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A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism -The Other Political Issues

The Other Political Issues Raised and Distorted By P. Kievsky

Liberation of the colonies, we stated in our theses, means self-determination of nations. Europeans often forget that colonial peoples too are nations, but to tolerate this “forgetfulness” is to tolerate chauvinism.

P. Kievsky “objects”:

In the pure type of colonies, “there is no proletariat in the proper sense of the term” (end of §r, Chapter II). “For whom, then, is the ‘self-determination’ slogan meant? For the colonial bourgeoisie? For the fellahs? For the peasants? Certainly not. It is absurd for socialists [Kievsky’s italics] to demand self-determination for the colonies, for it is absurd in general to advance the slogans of a workers’ party for countries where there are no workers.”

P. Kievsky’s anger and his denunciation of our view as “absurd” notwithstanding, we make bold to submit that his arguments are erroneous. Only the late and unlamented Economists believed that the “slogans of a workers’ party” are issued only for workers.[1] No, these slogans are issued for the whole of the labouring population, for the entire people. The democratic part of our programme—Kievsky has given no thought to its significance “in general”—is addressed specifically to the whole people and that is why in it we speak of the “people”.[2]

The colonial and semi-colonial nations, we said, account for 1,000 million people, and P. Kievsky has not taken the trouble to refute that concrete statement. Of these 1,000 million, more than 700 million (China, India, Persia, Egypt) live in countries where there are workers. But even with regard to colonial countries where there are no workers, only slave-owners and slaves, etc., the demand for “self-determination”, far from being absurd, is obligatory hit every Marxist. And if he gave the matter a little thought, Kievsky would probably realise this, and also that “self-determination” is always advanced “for” two nations: the oppressed and the oppressing.

Another of Kievsky’s “objections”:

“For that reason we limit ourselves, in respect to the colonies, to a negative slogan, i.e., to the demand socialists present to their governments—‘get out of the colonies!’ Unachievable within the framework of capitalism, this demand serves to intensify the struggle against imperialism, but does not contradict the trend of development, for a socialist society will not possess colonies.”

The author’s inability, or reluctance, to give the slightest thought to the theoretical contents of political slogans is simply amazing! Are we to believe that the use of a propaganda phrase instead of a theoretically precise political term alters matters? To say “get out of the colonies” is to evade a theoretical analysis and hide behind propaganda phrases! For every one of our Party propagandists, in referring to the Ukraine, Poland, Finland, etc., is fully entitled to demand of the tsarist government (his “own government”): “get out of Finland”, etc. However, the intelligent propagandist will understand that we must not advance either positive or negative slogans for the sole purpose of “intensifying” the struggle. Only men of the Alexinsky type could insist that the “negative” slogan “get out of the Black-Hundred Duma” was justified by the desire to “intensify” the struggle against a certain evil.

Intensification of the struggle is all empty phrase of the subjectivists, who forget the Marxist requirement that every slogan be justified by a precise analysis of economic realities, the political situation and the political significance of the slogan. It is embarrassing to have to drive this home, but what can one do?

We know the Alexinsky habit of cutting short a theoretical discussion of a theoretical question by propaganda outcries. It is a bad habit. The slogan “get out of the colonies” has one and only one political and economic content: freedom of secession for the colonial nations, freedom to establish a separate state! If, as P. Kievsky believes, the general laws of imperialism prevent the self-determination of nations and make it a utopia, illusion, etc., etc., then how can one, with out stopping to think, make an exception from these general laws for most of the nations of the world? Obviously, P. Kievsky’s “theory” is a caricature of theory.

Commodity production and capitalism, and the connecting threads of finance capital, exist in the vast majority of colonial countries. How, then, can we urge the imperialist countries, their governments, to “get out of the colonies” if, from the standpoint of commodity production, capitalism and imperialism, this is an “unscientific” and “utopian” demand, “refuted” even by Lensch, Cunow and the rest?

There is not even a shadow of thought in the author’s argumentation!

He has given no thought to the fact that liberation of the colonies is “unrealisable” only in the sense of being “unrealisable without a series of revolutions”. He has given no thought to the fact that it is realisable in conjunction with a socialist revolution in Europe. He has given no thought to the fact that a “socialist society will not possess” not only colonies, but subject nations in general. He has given no thought to the fact that, on the question under discussion, there is no economic or political difference between Russia s “possession” of Poland or Turkestan. He has given no thought to the fact that a “socialist society” will wish to “get out of the colonies” only in the sense of granting them the free right to secede, but definitely not in the sense of recommending secession.

And for this differentiation between the right to secede and the recommendation to secede, P. Kievsky condemns us as “jugglers”, and to “scientifically substantiate” that verdict in the eyes of the workers, he writes:

“What is a worker to think when he asks a propagandist how the proletariat should regard samostiinost [political independence for the Ukraine], and gets this answer: socialists are working for the right to secede, but their propaganda is against secession?”

I believe I can give a fairly accurate reply to that question, namely: every sensible worker will think that Kievsky is not capable of thinking.

Every sensible worker will “think”: here we have P. Kievsky telling us workers to shout “get out of the colonies”. In other words, we Great-Russian workers must demand from our government that it get out of Mongolia, Turkestan, Persia; English workers must demand that the English Government get out of Egypt, India, Persia, etc. But does this mean that we proletarians wish to separate ourselves from the Egyptian workers and fellahs, from the Mongolian, Turkestan or Indian workers and peasants? Does it mean that we advise the labouring masses of the colonies to “separate” from the class-conscious European proletariat? Nothing of the kind. Now, as always, we stand and shall continue to stand for the closest association and merging of the class-conscious workers of the advanced countries with the workers, peasants and slaves of all the oppressed countries. We have always advised and shall continue to advise all the oppressed classes in all the oppressed countries, the colonies included, not to separate from us, but to form the closest possible ties and merge with us.

We demand from our governments that they quit the colonies, or, to put it in precise political terms rather than in agitational outcries—that they grant the colonies full freedom of secession, the genuine right to self-determination, and we ourselves are sure to implement this right, and grant this freedom, as soon as we capture power. We demand this from existing governments, and will do this when we are the government, not in order to “recommend” secession, but, on the contrary, in order to facilitate and accelerate the democratic association and merging of nations. We shall exert every effort to foster association and merger with the Mongolians, Persians, Indians, Egyptians. We believe it is our duty and in our interest to do this, for otherwise socialism in Europe will not be secure. We shall endeavour to render these nations, more backward and oppressed than we are, “disinterested cultural assistance”, to borrow the happy expression of the Polish Social-Democrats. In other words, we will help them pass to the use of machinery, to the lightening of labour, to democracy, to socialism.

If we demand freedom of secession for the Mongolians. Persians, Egyptians and all other oppressed and unequal nations without exception, we do so not because we favour secession, but only because we stand for free, voluntary association and merging as distinct from forcible association. That is the onlyreason!

And in this respect the only difference between the Mongolian or Egyptian peasants and workers and their Polish or Finnish counterparts is, in our view, that the latter are more developed, more experienced politically than the Great Russians, more economically prepared, etc., and for that reason will in all likelihood very soon convince their peoples that it is unwise to extend their present legitimate hatred of the Great Russians, for their role of hangman, to the socialistworkers and to a socialist Russia. They will convince them that economic expediency and internationalist and democratic instinct and consciousness demand the earliest association of all nations and their merging in a socialist society. And since the Poles and Finns are highly cultured people, they will, in all probability, very soon come to see the correctness of this attitude, and the possible secession of Poland and Finland after the triumph of socialism will therefore be only of short duration. The incomparably less cultured fellahs, Mongolians and Persians might secede for a longer period, but we shall try to shorten it by disinterested cultural assistance as indicated above.

There is no other difference in our attitude to the Poles and Mongolians, nor can there be. There is no “contradiction”, nor can there be, between our propaganda of freedom of secession and our firm resolve to implement that freedom when we are the government, and our propaganda of association and merging of nations. That is what, we feel sure, every sensible worker, every genuine socialist and internationalist will “think” of our controversy with P. Kievsky.[3]

Running through the article is Kievsky’s basic doubt: why advocate and, when we are in power, implement the freedom of nations to secede, considering that the trend of development is towards the merging of nations? For the same reason—we reply—that we advocate and, when in power, will implement the dictatorship of the proletariat, though the entire trend of development is towards abolition of coercive domination of one part of society over another. Dictatorship is domination of one part of society over the rest of society, and domination, moreover, that rests directly on coercion. Dictatorship of the proletariat, the only consistently revolutionary class, is necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie and repel its attempts at counter-revolution. The question of proletarian dictatorship is of such overriding importance that he who denies the need for such dictator ship, or recognises it only in words, cannot he a member of the Social-Democratic Party. However, it cannot be denied that in individual cases, by way of exception, for instance, in some small country after the social revolution has been accomplished in a neighbouring big country, peaceful surrender of power by the bourgeoisie is possible, if it is convinced that resistance is hopeless and if it prefers to save its skin. It is much more likely, of course, that even in small states socialism will not be achieved without civil war, and for that reason the only programme of international Social-Democracy must be recognition of civil war, though violence is, of course, alien to our ideals. The same, mutatis mutandis (with the necessary alterations), is applicable to nations. We favour their merger, but now there can be no transition from forcible merger and annexation to voluntary merger without freedom of secession. We recognise—and quite rightly—the predominance of the economic factor, but to interpret it a‘ la Kievsky is to make a caricature of Marxism. Even the trusts and banks of modern imperialism, though inevitable everywhere as part of developed capitalism, differ in their concrete aspects from country to country. There is a still greater difference, despite homogeneity in essentials, between political forms in the advanced imperialist countries—America, England, France, Germany. The same variety will manifest itself also in the path mankind will follow from the imperialism of today to the socialist revolution of tomorrow. All nations will arrive at socialism—this is inevitable, hut all will do so in not exactly the same way, each will contribute something of its own to some form of democracy, to some variety of the dictatorship of the proletariat, to the varying rate of socialist transformations in the different aspects of social life. There is nothing more primitive from the viewpoint of theory, or more ridiculous from that of practice, than to paint, “in the name of historical materialism”, this aspect of the future in a monotonous grey. The result will be nothing more than Suzdal daubing. And even if reality were to show that prior to the first victory of the socialist proletariat only 1/500 of the nations now oppressed will win emancipation and secede, that prior to the final victory of the socialist proletariat the world over (i.e., during all the vicissitudes of the socialist revolution) also only 1,500 of the oppressed nations will secede for a very short time—even in that event we would be correct, both from the theoretical and practical political standpoint, in advising the workers, already now, not to permit into their Social-Democratic parties those socialists of the oppressor nations who do not recognise and do not advocate freedom of secession for all oppressed nations. For the fact is that we do not know, and cannot know, how many of the oppressed nations will in practice require secession in order to contribute something of their own to the different forms of democracy, the different forms of transition to socialism. And that the negation of freedom of secession now is theoretically false from beginning to end and in practice amounts to servility to the chauvinists of the oppressing nations—this we know, see and feel daily.

“We emphasise,” P. Kievsky writes in a footnote to the passage quoted above, “that we fully support the demand ‘against forcible annexation’....”

But he makes no reply, not even by a single word, to our perfectly clear statement that this “demand” is tantamount to recognising self-determination, that there can be no correct definition of the concept “annexation” unless it is seen in context with self-determination. Presumably Kievsky believes that in a discussion it is enough to present one’s arguments and demands without any supporting evidence!

He continues: “... We fully accept, in their negative formulation, a number of demands that tend to sharpen proletarian consciousness against imperialism, hut there is absolutely no possibility of working out corresponding positive formulations on the basis of the existing system. Against war, yes, but not for a democratic peace....”

Wrong—wrong from the first word to the last. Kievsky has read our resolution on “Pacifism and the Peace Slogan” (in the pamphlet Socialism and War, pp. 44–45[4] ) and even approved it, I believe. But obviously he did not understand it. We are for a democratic peace, only we warn the workers against the deception that such a peace is possible under the present, bourgeois governments “without a series of revolutions”, as the resolution points out. We denounced as a deception of the workers the “abstract” advocacy of peace, i.e., one that does not take into account the real class nature, or, specifically, the imperialist nature of the present governments in the belligerent countries. We definitely stated in the Sotsial-Demokrat (No. 47) theses that if the revolution places our Party in power during the present war, it will immediately propose a democratic peace to all the warring countries.[5]

Yet, anxious to convince himself and others that he is opposed “only” to self-determination and not to democracy in general, Kievsky ends up by asserting that we are “not for a democratic peace”. Curious logic!

There is no need to dwell on all the other examples he cites, and no sense in wasting space on refuting them, for they are on the same level of naïve and fallacious logic and can only make the reader smile. There is not, nor can there be, such a thing as a “negative” Social-Democratic slogan that serves only to “sharpen proletarian consciousness against imperialism” without at the same time offering a positive answer to the question of how Social-Democracy will solve the problem when it assumes power. A “negative” slogan unconnected with a definite positive solution will not “sharpen”, but dull consciousness, for such a slogan is a hollow phrase, mere shouting, meaningless declamation.

P. Kievsky does not understand the difference between “negative” slogans that stigmatise political evils and economic evils. The difference lies in the fact that certain economic evils are part of capitalism as such, whatever the political superstructure, and that it is impossible to eliminate them economically without eliminating capitalism itself. Not a single instance can be cited to disprove this. On the other hand, political evils represent a departure from democracy which, economically, is fully possible “on the basis of the existing system”, i.e., capitalism, and by way of exception is being implemented under capitalism—certain aspects in one country, other aspects in another. Again, what the author fails to understand is precisely the fundamental conditions necessary for the implementation of democracy in general!

The same applies to the question of divorce. The reader will recall that it was first posed by Rosa Luxemburg in the discussion on the national question. She expressed the perfectly justified opinion that if we uphold autonomy within a state (for a definite region, area, etc.), we must, as centralist Social-Democrats, insist that all major national issues—and divorce legislation is one of them—should come within the jurisdiction of the central government and central parliament. This example clearly demonstrates that one can not be a democrat and socialist without demanding full freedom of divorce now, because the lack of such freedom is additional oppression of the oppressed sex—though it should not be difficult to realise that recognition of the freedom to leave one’s husband is not an invitation to all wives to do so!

P. Kievsky “objects”:

“What would this right [of divorce] be like if in such cases [when the wife wants to leave the husband] she could not exercise her right? Or if its exercise depended on the will of third parties, or, worse still, on the will of claimants to her affections? Would we advocate the proclamation of such a right? Of course not!”

That objection reveals complete failure to understand the relation between democracy in general and capitalism. The conditions that make it impossible for the oppressed classes to “exercise” their democratic rights are not the exception under capitalism; they are typical of the system. In most cases the right of divorce will remain unrealisable under capitalism, for the oppressed sex is subjugated economically. No matter how much democracy there is under capitalism, the woman remains a “domestic slave”, a slave locked up in the bedroom, nursery, kitchen. The right to elect their “own” people’s judges, officials, school-teachers, jurymen, etc., is likewise in most cases unrealisable under capitalism precisely because of the economic subjection of the workers and peasants. The same applies to the democratic republic: our programme defines it as “government by the people”, though all Social-Democrats know perfectly well that under capitalism, even in the most democratic republic, there is bound to be bribery of officials by the bourgeoisie and an alliance of stock exchange and the government.

Only those who cannot think straight or have no knowledge of Marxism will conclude: so there is no point in having a republic, no point in freedom of divorce, no point in democracy, no point in self-determination of nations! But Marxists know that democracy does not abolish class oppression. It only makes the class struggle more direct, wider, more open and pronounced, and that is what we need. The fuller the freedom of divorce, the clearer will women see that the source of their “domestic slavery” is capitalism, not lack of rights. The more democratic the system of government, the clearer will the workers see that the root evil is capitalism, not lack of rights. The fuller national equality (and it is not complete without freedom of secession), the clearer will the workers of the oppressed nations see that the cause of their oppression is capitalism, not lack of rights, etc.

It must be said again and again: It is embarrassing to have to drive home the ABC of Marxism, but what is one to do if Kievsky does not know it?

He discusses divorce in much the same way as one of the secretaries of the Organising Committee abroad, Semkovsky, discussed it, if I remember rightly, in the Paris Golos.[6] His line of reasoning was that freedom of divorce is not, it is true, an invitation to all wives to leave their husbands, but if it is proved that all other husbands are better than yours, madame, then it amounts to one and the same thing!!

In taking that line of argument Semkovsky forgot that crank thinking is not a violation of socialist or democratic principles. If Semkovsky were to tell a woman that all other husbands were better than hers, no one would regard this as violation of democratic principles. At most people would say: There are bound to be big cranks in a big party! But if Semkovsky were to take it into his head to defend as a democrat a person who opposed freedom of divorce and appealed to the courts, the police or the church to prevent his wife leaving him, we feel sure that even most of Semkovsky’s colleagues on the Secretariat Abroad, though they are sorry socialists, would refuse to support him!

Both Semkovsky and Kievsky, in their “discussion” of divorce, fail to understand the issue and avoid its substance, namely, that under capitalism the right of divorce, as all other democratic rights without exception, is conditional, restricted, formal, narrow and extremely difficult of realisation. Yet no self-respecting Social-Democrat will consider anyone opposing the right of divorce a democrat, let alone a socialist. That is the crux of the matter. All “democracy” consists in the proclamation and realisation of “rights” which under capitalism are realisable only to a very small degree and only relatively. But without the proclamation of these rights, without a struggle to introduce them now, immediately, without training the masses in the spirit of this struggle, socialism is impossible.

Having failed to understand that, Kievsky bypasses the central question, that belongs to his special subject, namely, how will we Social-Democrats abolish national oppression? He shunts the question aside with phrases about the world being “drenched in blood”, etc. (though this has no bearing on the matter under discussion). This leaves only one single argument: the socialist revolution will solve everything! Or, the argument sometimes advanced by people who share his views: self-determination is impossible under capitalism and superfluous under socialism.

From the theoretical standpoint that view is nonsensical; from the practical political standpoint it is chauvinistic. It fails to appreciate the significance of democracy. For socialism is impossible without democracy because: (1) the proletariat cannot perform the socialist revolution unless it prepares for it by the struggle for democracy; (2) victorious socialism cannot consolidate its victory and bring humanity to the withering away of the state without implementing full democracy. To claim that self-determination is superfluous under socialism is therefore just as nonsensical and just as hopelessly confusing as to claim that democracy is superfluous under socialism.

Self-determination is no more impossible under capitalism, and just as superfluous under socialism, as democracy generally.

The economic revolution will create the necessary prerequisites for eliminating all types of political oppression. Precisely for that reason it is illogical and incorrect to reduce everything to the economic revolution, for the question is: how to eliminate national oppression? It cannot be eliminated without an economic revolution That is incontestable. But to limit ourselves to this is to lapse into absurd and wretched imperialist Economism.

We must carry out national equality; proclaim, formulate and implement equal “rights” for all nations. Everyone agrees with that save, perhaps, P. Kievsky. But this poses a question which Kievsky avoids: is not negation of the right to form a national state negation of equality?

Of course it is. And consistent, i.e., socialist, democrats proclaim, formulate and will implement this right, without which there is no path to complete, voluntary rapprochement and merging of nations.

CW Vol 23 P 65

A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism - What Is Economic Analysis?
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