not have the clear vision of the history of the Fourth International which there must be to speak for the formation of a new tendency. I think this basically results from the empiricist conduct of our current which led us to reject centrism empirically without doing a deep-going balance sheet of the history of the Fourth International.
My position is that none of the fractions into which the Fourth International shattered after the schism which occurred in its 3rd Congress represented the revolutionary reserves of the proletariat. In fact, the revisionist turn was consolidated at the Second Congress in 1948 and began at the end of the Second World War. The hopes that the Fourth International held in Tito due to his confrontation with the Kremlin was a clear proof of this. This reflected in some way that the rupture was not based on programmatic differences. Basically the schism consisted in a confrontation between cliques in which none of them raised the necessary program to regroup those who would confront revisionism. Thus, the organizational collapse was nothing more than the expression of ten years of centrist degeneration.
I've done some thought as to whether the form in which the Fourth International degenerated is related in some way to the entrism into social democracy recommended by Trotsky to some of its most important sections. For me it seems that this helped the sections of the Fourth International fill with intellectuals and bought-off workers, isolating it from the most oppressed sectors of the working class. Therefore, the Fourth International, instead of winning vanguard proletarians, which was very difficult in the period of retreat in which it was being built, ended up recruiting intellectuals and sectors of the labor aristocracy, which would have to be reflected in centrist and opportunist deviations. What else could account for the various fractions of the Fourth International? What else could account for the policy applied during the 1952 revolution in Bolivia, a key event in the degeneration of the Fourth International?
Regarding the support given by the Fourth International to the MNR during the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, which certainly was a very grave error which marked a turning point in the trajectory of the Fourth International, in no case do I think it was treason comparable to the approval of war credits by the Social Democrats in 1914, or to the betrayal of the German and Spanish proletariat by the Third International in the 30's. These events implied that the Second and Third Internationals were converted into counterrevolutionary structures at the service of the bourgeoisie. This did not happen with the Fourth International. If it had occurred we would have to speak about founding a new international, instead of reconstructing or recreating the Fourth. The Fourth International degenerated into a multitude of centrist, bureaucratic and opportunist tendencies which oscillate between revolution and counterrevolution but which are not counterrevolutionary apparatuses at the service of the bourgeoisie. Obviously these currents are an obstacle to the development of working-class consciousness, but they are not the same as social democracy or Stalinism.
In response to your question about our characterization of the current phase of the international class struggle, we understand that we find ourselves in a pre-revolutionary phase, of the preparation of the vanguard. The struggles which are developing the working class all over the world are of a defensive character and this is happening basically because of the absence of an internationalist political leadership which will lead the proletariat in its confrontation against the bourgeoisie. Of course, the resistance of the exploited masses and the fact that they have not been physically crushed by the bourgeoisie means this has not been converted into a counterrevolutionary period, in spite of the repeated defeats suffered by the working class.
Accepting that the USSR was a bourgeois state since before the Second World War, then this war was a inter-bourgeois war. Do you think of it this way? From this would it have followed that the Fourth International should have raised the banner of revolutionary defeatism also in the USSR? Do you agree on this with the Bordigaists?
I hope that my short commentary will serve to deepen the debate between us. It has made me reflect on a series of questions which I had once assumed axiomatically, which is no small thing. Probably in the future it will enable us to gain more important results, in particular to join together in recuperating the patrimony of the working class, the six fundamentals of Marxism which Sy has said were revised by the centrist leaders of the Fourth International.