Tag Archives: Johnson-Forest Tendency

Questions of Form, Reform and National Liberation in State Capitalism & World Revolution

written with Will

Chapter IX of SC&WR addresses the issues of Tito and Yugoslavia.  In many ways the question of Yugoslavia could be seen as the last straw for the Johnson-Forest Tendency.  Yet again orthodox Trotskyists and the Fourth International fetishized nationalized property and described Tito’s Yugoslavia as breaking Left from Stalin’s Russia without asking that central question:  was the working class self-governing?

Along with China, Yugoslavia posed other challenges to the common conception of Marxism for that time.  Like other exercises in national liberation, Yugoslavia raised questions about the role of the peasantry, the material limitations of national liberation without world revolution, and the dynamic class tensions within national liberation movements.

Hopefully the following prompts can help us think through some of these issues.

  • How do they describe the mode of labor in Yugoslavia? (86)  How did this compare to Stalin’s Russia?
  • What was Tito’s People’s Front, and what role does the Johnson-Forest Tendency argue it played in relation to class tensions?
  • Tito and the Communist Party Yugoslavia (CPY) established a method of emboldening the bureaucracy that could be described as a process of upward mobility;  “in its crisis it sought to strengthen the state authority by new recruitments from those who have shown readiness in the factory to exceed the norms in production.” (92)  The notion of meritocracy is a common conception today of what an egalitarian society should look like.  How have we encountered and challenged these sentiments in our own organizing?
  • The Titoist bureaucracy, through a process of criticism and self-criticism, argues for “decentralization.” (93)  The demand for decentralization is still common in progressive/Left circles today.  Is this enough?  Does decentralization have any role in defining the new society?
  • The example of Yugoslavia is posed as similar to other experiences of national liberation.  What was the relationship of the CPY bureaucracy to the Yugoslavian working class when it opposed the Kremlin? (96)  How does the class nature of the Titoist bureaucracy explain its relationship to both the US and Russian empires? (94-95)  How has the problem of socialism in one country been manifest in the historical failures of other national liberation movements – socialist, nationalist, or otherwise?
  • JFT describes the CPY bureaucracy as “concretely nationalist and abstractly internationalist,” what does this mean? (97) How has the Trotskyist tradition understood the nature and process of national liberation?  Is it necessarily a bourgeois revolution?  Are there alternative conceptions of national liberation movements, and why are they necessary?

State Capitalism and the Break with Trotskyism

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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)
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?

Don Hamerquist on Lenin and Leninism

Continuing on the Lenin and organization tip, we are linking to an essay by Don Hamerquist that jumps into this much needed reassessment of Lenin and the question of revolutionary organization for our times. This is followed by several responses that take up different aspects of the essay.

I’ll be posting up some thoughts on Hamerquist’s essay later this week.

Don Hamerquist: Lenin, Leninism and some leftovers

Tom Wetzl: Reply to Hamerquist

What in the Hell blog: Responding to Hamerquist on Leninism

Noel Ignatiev: CLR James on the Marxist organization

Dave Renney: Scattered thoughts on the Leninist party and Don’s paper

Lenin and Revolutionary Organization

by Will

Vladimir Lenin.  This name for most radicals, militants, and progressives has largely become irrelevant.  The problems, issues, and experiences of Lenin are considered to be part of another historical era in another country.  Sometimes the differences are even expressed in racial terms in that white folks did that worker’s revolution stuff while people of color can’t because they do not have the privilege or do not struggle that way.

I believe that the dilemma of Lenin still remains with oppressed people and pocs today not only in Russia, but across the world.   It does not matter if you are a woman, Latin@, Muslim, or Queer; the themes which occur in Lenin’s life have to be taken up.  Just like every oppressed group can learn from the life of Malcolm on the importance of standing up for yourself and your people, for being strong, unapologetic, etc., so can every oppressed group learn certain things from Lenin.  I know this is not popular to say considering the dominance of identity politics and privilege in the American Left.  But the path to liberation is not a straight and linear line.

While I am not a Leninist, there are a lot of things I have learned from him.  This post tries to summarize some of the basics of what can be taken away from Lenin’s experiences building revolutionary organization—a project I am committed to.

Continue reading Lenin and Revolutionary Organization

Loren Goldner on CLR James and Revolutionary Organization

by Will

 

2352918199_2acbb8cd22_mOne of the purposes of this blog is to discuss revolutionary organization.  This phrase, conception, and type of organization have become very unpopular amongst American radicals and progressives today.  What was once seen as a viable alternative for hundreds of thousands of people has now become a flickering candle in the wind.  Why is this the case?  While this post will not go into the history of how this has happened, this post hopes to engage this question on the terms of how the Johnson-Forest Tendency rethought this question in light of the new political realities of the post-WWII era.  They advanced new ways of thinking about organization, politics, and revolution, that can contribute much to new discussions today that are going on and need to continue. At the same time, their advance had some profound weaknesses as well which Goldner discusses.  While these weaknesses are very real, it still leaves the question of what alternatives there are if the vanguard party is dead and at the same time Facing Reality’s proposition of organization has failed as well.

I am posting two pieces by Loren Goldner. The first is a basic overview of the tendency. It will help contextualize the period they were in, provide a little autobiographical information on the authors, and in more broader terms explain what they were trying to do.

http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/johnson.html

The second piece is Loren Goldner’s re-reading of Facing Reality.  Goldner is attempting to look at this work, which was a product of a unique moment in capitalism.  I have broken down Loren Goldner’s essay into key points with occasional commentary.  Each of these points can be further explored in our discussion in the upcoming days.

http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/james.html

Here are some introductory thoughts:

1. Facing Reality has workerist excesses at times.  LG defines it as “The book focuses almost exclusively (with the exception of Hungary) on workers’ struggles and power on the shop floor, and is therefore (rightly) open to the charge of workerism, an excessive point-of-production focus, with elements that seem at times almost syndicalist.”  This is one of the reasons why James could not explain why such powerful shop floor self-activity did not result in revolution and how the neo-liberal offensive broke its back.

Continue reading Loren Goldner on CLR James and Revolutionary Organization