Hal Draper's contribution to revolutionary Marxism

Socialism from Below

Fifty-one years ago the Berkeley Independent Socialist Club published Hal Draper’s The Two Souls ofSocialism.1 Of the hundreds of radical pamphlets published in the 1960s, Two Souls has had perhaps the longest-lasting impact. Appearing at a time when various forms of top-down versions of socialism—social democracy, Stalinism, and Maoism—were in vogue, its emphasis on workers’ self-emancipation set it clearly apart. Moreover, Draper did not merely reintroduce genuine Marxism to a new generation; in its originality and clarity, Two Souls—and the subsequent work that elaborated in detail on his arguments—presented a different way of looking at the world, at socialism, and at competing ideologies.

Traditional interpretations maintained that the essential divisions in the socialist movement were between reform and revolution, pacifism versus violence, and democracy versus authoritarianism. Two Souls took a somewhat different angle, namely, that “throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between Socialism-From-Above and Socialism-From-Below,”2 thus introducing the vocabulary, narrative, and ideas of socialism from below as the contemporary representation of revolutionary Marxism.

The unifying feature of the many varieties of socialism from above, Draper argued, is distrust or opposition to the working-class’s potential to recreate society based on its own initiative. Socialism from above, Draper specified, is the idea that socialism “must be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, by a ruling elite not subject to their control in fact.”3 Distrust of the mass’s ability to rule and denial of democratic control from below are the core tenets of the many variants of socialism from above that have dominated the history of the socialist movement.

The heart of socialism from below is the understanding that “socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activated masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.”4 These few words summarize what Draper would later work for decades to restore and defend as the heart of revolutionary Marxism in his analysis of the entire body of Marx’s political writings, as presented in numerous articles, as well as in his indispensable, magnificent multivolume series, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (KMTR).

A major thesis of Two Souls was that social democracy and Stalinism, the two major self-styled socialisms from above, despite their real and obvious differences, both identify socialism with the statification of the economy, and both reject workers’ democratic rule as the foundation of socialism. Long before Stalinism, Eduard Bernstein, the theoretical father of social-democratic reformism, was the first to revise Marxism to eliminate working-class self-emancipation from its essence, substituting “superior educated” parliamentary representatives for the “uninformed masses” as the agency for socialism. Social democracy and Stalinism, whose advocates strongly denied their similarities, were the dominant radical ideologies that divided the socialist movement during Draper’s political life, which was split between those who supported “democratic” Washington or “socialist” Moscow. These constrained political choices debilitated the working-class movement long before the wrecking operations of neoliberal capitalism began.

Draper’s other major insight in Two Souls was to show how Marx closely linked revolutionary democracy and revolutionary socialism. Draper traced Marx’s path as “the first socialist thinker and leader who came to socialism through the struggle for liberal democracy,” beginning political life as a “radical democratic extremist,” defending all democratic rights throughout his life, and insisting that democracy meant control from below. Before Marx, “Nowhere did the line of the Socialist Idea intersect with the line of Democracy-from-Below,”5 joining collectivism with democracy. Draper demonstrated that only proletarian socialism could merge collectivism with democracy. Without this fusion of revolutionary democracy and revolutionary socialism, he argued, all other radical variants eventually veer off into some form of socialism from above.

Yet Draper showed that Marx was not so naïve as to think that workers could at any moment run society. To do so, they would have to transform their consciousness and themselves through struggle. As Marx argued to the Communist League in 1850,

We say to the workers: “You will have to go through 15 or 20 or 50 years of civil wars and international wars, not only in order to change extant conditions, but also in order to change yourselves and render yourselves fit for political domination”; you on the other hand say to the workers: “We must attain to power at once, or else we may just as well go to sleep.”6

“This is Marx’s program for the working-class movement,” wrote Draper, “as against those who say the workers can take power any Sunday, and those who say never.”7

Two Souls then applies these insights by contrasting the theory and practice of different, important socialists from above and below. Draper showed that the fathers of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin, were not the libertarians they are claimed to be but authoritarian opponents of all democracy, including a workers’ state. Proudhon, for example, opposed the right to strike. Draper exposed the German Social Democrats Ferdinand Lassalle, and Eduard Bernstein, the English Fabians, and the American nationalist Edward Bellamy—state socialists, revisionists, and would-be reformists—as glorifiers of the existing state and its bureaucracy with its lack of democratic control from below. He contrasted them with contemporary revolutionary champions of workers’ control: William Morris, Rosa Luxemburg, and Eugene Debs, among others. Draper later expanded the pamphlet’s short historical overview of socialism from above with greater depth in the “Critique of Other Socialisms” section of his KMTR.8

Two Souls was a transformative text for those socialists attempting to uphold and revive genuine Marxism in a period dominated by variants of socialism from above. Its introduction defined the political identity of the Independent Socialist Clubs, founded by Draper (along with this author) in Berkeley in 1964. Draper’s ideas were also shared by the International Socialists (IS) in Britain and the International Socialist tendency, a collection of small left organizations internationally, committed to opposing both US imperialism and Stalinism, and that were closely connected to the IS in the UK. Two Souls continues to inform the politics of the International Socialist Organization.

Though Two Souls gained some notoriety on the left, most of Draper’s valuable contributions to Marxism are almost unknown, invisible to today’s radicals. And yet, Draper was arguably the most important American author and defender of international socialist politics in the last half of the twentieth century. Draper’s substantial theoretical innovations came in the period when Marxism was also being distorted beyond recognition by academic reinterpretations that considered Marxism as a form of “class reductionism.”

Draper was resolute in keeping revolutionary ideas alive in those hollow years. Much as Lenin had done in his work State and Revolution, Draper worked to bring Marx’s views—as Marx himself expressed them—to light, to free them from the distortions of “friends” as well as enemies.

The aim of this essay is to introduce to the newly emerging socialist movement Draper’s central role as the Marxist navigator of late-twentieth-century American socialism, free of all the distortions of socialism from above. In that spirit, this article will present a short survey of his work in the context of his political activity.

Along with Engels, Draper believed that Marx’s “real mission in life was to contribute…to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat . . . to make [it] conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation.”9

Born Harold Dubinksy in Brooklyn in 1914, the son of Jewish parents who emigrated from Ukraine, Draper joined the youth organization of the Socialist Party, the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), when he was a teenager, becoming one of the outstanding socialist student leaders of the 1930s in the student antiwar strikes and in the American Student Union.10 His major achievement in the 1930s was winning the YPSL to the Trotskyist Fourth International—the association of international organizations and parties adhering to the politics of Leon Trotsky, the exiled leader of the Russian revolution who had broken with Russia’s rising bureaucratic state under Stalin. As Draper reported in the September 1937 issue of Socialist Appeal, “The Young People’s Socialist League became the first organization of the Second International to go over to the banner of the Fourth Internationalist movement by action of its 9th National Convention.”11 It was unfortunately, an unmatched record; no other Second International organization ever followed. As a Trotskyist, Draper took part in the US Socialist Workers’ Party founding convention in 1937–38.

But the Fourth International soon revealed that it was unprepared for the eruption of Russian imperialism and the spread of Stalinism beyond Russia. In August 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed a neutrality pact in which they agreed to militarily carve up Poland between them. With crucial German support, Russia occupied Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Finland and Romania. In return, the Russians provided the Nazis with secure borders to successfully fight a one-front war in the West, which led to the conquest of Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, and France.

The Trotskyist movement maintained that since nationalized property was a conquest of the revolution, Russia remained a workers’ state in spite of the fact that workers were not in control. On these grounds, they supported the Russians in this war of foreign conquest and occupation, calling upon the workers of the invaded countries to assist the Russian army. They claimed that doing so was “defending Russia from imperialist attack.”

Draper was part of a group of SWP leaders that included Max Shachtman, James Burnham, and Martin Abern who refused to support the Soviet invasion and occupation of Eastern European states, and concluded that Russia under Stalin had developed into a new form of class society. The dissidents in 1940 raised a slogan that summarized their opposition to all sides in the war as imperialist, and which would be their signature banner for decades: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but for the Third Camp of International Socialism.”12 Draper, who as head of the YPSL had led most of its members into the SWP, now as national secretary of the YPSL Fourth International led 90 percent of its members into the new Trotskyist opposition as the movement split over World War II.

Draper was part of the opposition team developing the new position that, under Stalinism, the bureaucracy had emerged as a collectivized ruling class. The Trotskyist majority argued that since the invading Russian army was nationalizing property, destroying the capitalist class, and setting up social systems identical to those of the “Russian workers’ state,” it was carrying out the socialist revolution from above through “bureaucratic, military means.” The opposition, which soon left the SWP to form the Workers’ Party (WP), insisted that, while bourgeois revolutions were often carried out from above, there was no such thing as a socialist revolution from above: the socialist revolution, in Marx’s words, could only be achieved through the self-emancipation of the proletariat.13

The WP restored the theory that workers’ democracy is central to socialism by reexamining what constitutes a workers’ state when property is nationalized. When property is nationalized, they concluded, the question becomes: Who owns and controls the state that is the repository of nationalized property? Workers’ democracy is not an added extra but an essential element; socialism cannot exist without workers’ control of nationalized property, the economy, and the state. In Marx’s words, it is “the raising of the working class to [the] position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy” that defines a workers’ state. When the working class has no power, there is no workers’ state; those who have power, the bureaucracy, are actually the ruling class.

These ideas, which overcame confusion that arose during the process of degeneration of the Russian Revolution, were first developed in the Workers’ Party under the collective leadership of Max Shachtman, Martin Abern, C. L. R. James, Joseph Carter, Ernest Rice McKinney, Albert Glotzer, Raya Dunayevskaya, Irving Howe, Julius Jacobson, and many other veteran Trotskyists. Draper’s collaboration was essential in developing these positions; he spent the rest of his life elaborating upon them. Most of his work cannot be separated from the collective contribution of the WP and its successors.14

Draper was a shipyard worker in San Pedro, California, and a rank-and-file trade union militant during World War II. He took an active part in the finest moment of the WP’s history: its class-struggle approach to antiwar work. That work created rank-and-file groups in major industrial unions in opposition to the pro-war no-strike pledge and class collaboration with the War Labor Board—a pledge signed by the trade-union bureaucracy and supported by the social democrats and Stalinists. In the ensuing great wildcat-strike wave of the war years, the WP was the only radical group willing and able to provide direction and leadership.

When Draper was laid off from the shipyards, he became a full-time organizer for the Los Angeles branch of the WP. His proudest achievement as branch organizer was coordinating trade union work and leading opposition to racism and to fascists through direct working-class mass mobilization, without calling upon the state to ban free speech.

In his article “Free Speech and Political Struggle,” he drew upon these lessons to answer similar questions that arose in the 1960s and are relevant today in the fight against the right wing. “Revolutionary socialists,” he argued, “want to push to the limit . . . the fullest democratic involvement of the great mass of the people . . . all the way [without which] no progressive social transformation is possible.” But he did not reduce all social struggles (strikes, wars, revolutions, etc.) to questions of free speech. “Only juridical cretins can believe that all social struggles are resolved by any kind of speech, free or otherwise…. [S]ocial struggles are decided by the contest of power.”15

In 1948, Draper was called back to New York to help stabilize the WP as editor of the New International, the group’s theoretical monthly. In 1949, the WP reorganized itself as the Independent Socialist League (ISL)—concluding that its size did not warrant calling itself a “party”—with Draper as the editor of its newspaper, Labor Action. For the next eight years, he was pivotal in holding the ISL together by almost singlehandedly putting out a lively newsweekly. At times he wrote entire issues under pen names (Philip Coben, Bernard Cramer, Paul Temple, and H. Spector) to disguise that this stimulating newspaper was the work of one person. A major benefit of Labor Action was its role in educating the Socialist Youth League (later the Young Socialist League), aligned with the ISL—the sole non-Stalinist socialist youth organization of the period. This small youth renewal maintained the continuity of revolutionary socialism, playing an outsized role in the new civil rights movement, and producing a remarkable number of radical leaders of the 1960s as well as cadres for both the future International Socialists (IS) and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Draper’s journalism in the years of reaction strengthened the ISL’s political outlook and international influence, despite its ongoing decline. Labor Action was distinguished by its defense of civil liberties against the anti-Communist witch hunts, championing the emerging civil rights movement, defense of the labor movement, implacable hostility to all imperialism, and support of class struggle and revolt everywhere it appeared. While Labor Action is archived in the Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org), the lack of an index means that the vast majority of Draper’s writings are not readily accessible.16

At the end of the 1940s, Draper directed the ISL’s attempt to deal with the postwar reality that had destroyed its prewar Trotskyist perspective that the end of the war would result in socialist revolution in the capitalist countries and that Stalinism could not survive the war. The ISL dropped the revolutionary dogma that capitalism was no longer capable of expanding, and introduced the “permanent war economy” theory as a starting point to explain the postwar boom.17

The expansion of Stalinism led many ex-radicals, like George Orwell and Hannah Arendt, to support the West, with theories that Stalinism atomized the working class, rendering it incapable of resistance, thus ending class struggle and history. Draper and Shachtman argued instead that Stalinism’s class and national contradictions showed it would be an unstable, short-lived system. Their position was soon confirmed by the Titoist Yugoslav Communist split with Moscow and by working-class revolts in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary, about which Draper wrote extensively.18 But political clarity was not enough to overcome demoralization as revolutionary prospects faded. Cold War McCarthyism hit the working-class left, and the WP went into a long, drawn-out political and organizational decline.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Draper was the most prominent American advocate of third-camp socialism. His was a heroic but losing fight against the drift of the socialist movement toward accommodating and capitulating to Washington or Moscow. He wrote a stream of exposés of the ruling class’s actions, maneuvers, dynamics, policies, and aims for world domination. Some of his strongest polemics were against his former comrades of the WP/ISL, led by Max Shachtman and later Michael Harrington, as they integrated into the pro-Western camp. In 1961, for example, he published a pamphlet that included a speech that Shachtman had delivered to the SP supporting the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, along with his own critique of Shachtman’s arguments.19 Draper’s writings from this period left a strong anti-imperialist heritage for his comrades in the International Socialists to build upon, particularly when they were isolated on the left (as when they publicly opposed Israel’s 1967 War) or faced apologetics for the foreign policies of so-called “progressive” ruling classes.

Only a few of Draper’s antiwar articles are easily available. One collection, America as Overlord,20 begins with “Behind Yalta: The Truth About the War,” a superb exposé that took up the entire April 4, 1955, issue of Labor Action.21 It examined the just-released papers of the February 1945 Yalta Conference, in which the “three great democrats,” Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, met to celebrate their approaching victory by dividing Europe as the spoils of war. As Churchill claims to have said to Stalin at Yalta: “Don’t let us get at cross purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have 90 percent predominance in Romania, for us to have 90 percent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?”22 Draper’s study of the Yalta papers highlighted the imperialist deals that World War II was really about; the contempt that the Big Three had for less powerful nations, including their allies; and the unfolding imperialist rivalries between the three that were to become harbingers of the Cold War. Draper revealed that, at Yalta, the rivalry between Britain and the United States was greater than that between either of them and Russia. Neither the Americans nor the British understood the profound change in the imperialist balance of forces that was shortly to become apparent, beginning the next round of imperialist competition between America and the USSR.

Imperialist crimes examined

In the 1950s Draper focused on the major imperialist crimes of the period (Korea, Suez, Algeria, Hungary), but he also wrote on imperialist outrages others neglected, with essays on America’s role in Guatemala, Okinawa, Samoa, and Guam. The highlight of the collection in America as Overlord are bookend pieces on distinct phases of American imperialism. In the essay “America as Arbiter,” Draper examines the Suez crisis to probe the changes in relations between the United States and the other capitalist powers that resulted from World War II. He defines this new phase of imperialism in the role of the United States as organizer of world capitalism, the superpower that acts as “mediator and arbiter” of its imperialist camp—one that, to be sure, had its own interests within that camp, but had to reconcile the interests of the conflicting capitalist powers into one camp under its domination. Draper connects this to the feudal relation—not of master and serf but of overlord and vassal—and probes the contradictions of this new role as policeman, dominator, organizer, and arbiter for global capitalism.23

The book ends with a wonderful essay that is still relevant as a guide on how to support progressive wars, despite their limitations. “The ABC of National Liberation Movements” was written in 1968, after a massive military action by the forces of the National Liberation Front throughout Vietnam (the Tet offensive), to change the position of the Independent Socialist Clubs.24 Draper argues in an introductory note that Tet revealed that the “war in Vietnam was not primarily a civil war between two Vietnamese sides, one of which (the old reactionary side) was being supported by the imported arms of western imperialists. The Tet offensive showed conclusively that the overwhelming majority of the Vietnamese supported the NLF either actively or passively.”

Despite the NLF’s Stalinist politics, which the ISC continued to oppose, it was necessary to support the NLF’s victory as a struggle for self-determination against foreign imperialist aggression. Draper described the historical support of the Marxist movement for genuine wars of national liberation or for democratic rights, despite the undemocratic character and reactionary politics of the class and/or political forces leading them. In doing so, he draws out the distinction between political and military support—“military support” being the Marxist term for supporting the victory of one side without providing political support for its leadership. He then explains the application of this revolutionary policy in previous wars, in a survey that includes China under Chiang Kai-shek against Japanese attack; Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito against a potential Russian invasion; and Ethiopia under Haile Selassie against Mussolini’s Italy, among others. Though written contemporaneously to address a needed adjustment to a political line, it remains a powerful education on Marxist war policy.

The other volume of Draper’s 1950s antiwar essays is War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism.25 This book is a primer on all aspects of antiwar methodology. Draper addressed the confused thinking within the socialist movement as it attempted to maintain Lenin’s slogan that he issued with the outbreak of World War I of “revolutionary defeatism.” In normal language, calling for the defeat of one side in a conflict implies that you support the victory of the other side. Most revolutionaries thought that if you were not for defeat, then somehow you were for the defense. But as Draper said, “This defeatism of Lenin’s sought to combine some variety of ‘defeat of your own government’ with the antiwar policy of opposition to both war camps.” The murkiness of the position became obvious during World War II for socialists who did not support the Allied war but were not calling for the defeat of the United States by Nazi Germany.

In exploring the history of this slogan in Lenin’s work, Draper discovered that it originated in the Russo-Japanese War, when he supported the defeat of Russia and the victory of “progressive” Japan; this was prior to his understanding of modern imperialism. Lenin later argued that the defeat slogan applied only to reactionary tsarist Russia, not to other countries. But the German Social Democratic Party used precisely that argument to justify its social-patriotic line for supporting Germany against Russia in World War I. Lenin’s slogan became more confusing when socialists attempted to apply it to all countries in an inter-imperialist war such as World War I, calling for the defeat of all while disclaiming victory for any. Lenin justified his position by arguing that calling for defeat would facilitate revolution—it was a way to cut against any concession to ones “own” government’s patriotism. But revolution should not be equated with defeat, nor does defeat necessarily facilitate revolution—it can just as easily facilitate reaction. Lenin had firsthand experience of that danger in the Russian Revolution. The plots of General Kornilov, Alexander Kerensky (president of the provisional government), and others were designed to produce military setbacks—the surrender of Petrograd, and even Russia’s defeat by Germany as a lesser evil—in order to facilitate the victory of the counterrevolution.

Draper sympathetically contrasted the views of leading anti-war internationalists like Luxemburg and Trotsky, who were against both imperialist camps; but in opposing the military victory of their own government, they did not counterpose a desire for its military defeat. Draper’s investigation showed that Lenin abandoned revolutionary defeatism in 1916, didn’t raise it during the Russian Revolution, and never repeated it. The position did not appear in any early Comintern documents.

Zinoviev revived “revolutionary defeatism” in the fight against the Left Opposition to magnify historical differences between Trotsky and Lenin. It was incorporated into the program at the Sixth Comintern Congress of 1928. Defeatism became integrated into the revolutionary canon as the only consistent antiwar policy. Draper’s intellectual courage and principled scholarship caused him to challenge existing revolutionary dogma and examine every aspect of Lenin’s views and contradictions on the question, rejecting defeatism as the one unsound aspect of Lenin’s war policy.

These essays are a remarkable training in socialist scholarship. They show how Marxists can have an open, inquisitive, critical attitude to our theoretical heritage, preserving its essence while overcoming errors. It is one of Draper’s finest contributions to Marxist policy as well as revolutionary functioning. These two books are among the few readily available articles from Draper’s many writings in the 1950s.26

Into the library

Despite Draper’s effort to hold the ISL together through its publications, in 1958 Max Shachtman convinced the organization to dissolve into the Socialist Party. Draper, in his unsuccessful opposition, saw this as an enormous capitulation to right-wing social-democratic politics. In its aftermath he stopped being a full-timer, went to library school, and moved to Berkeley, California, where he worked part-time in the university library. His activity shifted from journalism to theoretical essays, including works that would later become incorporated into Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution. Among those essays are “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Marx and Engels,” “Marx and Engels On Women’s Liberation,” “The Death of the State in Marx and Engels,” and “The Principle of Self-Emancipation in Marx and Engels.”27

All of these titles reference both Marx and Engels; Draper was the strongest fighter against the “persistent effort to put a wall between them . . . eliminating Engels from the picture has a massively crippling effect on any attempt to understand Marx.” He defended Marx and Engels as a partnership, referring to them as “The Firm”—a collaboration with an agreed-upon division of labor. It’s a recurring staple in academic Marxism that the two held different views and that, on at least some questions, Engels didn’t understand Marxism. Draper argues that if Engels got it wrong and Marx thought that he and Engels had the exact same views, “obviously, Marx did not understand Marxism either; only the mythologists do.” To attempt to separate the work of their collaboration, Draper maintained, is to create a hole in the Marxist canon, and “the bigger the vacuum that can be created in the Marx canon the more easily can the empty spaces be filled in freehand and at will by anyone who cares to spin a fantasy of their own about Marxism.”28

In the 1960s, Draper, more than any other radical from the 1930s, was able to make the leap into the new radicalism—as a participant, an interpreter, and a defender of the emerging New Left movements. To start, he was instrumental in the split with the Shachtmanites as they moved to support the Democratic Party and American imperialism, a split that led to the formation of the Berkeley Independent Socialist Club (ISC), forerunner of the International Socialists. He initially opposed a membership organization, but without convincing him, the ISC would not have been founded; he was its theoretical and political leader. It was through the ISC and its cadres that Draper would have his greatest impact on the radicalization of the 1960s.

Auspiciously, the ISC was formed the same night as the Free Speech Movement (FSM), in which Draper and the ISC had important roles. Present at the ISC’s invitation-only inaugural meeting were Mario Savio and Jack Weinberg, shortly to become the two major leaders of the FSM, and this author. These three attended the ISC’s first public meeting, where Draper spoke on “Clark Kerr’s Vision of the University.” The next day Weinberg was arrested at the Campus Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) table and placed in a police car, which provoked the now-famous sit-down around the car. The police car became the stage for a speak-out in which both Savio and Weinberg carried Draper’s ideas of the preceding night into the new movement. The following week, the ISC published those ideas as a pamphlet called The Mind of Clark Kerr, His View of the University Factory,29 which became the “bible” of the FSM—the framework of ideas for which it fought against Kerr’s model of the university. Kerr, then president of the University of California system, saw the university as a “knowledge factory,” integrated with and subservient to industry and business, with himself as the “captain of the bureaucracy” and students as raw material to become technicians and middle managers for capitalism. It was, Kerr said, the “wave of the future” and it would be pointless to try to fight it—or so he thought until the captains of business ordered their hired hand in the bureaucracy to shut down the Berkeley civil rights movement, unleashing the FSM.

Draper was a frequent, powerful speaker at FSM rallies, interpreting the dynamics of the social and political forces in California that stood lined up against the students in the battle of Berkeley. He connected with and understood the impulses and consciousness moving the new generation of radicals. Kerr saw Draper as his main intellectual opponent, referring to him as “the chief guru of the FSM.”30 Many of Draper’s ideas were expressed by Mario Savio, including in his famous speech on stopping the machine by putting your bodies on the gears. Draper wrote the classic history of the FSM: Berkeley, The New Student Revolt.31 His series of articles in New Politics marked his role as the intellectual defender of the New Left against its old-left critics.32

The FSM was a link in the radical chain, the bridge between the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement, the catalyst in the creation of the mass student left that played a leading role in the antiwar and other social movements. The American war in Vietnam took off a few months after the FSM was founded, in March 1965. Opposition emerged with a series of teach-ins that began at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and spread throughout the country. In Berkeley, as a result of the FSM, the thirty-six-hour Vietnam Day teach-in was the largest in the country, drawing 30,000 people. Draper, as representative of the ISC, was asked to debate a leading peace activist, Robert Pickus, on immediate withdrawal versus negotiations now. Draper boldly proclaimed that people who proposed negotiations shared the American imperialist mentality, assuming that the United States had a right to negotiate the fate of another country. Second, he asserted that promoting negotiations was a pro-war position of “war now, peace later.”33 The United States would continue to wage war while it negotiated to achieve its goals, and if the Vietnamese did not capitulate to US demands, war would be prolonged. Negotiations were thus a liberal cover to justify the continuation of war. Using his impressive knowledge of foreign policy, Draper won the debate and the Berkeley student movement to the position of immediate withdrawal. From there the call for immediate withdrawal gained credibility and spread nationally. This would have occurred in time without Draper’s efforts, but he certainly helped speed up the process.

In 1967, Draper wrote an article for the first issue of the Independent Socialist (later renamed Workers’ Power) called “Who Will Be the Lesser Evil in ’68?” 34 After Two Souls, it is the most quoted and best known of Draper’s writings. It makes an unforgettable argument against voting for the Democratic Party as a lesser evil by showing how that dynamic has helped propel all politics further to the right. Draper reasoned “that you can’t fight the victory of the rightmost forces by sacrificing your own independent strength to support elements just the next step away from them.” Even when there really is a lesser evil, supporting it undercuts prospects for fighting the Right, and usually results in getting both the lesser and the greater evil—as liberal and conservative policies often converge to serve the needs of capitalism. In posing the question of whether to vote for the Democrats as the lesser evil, “it is the question that is the disaster, not the answer. In setups where the choice is between one capitalist politician and another, the defeat comes in accepting the limitations of this choice.”

In 1968, the ISC was the architect of the California Peace and Freedom Party (PFP), which registered 120,000 people into a new, independent political party committed to Black liberation and opposition to the war. The PFP formed an alliance with the Black Panther Party (BPP), and Draper played a major role in organizing the campaign to run Eldridge Cleaver of the BPP as the PFP’s presidential nominee. Cleaver’s politics, however, were unstable; he made rapid moves to ally first with the politics of counterculture “yippies,” and then those of guerrilla warfare. This led to a disastrous campaign and damaged hopes that the PFP would be the springboard for independent political action. It was to be the last major movement activism he engaged in. The collapse of the New Left and student movements in the next two years was another demoralizing element.

In 1971, Draper led a small split from the International Socialists. The new perspective he outlined was that the road to a revolutionary party was not through traditional socialist organization, though this was still the future goal. Two of Draper’s essays now popular on the internet, “A New Beginning” and “Anatomy of the Micro-sect,” summarize his new position.35 Although they are the weakest of Draper’s published works, they found significant support among radicals who were disillusioned with revolutionary organization and open to viewing the decline of the Left during a reactionary period as due to subjective weakness in left organizations, including real sectarianism that existed at the time among competing small organizations making wildly unrealistic claims as to their own capacity to lead the masses.

Draper proposed creating a political center, principally defined as a publication center, as an alternative to what he rejected as the “sect” road, a membership organization based on a well-defined program. In a series of essays, Draper, known for being extraordinarily meticulous in his scholarship, strangely presents embarrassingly superficial historical narratives to back up his new views. He makes the sweeping claim, without evidence, that no sect has ever succeeded in producing a revolutionary party, ignoring the emergence of the European socialist movement. Bolshevism, he asserts, was in essence Lenin’s political center, focused on the publication Iskra. This has some validity for the period leading up to 1903 and the formation of the relatively small Bolshevik faction. The subsequent emergence of Bolshevism as a mass party with its underground illegal organization, shop organization, factory-cell structure, district committees, and cadres is ignored, replaced by Draper’s bizarre, unsubstantiated claims that the Bolsheviks remained a faction, was not a membership organization, and was a broad party.

The real difficulties of building revolutionary organization evaporate when all that is needed is a publication produced by a small number of self-selected editors, without the messy problems of a membership, democratic input, control, or correction. Draper criticizes the failures of sects, while ignoring the inability of political centers such as Monthly Review, the National Guardian, and Dissent, to be the road to creating a mass party. He ignores the history of his own political centers that were no more successful. Labor Action could not stop the disintegration of the ISL. The Independent Socialist Committee of 1963, which Draper chaired, attempted to maintain loose ties with left-wingers through pamphlets, publications, and correspondence, and was a miserable flop until the ISC launched as a membership organization. The Center for Socialist History has issued some good publications, but that’s its limit.

The best ideas cannot substitute for organization. The most tragic example is that of Leon Trotsky acting as a fantastic political center in 1930s Germany. Trotsky’s writings on fascism and how to fight it are among the greatest works of Marxist analysis, and they had mass readership and popular support. But they could not be translated into action, as the miniscule size of the Trotskyist organization made it impossible for Trotsky’s views to become a material factor in the fight against fascism. Draper’s ideas, as this essay maintains, are vital in the fight for socialist revolution. But they can only be realized if they are debated and deployed by revolutionary fighters, cadres, and rank-and-file workers trained in organizations based on those political ideas.

In the last twenty years of his life, Draper made his last great contribution to the socialist movement by delivering the fullest explanation of revolutionary Marxism ever to appear in print, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (KMTR).36KMTR, four massive volumes that total more than 3,000 pages, provides the foundation for the entire structure of the politics of socialism from below. It integrates the interconnected political questions that Marx worked on throughout his life: class, the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and other classes; self-emancipation; the class nature of the state; state bureaucracy; revolution; Bonapartism; the dictatorship of the proletariat; and other political tendencies. Its amazing scholarship was an inspired advance in Marxist literature and theory. As Paul Sweezy of Monthly Review stated, “It will remain an indispensable source for all serious students of Marxian ideas . . . there is nothing in the existing literature which is even remotely comparable to it.” It is an all-encompassing but, as Robert Heilbroner wrote in the New York Review of Books, “extraordinarily stimulating work, written in a fresh, open, often amusing style.” 37 It is the outcome of Draper’s talents as a highly readable, clear, engaging, and witty writer. His brilliant intellect, sharp, analytical mind, and extraordinary capacity for hard work shine through each volume. Draper taught himself German as he was writing the book to better understand Marx’s words, nuances, meanings, and to retranslate passages where Marx had been misinterpreted by inaccurate or clumsy translations.

Draper’s self-imposed mission in KMTR is to allow Marx to speak for himself, to restore Marx’s thought—not as others have interpreted it but as Marx himself saw it. It is, in its copious citation of Marx’s ideas, Marx’s own “meaning of Marxism.” Draper does this not through selective clippings, quotations, or articles, but through systematically engaging with Marx’s entire corpus. Draper restricts his study to Marx the political man, not Marx the philosopher, economist, or theorist of historical materialism. His anchor begins with Engels’s characterization that “above all else Marx was a proletarian revolutionist,” and the first volume begins with a new explanation of how Marx became a Marxist. Draper focuses not on the traditional narrative of Marx’s philosophical development—from the Young Hegelians to Feuerbach, and beyond—but rather on Marx’s political emancipation from Hegel’s political philosophy on the state, bureaucracy, and private property. For Hegel the state (including the absolutist, authoritarian, monarchical Prussian state) is eternal; it embodies the just relationship of harmony among society’s elements and is the realization of freedom. The state bureaucracy was thus the “universal class,” representing the interests of all of society.38 Marx’s rejection of the existing state and its institutions and bureaucracy led him on a journey “from a radical-democratic liberal to revolutionary-democratic communist,” from democratic extremist defender of the free press and all democratic rights to finding that those goals were best realized in the proletariat, in socialism, and—crucially—in the principle of proletarian self-emancipation, the foundation of revolutionary socialism from below.

Draper’s first volume, State and Bureaucracy, is not a “short course” introduction with a few maxims and quotations on the relation of the state to the ruling class. It explores Marx’s realization that the state and the bureaucracy exist to defend private property, which led him to become a Marxist. Throughout his life he continued to refine his ideas on these questions. Draper explores all of Marx’s rich, highly complex explorations of the nature of the state and its bureaucracy in ever-changing class societies, in different historical situations, with the developments of classes and their separate layers, and in terms of the relationship between base and superstructure. The emphasis is on the capitalist state and the peculiarities of the capitalist class, which give rise to the “political ineptitude” of the bourgeoisie as a governing class. This is truer for the bourgeoisie than for any previous ruling class because, under capitalism more than any other class society, economics and politics are separated. As Draper remarks, rule by a capitalist class was

profusely crisscrossed internally with competing and conflicting interest groups, each at the other’s throat . . . competing national groups (countries) are split by regional group interests, different industrial interests. Antagonisms within an industry, rivalry between producers of consumers and producers goods, light and heavy industry . . . internally, [made] capitalism . . . a snake-pit. By comparison, the incessant feuding of medieval barons was a marshmallow-throwing contest.39

The bourgeoisie remains the ruling class as long as the social relations of capitalist production are maintained, but the different permutations of this dynamic and its relation to the political state vary widely, as Marx explored and Draper detailed amply.

To present Marx’s views faithfully, Draper asserts, requires an “excavation.” Draper models his methodology on Lenin’s State and Revolution, which Lenin described as an engagement “in excavations, as it were, to bring undistorted Marxism to the knowledge of the mass of the people.”40 Even Lenin, Marx’s greatest disciple, was for most of his political life unaware of Marx’s real views on the state. Most of Marx’s collected work had not been printed, and Lenin accepted prevailing Second International doctrine, which held that the institutions and bureaucracy of the state could be used for socialist construction, and that only anarchists call for the destruction of the existing class state. Lenin had to do a personal as well as a political excavation. He dug up all of Marx’s then-extant printed work about the state in order to wipe away the reformist gloss that the Second International had overlaid onto Marx’s views and restore Marx’s revolutionary opposition to the existing state, representing his views on a workers’ state and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Draper made that his model for KMTR: it is a personal as well as a political restoration project for all of Marx’s political views, not just one, and to uncover and clear away not just social-democratic falsifications but also more recent distortions imposed on Marxism as a result of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution.

Draper submits that, in the process of degeneration and Stalinist counterrevolution, it was not only the institutions of proletarian rule (soviets, trade unions, the Bolshevik Party, etc.) that degenerated; ideas did as well. Principles became distorted as necessary measures to defend the revolution against imperialist invasion and counterrevolution, and were turned into virtues. Draper argues that, had the German Revolution been successful, these distortions—which Lenin recognized as retreats from socialism—might have been thrown out the window. But the German Revolution failed, and these distorted ideas were then accepted and passed on as the norms of Marxism: “The distortions became principles.”41 One example is Trotsky’s conclusion that “the dictatorship of the proletariat found its distorted but indubitable expression as the dictatorship of the bureaucracy.”42 This idea, from the greatest fighter against the rising bureaucracy, had no relation to anything in Marx’s thinking but shows how ideas accepted as Marxist theory became damaged as a result of the Russian degeneration.

The second volume, The Politics of Social Class, is groundbreaking: there has been nothing approaching it in the Marxist literature for the past 150 years. Draper proceeds from the understanding that “class dynamics is the foundation of all of Marx’s politics.” He examines the anatomy of all the social classes of modern society and their interrelations with the working class. There are individual sections that pore over Marx’s assessments of the bourgeoisie, petit-bourgeoisie, peasantry, and intellectuals, and their politics and role in revolution. These in-depth sections, with their 700 pages of complex and sophisticated delineation of class composition, class struggle, class structure, and the relation of different classes to politics and revolution, are indispensable political guides. In particular, a discussion on Marx’s and Engels’s conclusions on class forces in the 1848 revolution shows that they were the basis for the theory of permanent revolution, on which Trotsky later elaborated.43

Draper’s approach to social class is also borrowed from Lenin: “Marxism is the theory and practice of proletarian revolution.” The key word is proletarian, and the focus is on what distinguishes the proletariat in its revolution. Marx states that the working-class movement, unlike the movements of all previous revolutionary classes, which had been minority class movements, is “the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”44

Working-class revolution is different from all previous revolutions because the proletariat is a propertyless class; it does not, nor can it, own property. The bourgeoisie, the previous revolutionary class, was able to build its economic power under feudalism, then politically supplant the old, decaying feudal ruling class through bourgeois revolutions. However, Marx says, that it is impossible for the propertyless proletariat to develop its economic powers under capitalism. Proletarian revolution can only succeed by conquering political power, “to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.”45 Political power then starts the process of economic transformation to socialism. And, as Draper stresses, the proletariat must do that very rapidly once it takes power; otherwise, it will be defeated by the rooted power of the capitalist class and its institutions. Nationalized property does not create a workers’ state, but a workers’ state nationalizes property. Proletarian revolution is a reversal of previous revolutionary patterns: the conquest of political power must come first, and success occurs if and when the political revolution leads to an economic and social revolution. The proletariat’s inability to own property circumscribes its only way to rule democratically and collectively, without which it cannot be a ruling class. To emancipate itself, it is forced to liberate all humanity, which is what makes the proletariat the “universal class” in Marxist theory.46

Democratic collectivism is the introduction of proletarian democracy. Yet, Draper clarifies, when most people discuss democracy they mean bourgeois democracy. Working-class and bourgeois democracy overlap in such matters as rights to free speech, free press, free assembly, the right to organize opposition, and so on. Marx defends all bourgeois democratic rights, but states that under bourgeois democracy they are at best limited and distorted and often little more than a “democratic swindle.” The model country of the democratic swindle, Marx says, is the United States, where democratic rights are used to convince the working class to cooperate in their own exploitation. Democracy has to be separated from its bourgeois shell. The basic element of proletarian democracy is democratic control from below; but it is necessary to create a new, more democratic form of state in which control can actually come from below.47 As Engels stated in an 1891 postscript to Marx’s Civil War in France, “Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the phrase: dictatorship of the proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat.”48 In short, the workers’ dictatorship consisted of organs of direct democracy (workers’ councils, soviets, factory committees, trade unions, workers’ militias, etc.) controlled by the working class from below.

Draper wrote a whole volume on the dictatorship of the proletariat devoted to dispelling forever the slanders against Marxism on this issue.49 It is questionable whether there will ever be another inquiry on the topic in this depth, and anyone who writes on the subject in the future will have to deal with Draper’s volume to be taken seriously. To undo the damage done to Marx, Draper examines the meaning of the term dictatorship over the centuries, its currency in Marx’s time, and how it has no relation to the modern usage of dictatorship: an individual dictator, a party dictatorship, a military regime, or a repressive “barracks communism.” Draper explores every instance of Marx’s use of the term dictatorship of the proletariat and finds that it is always a dictatorship of a class: that is, dominating society by setting up class institutions of power and class rule. In Marx’s day, dictatorship of the bourgeoisie just meant the rule and dominance of capitalism over the institutions, laws, and ruling ideas of capitalist society. Draper shows that Marx uses the term dictatorship of the proletariat interchangeably with proletarian power, with proletarian political rule, with workers’ democracy, with workers’ state—the term had no other meaning for Marx, nor should it for socialists.

Class dynamics—the raising of the working class to the position of ruling class—are the substance of all of Marx and Engels’s socialist politics. The proletariat, the state, revolution, and the dictatorship of the proletariat form a unity, and that unity is the self-organization and self-emancipation of the working class. The working class, to emancipate itself, has to become fit to rule through revolutionary activity. It cannot be free to rule until it liberates itself of all capitalist ideas and politics. For Marx, this begins with independent working-class organization to carry through these struggles, to raise the consciousness, confidence, and combativity of the working class. Through this process workers become fit to rule. The school of revolutionary politics goes only through working-class organization, independent of the ruling class.

Draper, the most important American Marxist theorist of the latter half of the twentieth century, dedicated his life’s work and the enormous effort of KMTR to helping revive Marx’s proletarian revolutionary ideas because of their historic mission of working-class self-emancipation. His writings have much in them to educate a new generation of revolutionaries. But they will only come fully into their own when Marx’s does, when a revival of class struggle produces a working class that is conscious of its real position. To succeed, cadres will have to be educated and trained in the politics of socialism from below, merging with the vanguard of the working class in creating a revolutionary leadership dedicated to the self-emancipation of the working class as the road to the future socialist society.


  1. Hal Draper’s “The Two Souls of Socialism” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1966/twosouls/) was published in New Politics (Winter, 1966), 57–84. It was also issued as a pamphlet by the Independent Socialist Clubs. The version on Marxists.org cited here is from the pamphlet published in 1970 by the International Socialists. According to Draper’s introduction, this was a rewritten and expanded version of an earlier article, “Socialism from Below as the Meaning of Socialism,” in Anvil (Winter 1960), the magazine of the Young Peoples Socialist League. This earlier version was also reprinted in the British magazine International Socialism 11 (Winter, 1962).
  2. Ibid., 4.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 9.
  6. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Meeting of the Central Authority,” Collected Works, Vol. 10 (New York: International Publishers, 1978), 626.
  7. Draper, “Two Souls.”
  8. Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. IV, Critique of Other Socialisms, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).
  9. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 24, 468.
  10. Hal Draper, “The Student Movement of the Thirties,” https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/....
  11. Hal Draper, “Left Wing Carries YPSL Convention,” 1937, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/....
  12. The original 1940 slogan was “Neither London-Paris nor Berlin-Moscow.” As World War II unfolded, it changed to “Neither London, Washington, Moscow nor Berlin, Tokyo, Rome.’” When the Cold War started in 1946, it took the familiar form used for decades: “Neither Washington nor Moscow.”
  13. An analysis of Russia as a new class society can be found, for example, in Max Shachtman, “Is Russia a Workers’ State?” New International, Vol. VI, No. 10, December 1940, at https://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtm....
  14. I discuss the split in Joel Geier, “War and Revolutionary Socialism: The Second World War and the Origins of International Socialism,” at http://wearemany.org/a/2014/06/war-and-r....
  15. Hal Draper, “Free Speech and Political Struggle,” Independent Socialist 4 (April 1968), https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne....
  16. The Labor Action archive can be found here: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne....
  17. See, for example, T. N. Vance, “The Permanent War Economy, Part I,” New International, Vol. 17, No. 1, January–February 1951, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/wr....
  18. Draper’s and Shachtman’s articles on Tito are in the August, September, October, and November 1948 issues of New International, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne....
  19. Max Shachtman and Hal Draper, Two Views on the Cuban Invasion: A discussion pamphlet (Oakland, 1961), https://archive.org/details/TwoViewsOfTh... Hal Draper, “Notes on India-China Border War,” 1962, in possession of author. Excerpts of it appeared under the title “Defensism or Defeatism,” in International Socialism 13 (Summer 1963), https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne....
  20. Hal Draper, America as Overlord (Alameda, CA: Center for Socialist History, 2011). The issue of Labor Action devoted to Yalta, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne....
  21. Ibid., 1–54.
  22. Winston Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy: The Second World War, Vol. 6 (New York: Rosetta Books, 2002), 227.
  23. Ibid., 55–67.
  24. Ibid., 145–63. https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/....
  25. Hal Draper, War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1996).
  26. America as Overlord and some other writings by Draper are available from the Center for Socialist History: http://csh.gn.apc.org/.
  27. The four essays were published in New Politics 1, no. 4 (Summer 1962); International Socialism 44 (July–August 1970); and Socialist Register 1970 and 1971. All are at marxists.org/draper.
  28. Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. I, State and Bureaucracy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), 23–26.
  29. Hal Draper, The Mind of Clark Kerr (Berkeley: Independent Socialist Club, 1964), https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/....
  30. Clark Kerr, “Fall of 1964 at Berkeley: Confrontation Yields to Reconciliation,” in Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik, The Free Speech Movement, Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 391.
  31. Hal Draper, Berkeley: The New Student Revolt (New York: Grove Press, 1965), https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/....
  32. Hal Draper, “FSM: Freedom Fighters or Misguided Rebels?” New Politics IV, no. 1 (Winter 1965); Hal Draper: “In Defense of the ‘New Radicals’,” New Politics IV, nos. 3 (Summer 1965) and 4 (Fall 1965), http://www.unz.org/Pub/NewPolitics-1965q....
  33. Quoted in James Petras preface to We Accuse, A powerful statement of the new political anger in America, as revealed in the speeches given at the 36-hour “Vietnam Day” protest in Berkeley, California (Berkeley and San Francisco: Diablo Press, 1965), 3.
  34. Hal Draper, “Who’s Going to Be the Lesser Evil in ’68?” Independent Socialist 1, no. 1, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/....
  35. Hal Draper, “Toward A New Beginning—On Another Road; The Alternative to the Micro-Sect,” 1971, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/... Hal Draper, “Anatomy of the Micro-Sect,” 1973, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/....
  36. Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: Vol I, State and Bureaucracy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977); Vol II, The Politics of Social Classes (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978); Vol. III, The “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1986); Vol. IV, Critique of Other Socialisms (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).
  37. Draper, KMTR, Vol. I. The Sweezy and Heilbroner blurbs are on the back cover.
  38. Ibid., 32–34, 77–95.
  39. Ibid., 323.
  40. Ibid., 20–21.
  41. Hal Draper, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat from Marx to Lenin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987), 99–101.
  42. Leon Trotsky, “The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism,” 1935, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky....
  43. Draper, KMTR, Vol. II, 201–87.
  44. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto in The Communist Manifesto: A Road Map to History’s Most Important Political Document, Phil Gasper, ed. (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 55.
  45. Ibid., 69.
  46. Draper, KMTR, Vol. II, 40–55, 70–80; Draper, KMTR, Vol. I, 141–47.
  47. Draper, KMTR, Vol. I, 38–52, 282–97, 302–10.
  48. Engels quouted in KMTR, Vol. III, 317.
  49. Draper, KMTR, Vol. III.

Issue #97

Summer 2015

Delusions of green growth

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