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Copyright © 2005 by New International. Reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by the Militant.
BY JACK BARNES
This issue of New International opens with Their Transformation and Ours, a resolution prepared in the last several months by a commission of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee. It is based on political reports and summaries I gave in November 2004 that were discussed and adopted by an expanded meeting of the SWP National Committee in which leaders of Communist Leagues in a number of countries, including Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom, participated.
The resolution has been submitted to the partys membership for discussion, leading to a vote at a convention scheduled for June 2005. Centered on several decisive points of world politics, it has been drafted to be read and discussed together withas an integral component of Capitalisms Long Hot Winter Has Begun, the political report adopted by the partys 2002 convention and the central article in this issue of New International.
Their Transformation and Ours analyzes the sharpening interimperialist conflicts fueled both by the opening stages of a world depression and by the most far-reaching shift in Washingtons military policy and organization since its preparations in the late 1930s to transform the nearly decade-long war in Asia and the European war of 1939-41 into a world war. Class-struggle-minded workers and farmers must facefullythis historic turning point for imperialism (and cataclysmic crisis for the West and Christendom). And draw satisfaction and enjoyment from being in their face as we chart a revolutionary course to confront it.
The resolution weighs the importance of the beginning political transformation of militant workers who, impelled by these momentous changes, are taking the lead to reach for, organize, and use union power. As the social consequences of capitalist crises grow, as inevitable political conflicts sharpen between and within classes, and as probes to restrict political and democratic rights used by working people increase, these vanguard militants will join with other workers to resist accelerated employing-class assaults in the plants and the political arena, at home and abroad.
As an appendix to Capitalisms Long Hot Winter Has Begun we are running two reports debated and approved by the Third Congress of the Communist International, held in Moscow in 1921, which I referred to several times in the 2002 convention report. Included here are A Very Unstable Equilibrium: Report on the Tactics of the Russian Communist Party by V.I. Lenin, and The World Economic Crisis and the Tasks of Communists by Leon Trotsky. These merit a few introductory comments.
Acting confidently, responsibly
In preparing the partys 2002 convention, the SWP National Committee recognized that we were addressing a special challenge: Not only how to orient the party to act in face of the long, hot winter world capitalism has now entered, but how to lead it to act confidently and responsibly. When enough indications accumulate that the direction of capitalist development, and thus the class struggle, has shifted, communist workers must act on that knowledge, and act now. We do so even when concrete manifestations of the unfolding political logicaccelerating financial and economic crises, increased militarization, spreading wars, intensifying interimperialist conflicts, and increasing social and economic pressures on a growing majority of the working classare still visible only in partial, scattered, and partly disguised ways.
Once we understand the algebra, we need to act before its possible to do all the arithmetic. If, before acting, we wait until we can substitute constants for most political variables, it will be too late. In the midst of these changing conditions, we will have squandered opportunities to act as part of a small but recognizable emerging working-class resistance, to join with others in affecting its outcome and politicizing its militants, to learn from the experiences, and to transform the revolutionary workers movement in the process.
Valuable political tools
What tools do worker-bolsheviks have at hand to better understand and act on todays shifting long-run trends and the consequences for communist strategy and party building? It was with that question in mind at the 2002 convention that we called to delegates attention the reports by Lenin and Trotsky to the 1921 Comintern congress. Those reports ended up sparking considerable interest both during and after the SWP convention, and the editors decided it would be useful to include them here.
The Bolshevik leaders analysis was developed in the heat of revolutionary activity, applying what they had internalized from studying similar, earlier efforts by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founding leaders of the modern communist movement, to apply the materialist dialectic to turning points in history. Mastering this historical materialist method is necessary if we are to orient ourselves politically to such shifts.
A revolutionary proletarian party not only organizes its own members and supporters to act on the evidence of such changes and their logic; it takes responsibility for encouraging other class-struggle-minded, fighting workers and farmers to do the same. Militants won to this perspective may occasionally overreach what the relationship of class forces allows. Such mistakes will be made. But we remain convinced by 150 years of revolutionary working-class history that the costs of political indecision and delay are far more dangerous and difficult to correct.
Two different turning points
Extracting lessons from Lenin and Trotskys analysis in the reports printed here is made more complex by the fact that the turning point vanguard workers act on today bears little resemblance to the concrete historical period more than eighty years ago during which the Bolsheviks were inspiring, educating, and leading millions in class combat. The Communist International, organized in 1919, was a product of the most exhilarating event of the twentieth century: the victorious conquest of power by the Bolshevik-led workers and peasants of Russia in October 1917, and the extension of this power to large parts of the tsarist empire in Europe and Asia to become the first union of soviet socialist republics.
Working people worldwide were drawn to the possibility of learning from and emulating a living proletarian revolution and its leadership, which had shown for the first time ever how to educate and organize workers, peasants, soldiers, and sailors to conquerand defendworkers power.
In March 1918, just four months after the conquest of power, the Bolsheviks proudly took the name Communist. In doing so, they were signaling their unequivocal break with all elements of the world socialist movement that, with the guns of August, either had politically gone over to imperialism, or had vacillated in face of the Second Internationals capitulatory course. They were redoubling their intransigent opposition to these socialists who had ceased subordinating their lives and work to advancing the proletarian struggle. They were underscoring the fact that the toilers of the expanding union of soviet socialist republics were reknitting continuity with the revolutionary proletarian world movement that Marx, Engels, and their comrades not only from Germany but from France, Belgium, Switzerland, and the United Kingdomhad begun building at the London convention that in 1847 voted to issue the Manifesto of the Communist Party.
A new kind of movement
The Bolsheviks were taking a name synonymous with being in the front ranks of the proletariatamong the most advanced and resolute section, in the words of the Manifestoin its march toward power, toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. They were proclaiming a new kind of movement, one in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered by this or that would-be universal reformer, but on clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. Communism merely expresses, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.
Insofar as it is a theory, Engels had explained a year earlier, communism is the theoretical expression of the position of the proletariat in [the class] struggle and the theoretical summation of the conditions for the liberation of the proletariat.
Between 1918 and 1920 revolutionary or prerevolutionary situations erupted in Germany, Hungary, and Italy, and mighty battles were fought by workers and farmers in Britain, France, Japan, the United States, and elsewhere. As the Cominterns Third Congress opened in June 1921, workers and peasants in Soviet Russia and worldwide were still celebrating the Red Armys recent crushing of the counterrevolutionary, landlord-capitalist armies that had waged a brutal three-year civil war to turn back the revolution. Invading forces from fourteen countries, including France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other imperialist powers, had also been repelled.
In the wake of World War I, capitalism had entered a period of prolonged and profound depression, Trotsky told the 1921 Communist International congress. The roots of that convulsion, he added, could have been seen as far back as 1913, the eve of the interimperialist slaughter in which 8.5 million soldiers died, another 21.2 million were wounded, and factories, livestock, and railroads across Europe were decimated.
As it turned out, despite ebbs and flows, neither that social and economic crisis, nor the wave of revolutionary opportunities impelled by the Bolshevik victory, were to run their course for another twenty years: a period marked by the triumph of fascism in Italy; the Great Depression of the 1930s; a murderous political counterrevolution in the Soviet Union; the victory and bloody consolidation of National Socialism in Germany; and, most importantly, renewed opportunities for the socialist revolutionthat is, prerevolutionary and revolutionary situations in Europe and Asiathat were exhausted only with the defeat of the Spanish revolution in 1939, making the simmering imperialist world war inevitable.
The concrete character of the historic turning point today, analyzed in Capitalisms Long Hot Winter Has Begun, is very different from that of 1921. As is the world relationship of class forces. One difference is the international political standing of communism among workers, farmers, youth, and others. In the years following the October Revolution, the political respect the Bolshevik leadership had earned, and the confidence millions of workers worldwide had in it, became a powerful objective factor in the international class struggle.
Today, more than three-quarters of a century later, broad mass political attraction to communism among militant working people and youth hasfor the moment been exhausted. At best, communism is seen as a perhaps heroic and historically interesting, although bypassed, movement. At times it is put forward by academic Marxists in eviscerated form, its revolutionary working-class heartthe inevitable march toward state powercut out. At worst, it is identified with the Stalinist counterfeit of Marxism and all the counterrevolutionary, political crimes against and betrayals of the working class and peasantryand communistscommitted in its name around the world.
The political course and communist continuity hammered out by the Comintern in Lenins time, however, are revolutionary and working-class to the core. The reports by Lenin and Trotsky printed here are among the finest examples of the materialist dialectic used as a guide to revolutionary action by working-class leaders. Our job is to learn from and apply Lenin and Trotskys living, practical example of how Marxists approach the interrelationship between deep-going economic and financial trends in international capitalism, shifts in long-term patterns of imperialist politics and the worldwide class struggle, and sea changes in working-class resistance. Our responsibilityand opportunityis to act accordingly, in response to todays trends, and build revolutionary proletarian parties as part of a world communist movement.
Using these tools enables us to shape Their Transformation and Ours as a complement to Capitalisms Long Hot Winter Has Begun, to affirm the central political conclusion they share, and to act on its implications for the organization and activity of proletarian revolutionists today:
We find ourselves in the very opening stages of what will be decades of economic, financial, and social convulsions and class battles . Like most other workers, communists participating in this convention must internalize the fact that this worldthe likes of which none of us have known before in our political livesis not only the world that must be faced today, but the one we will be living and fighting in for some time. By acting on this reality today, we will not be caught short politically as wars erupt, deeper social crises explode, pogroms are organized and attempted, and union conflicts become life-and-death battles. The proletarian party that exists tomorrow can only grow out of the proletarian party we put together today.
During the final preparations of this issue, New International editor Mary-Alice Waters has been in Cubain Havana, Matanzas, and Cienfuegoscovering the annual international book fair there, preparing future publications, and participating in book presentations in each of these cities.
In Havana Waters spoke at an event celebrating the recent release of Somos herederos de las revoluciones del mundo, Pathfinder Presss Spanish translation of We Are Heirs of the Worlds Revolutions by Thomas Sankara, the central leader of the revolution in the West African country of Burkina Faso between 1983 and 1987. Also presented at that meeting was Nueva Internacional no. 7, the Spanish-language translation of New International no. 13, featuring the report Our Politics Start with the World.
Association of Combatants meetings
The Matanzas and Cienfuegos gatherings were sponsored by the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolutionthe Combatientesan organization spanning multiple generations of Cubans who have fought, wherever and however needed, to make and defend the first socialist revolution in the Americas. The meetings presented nearly a dozen Pathfinder titles, all of which were completed with collaboration from leaders of the Combatientes. These titles range from Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Ernesto Che Guevara to Pombo: a Man of Ches guerrilla by Harry Villegas, from Playa Girón/Bay of Pigs: Washingtons First Military Defeat in the Americas by Fidel Castro and José Ramón Fernández to From the Escambray to the Congo by Víctor Dreke, Aldabonazo by Armando Hart, and numerous others.
Steve Clark, the managing editor, in addition to overseeing much of the final work on the magazine, has traveled to Tampa, Atlanta, Newark, and San Francisco. There he worked with the leadership of the almost 200-person worldwide volunteer team of revolutionists who organize the formatting, proofreading, and numerous other steps necessary to produce and print not only New International, Nueva Internacional, and Nouvelle Internationale, but books and pamphlets published by Pathfinder, as well as the shipping and handling of orders and efforts to get these titles onto bookstore and library shelves around the globe. In Newark and Tampa Clark spoke at regional socialist conferences to prepare an international meeting in New York at the end of March to politically launch the campaign to get these two new issues, in English and Spanish, into the hands of working people and youth worldwide.
Changing type size
As a result, I took responsibility for drafting In This Issue, which is the final, nail-in-the-coffin piece for each issue of the magazine. In reviewing and editing several formatted articles over the last two months, I had become increasingly convinced that the pages were irritatingly hard to read. The type was too small. There was too little space between the lines. They attracted you too little and made you strain too much. I was assured the pages would look better, that the type would be more readable in the printed magazine. That was not the case. So, taking advantage of the accidental and temporary editorial powers I held, I instituted an increase in the type sizein the readabilityof each of the two new issues of the magazine in both languages. The editor had already insisted that the ads be reworked to better complement, not compete with, the text, photos, and political content.
These seem to me political questions, class questions, not solely a matter of style or appearance, let alone taste. Every issue of New International contains political and theoretical articles that are challenging to read and absorb, regardless of age or eyesight. Most of us are not used to doing this kind of reading. Its not easy. It takes hard, concentrated work. Were not trained to do it. For most of our waking hours, were not asked or expected to do it. The truth is, under capitalism, were not supposed to do it.
Education: a class institution
Were supposed to go to work, do our job, produce a profit for a boss, and not disturb the placidity of the homeland. Thats the long and short of it. Education is a class institution aimed at instilling obedience, on the job and off, not educating for a lifetime, not teaching us how to read and writeor to think as the makers of history we can be. Even if at one point in our lives we did learn to read in this way, over time we lose that capacity if we dont keep using it. Simple exhaustion, or temporary illness, increases the difficulty. But the need for each of us to do so does not recede under these circumstances.
Ease of reading is connected to the effective political selection and presentation of photographs. Over the past ten to fifteen years, the communist movement has made substantial progress in preparing photo sections that visually walk readers through the books we produce: Weve improved our use of the universal language, as its put in Capitalisms Long Hot Winter Has Begun. Readability is of a piece with the care we take in preparing ads. Its the reason we never excuse bad printing (the first limited, digital printing of New International no. 13 was terrible). Were we to accept this, the rigor of our copyediting, proofreading, and other crafts we are proud of would slide too. Everything each of us strives to do well, individually and collectively, in every book we produce is to the same end: to get rid of obstacles to having fighting workers and farmers, and young people attracted to their struggles, read and consider the politics, and together use those books to help change ourselves as we change the world.
Readability: a political question
James P. Cannon, a longtime central leader of the communist movement in the United States going back to its founding in 1919, taught me something about the class question of readability almost forty years ago when I was a recently graduated young socialist and a newly elected member of the leadership of the SWP. I was in Los Angeles on a speaking and organizational tour, and Jim invited me to stop by to talk politics. Shortly beforehand, the editor of one of our publications had decreased the type size in order to squeeze in a little more copy, and, among other things, Jim expressed his opinion that the type was now too smallway too small. And the periodical was thus also unattractive.
Like all the self-taught, pioneer worker-bolsheviks who founded the communist movement in North America, Jim was a voracious reader all his life. He asked me if I had any idea how many people in the United States alone had vision problems that made reading an extra effort. This was above and beyond the big majority who need glasses by middle age. I didnt and was surprised when Jim reeled off the figures his secretarial staff had gathered and checked. Even four decades ago, the number was in the many, many millions.
That fact alone would settle the question for any class-conscious worker. Even more, however, English is not the first language of many in our classnot only in recent decades, but at the time Jim Cannon joined the socialist movement at the opening of the twentieth century. Reading and studying theoretical material in your second or third language is always even more challenging.
Same standards in Pathfinder books
For all these reasons, beginning with New International 12 and 13 and Nueva Internacional 6 and 7, all being launched in early 2005, the type is substantially larger. As earlier issues come up for reprint, each will be reformatted in this larger type size. Im confident Pathfinders editors will initiate a review of the books and pamphlets it publishes, as well, and henceforth organize to meet the same standards in every book and pamphlet, new and reprint, that comes off the press.
And theres a good chance that if readers think these considerations have merit and bring them to the attention of the worker-bolsheviks who edit other revolutionary publications, comparable progress can and will be made on those fronts too.
February 25, 2005
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