The road to socialism and the world communist movement: A reply to Wadi’h Halabi

BY:Joe Sims| April 9, 2019

Comrade Wadi’h Halabi recently claimed that there are no national paths to socialism. Addressing the 3rd International’s  formation he writes, “Lenin swiftly moved to reunite our class by organizing our International in 1919. All revolutions of the 20th century, right through Laos in 1975, can be traced to the impulse of 1917 and the Communist International.”

Here Halabi leaves out important developments in Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe). He continues, “The struggle has paused. It had to catch its breath. Remarkably, the sections of our International still live. Divided, many incorrectly seek “national roads to socialism.”

The struggle has paused?  One supposes that’s one word for it. There were severe shocks and dissolutions after the collapse of the USSR.  But what of developments in Latin America in Bolivia, Venezuela even most recently in Brazil? What of the democratic breakthrough in South Africa?  The class and democratic struggle did not stand still.

And no national paths? Really?  History seems to point in the exact opposite direction. The Bolsheviks hoped in vain for a European revolution to aid the new worker’s state.  When it failed to materialize, socialism in a single country  was attempted at great cost.  China’s great revolution after mistakenly following the Soviet path careened tumultuously from left to right and now attempts a mixed economy brand of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Cuba too is adjusting course relying more and more on its history, traditions, and culture along with the world experience of the international communist movement. So too with Vietnam’s Doi Moi renewal. Yes, one of the biggest mistakes of the Communist movement in the 20th century was the immature adopting of the Soviet model as a universal blueprint for communists everywhere.

One could predictably argue here that a distinction could be made between the path of arrival and the real building of socialism itself. But even this would obscure important differences between the storming of the Winter Palace (insurrection) and guerilla warfare etc.

At stake also here is not only Engels warning already in his last introduction to Marx’s Civil War in France, that in the emerging bourgeois-democratic republics of the West, the days of the storming of the Bastille were over but also the considered approaches of Communist and Workers parties in developed capitalist countries that a peaceful path to socialism was not only possible but desirable. Hence the birth of the anti-monopoly strategy that our own William Z. Foster made no small contribution to.  More on this below.

Were there general laws of social development proven by these social revolutions? Clearly, there were: including  (but not limited to) the independent role of the working class, the need for a leading revolutionary party, applying united front tactics to building broad unity, etc.

Was working-class internationalism a fundamental part of these basic requirements? Absolutely. None would have survived without support, particularly from the USSR  However, support is one thing: generalized global paths guided by an international communist center are quite another.

Which brings us to comrade Halabi’s call to reestablish the Communist International. The truth is that the Comitern failed not so much due to the CPSU’s dominance but because the variety and diversity of the working-class movement in each country rendered central direction and decision-making impossible – not a few errors occurred as a result.

We too in the CPUSA felt its effect with the wrongly conceived Black Belt thesis, (the idea that several majority-black counties in the South constituted a separate nation) reflecting a complete misunderstanding of racism, segregation and the lessons of Radical Reconstruction and the Klan-led counter-revolution that overthrew it.

The world communist movement drew the correct conclusion then, when it acknowledged at its international conferences,  that there were no universal models of socialism, no identical paths, and that “international revolution” was not only a fantasy but a dangerous one at that.  Hence the polemics v. Trotsky’s “permanent revolution.”

Social revolution cannot be exported. The path to socialism must be developed by each communist party and each working-class and people’s movement in each country, independently without outside interference.

Here I don’t know if comrade Wadi’h’s recent statements about the existence and/or need of a “world communist party” are to be taken poetically or literally.

If poetically, one cannot but greet the goal of world communist unity. If the phrase is meant literally such an ideal hardly corresponds to current conditions and possibilities.

Indeed, missing from this call is an analysis of the concrete conditions the Comitern formed under as revealed by a review of the 21 conditions placed for affiliation.  Key here are two concepts: first that the communists of that period believed themselves to be entering a period of revolutionary upsurge and civil war, and second that such conditions necessitated the highest form of centralism possible.

Established in the aftermath of the collapse of the 2nd International and the victory of the October Revolution, the communists of that period prioritized regrouping in the 3rd international along firm ideological lines and defending the young Soviet republic.  Hence the emphasis in the 21 conditions for solid ideology, firm principles, even expulsions, and purges.

Today, the situation is completely different.  30 years after the fall of “really existing socialism” while firm principles and regrouping are hugely important the forms for achieving these goals are not what they were.  Indeed even the form itself needed reconsideration. At issue here is whether or not an international center coordinating national strategy was ever a viable means of communist mass work.

Why? Because capitalism develops unevenly. In Lenin’s time, revolutionary breaks from its systemic orbit occurred at points of its weakest links. This concept was basic to Lenin’s thinking as was his critique of Karl Kautsky’s concept ultra-imperialism: the notion that capitalism was a policy that could grow into a single international world trust.   Wadi’h speaks of a “single world economy.”   It’s not at all clear what that phrase means. The world’s economy, however,  is capitalism grown into transnational imperialism, in the main in imperialist centers in the U.S. Europe and Japan. Then there are the emerging powers of India, China, South Africa, Brazil, grouped in BRICKS, the Asian tigers, etc.

It’s critical to divide this capitalist whole into its constituent parts, which exist in contradiction to one another, unevenly at varying stages of development, otherwise the “single world economy” phrase means little.  We live in a world of inter-imperialist rivalry.

If the revolutionary storms of the 20th century prove anything, they prove this very point, that these rivalries created conditions for breakaways: first in Russia, then in China, here in central Europe, there in south-east Asia. now in Cuba, the next day in Southern Africa. Each revolution had to address itself to the particular and peculiar unevenness to break free. Indeed to the extent that they did not do so, and followed uncritically the Soviet example they made many and tragic mistakes, not a few under the influence of the Comintern itself.

Which brings me to the main point: the path to socialism in the United States today, in no way mimics what occurred in any of these countries.  Our program calls for an anti-right strategy within a working-class-led anti-monopoly framework. While paying attention to the laws of transition, we seek a path based on U.S. history, traditions, and realities. Let’s say it again: we favor a peaceful path and transition and work in pursuit of that goal.

What then is the relationship between the national and international in these circumstances?

Working-class internationalism and solidarity are clearly necessary in a world of ongoing imperialist intervention.  And this does occur on a bilateral and multilateral basis by and among Communist parties.

But this must be done carefully with complete respect for the autonomy and independence of the parties concerned.  It’s violated with disastrous results.

Extensive and extremely damaging are such interventions, involving not only the Sino-Soviet dispute but scores of parties in dozens of countries and let’s not forget that most of these occurred AFTER the Comintern’s dissolution creating havoc and splits which exist to this day, to say nothing of what happened during its tenure. And even a cursory knowledge of today’s world communist movement reveals attempts by some parties to interfere in the internal affairs of other parties remains a problem and big one.

No thinking and mature party would submit its right to decide the outcome of the revolutionary movement in their country to an outside authority or direction. As Georgi Dimitrov once pointed out let’s recall that on issues of world communist unity we are not national nihilists.

What then of world communist unity? It’s absolutely necessary. It arises on the basis of specific struggles of the working class and trade union movement in different countries, such as the support given by South African trade unionists to the Mississippi Nissan workers.

We saw such unity in the campaign to free Nelson Mandela and Angela Davis; in the movement against the Vietnam War along with the movements to ban nuclear weapons. Is not the World Youth and Student Festival movement a form for such unity?

Forms of unity might also involve setting up join online publishing, photography, video, translation and other resources. Online activism might be a valuable way of influencing public opinion.

Broader forms of unity are required as is now well understood on issues like climate change, inspite of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Another issue that deserves the same kind of attention is global inequality.  Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa pointedly addressed this issue in a recent interview on Inequality and the Capitalist System. In his estimation, the only possible means of addressing the inequality crisis is on an international basis.

Indeed, would our movement not be remiss to not plunge full forward into these existential struggles? And yes, it’s more accurate to speak of a world communist movement, than a “world communist party.”

Today the International Meetings of Communist and Workers parties provide yearly reviews of the work of its respective parties.  A smaller executive committee conducts its work.

But a new structure operating on the basis of democratic centralism? Not any time soon. And when conditions occur which make it possible, it’s likely it won’t be necessary and comrade Wadih’s world communist party will like the working-class state,  itself wither away.


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