A Socialist v A Capitalist Working Class
Elson goes on to describe the contradiction at the heart of Purdy and Prior’s argument in relation to the State, and the idea of a “Socialist” Mode of Production co-existing within Capitalism, and the necessary descent for them into reformism.
“Thus they recognise that:
‘in addition to ideological opposition there is another, more legitimate stream of criticism of state activity, stemming from the bureaucracy and inertia which has developed within it. This tendency has various origins but an important one is the ambiguity which attends the functions of the state sector. Increasingly its required standards of performance contain a mixture of commercial and social guidelines. These are almost impossible to operate except within the bounds of a bureaucracy which lays down minute procedures lacking purpose or justification outside the bureaucracy.’ (p 142)
‘State activity has been directed towards the defence and development of Capitalist society, tasks in which it has achieved a large measure of success.’ (p. 73)
and even get as far as saying, at one point, that state intervention,
‘is invariably contradictory.’(p74)”(ibid p106)
Yet, they appear to have no analysis of why this is! If they did, they would understand why the idea of simply extending this “Socialist” Mode of production within Capitalism was impossible. The bourgeoisie cannot allow any “Socialistic” forms to be filled with real proletarian content, because to do so would risk them actually being used in the interests of workers, whereas there whole purpose is to serve the interests of Capital. But, absent the forms of control that go with private ownership, the role of bureaucracy in control is magnified. Although, bureaucracy can become a powerful, self-serving force even within large private Capitalist businesses, the interests of that bureaucracy are not only tied closely to those of Capital, but if it becomes too self-serving, then private Capital has all of the means by which to intervene to bring it back under Control. No such controls exist in relation to the State bureaucracy. Only a thoroughgoing democratic transformation could bring that about, and for the reasons cited above Capital has no interest in that. It would rather respond when its interests are seriously threatened by that bureaucracy with an all out attack on the bureaucracy, and on the State property itself.
“But they have no way of analysing the nature and dynamic of that contradiction. So it is not surprising that they offer only a premature invocation of ‘concrete analysis’ on the basis of a species of functionalism. The position that they most consistently put forward is that the state sector is fundamentally a socialist mode of production, but that it can be used either in the interests of Capital or in the interests of the working class; whose interest it is serving at any particular time can only be ascertained by ‘concrete analysis’. (See in particular p79 and p138 for examples.) The problem with this functionalist approach is that the ‘interests of capital’ and the ‘interests of the working class’ are totally ambiguous formulations.”
“Trying to ascertain whose interest a particular practice advances the most, drawing up balance sheets of the distribution of costs and benefits cannot reveal the socialist content of a practice, nor how the socialist potential can be unlocked. This is essentially because any such cost-benefit analysis is static, fixed in the status quo posing the question in terms of the continuation, not the dissolution, of class relations. So it is not surprising that an analysis of the concrete which is ultimately posed in these terms easily slips into Economism and an abstraction of the struggle from the self-activity of the working class. For what else is Economism, but the attempt to further the interests of the working class as a ‘capitalist’ working class; and if this is the aim, then directing the attempt ‘from the top down’ may well be the most efficient method. The development of the working class as an hegemonic class does not mean simply reversing the present positions, putting the working class where the capitalist class now is. It means transforming the very nature of the working class, making it a ‘socialist’ rather than a ‘capitalist’ working class, as a prelude to the eventual dissolution of class relations.”(ibid p. 107)
As Elson states the task in promoting proletarian hegemony is not to simply place workers in the place that Capitalists now occupy, but is to transform the nature of the working class itself from being a bourgeois working class to a socialist working class. Only on that basis can the future dissolution of classes proceed. Such a transformation requires a development of the working class on a whole range of issues. Elson speaks in particular about the role of Feminism. Yet, Elson does not adequately link this to that crucial factor she had earlier identified as limiting any attempt to bargain within the system – the question of ownership. I have pointed out this relationship in the past. It is now more than 30 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced, and yet Women continue to be discriminated against in the workplace with women’s wages still only around two-thirds that of men. The basic reason for that is obvious. Not only do women workers face oppression as workers, but also as women. Women workers do not just have to deal with struggling against bosses for an improvement of their position, but also have to struggle with male workers in order to get their concerns addressed.
There should then be no illusion that simply getting rid of Capitalist bosses removes this situation, but it does mean that Women are in a position as workers to focus their attention on only one obstacle rather than two. There should be no illusion that a post capitalist society would be one in which the rights of women, gays or other groups in society are automatically granted, but the extent to which we can develop Co-operative, forms today within which these issues can be fought out within the class itself we not only advance the interests of such groups here and now, but at the same time create that very degree of unity and solidarity within the class that is required for its success against the bourgeoisie, and begin to transform the consciousness of the class from being that of an individuated, bourgeois working-class into a collective, solidaristic and socialist working class.
“In effect, Purdy and Prior present a picture in which trade unions and the traditional activities of the labour movement are seen as wholly Economistic, but the ‘new social movements’ are seen as spontaneously socialist in form, as are new forms of labour movement activity such as factory occupations. (See pp 167-8) Given this interpretation, Purdy and prior draw from the fact that ‘the social conditions of advanced capitalism serve to produce a consciousness which transcends simple trade unionism’ (p169) the conclusion that three is no longer any need for a political party to be engaged in transforming and developing in a socialist direction the struggles which spontaneously arise in capitalism (though they do not argue that political parties are completely redundant).”
(ibid pp. 108-9)
“Moreover, if the struggle is to take a socialist form, the decisions on what should be done have to be taken by the working class itself, not by the party – this is true even if the working class decides to pursue an Economistic, non-socialist course of action. There are no short cuts to the self-determination of the working class. Nevertheless, in my view ‘the party’ has a crucial role to play in helping to determine how the questions for decisions are posed, in helping to constitute the alterbnatives between which choices must be made. But, if it plays this role in a merely manipulative way, it will be inadequate to its task; it will be unable clearly distinguish and constitute socialist alternatives to spontaneous Economism.
The problem is not that the working class only engages in struggle about the level of wages or conditions of work, and that this is the only form of struggle against capitalism; it is rather that in the multiplicity of forms of struggle against capitalism which are constantly being invented, capital in all its complexity, manages to remain hegemonic. This although I agree with many of the criticisms that Purdy and prior make of the practice of Leninist parties, in my view they have thrown the baby out with the bath water in denying the need for the socialist transformation of struggles, and in leaving for ‘the party’ simply the function of co-ordinating, sustaining and informing spontaneously arising struggles.”
(ibid pp 109-10)
My only comments here would be that what is said does not have to be framed in relation to the practice of a ‘Leninist’ Party. It applies, I believe, with even more force to the role of Marxists acting through a mass Workers Party. In fact the comments about providing advice, education, guidance etc. without being sectarian, and ultimatistic apply with equal force to the way in which Marxists should relate to workers within such a Party.