Revolutionary Socialists for Revolutionary Socialism: Against the Electoral Road

By Sabine Lebrón

January 30, 2020

“Only short-sighted people can consider factional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades of opinion inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian Social-Democracy for very many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other ‘shade.'”

-V.I. Lenin, What Is to Be Done?

John Beacham’s article, ‘Revolutionary Socialists for Bernie Sanders,’ recently published on ‘Mass Action,’ is a most lucid example of that utter and ignominious bankruptcy of the so-called Social Democratic camp, about which all honest socialists in all countries have been talking for a long time. Its circulation in purportedly leftist circles should be cause for alarm in any communist formation genuinely committed to the construction of socialism. As such, we recognize the urgent need for a rigorous criticism of Beacham’s capitulationist line on the basis of the revolutionary class perspective of the masses.

Beacham begins by offering a facile definition of ‘Socialism’ [sic]: “a brand-new society based on planning, cooperation and justice in which the vast majority rule on the basis of a collectively owned economy that produces for people’s needs.” These vagaries are typical of the social-democratic camp, for whom – socialism being so far removed from their genuine political stand – the actual, material character of socialist relations of production are secondary to utopian idealism. Let us be frank: socialism has nothing to do with the rule of the ‘vast majority’: it is the political dictatorship of the proletariat – the working class! That the toiling masses compose the majority of the planet’s population is, in the last analysis, irrelevant; such formulations obscure the class character of the struggle for socialism, understood as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only proletarian command of the means of production – and the overturning of capitalist relations of production – can lead to the abolition of class distinctions, and finally, to the elimination of social inequality (which is the product of those distinctions).

The same ambiguity characterizes his description of capitalism: “Capitalism – the worldwide profit for the capitalist class before everything else system – is to blame for the environmental crisis, white supremacy and world war. Capitalism, therefore, must be ended.” We need only point to Marx’ Critique of the Gotha Program to see the weakness of this formulation: “It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the program of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!” Again, we must be frank: the struggle for socialism is not on the basis of a rejection of capitalism’s consequences – ultimately be a reformist line, the residue of which can be seen throughout Beacham’s article – but the product of real, irresolvable contradictions which form the core of capitalist production relations, principally the contradiction between the material interests of the working class and those of the owning class. Class struggle is the principal question  – again, we return to Marx:

“For nearly 40 years we have raised to prominence the idea of the class struggle as the immediate driving force of history, and particularly the class struggle between bourgeois and the proletariat as the great lever of the modern social revolution; hence, we can hardly go along with people who want to strike this class struggle from the movement. At the founding of the International, we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.”1

The socialist critique of capitalism can not be on the basis of what amounts here to a toothless ethical rejection of its most egregious consequences – the foundation of which cannot be discovered anywhere else than bourgeois ideology itself – but must be founded on a scientific analysis of its real structure, one capable of providing a genuine revolutionary strategy for the masses. The name for that method of analysis is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!

We begin here to see that, even while Beacham maintains that he is a ‘revolutionary’ ‘socialist,’ the basis for his ‘socialism’ remains entangled with bourgeois ideological conceits which evacuate it of its genuinely materialist character, and, therefore, also foreclose its capacity for actually building proletarian revolution. As dialectical materialists, we recognize the necessity for a concrete analysis of the concrete situation; only Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, a revolutionary science forged in the struggles of the Commune, the October Revolution, and finally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, is capable of guiding such an analysis. This is why the masses around the globe – from Nepal, India and Turkey to the Philipines, Mexico, and Peru – rally around its bright red banner!

So much for Beacham’s so-called socialism. Let us proceed to consider the ‘strategy’ which Beacham advocates, and which makes up the bulk of his article.

Beacham claims that “we are not on the precipice of the revolution we need.” In the broadest sense, this is certainly true – the scattered uprisings against the settler-colonial bourgeois dictatorship in the united $tates, from Ferguson to Oakland – do not of-themselves constitute a revolutionary movement. Against the petit-bourgeois optimism of the anarchist camp, we recognize that these struggles are isolated and circumscribed by lack of organization and revolutionary strategy. A riot, however militant and joyous it might be, is just a riot; like strikes, such uprisings are little more than what Lenin calls ‘the school of war’:

“[These] teach the workers to unite; they show them that they can struggle against the capitalists only when they are united; strikes teach the workers to think of the struggle of the whole working class against the whole class of factory owners and against the arbitrary, police government. This is the reason why socialists call strikes ‘a school of war’, a school in which the workers learn to make war on their enemies for the liberation of the whole people, of all who labour, from the yoke of government officials and from the yoke of capital. ‘A school of war’ is however, not war itself.”2

It is precisely the duty of ‘revolutionary socialists’ to, as Castro famously put it, “make revolution.” That is, recognizing that we do not yet face conditions in which revolution is on the table, it is our responsibility to bring those conditions about. To be a militant is to work towards the revolutionary conjuncture, and then to seize it. In this, we are largely in agreement with Beacham: standing around and criticizing movements for not being “revolutionary enough,” as it were, is certainly liberalism. Where we break from this line is on the question of how we intend to make the revolutionary situation possible, and why we oppose the electoral road.

Beacham proceeds: “revolutionaries must find ways… of being with the masses when they are organizing in movements that present a challenge to the established order.” Fair! Again, we agree, when taken in the broadest terms. But we then must raise the question: how, exactly, does the so-called ‘Sanders movement’ present a challenge to the established order? For while we accept that “there is no area of the struggle that is not a struggle,” to the same degree that we recognize any other heartening truism, we would like to ask, instead, what about the ‘Sanders movement’ is, in any way, a ‘struggle’ at all?

The remainder of Beacham’s article seems to replace argument with the statement of facts we are simply meant to accept:

“The movement behind Sanders is massive, youthful, progressive and increasingly being joined by people of color and other oppressed people. In fact, his campaign has become more progressive in many areas. The Sanders movement is also – in a very broad sense – a socialist movement.”

Bracketing the identity opportunism at work in this first sentence (for, we would remind Beacham, the electorate behind imperialist warhawk Barack Obama was also massive, youthful and largely composed of colonized and oppressed people), we would point out what seems to be an obvious inconsistency at work here: if, as Beacham claims, revolution is the only real solution to capitalism – which, he admits, cannot be reformed away – then what does it mean for this reformist campaign to be “progressive”? Is this simply another social democratic ambiguity, an appeal to bourgeois visions of “social progress?” That is certainly not the field of concern for socialists; if we recognize that real social progress – that is, the abolition of capitalist production relations and the dismantling of bourgeois political domination – is only possible through revolution, and we recognize that electoralism is decidedly not revolutionary, how can the ‘Sanders movement’ be “more progressive”?

Likewise, we should ask how – given even Beacham’s own revisionist definition of socialism – the Sanders movement is a socialist one. The question answers itself. Socialism is the real movement of the working class to abolish the conditions of its exploitation by toppling the dictatorship of the bourgeois and transforming the relations of production. Even in the most broad possible sense, it is clear that the ideology of the ‘Sanders movement’ (which we might call “capitalism with a human face,” the class-truce capitalism of the “Nordic Model” countries) is hardly socialism.

Lest we be accused of ‘purity politics,’ however, let us respond to Beacham’s further objections. He claims that, regardless of the obvious weaknesses of the ‘Sanders movement,’ it is our responsibility to rally around its defense, against attacks by the ruling class. Why? Because this ‘movement’ is part of the upsurge of socialist re-emergence in u$ politics. We would challenge this – Sanders’ movement is not part of that upsurge, although it is its byproduct. The Sanders campaign should be understood as something of a safety-valve for the ruling classes, an emergency redirection of the explosive energy of class struggle back into avenues which ultimately do not threaten the domination of the capitalists. To be clear: we do not reject the Sanders campaign because it is “not socialist enough,” as though socialism and liberalism were simply opposite ends of a continuum. We reject it because it is not socialist at all.

Commenting on precisely this question, comrade George Jackson had the following to say:

“Years and years ago it may have been an acceptable tactic to organize a people’s ticket of solid worker and revolutionary credentials and arm it with an ideal platform – only to be defeated by a mud-slinging opportunist-warlord, demonstrably inferior, scum-swilling pig. Then pass out a pamphlet to explain to the people how the system has failed them, or speak it in Pershing Square – or, years ago, in the Campus Hall. Today it is not a tactic – it’s counterrevolution.
When any election is held it will fortify rather than destroy the credibility of the power brokers. When we participate in this election to win, instead of disrupt, we’re lending to its credibility, and destroying our own. With all the factors of control over the electoral process in the hands of the minority ruling class, the people’s party can always be made to seem isolated, unimportant, even extraneous. If these tactics still give the appearance of revolution to some after decades of miscarriage, we are justified in replacing them as vanguard.”3

Beacham asks what will happen to our credibility among the masses after a Sanders victory, if we do not support him; we ask what would happen to our credibility were we to support him, when capitalist business as usual continues?

Beacham claims that we must rally around Sanders, we must support him, because the masses do; besides simply repeating this claim, he does not provide anything resembling an argument. Not much of a political line!

Mao reminds us that discerning our friends from our enemies is a question of first importance for making revolution: against these ‘revolutionary’ ‘socialists’ (whose conception of each term amounts in the last instance to a 21st century Kautskyism), we assert with renewed vigor that the petty representatives of the bourgeois dictatorship are our enemies!

Rather than tailing behind the masses – who are not even the core of the Sanders electorate! – we must work to build the conditions for revolution. Why? Because the bourgeois will never turn over their political power by choice!

Mao wrote,

“We maintain that the proletarian party of any country should be prepared for two possibilities, one for peace and the other for war. In the first case, the Communist Party demands peaceful transition from the ruling class, following Lenin in the slogan he advanced during the period between the February and October Revolutions. Similarly we made a proposal to Chiang Kai-shek for the negotiation of peace. This is a defensive slogan against the bourgeoisie, against the enemy, showing that we want peace, not war, and it will help us win over the masses. It is a slogan that will give us the initiative, it is a tactical slogan. However, the bourgeoisie will never hand over state power of their own accord, but will resort to violence. Then there is the second possibility. If they want to fight and they fire the first shot, we cannot but fight back. To seize state power by armed force – this is a strategic slogan. If you insist on peaceful transition, there won’t be any difference between you and the socialist parties. The Japanese Socialist Party is just like that, it is prepared for only one possibility, that is, it will never use violence. The same is true of all the socialist parties of the world. Generally speaking, the political parties of the proletariat had better be prepared for two possibilities: one, a gentleman uses his tongue, not his fists, but two, if a bastard uses his fists, I’ll use mine.”4

All political power grows from the barrel of a gun. We can hope for the possibility for a peaceful transition to socialism, but the conditions for such an event demand a political situation otherwise than the one we face, one in which the political power of the masses poses a real threat to the bourgeois dictatorship and only the threat of revolution is necessary to disarm them. Until then, the communist movement must prepare for both possibilities.

Given that elementary truth, how do we organize to make a revolutionary situation possible?

We see the answer to that question in the work carried out by the Black Panther Party.

We know that the masses won’t much want to listen to us while they’re struggling for bread or housing. We also know that these struggles will only worsen as the contradictions sharpen; in this regard, we appreciate the sentiment of so-called ‘harm reduction’ electoralism, the advocacy for reforms that can lighten the burden on the oppressed masses. However, we see that tactic as essentially at-odds with our real political objectives – for in the end, only the bourgeois stand to gain, and whatever victories we might secure will be washed away two, four, six years down the line.

The solution to this problem, as put forward by the Panthers, took the form of ‘Service to the People’ programs, elsewhere called ‘Survival Programs.’ Quoting comrade Huey Newton, “[a Serve The People program is like] the survival kit of a sailor stranded on a raft. It helps him to sustain himself until he can get completely out of that situation. So the survival programs are not answers or solutions, but they will help us to organize the community around a true analysis and understanding of their situation. When consciousness and understanding is raised to a high level then the community will seize the time and deliver themselves from the boot of their oppressors.”

We know that the people are suffering; we know that the only solution is proletarian revolution. But the relationship between the communist movement and the broad working masses has never been weaker; it is necessary to construct a solid foundation in the deepest part of the masses in order that the revolutionary situation might be possible. In order to accomplish this, we see as exigent the need for establishing such survival programs – as in, survival pending revolution – in order to demonstrate to the masses that we are here to serve them, to build the requisite relationships necessary for mass mobilization around an authentically revolutionary program.

We know that this is long-term work, but it is work that has already begun. Across the so-called united $tates, militants of the Organizing Committee for a  Maoist Communist Party have begun to establish ‘For the People’ programs to serve the oppressed and exploited, and to build revolutionary class consciousness. Against the demands of that camp which would capitulate to the bourgeois dictatorship, we offer another call:

Rally around the Maoist Communist Party Organizing Committee!

Develop real organs of proletarian political power!

Cast away reformist illusions, prepare for struggle!

1 From a Private Circulation Letter from Marx and Engels, (First drafted by Engels) to Germany’s Social-Democratic leadership — Bebel, Liebknecht, Fritzsche, Geiser, Hasenclever, Bracke. This was in response to an August 1879 article written by Karl Hochberg, Eduard Bernstein, and Carl August Schramm, entitled “Retrospects on the Socialist Movement in Germany”. The magazine piece advocated transforming the German Social-Democratic party from a revolutionary to a reformist platform.

2 V.I. Lenin, ‘On Strikes,’ written at the end of 1899; Collected Works, Vol. 4.

3 George Jackson, Blood In My Eye.

4 Mao Tse-Tung, ‘Be Activists in Promoting the Revolution.’