Tens of thousands being dropped from US student loan relief program

By J. Cooper
15 November 2017

October marked 10 years since the George W. Bush administration enacted the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program as an incentive to young college graduates to pursue careers as teachers, in government, or at non-profit institutions. The program was advertised as a way for some recent graduates to see an exit sign on their student loan debt.

In 2006, average student loan debt for undergraduates was just under $20,000. For graduate students it was nearly $40,000. For the class of 2016, average undergraduate debt had climbed to $37,172. For graduate students, the average is considerably higher. In that same period, college tuition has increased 63 percent.

Over the past 10 years over half a million graduates have signed up for PSLF. However, according to a recent article in Rolling Stone, more than half of those have been disqualified for myriad bureaucratic reasons. Last month a total of only 137 individuals were deemed eligible to have the balance of their student loans wiped clean. Thousands are just finding out that their years of paying on time won’t count under the federal forgiveness plan because they took out the wrong type of loan, their employer has been disqualified, or their original lender sold the loan to an unqualified institution. President Trump’s budget proposes eliminating the program entirely for borrowers after July 2018.

As many of these borrowers are now discovering, if your employer hasn’t provided the correct proof of employment in a qualifying position, if the loan you are carrying is not through the sole federal direct-loan program, if you have missed even one of the 120 payments required within the 10-year span, or if you paid extra in one payment and skipped the next, you can be disqualified.

New York Times article from October 27 profiles a 46-year-old teacher who enrolled in the PSLF plan the year it was announced, thinking he had done everything according to the rules, only to discover in 2015 that he had been enrolled in a “particular type of ineligible payment plan and would need to start his decade of payments all over again.” One of the online comments from November 5 announces that several class action suits have been launched on behalf of borrowers who were not informed their loans were out of compliance.

Another commenter says: “By the time I’d learned that [one of the loans did not qualify], my loans had ballooned to $90k because I was only paying interest on them with 8.5 percent. … that nonsense impacted my career choices (deciding to stay in nonprofits to secure the forgiveness), my retirement funds, and my sanity. I will end up paying more than $55K in interest on my $60k loan. Truly criminal.”

Among the thousands disqualified or affected are teachers, doctors, lawyers, even police. A lawsuit by the American Bar Association was filed earlier this year after the Department of Education (DoE) announced it had “rescinded without explanation the association’s status as a qualified employer under PSLF and notified ABA employees and others who had previously been approved for participation in the program that they no longer qualified,” according to the DoE website.

Most of those applying for the PSLF program are those with postgraduate degrees. Currently there is no limit on the amount a graduate student can borrow, and it is not uncommon for a graduate student to embark on their first job out of school with $100,000 in debt. To discover, after 10 years working at a public service job, known for low salaries, that you don’t qualify for the program after all, not only impacts the financial wellbeing of the individual, but can have serious psychological effects.

Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, revealed that when the PSLF program was first created, it was intended to be small and unattractive. “Washington policymakers did not foresee the program growing to its current size. After all, 10 years is a long time to work in a qualifying job, so many experts thought people wouldn’t sign up,” he wrote in Politico in July. “They also thought borrowers were averse to making loan payments linked to their incomes, as hardly anyone enrolled in an earlier version of the government’s income-based repayment plan.”

In fact, Delisle speaks for that section of the ruling elite who are determined that not even a small segment of students in debt will get any relief. Delisle argues that the PSLF program should be eliminated because it encourages graduate students to maximize their debt load, since the larger amount will be forgiven after 10 years. It’s easy for him to ignore the dire consequences for those who get the reality check that they don’t qualify after they have made their regular payments and then face decades of additional payments when they thought they might be able to buy a house or start a family.

As of July this year, the interest rates for Direct Loans increased to 7 percent for graduate students, and 4.45 percent for undergraduates. Trump’s budget proposal includes a provision to eliminate entirely the federal Subsidized Stafford Loan, which has traditionally allowed students to defer payment while enrolled in a college or university, and had a somewhat lower interest rate upon graduation. Another provision proposed in the House version of the next budget would require that all tuition waived, either through a federal program, employer benefit or university tuition waiver, be counted as taxable income.

The overwhelming burden of student debt for borrowers at all levels is becoming worse every year. This past spring, total student loan debt surpassed $1.45 trillion, about $620 billion more than all US credit card debt. Among the 44 million borrowers, the average monthly payment is $351. Trump is proposing to abolish subsidized federal loans and institute a single program for all federal student lending as a single income-based repayment plan at 12.5 percent of adjusted gross income. Today’s recent graduate can look forward to at least half a lifetime of penury as the cost of an undergraduate degree. And for those who can’t afford more than the interest every month, it’s a lifetime.

Currently, 11.2 percent of student loan dollars are in default and another 11 percent are in forbearance (a temporary payment suspension granted at the discretion of the lender while interest continues to accrue). According to the September 28 Washington Post, “millions of people had not made a payment on about $144 billion in federal student loans for at least nine months as of June, a 12 percent increase in defaults from a year earlier.”

Although the default rate has declined slightly from its 14.7 percent peak in fiscal year 2010, it is still well above rates prior to the 2007-2008 mortgage collapse and Wall Street crash—from 8.8 percent in 2009 and 7 percent in 2007. The total number of borrowers in default is at an all-time high, with 1.1 million new borrowers defaulting in 2016.

According to the Department of Education’s latest figures, the third quarter of 2017 saw a major increase in loans going into default for at least a second time. Thirty-thousand borrowers defaulted on $64 million. This was a jump of 7,100 unique loans in just three months. The previous record was set in the first quarter of 2016, with 24,500 borrowers re-defaulting on $57 million.

College graduates face an increasingly bleak future, despite being told that a college education is a necessity to get a “decent” job today. As has been widely reported, Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are more likely to be living with their parents, rather than a spouse or partner. Employer-paid health care and pension plans are a relic of the past, forcing millions of college graduates to foot the bill for thousands of dollars in expenses in addition to the student loans. The average net worth of the 2016 college graduate is a negative $33,984.

This crushing debt provides fertile hunting grounds for rapacious debt collectors. For the fiscal quarter ending in March 2017, more than $2 billion had been “successfully” recouped for the lenders by 30 national collection agencies. Of this, $182 million was the result of wage garnishment. It should come as no surprise that feelings of despair and suicidal thoughts are so prevalent today.

As the teacher interviewed by Rolling Stone explained, the debt collectors “called day and night.” Calculating his “rehabilitated” debt at over $100,000, he said, “Not one dollar goes toward principal. I will never be able to pay it off. My only hope to escape from this crushing debt is to die.”

Significantly, a recent report by Experian, the consumer credit reporting agency, notes that of the generation of borrowers now making payments, aside from students currently enrolled and thus just beginning to accrue loans, millennials have the highest percentage of past due amounts on loans in repayment (not deferred). Millennials also have the highest number of loans, 4.4 on average. This is also the generation that indicated, by a majority (51 percent) in a recent poll, that they would rather live in a socialist or communist society than under capitalism.

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The legacy of Obamacare: A five percent increase in heart patient deaths

15 November 2017

When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet  murder it remains. (Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1845)

* * *

A US government program supposedly devised both to improve medical care and cut costs has, predictably, succeeded in the latter while undermining the former. Research published Sunday in JAMA Cardiology (Journal of the American Medical Association) shows that an initiative introduced five years ago under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to induce hospitals to reduce Medicare readmissions for heart patients has resulted in an increase in mortality rates among those studied.

Under the ACA’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), hospitals were penalized financially when heart failure patients were readmitted within a month. While the program has succeeded in reducing the number of 30-day readmissions, the number of patients who died within a year rose by 5 percentage points. According to one of the study’s senior authors, these findings could account for an additional 5,000 to 10,000 deaths annually across the US due directly to the program.

For the American ruling elite, HRRP and other schemes devised by bureaucrats at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are part of an agenda that is as deliberate as it is ruthless: Men and women in the US are living too long into old age and measures must be taken to cut costs associated with their medical care and shorten their life expectancy. This is the deadly price that must be paid to prop up a society that is one of the most socially unequal both in terms of income and the delivery of health care.

The statistics do not lie. Study researchers analyzed 115,245 patients at 416 hospitals in the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines-Heart Failure registry from January 2006 to December 2014. They examined readmission and death rates before and after the program began in 2012.

* Readmission rates within one month fell from 20 percent before HRRP penalties to 18.4 percent after HRRP (down 1.6 percent). Mortality rates, however, rose by almost the same rate, from 7.2 percent before HRRP to 8.6 percent after (up 1.4 percent).

* Statistics for readmission and mortality within one year were even more damning. Readmission within one year fell by only about 1 percent, from 57.2 percent before HRRP to 56.3 percent after. But the mortality rate within one year rose from 31.3 percent before HRRP to 36.3 percent after—a shocking 5 percent increase. These figures show that there is a direct correlation between implementation of the Obamacare policy and preventable deaths.

HRRP penalizes hospitals up to 3 percent of every Medicare dollar for “excessive” repeat hospital stays. That is 15 times more than the 0.2 percent penalty levied against hospitals with high mortality rates. In other words, while hospitals with higher rates of mortality face a minimal fine, hospitals are being substantially penalized for failure to comply with a program that is resulting in increased deaths.

Compounding the misery, financial penalties from HRRP have been shown to fall disproportionately on academic medical centers and “safety-net” hospitals where “higher readmission rates are associated with the higher case-mix complexity and lower socioeconomic status,” according to the study, i.e., those treating poorer and sicker patients. In such settings, hospitals are incentivized to “game” the system by delaying admissions, increasing observation stays or shifting inpatient-type care to emergency departments, to the detriment of patient welfare.

The US mortality rate rose in 2015 in the first year-over-year increase since 2005, with life expectancy falling between 2014 and 2015 from 85.8 years to 85.6 years for men, and from 87.8 years to 87.6 years for women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this decline was due to an increase in eight of the 10 leading causes of death in the US, including heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide.

With heart disease rising, there is no other way to interpret the penalties imposed by the ACA for early readmission of heart patients than a deliberate effort to see more men and women die. US corporations are already reaping a grim dividend from this downward trend, with at least 12 major corporations reporting this summer that they have reduced their estimates for how much they could owe in pension and other retirement obligations by a combined $9.7 billion due to shorter life spans.

It is fitting that the health care overhaul known as Obamacare was the instigator of HRRP, an irrefutable demonstration that the ACA was the first major volley in the bipartisan drive to restrict access to affordable health care and sharply reduce the length of workers’ lives.

As the World Socialist Web Site explained as early at 2009, the Obama administration’s health care “reform” established a framework for the insurers, the corporations and the government to drastically reduce the health benefits available to low- and middle-income individuals and families. The aim is to limit the amount that the government must pay out for health care and Social Security payments, as well as what corporations must pay in pensions and other retirement benefits.

Health care in the Obamacare era has nothing in common with quality, near-universal health care, as Obama initially pledged. It is based entirely on the for-profit health care system in America, including the insurance companies, giant hospitals, health care chains and pharmaceutical companies. Any repeal of the ACA—and its replacement with “Trumpcare” or any other legislation—will maintain the class-based delivery of health care and undoubtedly worsen it for the majority of Americans.

The empirical proof provided by research published in JAMA Cardiology that an ACA program has predictably caused increased deaths should serve as a stark warning to the working class. This Obamacare program is of a piece with the bipartisan attack on jobs and living standards, the attack on immigrants and democratic rights, and the drive to war.

This assault will inevitably provoke enormous social opposition among workers and young people. This opposition must be channeled into the fight for a progressive overhaul of the health care system that takes as its starting point an end to privately owned health care corporations and medicine-for-profit and the establishment of socialized medicine, democratically administered by a workers’ government, providing free, high-quality health care for all.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/15/pers-n15.html

The Place of the October Revolution in World History and Contemporary Politics

By David North
13 November 2017

On the last day of 1917, Franz Mehring—the great socialist historian, journalist and theoretician, who had, along with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, opposed the German Social Democratic Party’s vote for war credits in August 1914—appraised the events in Petrograd, where only six weeks earlier the Bolsheviks had led the insurrection that overthrew the bourgeois Provisional Government. While recognizing the immense political implications of the Bolsheviks’ accession to power, Mehring emphasized that what had occurred in Petrograd would likely prove, in time, to have been only the beginning of a protracted and arduous struggle. He wrote:

Revolutions have a long breath, if they are real revolutions; the seventeenth-century English Revolution, the eighteenth-century French Revolution each took about forty years to work themselves out, and the challenges that confronted the English and even the French Revolution were almost child’s play compared to the tremendous problems that confront the Russian revolution. [1]

In fact, the seizure of power, which had been achieved almost bloodlessly in Petrograd, was immediately followed by an uninterrupted succession of political crises. First, there was the conflict over the formation of a government. This was followed soon after by the confrontation with the Constituent Assembly, which the Bolsheviks decided to disperse. Then came the bitter controversy over the negotiations with the Germans, and the decision—amidst bitter divisions within the Bolshevik leadership—to accept the drastic concessions demanded by the German imperialists and to sign the peace treaty. By the spring of 1918, Soviet Russia was being engulfed by full-scale civil war. In July, Lenin was shot twice by a member of the Socialist Revolutionary party, an assassination attempt that he barely survived. Nevertheless, in countless historical narratives, the Bolsheviks are presented as bloodthirsty fanatics, indifferent to even the most reasonable appeals. Their opponents, on the other hand, especially among the Mensheviks, are portrayed as paragons of compromise. This has little to do with reality. Let us review the first of the post-insurrection crises.

The Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary parties demanded at once that the Bolsheviks end their “adventure” and relinquish power. They declared that they would not even negotiate with the Bolsheviks unless the Military Revolutionary Committee—which had organized the insurrection—was disarmed. Its leaders (such as Trotsky) would receive temporary guarantees for their personal safety until their fate was decided by a future session of the Constituent Assembly. [2] Judging from their insolent demands, it seems that they did not really understand the balance of power in Petrograd.

The intransigence of the so-called “moderate” socialist parties, who were supported by the right-wing leadership of the railway workers union (known as Vikzhel), was encouraged by the presence within the Bolshevik Central Committee of a substantial faction, led by Lev Kamenev, who were prepared to make massive compromises in order to broaden the base of the government. In response to the demand by the “moderate” socialists and the City Duma that Lenin and Trotsky be excluded from leadership positions in a new coalition government, the Bolshevik Central Committee issued a statement (in the absence of the two principal leaders of the revolution) that “some reciprocal give and take on party nominations was permissible.” [3]

As explained by historian Alexander Rabinowitch, the position of the Central Committee, which was explicitly reiterated in a subsequent statement by Lev Kamenev, “was a signal that Lenin and Trotsky were not untouchable and that even a Bolshevik majority in a government which included all socialist parties might not be an absolute requirement.” [4] The Menshevik demand that Lenin and Trotsky be excluded from power was, in essence, a call for the political and physical decapitation of the working class. Theodore Dan, one of the main Menshevik party leaders, actually called for the disarming of Petrograd workers.

The anti-Bolshevik frenzy of the “moderate” socialists frightened a section of the more left-wing Menshevik-Internationalists, led by Martov. One representative of this faction, A. A. Blum, asked the right-wing “moderates:” “Have you given any thought to what the defeat of the Bolsheviks would mean? The action of the Bolsheviks is the action of workers and soldiers. Workers and soldiers will be crushed along with the party of the proletariat.” [5]

Despite the capitulatory sentiments within the Bolshevik Central Committee, there remained strong support for Soviet power among Petrograd workers. Lenin was unyielding in his defense of the insurrection and the establishment of a genuinely revolutionary government. In an explosive meeting of the Central Committee on November 1, 1917, Lenin unleashed a furious verbal assault against Kamenev and other capitulators in the Party leadership. He cited reports of the shooting by bourgeois Junker military officers of soldiers taken captive in Moscow, where bourgeois forces were bitterly resisting the revolution. Invoking the fate of defeated working-class uprisings, which had been drowned in blood, Lenin reminded the capitulators, “[I]f the bourgeoisie had triumphed, it would have acted as it did in 1848 and 1871.” [6] The historical references were to the massacre of Parisian workers by General Cavaignac in June 1848 and the shooting of at least 10,000 workers by the bourgeois army of the Versailles government during the suppression of the Paris Commune in May 1871.

Compromise and coalition with the very parties that had supported the Provisional Government was tantamount to renunciation of the October Revolution. Of all the members of the Central Committee, there was only one who unequivocally and forcefully defended Lenin’s refusal to accept a coalition with opponents of the insurrection: “As for conciliation, I cannot even speak about that seriously,” Lenin declared. “Trotsky long ago said that unification is impossible. Trotsky understood this, and from that time on there has been no better Bolshevik.” [7]

Lenin insisted that the Party was obligated, as the leadership of the working class, to defend its interests. Answering Zinoviev, who once again was allied with Kamenev in demanding compromise with the right, Lenin stated:

Zinoviev says that we are not the Soviet power. We are, if you please, only the Bolsheviks, left alone since the departure of the Social Revolutionists and the Mensheviks, and so forth and so on. But we are not responsible for that. We have been elected by the Congress of the Soviets. This organization is something new. Whoever wants to struggle enters into it. It does not comprise the people; it comprises the vanguard whom the masses follow. We go with the masses—the active and not the weary masses. To refrain now from extending the insurrection [is to capitulate] to the weary masses, but we are with the vanguard. The Soviets take shape [in struggle]. The Soviets are the vanguard of the proletarian masses. [8]

In support of Lenin’s position, Trotsky presented a clear and unsentimental appraisal of political realities:

We are told that we are incapable of building up. In that case we should simply surrender power to those who were correct in struggling against us. But we have already performed a great labor. We are told that we cannot sit on bayonets. But neither can we manage without bayonets. We need bayonets there in order to be able to sit here. One should imagine that the experience we have already gone through has taught us something. There has been a battle in Moscow. Yes, there was a serious battle with the Junkers there. But these Junkers owe allegiance neither to the Mensheviks nor the Vikzhel. Conciliation with the Vikzhelwill not do away with the conflict with the Junker detachments of the bourgeoisie. No. A cruel class struggle will continue to be waged against us in the future as well. When all these middle-class lice, who are now incapable of taking either side, discover that our Government is a strong one, they will come to our side, together with the Vikzhel. Owing to the fact that we crushed the Cossacks of [General] Krasnov beneath Petersburg, we were showered on the very next day with telegrams of congratulation. The petty-bourgeois masses are seeking that force to which they must submit themselves. Whoever fails to understand this cannot have the slightest comprehension of anything in the universe and, least of all, in the state apparatus. Back in 1871, Karl Marx said that a new class cannot simply make use of the old apparatus. This apparatus engenders its own interests and habits which we must run up against. It must be smashed and replaced; only then will we be able to work.

If that were not so, if the old Czarist apparatus suited our new purposes, then the entire revolution would not be worth an empty eggshell. We must create such an apparatus as would actually place the common interests of the popular masses above the proper interests of the apparatus itself.

There are many in our midst who have cultivated a purely bookish attitude towards the question of the classes and of the class struggle. The moment they got a whiff of the revolutionary reality, they began to talk a different language (i.e., of conciliation and not struggle).

We are now living through the most profound social crisis. At present the proletariat is effecting the demolition and the replacement of the state apparatus. The resistance on their part reflects the processes of our growth. No words can moderate their hatred of us. We are told that their program is presumably similar to ours. Give them a few seats and that will settle everything… No. The bourgeoisie is aligned against us by virtue of all its class interests. And what will we achieve as against that by taking to the road of conciliation with the Vikzhel?… We are confronted with armed violence, which can be overcome only by means of violence on our own part. Lunacharsky says that blood is flowing. What to do? Evidently we should never have begun.

Then why don’t you openly admit that the biggest mistake was committed not so much in October but towards the end of February when we entered the arena of future civil war. [9]

The struggle within the Bolshevik leadership raged for more than a week. It required the greatest effort by Lenin, with Trotsky’s support, to overcome the demands for a coalition government with the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and other opponents of the Bolshevik-led insurrection of October 24-25.

What underlay the conflict within the Bolshevik leadership—which once again brought the party to the verge of a split—was the extent to which a substantial section of the Central Committee remained opposed, not only to the October seizure of power, but to the entire political orientation that had been introduced by Lenin following his return to Russia in April 1917. Kamenev’s demand that the Bolshevik Party accede to a coalition, even if that meant barring Lenin and Trotsky from positions in the new government, recapitulated the positions that he had advanced, together with Stalin, in the immediate aftermath of the February Revolution.

Let us recall that prior to the return of Lenin, the Bolshevik Party—under the leadership of Kamenev and Stalin—had adapted itself to the political arrangements that had emerged in the immediate aftermath of the February Revolution. It accepted the authority of the bourgeois Provisional Government. The newly formed Soviet was to do no more than attempt to assert left-wing influence on the formulation of the policies of the democratically refurbished bourgeois state. The inescapable corollary of the acceptance of bourgeois rule was support for the continuation of Russia’s participation in the imperialist war, which was repackaged, since the overthrow of the tsarist regime, as a war in defense of democracy.

The political perspective that underlay this initial Bolshevik response to the February upheaval was that Russia was undergoing a bourgeois democratic revolution, whose goal was the establishment of a parliamentary democracy, akin to that existing in Great Britain or France. The fight for a workers government—i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat—was rejected as historically and economically premature. Russia—economically backward and with a population whose majority was comprised of peasants—was not ready for socialism. To be fair to Kamenev and other Bolshevik leaders who held this position, they could—and, in fact, did—legitimately claim that their response to the February Revolution was based on the long-established Bolshevik program of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.

This program was, at best, ambiguous as to the class nature of the regime that was to arise on the basis of the overthrow of the tsarist government. Moreover, the program of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry differed fundamentally from the perspective of permanent revolution, which had been formulated by Trotsky during and in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution of 1905. As is well known, Trotsky’s theory anticipated that the democratic revolution against tsarism would develop rapidly into a socialist revolution, requiring the working class to take power into its own hands, begin the implementation of socialist policies, and make deep and even fatal encroachments on bourgeois-capitalist property.

Trotsky’s prediction that the coming Russian Revolution would assume a socialist character was dismissed by virtually all his political contemporaries on the left, including the Bolsheviks, as an unrealistic, even utopian, appraisal of Russian conditions. It was simply not possible to advocate the direct seizure of power by the working class in a country whose economy was not sufficiently prepared for socialist measures.

However, Trotsky’s critics paid insufficient attention to his underlying argument. Trotsky’s anticipation of a socialist revolution was derived, not from a nationally based appraisal of Russian conditions, but, rather, from an analysis of the twentieth century development of the capitalist world economy and its impact on the political life of all countries. The global development of capitalism, Trotsky had argued in 1907, “has transformed the entire world into a single economic and political organism.” The complex interlocking network of economic relations would inevitably draw all countries “into a social crisis of unprecedented dimensions.” The eruption of the unavoidable crisis would lead to the “radical, worldwide liquidation” of bourgeois rule. Trotsky’s analysis of the global crisis determined his strategic conception of the Russian Revolution. The “international character” of the capitalist crisis would open up “majestic prospects” for the Russian working class. “Political emancipation, led by the Russian working class,” Trotsky wrote, “is raising the latter to heights that are historically unprecedented, providing it with colossal means and resources, and making it the initiator of capitalism’s worldwide liquidation, for which history has prepared all the objective preconditions.” [10]

Prior to 1914, Lenin had rejected the strategic orientation that flowed from Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. But the outbreak of World War I, and the immediate capitulation of the Second International to national chauvinism, had a profound impact on Lenin’s conception of the Russian Revolution. To the extent that any one event could “change everything,” the outbreak of the world war was such a development. From August 1914 on, Lenin’s analysis of the causes of the world war and the betrayal of the Second International became the foundation of his understanding of all political developments. The war was not simply an event, after which, as Karl Kautsky hoped, everything would return, more or less, to what it was prior to August 1914. The world war signified, for Lenin, the beginning of a new epoch in world politics.

Just two years before the war, the delegates attending the 1912 Basel Congress of the Second International had passed a resolution in which they pledged to exploit the crisis created by the outbreak of war to carry out the worldwide liquidation of the capitalist system. One may safely assume that the vast majority of delegates viewed the resolution as nothing more than a politically meaningless rhetorical exercise. Lenin, however, viewed the resolution as a serious statement of policy, binding on all the sections of the Second International.

Moreover, as analyzed by Lenin, the war was not an accident, the outcome of the mistakes and miscalculations of one or another national government. The war represented nothing less than a devastating system-wide disruption of the economic and geopolitical equilibrium of the capitalist-imperialist world order. The outbreak of war, drawing millions of people into the vortex of horrific and unprecedented violence, was the response of the capitalist ruling classes of Europe to this system-wide failure. War was their method of a “system reset,” requiring a new division of colonial possessions and spheres of influence, upon which a new economic and political equilibrium would be eventually established.

In opposition to the capitalist solution, the necessary and unavoidable response of the working class in all the imperialist countries was world socialist revolution. The systemic breakdown that assumed, in the objective practice of the imperialist ruling classes, the form of war, would assume, in the objective practice of the international working class, the form of intensifying anti-capitalist class struggle and socialist revolution. The ending of the war required the overthrow of the capitalist classes, the abolition of the economic system based on capitalist property and the profit system, and the destruction of the nation state. It was to the conscious development of this objective tendency of social and economic development that the policy of the world socialist movement had to be oriented, both in program and practice.

From the standpoint of an understanding of the imperialist war from within this global framework, it was clear that those who argued that Russia—as an isolated “national” unit of world economy—was not “ready” for socialist revolution really missed the point. Lenin was not advocating a program of nationally based socialism. For Lenin (and, of course, Trotsky) Russia comprised a critical front in what was a worldwide struggle. A complex set of circumstances had placed before the Russian working class the task of opening up the first great front in the world socialist revolution.

Once Lenin returned to Russia, he was compelled to conduct an intense political struggle against all those tendencies within the Bolshevik Party who viewed the revolution in a national framework. Lenin opened the Seventh All-Russia Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, on April 24, 1917, with the following statement:

Comrades, we are assembled here as the first conference of the proletarian party in conditions of the Russian revolution and a developing world revolution as well. The time is approaching when the assertion of the founders of scientific socialism, and the unanimous forecast of the socialists who gathered at the Basel Congress, that world war would inevitably lead to revolution, is being everywhere proved correct…

The great honor of beginning the revolution has fallen to the Russian proletariat. But the Russian proletariat must not forget that its movement and revolution are only part of the world revolutionary proletarian movement, which in Germany, for example, is gaining momentum with every passing day. Only from this angle can we define our tasks. [11]

Lenin continued:

From the point of view of Marxism, in discussing imperialism it is absurd to restrict oneself to conditions in one country alone, since all capitalist countries are closely bound together. Now, in time of war, this bond has grown immeasurably stronger. All humanity is thrown into a tangled bloody heap from which no nation can extricate itself on its own. Though there are more and less advanced countries, this war has bound them all together by so many threads that escape from this tangle for any single country acting on its own is inconceivable. [12]

Even after Lenin had won the party to the perspective of the struggle for power, he continued relentlessly to stress the internationalist foundations of the party’s strategy. He explained in articles, speeches at mass rallies and in scholarly lectures that the war and the revolution in Russia arose out of the crisis of world imperialism. In a lecture delivered on May 4, 1917 on the subject of “War and Revolution,” Lenin declared:

The war which all capitalists are waging cannot be ended without a workers’ revolution against these capitalists. So long as control remains a mere phrase instead of deed, so long as the government of the capitalists has not been replaced by a government of the revolutionary proletariat, the government is doomed merely to reiterate: We are heading for disaster, disaster, disaster…

The only way to end this war is by a workers’ revolution in several countries. In the meantime, we should make preparations for that revolution, we should assist it. [13]

The Bolshevik decision to take power was a demonstration of extraordinary political courage and, one must add, political “will,” in the best sense of the term. In this historical situation, the Bolshevik “will to power” was not the expression of any sort of subjective voluntarism, but the necessary alignment of political practice with objective reality. Critics of the October Revolution, even those professing sympathy with its socialist aspirations, argued that the decision to take power involved too many risks. Given the fact that Lenin and Trotsky believed that the fate of Soviet Russia depended upon the extension of the socialist revolution into Central and Western Europe, and especially Germany, was it not dangerous, even reckless, to base Bolshevik policy on the conquest of power by the workers of another country? Were the Bolsheviks not placing too great a bet on the successful outcome of the German revolution? Would it not have been wiser to delay revolutionary action in Russia until the development of the revolutionary movement in Germany made the prospects for success less problematic?

This skeptical outlook betrays a poor understanding of both the historical process and the dynamic of the international revolutionary struggle. In a pamphlet written shortly before the October Revolution, titled Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, Lenin mocked those who were prepared to sanction a social revolution only “if history were to lead to it in the peaceful, calm, smooth and precise manner of a German express train pulling into a station. A sedate conductor would open the carriage door and announce: ‘Social Revolution Station! Alle aussteigen!” [14] Everyone must leave the train.

Lenin also cited another argument that was often raised against the taking of power. The revolution would be a highly recommended course of action if the political situation were not so “exceptionally complicated.” Barely restraining his sarcasm, Lenin replied to the “wise men” urging that the Bolsheviks wait for the emergence of an “uncomplicated” situation.

Such revolutions never occur, and sighs for such a revolution amount to nothing more than the reactionary wails of a bourgeois intellectual. Even if a revolution has started in a situation that seemed to be not very complicated, the development of the revolution always creates an exceptionally complicated situation. A revolution, a real, profound, a ‘people’s’ revolution, to use Marx’s expression, is the incredibly complicated and painful process of the death of the old and birth of the new social order, of the mode of life of tens of millions of people. Revolution is the most intense, furious, desperate class struggle and civil war…

If the situation were not exceptionally complicated there would be no revolution. If you are afraid of wolves don’t go into the forest. [15]

History in general, and revolutions in particular, would be very simple affairs if they always offered clear-cut alternatives with absolutely predictable outcomes, and if the most farsighted and progressive courses of action were always the least dangerous and least demanding. In reality, great historical projects present themselves in the form of excruciating problems, demanding painful decisions, involving great risks and requiring immense sacrifices.

The October revolution, establishing the first workers’ state, was precisely such a great and, if I may use the word, complicated project. Let us keep in mind certain important conditions affecting the course of events in October 1917 and the months and years that followed. The revolution occurred in the midst of a global conflagration that accelerated the disintegration of a vast and archaic empire that sprawled across one-sixth of the land surface of the earth. The scale of the geopolitical, social and economic crisis that overwhelmed Russia in 1917 determined the astonishing pace of events between February and October. When Lenin warned of an “impending catastrophe” in the autumn of 1917, there was not a trace of exaggeration in his choice of words. The bourgeois Provisional Government and its allies among the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries in the Soviet were unable to formulate, let alone implement, any coherent set of policies to deal with a crisis of such a monumental magnitude. In his only comment on the centenary of the October Revolution, Vladimir Putin voiced the regret that a more peaceful solution had not been found to the crisis of 1917:

We have to ask the question: was it really not possible to develop not through revolution but through evolution, without destroying statehood and mercilessly ruining the fate of millions, but through gradual, step-by-step progress? [16]

One can imagine Putin, had he been alive in 1917, as a functionary in some police-connected department of the Provisional Government, indignant over the popular repudiation of the old institutions of the state, horrified by the violence in the streets, disappointed by the failure of General Kornilov to restore order, and bitterly hostile to the Bolsheviks.

An evolutionary and peaceful solution to the crisis was simply not to be found in 1917. The failure of the Provisional Government and the entire reformist perspective of the “moderate” socialist leadership of the pre-October Soviets testified to the fact that the crisis could not be solved on a capitalist basis, or within the framework of Russian nationalism.

The program of world socialist revolution, advanced by Lenin and Trotsky, was the only viable strategic response to the systemic breakdown that began with the outbreak of the European war. Notwithstanding her own criticisms of certain aspects of Bolshevik policies, Rosa Luxemburg wrote: “That the Bolsheviks have based their policy entirely upon the world proletarian revolution is the clearest proof of their political farsightedness and firmness of principle and of the bold scope of their policies.” [17]

Had history been kinder to the Bolsheviks, the conquest of power by the working class in Germany would have preceded, or, at least, occurred simultaneously with the October Revolution. But, as Trotsky was to write, history was not kind. It was a “wicked stepmother.” The betrayal of the German Social Democratic Party foreclosed that possibility. That betrayal not only delayed the German revolution; it also introduced confusion and division into the German working class.

Particularly in the aftermath of the attempted counterrevolution by General Kornilov in the late summer of 1917, it had become clear that only by overthrowing the Provisional Government could the revolution be saved. Thus, the Bolsheviks were placed in the position of assuming state power under conditions of political isolation. They confronted the dual task of defending the revolution against counterrevolutionary forces within Russia (which received the backing of world imperialism) and, at the same time, doing all that was possible to advance the cause of the world socialist revolution. These two inseparably connected aspects of their revolutionary policy found expression in the creation of the Red Army and the founding of the Communist (Third) International. The first congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow in March 1919. The next three congresses—whose debates and resolutions remain to this day essential elements of the theoretical and political education of revolutionary Marxists—were held on an annual basis, in 1920, 1921 and 1922.

The survival of the revolution—particularly under conditions of the defeats suffered by the working class beyond the borders of Soviet Russia—would not have been possible without the creation of the Red Army. And here it is necessary to refer, if only briefly, to the critical role of Trotsky as commissar of war and the Red Army’s principal commander. Historian Jonathan D. Smele, the author of a valuable study of the Russian Civil Wars (he uses the plural), writes that “Trotsky’s transformation from a propagandist, with a few month’s experience as a war correspondent in the Balkans in 1912, to the organizer of a multimillion-strong army was remarkable.” Smele calls attention to “Trotsky’s ability to inspire loyalty” and his “ability to choose wise advisers” as important characteristics of his leadership. [18]

In another study, Colonel Harold W. Nelson (who taught at the United States War College) stresses Trotsky’s exceptional skills as a military strategist and leader. “He had a more perfect understanding of the need for speed rather than tactical victories, and he sensed the importance of massing troops in the critical theater rather than detaching troops to take political objectives.” His earlier writings on the Balkan Wars revealed an intense interest in the impact of war on those who were compelled to fight. Trotsky “wanted to know what men did in combat and he hoped he might discover what combat did to men. His was not the idle curiosity of the observer, but the passionate interest of the student… This passionate interest in vital social problems was Trotsky’s nature, and he studied war with the same consuming desire that he had brought to his earlier contacts with economics, languages and revolutionary theory.” [19]

Trotsky possessed extraordinary administrative and organizational abilities. But the key element of Trotsky’s leadership of the Red Army was his unequaled historical and political comprehension of the complex interaction between social forces operating within Russia, the ever-shifting geopolitical and economic interests and antagonisms that were operative within the world imperialist system, and the influences of all these global processes upon the class struggle within different countries and the development of the world socialist revolution as a whole. Within this process, moreover, the struggle of the working class and, especially, the political initiatives of the Marxist vanguard played a significant and, under certain exceptional conditions, decisive role in determining the course of world history.

As he directed the struggle of the Red Army against multiple enemies and across numerous military fronts that spanned thousands of miles, Trotsky was continuously seeking to understand the place of the October Revolution within the global development of socialist revolution. Despite setbacks in one sector of the vast battlefield of world revolutions, strategic opportunities for a breakthrough might arise in another sector.

After the defeats of uprisings in Germany and Hungary, the Bolsheviks realized that the victory of socialist revolution in Europe would be a more protracted process than they had originally hoped. However, the stirring of the masses in the East, awakened to political life by the victory of the Bolsheviks, provided new possibilities for the development of the world revolution. In August 1919, Trotsky sent a lengthy memo from his military train to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (as the party had been renamed). He wrote:

There is no doubt at all that our Red Army constitutes an incomparably more powerful force in the Asian terrain of world politics than in the European terrain. Here there opens up before us an undoubted possibility not merely of a lengthy wait to see how events develop in Europe, but of conducting activity in the Asian field. The road to India may prove at the given moment to be more readily passable and shorter for us than the road to Soviet Hungary. The sort of army which at the moment can be of no great significance in the European scales can upset the unstable balance of Asian relationships of colonial dependence, give a direct push to an uprising on the part of the oppressed masses and assure the triumph of such a rising in Asia…

Our military successes in the Urals and in Siberia should raise the prestige of the Soviet Revolution throughout the whole of oppressed Asia to an exceptionally high level. It is essential to exploit this factor and concentrate somewhere in the Urals or in Turkestan a Revolutionary Academy, the political and military headquarters of the Asian Revolution, which in the period immediately ahead may turn out to be far more effectual than the Executive Committee of the Third International. [20]

The setbacks suffered by the working class in Europe in the period between 1919 and 1921 made it clear that the development of the socialist revolution would be a more protracted process than the Bolsheviks had originally expected. This did not mean that the decision to take power in Russia was based on an incorrect appraisal of European conditions, as bourgeois historians generally claim. In fact, the October Revolution contributed to an immense radicalization of the working class in Europe, and there were uprisings (as in Germany and Hungary) and massive strikes (as in Italy). But the defeat of these movements required the reworking of certain elements of the revolutionary perspective.

Crucial lessons had certainly emerged from the October Revolution and its aftermath. First, that the victory of the socialist revolution is dependent, to a degree that could not have been appreciated prior to 1914, upon the existence of a revolutionary Marxist party capable of providing leadership to the working class. The fact that the fate of the revolution for an extended political period could be decided within just a few critical days imparted to the issue of leadership an extraordinary political and historical significance. Second, the experience of the October Revolution had made more acute the capitalists’ fear of socialist revolution.

Once the ruling elites realized that the Bolshevik victory would not be overturned and recognized what it meant to lose power, they were determined to prevent at all costs a repetition of the experience. This heightened awareness of political danger led to an enormous mobilization of counterrevolutionary violence against the working class and its political vanguard. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered in Berlin in January 1919 during the bloody suppression of the revolutionary Spartacist uprising. Fascist movements were built up throughout Europe.

The bourgeoisie, Trotsky warned in July 1921, “attains its greatest concentration of forces and resources, of political and military means of deception, of coercion, and provocation, i.e., the flowering of its class strategy, at the moment when it is most immediately threatened by social ruin.” The epoch of capitalist crisis and breakdown finds expression in the flowering within the bourgeoisie of its counterrevolutionary strategy, which Trotsky characterized as “the art of waging a combined struggle against the proletariat by every method from saccharine, professorial-clerical preachments to machine-gunning of strikers…” [21]

How was the working class to respond to the determination of the bourgeoisie, using all methods at its disposal, to destroy all threats to its rule? Trotsky answered: “The task of the working class—in Europe and throughout the world—consists in counterposing to the thoroughly thought-out counterrevolutionary strategy of the bourgeoisie its own revolutionary strategy, likewise thought out to the end.” [22]

* * * * *

The years between 1921 and 1924 marked a critical period of political transition in the Soviet Union. During the previous seven years, from 1914 to 1921, Russia had experienced a staggering level of political and social upheaval. The defeats of the working class in Europe meant that the political and economic isolation of the Soviet Union would continue, though it was still hoped that the time frame would involve Union would last years, if not decades. The introduction of the New Economic Policy in March 1921 involved substantial concessions to capitalist market forces, which were justified, and entirely legitimately, as a necessary retreat. However, the ensuing strengthening of capitalist forces, interacting with the growing bureaucratization of the Communist Party and the state apparatus and the temporary stabilization of capitalism in Western Europe, had significant political consequences. By late 1922, there were growing indications that the revolutionary spirit present in the early years of the Soviet state was ebbing. This found political expression in the resurgence of national chauvinist tendencies within the Party leadership.

Lenin had suffered a serious stroke in May 1922 and did not return to political activity until October 1922. He was shocked by the change in the political environment within the party leadership. Lenin vehemently objected to Stalin’s disrespectful treatment of representatives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Georgian Republic, and described him as a “Great Russian chauvinist bully.” In one of his last political acts, in March 1923, Lenin threatened to sever all personal relations with Stalin. But just a day later, he suffered a massive stroke that ended his political life. On January 21, 1924, Lenin died.

In October 1923, the Communist Party squandered another major revolutionary opportunity in Germany. Another major failure occurred in Bulgaria. These defeats were widely interpreted as the end of the period of revolutionary upheavals in Central and Western Europe that had begun six years earlier in Russia. Within the Russian Communist Party and broad sections of the working class, there was a loss of confidence in the possibility that a victorious revolution in a major capitalist country would end the isolation of Russia and provide resources for the development of a socialist economy.

With Lenin now removed from the scene, Leon Trotsky—who more than any other leader personified the link between October and the World Socialist Revolution—was increasingly isolated within the Russian Communist Party. The publication of Lessons of October in the autumn of 1924, in which the leader of the insurrection reviewed the political struggles within the Bolshevik Party that preceded the insurrection, unleashed a venomous political attack on Trotsky and the theory of permanent revolution. Not only was Trotsky’s central role in the organization and success of the insurrection and the subsequent victory of the Red Army over counterrevolutionary forces denied. His enemies in the Political Committee of the Communist Party—principally Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin—claimed that his theory of permanent revolution was a revision of what was now being referred to as “Leninism” and had nothing whatsoever to do with the strategy pursued by the Bolshevik Party in the preparation of the struggle for power.

Lenin’s political struggle against the line of Kamenev and Stalin in April 1917 was dismissed as nothing more than a minor squabble. They claimed that the perspective introduced by Lenin’s April Theses developed logically from the old Bolshevik program of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry and had nothing whatsoever to do with the conceptions of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.

The era of the “Big Lie” had begun. A lengthy report given by Kamenev in November 1924, entitled Trotskyism or Leninism, initiated the unrestrained falsification of history, aimed at discrediting and demonizing Trotsky. This was to become the chief characteristic of Soviet political life. Trotsky, Kamenev asserted,

did not understand the basics about the Leninist theory of the relations between the working class and the peasantry in the Russian revolution. He did not understand this even after October, and he did not understand it at each turning point made by our party, when it maneuvered to achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat without any separation from the peasantry. He had been prevented from understanding this by his own theory, which, in his opinion, had been ‘confirmed entirely.’ If Trotsky’s theory had proven correct, this would have meant that any kind of Soviet power in Russia would have long since ceased to exist. [23]

The political and theoretical essence of Kamenev’s assault on Trotsky and denunciation of the theory of permanent revolution was an attempt to restore, within the context of the New Economic Policy, the nationally oriented perspective that had been rejected in 1917. Kamenev’s attack was directed, above all, against Trotsky’s insistence on the primacy of the perspective of world socialist revolution in the determination of national policy. Kamenev objected to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution because it “would make the workers’ government in Russia wholly dependent on the immediate proletarian revolution in the West.” [24] What was particularly objectionable about Trotsky’s theory, Kamenev asserted, was its insistence that there can be no solution to the problem of Russia’s capitalist development “within the framework of a national revolution.” [25]

Kamenev’s denunciation of Trotsky in November 1924 cleared the way for Stalin’s explicitly nationalist revision, in December 1924, of the perspective and program of the October Revolution. In an article titled “The October Revolution and the Tactics of Russian Communists,” Stalin called attention to Trotsky’s pamphlet, Our Revolution, published in 1906, in which Trotsky had written: “Without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class in Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialist dictatorship. Of this there cannot for one moment be any doubt.” Stalin continued:

What does this quotation mean? It means that the victory of socialism in one country, in this case Russia, is impossible “without direct state support from the European proletariat,” i.e., before the European proletariat has conquered power.

What is there in common between this “theory” and Lenin’s thesis on the possibility of the victory of socialism “in one capitalist country taken separately?”

Clearly, there is nothing in common. [26]

Stalin’s substitution of a form of national messianism in place of revolutionary internationalism was summed up with the following indictment of Trotsky’s views:

Lack of faith in the strength and capacities of our revolution, lack of faith in the strength and capacity of the Russian proletariat—this is what lies at the root of the theory of “permanent revolution.” [27]

The 1924 assault on Trotsky and the repudiation of the theory of permanent revolution signified the resurgence of the nationalist tendencies that Lenin had fought as he sought to break the party’s adaptation to national defensism and direct attention toward the international revolutionary struggle against imperialist war. The promulgation of the program of socialism in one country marked a decisive step in the alienation of the Soviet Union from the World Socialist Revolution, from which it had emerged. As Trotsky had warned, this nationalist regression—which found political support in a rapidly growing bureaucratic elite—separated the fate of the Soviet Union from the fight for world socialism. The Communist International, which had been founded in 1919 as the central strategic headquarters of the world socialist revolution, was degraded into an appendage of the Soviet Union’s counterrevolutionary foreign policy. Trotsky’s expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1929 symbolized the rupture between the bureaucratic regime and the World Socialist Revolution. Ensconced in his Kremlin office, Stalin ruled a national state with the support of the secret police. But Leon Trotsky, in exile, led and inspired the continuing historical process of world socialist revolution with far more powerful weapons: his ideas and his pen.

* * * * *

Stalin’s treacherous and disorienting policies led to devastating defeats of the working class in Germany, France, Spain and many other countries during the 1930s.

Within the Soviet Union, the counterrevolutionary nationalist reaction assumed the form of the destruction of the entire generation of Marxist-educated workers, party activists and revolutionary intellectuals and artists who had been politically educated on the basis of socialist internationalism. The Moscow Trials and the Great Terror between 1936 and 1940 were a form of political genocide, specifically targeting for physical annihilation all those who had been identified with the internationalist program and intellectual culture upon which the founding of the Soviet state was based.

It is critical to understand the relationship between the October 1917 Revolution and the Soviet Union. The latter emerged out of the former. But the October Revolution and the Soviet state were not coequal phenomena. The October Revolution marked the beginning of the historical epoch of World Socialist Revolution. The history of the Soviet state was a major episode of that epoch. The recognition of the distinction between October Revolution as the expression of an epoch and the creation of the Soviet state as a specific political episode was reflected in political language. Anticipating the future overthrow of the capitalist system in their own countries, revolutionaries would speak not of their future “Soviet Union,” but of their coming “October.”

Of course, the achievements of the revolution within the Soviet Union were immense. The October Revolution radically transformed what had been the Russian Empire. Prior to the revolution, approximately 80 percent of the population had been illiterate. Within substantially less than one generation, illiteracy had been virtually eradicated. The nationalization of the means of the production, a product of the October Revolution, made possible significant economic advances. The possibility of establishing an advanced society on a non-capitalist basis was demonstrated in the course of the 74-year history of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was not a socialist society. As Trotsky explained in The Revolution Betrayed, it was a transitional regime, between capitalism and socialism, whose fate was still to be decided. The nationalist policies of Stalin, implemented on the basis of savage terror, were a mockery of socialist planning, which requires the workers’ democratic control over decision-making processes. What Trotsky described as the “irresponsible despotism of the bureaucracy over the people” resulted in a horrifying waste of human life, which was as needless as it was brutal, and the grotesque squandering of material resources.

The Stalinist bureaucracy, which had usurped political power and utilized its control of the organs of state repression to assure for itself a privileged position within society, violated the most basic principles of socialist egalitarianism. Stalin, who personally ordered and directed the torture and murder of former comrades and countless Marxist revolutionists, ranks among the worst criminals in history.

The Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938 defended all the social conquests that were achieved as a consequence of the October Revolution. But its defense of those achievements—that is, the elements of social and economic progress made possible by the Revolution—was carried out on the basis of implacable opposition to the Stalinist regime, by fighting for its political overthrow.

* * * * *

What we have celebrated this year is the centenary of World Socialist Revolution. It is within this historical context that we have examined and explained the momentous events that occurred in Russia between February and October 1917. These lectures have provided a vital political and intellectual antidote to the endless falsifications and slanders of the reactionary academics and the antisocialist mass media.

The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 was hailed as a momentous victory for world capitalism. At long last the specter of communism and socialism had been eradicated. History had come to an end! The October Revolution had ended in ruins! Of course, such proclamations were not supported by a careful examination of what had occurred during the previous 74 years. No account was given of the enormous achievements of the Soviet Union, which included not only its central role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, but also the immense advances in the social and cultural conditions of the Soviet people.

But aside from the efforts to obliterate from collective memory all recollection of Soviet achievements, the essential falsification of twentieth-century history has been the effort to define the fate of socialism on the basis of a nationalist narrative of the October Revolution, in which the Bolshevik seizure of power is presented as an aberrant, illegitimate and even criminal event in Russianhistory. The original Bolshevik conception of October must, in turn, be either ridiculed or ignored. No enduring historical and political relevance can be attributed to the October Revolution.

This reactionary narrative, aimed at divesting the October Revolution of all legitimacy and relevance, depends, however, on one small thing: that the world capitalist system has resolved and transcended the contradictions and crises that gave rise to war and revolution in the twentieth century.

It is precisely here that the efforts to discredit the October Revolution and all future efforts to realize socialism fall apart. The quarter-century that has passed since the dissolution of the USSR has been marked by intensifying social, political and economic crisis. We live in an age of perpetual war. Since the initial US invasion of Iraq in 1991, the number of lives destroyed by American bombs and missiles easily surpasses one million. With geopolitical conflicts intensifying, the outbreak of a third world war is seen more and more as inevitable.

The economic crisis of 2008 exposed the fragility of the world capitalist system. Social tensions are mounting against the backdrop of levels of inequality that are the highest in a century. The three richest people in the United States, it has recently been reported, possess greater wealth than the bottom 50 percent of this country’s people. The rich are not merely “different.” They all but live on a different planet, utterly remote from the reality that the great mass of people lives every day.

They themselves know that this state of affairs cannot go on forever. The ideas and ideals of social equality and democratic rights are too deeply embedded in mass consciousness. As the traditional institutions of bourgeois democracy are unable to bear the pressure of escalating social conflict, the ruling elites turn ever more openly to authoritarian forms of rule. The Trump administration is merely one disgusting manifestation of the universal breakdown of bourgeois democracy. The role of the military, police and intelligence agencies in the running of the capitalist state is becoming ever more open.

Throughout this centenary year, innumerable articles and books have been published whose aim is to discredit the October Revolution. But the declarations of the “irrelevance” of October are belied by the tone of hysteria that pervades so many of these denunciations. The October Revolution is treated not as a historical event, but as an enduring and dangerous contemporary threat.

The fear that underlies the denunciations of the October Revolution found expression in a recently published book by a leading academic specialist in historical falsification, Professor Sean McMeekin. He has written:

Like the nuclear weapons born of the ideological age inaugurated in 1917, the sad fact about Leninism is that, once invented, it cannot be uninvented. Social inequality will always be with us, along with the well-intentioned impulse of socialists to eradicate it… If the last hundred years teaches us anything, it is that we should stiffen our defenses and resist armed prophets promising social perfection. [28]

In an essay published in the New York Times on October 27, columnist Bret Stephens warned:

Efforts to criminalize capitalism and financial services also have predictable results… A century on, the bacillus [of socialism] isn’t eradicated, and our immunity to it is still in doubt.

On the centennial anniversary of the October Revolution, the anti-Marxist hysteria of the ruling elites acquired a distinctly homicidal character. Finally abandoning the post-1991 pretense of the irrelevance of socialism, the New York Times published a column by Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of an admiring biography of Stalin. He wrote:

The October Revolution, organized by Vladimir Lenin exactly a century ago, is still relevant in ways that would have seemed unimaginable when the Soviet Union collapsed…

One hundred years later, as its events continue to reverberate and inspire, October 1917 looms epic, mythic, mesmerizing. Its effects were so enormous that it seems impossible that it might not have happened the way it did…

The [Provisional] government should have found and killed him [Lenin] but it failed to do so. He succeeded. [29]

With this statement, published in the most influential American newspaper, the difference between liberal anticommunism and fascism is all but obliterated. Lenin, who was the popular leader of a mass working-class movement, should have been murdered. He should have been dealt with, Montefiore writes, with the approval of the liberal editors of the New York Times, as the fascists dealt with Luxemburg and Liebknecht. What is the message? To the extent that socialism threatens capitalism, hunt down the leaders of socialist movements and kill them. So much for the “End of History” and the triumph of liberal democracy!

Statements such as that of Montefiore testify not only to the moral degeneracy of the intellectual defenders of bourgeois society, but also to their demoralization and desperation.

Despite all efforts to discredit Marxism, socialism and communism, working people still yearn for an alternative to capitalism. A newly published poll shows that among American “Millennials” (people below the age of 28), a greater percentage would prefer to live in a socialist or communist society than in a capitalist one.

Franz Mehring was right. Revolutions have long breaths. The October Revolution lives not only in history, but in the present.

* * * * *

Throughout this centenary year, the International Committee of the Fourth International has celebrated the anniversary of the October Revolution by studying and explaining its origins and significance. It has conducted this important historical work as the only political tendency in the world that represents the program of international socialism upon which the October Revolution was based.

The Fourth International is the contemporary expression of the program of World Socialist Revolution. In the present period of insoluble capitalist crisis, this program once again is acquiring intense relevance.

We call on workers and youth throughout the world to join the fight for world socialism.

Long Live the Example of the October Revolution!

Long Live the International Committee of the Fourth International!

Forward to the victory of the World Socialist Revolution!

**

Notes

[1] “Neujahr 1918,” in Franz Mehring Gesammelte Schriften, Band 15 (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1977), p. 759.

[2] Quoted in Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd (Bloomfield: Indiana University Press, 2007), p. 28.

[3] Ibid, p. 27

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, p. 29

[6] Session of the Petersburg Committee of the Social Democratic Labor Party of Russia (Bolshevik), November 1 (14), 1917, cited by Leon Trotsky in The Stalinist School of Historical Falsification, accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1937/ssf/sf08.htm

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid. The bracketed extrapolations are in the transcript published in The Stalin School of Falsification.

[9] Ibid

[10] Leon Trotsky, “Introduction to Ferdinand Lassalle’s Speech to the Jury ,” in Witnesses to Permanent Revolution, edited by Richard B. Day and Daniel Gaido (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), pp. 444-45

[11] Lenin, Collected Works, (Moscow: Progress, 1977), Volume 24, p. 238

[12] Ibid, p. 238

[13] Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow: Progress, 1977), pp. 416-19

[14] Lenin Collected Works (Moscow: Progress, 1977), Vol. 26, p. 119

[15] Ibid, pp. 118-19

[16] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/06/revolution-what-revolution-russians-show-little-interest-in-1917-centenary

[17] https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/russian-revolution/ch01.htm

[18] The “Russian” Civil Wars 1916-1926: Ten Years That Shook the World(Oxford: University Press, 2017), p. 131.

[19] Leon Trotsky and the Art of Insurrection 1905-1917 (London: Frank Cass, 1988), pp. 63-64

[20] The Trotsky Papers 1917-1922, Volume I, edited and annotated by Jan M. Meijer (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1964), pp. 623-25

[21] The First Five Years of the Communist International, Volume Two (London: New Park, 1974), pp. 2-4

[22] Ibid, p. 7

[23] Trotsky’s ChallengeThe “Literary Discussion” of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution, edited, annotated and introduced by Frederick C. Corney (Chicago: Haymarket, 2017), p. 244

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid, p. 442

[27] Ibid, p. 447

[28] The Russian Revolution: A New History (New York: Basic Books, 2017)

[29] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/opinion/russian-revolution-october.html

WSWS

Bernie Sanders: To Reform the Party, Democrats Must Split from Corporate America

ECONOMY
Sanders said the Democrats must reform the party and primary process, and not rely on wealthy donors to beat Trump.

Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has a clear message and strategy to help mend the wounds that have left the Democratic Party divided. After months of polling as the nation’s most popular politician, he should be taken more seriously — even as an outsider.

In an op-ed published in Politico, Sanders began with a strong rebuke of President Donald Trump and everything that Trump’s policies and rhetoric stand for. But that’s a given to a party at a crossroads, facing the question of what’s next.

So far, Sanders — who is technically an independent — and the Democrats have been on the same page with this message. But the two factions diverge when Sanders talks about reform from within the party. Scan “Resistance” on Twitter, and you’re apt to find thousands of accounts who believe that Sanders hurt Clinton’s chances for victory.

Yet deflecting blame for Clinton’s loss onto Sanders seems to give too much credit to him and implies that Clinton was predestined to be the primary victor. Critiquing one’s primary opponent is an utterly normal thing to do in any primary, but in the end, the Clinton-Sanders rift is both an ideological and political set of differences. And that’s especially true when the two figures are removed.

But back to Sanders’ recent critique of the party. Sanders praised the Democratic victories across the United States on Tuesday and said it was “an important first step in pushing back against Trump’s radical agenda.”

“But this will not happen without an effective opposition party,” Sanders continued. He went on to argue that, despite the victories, “the longer-term trend for the Democratic Party is worrisome.”

There’s plenty of merit to that claim, even if many don’t want to believe it to be true. Only 37 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party, a new CNN poll revealed. It’s the lowest mark for the party in more than 25 years of polling. A majority, 54 percent, said they had an unfavorable view of the party. Note that Sen. Sanders is far more popular than the Democratic Party at large: in an October Harvard-Harris poll, 53 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of Sanders. That sounds low, but he was still the most well-liked politician by far: Mike Pence had 45 percent favorability, Trump polled at 41 percent and Hillary Clinton 39.

Sanders pointed out how the party’s power and influence across the country has vastly diminished since 2009, including the loss of “more than 1,000 seats in state legislatures across the country.”

Citing tax reform and repeated health care failures, Sanders wrote that what’s most “absurd about this situation is that the American people strongly oppose almost all elements of the Trump-Republican agenda.”

Sanders argued that “the [Democratic] party cannot remain an institution largely dominated by the wealthy and inside-the-Beltway consultants.”

He added, “It must open its doors and welcome into its ranks millions of working people and young people who desperately want to be involved in determining the future of our nation.”

To reform the party, Sanders said, “First, it is absurd that the Democratic Party now gives over 700 superdelegates—almost one-third the number a presidential candidate needs to win the nomination—the power to control the nominating process and ignore the will of voters.”

Second, he argued that the Democrats stand for “making voting easier, not harder,” and that it “must apply to our primaries.”

“Our job must be to reach out to independents and to young people and bring them into the Democratic Party process. Independent voters are critical to general election victories. Locking them out of primaries is a pathway to failure,” Sanders wrote.

But perhaps his final point is the toughest for many to finally come to terms with.

“If we are to succeed,” Sanders wrote, “we must fully appreciate [Donna] Brazile’s revelations and understand the need for far more transparency in the financial and policy workings of the Democratic Party.” He added, “Hundreds of millions of dollars flow in and out of the Democratic National Committee with little to no accountability. That simply is not acceptable.”

The “revelations” in question referred to former interim Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairwoman Donna Brazile, wrote last week that the DNC had an “unethical” agreement in place that put the Clinton campaign in charge of directing the party’s funds, staffing and overall strategy long before she had won the primary.

Brazile, who oversaw the DNC during a crucial stretch of the presidential primary, shined a light on why Sanders’ shot at winning the primary was likely doomed from the start.

 

On the Centenary of the October Revolution

7 November 2017

One hundred years ago today, on the morning of November 7, 1917, the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, chaired by Leon Trotsky, issued a proclamation to the citizens of Russia. It stated:

The Provisional Government has been overthrown. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Military Revolutionary Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison.

The cause for which the people have struggled—the immediate offer of a democratic peace, the abolition of landlord ownership of land, workers’ control over industry, the creation of a Soviet government—this has been assured!

Long live the revolution of workers, soldiers and peasants!

Vladimir Lenin

Later that afternoon, Lenin—who had been denounced just three months earlier as a state criminal by the bourgeois Provisional Government—received a thunderous ovation as he emerged from hiding and entered the hall where the Soviet delegates were assembled. Witnessing the extraordinary events of that day, the American socialist journalist John Reed left behind a memorable description of the Bolshevik leader, “loved and revered as perhaps few leaders in history have been.” Lenin, he wrote, was a “strange popular leader—a leader purely by virtue of intellect,” possessed “with the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms, of analyzing a concrete situation. And combined with shrewdness, the greatest intellectual audacity.”

After he had made his way to the speaker’s lectern, Lenin began his address to the delegates with the following words: “Comrades, the workers’ and peasants’ revolution, about the necessity of which the Bolsheviks have always spoken, has been accomplished.”

As Russia still adhered to the old Julian calendar, the overthrow of the Provisional government entered into history as the October Revolution. But though the Russian calendar lagged 13 days behind that of Western Europe and North America, the Bolshevik seizure of power catapulted Russia, in political terms, to the forefront of world history. The insurrection led by the Bolsheviks was the culmination of a political struggle that had begun eight months earlier, in February 1917, with the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy, which had ruled Russia for more than 300 years.

Women’s march during the February Revolution

The uprising in February-March 1917 unleashed a protracted struggle over the political perspective and historical significance of the revolution that had erupted in Russia. The bourgeois Cadet party, the reformist Mensheviks, and the peasant-based Socialist Revolutionaries viewed the revolution in primarily national terms. The overthrow of the tsarist regime, they insisted, was no more than a national-democratic revolution. The tasks of the revolution were confined to replacing the tsarist regime with some sort of parliamentary republic, modeled on that of France or Britain, dedicated to promoting the development of the Russian economy on a capitalist basis.

In actual practice, the bourgeois Cadet party, fearful of the revolutionary upheaval and despising the masses, opposed any changes in the existing social structure that threatened their wealth. As for the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, their reformist programs excluded any significant encroachment on capitalist property. Russia, they insisted, was not ripe for a socialist revolution. Decades of capitalist development would be required before a transition to socialism could be considered a realistic possibility.

Within the framework of this perspective, the political overthrow of the capitalist class and the assumption of power by the working class were absolutely rejected. The political subordination of the working class to bourgeois rule meant continued support for Russia’s participation in the bloodbath of the imperialist world war that had begun in 1914.

Prior to Lenin’s return from exile in April 1917, the main Bolshevik leaders in Petrograd—Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin—had accepted the Menshevik subordination of the working-class soviet (council) to the Provisional Government. Flowing from this, Kamenev and Stalin accepted the Menshevik argument that, with the overthrow of the tsarist regime, Russia’s participation in the imperialist war had been transformed into a democratic struggle against autocratic Germany, which should be supported by the working class. The blatantly imperialist interests of the Russian bourgeoisie were sugarcoated with hypocritical phrases about a “democratic peace.”

Lenin’s return to Russia on April 16 led to a dramatic change in the orientation of the Bolshevik Party. In opposition to the allies of the Provisional Government in the Petrograd Soviet, as well as a substantial faction of the Bolshevik leadership, Lenin called for the transfer of power to the soviets. The basis of this revolutionary demand, which stunned not only the Mensheviks but also most of Lenin’s comrades in the Bolshevik leadership, was a profoundly different conception of the historical significance of the Russian Revolution.

Soldiers demonstration in February, 1917

Since its very beginning in August 1914, Lenin had insisted that the imperialist world war marked a new stage in world history. The bloody carnage unleashed by the war arose from the global contradictions of capitalist imperialism. The contradictions of the imperialist system, which the capitalist regimes sought to resolve through war, would necessarily evoke a revolutionary response from the international working class.

This understanding of the world historical context of the Russian Revolution formed the basis of the policies that were to guide the Bolshevik Party following Lenin’s return. Lenin insisted that the Russian Revolution had to be understood as the beginning of the world socialist revolution. Upon opening the Seventh Congress of the Bolshevik party in April 1917, he stated:

The great honor of beginning the revolution has fallen to the Russian proletariat. But the Russian proletariat must not forget that its movement and revolution are only part of the world revolutionary proletarian movement, which in Germany, for example, is gaining momentum with every passing day. Only from this angle can we define our tasks.

In the months between April and October, Lenin wrote scores of articles in which he imbued and elevated the consciousness of party members, and the tens of thousands of workers who read Bolshevik pamphlets, newspapers and leaflets, with an understanding of the international character of the revolution. Those who claim that the Bolshevik revolution was a “putsch” or coup d’état plotted in secret simply ignore the fact that Lenin’s appeals for a socialist revolution were being read, studied and debated in factories, in soldiers’ barracks and in the streets of all the major cities of Russia.

In September, just a month before the seizure of power, the Bolshevik Party published Lenin’s pamphlet, The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution. There was nothing ambiguous, let alone surreptitious, in Lenin’s presentation of the Bolshevik Party’s program and intentions. With an astonishing level of historical consciousness, Lenin explained the objective necessity of which Bolshevik policies were an expression:

The war is not a product of the evil will of rapacious capitalists, although it is undoubtedly being fought only in their interests and they alone are being enriched by it. The war is a product of half a century of development of world capitalism and of its billions of threads and connections. It is impossible to slip out of the imperialist war and achieve a democratic non-coercive peace without overthrowing the power of capital and transferring state power to another class, the proletariat.

The Russian revolution of February-March 1917 was the beginning of the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war. This revolution took the first step towards ending the war; but it requires a second step, namely the transfer of state power to the proletariat, to make the end of the war a certainty. This will be the beginning of a “breakthrough” on a worldwide scale, a breakthrough in the front of capitalist interests; and only by breaking through this front can the proletariat save mankind from the horrors of war and endow it with the blessings of peace.

In the aftermath of the “July Days”—the brutal suppression of the working class by the Provisional Government—Lenin was forced into hiding. Leon Trotsky, who had returned to Russia in May and soon joined the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, had been imprisoned. But he was released in September, in the aftermath of the aborted counterrevolutionary coup of General Kornilov, and was elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. In the weeks that followed, Trotsky emerged as the greatest mass leader and orator of the Revolution. He played the decisive role in the strategic planning and organization of the Bolshevik insurrection.

Leon Trotsky

There was, without question, an element of genius in Trotsky’s leadership of the Bolshevik insurrection. But Trotsky’s role in the October Revolution was, no less than Lenin’s, prepared on the basis of his analysis of the place of the Russian Revolution in world history. In fact, Trotsky, in his elaboration of the theory of permanent revolution, had been the first to foresee, as far back as 1905, that the democratic revolution against tsarist autocracy in Russia would necessarily develop into a socialist revolution that would transfer power to the working class.

Trotsky’s analysis challenged claims that the political tasks of the working class were determined by the economic backwardness of Russia, which was supposedly “not ready” for a socialist revolution. “In an economically backward country,” he wrote in 1905, “the proletariat can come to power sooner than in a country of the most advanced capitalism.”

But how would the working class sustain its revolution? Trotsky, far in advance of the events of 1917, wrote that the working class

will have no alternative but to link the fate of its political rule, and, hence, the fate of the whole Russian revolution, with the fate of the socialist revolution in Europe. That colossal state-political power given it by a temporary conjuncture of circumstances in the Russian bourgeois revolution it will cast into the scales of the class struggle of the entire capitalist world. With state power in its hands, with counterrevolution behind it and European reaction in front of it, it will send forth to its comrades the world over the old rallying cry, which this time will be a call for the last attack: Workers of all countries, unite!

* * * * *

Amidst the nightmarish reality of the First World War, which by October 1917 had already cost the lives of millions of soldiers, the news of the Bolshevik insurrection passed like an electric shock through the consciousness of the masses. The February Revolution was a Russian event. But the October Revolution was a world-changing event. What had been merely a “specter” in 1847 now existed as a revolutionary government, which had come to power on the basis of a working class insurrection.

Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg, learning of the Revolution while still in prison, wrote to a friend of the impatience with which she awaited the morning newspapers in order to follow the developments in Russia. She expressed doubts as to whether the revolution could survive in the face of the armed opposition of world imperialism. But of the greatness of the revolutionary event she had no doubt, and she beheld with admiration what Lenin and Trotsky—comrades whom she had known for many years—had achieved. The Bolshevik-led insurrection, Luxemburg wrote, “is a world-historical act, whose example will live for eons.”

Many years later, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the October Revolution, the American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon recalled the impact of 1917 on socialists throughout the world:

For the first time, concentrated in revolutionary action, we had a demonstration of the real meaning of Marxism. For the first time, we learned from the example and teachings of Lenin and Trotsky and the leaders of the Russian revolution the real meaning of a revolutionary party. Those who remember that time, whose lives became welded to the Russian revolution, must think of it today as the greatest inspiring and educational force that the oppressed class of the world has ever known.

The October Revolution ranks among the greatest and most progressive events in world history. It is part of the chain of world-historical events—such as the Reformation, the American Revolution and the French Revolution—that rank as great milestones in the development of human civilization.

The global impact of the October Revolution was incalculable. It was an event that ignited a worldwide movement of the working class and the oppressed masses against capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression. It is all but impossible to think of a significant political or social conquest of the working class in the twentieth century, anywhere in the world, which did not owe some substantial portion of its realization to the October Revolution. The establishment of the Soviet state was the first great achievement of the October Revolution. The victory of the Bolshevik Revolution demonstrated in practice the possibility of the working class conquering state power, ending the rule of the capitalist class, and organizing society on a non-capitalist and socialist basis.

However, while the establishment of the Soviet Union was the immediate product of the Bolshevik-led insurrection, the creation of this state does not encompass the full historical significance of the October Revolution. The establishment of the Soviet state in October 1917 was only the first episode in the new epoch of World Socialist Revolution.

This distinction between episode and epoch is critical to an understanding of the fate of both the Soviet Union and the contemporary world. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the end of the state founded in 1917. But it did not mark the end of the epoch of world socialist revolution. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the outcome of the abandonment, which began in the early 1920s, of the international socialist perspective upon which the October Revolution was based. The Stalinist program of socialism in one country, promulgated by Stalin and Bukharin in 1924, was a turning point in the nationalist degeneration of the Soviet Union. As Trotsky warned, Stalinist nationalism—which found political support in a rapidly growing bureaucratic elite—separated the fate of the Soviet Union from the fight for world socialism. The Communist International, which had been founded in 1919 as an instrument of world socialist revolution, was degraded into an appendage of the Soviet Union’s counterrevolutionary foreign policy. The treacherous and disorienting policies of Stalin led to devastating defeats of the working class in Germany, France, Spain and many other countries.

In 1936, Stalin launched the Great Terror, which during the next four years resulted in the physical extermination of virtually all of the leading representatives of revolutionary internationalism within the working class and socialist intelligentsia. Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico in 1940.

* * * * *

The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 was hailed as a momentous victory for world capitalism. At long last the specter of communism and socialism had been eradicated. History had come to an end! The October Revolution had ended in ruins! Of course, such proclamations were not supported by a careful examination of what had occurred during the previous 74 years. No account was given of the enormous achievements of the Soviet Union, which included not only its central role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, but also the immense advances in the social and cultural conditions of the Soviet people. But aside from its efforts to obliterate from collective memory all recollection of Soviet achievements, the essential falsification of twentieth-century history has been the effort to define the fate of socialism on the basis of a nationalist narrative of the October Revolution, in which the Bolshevik seizure of power is presented as an aberrant, illegitimate and even criminal event in Russian history. The original Bolshevik conception of October must, in turn, be either ridiculed or ignored. No enduring historical and political relevance can be attributed to the October Revolution.

Red Guard unit at the Vulkan factory in Petrograd during the revolution

This reactionary narrative, aimed at divesting the October Revolution of all legitimacy, relevance and honor depends, however, on one small thing: that the world capitalist system has resolved and transcended the contradictions and crises that gave rise to war and revolution in the twentieth century.

It is precisely here that the efforts to discredit the October Revolution and all future efforts to realize socialism fall apart. The quarter-century that has passed since the dissolution of the USSR has been marked by relentless and intensifying social, political and economic crisis. We now live in an age of perpetual war. Since the initial US invasion of Iraq in 1991, the number of lives destroyed by American bombs and missiles easily surpasses one million. With geopolitical conflicts intensifying, the outbreak of a third world war is seen more and more as inevitable.

The economic crisis of 2008 exposed the fragility of the world capitalist system. Social tensions are mounting against the backdrop of levels of inequality that are the highest in a century. As the traditional institutions of bourgeois democracy are unable to bear the pressure of escalating social conflict, the ruling elites turn ever more openly to authoritarian forms of rule. The Trump administration is merely one disgusting manifestation of the universal breakdown of bourgeois democracy. The role of the military, police and intelligence agencies in the running of the capitalist state is becoming ever more open.

Throughout this centenary year, innumerable articles and books have been published whose aim is to discredit the October Revolution. But the declarations of the “irrelevance” of October are belied by the tone of hysteria that pervades so many of these denunciations. The October Revolution is treated not as a historical event, but as an enduring and dangerous contemporary threat.

The fear that underlies the denunciations of the October Revolution found expression in a recently published book by a leading academic specialist in historical falsification, Professor Sean McMeekin. He writes:

Like the nuclear weapons born of the ideological age inaugurated in 1917, the sad fact about Leninism is that, once invented, it cannot be uninvented. Social inequality will always be with us, along with the well-intentioned impulse of socialists to eradicate it… If the last hundred years teaches us anything, it is that we should stiffen our defenses and resist armed prophets promising social perfection.

In an essay published in the New York Times in October, columnist Bret Stephens warns:

Efforts to criminalize capitalism and financial services also have predictable results… A century on, the bacillus [of socialism] isn’t eradicated, and our immunity to it is still in doubt.

The anxiety expressed in these statements is not without foundation. A newly published poll shows that among American “Millennials” (people below the age of 28), a greater percentage would prefer to live in a socialist or communist society than in a capitalist one.

* * * * *

Throughout this centenary year, the International Committee of the Fourth International has celebrated the anniversary of the October Revolution by studying and explaining its origins and significance. It conducted this important historical work as the only political tendency in the world that represents the program of international socialism upon which the October Revolution was based. The defense of this program is rooted historically in the struggle waged by Trotsky—first as the leader of the Left Opposition and later as the founder of the Fourth International—against the nationalist betrayal and perversion of the program and principles of the October Revolution by the Stalinist bureaucracy. While defending all that was achieved within the Soviet Union as a consequence of the October Revolution, this never assumed the form of an adaptation, let alone capitulation, to the reactionary policies of the bureaucratic regime.

Thus, the Fourth International is the contemporary expression of the program of World Socialist Revolution. In the present period of insoluble capitalist crisis, this program once again is acquiring intense relevance. The October Revolution lives not only in history, but in the present.

We call on workers and youth throughout the world to join the fight for world socialism.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/07/pers-n07.html

The Democrats’ McCarthyite witch hunt

3 November 2017

This week’s congressional hearings on “extremist content” on the Internet mark a new stage in the McCarthyite witch hunt by congressional Democrats, working with the intelligence agencies and leading media outlets, to legitimize censorship and attack free speech on the Internet.

One after another, congressmen and senators goaded representatives of Google, Twitter and Facebook to admit that their platforms were used to sow “social divisions” and “extremist” political opinions. The aim of this campaign is to claim that social conflict within the United States arises not from the scale of social inequality in America, greater than in any other country in the developed world, but rather from the actions of “outside agitators” working in the service of the Kremlin.

The hearings revolved around claims that Russia sought to “weaponize” the Internet by harnessing social anger within the United States. “Russia,” said Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, promoted “discord in the US by inflaming passions on a range of divisive issues.” It sought to “mobilize real Americans to sign online petitions and join rallies and protests.”

The McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s sought to suppress left-wing thought and label all forms of dissent as illegitimate and treasonous. Those who led them worked to purge left-wing opinion from Hollywood, the trade unions and the universities.

Likewise, the new McCarthyism is aimed at creating a political climate in which left-wing organizations and figures are demonized as agents of the Kremlin who are essentially engaged in treasonous activity deserving of criminal prosecution.

To this end, the congressional witch-hunters released a series of “Russia-linked” social media posts expressing opposition to police violence and social inequality. These were meant to serve as “smoking gun” examples of how Russia worked to sow social divisions within the US.

The argument that it takes a Vladimir Putin to divide the United States is, frankly, laughable. So far this year there have been 273 mass shootings in which four or more people were killed. More than 1,000 people are killed by police every year.

The United States is bursting at the seams with social discontent. Inequality, war, the pressures caused by poverty-wage jobs—all are sources of enormous social anger.

The Democrats’ absurd narrative stems from their attempt to rationalize away their disastrous defeat in the 2016 election, blaming it on a Kremlin-backed conspiracy instead of their own indifference to the social misery that pervades the country.

At Wednesday’s hearings, Schiff declared that the problem is “not just foreign” and complained that the algorithms used by social media companies “tend to accentuate content that is fear-based or anger-based.”

“That helps it pick up an audience and go viral and be amplified,” he said, with the consequence of “widening divisions among our society.”

When was the last time Schiff or any of his colleagues held a hearing on the real sources of division and social discontent in America? Are they holding hearings on the soaring wealth of the financial elite, on the criminal conduct of the wars in Afghanistan or Syria? No, Schiff’s concern is to prevent the people from learning anything that would fuel their “anger.”

To this end, he asked representatives of Facebook, Twitter and Google what “societal obligation” they have to change the fact that “what ends up percolating to the top of our feeds tends to be things we were looking for.”

In this statement, Schiff makes clear the real content of the Democratic Party’s furor about “fake news” and “Russian meddling.” What concerns Schiff and his colleagues is not “fake news,” but true news that goes “viral” and gets “amplified” because it reflects popular anger.

The problem, according to Schiff and his fellow congressional witch-hunters, is that people looking for politically critical viewpoints can actually find them on the Internet, as opposed to what they find in the corporate-controlled newspapers and TV broadcasters.

Amid soaring social inequality, a spiraling political crisis and the continuous threat of nuclear war, millions of people have grown justifiably hostile to the capitalist system and the political establishment. The immense popularity of the Internet reflects the fact that it provides people with the chance to obtain information that news outlets such as the New York Times, working with the intelligence agencies, seek to keep from them.

The ruling elite sees the combination of social disaffection and the unlimited access to information provided by the Internet as an existential threat that must be combated through censorship. As Clint Watts, a former US Army officer and FBI agent, put it at Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions… Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced—silence the guns and the barrage will end.”

The fact that censorship is spoken of so openly means that a major intensification is coming. The American ruling elite, to use the words of Watts, believes it is already engaged in a civil war with its own population and is more than willing to use censorship to “silence” sources of “rebellion.”

Google, Facebook and Twitter are already engaged in censorship, each of them announcing that they are hiring “thousands” of people to moderate and review content. Earlier this month, Google removed from its list of “preferred” channels on YouTube the Russian-sponsored TV station and online news outlet RT, which reports stories largely censored by the mainstream press. Twitter likewise blocked RT from using its advertising service.

In April, Google implemented a change to its search algorithm that slashed traffic to left-wing, antiwar and progressive websites by more than 55 percent. Last month, it removed almost all pages from the World Socialist Web Sitefrom its news service, Google News, together with articles from leading left-wing journalists such as Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges.

This drive to destroy freedom of speech must be opposed! It is the spearhead for the dismantling of democratic rights not just in the United States, but all over the world.

Andre Damon

WSWS

This party isn’t gonna get any better

The hopes for rebuilding and strengthening the left lie outside the Democratic Party.

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Tom Perez, Cory Booker and Chuck Schumer

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Tom Perez, Cory Booker and Chuck Schumer

TWO STORIES have gotten attention in recent weeks as key indicators of what direction each of the major political parties is heading in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, one of Donald Trump’s leading Republican critics, announced that he wouldn’t run for re-election after it became apparent he wouldn’t win a primary challenge from Kelli Ward, the rabid xenophobe whose campaign is part of Steve Bannon’s master plan remake the Republican Party in Donald Trump’s vile image.

A few days earlier, Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Tom Perez purged a number of Bernie Sanders’ key allies from the organization’s leadership posts and its rule committee.

Many of the progressives were replaced with current and former lobbyists for big banks and energy corporations. Also appointed was Donna Brazile, best known most recently for using her job at CNN to leak debate questions to the Clinton campaign–“an interesting choice for a committee that focuses on ‘rules,'” as Branko Marcetic noted for In These Times.

Put the two stories together and what do you have? At a time of growing polarization in which people are moving toward both ends of the political spectrum, the Republican Party is moving further to the right while the Democratic Party is…also moving further to the right.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BERNIE SANDERS’ stunning success last year as a self-proclaimed socialist running for the Democratic presidential nomination created justifiable excitement on the left about the prospects for socialism to finally break out of isolation after many decades in the American wilderness.

Since then, Sanders’ popularity has only increased. A recent Harvard-Harris poll has him as the most popular politician in either party, with especially strong support registering among young people generally and Blacks and Latinos of all ages.

It isn’t hard to see why. While Sanders is pushing for policies like a single-payer health care system that would benefit the vast majority of the country, other leading Democrats have little to offer beyond hoping that the Robert Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia will somehow lead to the president’s impeachment.

No wonder many supporters of the Democrats are getting restless. The same Harvard-Harris poll shows that 52 percent of Democrats support “movements within the Democratic Party to take it even further to the left and oppose the current Democratic leaders.”

Even more encouragingly, the AFL-CIO convention passed a resolution last week calling for labor to form an “independent political voice” because “the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils.”

These expressions of frustration with corporate Democrats are important, but they shouldn’t give the left a false sense of confidence that the maneuverings of Perez and the DNC represent the last gasp of a clueless old guard whose time has passed.

In fact, as the outlook for the 2018 midterm elections starts to take shape, it’s looking more likely that the party apparatus knows what it’s doing in maintaining control than the progressives who think they’re reshaping the party from the inside.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ALL THIS takes place in the context of political volatility around the world.

Countries that have failed to restore living standards to the level before the Great Recession of 2007-08 have seen increasing polarization, creating crises for parties of the center–and the rise of more radical parties and leaders on both the right and left.

In the U.S., Trump’s victory in the Republican primaries was both the culmination of a decades-long move to the right and a dramatic shift in the GOP’s internal power dynamics–to the extent that its traditional corporate power brokers now have to accommodate and sometimes follow the ideologically hardened nationalism and fascist flirtations of sections of the party’s base.

Jeff Flake’s problem in Arizona wasn’t that Kelli Ward and Steve Bannon are wildly popular–Harvard-Harris puts Bannon’s approval rating at 16 percent–but that they increasingly dominate a party shifting even further to the right.

The Democrats, of course, have their own polarization to deal with. But unlike their weakened and divided Republican counterparts, the Democratic leadership has remained united around a vision of corporate liberalism–with political platforms that read like generic corporate brochures about the benefits of a diverse workplace and the wonders of retraining programs when you inevitably get laid off.

This party unity in spite of the discontent of its base was clear last year when Sanders won 45 percent of primary voters, but was backed by only 8 percent of the elected officials, staffers, lobbyists and donors who made up the party’s “superdelegates.”

Republicans have reflected the polarization of this period so much more clearly than Democrats in part because there is much less room for radical left-wing politics inside parties owned by the 1 Percent than there is room for radical right-wing politics.

The militants inside the Republican Party have been funded by a constellation of billionaires with overlapping reactionary agendas, ranging from libertarianism to Christian theocracy to fascism.

These ideologues may cause some discomfort among party donors in the boardrooms of ExxonMobil and Morgan Stanley, but ultimately, all sides can agree on the general principle of empowering the wealthy and keeping everyone else divided and oppressed.

This doesn’t work as a blueprint for the radical left, which has to be built by large numbers of working people in the labor movement and grassroots organizations “speaking with an unquestionably independent political voice,” as the AFL-CIO resolution put it.

Instead, we have the worst of both worlds: hundreds of unions and civil rights organizations that have been completely captured by a Democratic Party owned by Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the Pentagon.

Rather than acting as “pressure groups” inside the party, this professional left more closely resembles, as Jane Hamscher once famously put it in the early days of the Obama administration, a “veal pen” that forms a left flank to protect the party from the wrath of their own members.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

OF COURSE, this is precisely the situation that many progressives are hoping can be changed by the wave of Sanders supporters fighting from the inside for the soul of the Democratic Party.

“A striking feature of the current political moment is that many activists on the Left are flocking to the Democratic Party, Frances Fox Piven and Lorraine C. Minnite wrote at In These Times.

“But the Democrats are not merely gaining voters,” they continue. “They are gaining activists, people who are committing not only to pull the party lever in the voting booth, but who are determined to rejuvenate and transform the party, beginning at the local level.”

It’s easy to see why that scenario would be attractive to people. But the hard truth is that an organization which has dominated American politics for as long as the Democrats doesn’t allow itself to be “transformed” without a fight–and there aren’t many indications so far that the party’s left is up for even the kind of battle that would change its current rightward direction, much less really transform the Democrats.

The response of the Sanders wing to the DNC purge, for example, was anything but threatening.

“I’m concerned about the optics, and I’m concerned about the impact,” complained James Zogby, one of the purged DNC executive committee members. “”I want to heal the wound of 2016.” Zogby voiced similar sentiments on Twitter: “This doesn’t bring the party together, it deepens the divide at a time we need all hands on deck.”

Not exactly a Bannon-like threat to go to war against the party hacks who sold their souls to corporate interests.

Zogby’s comments reflect the larger timidity of the party’s left wing to wage any kind of fight that will threaten organizational unity in upcoming elections. Unlike Bannon and the Tea Party before him, Sanders Democrats aren’t planning to wage primary challengesagainst centrist House and Senate incumbents in 2018.

The fear of continued Republican rule in Congress in the Trump era is understandable. But as long as that fear continues to be the primary architect of liberal strategy, Democrats will continue moving rightward, assuming its base will follow.

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THE IDEA that progressives have no choice but to work inside the Democratic Party in order to stop Trump and Bannon rests on the assumption that there’s nothing we can do to stop the Republicans outside the halls of Congress.

This might be the biggest problem with the electoral focus of the left: It’s taking attention away from the sources of our greatest power.

One professional football player started a protest last year that has revived a discussion of racist police murders and inspired hundreds of other players to engage in workplace protests in defiance of their employer and the president of the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of women have come forward with their stories of sexual abuse, which has not only dramatically changed awareness of the issue, but led to the investigation, suspension and termination of dozens of powerful executives.

These actions offer a glimpse of the social power just of uncoordinated individuals. Imagine how powerful those protests could be if civil rights groups called for millions of us to kneel outside district attorney’s offices until cops were arrested for killing Black and Brown people. Or if unions organized a campaign to identify and fire the thousands of managers guilty of sexual harassment every day.

Yes, it’s possible for the left to do protests and electoral work at the same time. But they’ll only be effective if they flow from a unified strategy, based on an understanding that our greatest power lies outside of a rigged political system.

The fight to get Congress to pass a “clean” DREAM Act, for example, would be greatly strengthened if it was based less on appeals to Democrats and Republicans to do the right thing, and more on the credible threat that there will be widespread and sustained upheaval on many campuses and in workplaces and communities if 800,000 DACA recipients lose their legal status on March 1.

Similarly, we should be clear that the growing support for single-payer health care will only have a chance at becoming law when we’ve built a powerful movement including patients and health care workers together.

We’re, of course, nowhere near that level of struggle. By contrast, engaging in electoral work inside the Democratic Party, particularly at the local level, feels more productive to many progressives at the moment. It’s the path of least resistance–but people should ask themselves why that is.

The current popularity of Bernie Sanders and progressive politics shows that for the first time in decades, it’s possible to see a future U.S. with a genuine left-wing party, which could have a transformative impact not only here, but around the world.

But that project has to be rooted among people committed to building that alternative not on the Democrats’ terms, but on the explosive potential of popular struggle.

Otherwise there’s a very real danger that we will lose a new radical generation to the doomed project of “reshaping” the Democratic Party in much the same way that bunny rabbits reshape a python after they walk through its open jaws: briefly.

Editor’s Note: This article was initially published with an ableist word, “lame,” in the headline, which has since been deleted. This was a mistake we regret, and we apologize for it.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/10/31/this-party-isnt-gonna-get-any-better