Return to materialism

Slowly a myth developed within the Trotskyist movement that to this day still has some support. That myth is that

Return to materialism


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hese people were generally materialist in their philosophical views, that is, they were not superstitious but favored science. Yet they could believe in things for which there was little, if any, factual evidence.


Democracy and materialism


What this fact does is reinforce the materialist conception that truth can only be ascertained through the conflict of ideas. Without differences, debate and a really open, democratic culture a movement can easily adopt positions disconnected from reality. In the end our movement is based on the truth, a correct understanding of the world and the spread of factual information. Capitalism rests on falsehoods. Its mass media is forever distorting facts and history, teaching racism, sexism, ageism and every possible prejudice to keep people divided.

That Stalinism could act like capitalism and yet be accepted as socialism by millions is now an historical fact. There are many factors which help explain this phenomena. For one the Stalinist betrayal was carried out without a clear, strong split within the movement and the Stalinists presented all their anti-working-class policies as being for socialism and for working people. When the Stalinists framed and murdered socialists this was done by calling people who defended socialist ideas traitors to socialism. The resulting confusion, and thus political support for the Stalinist rulers, was essential to their consolidation of power and ability to remain in power.

Stalinism was an unstable social order that could exist only because it appeared to be something it wasn't. Like a trade union bureaucracy that can only survive as a balancing act between getting removed by its rank and file or by the destruction of the union by the bosses, Stalinism can only have a limited lifespan in any country. It can only appear after major struggles and victories of working people. It is a parasite that feeds off such victories until it kills the host.

The regimes in China and North Korea are of this nature. They will inevitable go back to capitalism (most likely variant at this point) or be removed by a new rise in the socialist movement. As the capitalist world has come to understand Stalinism more clearly, it has become far more friendly to these remaining stalinist regimes. Today China is not seen as a challenge to capitalism but an opportunity.

In the USSR the enormous support the "communist" regime had from its "Lenin" days gradually eroded under the Stalinist regimes. Eventually the parasitic social order collapsed, unable to maintain support among its own people and unable to compete with capitalism.

These developments are not understood by people in general. The political culture of our day still has a totally distorted view of the events around the history of the USSR. Over time this will begin to change. It has begun to change a little inside the USSR as the mass of people begin to experience capitalism and a discussion of what was wrong before and what may have been right in the revolution of 1917 slowly begins to be considered.


A profound confusion on the left


Nevertheless the confusion within the left is still there. After events like the Moscow trials in the mid-1930s one would think that anyone with half a brain could see through those frame-ups. But millions didn't. And it is not just years ago. Even today, after the utter collapse and exposure of the true nature of Stalinist regimes, some people who consider themselves pro-socialist still admire Stalin, or claiming to now be against Stalinism, base their politics on Stalinist platforms.

One example is the concept of popular frontism, which was aimed to subordinate the workers movement to any wing of the ruling class that would make deals with the USSR's regime. This strategy of betrayal was projected by Stalin precisely at the moment, 1935, he was organizing to have every member of Lenin's original central committee executed.

The Popular Front line eventually made the Stalinist organizations able to support anyone by its logic. The final extreme culmination was the Norwegian "Communist" Party welcoming Hitler's invading troops, the Communist Party of Cuba joining Batista's cabinet, and so on.




In the ideological struggle around the rise of Stalinism two opposite currents began to reinforce a sectarian conception of what Lenin had advocated and done.

First the Stalinists turned Lenin into a cult/idol. Lenin was always right on everything. They took his body and put him on display. They called their philosophy Marxism-Leninism, a term that never had any scientific meaning. Marxism is the term given to dialectical materialism or historical materialism. Leninism is, at best, contributions made on organizational questions, the nature of imperialism, and so on. That is: analysis of social issues or strategic questions within the class struggle but philosophically within the confines of Marxism. Of course, terms gradually develop their own meanings over time and we have no choice but to recognize that. In most cases Marxism-Leninism came to be another name for Stalinism.

All so-called "Communist Parties" became ideological promoters of idealist philosophies, of course, in the name of Marxism and materialism. They ritualized their new anti-materialist, anti-scientific philosophy precisely to obscure truth and reality in order to justify and maintain popular support for their organizations in spite of their vicious abuse of power, and oppression of the people they ruled over. Stalin became their cult leader worldwide. But in each Communist Party there was a local cult leader that received standing ovations until removed, sometimes by a telephone call from Stalin, at which time another "leader" was picked and received the standing ovations.

The litany of utterly false ideas attributed to Lenin grew through the years. These included such concepts as only one party can represent the interests of working people, (meaning, of course, your local Stalinist organization) or, for instance, socialism can be achieved in one country, a concept obviously in contradiction with everything Marx and Engels wrote. These Stalinist conceptions became quite popularized. Bourgeois educational systems and the mass media turned these Stalinist concepts into the very meaning of the words in popular usage. To this day much of the left uses these terms not with their original content or meaning but with the Stalinist distortion.


Democratic centralism


For instance, the term democratic-centralism now means to most people a bureaucratic, undemocratic, if not utterly dictatorial, organizational structure because that is what most organizations calling themselves democratic centralist were like.

When a local city council in any United States town passes a law to put up a stop sign everyone has to stop there. The decision is made democratically, or at least by elected officials. But it is carried out by centralism. Even people who disagreed with the decision have to follow it. Loosely speaking, that is democratic centralism. The fact is that all societies, certainly capitalist societies, advocate democratic centralist conceptions as a basic framework for the existence of society.

The idea that a voluntary organization could apply democratic centralism as a premise of how it functions is totally benign. Most organizations, to one extent or other, do that. Some do not apply it. For instance, the Democratic and Republican Parties in the United States vote platforms and then the candidate is free to violate that platform all they want.

Obviously these two parties are not democratic centralist. People advocating fascism are members and run as Democrats in the United States, as do others who call themselves socialist. But most organizations, in general, have policies and rules which if you do not accept you are expelled.

Lenin's concept of democratic centralism was developed because Lenin was concerned over the effectiveness of an organization fighting for power. His idea starts with the right of majority rule. To be effective Lenin argued that a serious socialist organization should function under the premise that once decisions are made everyone should help implement the policy. One can argue about Lenin's organizational concept, when it is appropriate or how it should be applied.

But try to use the words democratic centralism today in broad circles. Many people who actually favor democratic centralism in one form or other respond in negative shock when the term is mentioned.

I noticed at the founding conference in Berkeley, California of the Committees of Correspondence how one keynote speaker made fun of the term "democratic centralism", to immense applause. I wondered just what people thought it meant that they should feel it was such a terrible thing. It is clear that the words now mean a Stalinist-like bureaucratic, top-down structure. The term's popular meaning has nothing in common with Lenin's views.

While this distortion of socialist, and Lenin's, ideas was developing in Stalinist organizations an interesting parallel development took place in the Trotskyist movement, which opposed and denounced the Stalinists for what they were.

The factual information on the crimes of Stalinism and truth about the internal regime in the USSR put out by the Trotskyist movement in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s is now accepted by almost everyone. In fact, all research has confirmed that the factual description of the internal reality of Stalinist society by Leon Trotsky was compl

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