Monthly Archives: December 2007

Harlem March Fights Columbia U. Expansion, Demands Clinic Re-opening

NEW YORK CITY, Dec. 1 — Today, about 30 people held a militant march in Harlem demanding that the Manhattanville Clinic, once a NYC Dept of Health Child Health Clinic, be re-opened. The city closed it in 1999, supposedly for renovations, and then spent $5 million redoing the façade while leaving the inside untouched. Meanwhile, the health and access to health care of the black and Latino residents of Harlem remain dismal.

The demonstration was an important breakthrough. It was initiated by parishioners at a nearby church, who began the effort under CHALLENGE readers’ leadership, and was led by Sunday School youth carrying a banner linking the issue to expanding war and racism. It was co-sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve Community (CPC), the group which has been fighting Columbia University’s expansion into Harlem.

Also present were Columbia students, who had just completed a 9-day hunger strike against racism in the curriculum and the expansion, and other students from the City University of New York. These combined forces, involving workers and students of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and occupations, have great potential to build a militant anti-racist movement in Harlem.

The demonstration’s size was limited because the same groups had been busy all week protesting at City Planning Board hearings, where the Columbia plan was being voted on. Although the hearing room had only about 75 seats, mostly filled by Columbia, dozens of opponents were standing around the edges.

As soon as the cops tried to evict the standees, they began chanting and making continuous speeches. One pointed out the conflict of interest on the Board, with one member being an ex-Columbia dean and another having University construction contracts. Many of the others, especially the chairwoman, are the super-rich, which one protester illustrated by displaying a picture of her in a gown in her gilded apartment. The cops gave up trying to evict the protesters.

Of course, the Board voted almost unanimously to support Columbia, as the whole plan was agreed to long ago by the mayor and City Council President. In this age of endless imperialist wars and huge racist cutbacks, only a massive militant student and community opposition could really have a chance of blocking the expansion and begin to fight for the jobs, health care and housing needed in Harlem.

But this movement cannot rely on any politicians and must understand the nature of the present period. While we in PLP fight for larger-scale actions involving rank-and-file workers and students in Harlem, this is why we also build CHALLENGE networks that fight for our communist politics.

Already we have expanded CHALLENGE circulation in the community around the church, but we must involve this base in more actions like this demonstration. In the anti-Columbia expansion movement, we will continue to build ties with members of all groups while we discuss the need to dump this whole rotten society and build a communist world.

Advertisements
Tagged , , ,

Navistar: Warmaker/Strike-breaker

CHICAGO, IL, December 11 — As we go to press, 4,000 Navistar workers are in the 7th week of their strike. Formerly International Harvester, Navistar is the world’s fourth largest truck builder, and the biggest supplier to the Pentagon of the MaxxPro engines for the blast-resistant trucks used in Iraq. In past years, it has closed unionized plants and moved to non-union plants in the South and Mexico. Navistar also entered a joint venture with India’s Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. to build medium- and heavy-duty diesel engines, further driving down wages for all workers.

Not only has the UAW leadership failed to defend its members, it’s also failed to make organizing these non-union plants a strike demand. As is now true in auto, aerospace, steel and coal mining, most of Navistar’s plants are non-union.

The 500 workers at the Melrose Park engine plant, just outside Chicago, build MaxxPro engines. The MaxxPro chassis is built in Garland, Texas, and the trucks are assembled in West Point, Mississippi, both non-union plants. The union and the company are guaranteeing that Melrose Park continues to operate with scabbing supervisors and engineers, ensuring that the racist rulers can continue their imperialist bloodbath in Iraq. A big solidarity rally planned for December 5 was hastily cancelled the night before, partly because the UAW leadership feared it would make it possible for PLP and others to expose Navistar as a war-maker and strike-breaker, and show that U.S. and Iraqi workers face the same enemy and the same fight.
PLP is slowly but surely organizing support for the strike and attempting to build ties with some Navistar workers. Over the past week, groups of workers and students have walked the picket lines, talked to the strikers and distributed dozens of CHALLENGES.

While it’s not a strike against the war, it’s still significant that workers have struck a war profiteer amidst a war. (Last March, 7,000 shipbuilders in Pascagula, MS struck Northrop Grumman for one month.) Workers have given us a very warm welcome. We’ve learned a lot from them, but are just scratching the surface. We’ll do better at raising the strike at our workplaces, schools, unions and churches, not just to build support for striking workers, but to show how the working class has the power to end this war, and all wars, by uniting across all borders and fighting for communist revolution.

(Send statements of solidarity to: UAW Local 6, 3520 W. North Ave., Stone Park, IL 60165-1042)

Tagged ,

Rulers’ Rivalries A Killer for Workers

While working for a building subcontractor operating on site for a major aerospace company, we were again reminded that workers are expendable in the name of speed-up and profit. Last week, a young laborer was seriously shocked while removing a water heater from a bathroom wall, requiring hospital treatment.

The foreman told the young laborer to remove the box rather than follow the proper safety procedure and wait for an electrician. In order to reap maximum profits the bosses cut corners.

The laborer had only worked in construction three weeks. When he asked how to remove the box, the foreman simply said “Take the screws out and pull it off the wall.” He didn’t mention the possible electrical hazard a twenty-year old water heater posed. The 220-volt circuit that fed the water heater had been stripped bare over time. The stripped wiring made contact with the metal casing when the laborer pulled on the box. Since the laborer had both hands on the casing, his body made a circuit. The current held him onto the casing for five seconds before kicking him off.

When the laborer told the foreman what happened and that he didn’t feel good, the foreman laughed. “So you are telling me that you’re a dumbass and that you shocked yourself,” he said. He refused to let the laborer seek medical treatment. Finally, an hour later, a carpenter demanded the laborer be sent to the factory medical center. Factory medical sent him to the local hospital. The project superintendent ran down to the hospital, assuring the injured worker that it was a “freak accident” and “nobody’s fault.”

After the incident, we were forced to attend mandatory safety meetings. The general contractor and representatives from the aerospace company assured us they were going to get to the bottom of this. At first they acted as if people were going to be fired. As it became clear that the foreman was at fault, they decided to be lenient this time and not fire anyone. It came out later that the foreman had suggested a meeting involving only management and that the laborer should be fired for “incompetence.” In the end, the contractor and the aerospace company set up a safety liaison. The person chosen to fill that position was none other than the foreman who had almost gotten the laborer killed.

This was not the first problem we have had with this foreman. He was involved in the racist firing of a black worker just one month prior.

I’ve had a lot of great conversations with my fellow workers about the nature of management and how workplace safety is a joke. When a product can be potentially damaged safety is important, but when a lowly worker is at risk safety is ignored.

Aerospace is important if the bosses want to get serious about competing with the Chinese and Russian war machines. As the push for the “re-industrialization” of America grows stronger, increased fascism at work and in working-class neighborhoods once again reminds us that the bosses need us a lot more than we need them. Hopefully, this incident will help me turn my present-day CHALLENGE sales into a bigger network.

Tagged ,

South Africa Miners’ Strike Exposes Nationalist/Capitalist Rulers

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, Dec. 4 — Over 40,000 striking South African miners marched here today against hazardous working conditions, adding to pressures on the industry in a country where a miner dies nearly every day. The world’s leading producers of gold and platinum are among mines hit by the one-day walkout called by the 270,000-member National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The workers marched on the Chamber of Mines, the industry employers’ organization that includes the leading companies — AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Anglo Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.

In October, around 3,000 miners at Elandsrand were trapped almost a mile underground for more than 24 hours when the lift cage’s power cable was damaged. They were eventually rescued unharmed. Agence France-Presse quoted Thembisile Marrent, a miner at the Kloof goldmine in Mpumalnga province, saying, “We’re dying in mines but get nothing. We want change, we want to work safe. When you get accidents the boss [says] it was ‘bad luck.’ If the mistake is yours, they charge you [with disciplinary offenses] even though you’re in the hospital.” The miners carried placards with slogans including, “Mine safety is a human right,” and “Blood-dripped profit is the bosses’ luxury.”

South Africa’s mines are among the world’s deepest and most labor-intensive. But since the end of the apartheid regime working conditions still haven’t improved too much under African National Congress (ANC) rule. Mining produces 7% of the country’s gross domestic product and is the highest foreign exchange source here. The high price of precious metals has seen mine company profits soar through the roof, but the workers see little of it. As a matter of fact, the mine bosses are demanding even more productivity from the miners.

Unfortunately, the NUM leadership won’t challenge the ANC government. In fact, the NUM is a leading union in the COSATU union federation, which is part of the ANC coalition government currently led by President Mbeki. The South African “Communist” Party is also a key member of the government and a leading force in the trade union movement. But these sellouts have joined the side of the class enemy. Instead of breaking with all these capitalists, the “C”P and union hacks helped millionaire boss Jacob Zumia — then the country’s deputy president — survive a 2005 corruption scandal. Zumia is now in a dogfight with President Mbeki for control of the ANC and of the government.

In the 1990’s, when the imperialists and big capitalists (like the Anglo-American Mining Corp.) felt they needed to derail the growing revolutionary anti-apartheid anger of workers and youth, they decided to dump the old apartheid racist rulers and allow Nelson Mandela and the ANC to take power while continuing the oppression of capitalism and maintaining their profits.

South Africa’s militant working class, the continent’s most powerful proletariat, needs new leadership, one based on revolutionary communist politics and no alliance with any capitalist or nationalist politician. That’s the only real road to liberation from the yoke of capitalism and racism.

Tagged , ,

Italy Strike Shows Workers Can Shut Down Any Capitalist Country

ROME, ITALY — The massive transportation strike that shut down most of this country on Nov. 30 again shows the power of the working class. It was the first strike in 25 years uniting all transportation workers. Ninety percent of public transport was closed in Rome, Turin, Bologna and other cities. Flights were cancelled in the main airports. No trains were running anywhere. Even funeral hearses were halted. Sea transport between Sicily, Sardinia and the rest of Italy was blocked. These actions occurred amid mass strikes by railroad machinists in Germany and rail workers throughout France, including Paris bus and Metro workers. Unfortunately, the nationalism and reformism of the union leaderships in all three countries prevented a united internationalist strike.

Conservative rulers like Sarkozy (France), Merkel (Germany) and “center-left” Prodi in Italy are enacting massive cutbacks in workers’ wages and pension benefits and privatizing the transport systems.
In Italy itself, the law bars transport strikes during rush hours and limits these walkouts to eight hours, and they can’t strike for weeks after any previous 8-hour strike.

But the hacks of the leading transport unions are too tied to capitalism to break that ban. These mis-leaders fear workers might wildcat, as rank-and-filers did in the winter of 2003-04. The union hacks in all industries here are trying to divert the anger of the workers with these limited walkouts, while simultaneously signing on to the government’s social reform and budget law instituting major cutbacks in services and jobs.

Workers must break with the union leadership and link their struggles to other actions, like the massive Dec. 15 protest scheduled for Vicencia. It will oppose the plan to enlarge the U.S. military base there, used for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Workers must also join the fight against racism suffered by immigrant workers through the Security Law, which is being used to deport 5,000 immigrants for “crimes” like begging and washing car windows. The 150,000-strong Nov. 24 march in Rome saying no to violence against women rejected this racist law. It is being justified by the recent murder of an Italian woman by a Rumanian immigrant, but as the marchers pointed out, Italian men influenced by capitalist ideas perpetrate most of the violence against women.

The massive transport strikes throughout Europe belie the post-modernist dream that “there is no more working class.” Workers are demonstrating that they still have the power to shut down any capitalist country. They now need to turn those struggles into schools for communism, to forge a red leadership that can unite all workers against their common enemy: capitalism.

Tagged , ,

Revolutionary Struggle, Not Chavez’s ‘Business Socialism,’ Will Win Workers’ Power

“Without a revolutionary Party, there can be no revolution.” – V.I. Lenin

The narrow December 2 loss for the Constitutional Reform referendum in Venezuela is a clear example of the above idea. The Chávez government’s plan to impose its “21st Century Bolivarian Socialism” in a bureaucratic top-to-bottom manner suffered a major political setback even though it lost by only 50.3% to 49.7%. The right-wing anti-Chávez forces only gained some 200,000 votes over the 2006 presidential election total. In 2006, 7.3 million voted to re-elect Chávez; this time approximately 4.3 million voted for his constitutional reform.

The Empire Strikes Back

There are many reasons for this decreased support for Chávez’s program. The right-wing waged a very aggressive campaign, financed by big money from both local anti-Chávez bosses as well as from the U.S. The Washington Post (12/3) reported that the anti-Reform movement was funded in no small part by the U.S. government. The Post cited U.S. documents obtained by National Security Archive researcher Jeremy Bigwood that revealed at least $216,000 was funneled through the Office of Transition Initiatives, a secret branch of the U.S. Agency for International Development, erected in Caracas in the wake of the failed April 2002 anti-Chávez coup.

As CHALLENGE has stated many times, Chávez represents a nationalist populist trend in Latin America which, under the guise of anti-imperialism, seeks a better deal from U.S. imperialism’s rivals, like China, Russia and even India. The U.S. bosses and their local allies have been fighting for their interests, using blatant anti-communism (they claim the constitutional reform would turn Chávez into a “red dictator” who would take babies away from their parents, and other lies). Coincidentally, Chávez proved to be a better “bourgeois democrat” than the right-wing opposition in accepting the December 2 loss. If the right-wing had lost, they would have raised hell. Of course, U.S. apologists never mention the many

U.S.-backed overthrows of elected leaders in Chile, Guatemala and elsewhere.

But the biggest cause of the loss was the Chavista movement’s internal weaknesses. Firstly, it isn’t really a revolutionary movement. The Chávez government attacked workers who actually fought their bosses like at Maracay (bathroom appliances) who tried to stop the closing of their plant. Chávez’s “land reform” has been limited to some unused land, without really touching big landowners. In the last few years, some 200 farmworkers have been killed fighting these landlords.

Chávez’s “anti-imperialism” has exploited Venezuela’s new oil supplies via “mixed enterprises” incorporating big foreign oil companies. While talking about “revolution” and “socialism,” his government limited itself to a few small reforms for poor workers, including medical services using some 20,000 Cuban doctors. But meanwhile poverty overall has risen. Chavista bureaucrats and bosses have enriched themselves and big companies have increased prices, squeezing any wage hikes for workers. The government did little to counter the lack of milk and other basic staples caused by hoarding bosses.

Former guerrilla leader Douglas Bravo, a left-wing critic of Chávez, exclaimed: “How can you pretend to build a 21st century socialism enriching a bourgeoisie that came about with this government through oil income…or not taking into consideration workers, poor people in the countryside, indigenous people and giving power to agro-business and rich Chavistas?” (El Mundo, Caracas, 12/3)

That’s why so many workers and their allies abstained from voting December 2. Meanwhile, the pro-U.S. right-wing forces will try to take advantage of their victory in continuing to try to topple the Chávez government through a military coup. (General Baduel, who until recently was Chávez’s Minister of Defense, and who joined the anti-Chávez forces just before the referendum, is their man for this.)

But the right-wing is not united. It represents many different bourgeois forces, included disenchanted former Chavistas. The Chávez camp will also try to regroup, building its bureaucratic Unified Socialist Party to push for its “businessmen’s socialism,” using workers and their allies as cannon fodder.

The real missing ingredient here is a revolutionary communist (not “businessmen’s socialist”) leadership to fight for the real liberation of workers from capitalism and imperialism. This liberation won’t come through electoral referendum, but through revolutionary class struggle. This is a crucial task since the dogfight between the pro-Chávez and pro-U.S. forces will sharpen and workers will wind up losing unless they break with all forms of capitalism, whether the Chavista type or the pro-U.S. type.

Tagged , , ,

Bosses Keep Their Profits Safe, Not Workers

“Hey did you see Gustavo’s finger?” a worker asked me.

“Yeah that thing looked sick; the health and safety rules are a joke around here.” I replied.

“I know, I think they (the Environmental Health and Safety people) are just here so they can keep OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) off the bosses’ backs.”

We were talking about our co-worker who almost lost his finger because the safety guards on our machines had been disabled and the machine turned causing two hydraulic jaws to close on his hand while he was trying to clear a jam. Of course, the bosses tried to blame our co-worker for having his hand in the machine but as machinists we have to do that sometimes. The bosses knew in advance that the guards had been disabled but did nothing to prevent this injury.

The correct solution would have been to turn the machine off and call maintenance to fix the problem but because the competition in the aerospace industry is so fierce, the bosses are cutting costs everywhere while pushing for more production. The result is workers working long hours and not getting adequate rest. This combined with the bosses not keeping an adequate maintenance department creates dangerous conditions for us as workers; conditions that we must confront together.

The bottom line is that the bosses don’t care how many people get hurt or sick because of their long hours and dangerous machines. Their main objective is to out-produce their rivals at the cheapest cost possible. Almost anyone I talk to on the floor understands this but they don’t see that there is a way to change this rotten profit system. The key will be to win these workers to communist politics and help them understand that the U.S. bosses are competing with other imperialists around the world to maintain their system. The Iraq war is further putting U.S. capitalism in crisis and more wars are on the horizon. The imperialists know this and are pushing more racism and nationalism so workers will pay for these wars with their labor and lives.

CHALLENGE will play an essential role in developing workers’ understanding of capitalism and inter-imperialist rivalry. Within a relatively short period of time I have been able to start a network of CHALLENGE readers who are interested in learning more about how they and the Party can build a movement to end capitalism and build a world based on workers’ interests. One of these friends said that at first he was a bit nervous because he had never seen a group like PLP with so many different “races” having a discussion but that after he saw how we are all equal regardless of color he felt much more comfortable and encouraged to come again.

We understand that it is a long road ahead of us but with the help of students, teachers soldiers and workers inside the factories working towards the same goal, these small networks can grow to be large networks and study-action groups. They can lead struggles against the bosses and recruit more workers committed to ending capitalism, and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat led by our Party.

Worker from the Southwest United States

Tagged ,

Spitzer’s Licensing ‘Gift’ Really Nazi ‘Yellow Star’

In October, New York’s liberal democratic governor, Eliot Spitzer, proposed allowing undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses. The “immigrant rights” movement pushed the idea that Spitzer was taking a bold, pro-immigrant stance.

Spitzer’s plan was developed not out of concern that undocumented workers need to be able to drive to and from work legally, and to get car insurance, but rather “as a way of bringing a hidden population into the open.” This fits with “homeland security” concerns consistently pushed by the Democrats. Some right-wing flunkies of the ruling class favor licensing undocumented workers. Colonel Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney and West Point professor, figures this plan would address the problem of “hundreds of thousands of people run[ning] around the country without any oversight when there’s a war going on.” (NYT, 10/9/07)

But even that sham was too much for the openly anti-immigrant racists. Many upstate New York county clerks indicated that if the plan was enacted, they would simply disobey it. Within weeks, Spitzer held a meeting and then a joint press conference with Michael Chertoff, the head of the fascist Office of Homeland Security, and announced that New York would agree to a three-tiered driver’s license program. That plan would have given undocumented immigrants a license which could not be used to travel across borders or to fly, and would have left them open targets, easily identifiable by cops and immigration agents.

Spitzer’s apartheid licensing system would have led undocumented workers into the eagerly waiting arms of immigration agents (ICE) just as surely as the yellow stars on their clothes led Jews to the waiting arms of the Nazis. However, Lou Dobbs, CNN’s ranting racist, and his fellow media apologists for the ruling class, continued their vitriolic campaign, viewing even this plan as a “gift” to these workers. Within days, Spitzer announced that he was withdrawing the entire proposal.

Unfortunately, many workers still believe that liberal Democrats will look after their interests and protect them from the ravages of the gutter racists. Each of Spitzer’s proposals, however, shows the error of that belief. The liberals simply have a different way of building fascism. They know that the wider wars of the future require winning immigrants to patriotism, while maintaining a level of terror to keep workers in line. That is why they keep Dobbs & the Minuteman racists around, and allow them to build their movement.

Liberal Democrats are no more the friends of the working class than are the gutter racists. Today, we fight against all forms of racism and fascism, and for the international unity of the working class. Once our struggle is won, members of the working class will not have to carry an identification card to prove our entitlement to the fruits of our labor.

Tagged , , ,

PL History: Red-baiting, ROAR’s Rampage Can’t Stop Boston’s Anti-Racists

(Last issue’s article about the anti-racist struggle in Boston during the summer of 1975 recounted the battle of Carson Beach. PLP and the International Committee Against Racism (INCAR) once again successfully battled the segregationist thugs in ROAR and defeated a trap set by Boston’s cops, liberal politicians, the NAACP and an unholy alliance of nationalists and Trotskyists.)

The day after Carson Beach, rebellions erupted in several sections of Boston. Black workers and working-class youth, who had had their fill of racism and police terror, fought the cops with every weapon at their disposal. The cops responded by running amok in ghetto projects, breaking indiscriminately into homes and unleashing trained killer dogs on elderly people and children.

The rebellions were somewhat tainted with nationalism. A few black youths stoned cars carrying white passengers or otherwise attacked white people. Given the racist atrocities that had occurred every day in Boston for years, the absence until recently of a mass campaign against them and the rulers’ encouragement of nationalism, this mistake was not surprising. The bosses’ media portrayed the rebellion as “black mobs out to kill whitey.”

Meanwhile, ROAR escalated its fascist violence, conducting ferocious gang assaults against black workers several nights in a row. As usual, no ROAR members were arrested.

Some of the most serious physical and political attacks against BOSTON 75 took place during the week after the Carson Beach fight. The day after the beach incident, a small group of INCAR members were leaving a television studio interview, when about 40 ROAR thugs attacked with clubs and other weapons, including a machete. The thugs were led by Warren Zaniboni, a “South Boston Marshal,” whom Ted Kennedy would later dignify with an invitation to discuss busing. The anti-racists fought back valiantly. They made good their escape onto a city bus with the help of the white driver, who slammed the door in the fascists’ face and drove away. The INCAR members went to Boston City Hospital for treatment. While they were in the emergency room, the cops showed up with the ROAR goons and arrested the anti-racists for “assault with a dangerous weapon.”

Seeing that the combination of ROAR’s terror tactics and their own state power had still not succeeded in crushing the anti-racists, Boston’s rulers launched a political red-baiting campaign. Suffolk County District Attorney Byrne claimed that the violence at Carson Beach had been caused by “outside agitators,” who had come to Boston to start “racial disorders.” He named INCAR and PLP and said that 18 “special prosecutors” would work 24 hours a day to produce indictments in the case. Deputy Police Supt. John Doyle told the newspapers that INCAR members had thrown the first rocks at Carson Beach.

The lies went on and on.

However, the red-baiting proved a complete fiasco. The task force of “special prosecutors” vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, without producing a single prosecution. Boston’s workers didn’t fall for the red-baiting. The organized fascist forces failed to grow during the weeks after Carson Beach. Meanwhile, thousands of people throughout greater Boston continued to sign the INCAR petition.

BOSTON 75’s last major action was a demonstration planned for August 18th, when the volunteers intended to present INCAR’s petition, signed by 35,000 people, to a regularly-scheduled City Council meeting. CHALLENGE readers will remember that several Boston City Councilors proudly flaunted their ROAR membership.

Weeks earlier, INCAR had obtained a permit to march to City Hall. However, Mayor White and the cops had one more trick up their sleeves. Late on Friday afternoon, August 15th, three cops came to the INCAR office with a letter from the Traffic Commissioner revoking the permit for the Monday march. He offered no reason. The rulers obviously thought that this timing would prevent INCAR from organizing against the ban. The press announced that the march would not take place.

As usual, the bosses and their media mouthpieces had underestimated the resourcefulness and commitment of INCAR and PLP.

(Next: The August 18 march; INCAR and PLP prepare to demonstrate in South Boston on the first day of school.)

Tagged , , ,

USSR, The First Workers’ State — How It Was Won, and Lost

When the Russian Revolution, and the Civil War that followed it, ended in 1921, the new workers’ state was in a state of exhaustion: largely destroyed, several million of its citizens killed, with a raging famine. Millions of homeless people wandered the land, and starvation was rampant. The worldwide typhus epidemic of 1919 had killed tens of thousands.

Seven years of war and invasion by Imperial Germany, then Poland, and all the Allied countries, including the U,S., Britain, France, and Japan, had created a culture of violence. Crime — robbery, murder, gangs — was everywhere. Armed bands from Poland raided border areas, robbed, raped, and killed, then fled back across the border. Industry and agriculture were almost at a standstill.

The Bolsheviks’ task was to build socialism/communism with the traumatized people in this devastated country. They had no blueprint, for it had never been done. No communist theorist — neither Marx and Engels, nor Lenin, nor any other — had ever thought the first workers’ state would look anything like this.

In the 1920s, the Bolsheviks debated the best course of action to build the new society. All socialists/communists believed that communism could only come in as an industrialized country. The party leadership knew that the advanced capitalist countries would attack the USSR as soon as possible. Their position — that the USSR could and must quickly industrialize by itself — won over the vast majority of rank-and-file Bolsheviks.1

Led by Stalin the mainly working-class Bolshevik Party took the country on to a great “leap into the unknown.” By the mid-30s, collectivization was almost complete, and the USSR was becoming a major industrial power. Nothing like this had ever been accomplished before in world history!

During the 1930s Oppositionist leaders conspired to overthrow Stalin and the Party leadership. Some also conspired with German and Japanese fascists. The leadership found out about these plots and tried and executed the guilty. But two successive heads of the political police were involved in these plots too. The second, Nikolai Ezhov, had his men arrest, torture, and murder hundreds of thousands of innocent Soviet citizens and Party members to cover up his own plot, and to sow dissatisfaction. This too was eventually uncovered, but not until huge damage had been done.2

Workers’ power was thought guaranteed as long as the communist party was in charge. In fact, capitalist ideas and practices turned the Bolshevik Party into its opposite. At Stalin’s death in March 1953 the communist movement appeared stronger than ever. Yet within three years the new head of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, had pushed the country towards capitalism, while attacking Stalin as a monstrous murderer and egomaniac. How could this happen?

All other socialists and communists along with the Soviet leadership believed there had to be an intermediate stage called “socialism” between capitalism and real communism. It would preserve many capitalist features: wage inequalities, inequalities between countryside and city; between workers and managers, the uneducated and the educated, nationalisms of various kinds, and so on. In industry, science, technology, art and literature, it meant preserving many capitalist ways of doing things, though with pro-worker reforms.

No human undertaking can ever be free of error, and the Bolsheviks made lots of mistakes. The basic reason is: They were the first! Never before had a communist movement seized and held power, then tried to build socialism/communism in any country, much less one that was unindustrialized to begin with and, moreover, hugely destroyed by World War, a Civil War, foreign invasion, epidemic and famine.

The Bolsheviks then led the Soviet Union to victory in World War II. After losing over 20 million lives and the destruction of the country’s infrastructure in the war, the USSR rebuilt in record time. The socialist USSR built nuclear weapons through the political commitment of its scientists.

The history of the USSR is an invaluable “textbook” for all workers! We must study the Soviet experience (and that of the other great 20th century communist revolution, the Chinese) to learn essential lessons about what Lenin, Stalin and the Bolsheviks did right, and what they did wrong, so we can do it right next time and win a communist world!

Stalin and the cult

A related error was the “cult of the great man,” usually called “cult of personality.” As the 1930s progressed both supporters and secret opponents of the Soviet government took every chance to praise Stalin to the skies as basically infallible. Supporters did this because of the undeniable and immense successes of collectivization and industrialization. Opponents did it to cloak their own conspiracies.

Privately as well as publicly Stalin always disapproved of this “cult.” But he did not succeed in stopping it. The “cult” made it possible for those who had been won over to the essentially capitalist line evolving within Soviet “socialism” to hide their real disagreements with the goal of communism -— a goal Stalin himself never stopped aiming for.

The “cult” also created an atmosphere of blind obedience within devoted communists and working people. If the “great man” has all the answers, why think for yourself? PLP has firmly rejected any “cults” of leaders or anybody else.

Footnotes:

1 The plan was:
• Collectivize agriculture, so the collective farms could give up all their surplus to fund the industrialization drive;
• Build whole cities of industry over night, making the huge investments of industrializing a gigantic country within a few years instead of the decades it had taken the capitalist countries;
• Mechanize the new collective farms with tractors and farm equipment, making them even more productive;
• Build a large modern army with advanced weapons, able to defeat the armies of the capitalist countries that he knew would attack, probably soon;
• delay the attack as long as possible through diplomacy, trying to play off the capitalist countries against one another.
2 For one version of these events see Grover Furr, “Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform (two parts) at http://clogic.eserver.org/2005/2005.html

Tagged , , ,
%d bloggers like this: