The Left is Left Behind

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explaining a phenomena and excusing it are two different kettle of fish. 


Ken Burch

clandestiny wrote:

I think we betray our own when we allow the demonization of Stalin to go on

Stalin is NOT "our own".  Stalin's brutality and repression, even allowing for the tactics used towards the USSR by the West, was an absolute betrayal of the sacred ideals of socialism-ideals which include the right NOT to live in fear.

There was NEVER a justification for any of the purges.

There was NEVER a justification for suppressing all dissent and debate within the Party.

There was NEVER a justification for the destruction of the independent Lefts with the USSR.

There was NEVER a justification for the abandonment of Spain to Franco.

There was NEVER a justification for the killing of the poets and the reduction of the role of the creative worker to crude propagandist.

There was NEVER a justification for the insistence, after the war, that the Eastern European states be just as repressive as the USSR, or for having the Red Army troops stationed in those places treat the local populations as the enemy, rather than simply the Western capitalists.  Those states should have been into socialist paradises, with fully democratic decision-making and open borders so that the ordinary people of The West could see how glorious genuine socialism could be.  This policy would have done far more to protect the USSR from another invasion than having ten million troops stationed there for twenty million years.


Yes, defensive measures were needed to protect Mother Russia from Western Invasion.  And yes, Operation Gladio did have nefarious intent(we can assume that none of the types of the government "The West" wanted to impose on the USSR and what came to be known as the Warsaw Pact countries would have been an improvement for the Soviet and East European peoples.

But that does not excuse Stalin's decision to make the USSR, a state in which the dreams of tens, possibly hundreds of millions, of people around the world resided, into a bigoted, repressive, militarist state, a state in which defending the state was the only rationale for the existence of the state.

If you assume that it does, you assume that there was no way for socialism or communism to have survived on their merits as systems or ideolgies.  That such systems could never have been made enticing enough to hold the VOLUNTARY allegiance of large sections of the global population.

Sorry, but I just can't accept that. 

The USSR COULD have survived and defended itself from outside attack without becoming a complete mockery of its founding ideals.  Even if repression had been needed in the run-up to the war, all of that could have been lifted after VE Day.  The people of Europe venerated the Soviet Union at that point for saving them from Hitler, and would have stood as a bloc to prevent the West from invading it again.

The ideals of the Bolshevik Revolution still have merit and deserve to live.  Stalin never needed to discard all of them.

Little of what Stalin did(other than what he achieved on the battlefield in the Great Patriotic War, which was impressive)should be emulated by the Left today.  Especially given even sounding as if we are doing to dooms us to marginalization and irrelevance.

The test any leader faces is...can he or she stay in power without being a monster?  Stalin failed that test....and it's not clear if he ever had any interest in passing it.

We don't need Stalins.  Or Maos.  I'm not even sure we need Ches(although I'm wearing a Che t-shirt as I write this-a souvenir from a trip to Derry).  We need OURSELVES and the capacity to struggle, fight, dream, love and remain human.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

One thing that does need to be said - and perhaps this is what clandestiny was getting at - is that a self-flagellation over Stalinism is not a requirement for passing the "legitimate" leftist test. If this was so, then everyone who supports capitalism should self-flagellate over Hitler, Mussolini, Pinochet, and all the other lesser capitalist tyrants and shit-bags to pass the "legitimate" rightist test.


PS - Ive started a new thread. See Part 2, etc

By the way, for those who complained that the link didn't work, I've added a link to Finn's article on the Part 2 thread.


Ken Burch

I wasn't saying we should flagellate ourselves about Stalinism-rather, that we simply need to make clear that it's an approach that the Left will never use again.

That's not really asking that much.

Jacob Richter

KenS wrote:
They looked like refs at the bottom of text- ie, for looking further. And there are two links to two differenet authors, but what looks to be one block of text.

I get what you're asking.  "And whats the link or ref for what Jacob just posted?" It's my work, actually, and PM me if you're interested in the whole stack. The Google Books links link to the cover pages of both books, not to the pages where the quotes can be found. Naturally, you can Google the texts I've quoted and Google will give you the appropriate Google Books page search result.

Jacob Richter

N.Beltov wrote:
Finn deals with what a Marxist might call "false consciousness" and his piece is more about political leadership than political economy. Or were you critiquing the participants in this thread only, and not Finn himself?

Crises of Various Types of Consciousness: Revisiting False Consciousness and Ideology

"The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the [...] intelligentsia; modern socialism arises among individual members of this stratum and then is communicated by them to proletarians who stand out due to their intellectual development, and these then bring it into the class struggle of the proletariat where conditions allow." (Karl Kautsky)

One of the "scandalous passages" in What Is To Be Done? dealt with the subject of consciousness or awareness from a sociological perspective.  The historian Lars Lih has shown that the controversy was in the emphasis and not the passage as a whole.  The proper emphasis is not in the glorification of the intelligentsia, but in those educated proletarians (such as this author at the time of writing) who bring revolutionary theory into the class struggle of the proletariat.  More importantly, the class movement referred to in Kautsky's words is by no means the class as a whole!

In my earlier work, I gave a contemporary answer to how the "vehicle of science" has changed:

1) Only those workers who, under initial conditions (the relative absence of open class struggle), support radical or revolutionary change due to their education are capable of "spontaneously" leaving behind underclass or petit-bourgeois false consciousness.  All others ("the proletarian masses"), according to Kautsky, "still vegetate, helpless and hopeless" through having little free time or through being unemployed.
2) Since both bourgeois and petit-bourgeois intellectuals are ancient relics, the "spontaneous" development and proliferation of specifically revolutionary class consciousness is left to the modern equivalent and even more: professional and some clerical workers, as well as those in the "class of flux."
3) When the process of introducing specifically revolutionary class consciousness to the proletarian masses and even radicalized workers begins, it is done most effectively (since there are less effective means) when the organized vanguard acts "not as ordinary workers, but as socialist theoreticians."

This third point is "profoundly true and important," because modern "vanguard" circles today act as "ordinary workers" in trying to spread specifically revolutionary class consciousness.  This is the main reason why they have been ineffective!

However, because of the third point, the genuine class separation that existed between the non-proletarian intellectuals and the proletarian masses has been replaced by an artificial "theory gulf" between different groups of proletarians, so to speak.  Socialist theoreticians, especially those without direct experience in either the immediate worker struggles or the open class struggle later on, can overcome this gulf by connecting their dynamic-materialist knowledge with the material conditions of the proletarian masses as a whole, thereby finding real expression of the newfound knowledge.

What I said above addresses in fact two types of consciousness, one of which pertains to "the struggle for socialism."  For anti-economist reasons explained below, in the next chapter, and in the Appendix B commentary on the forgotten story of syndicalism, the two types of consciousness should be addressed separately.

In her book Rebuilding the Left, Marta Harnecker did note another aspect of confusion on the question of consciousness:

I find it difficult to argue against these statements that history has confirmed.  I think the problem arises when we identify socialist consciousness with class consciousness.


I find it necessary, therefore, to distinguish three levels of consciousness in the working class:

Spontaneous or naive consciousness is consciousness necessarily deformed by the effects of the ruling ideology, and most of Althusser's reflections on ideology as deformed knowledge of reality are applicable to this type of consciousness.  It is typical, as Sanchez Vazquez says, of a class society in the past, when the working class knew only of economic class practice.

Class consciousness - the very existence of which implies a distancing from bourgeois ideology - is no longer a factor of cohesion for the dominant system but one of antagonism and is not necessarily deformed.  This is the consciousness acquired when the class struggle takes on a political dimension, but this consciousness is still not socialist, in as far as it represents resistance to the situation of exploitation rather than a proposal for an alternative to do away with it.

Enlightened class consciousness or socialist consciousness is that class consciousness enlightened by Marxist science.


To conclude, I think that it is correct to say that socialism, as scientific theory, cannot arise solely from the practice of the labour movement but needs to be imported from without.  On the other hand, I think that the acquisition of class consciousness is indeed linked to social practice, to the class struggle.

But is this separate definition of class consciousness correct?  It is simply too broad, ranging from "resistance to the situation of exploitation" to "distancing from bourgeois ideology."  In fact, "resistance to the situation of exploitation" can be and has been interpreted in a way that counters the premise that every class struggle is a political struggle, and one such way can be found in the forgotten story of syndicalism.

Suggested below are at least four different types of consciousness, and how they relate to the class movement and even to the class as a whole:

1) Naïve consciousness is the more proper term to use than spontaneous consciousness, since spontaneity already spans across all kinds of consciousness.  Here one can find the usual labour struggles around wages, hours, and conditions.  One can also find populist rhetoric from economic populism of the lowest common denominator (pertaining to tax-and-spend politics, subsidies, business regulations, monetary policy, and international trade) up to the point of outright demagoguery, all based on underclass or petit-bourgeois false consciousness.  So-called "identity politics" based on race, gender, etc. and "Green politics" based on countering pollution can be found here, as well.  Overall, the "social-democratic" or "social justice" interpretation of "class consciousness" prevails here, and this naïve consciousness emerges from the class as a whole, with no class movement involved.
2) So-called "socialist consciousness," or the consciousness pertaining to "the struggle for socialism," is at the furthest end apart from naïve consciousness, and as mentioned above, is something that can emerge from inside the class but is also something that originates outside any class movement.  It should be noted that "outside the class as a whole" means coming from sources like tenured professors with subordinate research staff - the former being coordinator intellectuals, once the elite of the old petit-bourgeois intelligentsia, and not proletarians.
3) Political consciousness is something identified mainly in discussions on the lack thereof.  For example, today's deficit of political consciousness or awareness is one of a few obstacles preventing ordinary people from being more politically active beyond marching every few years to that woefully limited political venue that is the ballot box.  Even then, there is more talk about the voter cynicism towards all electoral parties that has been translated into ever-ineffective abstentions, thus threatening the legitimacy of the entire bourgeois "liberal-democratic" project.  In some cases political consciousness can be identified in discussions on clear signs, such as communal politics in Venezuela or voter awareness of numerous national issues in Bolivia.  In extreme cases, political consciousness is the type of consciousness referred to by the anarchist likes of Michael Bakunin when they are obsessed with provoking mass action by any means necessary.  Almost like with "socialist consciousness," political consciousness generally comes from outside any class movement but not necessarily the class as a whole.
4) Full class consciousness or revolutionary class consciousness stems from political consciousness, since every class struggle is a political struggle, and is defined in the goals of "proletarian parties" mentioned in the Communist Manifesto, especially the third goal: the transformation of the working class in itself into a class for itself, the establishment of working-class hegemony at the expense of bourgeois hegemony, and the implementation of minimum programs like the one in the next chapter - whereby individual demands could easily be implemented without eliminating the bourgeois state order, but whereby full implementation would mean that the working class will have expropriated ruling-class political power in policymaking, legislation, execution-administration, and other areas.  Because the first type of consciousness contains the aims of so-called "bourgeois workers parties" that lay claim to "Labour" or "Social-Democratic" or even "Democratic Socialist" labels, no such parties aspire towards the goals that mark full or revolutionary class consciousness, no matter how distinct this is from "socialist consciousness."  Organized expression of this form of consciousness is precisely a genuine worker-class movement, where "worker-class" is used instead of "working-class" to emphasize the merger of worker demographics and class issues!




Lenin Rediscovered: What Is To Be Done? In Context by Lars Lih [[url=[/url]]">]http:/...

Rebuilding the Left by Marta Harnecker [[url=[/url]]">]http:/...


The debate between socialism and capitalism is far from over. In fact the battle of ideas is intensifying. International agencies, including the United Nations, the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Health Organization and reports from NGO's, UNESCO and independent experts and regional and national economic experts provide hard evidence to discuss the merits of capitalism and socialism.

Comparisons between countries and regions before and after the advent of capitalism in Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Europe as well as a comparison of Cuba and the ex-communist countries provide us with an adequate basis to draw some definitive conclusions. Fifteen years of "transition to capitalism" is more than adequate time to judge the performance and impact of capitalist politicians, privatizations, free market policies and other restoration measures on the economy, society and general welfare of the population.

Economic Performance: Growth, Employment and Poverty

Under communism the economic decisions and property were national and publicly owned. Over the past 15 years of the transition to capitalism almost all basic industries, energy, mining, communications, infrastructure and wholesale trade industries have been taken over by European and US multi-national corporations and by mafia billionaires or they have been shut down. This has led to massive unemployment and temporary employment, relative stagnation, vast out-migration and the de-capitalization of the economy via illegal transfers, money laundering and pillage of resources.

In Poland, the former Gdansk Shipyard, point of origin of the Solidarity Trade Union, is closed and now a museum piece. Over 20% of the labor force is officially unemployed (Financial Times, Feb. 21/22, 2004) and has been for the better part of the decade. Another 30% is "employed" in marginal, low paid jobs (prostitution, contraband, drugs, flea markets, street venders and the underground economy). In Bulgaria, Rumania, Latvia, and East Germany similar or worse conditions prevail: The average real per capita growth over the past 15 years is far below the preceding 15 years under communism (especially if we include the benefits of health care, education, subsidized housing and pensions). Moreover economic inequalities have grown geometrically with 1% of the top income bracket controlling 80% of private assets and more than 50% of income while poverty levels exceed 50% or even higher. In the former USSR, especially south-central Asian republics like Armenia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan, living standards have fallen by 80%, almost one fourth of the population has out-migrated or become destitute and industries, public treasuries and energy sources have been pillaged. The scientific, health and educational systems have been all but destroyed. In Armenia, the number of scientific researchers declined from 20,000 in 1990 to 5,000 in 1995, and continues on a downward slide (National Geographic, March 2004). From being a center of Soviet high technology, Armenia today is a country run by criminal gangs in which most people live without central heat and electricity.

In Russia the pillage was even worse and the economic decline was if anything more severe. By the mid 1990's, over 50% of the population (and even more outside of Moscow and St. Peterburg - formerly Leningrad) lived in poverty, homelessness increased and universal comprehensive health and education services collapsed. Never in peace-time modern history has a country fallen so quickly and profoundly as is the case of capitalist Russia. The economy was "privatized" - that is, it was taken over by Russian gangsters led by the eight billionaire oligarchs who shipped over $200 billion dollars out of the country, mainly to banks in New York, Tel Aviv, London and Switzerland. Murder and terror was the chosen weapon of "economic competitiveness" as every sector of the economy and science was decimated and most highly trained world class scientists were starved of resources, basic facilities and income. The principal beneficiaries were former Soviet bureaucrats, mafia bosses, US and Israeli banks, European land speculators, US empire-builders, militarists and multinational corporations. Presidents Bush (father) and Clinton provided the political and economic backing to the Gorbachov and Yeltsin regimes which oversaw the pillage of Russia, aided and abetted by the European Union and Israel. The result of massive pillage, unemployment and the subsequent poverty and desperation was a huge increase in suicide, psychological disorders, alcoholism, drug addiction and diseases rarely seen in Soviet times. Life expectancy among Russian males fell from 64 years in the last year of socialism to 58 years in 2003 ( Wall Street Journal, 2/4/2004), below the level of Bangladesh and 16 years below Cuba's 74 years (Cuban National Statistics 2002). The transition to capitalism in Russia alone led to over 15 million premature deaths (deaths which would not have occurred if life expectancy rates had remained at the levels under socialism). These socially induced deaths under emerging capitalism are comparable to the worst period of the purges of the 1930's. Demographic experts predict Russia's population will decline by 30% over the next decades (WSJ Feb 4, 2004).

The worst consequences of Western supported "transition" to capitalism are still to come over the next few years. The introduction of capitalism has totally undermined the system of public health, leading to an explosion of deadly but previously well-controlled infectious diseases. The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) published a comprehensive empirical report which found that in Eastern Europe and Central Asia..."infection levels are growing faster than anywhere else, more than 1.5 million people in the region are infected today (2004) compared to 30,000 in 1995" (and less than 10,000 in the socialist period). The infection rates are even higher in the Russian Federation, where the rate of increase in HIV infection among young people who came of age under the Western-backed 'capitalist' regimes between 1998-2004 is among the highest in the world.

A big contributor to the AIDS epidemic are the criminal gangs of Russia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Baltic countries, who trade in heroin and each year deliver over 200,000 'sex-slaves' to brothels throughout the world. The violent Albanian mafia operating out of the newly "liberated" Kosova controls a significant part of the heroin trade and trafficking in sex-slaves throughout Western Europe and North America. Huge amounts of heroin produced by the US allied war lords of "liberated" Afghanistan pass through the mini-states of former Yugoslavia flooding Western European countries. The newly 'emancipated' Russian Jewish mafia oligarchs have a major stake in the trafficking of drugs, illegal arms, women and girls bound for the sex- industry and in money-laundering throughout the US, Europe and Canada (Robert Friedman, Red Mafiya ,2000). Mafia billionaires have bought and sold practically all major electoral politicians and political parties in the self-styled "Eastern democracies", always in informal or formal alliance with US and European intelligence services.

Economic and social indicators conclusively document that "real existing capitalism" is substantially worse than the full employment, moderate growth, welfare states that existed during the previous socialist period. On personal grounds -in terms of public and private security of life, employment, retirement, and savings -the socialist system represented a far safer place to live than the gang-controlled capitalist societies that replaced them. Politically, the communist states were far more responsive to the social demands of workers, provided some limits on income inequalities, and, while accommodating Russian foreign policies interests, diversified, industrialized and owned all the major sectors of the economy. Under capitalism, the electoral politicians of the ex-communist states sold, at bargain prices, all major industries to foreign or local monopolies, fostering monstrous inequalities and ignore worker health and employment interests. With regard to ownership of the mass media, the state monopoly has been replaced by foreign or domestic monopolies with the same homogenous effects. There is little question that an objective analysis of comparative data between 15 years of capitalist 'transition' and the previous 15 years of socialism, the socialist period is superior on almost all quality of life indicators.

Let us turn now to compare Cuban socialism to the newly emerging capitalist countries of Russia, Easter Europe and south-central Asia.

Cuban socialism was badly hit by the turn to capitalism in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Industrial production and trade fell by 60% and the daily caloric intake of individual Cubans fell by half. Nevertheless infant mortality in Cuba continued to decline from 11per 1000 live births in 1989 to 6 in 2003 (comparing favorably to the U.S.). While Russia spends only 3.8% of its GNP on public healthcare and 1.5% on private care, the Cubans spend 16.7%. While life expectancy among males declined to 58 years in capitalist Russia, it rose to 74 years in socialist Cuba. While unemployment rose to 21% in capitalist Poland, it declined to 3% in Cuba. While drugs and criminal gangs are rampant among the emerging capitalist countries, Cuba has initiated educational and training programs for unemployed youth, paying them salaries to learn a skill and providing job placement. Cuba's continued scientific advances in biotechnology and medicine are world-class while the scientific infrastructure of the former communist countries has collapsed and their scientists have emigrated or are without resources. Cuba retains its political and economic independence while the emerging capitalist countries have become military clients of the US, providing mercenaries to service the US empire in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast to Eastern Europeans working as mercenary soldiers for the US in the Third World, 14,000 Cuban medical workers serve some of the poorest regions in Latin America and Africa in cooperation with various national governments that have requested their skills. There are more than 500 Cuban medical workers in Haiti. In Cuba, most industries are national and public with enclaves of private markets and joint ventures with foreign capital. In ex-communist countries, almost all basics industries are foreign-owned, as are most of the mass media and "culture industries". While Cuba retains a social safety net for basic foodstuff, housing, health, education and sports, in the emerging capitalist countries the "market" excludes substantial sectors of the unemployed and underpaid from access to many of those goods and services.

Comparative data on economy and society demonstrate that "reformed socialism" in Cuba has greatly surpassed the performance of the emerging capitalist countries of Eastern Europe and Russia, not to speak of Central Asia. Even with the negative fall-out from the crisis of the early 1990's, and the growing tourist sector, Cuba's moral and cultural climate is far healthier than any and all of the corrupt mafia- ridden electoral regimes with their complicity in drugs, sex slavery and subordination to U.S. empire building. Equally important while AIDS infects millions in Eastern Europe and Russia, Cuba has the best preventive and most humane treatment facilities in the world for dealing with HIV. Free anti-viral drugs, humane cost-free treatment and well-organized, extensive public health programs and health education explains why Cuba has the lowest incidence of HIV in the developing world despite the presence of small-scale prostitution related to tourism and low incomes.

The debate over the superiority of socialism and capitalism continues because what has replaced socialism after the collapse of the USSR is far worse on every significant indictor. The debate continues because the achievements of Cuba far surpass those of the emerging capitalist countries and because in Latin America the emerging social movements have realized changes in self-government (Zapatistas), in democratizing land ownership (MST Brazil) and natural resource control (Bolivia) which are far superior to anything US imperialism and local capitalism has to offer.

The emerging socialism is a new configuration which combines the welfare state of the past, the humane social programs and security measure of Cuba and the self-government experiments of the EZLN and MST. Wish us well!



These socially induced deaths under emerging capitalism are comparable to the worst period of the purges of the 1930's. Demographic experts predict Russia's population will decline by 30% over the next decades (WSJ Feb 4, 2004).

A list of Petra articles can be reached through rabble and in the link provided.  He gives a very good analysis of what is happening in Latin and South America as opposed to what we get in the capitalist press up here.  Little wonder we have so much difficulty attaining class consciousness when the hegemony of the capitalist class controls every aspect of ideological content in society.  What we do have to counter this if only on an intuitive level is "how is it working out for us"  Capitalism clearly does not deliver the goods especially when you look at it from a global perspective-India Mexico Haiti Pakistan India South Africa capitalist countries all. 




Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Closing for length. Please feel free to start another.


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