About donaldparkinson

Internationalist Communist involved in organizing in the Tampa area.

How the Bolshevik Revolution Inspired Americans

The Bolshevik Revolution aimed to inspire workers of all countries to unite for the creation of a world soviet republic. Workers in the United States were no exception. 

LO-Sent-Is This Tomorrow_thumb[1]

“Nowhere are all the means of political power so shamelessly purchasable as in America: administration, popular representation, courts, police and press; nowhere are they so directly dependent on the great capitalists. And nowhere is it more apparent than there that a proletariat with a Socialist conscience is the only means of saving the nation, which is falling even faster into complete servitude to the great capitalists than they are able to subjugate foreign countries.” – Karl Kautsky, 1902

Today it is hard to imagine the current neo-liberal regime going on as it has for much longer. The rise of populism from both the left and right has shown that the project to de-politicize society in favor of the rule of the market has failed. In both reactionary and progressive ways the masses are entering the stage of politics and rejecting the notion “there is no alternative”.

However, a crisis can simply mean another repeated cycle of barbarism as failed attempts to transcend capitalism are overtaken by reactionary forces, which we saw in the period from 1917-1945. While 1945 ended with a sort of class compromise, the gains that workers have been able to make have only been rolled back according to the imperatives of capitalism. The dream of social-democracy still lingers on however, as well as the dreams of regressing into a “simpler way of life” based on autonomous communes and/or small local communities. There are both right wing and left wing variants of these visions, but both ignore that that the destruction of capitalism can only result in an emancipatory society if it happens on a global scale.

Much of the left has given up on this project, its roots in the defeat of Bolshevism by Stalinism and other factors. The left has instead looked inward to the nation, looking for solutions to the problems of capitalism within the confines of the nation-state. It is of course very difficult to imagine a global communist revolution given the current popularity of nationalism (and the mere difficulty of organizing such a project), so it is no surprise that this vision for most of the left has been disregarded as utopian. Only small sects of Trotskyists and Left-communists still seem to have true internationalism at the core of their beliefs.

Yet in 1917 a section of the left didn’t take the path of least resistance, and launched a revolution that looked beyond national borders. The universalism of the Bolsheviks message was a true universalism meant for all of humanity, so it is little wonder reactionaries like Oswald Spengler saw the Bolshevik Revolution as signalling the death of “white civilization” as revolutionaries in the colonies took up the call to arms as well as in Europe. The message of global revolution resonated throughout the world, far beyond Lenin and company. It even inspired revolutionaries in the United States of America, where sociologist Werner Sombart previously claimed socialism could never get a foothold.

Of course, the Cold War historiography aims to deny this, painting Bolshevism as a sort of foreign contaminant to be rooted out of the real American nation that had no use for such ideas. Bolshevism was presented as completely alien to “real American life” with no real resonance beyond a few immigrants. The direction of this historiography (reflected in the works of Theodore Draper and Harvey Klehr) has been to paint all the activities of the Communist Parties as a sort of “foreign interference in our democratic process”, not a popular movement that attracted actual adherents. For many it could come as a surprise that Bolshevism did inspire many American workers, and it was often the experiences of workers as militants in the USA that attracted them to Bolshevism.

The experiences of John Reed as an American Bolshevik are generally well known; there are many more examples of Americans who were inspired by Bolshevism that are not. While John Reed was a famous intellectual, often forgotten are the mass actions of rank-and-file workers that were inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution, as well as the reactions of lesser known intellectuals and public figures.

While internationalist politics spread like a wildfire due to the Bolshevik Revolution, many American workers already had their own experiences of organizing on internationalist grounds in the syndicalist IWW. The IWW aspired to be One Big Union that would unite all workers regardless of race or gender and was directly influenced by syndicalist movements in France and Italy, as demonstrated by Salvatore Salerno’s Red November, Black November. Some members of the IWW even found themselves fighting alongside Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magon. The IWW had a vision of workers directly taking over production through industrial unions or syndicates formed in organized direct action against the employers. For members of the IWW, the Bolshevik Revolution’s promise of “soviet power” where workers councils would rule was linked to their own ideas of taking over production through syndicates.

The militancy and universalism of the IWW stood in stark contrast to the Socialist Party USA, which had denounced direct action and had instances of segregated locals. However the SPUSA did have a left wing, best personified by Eugene Debs who supported the IWW and intransigently opposed the First World War. By 1915 the left wing of the party formed the Socialist Propaganda League due to tensions with the reformist right. There was also Daniel DeLeon’s Socialist Labor Party, which was less of a political force but through its combination of industrial unionism and party politics attracted many radical workers. While Socialism in the USA was a divided force, there was no lack of a “vanguard” of workers who would be willing to take up the cause of the world revolution in the footsteps of the Bolsheviks.

Despite the conservatism of much of the Socialist Party, members like John Earl Haynes of the Cleveland Socialist Party issued statements of support for Bolshevik universalism. The Cleveland SP’s statement would praise “the Bolshevik effort to establish peace…without annexations and without indemnities” arguing that the alternative was the utter destruction of human civilization. The statement also pledges allegiance to the Bolshevik cause of wiping out imperialism to establish a world commonwealth without regards to nationality. This shows that almost instantly throughout the US the Bolshevik revolution resonated with certain groups in the left, many of them part of organizations whose conservatism held back the radical views of the rank-and-file. What is present is not an in depth knowledge of Bolshevik ideology and theory, but rather enthusiasm for the universalism of the cause that the revolution stood for.

Even a  preacher like Dr. John Haynes Holme could find inspiration in the October Revolution, who gave a sermon titled “Thank God For The Russian Revolution”. To reduce Holmes to a pastor would of course do disservice to his commitment to democratic freedoms: he was an early member of the NAACP (and white) as well as a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Holmes’ sermon is a Thanksgiving Day prayer that declared a hope that “The spirit of Tolstoy today is ruling Russia” and is “not a thing we can give too much thanksgiving” as the “peasants of Russia have overthrown the Czar, and with him the spirit of autocracy, war, Siberia, and oppression.” The vision set forth by Holmes is one of pacifistic Christianity that has little in common with Marxism except a sense of universal human equality. The sermon is in fact rather naive; the Bolsheviks who saw liberation through heavy industry with the peasants as a historically doomed class couldn’t be further from Tolstoy’s vision. Yet the sermon shows a very key aspect to how the revolution struck a chord in people of all backgrounds and belief systems, resonating with those all around the world to all who identified with the struggle to end exploitation and oppression. One did not have to be Marxist to identify the abolition of Czardom and call to end WWI as historic breaking points in the struggle for a more equitable and free humanity.

While many individual socialists would praise the revolution with words, others would organize specifically to support it. The first pro-Bolshevik group in the United States formed within a month of the October Revolution, the Friends of the Russian Revolution. According to Theodore Draper the organization saw prominent participation from the left-wing of the Socialist Party. The organization’s main goals were to promote a peace without annexations, which saw them lobbying senators to prevent the damage the US would do to the new workers republic in Russia. Their demands were for “friendly relations between American and Russian democracy” which included fair play in commerce with the new Russian State and for a “peace parley” under Russian leadership to develop a peace without annexations worldwide. The demand for peace, as evidenced in the aforementioned examples, seems to have been one of the calls of the Bolsheviks that most clearly resonated to an international base. The Friends of the Russian Revolution also held mass demonstrations, including one in Carnegie Hall where after they changed their name to Friends of the New Russia. While police marshalls intimidated the gathering, ultimately the meeting attracted enough supporters around the cause of recognizing Revolutionary Russia to make police repression fruitless. Future Communist Party leader James Cannon would speak, arguing that international cooperation between nations would be needed to end war, calling on the United States to accumulate no territories or tolerate such from their allies.

These initial outburst of support in the US would eventually take organizational form beyond groups lobbying the Senate for fair play. A group calling themselves Red Guards with support from the Socialist Propaganda League would combine and throw together a group of 500 volunteers called Red Guards (after the institution in Russia) and send a delegation to ask the Wilsonian War Department for permission to go fight in Russia. Of course the venture was a failure, described by Theodore Draper as “inglorious” and “pathetic.” While the actual attempt failed, it did bring Richard Fraina, an idealistic internationalist, to the forefront of the pro-Bolshevik faction of the socialist movement, who would address a mass meeting in support of the Red Guard thats workers of all nations should “refuse to fight against the revolutionary workers and peasants of Russia, whose cause is their cause” and to “sweep aside the infamous, imperialistic socialism of Schneidemann and all the social patriots, and to rally around the standard of Karl Liebneckt and Rosa Luxemburg for the social revolution.” This internationalist call showed how partisans of Bolshevism aimed to spread the view that the success of the Russian Revolution was not a mere Russian matter, but the cause of workers of all nations. While ultimately the attempt to send a division of troops to Russia failed, one wonders whether it was meant to be successful at all or to reveal the real attitude of the US government to the Russian Revolution. Either way it showed a growing support for the revolution that was expressed not just in words but in deeds.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), arguably the most radical workers organization in the USA at the time, had no lack of members who were inspired or influenced by the Bolshevik Revolution. Many pamphlets were produced and distributed by IWW members praising the revolution, particularly in Tacoma. On January 26th, 1918, the IWW paper Industrial Worker would print “The trend of events in Russia sustains the IWW contention that power of the workers lies in industry and in their unions on the economic field.” While there was a contradiction between the emphasis the Bolsheviks had regarding the centrality of the revolutionary party and the focus on pure industrial action that the IWW espoused, this did little to prevent the IWW from showing strong solidarity with the Bolshevik Revolution. A pamphlet written by Harold Lord Varney, a proletarian militant with experience as acting secretary of the IWW, would write a pamphlet called Industrial Communism which aimed to prove Bolshevism had applied the principles of the IWW in Russia, would express this contradiction. For Varney “the communist proletariat are Bolshevists in Europe….in America, they are the Industrial Workers of the World”. He makes a direct comparison between the Soviets in Russia, that aimed to represent the entire working class in a given region and the Industrial Unionism of the IWW that aimed to build “one big union of all workers”. This idea of Soviet Power is seen as uniting the IWW and Bolshevism, which Varney admits come from different traditions of struggle, with the IWW a “spontaneous product of capitalist despotism” and Bolshevism “a sprout of political Socialism” with roots in the 2nd international He continues to argue that the IWW, as opposed to other global trade unions, is a thoroughly Marxist and Communist organization at the core.  

This document is very revealing for understanding how the October Revolution and Bolshevik Party were initially understood by militant American workers. While not ignoring their differences, Industrial Communism essentially projects onto Bolshevism the ideas of the IWW, seeing Soviet Power as the essence of Bolshevism and Soviet Power as essentially the same as the IWW. For Varney the two merely differ due to national circumstances, with Bolshevism more suited for Russia while the IWW was more suited for the United States. “All power the soviets” is translated to “all power to the IWW” for Varney, showing that he is looking at the revolution through the lens of his own radical tradition, almost seeing the Bolshevik Revolution as the dream of the IWW being put into practice.

Yet for Varney, the revolution that the IWW will usher forth is different from the Bolshevik Revolution in another key way – it will develop from the IWW forming the “new society” in the shell of the old and then coming to state power through mass strikes, not needing any kind of red terror in order to govern. For Varney the Bolsheviks were forced to terror because they came to power in a country where capitalism had yet to exhaust itself, while the American IWW will not make this mistake and see that capitalism evolves into socialism as peacefully as possible. Yet Varney does not make this argument to propose some form of American exceptionalism, claiming the red terror in Russia also could have been averted by learning from the Industrial Unionism of the IWW. These differences are less important for Varney than the practical task of unity between the IWW and Revolutionary Russia:  “The Russian Bolsheviki have given to the I. W. W. the thrill of success. They have given to the I. W. W. a great historic example of tactics….as the proletariat of America rally to the IWW they build an organization which shall rise in victory beyond Bolshevism to INDUSTRIAL COMMUNISM.” While the pamphlet can’t seem to decide whether to portray the IWW as American Bolsheviks or argue for the superiority of the IWW over the Bolsheviks, the point that workers in the IWW should rally for the cause of the Russian Revolution makes it clear he sees their struggles as intertwined and in solidarity. Varney also makes it clear the Bolshevik revolution provided an impetus for militancy, providing the “thrill of success” that has made the goal of a workers society not a mere abstraction but a reality to actively fight for in the now.

Labor movement support for the Bolsheviks went beyond the radical IWW, though often pushing against conservative labor leader. The general view of Bolshevism by union bureaucrats like Samuel Gompers was negative, trying to hold back worker militancy. Gompers initial reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution was condemnation. Yet this came up against opposition from the rank and file, with delegates at the AFL convention on 1919 in Atlantic City making resolutions that called for an end to US intervention in Russia, with a delegation from Seattle claiming “The workers of Russia are endeavoring to establish in their country a government of and by the workers; and the capitalist of the world are seeking to annul their efforts.” The resolutions weren’t passed, but the AFL leadership eventually compromised with a resolution that called for the withdrawal of US “at the earliest possible moment.” On the other hand the ILGWU were able to pass resolutions that condemned the US blockade and a reestablishment with trade with Russia. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers (ACA) was even more supportive of the revolution, denouncing the American blockade and calling for solidarity with the Soviet Republic. Yet the AWC was not affiliated with the AFL and therefore not responsible to Gompers, who would criticize their position. The labor bureaucracy, as capitals last line of defense, was quick to denounce Bolshevism. However, according to Philip Foner, the rank-and-file of the AFL was supportive of the Bolshevik Revolution and campaigns to stop US intervention. Lenin himself would note that “In the United States, the strongest and youngest capitalist country, workers have tremendous sympathy with the Soviets.”

The rise of Soviet Power and Bolshevism in Russia most importantly impacted the labor movement in the Seattle General Strike. In 1919 workers in Seattle essentially attempted to take power over the city in a mass strike led by the AFL Metal Trades Council and IWW that shut down the city. The strike erupted out of a series of labor disputes that developed to the point where workers across industries agreed to strike. A strike committee composed of delegates elected from each local was put in control of the city once all major industry was shut down, a situation similar to the idea of workers councils running society. According to Jeremy Brecher, the lead up to the strike saw distribution of massive amounts of propaganda about how workers had taken power in the Bolshevik Revolution with even the more conservative members of the Seattle Labor Movement supporting the revolution and US intervention. There can be little doubt that the militancy of the strike action was spurred not only by the strike wave hitting the nation as a whole that year but also by example of the Bolshevik Revolution. One leaflet stated quite clearly that “The Russians have shown the way out,” urging workers to take full control over industry and begin establishing a socialist society. Yet the Seattle General Strike could only last for so long without a national plan to take power, something the Bolsheviks had that the Seattle strikers didn’t. Eventually the delegates elected to the strike committee in charge decided to end the strike. However without the precedent set by the Bolshevik Revolution, it is hard to imagine workers going as far as they did.


The Seattle General Strike can be seen as an attempt of American workers trying to create a version of “soviet power” in their own city. What was inspirational to workers was not so much the sophisticated Marxism of the Bolsheviks but their rhetoric of workers control and soviet power, which seemed amenable to the syndicalist ideology of the IWW. Also inspiring was the internationalism of the Bolsheviks, which told workers across the ocean that they were essentially engaged in the same struggle. This appealed to workers across political divisions who thought that the American Socialist movement was too nationalist and narrow in its concerns. The Seattle General Strike showed the militancy that American workers were capable of, yet whether they were able to organize into a force able to take state power was another question. Bolshevism, with its emphasis on the proletarian party, would provide an answer for workers who wanted the militancy of syndicalism but the benefits of party organization.

The Seattle General Strike was not the only workers revolt inspired by Soviet Power however. In 1919 Local 25 of International Lady Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) saw female insurgents organize “workers councils” like the Soviets of Russia in a rebellion against the male leadership which they deemed as conservative. This uprising was linked to a general factional conflict in the ILGWU that reached an apogee in the 1920 between communists and more conservative leaders. Local 25 was considered a “girls local” by the conservative leadership, but in the period of 1909-1919 the union saw major growth. Yet women wanted more of a voice in the union, and looked to the model of the Russian workers councils as a means to challenge this lack of democracy. In this case women workers took the ideas of “soviet power” to challenge the sexism within their union, within a male dominated labor movement that often simply cared about “pure and simple” trade unionism. The victory for women’s rights in the Bolshevik Revolution, which saw female suffrage introduced before the US, acted as inspiration for proletarian women to challenge the male dominated labor movement.

Black radicals were also driven to militancy by the Bolshevik Revolution with its call for an end to colonialism and freedom for the oppressed in all nations. Black Americans were often sidelined and ignored by the US Left, with Socialist Party locals in the South often being segregated. As noted by Mark Solomon, the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution saw independent socialist currents emerging in black Harlem such as the 21st AD Socialist Club and the Peoples Education Forum. Intellectuals such as Hubert Harrison, Cyril Briggs and Claude McKay were all inspired by both the Irish Struggle for independence and the Russian Revolution and would go on to form the African Blood Brotherhood, which “sought to draw together the themes of race patriotism, anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, and organized defense against racist assault.” The African Blood  Brotherhood would work in alliance with the early Communist Party, aiming to apply a politics that reflected the influence of Bolshevik class struggle and its broader anti-colonial call with the experiences of Black proletarians in Harlem. Claude McKay would also speak to the Comintern on the specific topic of racial oppression in the US in 1921, and was inspired by the fight in Russia against anti-semitism to link the struggle against racism with the organization of the working class. He stated that: 

“Every Negro…should make a study of Bolshevism and explain its meaning for the colored masses. It is the greatest idea afloat in the world today. 

Bolshevism has made Russia safe for the Jew…it might make these United States safe for the Negro. If the Russian idea should take hold on the white masses of the western world then the black toilers will automatically be free.” 

Like the Wobblies who applied the idea of Soviet Power to their own ideas on Industrial Unionism, groups like the African Blood Brotherhood would apply the rhetoric of international revolution and self-determination associated with the Bolsheviks to their experiences as oppressed black Americans. The African Black Brotherhood, while coming from a black nationalist background, would come to communist positions and in their manifesto call for alliances with “the class conscious white workers who have spoken out in favor of African liberation and have a willingness to back with action their expressed sentiments.”

Winning white workers, even communists, to the struggle against racism would prove no easy task. Communists in the US were not free of race prejudice, and the anti-colonial clarion call of the Bolshevik revolution would not cleanse the US communist left of its racism. In his 1921 speech to the Comintern, Claude McKay would say “the Socialists and Communists have fought very shy of it because there is a great element of prejudice among the Socialists and Communists of America. They are not willing to face the Negro question,” leaving the task to the “reformist bourgeoisie.” It would take Comintern intervention to get the US Communist Party to actively fight for civil rights rather than simply treating race as a subsidiary of the labor question. This entailed a struggle within the US labor and communist movement against white supremacy, one which would see the Communist Party eventually become a strident crusader for black rights. Ultimately the fears of white supremacists like Oswald Spengler were correct about the Bolshevik Revolution being a threat to global white supremacy.

Attempts to actually form a Communist Party aligned with the Comintern that came out of the Russian revolution would of course prove to be no easy task, and many IWW militants who were initially attracted to Bolshevism would become alienated by the bureaucracy of the Comintern who chose to work within the AFL instead of the IWW. While a functioning Communist Party would eventually form, it was not because of a lack of support from the militant working class for the mission of the Bolsheviks to spread worldwide communism. With the consolidation of a military dictatorship in the USSR, many workers probably saw the ideals of “soviet power” once embraced by the Bolsheviks as having been betrayed.  While John Reed would claim in 1918 that “Nothing is farther from the normal desires of the American Socialist party than a Revolution. It is really the refuge of almost all intelligent humble people who believe in the principles on which the American Republic was founded” events like the Seattle General Strike showed that a growing revolutionary trend inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution was picking up steam. Where the US left may have been behind the European left in radicalism, lacking a militant movement like those that existed in Germany, Italy, or Finland, a tradition of radicalism that existed in the US working class was certainly invigorated by the Bolshevik Revolution to pursue a more militant and radical course. Ultimately it was the example of Internationalism in action as pursued by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution that showed the possibilities of socialist internationalism as a possibility and not simply an empty slogan. Why revolution never broke out is another question that requires further investigation.


Statement on war with Syria

This statement reflects the general views and positions of the Communist League of Tampa. 

“Death to Imperialism!”

We, the Communist League of Tampa, resolutely oppose the recent attacks on Syria that have united the Democratic and Republican war-machine. An attack on the people of Syria is an attack on our fellow citizens of the world and must be opposed for that reason alone. US intervention has always increased civilian deaths and instability, as it will be done on the terms of the financiers and industrialists who rule our government and carve the world into spheres to plunder for financial profits. The capitalist class has decided once and for all that Trump is fit to rule the US now that he has given up his isolationist pretensions. In their sick eyes this has made him truly “presidential.” Yet Trump is merely falling in line with the needs of the ruling capitalist class, staying true to the legacy of US dominance and hegemony over less developed nations. This is of course no surprise; Trump never once represented the interests of working people.

Of course the recent attacks in Syria are not a break in US foreign policy, as intervention through proxies has been the norm for quite some time. The ideology of American exceptionalism tells the public our bombs are for democracy, giving consistent US presence in the Middle East a “humanitarian guise”. However, the very notion that one nation has an inherent right to rule another is anti-democratic at the core. While US crimes against the people of Syria are nothing new, a full on attack against Assad escalates this conflict to a new level and shows increased imperialist tensions that are against the interests of humanity.

Imperialism is inherent to the global system of capital accumulation, based on the competitiveness of firms and military rivalries of nation-states. For the sake of commerce the bourgeoisie wants to maintain a relative peace, but the permanent crisis of capitalism drives nation-states into military competitions that can explode into all out war. Capitalist overproduction has led to a lack of profitable markets, and nothing works better for businesses interests than war. This conflict is not a mere matter of politician’s decisions but a symptom of an inhumane economic system.

Therefore imperialism, a crisis of capitalism, cannot be opposed by supporting one capitalist state against another. Hence, while the main enemy is at home, we reject any position that grants Assad political support of any kind. We call for a ‘third front’ of the democratic working class to develop an opposition to the Assadist regime, US Imperialism, and reactionary Jihadists. We support any efforts that promote the development of such a front.

To make concrete action against the war we must challenge the very system that props up imperialism. Those in the armed forces should take whatever action is possible to resist the war, up to and including mutiny against officers. We also demand unconditional support and citizenship for Syrian refugees. Workers in war production should do what they can to sabotage the military industrial complex. Nationalism and militarism can only be defeated with proletarian internationalism.
No War Between Nations, No Peace Between Classes!


Communism and the national question

Communists must move beyond the same old phrase mongering and critically look at the national question. 


US imperialism must be defeated through global communist revolution for national oppression to be abolished.

The national question is one of the most controversial debates within the field of marxism. Whether one agrees with the Austro-Marxists, Kautsky and Lenin, or Bukharin and Luxemburg, it is undeniably a complex question. One could say that we need a better framework for understanding the national question in an era of decolonization of global US imperialism. In this piece I’ll attempt to sketch out an outline as to how to best approach the spectre of nationalism.

The national question refers to a series of arguments, all which generally seek to address the question: What is the best way to end the inequalities between nations? As Communists, we ultimately aim for the abolition of the nation-state in favor of a worldwide community of humanity, where the social conflicts that create national oppression have been eradicated. This is a vision that pretty much all actual communists accept. Yet the aspect of “how we get there” has often meant either making concessions to nationalism (like the Marxist-Leninists) or essentially ignoring the problem of national oppression completely as if communist revolution will make the political reality of national oppression take care of itself (various left communists).

The position I am arguing for is not going to base itself on the principle of “self-determination for nations”. While sometimes self-determination is appropriate to take up as a slogan, it entails that nations as such have an inherent right to a vague notion of self-determination. What defines a nation is a product of collectivities that are cross-class in nature, as national identities are socially constructed in a way that calls for a unity that transcends class conflict. In other words nations are bourgeois projects, and saying that they have an inherent right to self-determination (which can be defined in a way making it open to abuse) is not feasible to uphold as a principle if one wishes to do away with the bourgeois order.

This is not an argument that the revolutions of national liberation were not historically progressive and that the world wouldn’t be better without colonialism. Colonial oppression itself made proletarian organization very difficult with its attacks on democratic rights and enforced economic backwardness. While it is true that the national liberation revolutions were not proletarian movements that led to socialism of any kind, they did establish important democratic rights for many nationalities. However what resulted however was not an equality of nations, but what some have called “neo-colonialism”. I prefer to call it simple what it is, which is capitalist imperialism, based on the hegemonic military power of the USA and its allies in the world which allows it to regulate the rules of global capital to their benefit.

As long as the world is organized in a hierarchy of competing nation states where some are more powerful than others and able to dictate their interests upon weaker states through sanctions, trade deals, proxy wars, etc. there will be an inequality of nations. While many national liberation revolutionaries were aware of the problems of the the national bourgeoisie, they sought the Stalinist plan of “socialism in one country” as an answer to this problem. By existing as autarkies in the capitalist system nations could opt out and produce a system where the state “served the people”. Yet the promise of autarky can hardly live up to realities of the global imperialist system, especially after the collapse of the soviet bloc. Hence attempts at socialism in one country as a form of national liberation have been returning to market systems and cooperating with US imperialism (Cuba, China, Vietnam).

Therefore one cannot separate the problem of abolishing capitalism from the problem of abolishing the world system of nation-states. This entails going beyond the form of the nation state, which is not accomplished by national-liberation revolutions or socialism-in-one-country. We aim for the worldwide cooperative commonwealth, where all of the world’s people are able to fully flourish as individuals to the maximum capacity. This means ending the “war of all against all” that results from the competition for resources between humans, hence a central world government that can make economic and political decisions at the world level. We want a system where as much of humanity as possible is united in a common process of planning its social reproduction. Therefore it makes sense to prefer larger, centralized bodies as opposed to secession and balkanization. Continental, and then World, republics that unite as many nationalities as possible should be our aim. And of course we should build Communist Parties that prefigure this vision.

The “right to self-determination” essentially is promising something communists don’t actually want to ultimately deliver on, because our aim is not national independence but internationalist cooperation. Yet what if a national grouping, with a historic legacy of oppression from a state undergoing revolution, aims to secede from a broader socialist republic? Can they simply be invaded and annexed by the workers state?

My initial answer to this is no, as it would simply be a form of “red imperialism” where communists are complicit in furthering a historical legacy of national oppression. While some secessionist movements are clearly reactionary and should be ruthlessly crushed (like if white nationalists tried to form their own state in the Pacific Northwest) we have to deal with each movement according to its specific historical and immediate circumstances. For example, if revolution happened in the USA and Puerto Rico chose to secede, would invading the population be ok? As Communists we believe in basic republican equality – that no one group has an intrinsic right to rule over another group. Because of this we aim to destroy the world hierarchy of imperialist states and end all forms of national oppression, an action like annexing Puerto Rico would go against these basic principles. One does not need to believe in the “right to self-determination” as a principle to agree with this but simply the principle of national equality between peoples.

Yet if we do believe (like all marxists should) that class contradiction in the end will be more decisive than national antagonisms then it would expected that workers in a state seceding from a workers republic will eventually revolt against the national bourgeoisie. As Communists our job would be to aid these workers and agitate for international communism, essentially pursuing a “foreign policy” of promoting international revolution in the workers movement, arguing for class independence from the bourgeois nationalists and pushing for world-wide cooperation through communism as a solution to the problems of class society. This could go as far as arming and sending in international brigades to help workers overthrow a corrupt government, which would not be some equivalent to imperialist interventionism but an express of class solidarity beyond national borders.

To promote co-operation, Communists must recognize the democratic rights of oppressed nationalities and fight for them, for example the right to participate in civil society in your own language. We must prove that communism is not only economically superior, but also politically, that people will not lose their rights and culture if they are a part of the workers republic. While obviously this shouldn’t mean conceding any basic rights seen as universal, the historic oppression of national groups needs to be addressed in a way that doesn’t reproduce great-nation chauvinism like the Stalinist USSR.

Ultimately it will be through a process of cultural exchange that is unprecedented in history that a new world culture that whithers away nations will be developed by worldwide social revolution. Cultural exchange where all are equals in a human community that wouldn’t be tainted by xenophobia would would see a world where national distinctions become more and more irrelevant, a world without borders where humans do not own land but are ensured to have access to housing and basic needs. Communism can provide this; nationalism cannot except perhaps in undesirable forms of “barracks socialism” which have their own class distinctions. A world party, where communists of all nationalities coordinate the revolution, will act as a preparation for the kind of international cooperation needed for communism.

My aim here is not to find a one size fits all solution to the national question, but rather to provide an alternative way of thinking about national rights that does not rely on the notion of “right to self-determination” which is often simply means “the right for the bourgeois to rule”. Communists must push for class independence from nationalists of all kinds, first and foremost those of their own nation. As Karl Liebknecht said, “the main enemy is at home”. It is important to promote the notion that the workers movement in all parts of the world must pursue class independence from the national bourgeoisie and not get caught in promoting anti-imperialist fronts with various military dictators and bonapartists. Yet as revolutionaries in the USA, the main hegemon of imperialism, our primary aim is to promote the defeat and removal of US forces in all cases of intervention. We must uncompromisingly take this position, especially in an era where imperialist agendas are presented under a “humanitarian guise”. The historical track record shows US imperialism is not progressive in any way but rather contributes to the scale and deadliness of global conflicts. So even if the idea of “exporting democracy” were morally justifiable, it would fail regardless. Democracy today (the real kind that puts power in the hands of the proletariat as opposed to the liberal-constitutionalism of the US gov) can only come through the organization of the proletariat regardless of nationality.

Hopefully I have brought clarity to some of the issues at stake in the national question rather than just indulging in the same old phraseology common among marxists. The 20th Century showed the difficulties that nationalism of many varieties posed to the communist movement and the role they played in its failure. So addressing nationalism is no small task. My hope here is to spark some debate and polemic with comrades on the topic that can help us move into a more programmatic approach from the typical leftist phrase mongering and displays of moral righteousness.

Lessons of Party and Class from the Russian Revolution

What are the fundamental lessons regarding the relationship between party and class to be learned from the Russian Revolution? Is “All Power to the Soviets” a real alternative to the rule of political parties? 

In one of their recent correspondences, the ICC asked me to explained what in my views were the fundamental lessons to be learned about the relationship between party and class from the October Revolution. This is an extremely complex topic of course, not one that can simply be answered without a total historical dissection of the revolution and its outcomes. One could accuse this of just another old debate about “old dead russian men” that is not relevant, but if you ask the average person on the street in the USA if they have questions about communism usually “old dead russian men” like Lenin and Stalin come up. The October revolution also is not ancient history; it was almost 100 years ago when the Red Guards seized the Winter Palace and the Revolutionary Military Committee announced the overthrow of Kerensky’s government, putting in motion a chain reaction of events that are essentially the reason “communism” is even a household name.

Of course, there are many lessons to learn from the successes and failures of the Russian Revolution, and one of course can’t explain the failure of the revolution to produce communism with a single simple reason. The questions of geo-politics, productive forces, the peasantry, gender, national oppression and alienation all have roles to play. Why the Bolshevik seizure of power led to Stalinism is a question that must be answered with a variety of factors in mind. So to say that the failure of the Russian Revolution in the long term was due to a mistaken conception of the party in relation to the class is historically lazy. The Bolshevik’s conception of the party was not the same as it was after “War Communism” as it was before. I would argue that essentially the Bolsheviks had a correct interpretation of the party (a mass party of the working class and its allies committed to revolution). However the experience of it becoming a party for mobilizing peasants in the Russian Civil War and losing urban working class support in the course of the war created the notion of a militarized “vanguard party” where the Comintern was the “general staff” of the world revolution. What is understood to be Bolshevik forms of organization are moreso Comintern forms of organizations.

So what exactly are the lessons to learn then? “Substitutionism”, where a minority party rules in the name of the working class, was not the ideology of the Bolsheviks who came to power through mass support, not a coup. They also came to power in a whole alliance of the revolutionary left, which included the Left wing of the Social-Revolutionsts and various anarchists and dissident Mensheviks. It was not the Bolsheviks who came into power in October but the Revolutionary Military Committee. The Bolshevik’s aim was for an alliance of socialist parties to rule cooperatively  through the system of soviets. However after the concessions of Brest-Litovsk, which some Bolsheviks themselves opposed, the Left Social-Revolutionaries  began a terrorism campaign against the Bolsheviks, leaving them the only party to rule in the Soviets. (See Alexander Rabinowtich’s Bolsheviks Come to Power and Bolsheviks In Power for a historically in-depth look at these events). Rather than the dangers of “subsitutionism” being the lessons of October, I would argue the following lessons make more sense:

1. The dictatorship of the proletariat essentially takes the form of the Communist Party(ies) ruling through a commune-state.

This is a tough pill to swallow for some, who would counterpose “all power to the soviets” to this vision. However, this is based on a misunderstanding of the soviets and the reason “all power to the soviets” was a Bolshevik slogan. The Soviets of 1917 were formed by right wing Mensheviks who supported the war. Before the Soviets could be revolutionary, revolutionary parties had to win them over. The Bolsheviks would never have argued “all power to the soviets” if the Soviets were dominated by right-wing parties; it was when the majority in the Soviets supported the overthrow of the Provisional Government that the Bolsheviks used this slogan. And correctly so. Soviet rule is still a form of party rule, just mediated through radical political democracy. Workers in the organs of the new workers state will belong to political parties and factions of them, and policy will come from these various parties. The only alternative would be to ban political parties altogether, which would just mean that people would be voting for personalities rather than programmes.

The idea of Soviets ruling with a small vanguard party merely “advising” the correct path is a way to let the right-wing labor bureaucracy, which is hegemonic, take power and then restore capitalism. “All Power to the Soviets” does not answer the question of power, because ultimately a political party with a programme and mass support is needed to keep revolutionary councils or communes from becoming tools of reactionaries and reformists. The aim of a party is not to act as the holy carriers of wisdom to guide the class, but to represent the class and politically train the class to run society.

By Commune-state, I mean simply a workers republic that has the basic radical democratic features of the Paris Commune: representation through directly elected delegation, short term limits, immediate recall of reps, merging of executive and legislative branches, and general free political association. The early Soviet Republic established in October aimed to carry on many of these political principles.

2. A party must have mass support from the politically active working class to take power; otherwise revolution is not possible.

This is related to the question of soviet rule as counter-posed to party rule mentioned above. Mass support and legitimacy do matter, and communist revolutionaries need to build up institutions with legitimacy as a real alternative for rule. This means that the party must rule with some form of democratic mandate, not as a coup imposed upon the people. The Bolsheviks were able to do this with their years of building support from workers in factories and other industries, as well as their role in fighting against the despotism of czarism. Therefore when crisis did create a power vacuum, they were able to win enough support from the working class to overthrow the provisional government and form a workers state. If the party regime doesn’t have enough mass support to legitimately rule it will have to make assaults on democracy to stay in power, as demonstrated by the Bolsheviks in their retreat from soviet democracy.

3. A political regime is only as democratic as the ruling party or parties.

The loss of democracy within the Bolshevik party, with the ban on factions, was ultimately the end of the Russian Revolution that sealed the rise of Stalinism. This means mass membership based political parties where there is open debate amongst the membership and decision-making distributed to the membership. This is a general rule for political regimes of all types, but since the working class needs democracy like oxygen it must control its own parties and keep them accountable to the class at large.

In the United States, full suffrage means little when one’s choices are limited to political parties that are just fundraising machines for different factions of capital to win campaigns to stay in power. Rather than ruling parties that operate like this, we need parties where the membership develops and hold representatives accountable to a real program.

This means free discussion and debate in the revolutionary press as well. The Bolshevik Party in its heroic period (before the Russian Civil War)  was as radically democratic as possible, especially considering the repressive conditions it worked under. To quote veteran Bolshevik Vladimir Nevsky, it was a party where “Free discussion, a lively exchange of opinions, consideration not only of local, but also of all-Russian issues, an unusually lively interest in current issues, an absolutely universal participation in discussing and deciding these issues, the absence of any bureaucratic attitude to getting things done – in a word, the active participation of emphatically all members in the affairs of the organisation – were the distinctive features of our cells and committees.” We need a party which embodies this same spirit of democracy, both outside and in power.

4. The party doesn’t die, it betrays

The Bolshevik party over the course of 10 years had become an oppressor of the working class rather their champions. By the 1940s none of the old Bolsheviks except Stalin and select few of his cronies remained. The SPD, which was also at one point a heroic revolutionary party, would transform into a party that sought to manage capitalism rather than overthrow it. The party and class are different from each other, and the class-party can become a “party of order” due to its own internal dynamics.

The problem is that mass political parties require bureaucracy, or paid officials with decision-making authority. Eventually the scale of organization and activity require bureaucrats, yet these bureaucrats are essentially petty-bourgeois because of their position of control over information and authority in the party. Therefore this petty-bourgeois bureaucratic strata must be kept under the democratic rule of the working class, as they will develop class interested opposed to the rest of party and lead toward a growing conservative and opportunism. This growing conservatism due to antagonistic class interests within organizations is the cause of “betrayal.” So therefore the proletariat must not only struggle against the bosses, but also the bureaucracy in their own organizations.

Armed self-defense: the socialist way of fighting the far-right

In a period where nationalism and racism are intensifying, workers and the oppressed can learn from the tactics of Civil Rights hero Robert F. Williams.


The current era seems to be one where an impending pogrom is waiting to explode in a rise of racial violence in the name of defending a white supremacist order. Clickbait site Cracked recently put out an article arguing that a literal civil war is impending.Trump and his mass rallies implicitly pander to white identitarianism, while the “alt-right” subculture grows in the media spotlight despite how little on the ground impact it has. And of course there are right-wing militias, which are nothing new but have been on the rise over the years. The paranoid side of me does want to agree that we’re heading straight to civil war and are doomed for good. Yet one must keep to a sober analysis no matter how intense a topic may be.

Rather than a Second American Civil War, as the far-right Florida lawyer and failed libertarian senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus calls for, we are far more likely to see a form of “Jim Crow 2.0,” a regression in a sense to pre-civil right movement racial attitudes and a generalized atmosphere of anti-black violence. While directly racist laws may not be taken up, law enforcement in general and court systems could become even more corrupt than they already are and essentially turn a blind eye to or even endorse lynchings and rapes of black Americans. Jim Crow, while based in legal inequalities, was also upheld by a whole culture of violence that went unchecked by bourgeois legal institutions. Paramilitary groups like the KKK enforced their “invisible empire” of racial subjugation while local politicians proudly celebrated the racist legacy of the Confederacy.

Systematic violence through the rape and murder of countless ordinary blacks was the order of the day in Jim Crow times, and even legal landmarks like Brown vs. Board of Education didn’t abolish this culture of regularized violence. To truly end Jim Crow, a Civil Rights movement that mobilized millions of blacks was necessary. Black resistance to Jim Crow began the day Jim Crow instated, but the ability to resist was greatly limited by the severity of repression from white reactionaries. These reactionaries were embedded in the local and state governments in the South. Local governments with reactionary local politicians promoted an ideology of decentralization to fortify their power in communities against progresses made in federal government, selling a whole mythos of the Confederacy as fighting in the name of self-determination and freedom rather than slavery. And to further reinforce the Jim Crow regime, a culture of patriarchal dominance expressed in fears of race mixing became the norm of the day.

Liberals, holding to a belief that American democracy is a story of moving towards perfection through trial and error, would never imagine that racism in the US could regress to Jim Crow levels. They assume that our democratic system has evolved enough to prevent this from happening. Sure, some liberals think Trump is throwing the USA into full fascism, but the general liberal narrative of history is one of linear progress. The claims that Trump is a full fledged brownshirt are not without motivation towards fear-mongering. Yet a more dynamic understanding of history admits the regressions are possible and that there is no natural tendency for society to evolve towards universal ideals. Rather, liberal capitalism produces its own underbelly of reaction, and a return to the day where racial pogroms like the Red Summer of 1919 can occur isn’t out of the question. This is not to be alarmist, but to accept the possibility and reject liberal narratives that “society has evolved past that”.

If US society does move into a state of generalized racial violence and pogroms, this “Jim Crow 2.0” will differ in key ways. One, it would no longer be a geographic phenomenon confined the south; the entire country of the USA would be a battleground that white identitarians would contest for. The Confederate flag is flown in the North, not just the South, and many white supremacists look to the Northwest US as the location of their future ethno-state (see Northwest Imperative). It would also be a racial order that dehumanizes blacks, latinos, and Muslims as outsiders to the “white race”.

The election of Trump is not a cause but merely a symptom of the general trend towards nationalism and therefore racism in the USA (and beyond). But the rise of Trump has created a sense of panic in the left, with voluntaristic calls for direct action with no organizational basis being made so that “Trump is stopped before he’s inaugurated”. One may then say we are being glib about the problems being posed to non-whites, when rather our position on how to fight racist violence is merely the same as it was before: armed self-defense. If people really want to fight against the racial violence of modern capitalism, getting a gun and being trained is a good first step. Communist Gun Clubs, where we could learn basic skills of using weapons and armed self-defense, could become a basis for future workers militias that will fight all forms of reactionaries, whether scabs, cops, religious fundamentalists or blackshirts. But beyond this we recognize the need for racially oppressed groups to form self-defense organizations to defend their lives and democratic rights. The historical figure of Robert F. Williams was a classic example of this tactic being put into action.

Robert F. Williams would become the leader of the Mabel, NC chapter of the NAACP and organized a black militia to fight against the Klan, much to the dislike of moderates in the Civil Rights movement. Williams was a WWII veteran and shared the skills he accumulated with his fellows to fight back against the violence of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils. This was shown to have quite a high level of efficacy; by simply being armed black militias were able to scare Klansmen out of action. More working class in composition than other NAACP chapters, Williams’ chapter became controversial within the Civil Rights Movement. He butted heads with MLK himself, with Williams accusing Martin Luther King’s’ strategy of Civil Disobedience to be simply leading to the deaths of fighters for black rights.

Williams would get international attention through his involvement in the 1958 Kissing Case, where two black children below the age of ten were sentenced for sexual molestation because a white girl kissed them. The Monroe NAACP would take on this case in the courts and in the streets, organizing protests and even getting the international press involved. While the supposed criminals were pardoned because of popular pressure, Klan members sought to take the law into their own hands, burning crosses in front of their houses. Williams was able to organize self-defense militias to prevent violent reprisal, something the state could not be counted on doing.

Not easily pegged down as a political thinker by labels, Williams would form his own ideology from elements of black nationalism, marxism, and radical republicanism. He thought the idea of a separate black nation-state was a fool’s errand but also thought marxism made the mistake of putting class before race. Unimpressed with the rigid Marxism of the CPUSA, Williams did make a lasting friendship with the Trotskyist SWP who covered his activities in detail in their newspaper, The Militant.

Williams would eventually flee the USA, a “refugee of racial tyranny” in his own words (the entire story is well articulated by Williams in this interview). Falsely accused of kidnapping for attempting to protect a white couple from an angry mob, he went to Cuba who accepted him for political asylum. From Cuba he would broadcast a radio show for blacks in the south and publish a paper The Crusader but found that the Cuban government was limiting his work and was not as committed to anti-racism in deed as they were in word. He came to similar conclusions about Maoist China, where he also stayed in his years of political asylum. By 1975 Williams had returned to America to reunite with his wife who had returned in 1969, and was pardoned of his crimes in court. He spent the rest of his life mostly writing an unpublished autobiography.

Williams represented the tactical power of armed self-defense as a tool against reactionaries of all stripes. He was not the inventor of this tactic, which was rooted in traditions from the very beginning of the black freedom movement that sprung out of emancipation. Black militias were formed to fight against white reaction from the very beginning of Reconstruction, and in some cases unity with poor whites was achieved. As nationalism becomes more and more of a force in politics such militias may become necessary. As believers in the disbandment of the police and the military, we should support any such efforts that bring us closer to the formation of the people’s militia that will replace them.

This strategy, of forming defense militias and temporarily uniting with other working class forces for temporary battles is an application of the tactic of the united front from below. This is to be counterposed to the policy of bourgeois anti-fascism, the “people’s front”, where a coalition of liberals, leftists, and everyone else dedicated to constitutionalism form an alternative government to the rightists. Today’s equivalent to the advocates of the people’s front are leftists who believe we must unite with the democratic party to defeat Trump. Others believe in spontaneous revolt now, making empty calls for general strikes or insurrection. In contradiction to both approaches the question of “how to fight reaction” must be understood through the greater task of building working class political institutions with lasting power in the long term. The people’s front may have defeated fascism with the help of the Allies in WWII, but by then fascist regimes had extinguished the strong workers movements where they took power. We cannot let ourselves have faith in either liberal saviors or spontaneous revolt.

Building a movement purely on the basis of anti-fascism or opposition to the far-right or X elected demagogue is a strategic dead end. Rather we need to build a powerful class movement that will be forthright in defending itself and others from the far-right. The need for minorities to defend themselves has increased, and we point to the example of Robert F. Williams as an example of this in action. By becoming a threat to the capitalist order and defending the gains of the workers movement and democratic rights through force if necessary, we fight the far-right in a way that doesn’t assert loyalty to the liberal order.


For further reading on Williams, check out his own book Negros With Guns and Timothy Tyson’s biography Radio Free Dixie.

The ICC Ideology

The politics of the ICC are a dead end for todays Communists, writes Donald Parkinson in response to their recent critiques.  For the most recent articles the ICC wrote on CLT, go here and here. For an idea of the ICC’s basic program look heredecadence_bechman_the_night

In their exchanges with my writings for the Communist League of Tampa (CLT), the International Communist Current (ICC) have of course summoned the classical historical argument that sits as the spinal cord of the ICC’s entire political outlook. In our exchanges over the necessity of building a mass political party and the question of elections the ICC has made it clear we don’t see eye to eye on these issues. The ICC argues that only small minority organizations of revolutionaries that keep the genealogy of revolutionary tradition alive are possible, and that any organization of the working class will inevitably become integrated into capitalism if it achieves any mass support and is able to win reforms for workers during an extended period of social peace. They also argue that any participation in elections is strictly off limits, as well as holding a strident anti-union line. All of these positions of course are contrary to Marx if one has any familiarity with his political writings. Yet the ICC claim him as their lineage, so what gives? Why hold positions so divergent from Marx while claiming to be part of the red thread that guides back to him? The argument is that Marx was writing in ascendant capitalism, where capitalism is still progressive and plays a positive role in developing the forces of production. Since the outbreak of WWI in 1914 and the betrayal of Social-Democracy, we have entered decadent capitalism where now the rules of the game have completely changed. Capitalism no longer plays a progressive role so it therefore must be overthrown, hence revolutionaries must no longer participate in elections or unions or attempt to form mass organizations. The small dedicated revolutionary minority must wait for the class to rise up in mass strikes that lead to strike committees that then become councils, where the minority can guide the class to communism with all power ultimately being within the councils. What I would like to do here is break apart some of the assumptions and see if they hold up under scrutiny.

If any of this is an inaccurate depiction of ICC’s politics then I apologize, and of course even if my description is accurate they would argue for more nuance. However it seems clear to me that the ICC strongly holds onto decadence theory, and the notion that the current periodization of capitalism is what makes their positions correct (and therefore backed by the science of historical materialism). Yet decadence theory is never really outlined by Marx, beyond saying that at some point productive forces will make the current relations of production outmoded. The comment by Marx that apparently proves the centrality of decadence is the following:


At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

This comment from Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy is used by the ICC to justify a theoretical vision of history, where modes of production can be neatly divided into progressive ascendent phases and decadent phases of social decay. I am not sure where this is argued by Marx or Engels explicitly. Marx and Engels do not claim they are discussing the periodization of capitalism or a general tendency of capitalism itself, or the ultimate cause of proletarian revolution itself. Rather than simply looking at quotes from Marx, we need to look at his theory and practice as existing in a unity that inspired others who developed the theory and politics of Marxism.

It is more reminiscent of theories from Oswald Spengler that civilizations are organic entities with lifecycles of ascendence and decay. Really what decadence theory is is an organic metaphor for history, that simply describes a phenomenon (like the Fall of the Roman Empire) rather than explain it. Simply put, decadence theory is weak analysis that butchers the dynamism and complexity of history. It requires that its followers must, to a certain degree, romanticize a certain “progressive” phase of capitalism, ignoring that the development that capitalism provides has always been an uneven one, with progressive and regressive features existing simultaneously. Productive forces have developed since 1914 and industrialized nations outside the ‘core’ of Europe have seen developments in productive forces that resulted in increased standards of living. Yes, this was accompanied by financial crisis, destruction of social fabric and authoritarian government but when has capitalism not been this way? It is only communism that can provide an even development of society. These reasons alone should give considerable motivation to question any kind of strict adherence to decadence theory.

Decadence theory however allows the ICC to 1) justify a priori all of their political positions and 2) claim fidelity to Marx and Engels while holding political positions that are in stark contrast to them. For example, Marx and Engels stridently argued for running in bourgeois elections and for the importance of the union movement in organizing the working class. Yet decadence theory gives the ICC a seemingly deep theoretical reason for holding the exact opposite position, looking like this: in the time of Marx and Engels, capitalism was still ascendant and therefore it was justified to support running in bourgeois elections because capitalism was still developing and conquering feudalism. Yet the Marxist argument in the 19th Century for electoralism had nothing to do with needing to consolidate capitalism over feudalism; it was that the workers must engage in mass politics and become a force to be reckoned within mass politics.

The ICC also use decadence to justify their complete rejection of all unions, denial that any national liberation struggles and decolonization (the colonial world still existed after 1914) can have progressive content, and refusal of any kind of mass party in favor of minoritarian vanguards with this logic. Since the passage of 1914 and the rise of capitalist decadence, these positions are de facto correct regardless of circumstance even though Marx and Engels basically held the opposite positions. It’s not a stretch to say that with regards to the Marx and Bakunin split, when it comes down to actual political lines the ICC would side with Bakunin. Their only real retorts are that Bakunin was a nationalist anti-semite scumbag (which is mostly true) and that it was of course ascendant capitalism and not “Decadent” capitalism yet.

So behind all the ICC’s politics is a claim that 1) capitalism has been the same essentially since 1914 and is in a state of decline where immediate revolution is on the table and 2) the political positions of the ICC schematically derive from this. To question this is to question decadence, which is apparently a cornerstone of historical materialism. Decadence schematically implies the positions held on electoralism, mass parties and unions because under decadent capitalism it is not possible to build mass scale workers’ organizations, except in times of crisis, without these organizations becoming integrated into capitalism. So any attempts to build unions and build parties is going to be inherently bourgeois. Instead of doing these things, communist militants must organize as only small and pure minorities that hold true to the revolutionary faith, waiting for a the crisis to trigger a mass strike that will lead to the formation of workers councils.

The ICC see CLT as being in danger of falling into “leftism”. The left is an enemy according to ICC’s ideology, just as much as the capitalists themselves. They are for “partial struggles” and building mass scale workers orgs. The left is counterposed to the “proletarian milieu” which is basically the ICC and groups with positions it approves of. Apparently this milieu has nothing to do with the left, despite the fact that any normal person would agree that advocating for communism puts one on the left. By claiming to be “not leftist” the ICC just comes off as needlessly edgy and sectarian. Which of course they are, refusing any kind of engagement with the left at all because it is entirely bourgeois. Collaboration with leftists is as bad as fascists in the end, as both are simply factions of the capitalist class. So what results is a paranoid siege mentality about the left, where the left are always around the corner conspiring to calm the militancy of pure unmediated workers struggle. Rather than engaging with the left to try to win people over and influence them with their analysis the ICC sees this as a counter-revolutionary activity.

The ICC’s theory of leftism, while ridiculous, does contain a kernel of truth that the labor bureaucracy is capitalism’s last line of defense when worker militancy threatens its stability. The labor bureaucracy are not submitted to the democratic will of the rank and file and hence develops petty-bourgeois class interests since they are essentially small proprietors of intellectual property. Because the labor bureaucracy often plays this conservative role in class struggles a knee jerk response is to simply reject unions and the left as a whole. Yet this is ultimately a vulgar and simplistic answer to more complicated questions.

Yet these questions do not negate the fact that communists must build up a mass movement in times of social peace and become a force that can contest with the bourgeoisie for state power. The mere appearance of Soviets doesn’t prevent better organized social-democrats from ultimately winning their support, as the German Revolution of 1918-19 shows us. The claim that decadence makes building organizations under capitalism (except, of course, the most pure vanguard parties) means that success is ultimately reliant on spontaneity. It assumes the proletariat will follow the “vanguard” instead of other political forces once they are mobilized, and it is only when the masses are in motion and in struggle that they can be converted to communism. Against this line, which puts hope in soviet power and spontaneity to solve the question of mass political legitimacy, Communists must build institutions and win support from the working class before periods of crisis. For a workers republic to represent the proletariat it must maintain democratic norms. This means you must have mass support or else you must resort to rigging elections as the Soviets did because of fear of peasants being overrepresented. This political problem is a serious one, and cannot be left to faith in spontaneity. Rather it must be worked in the long term process of building mass communist party and other proletarian institutions over time in a strategy of patience. Developing revolutionary theory and a solid programme is important, but so is being active building the labor movement which is now in shambles and pushing for “class unions” as opposed to “corporatist unions” that act to stabilize capitalism. Communists must merge with the labor movement, which requires long term work of institution building and not simply showing up when mass strikes happen to push for the formation of soviets.

This is to say nothing of the inadequate gender and racial politics of the ICC. The ICC has been around since 1975 and their main insight on race is that “the bourgeoisie mobilizes the proletarian under anti-racist politics”. For a group that proclaims internationalism, the group suggests little in terms of actually combatting national oppression to unite a deeply divided working class. Class unity is assumed to arise naturally and trump all other questions, with struggles for democratic rights being “partial struggles” that simply increase the illusions the proletariat has about democracy. As far as I am aware, the ICC doesn’t allow womens or PoC caucuses in their org and rejects feminism as a whole as bourgeois. This shows not only that the ICC is stuck in the past, but that they don’t see the abolition of gender oppression as a task to be taken seriously.

This gets to a core issue that plagues not just the ICC but many ultra-left and left-communist circles: economism. The ICC doesn’t grasp that communists must not only support economic struggles of the proletariat, but struggles for greater democratic rights within capitalism, which allow the working class to have more strength organizationally. Democracy is the lifeblood of the proletariat, the means through which it is able to organize as a mass force within society. In capitalist societies or authoritarian regimes where the working class is denied political freedom, they are forced to organize underground and only become broader parties by emphasizing the fight for democratic freedoms (see the Bolsheviks under Czarism as depicted by Lars Lih in What Is To Be Done Reconsidered). The proletariat, through its struggles, must show itself as not being a class fighting for purely sectional interests, a higher slice of the pie, that a class that fights for broader social change. To “win the battle for democracy” is not a minor task in the class struggle.

Of course, the ICC would see this as superfluous, since the proletariat cannot build mass organizations in times of non-crisis, so democracy under capitalism is of no use to them. It is nothing more than a mirage, a way to mystify the true dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. This outlook ignores how it has been the proletariat (and petty-bourgeoisie under the process of proletarianization) that have typically pushed the hardest for democratic rights historically. It certainly wasn’t the merchant class but rather the plebian sans cullotes who pushed for the most radical forms of liberty in the French Revolution. The form of the state cannot simply be derived from the “law of value” but is something that is historically shaped by class struggle. Bordiga is just wrong that democracy is simply a political mirror image of capitalist logic, where the principle of “one man one vote” translates to the principle of “equivalence of exchange”. Things are much more complex; the bourgeois state was basically the absolutist state outfitted for the needs of enforcing capitalist relations, a rentier institution with its logic sometimes counter to that of capital accumulation, and a “”special body of armed men”  shaped by the balance of power in the class struggle as well as the needs of generalized social reproduction.  

Ultimately there is no reason to suppose capitalist rule naturally presupposes parliamentarism or any form of democracy. Parliament gives classes other than the propertied access to political influence in legislative bodies, which can theoretically allow the mass population to pass laws that would be a hindrance to capitalist accumulation. Why else would working class participation in suffrage have been so limited until the ascent of the workers movement? This is why in countries where there are parliamentary bodies, internal corruption of party regimes becomes more and more important for ensure that the needs of capital are met by the state. This is why the most ideologically zealous adherents to the pure abstraction of capital (Hans-Herman Hoppe for example) in the end apologize or advocate for monarchy or fascist dictatorship.

This isn’t to say Communists should fight for a democratic form of capitalism instead of a true transformation of the social order, nor that we should seek alliances with populist hacks who use democracy as a slogan. It’s obvious that democracy, in the sense understood by capitalism, is a powerful ideological tool of the capitalist class. Capitalist states have realized that they must project themselves as democratic, and use this as a way to promote a unity of citizens in a nationalist project. People in the USA vote because their candidate will do a better job at what is ultimately managing the hegemon state of global capitalist empire. Yet this is the current state of things – if a truly principled communist party engaged in electoral politics, the “rules of the game” may be disrupted and the idea of democracy as legitimating the nation-state could be questioned. For example, the campaign for Eugene Debs to many of his voters was seen as affirming internationalist principles. Workers in many cases in history have seen the ballot box as a weapon in the class struggle.

The positions of the ICC, if they were argued for without the vulgar historicism of decadence, would carry much more strength. Anarchists tend to provide a more convincing case of why communists should abstain from bourgeois elections. Decadence is a blinder in the end, that prevents communists from dropping a priori dogmas that prevent them from reconceptualizing a marxist theory and a communist practice that can function under current conditions. We of course must hold to certain basic principles, but to act if the answers to all the questions about unions, nationalism, elections, the left, and even sexual freedom were decided by the fate of 1914 prevents clear critical discussion that looks at current situations. What we need is open debate, experimentation with tactics and a Marxism that is more adept at explaining why things are the way they are than any other worldview. We also need to build political organizations that are built on programmatic unity, where members are bound to political rather than theoretical commitments like decadence theory. Otherwise an organization is doomed to political sectdom, internal authoritarianism, lack of debate, and separation from the world beyond purist left-communism. This will take years, but to give all hope to spontaneity means one might as well give up as a whole.

Drugs and Communism


The illegalization of kratom represents a blow from the capitalist state against individual freedom and a rational drug policy. The only sensible communist policy on drugs is full legalization and medical treatment for addiction. 


It has recently been announced the recreational drug Kratom is going to be officially placed on schedule 1 of the controlled substances hierarchy of the DEA, right alongside heroin. Anyone familiar with Kratom knows that it isn’t hardcore stuff. While the drug does have addictive properties, it’s nothing compared to morphine and the like. Many opiate addicts use Kratom as a safe and legal substitute for opioids that’s easier to wean off of. Kratom doesn’t have the capacity to repress breaking like opioids do, so it is not a substance one can overdose on, much like marijuana. Yet as of September 30th, this plant is enough to get you a 5 year prison sentence just for possession. While the media panics about an opioid epidemic, a drug that is actually helping people quit opiates is being made illegal! The attitude of the the capitalist state is as paternalistic as ever: how dare you get high, how dare you use an over the counter painkiller that is effective.

The hypocrisy of the drug scheduling system established under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 warrants an article of it’s own. What is so galling about this system is the way it attempts to justify itself with scientific objectivity when it is in actuality blatantly unscientific. The act establishes 5 “schedules” or categories of drugs, with schedule 5 being the most benign and schedule 1 being the worst. The benchmarks for declaring a substance a schedule 1 drug are: high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and lack of a safe way to use the drug even under medical supervision. Having thus established a superficially objective way to categorize these drugs the federal government immediately went about ignoring it, placing drugs on this list based on the needs of politicians and unelected bureaucrats. The fact that marijuana is a schedule 1 drug (cocaine is schedule 2) tells you all you need to know about the scientific objectivity of this system. A growing scientific consensus, along with basic common sense, is showing that marijuana certainly does have medical uses and is safer to use than even many over the counter drugs.

Moreover the federal government does not simply ignore science which does not suite it’s political narrative, it actively prevents research which may yield inconvenient results. Research into the potential medical uses of marijuana were stymied for decades. The potential therapeutic uses of LSD or MDMA remain a mystery because of the difficulty in carrying out objective research. Now the potential use of kratom in treating opioid addiction will likely remain a matter of speculation since research into the subject will likely be made much more difficult. When it does allow studies to move forward it often only allows ones designed to yield a desired result. Several years ago there was a study purporting to show rats overdosing on THC. When one actually looked into the study however it showed the rats were injected with pure THC until they died. Leaving aside the ridiculous method of ingestion (nobody injects pure THC), scaled up for human consumption the amount of THC one would have to consume to OD was the equivalent of smoking a joint the size of a telephone pole in a day. If anything this shows the safety of the drug, but that’s not the picture the headlines painted. By stopping or manipulating scientific research into the potential benefits and real harms of drugs the government is not just being shady, it is endangering public health.

The ideal communist position for drugs is simple: legalize them. ALL of them. If you are truly against the drug war you shouldn’t make exception even for drugs you wouldn’t personally use. This is simply because no one deserves to be incarcerated for experimenting with their brain chemistry. Most banning of drugs in the USA  has been associated with racialized moral panics. With opium and marijuana these substances were respectively associated with Chinese and Black Americans. Today moral panics about drugs are usually about “legal highs” like bath salts, drugs that would not be as popular if MDMA, methamphetamine and cocaine were legal.

Beyond moral panics, we should look at drugs rationally. Drugs no doubt have had bad effects on people’s lives, but this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In capitalist society we live in a world where we must act as commodities on the marketplace, atomized individuals competing for subsistence. This is a world where our lives become structured around the pursuit of the abstract and intangible thing called “value” where the consequence of failing can be death for some. Life is stressful and the human psych is warped, we suffer from alienation. To deal with this some people turn to drugs, and some abuse them.

For those that abuse drugs, making them illegal doesn’t actually reduce the harm associated with that abuse. There is much literature on this topic, and it’s a point that’s been made enough to not have to repeat. You don’t have to be a communist to realize it makes more sense to treat addiction as a mental problem, not a moral failing where one must get a beating from the state for their transgressions.

Not only does making drugs illegal not only make them more harmful, it is also generally an anti-freedom stance. Fears of drugs are largely a result of misunderstandings and not scientific inquiry. As communists we aim for an emancipatory society, one based on the flourishing of human freedom through reason. We know that god will not punish us for sexual acts, and we also know that unsafe sex can have bad (even deadly) consequences. Through rationality we can express our capacities for pleasure, and drugs should be no different. If one wants to explore the highs and lows of drugs, it should an option open to them and be as a safe as possible.

The left doesn’t exactly have a perfect track record on this issue; for example there was support for Prohibition for amongst Socialist Party Members and IWW members. An argument for prohibition was that it would make workers more disciplined and less prone to domestic violence. Instead prohibition created a whole lumpen subculture of Cartels that was exceptionally patriarchal. “Real Socialist” states have failed to legalize drugs, which of course simply allowed for black markets to flourish more. On the other end, many “zones of autonomy” from the near civil war Italy experienced in the 70s became drug dens. Drugs can and do pose real problems. But the solutions are not illegalization, but rather simply making drugs openly accessible yet regulated for safety needs while making deeper social changes.

People abuse drugs, to escape the alienation of everyday life and its traumas. They also use them purely hedonistically and harmlessly. Sometimes this hedonism is simply an expression of the truly empty pleasures capitalist society has on offer. Sometimes it’s good for its own sake. We are aren’t moral puritans of any kind. Moral ‘decadence’ is a scare-word of the bourgeoisie who want to keep society regimented and orderly. The search for some kind of moral “order” in the USA is a thread as old as the republic itself. And it has been an excuse to take away individual freedoms of the populace. There is no “public health crisis” created by kratom but rather a regressive step in drug policy which ultimately punishes the proletariat the most.

Some would say communists should have nothing to say on this issue, that struggles at the point of production should be the point of focus, that issues related to politics not directly connected to this are a distraction. Often this is in the context of avoiding “dividing” workers by being a political partisan, sometimes it is simply a product of theoretical views of certain tendencies in marxism. Either way this economism tries to silence the talk of any form of political oppression than isn’t directly related to the workers struggle. Yet this is counter to the Marxist approach. Marxists fight not merely for economic demands but democratic demands that give more rights to oppressed groups and allow for democracy and political freedom in society in general. Yet we fight for these demands as marxists, never failing to point out their class dimensions. As Lenin said:

“the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat”

Communists should speak out against and fight against all forms of oppression and authoritarianism when possible, because ultimately we envision a world not simply where workers own their factories but one absent of exploitation and oppression. Marx believed that the proletariat was the class that would fight for communism because it was the class that held the interests of all humanity. By showing that the interests of labor are the interests of humanity, the communist party can lead the struggle for the future of the species itself.

But what exactly can we do about kratom at this point? Sadly at this point the answer is nothing, unless one has much hope in petitioning bourgeois politicians. What we can do as Communists is fight for democratic rights (“win the battle of democracy as” Marx said) when possible or at least when possible show we care about issues such as drug legalization or free speech. Perhaps less people would turn to the libertarian right if leftists had a better record on these issues. Today the right portrays itself as a force fighting against the foes of democracy for free speech, a terrain that cannot be left to the right. If the political right are the mere defenders of democracy then we have lost the battle for democracy, and the image of Communism as Stalinism will be unchallenged.

While we (the Communist League of Tampa) have yet to write a programme (we are hardly at that stage yet) I believe the legalization and regulation of all drugs should be part of the minimum programme as well as immediate release of all drug offenders. Could these demands be won under capitalism? It is possible, but either way communists shouldn’t be silent on them and should fight for them when they have the capacity to. This often mean supporting a referendum to legalize marijuana or using electoral reps to challenge drug laws. While we are a far way off from being a party, as a propaganda group we should make crystal clear what the rational and communist position on drugs is.