Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Citing Wet’suwet’en law, Hereditary Chiefs evict Coastal GasLink from their territory


Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hold a Mohawk Woman Warrior flag after re-establishing a camp blocking access to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project Sunday. Photo by Dan Mesec. (The Tyee)

Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs announced on December 19 that they have reoccupied a worksite on the Coastal GasLink pipeline route in the nation’s territory, in northern British Columbia. The pipeline is intended to supply fracked natural gas to an LNG plant on Canada’s west coast.

The reoccupation is reported in this article by Amanda Follett Hosgood of The Tyee. For a detailed discussion of the matters in dispute, see this Media Backgrounder issued by supporters of the Chiefs.

Notably, the Chiefs and their supporters base their opposition to the pipeline and the court injunctions on “Wet’suwet’en law,” which they describe in a news release:

“Anuc ‘nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law) is not a “belief” or a “point of view”. It is a way of sustainably managing our territories and relations with one another and the world around us, and it has worked for millennia to keep our territories intact. Our law is central to our identity. The ongoing criminalization of our laws by Canada’s courts and industrial police is an attempt at genocide, an attempt to extinguish Wet’suwet’en identity itself.

“We reaffirm that Anuc ‘nu’at’en remains the highest law on Wet’suwet’en land and must be respected. We have always held the responsibility and authority to protect our unceded territories. Protection of our yintah (traditional territories) is at the heart of Anuc ‘nu’at’en, and we will practice our laws for the future generations.”

The Wet’suwet’en people are on the front lines of the battle to assert and defend Indigenous sovereignty, and with it our natural environment, in the face of brutal ongoing attacks by governments and courts determined to pursue their disastrous exploitation of oil and gas resources. The Indigenous law that they cite was developed by Indigenous communities over centuries long before the occupation and colonization of their lands by European settlers. It can prove to be an important tool in supplementing and reinforcing Indigenous struggles against the corporate depredation of the environment.

A leading text by Indigenous scholar John Borrows, Canada’s Indigenous Constitution, argues that Indigenous law and legal traditions should be recognized as a third order of law in Canada alongside the Civil and Common law. His book was recently published in French translation in Quebec. I reviewed the book in the fall 2021 issue of Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme. Here is an English translation of the review.

Richard Fidler


John Borrows, La Constitution autochtone du Canada (Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2020)

Long before European colonization, the Indigenous peoples of North America had their own distinct systems of rules for governing their societies. And it was First Nations laws, protocols and procedures that set the framework for the first treaties among Aboriginal peoples, and between them and the Dutch, French, British and Canadian Crowns. However, during the 19th century Indigenous laws were progressively overridden by the Civil and Common law, and Canada is now constituted as a bijural system of law.

In La Constitution autochtone du Canada,[1] John Borrows argues that Indigenous legal traditions should be recognized as a third order of Canadian law. Borrows is a leading Indigenous legal scholar, an Anishinaabe/Ojibway and a member of the Chippewas of Nawah unceded First Nation at Cape Croker, Ontario. He is Canada Research Chair in Indigenous law at the University of Victoria, with an impressive record of award-winning publications that have influenced the major debates on Indigenous rights in Canada and abroad.

“Canada’s legal system is incomplete,” he says. “Canada needs to be constructed on a broader base, recognizing Indigenous legal traditions as giving rise to jurisdictional rights and obligations in our land.” Canada’s courts have long applied an opposing approach, based on a colonial “doctrine of discovery”; as the Supreme Court of Canada held in a leading case on Aboriginal rights,[2] “there was from the outset never any doubt that sovereignty and legislative power, and indeed the underlying title, to [Indigenous lands] vested in the Crown.” However, Borrows notes:

“[I]t is factually apparent that at Canada’s formation there was no first discovery on the part of the Crown that would justify displacing Indigenous law. Indigenous peoples had already discovered most land within their territories and exercised jurisdiction over it prior to the arrival of Europeans. If any legal consequences flow from ‘discovery’ these should vest in favour of Indigenous peoples, not the Crown....”

What, then, are the sources and scope of Indigenous legal traditions? Borrows discusses these under five heads, each illustrated by historical and contemporary examples. He shows that Indigenous legal traditions cannot be reduced to customary law; they are also expressed through sacred law, natural law, deliberative law, and positivistic law. He introduces us concisely to many of these traditions: Mi’kmaq, Haudenosaunee, Anishinabe, Eeyou, etc. He illustrates how these Indigenous precepts have proved their adaptability in addressing contemporary issues of Indigenous rights and in resolving disputes within and between Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous entities.

“The First Nations, Métis and Inuit are increasingly taking their affairs in hand, governing their activities and resolving their differences through the identification and establishment of criteria, principles, processes, rules, benchmarks, authorities, beacons and precedents. In other words, they are using their own legal powers to respond to the pressing issues facing their communities. These efforts cut across several areas of law, including inter alia child and family services, environmental protection, resource use, taxation, land development planning, education, cultural property, elections, protection of language, administration of justice, and settlement of disputes.”

Based on his interpretation of Canada’s bijural tradition, Borrows then explores what a genuinely multijural system that accorded an appropriate place to the Indigenous juridical orders would entail. He looks at the role that governments and courts, but also the bar associations and teaching institutions could and should play in order to clear the necessary space for the implementation and conveyance of Indigenous legal traditions. Finally, Borrows points to some of the obstacles, still very present, to a genuine recognition of the rights of the Indigenous peoples.

Borrows’ book does not engage directly with the major debate in today’s Indigenous politics, the struggle for forms of self-government and sovereignty that can eliminate the subjugation of the Indigenous peoples to the federal racist and sexist Indian Act and strengthen their capacity to resist and contend with the pressures of rapacious predatory capitalism. However, his insights concerning the content, relevance and adaptability of Indigenous legal precepts can inform our understanding of how truly self-governing Indigenous nations might regulate and resolve inter-jurisdictional conflicts and establish enforceable social norms of conduct within their communities:

“One need only think about actions related to pipelines, forestry, mining, and hydroelectric development to realize the importance of Indigenous law in our broader constitutional norms and practices.”

Borrows appears to hold a relatively benign belief in the adaptability of Canada’s constitution to incorporate Indigenous law as a third order of law or, as the long-ignored Royal Commission on the Aboriginal Peoples recommended, a third order of government. The existing bijural system is under-inclusive, he argues. “Canada would be better described as multi-jural in its actual constitution.” He draws particular attention to the “reserved rights” notion of treaties, recognized in Canadian law,[3] which implies that anything not agreed to or expressed in the treaty remains vested in Indigenous populations. However, Canadian courts have conditioned its application on an overriding recognition of Crown sovereignty. The Supreme Court “is one of the places where the recognition of Indigenous law is occurring most slowly,” he concedes.

Borrows sees hope, however, in recent developments that illustrate the visibility of Indigenous laws. These include the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (on the Indian boarding schools), the National Inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and above all the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Bill C-15, adopted by the House of Commons on May 25, 2021, now before the Senate,[4] provides that the federal government must “take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with” the UNDRIP, and must “implement an action plan to achieve” these objectives.

The UNDRIP provisions recognizing the Indigenous rights of self-determination and autonomous governance alone would suffice to promote the Indigenous constitution of the country, Borrows says. And art. 27 is explicit on the importance of using Indigenous law when decisions are made concerning their lands, territories and resources.

Is this conceivable, or likely, however, under the existing constitution, in which individual rights prevail over the unrecognized rights of the national collectivities, Québec and the Indigenous peoples? Permit one to doubt.

-- Richard Fidler

[1] French translation of Canada’s Indigenous Constitution (University of Toronto Press, 2010, 2012). The French text follows the English; only a few more recent court decisions and articles are cited in the footnotes.

[2] R. v. Sparrow [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1075, at 1103.

[3] Constitution Act, 1982 , s. 35(1): “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.”

[4] The Act received Royal Assent on June 21, 2021.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Climate - COP26: Enough blah blah, only struggle pays off

by Daniel Tanuro*

The increasing number of climate disasters around the world is the result of a warming of “only” 1.1° to 1.2° Celsius above the pre-industrial era. From reading the IPCC’s special 1.5°C report[1], any reasonable reader will conclude that everything, absolutely everything, must be done to keep the Earth well below this level of warming. Beyond that, the risks increase very rapidly.[2] There is even a growing possibility that a cascade of positive feedbacks will cause the planet to tip irreversibly towards a “hothouse” that would eventually result in sea levels thirteen or even several dozen metres higher than they are today.[3] An unimaginable dystopia... certainly incompatible with the existence of seven billion human beings on Earth!

There is no Planet B

Given the time lost since the Earth Summit (Rio, 1992) – and since Paris – it is not certain that the 1.5°C limit can still be respected (at the current rate of emissions, it will be exceeded around... 2030!) What is absolutely certain, however, is that the race to the abyss cannot be stopped without getting out of the productivism inherent in the market economy. As Greta Thunberg rightly said, “The climate and ecological crisis simply cannot be solved within the current political and economic systems. This is not an opinion, it is simply a question of mathematics”.[4] With COP26 remaining “within the framework of the current economic and political systems”, the prognosis is clear: the Glasgow conference will not stop the catastrophe any more than previous conferences.

Does this mean that we can ignore what will happen in Scotland? No, there are important issues on the summit agenda. For example: how many countries will raise the level of their “climate ambitions”?[5] To what extent will the gap between countries’ commitments and what needs to be done globally to save the climate be reduced?[6] In the commitments of the major polluters, what will be the respective shares of actual domestic emission reductions, as against “carbon offsetting” by forest sinks, capture and sequestration, and so-called clean investments in the South? Will the “new market mechanism” for carbon decided in principle by COP21 be implemented and how?[7] Will a global price for carbon be adopted, or will rich countries impose it de facto via a carbon tax at the borders?[8] Will these countries finally honour their promise to pay one hundred billion dollars annually to the Green Climate Fund, in order to help the global South meet the climate challenge? Will they continue to turn a deaf ear to the poor countries that are demanding compensation for the growing “losses and damages” that global warming is imposing on their peoples? And so on.

These questions will be the subject of fierce arm wrestling between state representatives, depending on their economic interests and geostrategic rivalries. Not to mention that the mobilizations of social movements will be able to influence the outcome, on certain points and to a certain extent. For example, it is important to put obstacles in the way of “carbon offsetting”, and if this system could be banned, it would be an important victory for the people. Analysing the COP outcomes in detail will provide lessons on the state of capitalism and the acuteness of its systemic crisis. However, we should not be under any illusions: overall, COP26 will remain “within the framework of the current political and economic systems”, as Greta Thunberg says. So we can be categorical: basically, Glasgow will not solve ANYTHING.

More renewables... and emissions

Against this radical view, it is sometimes argued that the breakthrough of renewables could offer a way out of the crisis. Their advance is indeed real, mainly in the power generation sector. Over the last twenty years, the share of renewables in the global energy mix has increased by an annual average of 13.2%. The price of the green kWh has become very advantageous (especially in onshore wind and photovoltaics). According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), over the next decade, more than 80% of investments in the electricity sector will be in renewables. But it is completely wrong to conclude that “the global process of phasing out from fossil fuels is already well underway”, as the European Commission recently wrote.[9] In fact, this statement is an outright lie. In ten years, the share of fossil fuels in the global energy mix has declined only imperceptibly – from 80.3% in 2009 to 80.2% in 2019[10]; over twenty years, only the share of coal has declined, but very slightly (-0.3% on average per year); that of natural gas has increased by 2.6% and that of oil by 1.5% (from 2014 to 2019). There is not the slightest hint of the beginning of a “global phase-out” of fossil fuels! This is why global CO2 emissions continue to rise inexorably (except for the 2008 crisis and the 2020 pandemic).

Why are there more renewables and more fossil emissions at the same time? Because renewables do not replace fossil fuels: they only account for a growing share of global energy consumption. This consumption continues to grow in line with the accumulation of capital (increasing digitalization and the complexity of international value chains, in particular, are two very energy-intensive dynamics)[11]. Bourgeois climate policy thus has two sides, like Janus. On one side, capitalist governments vie with each other with fine declarations about the “energy transition” and “carbon neutrality inspired by the best science”. But their commitments are more about favouring the companies that are rushing into the green technology market than about saving the climate. That is why, on the other side, these same governments put the brakes on “transition” whenever it is necessary to maintain growth in GDP. The law of profit thus takes precedence over the laws of the “best science” of physics. This is what the tensions over energy supply in China have brought to the fore.

When the price of energy rises in the workshop of the world...

The context is well known: China, a rising power, is seeking to assert itself as a global geostrategic leader. This ambition has become inseparable from a “responsible” climate policy, like green capitalism. This is why Xi Jinping promised in Davos that his country’s emissions would start to fall before 2030; he even added a little later that China would no longer build coal-fired power stations abroad. So much for that side. On the other side of the fence, the ink was barely dry on the newspapers reporting these statements when Beijing increased coal production in Inner Mongolia by 10%! The reason for this decision was the coincidence of “more ambitious” climate targets and the post-COVID recovery. Orders for Chinese-made goods are pouring in, causing a relative shortage of electricity. Russian fossil fuel exports especially gas -- which is also a burden on Europe – are insufficient to plug the hole. So prices are rising... which threatens the global recovery. Stagflation threatens. As a result, Beijing is reviving its coal mines.

The Financial Times’ assessment of the situation is clear: “China, like other energy markets facing shortages, ‘must perform a balancing act’ of using coal to maintain activity while showing its commitment to decarbonization targets. On the eve of COP26, this sounds uncomfortable [sic!] but the short-term reality is that China and many others have no choice but to increase coal consumption to meet electricity demand.”[12]

It is worth noting that competitors in the US and Europe were careful not to criticize the Chinese decision. For one obvious reason: an uncontrolled spike in energy prices in the workshop of the capitalist world would have cascading consequences around the world. The Chinese leadership is also very pragmatic: while it has imposed an embargo on Australian coal – to punish Canberra for its stance on Taiwan, Hong Kong and other issues – it turns a blind eye when Australian cargo ships unload their coal in Chinese ports... The bottom line is: do not trust the climate messaging of capitalist politicians on ecological transition – even when they drape themselves in the banner of “communism”. In the end, it is Capital that will have the last word, not the climate. In the People’s Republic of China as elsewhere.

... more fossils are being burned in the name of “ecological transition”!

Clearly, these tensions on the energy market highlight the unsolvable contradictions of the capitalist “energy transition”. China is indeed the world’s main supplier of photovoltaic panels (most of which are manufactured in Xin-jiang, using forced labour). It is also the main producer of these “rare earths” whose exploitation and transformation require large quantities of energy and which are indispensable for many green technologies... While humanity is on the brink of a climatic abyss, the capitalist logic of profit thus leads to this obvious absurdity: it is necessary to burn more coal, thus emitting more CO2... to maintain profits... on which the transition to renewables depends!

China being the “workshop of the world”, the problem is immediately global. What will be the impact on overall climate policy? COP 26 is supposed to “raise ambitions”. This might be done on paper, to convince people that the situation is under control. But there is a long way to go. A recent UN report points out that fifteen countries (including the US, Norway and Russia) are projecting fossil fuel production in 2030 to be more than twice the limit compatible with the Paris Agreement! Globally, in 2030, the limit would be exceeded by 240% for coal, 57% for oil and 71% for gas![13]

A specialist quoted by the Financial Times does not accept that “coal shortages and energy price rises are only a short-term and cyclical problem in China”. Rather, she says, the episode highlights “the long-term structural challenges of the transition to cleaner energy systems”. She is right. The structural challenge is this: there is no more room for manœuvre; emissions have to be reduced immediately, radically. Therefore, it is not enough to say in the abstract that renewables could replace fossil fuels. We have to say concretely how we will compensate for the extra emissions resulting from the fact that we have to use fossil fuels to manufacture the renewable energy converters, especially in the beginning. Technically, this challenge can only be met by reducing overall production and transport.[14] Socially, this technical solution can only be envisaged in turn by massively sharing the necessary work, time and wealth. We will come back to this in the conclusion, but it is clear that the two branches – technical and social – of the solution are totally incompatible with the capitalist logic of market competition. It is in this context that the promises of “carbon neutrality” must be examined.

The true face of “carbon neutrality” and “green deals”

Since Trump handed over to Biden, the world’s main polluters have been declaring their intention to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2050 (2060 for Russia and China) by implementing various varieties of “green deals”. But this carbon neutrality is a decoy designed to lull public opinion. In theory, the concept is built on the idea that it is impossible to completely eliminate all anti-polluting emissions of greenhouse gases, so that a “leftover” will have to be compensated by removing carbon from the atmosphere. But in practice, capitalists and their political representatives conclude that they can send urgent drastic emission reductions to hell, because one day in the future, a technological deus ex machina will remove from the atmosphere every year, not a “leftover”, but 5, 10, even 20Gt of CO2 (current global emissions: about 40 Gt). As a result, while the European Union and the United States should reduce their emissions by at least 65% in 2030 (to stay below 1.5°C and respect their historical responsibilities), their commitments in the framework of “carbon neutrality” only consist in “reducing” them by 55% and 50 to 52% respectively.[15]

Underlying this strategy is a completely insane idea: called “temporary overshoot scenario”. It consists of letting the temperature rise above 1.5°C while betting that “Science” will later cool the Earth with “negative emission technologies” (NETs).[16] However, (1) most of these NETs are only in the prototype or demonstration stage; (2) we are already very close to the tipping point of the Greenland ice sheet – which contains enough ice to raise sea levels by seven metres[17]; (3) therefore, assuming that NETs work, it is quite possible that they will be deployed after a massive process of ice break-up has already begun. In this case, the damage will be obvious: the “temporary” overshoot will have led to a permanent cataclysm...

Let us assume, however, that the temporary overshoot remains very limited (this would in any case require much more severe emission reductions than those currently under discussion): in this case, all cataclysm aside, what would the world look like under the “growth” strategy of “carbon neutrality”? We can get an idea from the proposals of the International Energy Agency (IEA).[18] They are edifying. In fact, to hope to achieve “zero net emissions” in 2050, according to the IEA, we would need: twice as many nuclear power plants; to accept that one fifth of the world’s energy continues to come from fossil fuel combustion (emitting 7.6Gt CO2/year); to capture and store these 7.6Gt of CO2 underground each year in geological reservoirs (leaks from these reservoirs, including sudden and massive leaks, cannot be excluded); to devote 410 million hectares to industrial monocultures of energy biomass (this represents one third of the agricultural area under permanent cultivation!); to use this biomass instead of fossil fuels in power stations and other combustion installations (again capturing the CO2 emitted and storing it underground); to produce “blue” hydrogen from coal (again capturing the CO2!) in the hope that industrial electrolysis of water will make it possible to produce “green” hydrogen at a competitive price later on; to double the number of large dams; and... to continue to destroy everything – even the moon – in order to extract the “rare earths” that are indispensable for the gigantic investments to be made in “green technologies. Who wants to live in such a world?

Market policies, social and ecological disaster guaranteed

The IEA has a plan, others have plans… but there is no question of planning. Taboo! Neo-liberalism is supposed to coordinate the “transition” to “carbon neutrality” – through taxes, incentives and a global emissions trading system. The European Union is at the forefront with its “Fit for 55” plan. The EU has been a pioneer in implementing emission rights in its major industrial sectors and will extend them to the construction, agriculture and mobility sectors. The more poorly insulated the house or the more polluting the car, the greater the price increase for consumers. Those with lower incomes will therefore be penalized. The economies of the South will also be penalized - and through that their populations ­– by means of “carbon offsetting” and carbon border taxes.[19] And all this for a plan that (unless we cheat) will not even reach its inadequate target, unattainable by market mechanisms.

Reducing emissions by 52 or 55% is better than nothing, one might say. No doubt, but contrary to what even some specialists say, plans like “Fit for 55” are not “going in the right direction”.[20] Climatically, they do not put us on the path to staying below 1.5 degrees of warming: there is a significant gap between the path to 55% and the path to 65% reduction by 2030, and this gap cannot be closed afterwards, as the CO2 corresponding to this gap accumulates in the atmosphere. Socially, plans such as “Fit for 55” are not going in the right direction either, as they imply an accentuation of the colonial mechanisms of domination, the commodification of nature and neoliberal policies on the backs of the working classes. But there is no time to make any mistakes. In order to “go in the right direction”, we need to set the right course from the very first step.

Yes, it’s a simple matter of maths

Let’s return to the quote from Greta Thunberg at the beginning of this article. The young Swedish activist is quite right to call it “a simple matter of maths”. The figures in the climate equation are indeed perfectly clear:

1) staying below 1.5°C requires a reduction in net global CO2 emissions of 59% by 2030 and 100% by 2050[21];

2) 80.2% of these emissions are due to the combustion of fossil fuels;

3) in 2019, these fuels still covered 84.3% of humanity’s energy needs (we have known for years that 9/10ths of the reserves should remain underground, but exploitation and exploration continue as if nothing had happened!);

4) fossil infrastructures (mines, pipelines, refineries, gas terminals, power stations, etc.) – the construction of which is not slowing down, or hardly at all – are forty years investments for capital;

5) the value of the fossil fuel energy system is estimated at 1/5th of the world’s GDP but, amortized or not, this system must be scrapped, because renewables require another one.

So, with three billion people lacking the basics and the richest 10% of the population emitting more than 50% of global CO2, the “simple maths question” inescapably leads to a series of policy implications:

- staying below 1.5°C by leaving fossils in the ground while changing the energy system and devoting more energy to satisfying the legitimate rights of the poor is strictly incompatible with continued capitalist accumulation;

- the catastrophe can only be stopped by a double-pronged movement, which reduces global production and redirects it to the service of real human needs, democratically determined, while respecting natural limits;

- this double movement necessarily involves the suppression of useless or harmful production and superfluous transport, and the expropriation of the monopolies of energy, finance and agribusiness;

- the capitalists obviously do not want this conclusion: according to them, it is criminal to destroy capital, even to avoid a monstrous human and ecological cataclysm;

- The alternative is therefore dramatically simple: either a revolution will allow humanity to liquidate capitalism in order to reappropriate the conditions of production of its existence, or capitalism will liquidate millions of innocent people in order to continue its barbaric course on a mutilated, and perhaps unliveable, planet.

These strategic implications do not mean that we can simply repeat “one solution, revolution”. They mean that there is nothing to expect from neoliberal governments, their COPs, their system and its “laws”. For more than thirty years, those in charge have claimed to have understood the ecological threat, but they have done almost nothing. Or rather, they have done a lot: their policies of austerity, privatization, deregulation, aid to maximize the profits of multinationals and support for agribusiness have fragmented consciousness, eroded solidarity, ruined biodiversity and disfigured ecosystems, while pushing us to the brink of the climate abyss. These politicians are nothing more than managers at the service of the death logic of capital. It is futile to hope to convince them of a different policy: at best they can only back down in the face of power relations.

Hope is in the struggles

An alternative is needed, and therefore a programme of demands. It is not written in stone, we have to work it out step by step, starting from the real movement. To do this, we must not start from the level of consciousness of the working classes, but focus in the first place on the need for a coherent global response to the objective situation diagnosed by climate physics. In short: we need a plan to stay below 1.5°C of warming by leaving fossils in the ground, without temporary overshoot, without carbon offset, and biodiversity offset; a plan that excludes dangerous technologies like BECCS (carbon capture and storage) and nuclear; a plan that develops democracy, propagates peace, respects social and climate justice (principle of differentiated responsibilities and capabilities); a plan that strengthens the public sector and makes the 1% pay for producing less, transporting less, and sharing more ­– work, wealth and resources. This plan must eliminate unnecessary and harmful production while ensuring the collective reconversion of workers into useful activities, without loss of pay; it must, in particular, get us out of agribusiness and the meat industry, and usher in the reign of agroecology. This is obviously an anti-capitalist plan. But its strength is that it is vital, in the literal sense of the word: it is indispensable for saving life.

There is no point in denying it: we are far from such a plan today. It will take a great deal of determination, patience and courage to convince people, by overcoming the defeats suffered by our social camp. The obstacles to overcome are terribly numerous. In such a situation, the danger of mass despair cannot be ruled out. But abject submission solves nothing. As Gramsci said, one can only predict the struggle, not its outcome. Let us not forget the terrible lessons of the 20th century: under capitalism, the worst is always possible. So we must keep repeating: only collective struggle can reverse the trend and it is never too late to fight. Of course, what is lost is lost, the extinct species will not come back. But no matter how far we go into the catastrophe, the struggle can always reopen the way to hope.

To fight, we must be aware not only of the terrible dangers but also of what can strengthen the alternative. Paradoxically, the sheer scale of the danger can strengthen us, provided we see in it the possibility of a necessary revolutionary change. The staggering crisis of legitimacy of the system and its representatives strengthens us: we do not have to respect those people who let the ecological catastrophe grow without doing anything, even though they were well informed. The diagnoses of climate change science strengthen us: they objectively argue in favour of a plan of the type outlined above. The growing mobilization of international youth strengthens us: they are standing up against the destruction of the world they will have to live in tomorrow. The new feminist wave strengthens us: its fight against violence spreads a culture of care, the opposite of the commodification of beings. The admirable resistance of indigenous peoples strengthens us: their vision of the world can help us to invent other relationships with nature. The struggles of peasants strengthen us: by saying no to agribusiness, they are putting alternative modes of production into practice every day.

We can win the ethical battle and move mountains. It is a question of articulating and bringing together struggles against all forms of exploitation and oppression and of circulating the knowledge that goes with it. This confluence is decisive. It is the only way to set in motion a movement so massive that it will make it possible to glimpse once again the concrete possibility of a profound change of society, at once ecological, social, feminist and ethical. In the current context, a powerful societal groundswell will most probably be indispensable for the working class and its organizations to break the productivist compromise with capitalist growth. In any case, this break is a major challenge: we will not win the battle for the Earth if producers do not rise up against productivism. We need to prepare for this uprising. Through speeches and demands that combine red and green (in particular the massive reduction of working hours without loss of pay), but this is not enough: we need to multiply concrete initiatives to bring together and network the trade union, ecological, feminist, peasant and indigenous lefts at the global level.

In this context, particular attention must be paid to territorial struggles against productivist mega-projects that destroy nature and people. It is here that the social and the environmental are challenged to overcome the barriers that capital erects between them. Naomi Klein, in her book on the climate crisis, has proposed to call these struggles by the general term of Blockadia.[22] It is in the crucible of this “ecological Blockadia”, and in its convergence with a “social Blockadia” of the “Yellow Vests” type, that an alternative to the steamroller of Capital will emerge: an eco-socialist project to live well on this Earth, to wash it clean of the stains of capital, and us with it.

October 26, 2021


1. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

2. In particular: the risk of extreme weather events, the risk of major cities of this civilization disappearing under the sea, and the risk of large areas being rendered uninhabitable by the combination of heat and humidity.

3. Will Steffen et al., “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”, PNAS, Aug. 2018.

4. https://twitter.com/gretathunberg/status/1274618877247455233?lang=en

5. Currently seventeen countries plus the European Union have raised their ambitions. https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-cop26-climate-change-summit.html#link-67cd21b3

6. Based on the “nationally determined contributions” (the countries’ climate plans), the warming will be 2.7 to 3.5°C in 2100.

7. This “new market mechanism” is to replace and aggregate the various systems previously implemented under the Kyoto Protocol. Its modalities will largely determine the possibilities to circumvent domestic emission reduction obligations. Negotiations on this issue led to the failure of COP25.

8. The border tax is part of the “Fit for 55” strategy proposed by the European Commission

9. EU Commission, Communication “Fit for 55”.

10. https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/global-fossil-fuel-use-similar-decade-ago-energy-mix-report-says-2021-06-14/

11. As a reminder: emissions from aviation and shipping are exploding but are not attributed to any state.

12. Financial Times, 8 October 2021.

13. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/20/climate/fossil-fuel-drilling-pledges.html

14. I made this point in Green Capitalism: Why it can’t work (Merlin/Resistance Books/IIRE, London, 2013). As Smil Vaclav says in Energy and Civilization, A History (Paperback, 2018), it is a “fundamental law”: “Every transition to a new form of energy supply has to be powered by the intensive deployment of existing energies and prime movers: the transition from wood to coal had to be energized by human muscles, coal combustion powered the development of oil, and today’s solar photovoltaic cells and wind turbines are embodiments of fossil energies required to smelt the requisite metals, synthesize the needed plastics, and process other materials requiring high energy inputs.”

15. “Reduce” in quotes, because the European and US green deals make extensive use of alternative mechanisms to domes-tic emissions reductions, such as tree planting and purchases of “carbon credits”.

16. NETs remove CO2 from the atmosphere, geoengineering (so far discouraged by the IPCC) sends a fraction of the sun’s radiation back into space. Use of nuclear power it is now called “low-carbon technology”.

17. According to the IPCC’s 1.5°C report, the tipping point of the Greenland ice sheet is between 1.5 and 2°C of warming compared to the pre-industrial period.

18. https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

19. Too little attention is paid to the fact that this border tax will impose on the global South the price of carbon charged in the North. It therefore contravenes the principle of differentiated responsibilities and capabilities enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

20. For example, François Gemenne (professor at the University of Liège and Sciences Po, interview in Le Soir, 18 July 2021) and Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (former vice-chairman of the IPCC, professor at the Catholic University of Lou-vain, interview on RTBF): https://www.rtbf.be/info/societe/detail_ des-inondations-extremes-le-giec-les-annoncait-en-1990-rappelle-jean-pascal- van-ypersele?id=10804972)

21. IPCC, 1.5°C report. Net emissions are obtained by deducting from CO2 emissions the increases in absorption by for-ests and soils, provided that these increases are deliberately induced. 59% is a global target. Taking into account the different responsibilities of the North and the South, developed countries would have to reduce their emissions much more drastically (for the EU: by at least 65%) by 2030, and reach “net zero emissions” well before 2050.

22. Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs the Climate, A. Knopf, 2014.

* **

*Written for the Fourth International website, this contribution (which I have slightly edited to concord with the original French text - RF) includes some extracts from the introduction to the book Luttes écologiques et sociales dans le monde. Le rouge s’allie au vert (Ecological and social struggles in the world. Red meets green), edited by Daniel Tanuro and Michael Löwy, Textuel (to be published end of October 2021).

Friday, October 29, 2021

Land Workers of the World Unite! Food Sovereignty for Climate Justice Now!

La Via Campesina Declaration Towards UN Climate COP 26 (Glasgow)


It’s the most chaotic climate year on record, since last year, and corporate-controlled governments, transnationals, philanthropists, mainstream media and most non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are offering more of the same: market-based solutions and risky techno-fixes. Two years into a global pandemic that has taken the lives of untold millions, humanity wakes daily to historic floods, fires and drought-caused famines along with extremely erratic weather that makes life increasingly difficult to bear. Those in power blame ‘general human activity’ for climate chaos, overlooking the intimate links between fossil fuel extraction, corporate agribusiness and the military industrial complex, not to mention global power imbalances and historic responsibilities of countries that have enriched themselves through colonial plunder. Instead of a truthful and transformative way forward, we are sold false solutions that never fail to prioritize corporate elites – “net zero”, “nature-based solutions”, “geo-engineering”, and the “digitalization of agriculture”, just to name a few. This has to stop, now!Mobilise for Climate Justice - graphic

Halting the climate crisis requires system change rooted in the rights of humanity and Mother Earth. For over 500 years, the colonial turned corporate patriarchal food system has attempted to dominate all forms of life for the enrichment of a few. Those who control the accumulated wealth – produced by people and the planet over centuries – have so far escaped the wrath of floods, droughts, degraded soils, war and hunger. They ignore the ample signals of the breakdown of the natural systems that sustain life and instead propose that we, the most vulnerable of victims, bear the greatest burden. For La Via Campesina (LVC) and our organized diversity of peasants, migrants, land workers, fisherfolk, forest dwellers, rural women, youth and others, our solution to the climate crisis is a just transition rooted in struggle and solidarity – internationalist solidarity with all who struggle for Food Sovereignty, Climate Justice, and the Rights of Mother Earth! It’s a struggle for the full realization of all the rights and responsibilities detailed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), especially the Right to a Clean, Safe and Healthy Environment (Article 18) recently ratified by the UN Human Rights Council for all of humanity. It’s also a struggle against the corporate capture of UN spaces through the “multi-stakeholderism’ better known as ‘stakeholder capitalism’, witnessed by all at the so-called UN Food System Summit of 2021 and ever increasingly at the UN Climate COPs.

As we brace for another painful UN Climate Conference – Glasgow’s COP26 – the 200 million land, water and territory defenders of LVC rise again to demand Food Sovereignty for Climate Justice. We join a large convergence of struggles against fossil fuel capitalism, racism, colonialism, and the patriarchy that binds them. As we struggle to hold the corporates responsible for this needless destruction, we stand proud with the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA) – our LVC member organization based in Scotland, England and Wales. LWA is working tirelessly to bring the voices of agroecological land workers to COP26 by calling for “recognition of the contribution that agroecological farming, sustainable forestry and better land use can make towards our commitments to reduce emissions, sequester carbon and build resilience.”

Corporations beware, the land workers of the world have real solutions: food, farming and forestry systems that serve the people, climate and nature! Alongside our LWA and all who struggle for a just transition, we will again stand united in opposition to any attempts made to turn the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) into one giant “market mechanism.” Climate Capitalism is a Crime, Not the Solution!


An outgrowth of the fossil fuel industry, the transnational food system is one of the primary culprits of the climate crisis, contributing some 44 – 57 percent of global GHG emissions. This system alienates people from the land, degrades communities and drives violence and inequality across territories worldwide. It is especially harmful for women and youth whose lives and work are undermined by a system that does not value life.

Long before COP21 in Paris, multinational agribusiness and fossil fuel corporations were already using their power and influence to promote policies at national, subnational and global levels. The 2015 Paris Agreement created a “consensus” of sorts around several very problematic false solutions. Carbon trading and offsets mechanisms contained in Article 6, for example, will put significant power in the hands of wealthy governments, corporations, bankers and traders whose primary objective is to maximize profits not to take care of Mother Earth. Instead of taking decisive actions to adapt to climate change and commit to an honest transition towards democratic and human rights-based food systems, powerful actors are using “net zero” pledges to hide their climate inaction.

Net zero allows companies to buy their way out of responsibility for historic and on-going emissions, prioritizing initiatives that favour the corporate bottom line. Wherever the corporates promote ‘Nature Based Solutions’ (NBS), we caution of nature-based dispossession through forest and soil carbon offsets schemes premised on the false claim that paying someone else to deal with carbon emissions instead of taking direct action to reduce pollution will somehow slow-down the crisis. Combating the climate crisis requires a just transition away from fossil fuels, an end to destructive mining and extractive agriculture, and a focus on recovering damaged territories and ecosystems. Our solutions – which are truly nature-based, agroecological, and peasant-controlled – are just solutions. No ‘Carbon Unicorns’ and magical thinking will solve this problem, just immediate action toward system change.

Also, what they call ‘climate smart agriculture’ we call ‘Corporate Smart Agriculture’ because it provides a framework for integrating GMOs and agrochemicals into small-scale agriculture relying on the same racist and sexist paradigm of the Green Revolution. It positions capitalist science and technology as solutions to the problems faced by “underdevelopment” and the world’s supposedly “uneducated” peasants. These original problems were created by global capitalism, theft, colonial pillage, wars and generalized violence.

While many corporate false solutions co-opt the language of Peasant Agroecology, nowhere are fundamental rights to local and nutritious food, dignified livelihoods, land and self-determination affirmed or guaranteed. What is guaranteed are endless cycles of accumulation benefiting those driving the climate crisis, including major food and agribusiness corporations like John Deere, Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, Nestlé, Wal-Mart and others.


Land workers and other food producers of the world demand – and stand ready to carry out – a Climate Just Transition in Agriculture! For decades, local food producers have been pushed down the path of intensification and monocropping by corporate agribusiness and their allies. The co-opted UN Food System Summit of 2021 was just one more example. What people and the planet need urgently are governments and institutions providing publically-funded opportunities to transition towards more ecologically and socially sound farming systems. For far too long have farmers faced the blame for a model forced upon us by capital. This ends now! Society must recognize that our agricultural, water and land use systems are what they are today because of systemic pressures. As we transition away from fossil fuel capitalism, we must not lose farmers, destroy livelihoods, or healthy food production capacity. Government support for grants and training programmes to support transition are essential, and this Just Transition in Agriculture must be centred on principles of Climate Justice. This means that all those involved in the food chain – including peasants, pastoralists, migrant workers, contract workers, landless people, and indigenous people – must be front and center defining and implementing the public policies required for this transition.

As La Via Campesina we call for an end to all false solutions and market mechanisms in Article 6. We demand a just transition to Real Zero, not the corporate marketing schemes hidden behind ‘net zero’. At the same time, and of the utmost importance, we call on all former colonial powers to take on their historic responsibilities and drastically cut emissions at the source, now, including through an immediate drawdown of their military presence around the world! La Via Campesina stands in solidarity with the victims of all wars, sanctions and occupations – be they the maimed and murdered of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan or the poor, working and indigenous people of the United States lacking hospitals, schools and daily bread. For Food Sovereignty, Human Rights and Mother Earth – Defund the War Machine!

The pathways to achieving climate justice must be radically different from the ones which produced the crisis. Peasant Agroecology and Food Sovereignty can ‘feed the world and cool the planet’! They offer the very real possibility of reducing emissions and realizing social justice, the rights of people and the planet. A food system based on Food Sovereignty and localized food systems, one fed by family farmers using peasant agroecology, can truly transform society while reducing carbon emissions dramatically and much sooner than any false solutions sold by the corporates. All of this can be done without commodifying carbon, and, at the same time, contribute to strengthening grassroots democratic solutions to poverty, hunger and violence.

Agroecological land, water and territory defenders of the world unite! With food producers at the forefront of our global convergence for a Food Sovereignty that feeds Climate Justice, life will prevail over death!




Harare, 25 October 2021

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Food Sovereignty, a Manifesto for the Future of Our Planet: Via Campesina


The following official statement was issued October 13 by the International Peasants’ Movement, La Via Campesina, to “mark 25 years of our collective struggles for food sovereignty.” The organization’s members include, in Canada, the National Farmers Union (NFU) and in Quebec, the Union Paysanne. Today, October 16, is the Global Day of Action for Peoples’ Food Sovereignty and Against Multinational Corporations. – R.F.

Food Sovereignty is a philosophy of life.

It offers a vision for our collective future, and defines the principles around which we organize our daily living and co-exist with Mother Earth. It is a celebration of life and all the diversity around us. It embraces every element of our cosmos; the sky above our heads, the land beneath our feet, the air we breathe, the forests, the mountains, valleys, farms, oceans, rivers and ponds. It recognizes and protects the inter-dependency between eight million species that share this home with us.

We inherited this collective wisdom from our ancestors, who ploughed the land and waded the waters for 10,000 years, a period in which we evolved into an agrarian society. Food Sovereignty promotes justice, equality, dignity, fraternity and solidarity. Food Sovereignty is also the science of life – built through lived realities spread across countless generations, each teaching their progeny something new, inventing new methods and techniques which sat harmoniously with nature.

As holders of this rich heritage, it is our collective responsibility to defend it and preserve it.

Recognizing this as our duty – especially in the late ’90s when conflicts, acute hunger, global warming and extreme poverty were too visible to ignore – La Via Campesina (LVC) brought the paradigm of Food Sovereignty into international policy-making spaces. LVC reminded the world that this philosophy of life must guide the principles of our shared living.

The ’80s and the ’90s were an era of unbridled capitalist expansion – at a pace never seen before in human history. Cities were expanding, growing on the backs of cheap, unpaid and underpaid labour. The countryside was being pushed into oblivion. Rural communities and rural ways of living were swept under the carpet by a new ideology that wanted to turn everybody into a mere consumer of things and an object of exploitation for profit. Popular culture and consciousness were under the spell of glittery advertisements goading people to “buy more”. In all this, though, the ones who produced – the working class in the rural areas, coasts and cities, which included the peasants and other small-scale food producers – remained invisible, while the ones who could afford to consume as they wish took centre stage. Pushed to the edges, peasant[1] workers and indigenous communities worldwide recognized the urgent necessity for an organized and internationalist response to this globalizing, free-market ideology propagated by the defenders of the capitalist world order. Food Sovereignty became one of the expressions of this collective response.

At the 1996 World Food Summit, in a debate about how we organize our global food systems, La Via Campesina coined the term food sovereignty; to insist upon the centrality of the small-scale food producers, the accumulated wisdom of generations, the autonomy and diversity of rural and urban communities and solidarity between peoples, as essential components for crafting policies around food and agriculture.

In the ensuing decade, social movements and civil society actors worked together to define it further “as the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”

The introduction of Food Sovereignty as a collective right changed how the world understood poverty and hunger.

Until then, especially in the early years of the 21st century, a narrow idea of “Food Security” dominated governance and policy-making circles. Noble in its intent, food security treated those affected by hunger as objects of compassion, risked reducing them to passive consumers of food produced elsewhere. While it recognized food as a fundamental human right, it did not defend the objective conditions for producing food. Who produces? For Whom? How? Where? And Why? All these questions were absent, and the focus was decidedly on merely “feeding the people”. An overt emphasis on people’s food security ignored the hazardous consequences of industrial food production and factory farming, built on the sweat and labour of migrant workers.

Food Sovereignty, on the other hand, presents a radical overhaul. It recognizes people and local communities as the principal actors in the fight against poverty and hunger. It calls for strong local communities and defends their right to produce and consume before trading the surplus. It demands autonomy and objective conditions to use local resources, calls for agrarian reform and collective ownership of territories. It defends the rights of peasant communities to use, save, exchange seeds. It stands for the rights of people to eat healthy, nutritious food. It encourages agroecological production cycles, respecting climatic and cultural diversities in every community. Social peace, social justice, gender justice and solidarity economies are essential pre-conditions for realizing food sovereignty. It calls for an international trade order based on cooperation and compassion as against competition and coercion. It calls for a society that rejects discrimination in all forms – caste, class, racial and gender – and urges people to fight patriarchy and parochialism. A tree is only strong as its roots. Food Sovereignty, defined by social movements in the ’90s and subsequently at the Nyeleni Forum in Mali in 2007, intends to do precisely that.

This year we celebrate 25 years of this collective construction.

The world is nowhere near perfect. Capitalism and free-market ideology continue to dominate policy circles even in the face of unprecedented inequality, rising hunger and extreme poverty. Worse, new attempts are also being made to envision a digital future – of farming without farmers, fishing without fishers- all under the garb of digitalisation of agriculture and to create new markets for synthetic food.

All these challenges notwithstanding, the Food Sovereignty Movement, which is now much more extensive than La Via Campesina and comprises several actors, has made significant advances.

Thanks to our joint struggles, global governance institutions such as the FAO[2] have come to recognize the centrality of peoples’ food sovereignty in international policy-making. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas further re-emphasizes this in Article 15.4, when it states, “Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to determine their own food and agriculture systems, recognized by many States and regions as the right to food sovereignty. This includes the right to participate in decision-making processes on food and agriculture policy and the right to healthy and adequate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods that respect their cultures.”

Some nations have also given constitutional recognition to Food Sovereignty. The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the industrial food chains have further reminded national governments of the importance of creating robust local economies.

Peasant Agroecology, which is fundamental to ensuring food sovereignty in our territories, is now recognized at the FAO as central to our fight against global warming. Current and previous Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations have endorsed food sovereignty as a simple but powerful idea that can transform the global food system favouring small-scale food producers. Sustained campaign by social movements have also resulted in several legal victories against corporations producing agro-toxins, other chemical inputs and transgenic seeds.

Yet, what lies ahead of us is a road overrun with many barriers.

The promoters of the capitalist world order realize that food sovereignty is an idea that impinges on their financial interests. They prefer a world of monoculture and homogenous tastes, where food can be mass-produced using cheap labour in faraway factories, disregarding its ecological, human and social impacts. They prefer economies of scale to robust local economies. They choose a global-free market (based on speculation and cut-throat competition) over solidarity economies that require more robust territorial markets (local peasant markets) and active participation of local food producers. They prefer to have land banks where industrial-scale contract farming would replace small-holder producers. They inject our soil with agro-toxics for better short-term yields, ignoring the irreversible damage to soil health. Their trawlers will again crawl the oceans and rivers, netting fishes for a global market while the coastal communities starve. They will continue to try to hijack indigenous peasant seeds through patents and seed treaties. The trade agreements they craft will again aim to bring down tariffs that protect our local economies.

An exodus of unemployed youth, deserting village farms and choosing wage work in cities, sits perfectly with their urge to find a regular supply of cheap labour. Their unrelenting focus on “margins” would mean that they will find all means to depress farm-gate prices while trading it at higher prices at retail supermarkets. In the end, the ones who lose are the people – both the producers and consumers. Those who resist will be criminalized. A happy co-existence of the global financial elite with authoritarian governments would mean that even the highest institutions – nationally and globally – meant to oversee and arrest human rights violations will look away. Billionaires would use their philanthropic foundations to fund agencies that churn out “research reports” and “scientific journals” to justify this corporate vision of our food systems. Every global governance space, where the social movements and civil society members campaigned hard to gain a seat at the table, will make way for Corporate Conglomerates who will enter the scene as “stakeholders”. Every attempt will be made to deride those of us who defend Food Sovereignty as unscientific, primitive, impractical and idealistic. All this will happen, as it did over the last two decades.

None of this is new to us. Those condemned to the peripheries of our societies by a cruel and all-devouring capitalist system have no choice but to fight back. We must resist and show that we exist. It is not just about our survival, but also about future generations and a way of life handed down through generations. It is for the future of humanity that we defend our food sovereignty.

This is only possible if we insist that any local, national or global policy proposal on food and agriculture must build from the principles of food sovereignty. The young peasants and workers of our worldwide movement must lead this fight. We must remind ourselves that the only way to make our voice heard is by uniting and building new alliances within and across every border. Rural and Urban Social Movements, Trade Unions and civil society actors, progressive governments, academics, scientists and technology enthusiasts must come together to defend this vision for our future. Peasant women and other oppressed gender minorities must find equal space in the leadership of our movement at all levels. We must sow the seeds of solidarity in our communities and address all forms of discrimination that keep rural societies divided.

Food Sovereignty offers a manifesto for the future, a feminist vision that embraces diversity. It is an idea that unites humanity and puts us at the service of Mother Earth that feeds and nourishes us.

In its defence, we stand united.

Globalize the Struggle, Globalize Hope.


[1] “Peasant” here is an all-encompassing term used to recognize the landless workers, the farmworkers, fishers, migrants, pastoralists, food artisans.

[2] Food and Agriculture Organization.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Communist International, A Critical Analysis – Part IV

Claudin cover_000009

This concludes the excerpts from chapter 2 of Fernando Claudín’s The Communist Movement from Comintern to Cominform. It is followed by a brief Afterword.


We have seen that the Leninist theory of the course of the world revo­lution made necessary a ‘world party’, strongly centralized on a global scale, with a semi-military discipline and rigorous ideological unity. As we have also seen, the urgency of creating this party was due to Lenin’s view that the objective conditions had arrived for the world revolution to be victorious (‘moribund’ capitalism, and a very high revolutionary level of the Western proletariat). All that was lacking was a party capable of putting itself at the head of the irresistible revolutionary process. We have seen, too, that this conception of Lenin’s was refuted, both in its general theoretical aspect and in its conjunctural aspect, by the actual march of history. The crisis of theory thus opened was not recognized as such, but remained, in fact, subjacent all through the internal struggle that went on in the Bolshevik Party leadership and in the Comintern. Stalin ‘resolved’ the problem by means of an empirical revision of the theory of world revolution, propounded by Marx and Lenin: as a result of this revision, the victory of the revolution in the industrialized part of the world ceased to be a necessary condition for building socialist society, which could now be fully constructed within the national limits of the USSR. Nevertheless, Stalin’s revision still retained the con­ception of a ‘moribund’ capitalism which had reached the end of its historical evolution and was incapable of allowing for any substantial new development of the productive forces. The coming victory of the world revolution was inexorably determined in advance by the junction of these two processes: ‘building socialism’ in the USSR (with, conse­quently, ascent of the productive forces to a higher level, without pre­cedent under capitalism), and ‘decay’ of capitalism, becoming ever more acute. The key factor became the ‘building of socialism in the USSR’, whereas the Western proletariat, and along with it the peoples of the colonies and semi-colonies, saw themselves relegated to the role of auxiliary factors. In this way the Comintern’s total subordination to Soviet policy was given theoretical justification. This was the essence of Stalin’s theory of the world revolution, which was taken over by the Comintern. A victim of its own logic, the theory was itself set aside when the security of the USSR, as seen by Stalin, required that this be done. And, to conclude, one day it became opportune, by virtue of this same requirement, to put an end to the Comintern, the ‘world party’ conceived by Lenin.


The Bolsheviks, said Rosa Luxemburg in her essay on the Russian revolution, ‘by their determined revolutionary stand, their exemplary strength in action, and their unbreakable loyalty to international social­ism … have contributed whatever could possibly be contributed under such devilishly hard conditions’. But she added, prophetically: ‘The danger begins only when they make a virtue of necessity and want to freeze into a complete theoretical system all the tactics forced upon them by these fatal circumstances, and want to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics.’[1] The danger did indeed begin there. For, on the one hand, the Russian revolutionary theoreticians yielded to the temptation to make a virtue of necessity, and, on the other, the admiration and enthusiasm with which the Russian revolution filled the revolutionaries of all countries predisposed them to accept its message uncritically. This development was favoured by the fact that the ‘theoretical forces’ formed in the Second Inter­national had (with rare exceptions such as Rosa Luxemburg, Mehring and some others of less importance) all deserted the camp of revolution. Their critique of the Russian revolution, from reformist or liberal posi­tions, contributed to reinforcing still further, for the revolutionaries of the capitalist world, the authority of the Bolshevik conceptions.

At the moment when critical thinking was most necessary, the October revolution introduced theoretical complacency. Everything seemed to have been settled, in principle — the paths of the revolution, the tactics to be used, the model for the party — when in reality everything had become more problematical than at any previous moment in the history of the labour movement. This was so in the West, where the revolution had been beaten and the bulk of the proletariat turned a deaf ear to revolutionary Marxism, and in the East, where the revolution was awakening in a setting that Marxism had hardly yet explored. It was so even in Russia, where the proletarian revolution was isolated, encircled internationally by the capitalist world and bogged down internally in the peasant and petty-bourgeois marsh. Unlike Marx, however, the heralds of the October revolution proclaimed to the revolutionaries of all coun­tries: ‘Behold the truth, and bow down before it!’ This doctrinaire atti­tude could not but encourage sectarianism and authoritarianism, favouring the dogmatization of Marxism in its Bolshevik version and leading to underestimation of the national originality of other countries — those of advanced capitalism as well as those oppressed by imperi­alism.

Lenin himself, though he often emphasized the need to avoid copying Russian experience in a mechanical way, wrote in ‘Left-Wing’ Commu­nism, An Infantile Disorder (and he repeated this in other places): ‘Not merely several but all the primary features of our revolution, and many of its secondary features, are of international significance.’ And even though he stressed that, when the revolution had triumphed in an advanced country, Russia would then become a backward country, from the socialist standpoint, he added: ‘At the present moment in history, however, it is the Russian model that reveals to all countries something — and something highly significant — of their near and inevitable future.’ In the conclusion to this famous lesson in tactics, Lenin reiterated the need to take into account ‘the concrete features which this struggle assumes and must inevitably assume in each country, in conformity with the specific character of its economics, politics, culture and national composition (Ireland, etc.), its colonies, religious divisions, and so on and so forth’.[2] It was a matter, however, of taking these ‘concrete features’ into account in order to apply a theoretical and political set of ideas regarded as having already been worked out and tested by historical experience, so far as its essential components and ‘principles’ were concerned. To those inherited from Marx some new elements were added: soviets constitute the universal form of the dictatorship of the proletariat; the party of the Bolshevik type is the universal model of the Marxist revolutionary party; etc. At no stage was it suggested that the diversity of national realities and the new world reality might require a new Marxist analysis in depth capable of bringing forward new revo­lutionary theories. There seemed to be no notion at all that events, instead of fully confirming the theory of the revolution inherited from Marx and Engels, enriched by Lenin’s contributions, had called in question some essential aspects of this theory.

The mental attitude of the Bolsheviks, which was transmitted through the Comintern to the non-Russian Communists, could be summed up as follows: the October revolution had made it possible to complete the Marxist theory of the revolution with regard to questions on which, owing to their lack of concrete experience, the two great masters had not been able to get far enough. For example: the contradictions of imperi­alism, the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, problems of strat­egy and tactics, the type of party, etc. What still remained problematical thenceforth was not the theory of the revolution as such, but only its particular interpretation in relation to the specific conditions prevailing in each country. On a more general theoretical plane, the October vic­tory was seen as irrefutable proof of the absolutely scientific character of Marxism. ‘It is therefore clear,’ wrote Bukharin in his Historical Materialism, ‘That Marxists have a perfect right to regard proletarian science as true and to demand that it be generally recognized.”[3]

The depository of this ‘true science’ in the world outside the Soviet Union was the Comintern. But the Comintern concentrated its attention — since the basic questions of the theory of the revolution were seen as having been settled — on strategic, tactical and organizational forms of action. Philosophical, economic, historical and sociological inves­tigations were of only secondary interest. Political schemes became in­creasingly detached from the social sciences and, in general, from the cultural milieu in which they were to be applied. In the Comintern’s discussions on the colonial problem, for example, the categories remained, baldly: ‘proletariat’, ‘peasantry’, ‘national bourgeoisie’, etc., without ever, or only rarely, taking into account the cultural universe characteristic of those countries, so radically different from that of the West.

The contradiction between theoretical positions and actual develop­ment began to find symptomatic reflection in the passionate discussions on tactical problems that dominated the first congresses of the Comintern. No one, however, formulated clearly the idea that there was a crisis of theory. After Lenin’s death, as though in an attempt to over­come all doubts and misgiving, the tendency to ‘theoretical com­placency’ and the dogmatization of Marxism rapidly intensified. One must not hesitate to defend the Marxist ‘dogma’, wrote Bolshevik, the theoretical journal of the Soviet party: ‘Only by fulfilling this task with­out deviation will it be possible to keep unspotted the flag of the theory of the proletarian revolution, the flag of the Marxist “dogma”. It is quite pointless to be afraid of this word. The fight against “dogmatic” Marxism has always been an activity of reformists far remote from Marxism, such as Bernstein. All that is best in the working-class move­ment has always fought for the “dogma” of Marxism.’ [4] The dogma (without quotation-marks) was, needless to say, Leninism. History repeated itself. After Lenin’s death the young Third International was making the same mistake as that made by the Second after the death of Marx and Engels, when it ‘canonized’ their doctrine.


This process of dogmatization and continual shrinking of the theoretical foundations of the Comintern was clearly reflected in the Commu­nist parties. Those which, when they were formed, lacked any national heritage of theory (such as, for example, the Spanish one) vegetated in a routine-ridden activism; those which possessed such a heritage (like the German and Italian ones) were unable to cultivate it: the theoretical work of Rosa Luxemburg was doomed to ostracism, as was, later, that of Gramsci. In his report on the Comintern delivered to the Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU (December 1927), Bukharin alluded to the theoretical weakness of the Communist parties in general, and of their leading circles in particular, as constituting one of the Comintern’s main shortcomings. He emphasized how few intellectuals there were in these leading groups, noting that ‘the series of crises which we witnessed. in our Communist parties, since the time when the revolutionary wave subsided, affected first of all the intellectual upper stratum’. With a careful choice of words, he mentioned that this misfortune had not left the Soviet party untouched. The leaders of the USSR, he observed ‘are overburdened with general work and cannot give enough attention to the theoretical work’. And this weakening in theoretical work through the Comintern was taking place at a time when ‘the situation now is much more complicated and much greater demands are made on the executive than before’, as regards theoretical leadership.

Bukharin was one of the few leaders of the Comintern who, during the 1920s, began to think about fundamental problems connected with the structure of capitalism, the changes taking place in the working class, the colonial question and so on. […] In the same report Bukharin commented that the Comintern had only a very general notion of the colonial problem. The Chinese revolution, he said, had made it possible to perceive this weakness: ‘The entire complication of the social class entanglement, the great difficulty of the tasks con­nected with the conduct of such a tremendous colonial revolution, only faced us quite recently in grim reality.’[5] In each concrete case, Bukharin emphasized, it was necessary to analyse the class structures. The Comintern’s theses on the colonial question provided it with only a very general basis.

All these incitements to tackle the new problematic presented by world development were to be swept aside during the struggle against ‘the right-wing deviation as the main enemy’. Even so, neither the prestige-backing that the October revolution had brought to the dog­matization of Leninism as Marxism’s last word, nor the repressive and administrative mechanism of the Comintern, is sufficient to account for the progressive paralysis that overcame revolutionary Marxist thinking in the capitalist world between the wars. During this same period, within the framework of the Comintern, the Chinese revolutionary intel­ligentsia did begin to break out of the schemas manufactured by the Comintern centre in Moscow and really to follow the Bolshevik example. They took the first step towards the elaboration of a revo­lutionary theory of the Chinese revolution, just as the Bolshevik intellec­tuals had done when they created an original theory of the Russian revolution.[6] But the Chinese Communists not only had the Comintern, they also had a revolution under way, just as the Bolsheviks had not only had Marx and the Second International but also the revolution taking place in Russia. It is therefore legitimate to wonder if it was not a deeper-lying reality — the objective immaturity of the socialist revolution in the countries of advanced capitalism — that conditioned the paralysis of theoretical thinking among the revolutionary Marxists of the West, even if the factors that have been mentioned did contribute strongly to aggravating it, or can account for it as, specifically, a state of ‘paralysis’.

It is not my intention, of course, to claim that the productive forces of advanced capitalism did not already constitute, in the period of which I write, an adequate material basis for the socialist transformation of society. I refer to the immaturity of the revolution, which is a very different matter, despite the frequent confusion made between these two problems. If we start from Marx’s theoretical theses on the objective maturing of the socialist revolution, taking the concept of revolution in its broad sense and not in the narrow sense of the capture of power by the working class (or by a party claiming to represent it), then it is not enough for this maturity to have arrived that productive forces should exist that can sustain a new social order. It must also be the case that capitalism is incapable of developing new productive forces. If, at cer­tain moments of their lives, Marx and Engels foresaw the victory of the socialist revolution in Europe, this was because they thought that capi­talism had reached this terminal situation. We see that conviction ex­pressed already in the Manifesto. Lenin made a similar appreciation regarding capitalism as transformed into the imperialist system. The Comintern’s leaders took this over as it stood, and built upon it all their strategic and tactical plans. As we have seen, the thesis of ‘socialism in one country’ is justified as a new theory of the world revolution in so far as it presupposes, besides the prospect of building socialism in the USSR, the reality of the stagnation and decay of capitalism, now incapable, as Trotsky was to say — in complete agreement on this point with his implacable adversary — of any new development of the productive forces. However, the two world wars and the world economic crisis of 1929 proved to be not the expression of capitalism’s arrival at the terminal situation mentioned, but essential means for transforming it structurally, and giving it a new capacity to expand the productive forces. Monstrous means, to be sure, but the monstrous is a moral cate­gory, not an economic one. The two world wars, in particular, furnished a most striking illustration of the infernal logic of capitalism, of that logic in which, as Marx put it, ‘progress’ resembles the pagan idol who will not drink the nectar otherwise than from the skulls of his victims. If we were to approach the problem exclusively from the ‘moral’ stand­point, it would be hard to understand how mankind, faced with such obvious monstrosities, has not yet put an end to capitalism. This, however, would be to forget that a system that is capable of developing the productive forces also ‘develops’ its own ‘moral’ justifications (in the case of capitalism — patriotism, nationalism, racism, individualism and many other ‘isms’). The reformist ideology, secreted organically by the system’s capacity to develop the productive forces, holds a place of honour among capitalism’s moral as well as political justifications. Would Fascism have been able to exert such attraction upon millions of petty-bourgeois, peasants and workers between the two world wars, con­stituting one of the most monstrous forms of ideological justification of capitalism, if there had not been, behind the demagogy of Mussolini or Hitler, the capacity of German and Italian monopoly capitalism to re­structure the system for a new development of the productive forces?

No terminal situation seems to have yet to have occurred for capital­ism, in the sense of incapacity to develop the productive forces. And the theoretical problem of whether such a situation is now foreseeable, and what processes might lead to it, remains open. But the objective imma­turity of the revolution (in the broad sense) under the advanced capital­ism of today does not in the least signify that between the two world wars, and at the end of the second of these, no situations were presented that were propitious for ‘a bold stroke’ by the revolutionary party (as Lenin sometimes spoke of the October assault) that could have put an end to the monstrous logic of capitalist development in one or another of the industrial countries.

Nevertheless, there must be an underlying connection between this objective immaturity and the theoretical and political immaturity hith­erto demonstrated by the revolutionary vanguards formed under ad­vanced capitalism, when it is a matter of profiting by situations propitious to revolution (in the narrow sense).

The first ‘immaturity’ represents a considerable barrier — operating through a very complex series of justifications, such as those already mentioned and many others as well — across the road by which current social consciousness can arrive at a root-and-branch condemnation of the system. And theoretical consciousness, which can arise only in the intel­lectual strata, suffers from the absence of this pressing stimulant. When society is really in a situation of general crisis (I include among the components of such a situation an incapacity of the socio-economic mechanism to continue developing the productive forces without chang­ing its own nature), this is not only reflected, in a more or less confused way, in ordinary social consciousness: the ‘theory-producing’ stratum is affected by it, too, in its own social existence as well as in the values and conceptions that have until then made up its cultural universe. It is not only the experience of society as a whole but its own most immediate experience that impels this stratum to find a revolutionary theory appro­priate to the prevailing crisis. This is what happened in the societies of Russia and China, as it had happened already in the society of Ger­many in the middle of the nineteenth century, without our needing to go any farther back in history. (Let us not forget that Marx and Engels, as revolutionary theoreticians, were above all products of the general crisis of German society in the middle of the nineteenth century and of the theoretical consciousness of this crisis. Analysis should be undertaken to determine how far Marx’s ‘German standpoint’ affected the scientific analyses in Capital, leading him to draw excessively hasty conclusions about the maturity of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries of the nineteenth century, just as Lenin’s ‘Russian standpoint’ led him to draw similar conclusions regarding the capitalism of the first years of the twentieth century.) However, as we know, the terminal situations of these societies did not result from the contradictions inherent in capital­ist structures, but from the contradictions between the latter and pre-capitalist structures. It was on this basis that the objective premise of the revolution (in the broad sense) theorized by Marx became a reality; namely, the incapacity of the existing socio-economic system to cope with new productive forces.

For the problem that concerns us here we have no need to dwell on the well-known reasons why the Russian and Chinese revolutions did not remain within the ‘bourgeois framework’ but became transformed into proletarian revolutions. What is of greatest interest here is to bring out the fact that elaboration of the theory of revolution in the advanced capitalist countries has up to now lacked the powerful ‘stimulant’ that was enjoyed by both the Russian and Chinese revolutions. What has been absent is that ‘general crisis’ which official Marxism sees as having been present since the First World War, and which has been said to have now entered into its ‘third stage’ — but which has not yet expressed itself in what should have been its main feature, namely, incapacity of the capitalist mechanism to develop the productive forces. Such develop­ment is a fact, and it is going forward at a rate never previously seen.

But recognition that this handicap exists for the theory of the revo­lution in the advanced capitalist countries does not mean acceptance that no such theory is possible. This may be the necessary first step in a theoretical effort to open new prospects for revolutionary transformation of the societies of advanced capitalism, on the basis of a more rigorous knowledge of these societies. In any case, the first condition for arriving at such a theory is that all the schemas and ‘principles’ that social prac­tice has shown to be erroneous shall be reconsidered, along with the methods and institutional structures that have contributed to preventing the discovery of error. The Comintern’s theoretical paralysis may be explicable ‘in the final instance’ by the objective immaturity of the revo­lution in advanced capitalist society, but, even so, we must concern ourselves above all with those other ‘instances’ that contributed to accen­tuating and aggravating the effects of the ‘final’ one.


The unresolved “crisis of theory” manifested in the Comintern of Lenin’s time was magnified exponentially in the Stalinized Comintern in which “theoretical” contortions served to subordinate the policy and practice of the International and its member parties to the strategy of the Kremlin bureaucracy. Claudín’s volumes document this process in the years leading up to the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943 – Stalin’s gift to his wartime allies in the imperialist democracies – and subsequently in the successor Cominform established by Stalin to ensure political control over the postwar satellite regimes in the east European buffer states, and to excommunicate socialist Yugoslavia when it defied Moscow’s diktat. The Communist Movement From Comintern to Cominform, initially published in Spanish in 1970, remains an outstanding resource for study of the complex history of the dominant ostensibly Marxist current in the “short Twentieth Century” ending with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The complete two volumes can be accessed on-line: Part 1, http://www.marx2mao.com/PDFs/TCM75-1.pdf and Part 2, http://www.marx2mao.com/PDFs/TCM75-2.pdf

Richard Fidler

[1] In Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Political Writings, ed. Robert Looker, Jonathan Cape, London, 1972, p. 250.

[2] Lenin, CW Vol. 31, pp. 21-2, 91.

[3] Bukharin, Historical Materialism, English edn, Allen and Unwin, London, 1926, p. xii.

[4] Bolshevik (Moscow), no. 10, 5 September 1924, p. 53. This journal began to appear after Lenin’s death, in the context of the struggle with the Trotskyist opposition.

[5] Inprecorr, English edn, No. 73 of 1927, pp. 1672-5.

[6] It was in March 1926 that Mao's study of the classes in Chinese society appeared, and in March 1927 his report on the investigation he had himself carried out into the peasant movement in the province of Hunan. So far as I know, politico-sociological inquiries like these — comparable to the ones made by Lenin in relation to Russian society at the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth — were never undertaken in any of the Western Communist parties during the period of the Comintern.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Communist International, A Critical Analysis – Part III

Excerpted from Fernando Claudín, The Communist Movement


The overthrow of bourgeois power in a state covering a sixth of the earth’s surface certainly constituted a historic international victory of the revolutionary movement inspired by Marxism. But the world context in which this victory had been won, the ‘resistance’ put up by capitalism in the advanced countries, the notable strengthening of capitalism in some key areas (North America, Japan), the national framework within which the socialist revolution was still confined — in a backward country, to boot — called in question some essential aspects of the theoretical conception of the process of world revolution that had been worked out by Marx, Engels and Lenin. It was not easy, however, in the setting of 1921, when Lenin saw clearly that the revolutionary drive in Europe had been checked, to penetrate the profound significance of this new reality. On the one hand, the importance of the revolutionary victory won in Russia and the impression made by the presence of the first proletarian state in history were sufficiently dazzling to hide the contradictions between the new situation and the traditional theoretical schemas. On the other, it was easy, at first, to reconcile this new situation with the old schemas: all that was needed was to look upon what was happening as a momentary interruption in the expected process of the world revolution. The curtain would not be long in rising on the second act. This was the solution found for the problem by the leaders of the Bolshevik Party and of the Comintern. Trotsky formulates it very clearly in presenting the principal report (‘The World Economic Crisis and the New Tasks of the Comintern’) to the Third World Congress, on 23 June 1921:

‘Only now do we see and feel that we are not immediately close to our final aim, to the conquest of power on the world scale, to the world revolution. We told ourselves back in 1919 that it was a question of months, but now we say that it is perhaps a question of several years. Exactly how long, we do not know, but we know that development is proceeding in that direction, and that during this period we have become much stronger throughout the world.’[1]

The ‘theses on tactics’ voted by the Congress declare that ‘the world revolution ... will require a fairly long period of revolutionary struggle’, but consider that ‘what may be expected is not the waning of the star of the world revolution, not the ebb of its waves, but, on the contrary, the aggravation of social antagonism and social struggles, and the transition to open civil war’.[2]

The theses of this Congress acknowledge a fact of primary importance: ‘The variety in the degree of acuteness reached by contradictions in different countries, the variety in their social structure and in the obstacles to be surmounted, the high level of organization of the bourgeoisie in the highly developed capitalist countries of west Europe and North America, meant that the world war did not issue immediately in the victory of the world revolution.’[3]

But the Congress did not try to ascertain why in 1919, and even in 1920, immediate victory was thought to be possible despite the existence of reasons which ‘meant’ ruling out that possibility. The theses explain the behaviour of the proletariat by the attitude of the ‘powerful Social Democratic labour organizations and parties’, but at the time when the congress met these parties and trade unions had recovered their former strength and even increased it. How was this fact, together with the high degree of organization of capitalism, to be reconciled with the prospect, which was held out as probable in those theses, of an immediate sharpening of social struggles? These ambiguities — which reveal the presence of theoretical uncertainties — are to be seen in all the documents of the congress. The old schema of the world revolution’s progress is retained, with the new phenomena stuck on to it:

(1) The imperialist system is moving towards another world war, which will give rise to a new great revolutionary crisis. The principal contradictions that will provoke the war this time are the ones between the USA and Britain, on the one hand, and the USA and Japan, on the other.

(2) The initial revolutionary break-through will take place this time, as it did before, in that country where the concentration of contradictions, internal and external, creates the biggest explosive charge. Germany, defeated in the First World War, much weakened economically, oppressed by the Treaty of Versailles, and possessing a Communist Party that is the strongest section of the Comintern after the Russian party, is seen as a likely candidate to play the role that Russia played in 1917.

(3) After this break-through the revolution will spread to the other links in the capitalist system — the advanced countries and the colonies. This time, the revolutionary wave will be able to count from the start on the support of a proletarian state, of a military force ready to come to the aid of the international proletariat. Conserving and strengthening this citadel is therefore a matter of fundamental importance for the world revolution, and the congress says so. But the principal factor in the world revolution continues to be, for the Bolshevik leaders and for the Comintern, the proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries.

In order to ensure that the schema was both coherent and credible, two big unknowns had to be eliminated, the first of these being the behaviour to be expected from the European proletariat, given past experience. The Third Congress theses recognize, but only to reject it at once, the possibility that European capitalism may re-establish itself, with the working class agreeing to work under conditions worse than those that prevailed before the war. The reformist trade unions and parties, the theses (‘on the international situation and the tasks of the Comintern’) observe, are trying to urge the workers in this direction, ‘but the European proletariat is not ready to sacrifice itself. It demands an improvement in its lot, which is at present absolutely incompatible with the objective possibilities of capitalism.’[4] By coming up against this ‘absolute incompatibility’ the economic struggle of the working class would be transformed — so the congress forecast — into a revolutionary struggle, which would be provided with the appropriate political leadership by the sections of the Comintern. This prospect was based on two assumptions: the first, a new terminal situation of European capitalism, in which it would be incapable of satisfying economic demands that would imply a real improvement in the material situation of the working class as compared with pre-war; and, the second, connected with the first, that the reformist organizations would not take up the struggles for these economic improvements, thus losing their influence over the working class. Both of these assumptions were soon to be disproved by events.

The second unknown was no less important. The Third Congress recognized that, while European capitalism had come weakened out of the war, American capitalism, on the contrary, had been considerably strengthened, and ‘the centre of gravity of world economy has shifted from Europe to America’.[5] In order to triumph on the world scale, the revolution would therefore have to spread to the United States. The Congress theses ‘deal with’ this unknown by means of the following argument:

‘While in Europe the concentration of property has been based on general impoverishment, in the United States both this concentration and the greater acuteness of class antagonisms have reached an extreme degree on the basis of a feverish expansion of wealth. The sudden changes in the economic situation because of the general uncertainties of the world market give to the class struggle in America an extremely tense and revolutionary character. A period of capitalist expansion unprecedented in history is bound to be followed by an unusual outburst of revolutionary struggle.’[6]

As regards the national liberation movement in the colonies, the prospect seemed clear. Since the October revolution the importance of this ‘front’ of the world revolution had grown steadily, fully confirming Lenin’s forecasts on the subject. The documents and the practical activity of the Comintern pay genuine attention to it — but this ‘front’ is always subordinated to the ‘main front’, namely, the advanced capitalist countries.

The Fourth and Fifth Congresses of the Comintern (in 1922 and 1924) made no important change in the general schema of the progress of the world revolution as conceived by the Third Congress. Soon after the Fifth Congress, recognition was to be introduced that a phase of ‘relative stabilization’ of capitalism had begun — a phase which was expected to be short-lived, and to be followed by a fresh great revolutionary break-through.

The first questionings of the relevance of this now already classical schema of world revolution, and of the optimism to which it testified, came from its principal author himself. In Lenin’s last writings, and especially in his last article (February 1923), doubt and disquiet show through regarding the fate of the Russian revolution and of the world revolution. We hear for the first time a pessimistic note sounded in relation to the revolutionary possibilities in the advanced capitalist countries. Lenin looks for a way out in three main directions: the struggle of the oppressed peoples of Asia, exploitation of inter-imperialist contradictions and rapid industrialization of Soviet Russia. The prospect of the triumph of the world revolution has become blurred, in an uncertain view of the future. The propositions of this article[7] can be summed up thus:

(1) Lenin sees the whole world as embraced by the orbit of the world revolution and as divided into two camps: on one side the victorious and prosperous capitalist countries of the West and the East (Japan); on the other, the colonial and semi-colonial countries, Soviet Russia and the European countries defeated in the war. The main axis of development of the world revolution runs through the struggle between these two camps.

(2) The panorama offered by the camp of the oppressed is not at all a cheering one. The revolution has conquered in Russia, but the country lies in ruins, and petty production predominates. Germany can face up to her conquerors only with difficulty, for ‘all the capitalist powers of what is called the West are pecking at her and preventing her from rising. On the other hand, the entire East, with its hundreds of millions of exploited working people, reduced to the last degree of human suffering, has been forced into a position where its physical and material strength cannot possibly be compared with the physical, material and military strength of any of the much smaller West-European states.’

(3) As regards the victorious capitalist states, Lenin considers that they are in a position, thanks to their exploitation of the colonies and the defeated European countries, to grant concessions to the exploited classes such as may hold back the revolutionary movement.

(4) In face of this setting for the world revolution, Lenin becomes extremely prudent concerning its prospects: ‘The outcome of the struggle as a whole can be forecast only because in the long run capitalism itself is educating and training the vast majority of the population of the globe for the struggle. In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc., account for the overwhelming majority that has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity ...’ On the horizon of the world’s history, Lenin sees approaching ‘military conflict between the counter-revolutionary imperialist West and the revolutionary and nationalist East, between the most civilized countries of the world and the Orientally backward countries which, however, comprise the majority ...’ In order that it may ‘ensure our existence until’ this occurs, however, `this majority must become civilized’. And, referring specifically to Russia, he goes on to say: ‘We, too, lack enough civilization to enable us to pass straight on to socialism, although we do have the political requi­sites for it.’ (‘Civilization’ here means, for Lenin, industrialization and cultural development of the Western type. This is why, in another part of his article, he says that the people of the East have finally entered upon development along ‘the general European capitalist lines’.)

If we compare this schema of Lenin’s with the previous ones, we clearly perceive a shift in the role and relationship of the world revo­lutionary forces. The Western proletariat, as a revolutionary force, has moved down, for a certain period, to the second place. And the op­pressed masses of what today we call the ‘third world’, together with the ‘oriental’ Soviet state, have moved up to the first place. At the same time, in order that this new force, which is rising ‘with extraordinary rapidity’, into the struggle for its own emancipation, may prove victor­ious, time is needed, sufficient time. The problem of ‘gaining time’ is in the forefront of Lenin’s preoccupations.

Drawing from this analysis the conclusions that relate to the Russian revolution, Lenin says that the central problem is that of ensuring its survival until the armed confrontation takes place between the imperi­alist West and the revolutionary and nationalist East. The line he recommends in order to succeed in this task is as follows: inside Russia, to ensure leadership of the peasant masses by the working class and to carry out a policy of far-reaching economy so as to concentrate resources for industrializing the country; in international policy, to profit from the contradictions between the imperialist states, so as to avoid a clash with them. In short, gain time while actively preparing for the day when, on the one hand, the conflicts between the imperialist states and the aggravation of their ‘internal contradictions’, and, on the other, the strengthening of the Soviet republic and of the national liberation movement of the oppressed peoples brings about a balance of forces on the international scale that is favourable to the world revolution.

It is useless to speculate on the theoretical and political ‘extensions’ that this beginning of a revision might have led to in Lenin’s activity if death had not taken him off prematurely. We find some of the ideas outlined here in the conceptions of Mao Tse-tung and, in general, in those strategies that see the masses of the ‘third world’ as the protagonist of the world revolution. Others served as compass for Stalin’s strategy, especially as regards the principle of keeping the Soviet State out of the conflicts between the imperialist states, and exploiting to this end the contradictions between them. Here we find, too, the idea of according priority to the economic and military strengthening of the Soviet state as a part of the development of world revolutionary forces — an idea that is not expressed with clarity by Lenin, but can easily be deduced from his last writings.

Some analysts of Leninism have concluded, somewhat precipitately, that these ideas of Lenin’s implied a radical revision of Marx’s conception of the socialist revolution. For Marx the specifically capitalist contradictions are the mainspring of the socialist revolution, and the optimum ‘maturing’ of this revolution occurs in advanced capitalism, whereas, for Lenin, the conditions for the socialist revolution are to be found, it is said, rather in ‘backwardness’. According to Alfred G. Meyer, Lenin substituted ‘the dialectics of backwardness’, as driving force of the revolution, for the Marxian dialectics based on a high degree of development of the productive forces.[8] This conclusion drawn by Meyer and others results from two confusions. When Lenin refers to the revolutions of the East he does not mean socialist revolutions, but bourgeois-democratic revolutions that will have to go a long way before they become transformed into socialist ones.[9] The second confusion is the one I have already remarked upon: that between revolution in the broad sense and revolution in the narrow sense. Before the October revolution and right down to the end of his life, Lenin always maintained that revolution in the narrow sense — and initially bourgeois-democratic in character — is easier in the underdeveloped countries, but that the transition to socialism will present grave difficulties in these countries. On the other hand, in his view, in the advanced capitalist countries the revolution in the narrow sense (the taking of power by the proletariat) is more difficult, whereas the building of socialism will be easier. At no stage did Lenin revise Marx’s essential thesis. In February 1922 he wrote: ‘We have always urged and reiterated the elementary truth of Marxism — that the joint efforts of the workers of several advanced countries are needed for the victory of socialism.’[10] What Lenin was beginning to revise, in fact, in the article summarized above, was his conception of the concrete course of development to be followed by the world revolution: in the first place by extending it in time, replacing the near-at-hand prospect by a very long-term one, and in the second by noting the need for a new ‘prelude’ to the decisive stage (which for Lenin is still the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries), namely, the bourgeois-democratic revolution in the oppressed countries of the East.

We may presume that, for a theoretical mind like Lenin’s, the doubts and misgivings that appear in his last writings would have led to a deeper study of the new phenomena of capitalism and imperialism, of the revolutionary awakening of the ‘backward’ countries, of the behaviour of the proletariat in the ‘advanced’ countries, and so on. We may think that such a study would have induced him to revise the Comintern’s strategy and tactics and also, perhaps, the very conception of its structures and working. It was not by accident, doubtless, that, at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern (November 1922), referring to the resolution on the structure, methods and activity of the Communist parties which had been adopted by the Third Congress, Lenin said: ‘The resolution is an excellent one, but it is almost entirely Russian, that is to say, everything in it is based on Russian conditions. . . I have the impression that we made a big mistake with this resolution, namely, that we blocked our own road to further success.’[11] It is no less significant that Lenin’s main recommendation to the Communists, both of the Soviet Union and of other countries, at this congress, was that they should study. ‘I think that after five years of the Russian revolution the most important thing for all of us, Russian and foreign comrades alike, is sit down and study. . . We must take advantage of every moment of respite from fighting, from war, to study, and to study from scratch’.[12]

This amounted to saying that there were some very important questions still to be cleared up. This was why Lenin also advised that no decision be adopted on the Comintern draft programme, but that it be studied more carefully, among other reasons because ‘we have given scarcely any thought to possible retreat, and to preparations for it’.


[1] Quoted by Branko Lazitch, Lénine et la Ille Internationale, La Baconnière, Neuchatel, 1951, p. 176. (This passage, which will be found in the Russian verbatim report of the Congress — Tretiy vsemir’ny kongress Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala, stenografichesky otchet, Petrograd, 1922, pp. 45-6 — is omitted in the text of Trotsky's speech given in The First Five Years of the Communist International, I, New Park Publications, London, 1973.)

[2] Decisions of the Third Congress of the Communist International, CPGB, London, p. 4.

[3] Jane Degras, ed., The Communist International (1919-1943): Documents, OUP, London, 1956-65, I, pp. 242-3 (my italics).

[4] ibid., p. 237 (my italics).

[5] The First Five Years of the Communist International, I, op. cit., p. 292.

[6] Degras, op. cit., I, pp. 233-4.

[7] Lenin, ‘Better Fewer, but Better’, in CW Vol. 33, pp. 499-501.

[8] Alfred G. Meyer, Leninism, Praeger Paperback, New York, 1962, Chapter 12.

[9] At the Second Congress of the Comintern, in 1920, Indian delegate M.N. Roy objected to the characterization of liberation movements as “bourgeois-democratic” in Lenin’s draft theses on the national and colonial questions. Roy argued that support should be granted only to genuinely revolutionary movements of the masses. ‘Responding to Roy’s suggestions, Lenin’s report on the national and colonial questions specified that the liberation movements to be supported in backward countries should be termed not “bourgeois-democratic” but “national-revolutionary” […]. This distinction has proved useful to communists ever since. Although national-revolutionary movements embrace several classes and are not communist, the participation of communists in the struggles led by these movements has laid a basis for building stronger communist organizations among the workers and peasants.’ John Riddell, The Communist International in Lenin’s Time: Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920, I, pp. 51-52. – R.F.

[10] Lenin, CW Vol. 33, p. 206.

[11] Lenin, ‘Five Years of the Russian Revolution and the Prospects of the World Revolution’, in CW Vol. 33, p. 430.

[12] ibid., pp. 430-31 (my italics).