written with Will
The Johnson-Forest Tendency (JFT) has been at the foundation of our project here at Gathering Forces. The theoretical contributions JFT made to the worldwide working class movement place them in the traditions of Left-libertarian socialism, libertarian Marxism, and a broader anti-authoritarianism.
With the Left and Marxist tradition in the US historically dominated by tendencies that formulated a socialism ‘from above’ – namely, Stalinism, Social Democracy, and variants of Trotskyism – JFT has played a pivotal role challenging these traditions by restoring the notion that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself to the center of Marxism.
The method and conclusions of the Johnson-Forest Tendency contextually emerged from their break with Trotskyism in regards to Trotsky’s failure to understand the state-capitalist nature of Russia. The document State Capitalism & World Revolution (SCWR) is a statement of this break, and attempts to clarify some of the fundamental questions facing revolutionaries at the time. Is Russian “Communism” what socialism/ the new society actually looks like? What is Stalinism: a revolutionary force or counter-revolution? What is the unique feature of the modern bureaucracy under capitalism?
These are just some of the key questions this work tries to get at. Looking around the world and the left, these questions are still with us today.
Lots of militants roll their eyes when discussions over Russia begin. After all, James is known for demanding the Americanization of Bolshevism and here we are talking about Russia! Considering everything going on in the world and the hundreds of other books a militant could read right now, why look at SCWR?
Although it is over fifty years old, it was a profound advance on Marxist theory and still relevant for militants today. In many ways many of the questions the book raises have yet to be surpassed in terms of the development of capitalism and the revolutionary Left’s response to the dilemma’s facing oppressed people.
The following are questions raised in the first 5 chapters of SCWR:
- What is Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism? Where does Trotsky think the Stalinists will end up? What does he think the Stalinist relationship to the bourgeoisie is?
- What is JFT’s analysis of Stalinism? According to JFT what is Stalinism’s relationship to private property and to the Russian “Communist” state? According to JFT what are the implications of Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism?
- What do they mean by “the fundamental antagonism of society was the contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the social relations of production”? Why can only worker self-management of production solve this fundamental contradiction of capitalism?
- What is the difference in understanding crisis and Russian “Communism” when using falling rate of profit in contrast to the under consumption argument? (10) What are the implications of the under consumptionist argument? (13)
- If capitalism can plan, then does under consumption disappear, does crisis disappear, does the falling rate of profit disappear? Can capitalism plan completely? Can capitalism’s plan negate working class resistance or the falling rate of profit?
- What is JFT trying to say about bureaucracy? What is the bureaucracies’ relationship to capital and to workers? What is significant about the sentence, “The bureaucracy inevitably must substitute the struggle over consumption, higher wages, pensions, education ,etc., for a struggle in production” (41). What does it mean to say that bureaucracy is an organic outgrowth of capitalist development and working class resistance? What is JFT trying to do when comparing the mode of labor in Russia and the mode of labor in the United States?
- What is JFT’s critique of Trotskyism in relationship to the plan and the bureaucracy? Why is this important when one is attempting to destroy the bureaucracy and struggle for direct democracy?