Democratic Centralism

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Revolution and counter-revolution

Initially there were elements of the political revolution, particularly in Russia. But with the collapse of Stalinism and the revelations of mass corruption at the top, together with the world capitalist boom at that stage, the idea of state ownership and planning was discredited. This resulted in a return back to capitalism and not a mass movement for workers’ democracy. (See CWI document, ‘The Collapse of Stalinism’.)

In Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and in China, layers of the old bureaucracy have benefited, transforming themselves into a parasitic capitalist class, while millions of workers and their families have been impoverished, particularly in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

In China, the process has been somewhat different, with a rigidly controlled gradual return to capitalism as Deng Xiaoping and the elite that followed him rejected the "shock therapy" employed in Russia and Eastern Europe partly in the interests of trying to assure their own survival. Nevertheless, there are clear limitations to this introduction of capitalism by "stages". The process in China could be marked in the very near future by a huge economic crisis, accompanied by political convulsions involving mass uprisings on the pattern of Tiananmen Square. This could challenge both the remnants of Stalinism in the state machine and the new capitalist elite. All of this seems immaterial to CR as he crudely approves of a return to capitalism in China as if it was a rerun of the "relatively progressive" role of capitalism which Marx and Engels described in the 19th century. It is not; this is because the world background is entirely different. Moreover, Marx and Engels pointed out that what capitalism achieved in that period of upswing could have been superseded with three times less actual cost and human suffering if the means of production were in state hands and planning and control of their use was already on the basis of democratic, socialist principles.

The return to capitalism in China is happening precisely at that historical moment when capitalism confronts its greatest problems as a world system. Similarly, this will result in huge mass movements of the working class, the poor and the peasantry. In this process, people like CR could find themselves either on the sidelines, preaching against the "simple-minded", that is, the socialist forces, or could actually find themselves on the other side of the barricades.


Speaking about the bureaucratic nationalisations that took place in Sri Lanka in the past he correctly underlines the fact that privileged groups gained from this. This was not at all the democratic socialism as envisaged by the LSSP or by Trotskyism today. It was a form of "state capitalism", although, under the pressure of events, the majority of industry was actually nationalised temporarily in Sri Lanka. Was this, on balance, a good or a bad thing? CR says no, because of the bureaucratic distortions which followed these nationalisations.

There is nothing in his approach that can be compared with that of Engels in the nineteenth century, who said that when the capitalists were forced to "nationalise" particular industries this was an expression of the "invading socialist revolution". By this he meant that in certain branches of industry, particularly utilities, the capitalists were demonstrating their incapacity to maintain these industries and make them viable under private ownership. Their state was therefore forced to step in. There were, however, clear limitations to this process but nevertheless these nationalisations were generally progressive. The task of Marxists was to support such measures but also to argue that they should be extended to the whole of the "commanding heights" of industry and, moreover, be accompanied by democratic workers’ control and management.

Privatisation – "a good thing"!

CR clearly rejects this. He now, astonishingly, claims that, "Opening up the (Sri Lankan) economy was a good thing". Thus, the introduction of Free Trade Zones in Sri Lanka, representing a significant concession to imperialism, with the super-exploitation of the working class and the privatisation of formerly nationalised industries which went along with them, were "good things". These measures did not satisfy the demands of the Sri Lankan people or of the economy but nevertheless were a "good thing" for a small gang of capitalists and imperialists.

This just shows how far CR has departed from a principled socialist position. His "socialism" is mere verbiage and rhetoric. In reality, he stands for reforming the existing system, of purging this system of its more "chauvinist" and "corrupt" elements. In that sense, like many liberals in the neo-colonial world, and in the advanced industrial countries for that matter, he stands for a more "humane capitalism". We reject that conclusion as utopian. We stand by a principled socialist and revolutionary position, no matter how many faint-hearts have abandoned these ideas.

The national question

CR’s comments on the history of Sri Lanka and the "peace process" are also mistaken. The USP has put forward a Marxist analysis in its perspectives documents and in the party paper in relation to the LTTE . It is true that some of the Tamil people who live in Jaffna also criticise the methods of the LTTE in relation to particular actions, including the suicide bombings and other killings. But, in spite of all that, in general Tamil people take the side of the LTTE against the Sinhala chauvinists and the state who are not prepared to accept the self-determination of the Tamil-speaking people. In this situation, Marxists have to be very balanced when they criticise and take a position. They must be sure not to put the cart before the horse in the sense of seeing who is primarily responsible – the Sinhala bourgeois and British imperialism in the past - for the horrific and long-lasting crisis in the country over the national question.

Addressing Siri and Bahu on the national question CR states: "Your rhetoric sounds to me like medieval theology, condemning local and global capitalists for every conceivable issue and problem under the sun. When the Norwegians were promoting peace in Sri Lanka, both Bahu and Siri condemned them as agents of global capitalism". But, notwithstanding his jeering tone, the Norwegians are indeed agents of global capitalism, specifically US imperialism. That does not mean to say that in acting on behalf of imperialism some of their demands and actions cannot sometimes coincide, partially at least, with the wishes of the working class and the majority of the people. Organising and facilitating the "peace process", as limited and as temporary as this is, was nevertheless welcomed by the majority of Tamils and Sinhalese.

We have always argued that weak Sri Lankan capitalism was incapable of solving the national question in Sri Lanka. They have been pushed by the pressure of the situation – war-weariness, economic cost etc. - and by imperialism to find some form of agreement with the Tamil Tigers for the survival of their own capitalist system. Even if an agreement can be arrived at, it will only be temporary. We can urge critical support for a peace agreement. If it brings a period of relative peace, and allows a certain growth in economic activity, this will strengthen the working class and prepare it for new struggles.

But we warn at the same time that the national problem cannot be solved within the context of weak and ailing Sri Lankan capitalism. This, we have consistently argued, would only be possible on the basis the socialist transformation of society. This would entail the uniting of the Sinhala and Tamil-speaking workers in industry and in agriculture and fishing in the struggle to end capitalist exploitation and for a society in which the fullest democratic rights for all peoples and minorities would be assured.

We cannot speak for Bahu, but Siri and the USP, while pointing to the limitations of the Norwegians’ actions, were to the fore in both giving "critical support" to the limited steps towards peace and, moreover, in the case of Siri, being in the vanguard in anticipating that such a development was not only possible but likely. That does not mean to say that Marxists and Trotskyists would give unqualified and uncritical support to this process. It is vital to take an independent class position on the ‘peace process’ and not go behind Ranil or Chandrika’s capitalist ‘solutions’. The working class needs to come out with its own solution to the national question and take what actions are possible to further this process. This is what Siri and the USP have done in trying to forge links, and very successfully, between Tamil and Sinhalese workers, both in the north and the south.

This has been done while CR has been sitting in New York and has not dirtied his hands in such actions. He also makes a fatuous comment about the approach of the LTTE when he writes: "People ask why the LTTE needs a Navy if they have moved away from the quest for a separate state." As he himself indicates, this is the gossip of the largely petty bourgeois layers "in the USA, in Egypt, in Colombo". In other words, it is the Sinhalese petty bourgeois who suspect the motives of the LTTE. The USP holds no uncritical brief for the LTTE; we demand democracy and trade union rights in the areas that they control. But in an unresolved war – and that is what Sri Lanka faces at the moment – a guerrilla liberation movement like the LTTE will inevitably retain its weapons until there is a fully agreed peace.

This was and is the situation in Northern Ireland with the IRA retaining its weapons, as did the Protestant paramilitaries, even now, despite the "Good Friday Agreement" and the establishment of "peace". (In Ireland, there is even more sectarian polarisation than existed during the war.) In South Africa, the ANC did likewise and, in fact, the "peace process" between 1990 and 1994 was accompanied by an elemental and sometimes brutal civil war between the African masses and Buthelezi’s killing squads as well as with the right-wing Afrikaner ‘resistance’. Whether CR likes it or not, in such a conflict an army based upon an oppressed minority will usually retain its weapons – and its sources of supply as well – until assured that it is safe to dispense with them.

Mass revolutionary party needed

From every point of view, CR’s document is a break from genuine Trotskyism. While theoretically answering him and others, we, the CWI and the USP, will proceed in furthering the struggle which we have already successfully engaged in, rebuilding on the basis of the real Samasamajist traditions. This means laying the foundations for a mass revolutionary party that can win the majority of the workers of Sri Lanka and draw behind them the poor peasantry to establish the only solution to their problems, a democratic and socialist Sri Lanka as part of a socialist confederation of the region.