Saturday, September 8, 2012

Zoltan Zigedy responds to Sam Webb (from 2009)

Reposted from:

It’s a curious thing about revisionism: once it takes root, it continues unabated - inexorably towards further compromise and dilution - even in the face of stubborn, contrary facts. This was the case with Earl Browder who devised a new “Communist” strategy in the midst of an all-class war against fascism, a strategy that he doggedly and dogmatically clung to even when alarming signs of a new ruling class offensive were apparent to all at the end of World War II.

 Similarly, Sam Webb has dug his heels in, defending and even expanding, his class-compromising views on the path that Communists should take. Maybe its now time to anoint this path with its own name: Webbism.

 Webb sees the Obama election, as Browder saw the World War II anti-fascist alliance, as a historic marker, a qualitative turning point. “It constituted”, he maintains, “a serious setback for neoliberalism in both its conservative and liberal skin.” It did nothing of the sort.
 Webb confuses, willingly or not, a rejection of Bush’s rule on the part of the US electorate with a sea change in the dominant ideology. Given that both Parties have thoroughly absorbed the basics of neo-liberalism – free markets, the primacy of the private sector, and minimal regulation – the notion that a regime change counts as “a serious setback” for the reigning ideology is pure fantasy. Certainly Obama’s election creates more favorable conditions for waging a concerted struggle against neo-liberalism. But Webb doesn’t want to lead or even join that struggle. With nearly a decade of railing against the rule of the “ultra-right”, Webb treads water when the tide begins to turn, clinging to the leaky vessels of the Democratic Party and mainstream trade union leadership. He is content to not only defer to their course, but defend that course against any more challenging alternative.

 “The notion of the capitalist class on the one side and the working class on the other may sound ‘radical’,” he asserts, “but it is neither Marxist, nor found in life and politics.” This surprising remark stands glaringly at odds with the words of the first Marxists, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, who wrote in the opening to the Communist Manifesto: “Freeman and slave, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in a constant opposition to one another… Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie possesses, however, this distinctive feature: It has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat.” This is the Marxism of the Communist tradition, but not the “Marxism” of Sam Webb.

 Webb’s quotes of Lenin’s work are telling. He attempts to bolster his argument for collaborating uncritically with capitalist forces by noting that Lenin urged the exploitation of differences within the ruling class and the necessity of compromise with allies: “to refuse beforehand to maneuver, to utilize the conflict of interests (even though only temporary) among one's enemies, to refuse to temporize and compromise with possible (even though transitory, unstable, vacillating and conditional) allies - is this not ridiculous in the extreme?” It is important to distinguish between exploiting differences between enemies and compromising with allies – a distinction that Webb seems not to grasp. Monopoly capital and its henchmen are not allies, but enemies. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party (those who support single-payer, oppose the war, etc), most African-American leaders, some small business groups, etc. are potential allies, “though transitory, unstable, vacillating and conditional”.

Webb fails to reveal the target of Lenin’s polemic in this quote from “Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder: it is not principled Communists who recognize “the absolute necessity of a separate, independent, strictly class party”, as Lenin wrote, but those who refuse to work in “reactionary” trade unions or participate in parliamentary activities.

Lenin closes his pamphlet with the following emphatic statement: “The immediate task that confronts the class-conscious vanguard of the international labour movement, i.e., the Communist Parties… is to lead the broad masses (now, for the most part, slumbering, apathetic, hidebound, inert and dormant) to their new position, or, rather, to be able to lead not only their own party, but also these masses in their approach, their transition to the new position.”[Lenin’s emphasis].

In the context of warning about left-wing excesses, Lenin, calculatedly and deliberately, reminds the reader of “the first historic task” of Communist Parties. Sam Webb, willfully or inadvertently, retreats from this imperative, consigning a subordinate role to the CPUSA, a role of subservience and apology for the lesser of two evils.
Zoltan Zigedy

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