Colloquy On the Final Statement of the Athen Conference of Communist and Workers Parties


The final statement and "axes of action" as well as other documents and contributions of the 13th World Conference of Communist and Workers Parties became the subject of a PA Writers Colloquy. And edited version of this discussion appears below. Feel free to join in in the comments section.


John Case:

I only got as far as the finishing statement

To me, the document reeks of sectarian rhetoric. Imperialism is receding, not escalating. Most -- not all, but most --- social-democratic forces are allies, not adversaries in the democratic struggles of working people, which are still the DOMINANT and PRIMARY tasks in the class struggle. A systemic crisis in a capitalist economy is NOT a sufficient political, or economic, condition for setting aside the primacy of the democratic struggle and replacing it with a call for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.

Capitalism, as it turns out, even in socialist revolutions, does not get "overthrown" until both technology and very mature labor organization and advancement, make doing away with commodities possible. That condition has not yet arrived in any nation, although I believe a powerful argument can be made that it is coming much closer. Thinking the "dictatorship of the proletariat" could at command dispose of commodity relations was one of the biggest illusions of early 20th century socialism, and, I submit, the chief cause of the collapse of the USSR.

Real socialism  is a mixed public/private economy under working class leadership -- or, at least, parity in political power with bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces. China and Vietnam --- and now Cuba as well --- will prove that this can be a more powerful path of development than purely bourgeois--led development. Communist relations are a phenomenon more dependent on objective conditions than subjective ones. 

Gary Hicks:


1. the proper relationship of mixed economy socialism, with this-that-the other country's characteristics, is working class hegemony. this in the face of the reality that in socialism...the lower stage of communism...the petit bourgeois elements are constantly reproducing themselves. consequently, whatever they have to contribute is best had under conditions of proletarian supervision, as is the case e.g. in china, cuba, vietnam. lenin made this very clear in at least two articles [links below] worth reviewing, to contrast and compare the 1920s with 2011.

a.  lenin, the state

b. lenin, economics and politics in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat

2. i also hold that when 50-plus communist and workers parties, of widely varying opinions, sign on to a common document such as the one below, then that document can at worst be accused of being written to satisfy everybody, or at least a majority present. if there is ultra-anything involved, it is the ultra-conditions of the general crisis of, structural, governmental/fiscal, moral...which is at the center of our lived experience as a class. in such circumstances, communists will respond with organized, militant desparateness. it might very well be governed by yet another contribution from the past by lenin. WARNING...when reading this article, constantly pinch your wrist to remind yourself that lenin is writing about the kerensky regime of 1917, and not the u.s. regime of current years.

c. lenin, the impending catastrophe and how to combat it.

3. the document below needs to be published in our journal, as well as the axes of agreement, also linked to that document. our party attended the conference. if they made a presentation, it too needs to be published. if john's trepidations are of urgency, then thomas jefferson's axiom holds...sunlight is always the best disinfectant.


John Case:

The list of participants has some major missing players (China, Cuba, etc) and is a minority slice of the world working class movement, even if restricted to including only the sections of the working class that aspires to a socialist society. But lets not dwell on points of order.

Here is a quote from Lenin (State and Revolution) cited by the CP of India (Marxist) -- no doubt the broadest of the participating organizations: It is a concept (dogma, now,  in my view) to which most in attendance at the Athens conference would still subscribe and underpins much other sectarian thinking derived from it.

"The essence of Marx's theory of the state has been mastered only by those who realize that the dictatorship of a single class is necessary not only for every class society in general, not only for the proletariat which has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but also for the entire historical period which separates capitalism from "classless society", from communism. Bourgeois states are most varied in form, but their essence is the same: all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat."

I submit this statement is simply wrong as a general rule applying to all socialist transitions -- especially in the aftermath of WWII.

It certainly appeared  to be true from the perspective of Russia in 1917 after the collapse of the Tsarist state. It would evenappear to be true from the standpoint of the paucity of genuine working class suffrage, rights and representation in virtually all bourgeois democracies in 1917. In the US, which Engels identified as the most advanced democracy, women, African-Americans, many immigrants (which heavily populated many early left and labor organizations) had little or no voting franchise, and even less representation in government. Industrial organization was repressed with terror.

But this is a lesson in how if appearance and reality were the same, there would be no need for science at all; and how quickly apparent truths vested with state and bureaucratic power can become dogma, not science.

Subsequent history has shown 1) that substantial democratic progress can be made within and against the capitalist system's tendencies to corrupt democracy, that capitalism's "dictatorships" can be eroded and challenged, that working people CAN create, contend and defend democratic institutions that serve them; 2) that substantial socialization, redistribution of wealth, rising working class culture and wealth, and steps toward socialism, CAN take  hold alongside a viable, if smaller, market sector without dictatorship; 3) that ambitions and estimates of the "proletarian dictatorship" to quickly rise to communistsocial and economic relations were grossly exaggerated, that such relations cannot be willed or commanded into existence before the objective foundations for them are established, that any dictatorship established as a consequence of revolution that does not quickly return power to constituted, genuinely democratic, empowered and representative assembliesrisks corruption. The same could be said of Lincoln's denial of habeus corpus in the civil war -- but, fortunately -- the historical objective conditions for abolishing the classes of slave and slaveholder had arrived,  and the job could be done relatively quickly without maintaining the "dictatorship" of 1861-65. Frankly -- even in Russia -- once it became clear, as it did to Lenin in 1921, that the transition to socialist relations would be harsh, long and arduous given the backward state of Russia in a hostile environment, that large numbers of petty-bourgeois and bourgeois forces would remain  and be needed as citizens, managers and 'technicians', the revolutionary dictatorship (i.e. the denial of franchise to bourgeois and petty bourgeois classes) was doomed, IMHO.   Given his arguments for the NEP and the famous commanding heights address to the CI in the years following "war communism" (1921-23), and the argumentation in Left Wing Communism, its hard to picture Lenin writing S&R the same way with 4 years of real state management under the Bolshevik's belt.  

I would be interested in hearing the views of other PA writers on the appropriateness, in the US context, of engaging in the dialogs many who attended the Athens conference want to have. As is obvious, I have serious doubts.

Erwin Marquit:

One should also keep in mind as Hobsbawn somewhere pointed out, when the phrase dictatorship of the proletariat emerged in France in the 1840s, dictatorship meant rule, and not the fascist type of tyranny put in force by the Nazis.

Emile Schepers:

I don't have much time to write right now, but just a few points. First, we in the US have a different way of phrasing things than communists in many other  countries, so one must look at essential ideas and not the vocabulary chosen.  Looked at from that perspective, I do not find the final statement of the Athens conference or the list of tasks to be done to be sectarian at all. On the contrary, I find it quite inspiring, and endorse the call for us to publish it one one or several of our websites.
Secondly, I do not see any sign of imperialism receding; what is happening is that in some areas of the world, especially Latin America, anti-imperialism has won some victories, which is not the same thing. I think that as the crisis of access to resources (especially energy resources) intensifies, there will be more agressive efforts by the imperialist states to push for control of poorer, weaker countries in which such riches can be found. Witness Sarkozy's actions in Africa, to give just one example.

   Thirdly, I would remind you that we were ably represented at the Athens conference by Comrade Sue Webb, who without a doubt can fill in many blanks and supply many details.

Art Perlo:

I don't agree that the SOCIALISM IS THE FUTURE document reeks of sectarian rhetoric. 

John's main concern seems to be defining the nature of socialist or transition economies and, in a later post, the nature of the capitalist state and the revolutionary process. I agree with much of what you say about the economics of socialism; less so with your ideas on the class character of the state. But how does this discussion relate to the document in question? The document is not a blueprint, does not even discuss, the economic and political organization of socialist society; neither is it an analysis of the nature of state power and the revolutionary process. 

I also don't agree with John's implication that the document is a wholesale attack on social democrats or posing SDs (instead of the ultra-right) as the main enemy, or that it demands "revolution now" in contradiction to the democratic struggle.  

Writing on the same subjects as SOCIALISM IS THE FUTURE for a US audience, I might use different language or emphasize different points. I assume the same would be true for a Greek, German or Japanese audience. And because the situation is different in each country, SOCIALISM IS THE FUTURE cannot be interpreted as or used as a guide to strategy or tactics in any given country. It is a description of the global crisis as systemic to capitalism, of the global capitalist assault on the working class and on democracy itself. It is a salute to popular resistance and a call for further resistance, for greater class consciousness, and for building communist and workers' parties as an essential part of the struggle. It is a reaffirmation that capitalism is leading the world to disaster, and that only socialism can solve humanity's problems. 

We can quibble about this or that formulations, but I think SOCIALISM IS THE FUTURE meets a need -- not as a detailed, dry analysis or roadmap, but as a call for struggle and action against global catastrophe and for a better and attainable future, and a call to strengthen communist and workers' parties as a necessary part of this struggle.

Emile Schepers:


For communists, social democrats are sometimes allies and sometimes not. It is a sectarian ultra leftist mistake to say "never", it is an opportunist mistake to say "always". In the case of the three European countries in financial crisis where social democratic parties were in power -- Greece, Portugal and Spain -- the social democratic parties, respectively the PASOK, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers' Party, all chose a path of caving in to the pressures of international finance capital and its political allies. They had other options; they could have formed a united front Europe wide to resist the pressures, but instead allowed themselves to be played off against each other (Spanish govt helping to put pressure on the Greek government etc). Some of the social democrats out of power have behaved better than that, but it raises the question of what those people would actually have done if they had been in power and not out.l  I do not see how the communist parties of those three countries could have done other than denounce this, and fight against it.
    In the case of Portugal, which I have followed particularly closely, the General Secretary of the Portuguese Communist Party, Jeronimo de Suosa, offered an electoral bloc with Prime Minister Jose Socrates' Socialist Party (still governing at that time) which would have been based on a minimum program of resisting austerity, defending the interests of the masses, and shifting the burden of the crisis onto the backs of the rich. Socrates rejected this. Those three social democratic governments have all been pushed or voted out now, and in the case of Greece, Papandreou's PASOK government caved in to a coalition agreement which lets the fascist LAOS party into government, a very dangerous state of affairs.
   In fact, the behavior of those European social democratic parties in power has been worse than that of the Obama administration and many of the US Democrats, who have never claimed to be socialists, but who at least have sometime shown some gumption vis a vis demands that they destroy the social safety net utterly. Compare behavior of Democrats in the Wisconsin state legislature with the Social Democrats of Portugal, Spain and Greece for example.


Phil Amadon:


In my view, "to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to establish democracy" (communist manifesto, Int. Pub.p 30) is still central to marxism and to saving the planet.   I prefer "market socialism" and am in favor of all manner of economic experiments to explore the possibilities of  this concept.  But without the proletariat as ruling class their is no socialism, market or otherwise.

As for the Greek Communists, they seem to have quite a followiing, and when they call for revolution my heart beats with theirs.    When the greek social democrats call for more austerity,  I see no ground for alliance.    It is not sectarian to break with someone who is advocating policies that will destroy you.

And just because I like what the Greek CP seems to be doing in Greece doesn't mean I agree with them on what is going on here.   Nor does logic or fact require me to agree.

Norman Markowitz:

I don't think that this debate is necessarily that useful and we have little to gain by engaging in it.  However, let me make a few points based on both my understanding and also general world-view, which may be different than some of the others who have expressed their views.
First, what is the relationship of dictatorship to democracy beyond  that one is considered  in general usage a good word and the other a bad word. 
 Marx's concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which Lenin developed, was  not primarily about the form of the revolution, whether it would be peaceful or violent, in terms of taking power, but for Lenin on the character of the new state once the working class took power. 
 Dictatorship meant for Marx and for Lenin class rule(all capitalist states are in that sense dictatorships of the capitalist class but there are huge differences between military junta states, states without civil liberties and civil rights, etc., and states with constitutions, elections, civil rights and civil liberties).  
 What both Marx and Lenin were saying was that these capitalist states must be replaced by workers states committed to constructing socialism, which would represent, because a workers state and working class rule would represent the rule aka "dictatorship" of the overwhelming majority of the people, a higher form of political democracy.
On the question of the form of  revolution, the political revolution that is, the position that the Communist movement developed was to both work for a peaceful transition to a workers state and, keep our powder dry, so to speak.  Whether or not violence would be involved would depend on the actions of the capitalist class and the political balance of forces as it developed.  Certainly there are many examples of  capitalist classes resorting to  martial law--turning power over to military juntas, fascist parties, etc--Germany, 1933, Cuba, 1935, Brazil, 1964, Indonesia, 1965, Chile, 1973, to name but a few--which doesn't mean that we in any way reject the concept of working for the peaceful transition to socialism
I agree with Lenin's formulation.   That formulation is a central basis for understanding why Communist parties as against mass factionalized social democratic parties are necessary to organize and coordinate the struggles of the working class-- to lead it to victory. One should remember that Lenin angrily denied the argument of his social democratic opponents that he and the Bolsheviks were "Blanquists" advocate of an armed coup against the state and the use of the seized state to carry out the revolution--policies named after Auguste Blanqui, the French revolutionary who organized such "conspiracies" which failed over and over again, and spent much of his adult life in prison, although both his courage and the causes he identified with made him, as Marx understood, a hero to French workers.  Whatever Communists stand for, capitalist propaganda has always and we can expect will continue to portray Communists in violent conspirators in the Blanqui tradition. 
 As for Lenin's formulation, this doesn't mean that Cuba under Batista, China under Chiang Kai-shek  and the U.S. under Eisenhower are the same--that similar tactics and strategies make sense in all these  places.  It does mean though that one should have no illusions about the "universal nature" of liberal democratic institutions, of constitutionalism and the rule of law superseding class power--Chile is in some respects the best example; a nation with very advanced by Latin American standards civil rights and civil liberties, a strong labor movement and multiparty system, where a revolutionary peoples front coalition government, in a presidential congressional system similar to the U.S., with off year elections, took power and sought consciously to establish a socialist workers state under the existing constitutional system, only to face a bloody U.S. supported counter-revolution
In terms of our own history, we should remember that the Smith Act, on which our National leadership was  put on "trial"  convicted and imprisoned for "conspiracy" to "teach or advocate the violent overthrow of the government" was countered by our attorneys and party leaders defense of the principle of the peaceful transition to socialism, with the understanding that the more the working class movement  becomes stronger here and internationally, the weaker capitalist states and their allies will become and the less likely they will be able to use violence for counter-revolution(for example, many of the cases I cited earlier would have been much less likely without U.S. support
Marx didn't of course deal with the specifics of the revolutionary process and workers state.  Lenin in challenging European social democrats contended that the working class could not simply win elections(he didn't reject elections) and take over the existing capitalist state bureaucracies--it would have to establish new workers state forms, institutions, which I believe we would have to do in the U.S. were we ever in that position--for example, rewriting much of the constitution to change separation of powers, establishing rational regional governments that would supersede the present state governments, adding employment, education, housing, to the bill of rights.
I personally, as a  U.S. historian, much prefer to use the term abolish capitalism and replace it with socialism as  the abolitionists called for the abolition of slavery, instead of using terms like overthrow.  To abolish slavery a civil war took place because the slaveholders refused to accept the victory of an anti-slavery party in 1860.  That new party, the Republicans, was necessary to break with the old party system.  The war also produced constitutional amendments, most of all the 14th which changed the character of the federal government in its relationship to the states along with the creation of a larger and stronger federal government and policies to advance the interests of industrial capitalism.  Relative to what had existed before, these developments could be seen as revolutionary and the civil war itself seen as the slaveholders reaction to what they considered a threat to their class system aka their wealth and power.
These would be my thoughts on the general question. I think we should be moving forward and trying to get as much copy as we can in PA as we approach what will be a crucial presidential year

Carl Davidson:

At the risk of being reductionist, I usually simply argue that 'dictatorship' is just another word for 'state.'  The question then is what class does it serve, who is in charge and does it have democratic rules?

Jean Paul Holmes:

I agree with what Norman has written regarding the Marxist idea of "dictatorship" being the rule of a certain class over another through a general sway of power in any given system. If I am interpreting it correctly, this does not necessarily clash with John's noting those who were capitalists prior to the formation of the USSR still being in positions of power within that nation after the revolution there - one could argue that they may have been powerful, but not in control (who was in control is another debate altogether).

The original "Socialism is the Future" piece seems somewhat vague to me, as it seems to be a rhetorical work. It might have a role to play as such, but I'm not sure its something we (the CPUSA) would want to throw around, given our specific circumstances in the US. 

It appears to me that one big obstacle of the US left (which might be similarly represented in the "Socialism is the Future" piece, but I don't know enough about the authors' to judge) is a great amount of energy but a lack of concrete planning (I think of Occupy). I constantly find myself judging my own articles for their lack of direction - I can dismantle capitalist ideology/politics/economy well, as well as make calls for a different formulation,
but find the act of proposing said new formulation greatly lacking in detail compared to the criticism from which the desire for a new order is derived.

The most I have right now is "curb corporate power, nationalize the corporations, turn them over to the unions." :/

To me, it points to the need for a great deal more involvement in linking studied economists, socialism-minded union bureaucrats, health care policy wonks and the like in our project. This is often framed in people's minds as mundane, but such seriousness is greatly needed. I'm only getting started in my study of this sort of thing, and am hampered by it having little to do with my profession.

So, maybe proclamations like the one presented are important to note but not nearly as important as what we can do to build ourselves as an institution?


Gary Hicks:

Whatever else we think of the recent international conference of communist and workers parties, certainly there should be no objection to publishing the presentation made by our own delegate to that conference, Susan Webb. Link immediately below.


Emile Schepers:


Hear, hear!


Jean Paul Holmes:

If there were a "like" button, I would click it :)


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  • Cuba was represented at the conference.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 12/28/2011 2:30am (5 years ago)

  • What brothers Marquit and Markowitz have contributed is essential to growing in this discussion.
    The connection between the old League of the Just of Moll and others, (of the 1840s) the activities of Marx and Engels in that era, the establishment of the Communist League, the exposed (by Marx)repression of the Cologne Trial, are all inter-related. Very important in these events was the German Educational Society's work, with Marx's and Engels's contributions there.
    They are related to Marx's development of his theory of the state, with his The Civil War in France, Class Struggles in France, theory of proletarian revolution, and Lenin's following of that theory and the analysis of the Paris Commune.
    There is a fascinating rapprochement and analogy between the repression of the Paris Commune and the well known, but often avoided fact of Prussian and French bourgeoisie national repression against the Commune, and the international imperialist repression against the young and older Soviet Union, a repression and war, especially from German Nazi imperialism, (with international imperialist help), which contributed heavily to its internal and external collapse, easily the most cataclysmic event of our time, the fall of the Soviet State.
    The result of the Soviet State's conflict with imperialism of many stripes, and its(imperialism's) world organization, both hidden and visible, is the greatest threat to the survival of humanity: the legacy of amassed nuclear armaments.
    This legacy, and resolving its gruesome menace, in the context of the lies and propaganda of imperialism, which has labeled all, democracy, socialism and communism of the working people a crime, is what we deal with today in the international, and even national context of establishing peace and socialism.
    The Blanquists' tradition, and the myth of the violent revolutionary, and how imperialism has seized it to call the most peaceful and defensive movements and initiatives of workers "crimes", flies in the face of revolutionaries since Lenin, like Gandhi, MLKing Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, and now, Fidel Castro Ruz.
    Brother Markowitz makes this clear-and explains Lenin's opposition to this tradition and the lies of the social democrats on this. Further, in point of our own history, Markowitz gives real references to the "abolishment and amendment" history of the workers of our United States, and how the "rule" of law and democracy has prevailed when advances have been made here, for the working people, including manumitted slaves,(their tremendous gifts, of toil, song, and spirit pointed out by W.E.B. Du Bois), civil rights warriors, worker rights advocates, and peace activists, contributing mightily to the cultural and material complex of America and the United States of America.
    Both peace and the opposition to imperialist wars are both mentioned in the final statement of the Athens Conference, and are key to workers' and communists' success for a socialist future and human progress. The peaceful approach to revolution of Fidel, MLK, Gandhi and Du Bois point the way to a socialist future.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 12/21/2011 6:18pm (5 years ago)

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