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a socialistworld is possible: the history of the cwi by peter taaffe
new introduction

China, Yugoslavia and Cuba

In fact, Trotsky’s writings on China, particularly his characterisation of Mao Zedong’s ‘Red Army’ in the 1930s, were brilliantly accurate.

He pointed out that this was a rural echo of the defeated workers’ revolution of 1925-27. The ex-communists who were leading this movement, he said, could develop over a period a certain suspicion and hostility towards the working class, even if they were victorious and entered the cities. This was because they were conditioned to a rural existence amongst the peasant masses, on which they were based. Is this not what happened when the Red Army defeated the Kuo Min Tang and took over the major cities of China? Before they occupied the cities, they called for the masses not to rise, warning that strikes would be punished. There were no soviets, independent organisations of the working class or of the peasantry, for that matter. Trotsky held out the prospect that, like all peasant movements throughout history, the Chinese Red Army could be victorious, could defeat the Kuo Min Tang but that it would remain within the framework of capitalism. This could result in the setting up of another dynasty, which would degenerate into a bourgeois feudal regime and so the process of opposition and peasant revolution would begin once more.

That events in China did not happen in this fashion was largely accounted for by the balance of world forces, manifested in China. Chronically weak, the bourgeoisie and the landlords had fled from China with the defeated armies of Chiang Kai Shek. In the vacuum that was left, Mao represented a Bonapartist clique at the head of a victorious army. The clique manoeuvred between the classes but was compelled by the pressure from below to carry through the expropriation of landlordism and capitalism, largely from above. Nowhere in Trotsky will you read what Lowy implies, that the peasantry, particularly the lowest layers, the poor peasants etc., were impervious to the ideas of socialism. Even during the Russian Revolution, as John Reed points out in his book, ‘Ten Days That Shook the World’, peasant soldiers saw the October Revolution as the beginning of a world, socialist overturn. Moreover, in parts of the neo-colonial world today, such is the desperation of the peasantry, with their small and unviable plots of land, the idea of co-operatives and the general ideas of ‘socialism’ can prove attractive, particularly when advocated by parties with powerful roots in the industrial urban working class. However, the peasantry – the ‘countryside’ – would still need to find a leading force in the towns if a socialist overturn is to be accomplished and consolidated, and then appeals would also have to be made to the working class internationally.

Marx, and Trotsky after him, described the limitations of the peasantry and its scattered, stratified character; as a class it would not be able to play an independent role. It could, nevertheless, play a vital and necessary auxiliary role in supporting an industrial, revolutionary movement of the urban working class to take power. Undoubtedly, where the working class is a minority in society, a classical working class uprising could be “supplemented” by a “second edition of the peasant war” – a movement of the peasants, even including elements of guerrillaism. The CWI, following Trotsky’s method of analysis, however, made clear differentiations. Guerrillaist methods used in the countryside amongst the rural population, as an auxiliary to the movement of the working class in the industrial areas, are quite different from using them as a method of struggle equally applicable amongst workers. This should be basic ABC for Marxists and particularly those claiming to be Trotskyists. Unfortunately, however, the USFI on this, and on other issues, is guilty of theoretical backsliding. In practice, this can lead to further disasters in the future, if the USFI were to become influential in mass movements.

The same applies to the USFI’s characterisation of what they call “bureaucratised” regimes. They claim that they have always been critical of regimes such as Yugoslavia under Tito, Cuba, China, etc. However, these ‘criticisms’ were in the context of accepting that these were basically relatively healthy workers’ states. If elements of ‘bureaucratism’ existed, they were the ‘same kind’ of bureaucratic distortions as existed when Russia was a healthy workers’ state in the period 1917-23, Ernest Mandel, the former theoretical leader of the USFI, argued insistently against the CWI. We fundamentally disagreed with this analysis.10  We opposed, for instance, the USFI’s implication that Tito was an “unconscious Trotskyist”. This involved the sending of “volunteers” to Yugoslavia when Tito clashed with Stalin in 1949. However, Tito was a “national Stalinist”, who came into collision with Stalin not over the character of his regime (since Tito’s was modelled on Moscow) but as an expression of the national Stalinist opposition of the Yugoslav bureaucracy to ‘Big Brother’ in Moscow.

The same approach was adopted by the USFI at the time of the Sino-Soviet dispute in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At that stage, Mandel believed that an “anti-bureaucratic revolution” – that is, a political revolution – was no longer necessary in China because Mao’s regime was a relatively healthy workers’ state with some mild bureaucratic deformations. Such a position is untenable today, given the revelations – the crimes, in fact – committed by Mao and his heirs in suppressing the demands of the Chinese masses for basic democratic rights.

In relation to Cuba, the same mistaken approach was employed by the USFI leaders. This revolution was a huge blow to imperialism. We, as well as the USFI, enthusiastically supported the revolution. We recognised the massive effect it had throughout the world and particularly in Latin America and the neo-colonial world. However, the origins of the Cuban Revolution were somewhat different from the Chinese Revolution, with the Castro regime occupying and still enjoying a popular base. Nevertheless, the masses still do not possess independent means of exercising control and power; there was and is no right of recall over officials, no election of officials, no clear limited wage differentials between those at the top and workers.11  We have consistently defended Cuba from the attacks of imperialism but, at the same time, call for the institution of real workers’ democracy as the only guarantee of being able to mobilise support – in Cuba, Latin America and throughout the world – from the threats made by imperialism and its attempt to return Cuba back to capitalism.

It is quite wrong now, as in a resolution adopted at the 15th World Congress of the USFI in the summer of 2003, for the USFI to claim: “We have always combated the bureaucratic regimes that claimed to be socialist while maintaining the oppressive regimes against peoples and workers, in the name of rights to self-organisation, workers’ self-management and democracy.” As welcome as it is for the USFI leaders to conclude this now, this has clearly not been the case in the above-cited cases. It is easy after the fact, when the character of regimes has been clearly shown to be bureaucratic, to make this or that criticism. But the USFI, right from the inception of the Cuban revolution, never came out with a clear Trotskyist analysis. This includes supporting the anti-imperialist, anticapitalist measures taken by Castro and the establishment of a planned economy with all the enormous benefits this has meant to the Cuban people compared to the discredited Batista regime. The USFI did this, but, at the same time, they refused to call for soviets and all the other demands essential for a healthy workers’ state and the beginning of a move towards socialism.