Third Camp "Idiocy"
After more than a week of mass demonstrations, drawing together tens of thousands of people from all strata of Egyptian society, the Egyptian Army declaring that it will not fire on the Egyptian people, statements from the US President, and leaders of the other major Capitalist States that an orderly transition to bourgeois democracy must begin now, and even statements by John Kerry in the US that Mubarak should go now, the Egyptian President has said that, although he will not stand for election in September, he will not step down until then.
There are many theories going around at the moment about what will happen in Egypt. In truth, no one knows what will happen. As Marxists our job is not to act as fortune tellers, or tea leaf readers forecasting that this outcome or the other is inevitable.
“We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions...
In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion. But from the fact that the wills of individuals — each of whom desires what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the last resort economic, circumstances (either his own personal circumstances or those of society in general) — do not attain what they want, but are merged into an aggregate mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each contributes to the resultant and is to this extent included in it.”
Engels Letter To Block 1890
Our task as Marxists is not to act as gamblers on the historical process, betting that, in this or that instance, this or that result is more likely, and simply standing on the sidelines waiting to see if our horse does in fact cross the line first. That is the position of various sectarians such as the SPGB. Nor is it to conclude that our horse in the race has no chance of victory, and simply limit ourselves to supporting some other horse that might have a better chance, merely on the basis of our hostility towards the favourite. That, in practice is the position of the various Third Campists, who having given up on the revolutionary potential of the working-class look to some other group to carry their banner.
In fact, its not surprising that these two sides of the third camp coin arrive at this position. Both stem from a collapse into a deep pessimism in the 1930's by their predecessors. That pessimism was itself both a function of the defeats of the working-class during that time, and of the fact that these predecessors were unable to counter that by their grounding in Marxist theory. They were unable to do that, because in reality they did not utilise Marxist methodology, but a bourgeois subjectivist methodology.James Burnham. Burnham, never accepted the fundamental bases of Marxism, Historical Materialism and Dialectics. The other main leader of the petit-bourgeois trend within the movement, Max Shachtman, although nominally a Marxist, had been criticised by Trotsky even during the 1920's and early 30's as a sloppy thinker, a journalist prepared to hitch his wagon to other people's theoretical horse, and to defend them polemically.
The bourgeois, subjectivist methodology they adopted led them into all kinds of mistakes, and, ungrounded in Marxist theory, they were left responding to each event as it occurred – indeed this “common sense”, “practical politics” was central to their theory. Because it was subjectivist, it led them to base themselves not in the reality of situations grounded in material foundations, but instead to base themselves on superficial appearances.
But, in his analysis of the Third Camp, Trotsky also provides the answer as to why its adherents now are so despondent in relation to the revolutionary role of the working-class, and why they seek only to ameliorate its condition.Von Mises going back to the 1920's, and in Frederick Hayek's 1940 book “The Road To Serfdom”, not only is the same idea elaborated, that the establishment of large organisations be they private or public Monopolies – both of which are seen to be a function of the intervention of the State in the operation of the free market – leads to the establishment of special interests and the rising to power of individuals based on patronage and privilege rather than merit, but Burnham himself is cited by Hayek for having arrived at this conclusion.Ralf Dahrendorf, who, like Hayek, was based at the London School of Economics.
Some of today's proponents of the Third Camp, such as the AWL, refer to a sentence by Trotsky in response to Burnham, which they claim shows that Trotsky himself was moving towards the idea of Bureaucratic Collectivism. But, of course, they take this sentence completely out of context, thereby distorting its meaning entirely. The sentence they quote says,
“Some comrades evidently were surprised that I spoke in my article (The USSR in the War) of the system of “bureaucratic collectivism” as a theoretical possibility.”
Again and Once More Again on the Nature of the USSR.
In fact, this section is very interesting in relation to what I have already said about the Marxist approach to history. Trotsky goes on to say,
“The Marxist comprehension of historical necessity has nothing in common with fatalism. Socialism is not realizable “by itself,” but as a result of the struggle of living forces, classes and their parties. The proletariat’s decisive advantage in this struggle resides in the fact that it represents historical progress, while the bourgeoisie incarnates reaction and decline. Precisely in this is the source of our conviction in victory. But we have full right to ask ourselves: What character will society take if the forces of reaction conquer?”
The originator of the Third Campist theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism, Burnham, of course, drew the logical conclusion, and those like Dahrendorf endorse it in their own way.
“I endeavored to demonstrate in my article The USSR in the War that the perspective of a non-worker and non-bourgeois society of exploitation, or “bureaucratic collectivism,” is the perspective of complete defeat and the decline of the international proletariat, the perspective of the most profound historical pessimism."
And in that earlier document The USSR In War, Trotsky spells out the implications of that.
“The disintegration of capitalism has reached extreme limits, likewise the disintegration of the old ruling class. The further existence of this system is impossible. The productive forces must be organized in accordance with a plan. But who will accomplish this task – the proletariat, or a new ruling class of “commissars” – politicians, administrators and technicians? Historical experience bears witness, in the opinion of certain rationalizers that one cannot entertain hope in the proletariat. The proletariat proved “incapable” of averting the last imperialist war although the material prerequisites for a socialist revolution already existed at that time.
An analogous result might occur in the event that the proletariat of advanced capitalist countries, having conquered power, should prove incapable of holding it and surrender it, as in the USSR, to a privileged bureaucracy.
If the second prognosis proves to be correct, then, of course, the bureaucracy will become a new exploiting class. However onerous the second perspective may be, if the world proletariat should actually prove incapable of fulfilling the mission placed upon it by the course of development, nothing else would remain except openly to recognize that the socialist program based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended as a Utopia. It is self evident that a new “minimum” program would be required for the defense of the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic society.
But are there such incontrovertible or even impressive objective data as would compel us today to renounce the prospect of the socialist revolution? That is the whole question.”
It is clear that the adherents of the Third Camp have in practice followed Burnham at least part of the way already. Although, they retain the Maximum Demands for Socialist Revolution in their programmes, and publish theoretical pamphlets discussing the issue and organise annual Day Schools to discuss how these things might apply on paper, when it comes to day to day activity or responding to real events, it is clear that they have essentially given up on the idea of Socialist Revolution, at least for a very long time, if not altogether. Instead of the working-class occupying centre stage in the historical process the Third Campists instead act as cheerleaders for other forces, or look to those other forces to act, even to act on behalf of the workers.
So the “statification of the productive forces” is no longer something that has to be done by the working-class itself as part of a revolutionary transformation of society, but can be achieved within Capitalist Society, by Capitalist Governments and under the auspices of the Capitalist State.
In short, our task as Marxists is to reject all of these petit-bourgeois approaches that limit the aspiration and role of the working-class, and tie its fortunes to those of some other social group.
Forward To Part 2