Thursday, 24 January 2008

Critique of the AWL on Socialist Action

"The argument between SA and Workers' Liberty is in part: what is most important - workers' self-activity and independent organisation, or nationalised property relations?

Why did Stalinist Eastern Europe collapse?"

This is a strange counter-position surely. If the question is "What was the class nature of x state" then this can only be determined by looking at the relations of production for a Marxist. Certainly bouregois and subjectivist sociologists and political scientists might look at the more superficial features of a state such as the formal levels of democracy and so on, but for a Marxist these features are just that superficial, and subjective. There is formally more democracy, and more self-activity in say Britain than there was in the USSR does this mean that Britain was in some sense a Workers State. In the 18th century Britain's natural economy gave great freedom to peasants to arrange their own economic affairs, and to workers as artisans precisely because such workers and peasants DID own their own means of production, but could this self-activity tell us anything about the class nature of the state? Of course not.

Nor can the fact of nationalised or non-nationalised property be determinate, because it depends on class relations. A society in which all means of production were owned by workers and managed co-operatively would tend to create a workers state, yet there is no requirement that the workers should give up their own ownership in favour of nationalised property. Property could be nationalised, and yet have been nationalised by a Capitalist class. What was distinctive in the USSR was precisely the fact that the exploiting classes had been liquidated prior to the transformation of property relations, and that in Eastern Europe a similar liquidation of these exploiting classes took place.

It might not fit the ideal picture of what a Workers State should look like, but reality often does not turn out to look that way we hoped. The job for a Marxist is not to turn their face against the ugliness of reality, but to analyse the nature of the disfigurement, to understand its causes the better to treat it, and to avoid the causes in future.

“Socialist Action (no 6, Feb-March 1990): "The creation by Gorbachev of conditions for Germany's reunification into a single united imperialist state sets the seal on the catastrophic course on which he has led the international working class movement." Talking of Gorbachev in this way, as if he is a leader of the international working class, is as sensible as describing Margaret Thatcher as a leader of the international workers' movement. SA take Gorbachev at his word: that he is a socialist leader. SA's problem with Gorbachev is: "from the beginning [Gorbachev worked for a] turn to a closer collaboration with imperialism."

However, "any accommodation to [imperialism], or weakness, leads not to peace, stability and advance for the left but to greater aggression by imperialism". This is a simple prescription to turn the socialists into advocates for the most aggressive, hawkish Stalinists.

The first part of this is correct though not absolutely correct. The Soviet bureuacracy held a position essentially the same as Trotsky pointed out as do the Trade Union bureuacracy in the Labour Movement. Trotsky’s attitude in that regard followed on from Lenin’s when Trotsky submitted his resolution to the Politburo over the Anglo-Russian Committee. Trotsky argued that Marxists support such leaders in so far as they are being pushed forward by the mass of the working class. We cannot deny the reality that such leaders ARE the leaders of the mass of workers despite often being the hangmen of workers struggles, unreliable, self-serving and so on. It is that latter point that marxists have to always point up to the mass of workers even at those times when they form a bloc with the leaders. But these leaders are the leaders of organisations and structures to which the mass of workers remain tied, and in order to make a United Front with the workers Marxists have to sometimes make blocs with those organisations DESPITE the leaders, in the case of Trade Unions and parties even of the most reactionary kind have even to work as members of them.

Trotsky’s works up to his last are replete with such criticisms of Stalin’s policy for not being adequate in revolutionary proletarian terms because however much certain Ultra-Left elements in his own organisation might have felt that because THEY recognised the bankruptcy of the Stalinists it was sufficient to simply write them off, many workers still did not do so, still had not written them off, still saw the Stalinists as the actual leaders. It is ultra-Left lunacy then in 1989 to pretend that a few thousand Trotskyists worldwide represent the world working class leadership as opposed to the fact that millions of workers around the world in so far as they look for a workers leadership looked to the Soviet leaders. Yet, of course it is right to criticise SA for writing as though Gorbachev the bureuacrat would do any different than a TU bureuacrat that at every opportunity looks to do a sweetheart deal with the class enemy in order to gain a quiet life.

And it is for this latter reason that the last sentence of the AWL’s makes no sense. Every militant DOES know that trying to do such deals only encourages the bosses to make greater demands, sees it as a sign of weakness, and that was precisely the way Reagan and Thatcher saw Gorbachev’s weakness. To recognise that does not commit you to supporting “Stalinist Hawks” in the sense of supporting “Workers Bomb” type theories, or greater ruthlessness against workers, anymore than opposing doing sweetheart deals with bosses commits you to supporting the hotheads that might want to burn down the factory or smash equipment during a strike, or support those that would want to curtail democracy in the union in order that the views of the leadership went unchallenged under cover of showing a United Front.

“Yes, and the crushing of the Soviet workers by Stalinism led to the emergence of Stalinist imperialism and the over-running of Eastern Europe - but imperialism for SA is something only capitalist states are capable of.”

But as Trotsky pointed out to Burnham and Shachtman the term “Imperialism” means something specific to Marxists. There have been many “Imperialisms” thoughout history, but to treat them all the same is to make the same mistake that Marx accuses the bouregois economists of making – in fact not a mistake in some cases but a deliberate effort to blur distinctions – in relation to Capital by defining all types of machinery throughout history as “Capital” irrespective of the relations of production at the time. That a Workers State might invade another country is not impossible – Lenin argued strongly in favour of the invasion of Poland – and might arise for many reasons, but the reasons will not be the same as those which drive Capitalist imperialism inexorably in that direction, even for a Deformed Workers State. This blurring of Marxist distinctions is a very worrying facet of the AWL’s politics visible in many of its writings in relation to the State, and soemthing it is clearly driven to as were Burnham and Shactman beforehand in order to make their theory fit reality. But as I have pointed out elsewhere it is a strange kind of imperialism which rather than draining resources from its colonies actually pumps its own lifeblood into them as the USSR did into Eastern Europe, Vietnam, China (initially), Angola, Cuba and into the many national liberation movements around the world it supported.

”SA make their support for democratic change in the USSR conditional and they judge Gorbachev's policy by a ridiculous yardstick: "Any shift in the Soviet Union in a leftwards direction would involve a rapid expansion of democracy. But it is absurd to believe such democratisation is itself a left wing shift because it can occur for quite different reasons. If, say, Gorbachev had accompanied democratisation in the USSR with stepped up aid to Cuba and Nicaragua, or the launching of a deeper international campaign against apartheid we would have been dealing with a left wing development."

I agree this is confused. The first part is undoubtedly correct. An extension of democracy is not of itself left-wing. It depends upon the nature of this democracy, and what is driving it. An extension of bourgeois forms of democracy pushed forward by the middle-class or sections of the bureaucracy seeking a capitalist restoration would not be left-wing, and would tend to marginalise workers. An extension of factory and workplace democracy introduced as a result of direct activity by workers for such demands, and feeding through the ordinary worker members of the Party would have been a left-wing development, however, and would have strengthened workers against the former tendencies. Why such democratisation can only be viewed as left-wing if it coupled with increased support for Nicaragua or Cuba is not at all clear other than for the fact that these two were SA’s pet Stalinist States.

”What a mess. Gorbachev was a reforming Stalinist leader - but a reformer whose 'reforms' aimed to aid the ruling class he was the leading representative of. He was not capable of a 'left' policy of any type - because, fundamentally, 'left' and 'right' are judged by an attitude towards the working class (for SA 'left' and 'right' are mainly functions of more or less aggressive policy towards the US and 'imperialism'). Gorbachev's relationship to the Russian workers was that of a reforming Tsar trying to sort out the mess the ruling elite found itself in. His aim was to make the workers pay for the crisis through speed-ups, unemployment, factory closures; 'democratisation' was limited and was intended as a mechanism which could help Gorbachev's system work better - for Gorbachev and the Russian bureaucrats and against the workers. If 'left' and 'right' have any meaning here Gorbachev's policy is another variant of a right-wing policy.”

But this is a worse mess. Why could Gorbachev not have been seen to be following a Left or Right course any more than Trotsky described the zig-zags of Stalin as following a Right or left course??? This makes no sense. Even a Tory Governemtn can be said to be following a course which veers to either the Right or the left so why, other than their pathological rather than Marxist approach to Stalinism, could such descriptions not be applied to Gorbachev?

And yes of course Gorbachev was trying to sort out the mess, but just as in the 1920’s the mess could be sorted out by a Left or a Right course. It is surely legitimate for Marxists to point out that the leader of a huge country that is looked to by millions of workers around the world for leadership is heading down a course which is in the wrong direction! And repeating the mantras about the idea was to make the workers pay, and so on because this was a new ruling class merely betray a lack of detailed knowledge. Firstly, the idea that some new ruling class existed in the USSR is clearly nonsense as I have demonstrated many times previously. Every previous ruling class in history has been centuries in the making. It has had to accrue ownership of themeans of production beneath it, and on that basis over generations develop the class solidarity, and class conscioussness necessary to take, and then hold power. The more dynamic such a class, the more cohesive it is socially the more facility with which it is able to achieve this. That is why as Marx points out the Peasantry although it owned its own means of production, was a massive social class with great potential power could never become the ruling class because it lacked the social cohesion, and the dynamism of say the bourgeoisie to achieve it. The main candidate for such a new class in the USSR – though the proponents of these theories ever specify exactly who this class was because any attempt to actaully name it falls apart like dust in the wind on contact with reality – the bureuacracy were none of these things. They neither owned the means of production – nor were even capable of passing CONTROL from one generation to the next, they were far from dynamic, and they were not only lacjing in any kind of social cohesion, but suffered considerable necessary antagonisms between different sections. Yet we are asked to believe that this new class emerged from nowhere overnight – just by coincidence at the time Lenin dies – and in just two years take power for themselves!!!! Now for a Marxist such a miraculous feat unknown previously in human history would have to signify that the social force acghieving this was something truly remarkable, something truly dynamic and progressive. But no we are told that this force is in fact less dynamic, less progressive even than the bouregoisie.

But anyone that has actually studied the USSR in detail knows that the picture painted does not meet the reality anyway. Like any Trade Union bureuacrat the Stalinists looked to their own interests, but also like any TU burueacrat they had to look to the social base on which they rested. The various schemes in the post-war period particularly Khruschev’s so called Hare Brained schemes had nothing to do with screwing the workers. They were genuine if half baked schemes designed to generally improve productivity – in Khrushev’s case agricultural productivity because he was udner pressure from the peasantry – the consequence of whch would have been to increase the output of consumer goods the major beneficiary of which would have been the working class. And Soviet Planners attempted all kinds of schemes to ensure that production met the needs of workers, including the establishment of Committees of workers to act as Consumer Panels etc. who tested western consumer products in an attempt to match the latest fads and fashions. There was no mechanism within the Soviet economy that drove the bureuacrats to exploit workers more intensely to drive up Surplus Value as there is under capitalism because there was no production of Surplus Value. Like every other state burueacracy in history the Stalinist burueacracy lived not from Capital, not from the extraction of Surplus Value, but from Revenue. And like every social group that lives off revenue there is a desire to see the total product the total quantity of Use Values produced increased, because it is that increase which enables a more lavish lifestyle to be enjoyed. To that extent the interests of the burueaucracy and the interests of the workers were the same, the contradiction between them arises not from the necessary contradiction of exploiter and exploited as is the case under Capitalism, but from the desire to maintain control, and thereby maximise the share of the Use Values being distributed. It is a subjective not an objective contradiction.

The next section of the AWL’s critique rightly rips apart SA’s cringeing in support of the Romanian Stalinists, but it says,

“This last sentence is particularly revealing: SA assume the role of advisor to the 'liberal' wing of the ruling elite - helpfully suggesting a policy for the Front; SA tell their readers that the "guiding light" of a workers' state's policy is to make "concessions" to the workers! Isn't the "guiding light" of a workers' state to be a state of the workers? And how much sense does it make to talk of a workers' state making concessions to the workers?!”

Well of course that is true of a healthy workers state, but no one would claim that Stalinists states WERE healthy workers states, and anyone wanting to cure the sickness would obviously want to do so by moving them in the right direction. But the AWL’s criticism would have more grip were they themselves not still in thrall to Leninism. Perhaps they could have given their advice to Lenin and Trotsky at Kronstadt for instance, or in response to Lenin’s statement to Kollontai and the Workers Opposition that if they really believed in their criticisms they should be voicing them guns in hand.

And in relation to much of the other discussion in this section it is important to acknowledge that we now know – because the CIA have admitted it – that huge amounts of money and resources was pumped into Eastern Europe to support petit-bourgeois organisations, to help print leaflets and newspapers and so on. True such activity can only really take off if there is some tinder for it to light, but the nature of mass movements is not necessarily rational – just look at the way angry mobs gather when they get a rumour of a paedophile on an estate – and in the absence of organised socialist forces to direct the class it is not difficult for some organised force to put itself at the head of a mob. That they were able to do this is not the sad thing, the sad thing is that in 80 years the Marxist movement throughout the world had through its sectarianism so divorced istelf from the working class that it was unable to provide any kind of pole of attraction for the workers of Eastern Europe when they needed it.

On Imperialism

I broadly agree with the AWL’s criticism of SA and the other idiot-anti-imperialists. I disagree with the way the AWL increasingly have moved away from that correct position to one of “Idiot Imperialism” a class neutral view of the state in which they make calls upon imperialism to act progressively in the same manner that they above criticised SA for doing the same thing in relation to Stalinism.

In a conflict such as that between the US and Saddam Hussein Marxists must oppose their own imperialism and work for its defeat, but that does not at all mean they have to side with a Saddam Hussein, any more than they had to side with Galtieri as a concomitant to opposing Thatcher and working for the defeat of her forces in the Falklands. The job of Marxists, particularly those inside the country being invaded is to oppose the invasion by mobilising the truly revolutionary forces as the most ardent fighters, and by pointing out why the forces of other classes cannot be relied upon to wage such a fight, why they will always seek to make some kind of deal with imperialism, and so on.

In Kuwait the background seems fairly clear. The US had sought to weaken its main rival in the area – Iran – by promoting Iraq as its client. In the Iran-Iraq war Iraq showed itself incapable of being a reliable agent for US imperialism. Faced with a growing threat to its main ally in the region – Saudi Arabia – from Al Qaeda, the US needed to ensure its own military domination of the region, and with the USSR now not in the equation to prevent the US exercising its imperialist power unrestrained it set about doing so. It required a pretext. Iraq had already been complaining to the Arab league for some time about Kuwait stealing Iraqi oil by tapping into Iraqi oil deposits from inside Kuwait. The complaints were going nowhere in resolving the situation. Iraq called in the US Ambassador to outline their intention to take military action if the issue was not resolved and sought the US blessing. What proceeded was typical US policy. In the 1950’s the dominant imperialist powers in the Middle East were still Britain and France. When Britain asked the US unofficially to give them the nod for the invasion of Suez the US gave them the wink to a blind horse. As soon as the Suez crisis erupted France and Britain’s position in the Middle East was undermined, and the US was able to step in as the good anti-imperialist. When the US Ambassador was called in by Iraq they simply stated that the matter was a local affair of no concern to the US. Of course, once the invasion took place the US obtained the pretext it required for its own invasion. And we know that the US sought a similar pretext this time round for establishing its long term presence in Iraq, a pretext obtained through nine-eleven and the conscious misrepresentation of information.

”This is disgusting stuff - SA fade out the question of Saddam, the "murdering butcher", as 'historically insignificant' and back Iraq simply because it is a smaller power than the US. Moreover, the US and Britain have installed regimes in Arab countries before - e.g. the Jordanian monarchy - and it is difficult to imagine that such a regime, or any other government they might replace Saddam's rule with, could possibly be as bad as the current regime - for "the Arab people" or anyone else.”

Yes it is, but unfortunately for the AWL, which now equally disgustingly for Marxists, looks to a progressive imperialism, to carry out the progressive tasks, they have lost faith in the working class being able to accomplish, the reality of Iraq is that they HAVE created a regime far worse than Saddam Hussein’s. A regime that rests upon the Imperialist Occupation whose actions the AWL tell us they deplore, but don’t deplore enough to call for it to end.
”However these are different wars. Japan had invaded China with the intention of occupying large parts; the Chinese nationalists' war aimed to kick Japan out of Chinese territory. Iraq, on the other hand had not been invaded and was not seeking to expel a powerful neighbour. SA get it wrong because their parallel is not a parallel.”

But Iraq was occupied by imperialism, and no fly zones were imposed in the North and South. The whole country was not occupied reportedly on the request of the Saudis who feared further unrest should it happen, a fear which the current colonial policy has unleashed.

“SA see the Gulf war as "the first of a new wave of North-South wars, wars conducted by imperialism against the consequences of its economic destruction of the semi-colonial world...[the] period could be dubbed a new era of direct colonialism." (SA no. 8, pg. 4). This prediction, like virtually every prediction made by SA, has been proved wrong. There has been no return to "direct colonialism".
But in actual fact that prediction has turned out not to be so far out. The US has established a colonial regime in Iraq. The US now has three huge bases in Iraq which are clearly there for the long-term, and are intended to constitute the US means of controlling Iraq. These bases are so big that the largest one has an airport only exceeded by Heathrow, and which furnishes what is effectively a US City on Iraqi soil.

That is not to say that imperialism is going to adopt colonialisim as its modus operandi as SA suggest, I don’t think it is. The preferred method of operation is still via bouregois democracies because that has much lower overheads. But increasingly, as economic growth accelerates, and new dynamic economic powers like China, India Russia and Brazil develop with a huge hunger for resources, the US will be led to move from its current move towards Protectionism towards outright grabs for resources where it cannot outbid its rivals. The current US outposts established in the Stans are the front runners of that policy as is the current arming of its main client Saudi Arabia with the latest equipment.

”1. "The regime of capital accumulation in the third world is thoroughly disrupted. Under these conditions local ruling classes cannot be counted upon to be stable enough to guarantee imperialist interests for a prolonged period. With no stable regime of accumulation in the third world the imperialist economies [economies?] are forced once more in the direction of substituting their own direct military intervention...

"The result is a massive reinforcement of direct imperialist military force in the third world. A process of 'recolonisation' of the third world has begun."

2. The next state to receive the same treatment as Iraq is likely to be Cuba, "the Pentagon must be reconsidering the possibilities of a successful military strike against Cuba."

3. No Israeli-Palestinian deal is possible, "of even the most token kind."
"Israel has no intention of making such a deal and the US will not compel it. Confronted with this situation the Israeli regime is likely to start gearing itself up for another war to try to weaken its enemies - this time almost certainly with Syria." And, (SA no. 9, Winter 1990), "Syria's present course of allying with imperialism is strategically suicidal."

4. "There will be a political crisis in the US" due to America's inability to fund the war, and "a US heading into recession has been struck a further blow." (Can the imperialist economies take the strain?, SA no. 7, Summer 1990).
All four of these predictions have been proved utterly wrong. There has been no process of recolonisation of the third world. Regimes in the third world have been, on the whole, more stable than in previous decades. Cuba has not been invaded. Israel has struck a deal, and there has been no Israeli-Syrian war. The US has not gone into political crisis and its economy has not slumped, it has boomed in the 90s. All rubbish.”


So if we take point 1) the invasion of Iraq and its direct rule by US imperialism didn’t happen then? On 2) well no attack on Cuba yet, but despite increasing moves by European and Canadian Capital towards Cuba the US has, and probably partly because of the above relations of Europe and Canada, tightened its sanctions, and supports terrorist acts against Cuba. On 3) no deal has been reached as far as I am aware, and in fact a two states deal looks more a dead duck now than it ever has. On the back of the US invasion of Iraq, and with the USSR out of the picture Israel did provoke the Intifada, and did invade Lebanon. Finally, on 4)The US economy certainly did go into another recession in 1991, and the increase in oil prices made it worse, and the consequence was that George H. Bush lost the election because in the words of Bill Clinton “It was the economy stupid.”

So without in anyway wanting to support SA in what way were these predictions all proved wrong? In what way were they all rubbish??? If you are going to criticise someone’s position at least have the Marxist honesty to do it on the basis of the facts.

“Of course a colonial people, even led by reactionaries, should be supported in a struggle for self-determination and freedom. That is a basic duty of socialists.”

Unless of course the people are in Iraq where you have tied your fortune to the hope that the imperialist occupation might act progressively, in which case you have to cover your arse by arguing that the people’s struggle against the Occupying power is not really a struggle for national liberation precisely because it is led by “reactionaries” who have to then somehow be passed off as not being part of “the people” at all. In that case self-determination apparently runs through opposing the removal of the colonial power.

“1. "Open a period of the most extreme international reaction, pose a new, qualitative, threat to a large part of the historical gains of the world working class, and that of the peoples oppressed by imperialism."

2. "Unleash a wave of racism that would engulf Europe and probably shatter the framework of liberal politics."

3. "[The imperialists] would attempt to eliminate the welfare state."

4. "In Eastern Europe a new wave of capitalist dictatorship would set in... which would pose a long-term threat to democracy in Western Europe."

5. And if the "Russian Revolution" is "defeated" the consequence would be imperialism re-spreading like a cancer through the world. Moreover, say SA, imperialism would have a new weapon, nuclear weapons, to impose its rule.
The "destruction of the Russian Revolution would re-ignite the open contest of the imperialist powers for the division of the world... [and] a nuclear arms race between the US, Europe and Japan."

Now, in 1999, we can easily draw up a balance sheet of SA's 'perspectives'. And we can conclude that SA's comment was hysterical, babbling nonsense.”

But in 2008 we can draw up another and conclude that perhaps it was not.

1) We have seen the election of a Bush government as the most right-wing government in the US for many years perhaps even more right-wing than that of Reagan. We have seen the growth throughout Europe of outright fascist organisations and even the participation in Austria and Holland of fascist and racist parties in Government. We have seen the development by the US Neo-cons of the theory of the New American Century Project whose goal is to achieve multi spectral dominance of the globe. We have seen increasing tendencies to genocidal warfare around trhe globe. We have seen the US with British support launch an illegal war in contravention of the United Nations,a nd the acceptance as a result of the principal of pre-emption in warfare.

2) We have indeed seen racism and anti-semitism rise dramatically throughout Europe as stated above, including the development of ultra nationalist parties throughout Eastern Europe sometimes even parties achieving governmental power on the basis of nationalistic and racist rhetoric for example in Poland and Hungary.

3) Well the imperialists might not yet have succeeded in eliminating the welfare state, but I would be interested to know if the AWL no longer believe their own propaganda to the effect that they are having a bloody good go at it.

4) Well some of the dictatorships (including those that pass themselves off as democratic) are capitalist, certainly many of those in the Gold Rush region of Central Asia appear to fit that description. I wouldn’t describe Putin’s Dictatorship as capitalist it is pretty much straight forward Stalinist, but its actions certainly do seem to be a threat to other European democracies.

5) I’m not sure what SA mean by “Imperialism” here they seem to confuse it with Colonialism to which I have spoken above. As for “Imperialism” proper their seems little doubt that globalisation represents the spread of Capitalism in a much deeper and wider context thatn previously, and part of the reason for this is that in the absence of backing for nationalist movements, and given the weakness of the working class internationally domestic bouregoisies in developing countries have been able to introduce bouregois democracy more widely,and thereby create the basic conditions required for efficient capital accumulation.

“It is not true … or that there is a new "open contest" for the redivision of the world, or that there is a nuclear arms race between Japan, Europe and the US.”

Really? There are calls in Japan for the Constitution to be changed so that its military can be used in warfare, and even for the ban on possessing nuclear weapons to be lifted. Central Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and increasingly Africa are the focus of huge battles between particularly China and the US over access to resources. Despite its dire economic position the US continues to devote huge sums to armaments including development of Star Wars 2 including its provocative deployment on the borders of Russia.

“Although racism continues in Europe, the form it takes - currently focused on asylum seekers - is internal to Europe”

No its not there is increasing racism in the US against Latin immigrants. There is increasing anti-semitism both in Europe and the US.

”and as if the Chinese market reforms had not led to great misery for millions of Chinese people and are not bound up with a great increase in unemployment, the creation of gigantic special economic zones where even the minimal workers' rights which exist elsewhere in China are scrapped, the closure of factories, the creation of a new very rich capitalist elite.”

Its certainly true that there was considerable unemployment caused by the privatisation of some of the Chinese SOE’s, but far less than occurred as a result of the privatisations and economic chaos brought about by Yeltsin’s counter-revolution that the AWL supported. But unlike the aftermath of Yeltsin’s counter-revolution the reality in China is that employment grew massively with millions of new workers being drawn into employment with real wages rising at around 10% per year! And its on the back of that that Chinese workers have gained in strength and confidence for some of the recent battles they have undertaken.

The last sentence also seems to give us a glimpse at the kind of contradiction the AWL find themselves in. In the “Capitalist” sector of the economy we are told workers do not have any rights yet in the “State Capitalist”/Bureuacratic Collectivist” sector they do, though minimal. Yet we are told that Capitalism is progressive compared to the new class mode of production introduced by the Stalinists!

”SA advocate a policy for Russia which has been tried in China, by the Chinese bureaucrats, in the interests of the Chinese bureaucrats, which has been a disaster for many millions of Chinese workers.”

I doubt the many millions of Chinese workers and former peasants who now for the first time in their lives find themselves owning houses, driving cars, owning TV’s, computers and all the gizmos western consumers enjoy, and for many even looking at the possibility of foreign holidays would agree that ist been such a disaster. I was talking to someone a while ago whose Mother in Law lives in China. Despite being on a fairly low wage she still manages to save 20% of her income.
”Of course a real workers' government in a former Stalinist state might well introduce some market relations - as part of the process of clearing up the mess left by the bureaucrats. But this would be under the direction of the working class as a whole, in the interests of the workers, with the rights and living standards of the workers protected.”

This is moralistic nonsense of the type Marx argued against in the Critique of the Gotha Programme. Market relations by their nature cannot be under the control of anyone or they are not market relations. Its possible to take some areas of the economy out of the market sector – as for example capitalism does where its efficient to do so as with healthcare – but other commodities are either marketised or they are not. If you try to introduce controls then you end up with all the kinds of contradictions and distortions that the USSR faced in the 1920’s,a nd that capitalist economies have faced under wage and price controls. It is a recipe for disaster. Workers can through their own direct ownership of the means of production in co-operative enterprises gradually integrate their activities and forward plans in order to slowly replace the market with democratic planning as and when the technique and ability to do so arises, but to suggest that its possible to simply plan democratically or otherwise (in fact doing it democratically would technically be even more difficult because of the problems of the tyranny of democracy in planning) most of a complex economy from scratch is cloud cuckoo land. And to suggest that this could be done whilst at the same time protecting “the rights and living standards of the workers” is fantasy. Every new mode of production goes through a period during which living standards fall, and where the level of production itself falls. As Marx says in the CGP “Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society”, and to suggest that you can in a Stalinist state – all of which were economically backward – guarantee socialist rights to workers is to write a cheque that is destined to bounce.

”Rather than arguing for international workers' unity across national frontiers, in opposition to the managers, remnants of the old Soviet ruling class and international capitalists, SA propose popular front class collaboration in defence of "Russia" and "Russian industry".

This is exactly the sort of nonsense that we often have to combat in the British labour movement - that British workers have an interest in uniting with their managers and bosses in defence of British industry against foreign competition.”

But the AWL assume what has to be proved here that what exists is a new ruling class. The more appropriate analogy is that given by Trotsky that of the TU bureuaucracy, and the fact is that Marxists would form a common front even with a reactionary TU bureaucracy to the extent that it fought alongside workers and was pushed on by them. That was Trotsky’s critique against the ultra-lefts that rejected such an approach. But of course, yes the TU bureuacrats too would fight in their own way, which is why the Marxists advise the workers even whilst marching alongside them to watch their backs to keep their political independence, and be ready to strike out on their own.

The rest of the article which continues to ramble on is a justification for the AWL’s collapse into Shachtmanite petit-bouregois socialism, and a critique of orthodox Trotskyism. The lack of Marxism is indicated by statements such as,

”Of course state ownership simply begs the question: who 'owns' the state?
For a Marxist, the concept "workers' state" can only be meaningful if the working class holds state power, consciously, through its own organisations.
SA have come to believe that workers' states can be created by militarised Stalinist parties, which are simultaneously anti-capitalist and anti-working class - totalitarian workers' states where the workers have far fewer rights and less control over the state than do the workers in capitalist Britain.”

But for a Marxist this is wrong from start to finish. A Marxist does not look first at the ideological and political superstructure but at the material base on which that superstructure arises i.e. looks at the economic and social relations, at what classes exist in society, and which through its economic and social position is the dominant class. It is that which determines which is the ruling class even if that class does not at the particular moment exercise political power in its own name. The working class whatever the AWL might want to claim is no different than any other class in history. Leninist theory portrays it that way because on the back of such a theory Leninism justifies the need for a revolutionary party that wins political power on behalf of the working class PRIOR to such a social transformation, thereby relegating the working class to the role of foot-soldier in its political revolution, and humble recipient of the Party’s favours after the completion of that revolution. It is a thoroughly unMarxist and elitist theory that has no foundation in the writings of Marx himself who argued instead for the working class to make itself the dominat economic and social class through the establishment by its own hand of workers co-operatives, spread throughout the economy, and the development on the back of that material foundation of socialist class conscioussness, and an alternative workers power and democracy. IN this Marxist perspective there is no room at any point for the development of any burueacracy or elite holding state power separate from the workers as a class that can develop into the abscess that Leninism became in the form of Stalinism.

The AWL do not explain why the concept “Workers State” can only be meaningful if the workers hold power themselves consciously through their own organisations any less than can a bouregois state be a bourgeois state without the bouregoisie themselves necessarily holding power in that way – of which history knows many examples – nor do they explain how they can then define the USSR in its early years under Lenin as being such a Workers State, when in fact none of the conditions they outline as a requirement existed either!!!

Nor do they explain why a Workers State cannot be established by means of an armed intervention – that after all was Lenin’s intention in invading Poland! As Lenin himself pointed out history has known many forms of social transformation, why the AWL believe they alone understand the sole means by which a Workers State can be created is a mystery. As Trotsky pointed out in relation to the Stalinist invasion of Poland Marxists may well oppose such an invasion as being reactionary because it strengthens the idea of bureuacratic revolution, and weakens the principle of independent workers action, but that does not prevent the consequences of such an action having a progressive result. Imperialism’s action in colonising India was reactionary, yet the consequence of that action, the destruction of old moribund economic and social forms, and the introduction of capitalism was historically progressive.

The facts come down to these both the orthodox, post-Trotsky Trotskysist and the Shachtmanite anti-Trotsky Trotskyists had to find a way of squaring an awkward circle. Both had to explain the degeneration into Stalinism whilst retaining their support of Leninism. The Orthodox Trotskyists squared the circle by increasingly turning Stalinism into something that could be reformed. The anti-Trotsky Trotskyists simply wished the problem away, wanting to hide the Stalinist regimes away like a mad auntie in the attic. They simply redefined the problem by declaring the workers states that had been created as not being workers states at all. The AWL apply the same method elsewhere, for example when they define workers in Venezuela as being “careerists” because they do not fit their criteria of what those workers should be like, what they should do, or when they describe workers in the LP as middle class, or when they say they are in favour of self-determination for a people, but not self-determination for an actual people as in Iraq, only their concept of what that people should be. It is the typical castle building of the petit-bourgeois, castles free from any earthly impurity because they are so far up in the air.

See Also:The Nature of the Soviet State


WhiteDwarfStar said...

A response of sorts to Boffy on the USSR as a workers' state:

Boffy said...

Jason, I have some tidying up of hte above piece to do. I wrote it off the cuff last night whilst trawling the very long piece on the AWL Board. The grammar and construction are crap as a result, and there are lots of additional references requires. There are other arguments and clarifications needed, which I left out because I have elaborated them several times elsewhere, and the piece was already excessively long, which couldn't be helped given the length of the original rant.

In response to the piece from Mike McNair which I have only briefly read I would make the following provisional comments, which repeat points I have made in response to USRed before now, and which I will later reference.

1) It is clear throughout history that new property forms can be introduced into societies from outside PROVIDED that such new property forms have originated somewhere first by what might be termed their natural development. For example take Engels arguments on the force theory. Engels argues that ruling classes rule not because of force, but because the economic relations reproduce the ruling class as ruling class as ruling class and the exploited class/es as exploited classes. Slavery then does not arise as a result of some exogenous event to a society, but arises naturally out of the development of the productive forces. A social surplus becomes possible makes slavery possible. The tale of Joseph in the Bible is a good parable of how this happens that members of the original commune become differentiated some grow more powerful others weaker. A situation arises where say in a time of famine the weak have to use up all their resources borrow from trhe richer, until eventually the only thing they have to sell is themselves - but first their children, wives etc. However, once established within the Commune as a mode of production slavery can THEN be introduced into other Tribes from the outside through conquest etc. Feudalism arises from the descendants of the Vikings and Norsemen classically in the Norse descendants in Normandy, and is introduced from the outside to other societies. Capitalism develops in Britain and is introduced to other societies that are forced to adopt that mode of production to remain competitive - Germany, Russia etc. - or else arises through being transplanted on to foreign soil directly by a Capitalist power imperialism - as distinct from Colonialism. As Lenin says social transformation take many forms. If we look at things coldly in Marxist terms we have to decide what are the building blocks of a Workers State? Then can these building blocks be erected by only one method? Can they be erected from outside. This is a different question to what are the condiitons for the creation of socialism.

2)I would argue that the material conditions, the building blocks for a Workers State are that the means of production have been removed from the hands of all other exploiting classes, and that the social roots of these exploiting classes have been torn up. This leaves property remaining in the hands of the only classes still in existence the formerly exploited classes - the working class and peasantry, and petit-bourgeois to an extent. But as we know from Marxist theory upon this material base a whole gamut of political forms can arise dependent upon historical circumstance, the relative strength of the various classes, the development of these productive forces, geography and many more factors. We see the same thing in the many varieties of feudalism, and of Capitalism. It seems unMarxist to expect that the development of Socialism will be different from all these other historical examples.

The point is that those building blocks were laid in the USSR,a nd they were transplanted to other societies from the outside. The old exploiting classes were expropriated, their social roots were torn up, and as a consequence property was left in the hands of the workers and peasants. The exact forms of that property differ, the productive relations differ, the social relations differ - just as they did under slavery and feudalism just as they did and do under capitalism - but the fundamental question for Marxists which class owns the means of production, and therefore exerts social dominion remains the same. For a Marxist property understood in its Marxist sense can only be owned by a class - we have the AMP where property did not exist in the Marxist sense proper, and control of means of production were nominally in the hands of society as a whole and controlled by a state bureuaucratic caste. The form that ownership takes can vary considerably. It may be ownership and control exercised conjointly, or alternatively a class might own the means of production, but because of its weakness and lack of development have to resort to placing or relinquishing control in to the hands of some bureacratic, technocratic or militaristic clique on its behalf. But a look at all such societies shows that the state apparatus draws its membership from the ranks of the new ruling class. As I have demonstrated in relation to the Soviet burueaucracy it cannot even be viewed in the same terms as the Asiatic bureaucratic castes which locked in their membership and control of the means of production through the caste system. The Soviet and Stalinist states recruited each new generation of its members fresh from the ranks of the workers and peasants. Far from being the children of the last generation of high ranking bureuacrats the members of the last Politburo were children of poor peasants, and in several cases even grew up in State orphanages.

That is what Marxist theory tells us should be the case. The state acts as the state of a particular class, because it recruits itself from within that class. The ideas it pursues are the ideas of that class. True once recuited those individuals on assuming a petit-bourgeois lifestyle change their ideas and culture, their outlook, just as does the Trade UNion burueaucrat but all this tells us is that udner the particular conditions this particular state is unhealthy, just as a TU can show the same characteristics.

3)The only alternative is to discover some new exploiting class in the USSR to explain why property has not passed into the hands of the workers and peasants or as Ticktin does posit some non-class society that has no Mode of production. This latter has the problem of then explaining the existence of the State, which in Marxist theory has to be the state of some class! Ultimately, Ticktin's theory comes down to being just a variant of Bureaucratic Collectivism. But all the new class theories are from a a marxist perspective gibberish. The State Capitalist theory is worse than the BC theory because in order to justify itself it has to completely mangle Marx's concepts, to remove all the historical and class content from thos concepts in order to justify its claim that Capital existed in the USSR. But the BC theory is not much better because it asks us to beleive that this wholly new class comes into existence and takes power virtually overnight. No serious attempt is made to delineate the membership of this class because any such attempt crumbles on contact with reality e.g. just look at the social origins of the last Politburo members, look at the composition of the CPSU and so on. Then look at not just the heterogeneity of the "burueaucracy", but the complete and utter fragmentation and contradictory nature of it that you would expect from a social group running into millions of people all with different relations to the means of production. That is before looking at what laws and other aspects of the superstructure were erected, why this new class did not extract the social surplus by the natural means that Engels sets out for other class societies, but DOES require special arrangements to maintain its lifestyle etc., why it is forced to maintain the covering of Marxist phraseology, produce millions of copies of Marxist works, is forced to give huge amounts of its wealth away to the struggles of national liberation movements, and to support other Stalinist states economies etc. None of these things are explicable in terms of State Capitalism or BC, but they are explicable if the Bureaucracy is udnerstood as TRotsky explained it as the same kind of phenomena as the TU burueacracy, self-serving leaching off society through consumption of revenue, coming out of and still tied to its social roots within the working class and peasantry yet separated from it by its position and liefestyle. A contradictory social formation that looks to its own interests, but can do so only by maintaining its links with the working class, and pushing forward the interests of that class in its own distorted, and bureuacratic manner, and suppressing the independent action of that class when it conflicts with its own interests just as does the TU bureuacracy when it acts against its own members.

WhiteDwarfStar said...

Your entire theory rises or falls with the assertion that "The Soviet and Stalinist states recruited each new generation of its members fresh from the ranks of the workers and peasants." I've read contradictory reports on this. At least some Soviet Studies types claimed that the nomenklatura was mostly self-sustaining.

And shouldn't the fundamental Marxist question be not simply who -- in the purely legal/juridical sense -- owns the means of production, but who has real control over the (repressive apparatus of) the state? The bourgeoisie can count on the armed forces of capitalist countries to defend their interests. What control did workers in Stalinist countries ever have over "their" armed forces?

Boffy said...

I don't see how the whole theory sinks or falls on the assertion that the bureaucracy was recruited anew in each generation. The burden is not on me to prove that a new DIDN't exist it is on those who claim that it did to prove their case. They haven't.

But, I keep hearing people say I have heard that the bureaucracy was self-perpetuating, Clive Bradley amde a similar claim some time ago. I issue the same challenge to you that I issued to him. Show us the money. Where are your facts. I have referred to concrete facts not rumours. Of the last Poliburo NONE as far as I can see were the children of former top bureuacrats, indeed of any kind of bureaucrat. Gorbachev was the son of poor peasants. Two members grew up in State Orphanages, and so on.

Moreover, I have given the reference elsewhere to the research and work of Mary Macaulay a one time contributor to Critique, and specialist in Soviet Politics who asserts that there is no evidence that the burueacracy could be defined in any Marxist sense a class, that the so called Brezhnez generation grew up during a period of high social mobility, far higher than in the West, and that indeed the top bureaucrats were recruited from the lowest ranks of society in each generation. I have given the evidence from the book by Sheila Fitzpatrick "The nrezhnev Generation" which gives a detailed account of the fact that these people were drawn from the lower ranks of society.

And as McAulay points out the elite group most likely to be able to reproduce itself through access to education etc. was in fact not the burueacracy, but the intelligentsia See:Who Were the Soviet Ruling Class.

But even if the bureaucracy - whatever that term is taken to mean - were shown to reproduce themselves they lack all of the other characteristics of a class in the Marxist sense.

As for your second point I would say the opposite is the case. I have not made a case in terms of which class had legal/juridical ownership of the means of production, I have made a case based on the Marxist criteria of which CLASS is socially dominant. Now I agree that it may seem odd to claim that the working class is socially dominant when that class is being bludgeoned by a state apparatus, but no more odd than to claim that the Capitalist class was dominant in Nazi Germany. And does anyone doubt that had Germany won the War the capitalist class would at some point have had to undertake a political revolution to remove the Nazis from power?

History is replete with examples of dominant social classes that did not hold political power in their hands - the English bouregoisie under Cromwell, the French under the two Bonapartes and Louis Phillippe, the German under Bismark and Hitler and so on. In Russia Lenin makes clear that the State under Tsarism was a CAPITALIST state even though political power itself rested with the Tsarist aristocracy. It was a capitalist state, because the capitalists already represented the dominant social class, it was bouregois ideas that infused society, and through the myriad social, family, economic and educational connections imbued the intelligentsia and through them into the full-time stae officaldom. It was the constraints of a capitalist economic system which set the conditions udner which political decisions were amde, and so on.

No for a Marxist the starting point is not those suprficial aspects of the superstructre which are decisive, but the bedrock social relations of which classees exist, and which dominate. IN the USSR and eastern Europe the only classes that existed were the working class, the peasantry and petit-bouregoisie. For a marxist the latter two are transitional classes incapable of being a ruling class in their own right. The working class was the dominant social class, and the bureaucracy was a historically encessary excrescencce from it that leached off it, historically encessary due to the undeveloped nature of the Russian proletariat thrust into the position of being the dominant class by the Bolshevik revolution.

WhiteDwarfStar said...

It seems to me that your "socially dominant" remarks fail to deal with McNair's objections from the Weekly Worker piece I posted above, which I'll quote here:

The problem is: what does it mean for the proletariat as a class to ‘own’ the means of production? In relation to the slave-owner, feudal landlord and capitalist classes the answer is perfectly clear. The social relations of production give individual members of these classes, or family groups, private decision-making powers over privately held particular assets (land, cattle, slaves, money, etc) and the streams of surplus which arise from the exploitation of these assets. It is these private decision-making powers which are classified in law as ‘possession’ and ‘ownership’. Their existence means that it can be argued (as Engels does) that a ruling, exploiting class can control a state of any form by directly or indirectly bribing state officials.

But then it is plainly the case that the proletariat as a class cannot ‘own the means of production’ so as to be able to control the state officials by bribery. The nearest approach would be to have a Proudhonist ‘market socialism’, in which worker cooperatives are linked by a market. But, as Marx demonstrated in Capital (and has been proved since then by Yugoslav experiments), such a regime tends to collapse into capitalism by way of competition between the cooperatives under market conditions. The emancipation of the proletariat requires laying collective hands on the means of production as a whole, not merely on particular factories and so on.

Yugoslav-style ‘self-management’ and cooperatives under capitalism have another lesson for us. Nominal worker ownership is merely an empty juridical form as long as the managers are not subordinated to the workers by democratic-republican political forms (freedom of information, election and recallability, term limits, income limits on public officials, and so on). Without these forms, the power of decision, and therefore the true possession of the factory and the surplus (if any) it produces, is in the managers’ hands. In other words, the proletariat as a class cannot be economically dominant except through democratic-republican political forms.

Some of your comments seem a bit off to me in any event. Were capitalists in Nazi Germany being "bludgeoned to death" in the way that workers under Stalinism were? By and large, no; only Jewish capitalists. Capitalists don't NEED democracy to go about capitalist business. Provided they aren't expropriated, they can still find some way to bribe state officials. Workers under Stalinism had no such power. The Stalinist state did not exist to defend workers' power; it existed to repress the entirety of the working class. I think -- and I think this is Tictkin's position too -- that it was a bourgeois state even if the economic system was not capitalist (or "state capitalist" or what have you).

Boffy said...


As I said I only skimmed Mike's piece. I will read it more carefully as soon as I have time. But I think my response, and the newer post I have submitted do answer the points you raise.

1) Ownership clearly does not entail control. Marx makes the point that increasingly and necessarily the social function of the Capitalist was being repalced by the professional Manager, bureaucrat and technocrat that did exercise control. Robin Blackburn in his response to the Post Capitalist theorists such as Dahrendorf explained with facts how it is possible to accept the idea that real control is exercised by such an elite without at all having to accept the conclusions of the Post Capitalist Managerialist theorists.

2)In terms of the State as Lenin argues in "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky" it is in fact very unusual for a class as a whole to exercise control over the State. Such a function is usually deleagted to some section of the ruling class, an elite, a Party and so on. I think there are problems with Lenin's argument here, but that is another matter.

3)You are still left with the problem that I posed for you. If you want to prove to me that the working class WAS NOT the dominant social class then ou have to demonstrate to me that some other class WAS, or else demonstrate a la Ticktin that this was a non society, a non mode of production where no class exercised ownership or control. But:

a) You cannot prove the existence of soem other ruling class the pronents of State Capitalism or Bureaucratic Collectivism continually proclaim its existence, but they are never able to delineate the conditions for membership of this class which is the very least a scientific approach requires, nor are they able to delineate then who the members of this class were besides vague references to "the bureaucracy" a social phenomena that ran into millions of people all with different relations to the means of production non of whom exercised any real control over the means of production apart from a very small number in the Politburo and the Regional Party Chiefs, all fo whose tenure was extremely fragile - particularly under Stalin when they if anything more than an ordinary industrial worker - was likely to end up in the Gulag or shot - all of whom had contradictory and antagonistic interests to other members of the bureaucracy and on and on reasons why this social formation could not constitute a class. Else the term bureaucracy and party are used interchangeably demonstrating that those who put forward this theory had little real udnerstanding of the Soviet system - the Party still had probably a majority of industrial workers, certainly workers in the broad sense made up the majority, and these workers certainly had no control over the means of production.

b)If you want to argue Ticktin's line then please explain how in Marxist terms a state exists - call it bouregois or what you will (in fact Marx says in the CGP that the State udner the Dictatorship of the Proletariat will continue to be bouregois to the extent that society does not immediately have the ability to go beyond bouregois Right - that is not the State of some definite class???

4) Please answer the point that every class known in history has required several centuries to develop to the stage where it is able to become the ruling class, yet this class achieves this task in a couple of years! Explain why it is that any class that achieves such a phenomenal feat would have to be considered one of the most dynamic, most homogenous and class conscioius classes known to history, and therefore historically progressive, yet without fail the new class theorists depict this class as either reactionary or less progressive than the bouregoisie. In Marxist theory if a new Mode of productiona rises no one new class, but two must arise one the double of the other. Serfs and Landlords arise from the differentiation of Clan societies. The working class and Capitalist class arise from the differention of the peasantry. If a new BC class has arisen then what class has been created that doubles it, out of the differentiation of which class do these two arise?

5)Your comments on worker co-operatives I found very strange. In Capital, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, and in his Address to the First International he makes clear that it is precisely through the self-activity of the working class through the establishment of co-operatives that he sees the transformation of society, and in the CGP in particular argues against the idea that such transformation should be conducted from the top down by the State. In Capital he calls not just Co-operatives but Joint Stock Companies - which he clearly saw could be bought up by workers using Commecial Credit - as the transitional form to the new Mode of Production.

Yes of course Marx recognised the dangers of such a transformation, the bourgeoisie faced similar problems in transforming the Mode of Production by the obstacles thrown in its way by the feudal aristocracy, he recognised the problems such forms would face from the huge monopolies, which is why he saw the need for such Co-operatives not to compete against each other as in the Yugoslav model, but to co-operate one with another, and in order to promote such co-operation, and to combat the obstacles that would be palced in the path of such developments what else was required - Class Struggle - and the developmetn of a Workers Party that would direct such struggle, develop the workers conscioussness to forge them closer together, and lead the struggle for conquering State Power. But that is clearly a perspective based on a working class acting in its great majority, acting on the basis of a clear class conscioussness. IT IS NOT the actions of a revolutioanry Party seizing State Power in a Political revolution with the working class fulfilling the role of cannon fodder.

Of course models like the Stalinist model in Yugoslavia result in competition between workers, then, because they do not conform do the model set out by Marx, and why would they?

Did the Nazis bludgeon all the German Capitalists. Clearly not, but they imposed their own interests over the interests of those capitalists in order ultimately to safeguard the existence of Capitalism. Nor were all Soviet workers bludgeoned either. To have done so would inevitably have led to a Civil War. But the point seems to me beside the point. The Nazis gained power because they formed a specific type of Bonapartism arising from the weakness of the German bouregoisie in a stalemate with the workers. The Stalinists formed a similar Bonapartism - though based on different social relations - arising because of the small size and weakness of the Russian Proletariat. Nazism was the price the german bouregoisie paid for its weakness, Stalinism the price paid by the Russian workers for its weakness.

The question of bribing state officials is a red herring. The nature of the State ultimately derives from the social origin of those that make up its membership, the social ties they have to the different classes. The State in Nazi Germany remained staffed and connected to the bouregoisie. the Soviet State was made up and connected to the children of the workers and peasants.

Boffy said...

If we accept the conditions you outline for a Workers State then, of course the reality is that there never was a Workers State in the USSR, because the conditions you set out as being required never existed.

Moreover, there are problems with the traditional TRotskyist version of events.

Take "State and Revolution".

Lenin argues that to prevent bureaucratisaion and so on there should be no Standing Army, but a Militia. But, what is created. A Standing Army. Who argues for the establishment of the Standing Army - Lenin and Trotsky. Who argues against the Standing Army and in favour of a Militia - Stalin.

Lenin Argues that the task of administering the State will be easy, any worker will be able to do it. Reality its not so easy after all - actually the parallel is with those Trotskyists who blithely proclaim that the problems of planning will be overcome by democracy! Lenin's solution. He appoints former Tsarist and bouregois State bureaucrats to run the Stae machinery, and as heads of the Standing Army supervised by Commissars. Just as in industry he invites back the former owners as managers, and invites in foreign Capitalists to provide Capital and expertise.


Take the Lenin Levy and the Composition of the Party.

The standard Trotskyist position is that the Lenin Levy brought in bouregois and careerist elements. Yet at the time Trotsky welcomes it. He argued that it had brought in not bouregois and careerists, but tens of thousands of workers!

Who was it that the State and Party bureaucrats looked to initially? Not Stalin, but TRotsky. Not surprisingly. As David Law has set out in Critique the 1923 Opposition drew its support from those very same bureaucrats, particularly where they had been dismissed from Moscow by Stalin, from students, intellectuals and other petit-bouregois elements. It was Stalin that won the majority of support in the Party organisations that were dominated by workers.

Again that is not surprsing. It was Trotsky that had argued for incorporating the UNions into the State. It was TRotsky that had militarised Labour on the railways, and favoured a similar militarisation of Labour in General using the Trade UNions as a Conveyor belt of ideas for the Party. Nor had the 1923 shown any interest in Workers concerns. Its only when the UNited Opposition is formed and Zioviev and Kamenev bring in their proletarian supporters that the question workers interests begin to be raised.

In fact its almost certainly the pressure on Stalin from his base amongst the workers that the Theory of Socialism In One Country arises, and does so because those workers were tired out after 3 years of World War, and 3 years of Civil War and revolution. They just wanted to get on with working and reconstructing their country. The very thing that SIOC offered them.

Boffy said...

In fact as I pointed out in another post a while ago its very difficult to think of many things that the USSR did that would have been much different had the actual Russian working class exercied political control of the State. In fact, given its backwardness, the degree to which anti-semitism and Black Hundredism was ingrained, its possible to imagine how things might have been considerably worse.

Boffy said...


In April 1917 Lenin was confronted with a situation in which the majority of Bolsheviks along with the Mensheviks were waiting for the establishment of the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry. This was a phase that all Marxists other than TRotsky believed the Revolution would have to pass through. Lenin himself had theorised such a stage earlier.

But Lenin in the April Theses once more repeated his dictum - "The truth is always concrete." What existed WAS the Democratic Dictatorship. It was just that the Old Bolsheviks and mensheviks basing themselves on a scholastic view of how things should look could not recognise the actual social reality.

In fact the future rarely conforms to the way even visionaries have foretold it to look like. The truth is always cocnrete, and a Marxist deals with the reality as it exists, not how they beleive it should look were it to conform to some textbook view. So ultimately, you Mike McNair, Max Shachtman, or Hillel Ticktin can draw up whatever scenarios you like as to how a Workers State SHOULD look, but history will have its way, and it will look like what it will look like, warts and all. The job of a Marxist is to analyse that reality not bemoan the fact that it does not conform to the pretty picture we had drawn up for it, less still to turn away from a serious analysis, because we find the reality repugnant.

In the end you can make whatever demands you like as to whether you beleive that property in the USSR belonged to the working class, but if you want to argue that it didn't then you have to demonstrate who it DID belong to. For a Marxist property can only belong to a class or can be udner the control of a caste. Even within the AWL the problems of trying to identify such a class lead to two totally antagonistic views one that what existed was a state capitalist class, the other a Bureuacratic Collectivist class. For people like Ticktin that have undertaken a serious study of the USSR the facts prove that NEITHER of these alternatives are viable for the simple reason that any Marxist analysis demonstrrates that NO new class existed. BUt Ticktin like most of the Trotskyist or in his case NEW Left then had a problem. They could not bring themselves to accept the horror of the reality, less still to accept what that reality leads us to conclude in relation to the whole basis of Leninism, which has coloured the views of whole generations of how socialism would be created, what the socialist revolution IS. So he too cannot come to a conclusion that what existed was a Workers State, and ends up with a wholly inadequate theory of a Non-Mode of Production, and a State that belongs to no class.

Show me the money. Prove in Marxist terms the existence of a new class. Tell us what the conditions for membership of this class were/are, and then show us that these condiitons were actually met by real people in these societies. So far no proponent of a new class theory has been able to do so. They remain at the level of assertion rather than proof. If control of the State apparatus and of the means of production by Lenin and the Bolsheviks as representatives of the working class and peasantry constitututed one possible variant of ownership of the Means of Production that constitutes a Workers State - and I beleive it does as do the majority of Leninists - then other forms in which this property is held in trust for the working class are equally legitimate, even where such forms might appear antagonstic to such ownership. As TRotsky puts it a servant that spits on your bald spot might be an inconvenient servant, but they remain a servant.

Prove your case. Prove the existence of your new class.

WhiteDwarfStar said...

"If we accept the conditions you outline for a Workers State then, of course the reality is that there never was a Workers State in the USSR, because the conditions you set out as being required never existed."

Yes, exactly.

"If you want to argue Ticktin's line then please explain how in Marxist terms a state exists - call it bouregois or what you will"

It's a bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie. Yes, that's what Lenin says a workers' state is -- but in the absence of workers' power, ALL you have is a bourgeois state minus the bourgeoisie -- all the positive content implied by the term "workers' state" (or, more properly, "dictatorship of the proletariat") does not exist.

"The nature of the State ultimately derives from the social origin of those that make up its membership, the social ties they have to the different classes." So the state FORM does not matter to the class character of the state? All that matters is who staffs it? I disagree. Fill the British state with workers and it will still be a bourgeois state if its FORM does not change.

Regarding cooperatives. I'm all for 'em. But I must ask. How come no on e in the 2nd International -- not Kautsky, not Bebel, not Luxemburg, not Pannekoek or Lenin or Martov, NOBODY -- read Marx as someone stressing the world-historical importance of building cooperatives? At least some of these people read CAPITAL Vol. III, you know.

Boffy said...

"Yes, exactly."

Then I'll grant you the benefit of at least being consistent, which those in the AWL and most Third Campers most certainly are not. Personally, I beleive that the class character of a state is determined socially by which class is dominant. In the absence of some other proven ruling class, I can only conclude the ruling class is the working class deformed as its rule might be. The working class like other classes can historically perform that function via many different guises depending upon the particular historic circumstances under which the old classes are liquidated.

Although I am opposed to Leninism as an elitist concept of the Party, and of socialist transformation from above. I understand why Leninism arose in Russia given the historical conditions, I udnerstand why the Bolsheviks were forced by those conditions to udnertake the revolution they did.

"Man creates his own history but under conditions not of his choosing."

The point you have not answered in relation to the State is that the State is a class State it serves - sometimes by strange methods - the interests of a ruling social class. If this State was not a WORKERS State, you have to demonstrate which class's State it was. It cannot be a bouregois State without a bouregoisie. You have to demonstrate the existence of this alternative ruling class. You haven't.

On Co-operatives. I think in part you are wrong. I have quoted a number of references both in Kautsky and Lenin to the importance they palced on Co-operatives. But as the quote I have given from Lenin - from "Capitalism in Agriculture" - argues Peasants or artisans can only be attracted to Co-operative production udner certain conditions. Conditions which did not exist in Russia - one reason that collectivism failed to take hold in the Psyche of the masses. The condiiton requires a fairly developed class conscioussness, and solidarity.

But if we are looking at the Second International we can look at other deficiencies in their politics. I can quite easily give you the reasons. Firstly, the main SD Party was the German, and it continued to be influenced by Lassaleanism. The same Lassalleanism Marx argued against in relation to the idea of State Socialism. Secondly, Marx had argued in his Address to the First International that Co-operatives would face inevitable obstacles from the bouregoisie, and made clear the need for a Workers Party therefore to fight for Workers Power. The German Social Democrats grew very quickly and were winning elections. That was the whole basis of Reformism. Why would state socialists want to promote the idea of self-activity by the workers to create co-operatives when instead they could retain the process in their own hands, by the more genteel method of creating Socialism by Parliamentary legislation???

I beleive that there is a) a misreading of marx's position because of the statements in the Communist Manifesto against Utopian Socialism - not it needs to be added against Owen but against the Owenites and so on - and Marx's Critique of Proudhon. ON the back of those positions opposition to Co-operatives was raised into a totem a fear of being labelled a Utopian or Proudhonist. But we know that Marx, for example, though he criticised J.F. Bray's utopianism actually was impressed by the general thrust of his ideas. What marx considered Utopian was the idea that Workers could simply buy up from their wages the companies they worked for, and he was right. What was utopian was the idea that co-operatives could develop as individual Little Icara, as an ALTERNATIVE to class struggle, to building a Workers Party, and a struggle for Workers Power.

If the Second International could get it wrong on so many aspects of marx's poltiics, so fundamental as its collapse into parliamentarism then I have no problem udnerstanding why it adopted its own form of State Socialism as its model, just as Lenin adopted his.

On the State. You say if the British State was made up of workers it would remain a bouregois state. But this is scholastic. You fail to begin with the starting point for a materialist. What would have to be the condiitons in society udner which the British State was made up of workers???? I'm not talking about at the level of ordinary clerks, but at its commanding heights, the Chief Polivce Officers, the Senior Judges, the top Civil Servants, the Generals, Admirals and Air Vice Marshals. The condiiton could only be if the working class was socially dominant, and was able to force itself into those positions. Under capitalism the working class cannot achieve such a position, and although the bouregoisie may allow some workers into even these higher positions they will only do so within the confines of the system. Its possible that in a society where workers co-operatives developed, and on the back of them workers social position rose that this would be reflected in society, in the ideas that came to challenge bouregois ideas. But of course the bourgeoisie would resist. How and by how much they would resist we cannot say, but we would be advised to bet on them resisting to the greatest extent, and by whatever emans they had at their disposal.

The fact remains that workers could only make up the most important elements of the State if workers were socially dominant. As for the form of the State that is secondary as one contributor to the AWL Discussion Board or was it the article by Mike put it, in Russia after the revolution the basis of election was not at all the same as the election to the Soviets as organs of struggle during the revolution. The form of the State will be whatever workers decide it to be. As a Marxist I beleive that between form and content content trumps form every time.

Boffy said...

Kautsky on Co-operatives

In this piece Kautsky is arguing against the reformists. His line of atatck is geared to that end, which should be born in mind. But look at the position he adopts. The reformists list all those things which show the growing strength of the proletariat, WITHOUT listing those developments which simultaneously strengthen the bouregoisie. Yet, the one side cannot be denied, and all those aspects which DO see the strengthening of the Proletariat INCLUDING the development of Co-operatives ARE REAL, and the represent a broadening and deepening of the arena of class struggle.

Yes, the consumer Co-operatives have limited consequence, but that merely tells us that there has been an inadequate development of the Worker Co-op. That development will be much tougher, says Kautsky. But yes of course the other points are true that their development cannot be taken outside class struggle. I would probably disagree with Kautsky about the comparative role of TRade Unions compared to co-operatives, ebcause the TU is Economistic whereas the Worker Co-op requires political development, and class conscioussness.

"But does not democracy provide the foundation for a gradual, imperceptible transformation of capitalism into Socialism without any violent break with existing things if we but presuppose the conquest of political power by the proletariat?

There are some politicians who assert that only despotic class rule necessitates revolution; that revolution is rendered superfluous by democracy. It is claimed that we have today sufficient democracy in all civilized countries to make possible a peaceable revolutionless development. Above all it is possible to found cooperatives for consumption whose extension will introduce production for use, and so slowly but surely drive capitalist production out of one sphere after another. Most important of all, it is possible to organize unions that shall continually limit the power of the capitalist in his business, until constitutionalism shall supplant absolutism in the factory, and thus the way will be prepared for the slow transition to the republicanized factory. Still further, the socialists can penetrate into the municipal councils, influence public labor in the interest of the laboring class, extend the circle of municipal activities, and by the continuous extension of the circle of municipal production narrow the field of private production. Finally the socialists are pressing into parliament, where they are ever gaining more influence, and push through one reform after the other, restrict the power of the capitalists by labor legislation, and simultaneously extend ever wider the circle of governmental production, while they work for the nationalization of the great monopolies. So by the exercise of democratic rights upon existing grounds the capitalist society is gradually and without any shock growing into Socialism. Consequently the revolutionary conquest of political powers by the proletariat is unnecessary, and the efforts towards it directly hurtful, since they can operate in no other way than to disturb this slowly but surely advancing process.

So much for the opponents of revolutionary development.

It is an attractive picture they have painted for us, and again it cannot be truthfully said that it is wholly built in the air. The facts upon which it is founded actually exist. But the truth that they tell is only a half-truth. A little dialectical reflection would have shown them the whole.

This idyll becomes true only if we grant that but one side of the opposition, the proletariat, is growing and increasing in strength, while the other side, the bourgeoisie, remains immovably fixed to the same spot. Granting this, it naturally follows that the proletariat will gradually, and with no revolution, outstrip the bourgeoisie and imperceptibly expropriate it.

But things take on another aspect when the other side is considered, and it is seen that the bourgeoisie is likewise gaining in strength and is goaded on by every advance of the proletariat to develop new powers, and to discover and apply new methods of resistance and repression. That which from a one-sided observation appears as a gradual peaceable growth into Socialism is then seen as the organization of ever larger fighting bodies, as the development and application of ever more powerful resources for conflict, as a continuous widening of the battle held. Instead of being a gradual winning of the class struggle through the exhaustion of capitalism, it is rather a reproduction of the struggle upon ever wider stages, and a deepening of the consequences of every victory and every defeat.

Most harmless of all are the cooperatives, of which today the cooperatives of consumption are practically the only ones to be considered. Because of their purely peaceable character these are always highly esteemed by all opponents of revolutionary development. There is no doubt but that they can afford numerous important advantages to the laboring class, but it is laughable to expect even a partial expropriation of the capitalist class from them. So far as they are expropriating any class today it is that of little merchants and numerous grades of handworkers, that have been able to maintain their existence until now. Correspondingly it is noticed that nowhere do the great capitalists attack the cooperatives which it is pretended threaten them. On the contrary it is the little property owners whose rage is aroused against the cooperatives, and those who are injured are just the ones who are most dependent upon the laboring class, and who can be most easily won to the proletarian political cause. While the workingmen’s cooperatives bring some material advantages to certain divisions of the laboring class, they also drive away from our movement many classes who stand very close to the proletariat. These means to the peaceable absorption of capitalism and the abrogation of the class struggle tend rather to introduce a new bone of contention and to arouse a new class hatred. Meanwhile the power of capital remains wholly untouched. The cooperative for consumption has so far been victorious only in its battle with the little merchant; the struggle with the great stores’ is still in the future. This will not be so easy a victory.

The idea that the dividends of the cooperatives, even if not divided, but kept intact, can increase faster than the accumulation of capital so as to overtake it and contract the sphere of capitalism, is absolutely foolish.

The cooperative can play an important part in the emancipation of the proletariat only where the latter is engaged in an active class struggle. The cooperative can then become a means to supply the battling proletarians with resources. Even then they are wholly dependent upon the condition of legislation and the attitude of the state. So long as the proletariat has not yet attained political power, the importance of cooperatives for the class struggle of the proletariat will always be very limited.

Much more important for the proletariat than the cooperatives are the trade unions. This is true, however, only when these are fighting organizations, and not when they are organizations for social peace. Even where they conclude contracts with employers, either as individuals or as organizations, they can only secure and maintain these through their fighting ability."

Karl Kautsky Social Revolution

Boffy said...

Connolly on Co-operatives in "The Reconquest of Ireland"


Boffy said...

I would also recommend the following:

Marx, Marxism and the cooperative movement by Bruno1 Jossa,in the Cambridge Journal of Economics, Volume 29, Number 1, January 2005, pp. 3-18.

Boffy said...

A look at the post piece by Kautsky above shows the problem of his position. IN the end he comes down to an argument that Socialism would be a good idea, but has no idea what the means of achieving it will be. He quite rightly rejects the position of the reformists. But then one after another he rejects as inadequate forms of class struggle the various options open to the working class. Co-operatives are fine, only if, Trade Unions are evn more fine, but only with an even bigger if. He plays with the Political Strike, yet after the 1905 Revolution, backs away from it. In the end what is he left with - Socialism is only possible when the workers experience an epiphany and become class conscious! But then he ends up with pretty much the same position as the Reformists himself. What is the consequence of this epiphany? The workrs elect a Workers Government, the Bolshevik formula of Soviets is rejected other than as perhaps an adjunct to Parliament.

And lenin is quite right in State and revolution in describing the way in which the SPD held a statist position. Not the statist position that Lenin holds of Socialism being implemented by a Workers State udner the direction of the Bolsheviks, but effectively a position based on the idea of simply taking hold of the bourgeois State, and utilising it. Yet as lenin quite rightly says this is in complete contradiction to the position of Marx who was as against the bourgeois State an Anarchist as much as Proudhon and Bakunin.

So we should not be too concerned with the lack of a perspective from Kautsky of the role of workers self-activity it merely reflects the continued influecne of Lassalleanism - an influence that permeates pretty much all of the left today.

Further testimony to this statism can be found in another of Kautsky's contemporaries Karl Korsch who did argue more for workers self-activity including the development of Co-operatives. And to answer your other point about Pannokeok he of course was one of those people that Kautsky criticises in the piece above the Council Communists.

No the degeneration of Marxism happened long ago. Its necessary to get back to what Marx said, not what many so called Marxists since have misrepresented him as saying.

Boffy said...

Pannakoek on Workers Self-Activity

“The acknowledged aim of socialism is to take the means of production out of the hands of the capitalist class and place them into the hands of the workers. This aim is sometimes spoken of as public ownership, sometimes as common ownership of the production apparatus. There is, however, a marked and fundamental difference.
Public ownership is the ownership, i.e. the right of disposal, by a public body representing society, by government, state power or some other political body. The persons forming this body, the politicians, officials, leaders, secretaries, managers, are the direct masters of the production apparatus; they direct and regulate the process of production; they command the workers. Common ownership is the right of disposal by the workers themselves; the working class itself — taken in the widest sense of all that partake in really productive work, including employees, farmers, scientists — is direct master of the production apparatus, managing, directing, and regulating the process of production which is, indeed, their common work.

Under public ownership the workers are not masters of their work; they may be better treated and their wages may be higher than under private ownership; but they are still exploited. Exploitation does not mean simply that the workers do not receive the full produce of their labor; a considerable part must always be spent on the production apparatus and for unproductive though necessary departments of society. Exploitation consists in that others, forming another class, dispose of the produce and its distribution; that they decide what part shall be assigned to the workers as wages, what part they retain for themselves and for other purposes. Under public ownership this belongs to the regulation of the process of production, which is the function of the bureaucracy. Thus in Russia bureaucracy as the ruling class is master of production and produce, and the Russian workers are an exploited class….

Public ownership is the program of “friends” of the workers who for the hard exploitation of private capitalism wish to substitute a milder modernized exploitation. Common ownership is the program of the working class itself, fighting for self liberation.”


Public Ownership and Common Ownership

Here Pannakoek in his 1947 “Theses On The Fight Of The Working Class Against Capitalism”, outlines the methods by which workers fight capitalism through their own self-activity. He is not talking here about after the socialist victory, nor is he talking about simply Workers Control the limitations of which he set out elsewhere.

“III. The goal of the working class is liberation from exploitation. This goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting the bourgeoisie. It can only be realised by the workers themselves being master over production.

Mastery of the workers over production means, first, organisation of the work in every shop and enterprise by its personnel. Instead of through command of a manager and his underlings all the regulation are made through decision of the entire body of the workers. This body, comprising all kinds of workers, specialists and scientists, all taking part in the production, in assembly decides everything related to the common work. The role that those who have to do the work also have to regulate their work and take the responsibility, within the scope of the whole, can be applied to all branches of production. It means, secondly, that the workers create their organs for combining the separate enterprises into an organised entirety of planned production. These organs are the workers’ councils

The workers councils are bodies of delegates, sent out by the personnels of the separate shops or sections of big enterprises, carrying the intentions and opinions of the personnel, in order to discuss and take decisions on the common affairs, and to bring back the results to their mandatories. They state and proclaim the necessary regulations, and by uniting the different opinions into one common result, form the connection of the separate units into a well-organised whole. They are no permanent board of leaders, but can be recalled and changed at every moment. Their first germs appeared in the beginning of the Russian and German revolutions (Soviets, Arbitrate). They are to play an increasing role in future working class developments.

IV. Political parties to the present times have two functions. They aspire, first, at political power, at dominance in the State, to take government into their hands and use its power to put their program into practice. For this purpose the have, secondly, to win the masses of the working people to their programs: by means of their teachings clarifying the insight, or, by their propaganda, simply trying to make of them a herd of followers.

Working class parties put up as their goal the conquest of political power, thereby to govern in the interest of the workers, and especially to abolish capitalism. They assert themselves as the advance guard of the working class, its most clear-sighted part, capable of leading the uninstructed majority of the class, acting in its name as its representative. They pretend to be able to liberate the workers from exploitation. An exploited class, however, cannot be liberated by simply voting and bringing into power a group of new governors. A political party cannot bring freedom, but , when it wins, only new forms of domination. Freedom can be won by the working masses only through their own organised action, by taking their lot into their own hands, in devoted exertion of all their faculties, by directing and organising their fight and their work themselves by means of their councils.

For the parties—then remains the second function, to spread insight and knowledge, to study, discuss and formulate social ideas, and by their propaganda to enlighten the minds of the masses. The workers’ councils are the organs for practical action and fight of the working class; to the parties falls the task of the bolding up of its spiritual power. Their work forms an indispensable part in the self-liberation of the working class.”


Theses On The Fight Of The Working Class Against Capitalism

Boffy said...


You might also want to read this article by Mike McNair in relation to Co-operatives.

“Proletarian organisation need not only be deployed in the form of strike action. Solidarity and the power to organise can also create cooperatives of various sorts, workers’ educational institutions, workers’ papers, and workers’ political parties: and it can turn out the vote for workers’ candidates in public elections. Strong votes for a workers’ party will increase the self-confidence and sense of solidarity of the working class as a class and its ability to organise and act, not just electorally but in other arenas of struggle, such as strikes, for example.

The core of the political strategy of the centre tendency was to build up the workers’ organised movement, and especially the workers’ political party as its central institution. In their view, as the organised movement of the working class grew stronger, so would the self-confidence of the class and its ability to take political decisions and impose them on the bourgeoisie and the state. Both in the struggle for reforms and in mass strike waves or revolutionary crises, a powerful mass party of the working class which had at the core of its aims the perspective of the working class taking power and overcoming the regime of private property would be the essential instrument of the working class asserting an alternative form of authority.

It is important to be clear that the movement that the centre tendency sought to build was not the gutted form of the modern social-democracy/Labourism, which is dependent on the support of the state and the capitalist media for its mass character. The idea was of a party which stood explicitly for the power of the working class and socialism. It was one which was built up on the basis of its own resources, its own organisation with local and national press, as well as its own welfare and educational institutions, etc.

There is no real doubt that this view was a direct inheritance from Marx and Engels’s arguments from the time of the First International onwards. The Hegelian-Marxists’ claim that it was an undialectical vulgarisation of Marx and Engels, faced with the historical evidence, logically had to conclude that Engels had vulgarised Marx. This, in turn, has been shown by Draper and others to be false.”

Mike McNair
Weekly Worker 620

Anonymous said...

Arthur, your response to Sean on Cliff on the AWL's site has drawn my attention to this discussion and Jason's use of my WW material. For what it's worth

(1) I think that states are subordinated to ruling classes primarily by the *form* of the state rather than by recruitment to the ranks of state officials (above the private soldier/ clerk level), since in all states of all periods and class characters recruitment to the ranks of state officials is primarily from the petty-proprietors.

(2) My positive 'take' on the USSR, as opposed to negative polemic, is summarised here:

Mike Macnair

Boffy said...


Thanks for your comment to which I was about to reply, but wouldn't you know it the phone goes, and my sone needs me to go and pick him up, so this is just a very brief comment.

First, of all I hope you will have a look at some of the further discussion on this, particularly my comments on the WL Board over the last couple of years, and my post here on the Subjectivist and marxist method for analyisng the USSR. I will try to provide some kind of summary of my position at some point, and links to ther elevant debates.

To be honest I find Sean's and the AWL's position untenable. Worse reading Sean's article gain I think in its use of Trotsky's quote on considering the possibility of a new class basically dishonest. It is clear that TRotsky was setting up an Aunt Sally here, as his subsequent remarks in that arrticle demonstrate. To use these comments in the way Sean does to suggest that TRotsky was really moving towards a BC position is preposterous. Its like the way the Narodniks used Marx's comments on developing socialism out of the village commune.

I will read your post on the link you have given when I get back, so that I can respond more adequately.

In the meantime, I think your raguemnt about form is wrong. As Lenin and Trotsky, and Marx come to that point out, the form of the State comes in many guises irrespective of class rule. That is true of slave society, feudalism and capitalism and even the AMP - China was not the same as India. The Protectorate of Cromwell and the liberal parliamentary democracy sicne the late 19th century are very different forms, but both forms of Capitalist State, the form of the State udner Hitler was different than under Helmut Schmidt,but both bouregois. As lenin points out in respect of Russia the fact that the state took the form of Tsarism did notalter the fact that it was a bourgeois state.

Why? Because as marx points out, it is the thousand golden threads which tie the State to the ruling class, it is the dominant ideas of that ruling social class - even when it is not politically dominant - that infuse the whole of society, particlarly those layers of the intelligentsia, the technocracy and bureaucracy that are the natural recruiting ground for the State apparatus which are crucial.

Anyway better go for now.

Boffy said...


Unfortunately, the link you gave to your USSR document did not work.

The main points I would make for now are these.

1. The Marxist analysis begins from the economic base, and the classes that arise out of the productive relations. Of all the new class theories I have read over the years the only one that comes close to that method is I think that of Bettelheim though I'm not convinced by his argument either as I argued in a post on the WL Board. Ticktin DOES analyse in detail the economic base, and social relations but does so, it seems to me within he context of an epistemological framework, which appears Marxist, but in essence isn't. He looks for contradictions, and necessarily finds them. Having found them he then builds his theory around them. This appeares Marxist, but a look at the way Marx ACTUALLY proceeds demonstrates it isn't. Its not surprising to me that he then arrives as conclusions which overturn Marxist theory as much as the other new class theories - i.e. he arrives at the conclusion that what exists is a non mode of production with no ruling class, which begs the question then for a Marxist then whose State is this, because every State belongs to some class!

2. Essentially, it seems to me that all the new class theories rather begin from an analysis of the superstructure, and work backwards to come to some definition of the economic base. Consequently, such analysis is necessarily subjective. It also explains why all of them provide wholly inadequate explanations of that material base, because they are forced to try to make their theory of the base fit their description of the superstructure and its relation to the base. Its why even in the AWL, for instance, there is a wholly contradictory position between those that beleive the State capitalist thesis, and those that support the BC thesis. It is why Ticktin can show in devastating detail why neither stands up within Marxist theory let alone empirical observation, yet himself ends up with a theory which stands completely outside the realms of Marxism by proposing the existence of a non class state!

3. For those that want to advocate a new class theory - and the State Capitalist thesis argued by the AWL comrades is essentially that of a new class not a bourgeoisie that operates a Statised economy -the burden of proof rests with them to demonstrate the existene of this new class. On every occasion they fail to do so. Yet the basic requirement for a marxist is not to assert what has to be proved, but to prove on the basis not just of theoretical argument, but primarily on the basis of clearly verifiable empiric evidence that which they wish to evince.

4. I have recently been having a debate with a Libertarian (anarcho-capitalist) who tried to argue that there was no such thing as class interest or class struggle under Capitalis, and sought to support his position by arguing that Marx never elaborated a definition of class. Of course, this is true on a certain level. Marx did not anywhere set down exactly what his definiiton of class was - nor actually basic things such as productive forces, and so on - but Marx clearly did have a theory of class, clearly did elaborate what he meant by productive forces. He does so in context, because that is the only way in accordance with his historical materialsit method an adequate definition can be given. But, within that a look at Capital or the preface etc. makes it clear who the Captalists are, and who the Proletariat are. My Libertarian opponent can quibble that this or that individual does not meet the criteria, could be a worker and yet own Capital, rent out property etc. but this is a theory of the individual not classes. We know the qualifications for being a Capitalist, we can see they exist, we can see the way in which Capitalism works to recreate both capitalists and workers as a class, we can see the way in which Capitalists and workers are recreated not as groups of accidental individuals who happen to find themselves in one of these classes, but as fairly fixed formations reproduced by the forms of property, by inhertitance etc. i.e. by the ownershiop or exclusion from ownership of property.

5. I have a simple challenge for the new class theorists which none of them have yet to take up. Show me the money. Show me that your new class actually existed. Tell me what the conditions were for belongin to this class, show me how the productive and social relations actually reproduced this class and the subordinate class/es. Not in theory - we can all recognise Trotsky's argument that educational qualification COULd provide a basis for that, but show me that this was the reality!

6. No new class theorist can provide that basic requirement of a marxist theory - actual empirical evidecne to show its true - for the simple reason IT WAS NOT TRUE. I have previously quoted from Mary Macaulay, and from Sheila Fitzpatrick to demonstrate that in fact not only was the most likely candidate for such a new class the intelligentsia not the bureaucracy, but the reality was that the State apparatus was largely drawn on a fairly meritocratic basis from the edducation sstem, and that that largely meant that it was the children of the lowest layers of society that filled these posts.

7. With a theoy that is based entirely on a subjective assessment that it is political control that is determinant then clearly one would expect that at that level of politicial control you would witness most notably this drawing of State officials from within the ranks of children of the bureaucracy. Yet as I have shown in the last ever Politburo, Gorbachev was the son of poor peasants, two at least of the members grew up in State Orphanages, and of the others for whom I could obtain details, not one came from parents who occupied any position within that bureaucracy!

8. As Macaulay points out the bureaucracy itself was a body running into millions. It could not at all be equted as Sean did in one post with The Party. There were obviously overlaps at the top, but there wre also millions of party members who were workers at the bench, who could not be considered part of the bureaucracy, had no control over the means of production, yet did have some functions which often brought them into conflict with the bureaucracy, did fulfil some social fucntions exercise some level of authority if only negatively. Even within the burueacracy itself there were large layers that had no effective control of the means of production, whilst others again could exercise a negative control as against the orders coming down from on high. There were huge contradictory interests within the burueacracy, there was for a start the conficts between the different Ministries. Yet to read Sean and many of the other new class theorists one would think that there was this sibngle monolithic Party/bureaucratic apparatus that was so homogenous that it constituted a class.

The facts show otherwise.

As I said in one of my comments, which have had to be brief as the AWL have now limited me to writing comments of just 3 or 4 lines on their Discussion Board (!) its good thatSean has located the problems of the SWP in Cliff's new class theory. That is correct, but the AWL's problems, the reason it likes the SWP ends up looking to alien class forces whilst proclaiming it beleif in independent working class action, the reason it has colpased into Economism and State capitalist solutions for example in realtion to the NHS, has exactly the same root cause. It is the abandonment of Marxist analysis for petty-bourgeois subjectivism at whose core lies that debate of the 1930's over the nature of the Sovit State, and the collapse of the Third Campists into that moralistic subjectivism under the whip of the social pressures of the time, and the pettit-bouregois milieu in which it existed, a pressure which exerts a psychological effect emanating from a sense of defeatism and demoralisation. I have no doubt also that just as the bouregoisie wanted to maintain a veneer of respectability by denying any connection to the Terror of the Great revolution, or any of the other unpleasantries of Capitalism's emergecne from the womb of feudal society, there is a great desire on the part of Leninists who seek to convince that milieu to enagge once again in such a venture there is a need to make a clear separation of the effect from the cause, and the eeasiest way to do that is to deny the real nature of the state that was created. It avoids the more serious question of analysing Leninism, around which groups like the AWL still want to hang a halo and sing Hosannahs, and to avoid any serious discussion of what went wrong.

Anonymous said...


Sorry the link doesn't work. I will now post the text in its subsections. in following comments.

But in very brief, I am *not* a "new class" theorist: my view is that the USSR (etc.) is a form of Bonapartism (high autonomy of the state) transitional between feudalism and capitalism, and that to the extent any class is in the ascendant it is an old class, the petty proprietors.

Various short form tags I have used: "Labour-aristocratic bonapartism transitional between feudalism and capitalism"; "a Munster commune on a very large scale"; and, to the extent that the urban worker-serfs gained material benefits from the Stalinist regime (which it is clear they did), "a craft union pre-entry closed shop on a very large scale".

Put another way. Strip out Kautsky's and Martov's attachments to rule of law constitutionalism and their national-roads politics. Their fundamental critique of the Bolsheviks - that the worker-peasant alliance will produce a pre-capitalist state form - is then simply correct Marxism. (Witness also Luxemburg's close-to-acceptance of these arguments in The Russian Revolution).

Mike Macnair

Anonymous said...

Theses on the fall of the USSR and the nature of the Soviet and Soviet-type regimes

This is my "take" on this issue in a highly condensed form.

Mike Macnair

I. The place of the USSR in the long historical view

1. Classes continue to exist after the fall of capitalism and until the petty proprietors are absorbed into the proletariat. The "petty proprietors" includes not only peasants and artisans, but also the owners of intellectual property, particularly the intelligentsia/ professional middle classes. The absorption of this segment of the petty proprietors into the proletariat occurs through the skills, which they monopolize as a class, becoming devalorized through all proletarians acquiring them (universal education/ higher education; workers' control leading to workers' management; rotation of managerial and state posts; abolition of all forms of state and commercial secrecy and confidentiality; etc.).

2. Hence the proletariat continues to need a state, i.e. a special bureaucratic apparatus, or special apparatus of coercion, until this process is completed, and the formulation of withering away, not immediate abolition, of the state is correct. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the class rule of the proletariat as a class over the state bureaucratic apparatus and over the petty proprietors, which constantly attacks all manifestations of attempts by the petty proprietors and state bureaucrats to maintain forms of monopoly right in skills, information, and positions of power.

3. All rising classes hitherto have had to experiment until they found a form of state which would answer to their class control, at first creating forms of state which collapse towards prior class forms. This is visible in early feudalism (sixth to seventh century Western barbarian kingdoms, and perhaps the immediate post-Byzantine Islamic regimes) as well as in early capitalism (Italian city-state republics and C16-C17 "kingdom of God" attempts). There are strong reasons to suppose that the same is true of the proletariat. If Marxism is scientific socialism, we are bound to learn through trial and error modifying theoretical predictions. In the long historical perspective, therefore, the fall of the USSR is merely the failure of a state form which, though proletarian in its inception, proved insufficiently strongly tied to the proletariat to resist re-capture by the bourgeoisie. We do not abandon the project of the dictatorship of the proletariat (working class rule) but learn the lessons and go on.

Anonymous said...

II. Bureaucratic capture of workers’ organisations and states

4. The Russian October was (as the left socialists predicted) simultaneously the forerunner/ trigger, and an outlier in a backward country, of a powerful revolutionary movement of the working class in Europe as a whole in 1917-20. The failure of the USSR is ultimately merely the long-delayed result of the failure of this European revolutionary movement. This failure stems from the proletariat's loss of control over its organizations in most of Europe, which were captured by the petty proprietors of intellectual property in the shape of the party and union bureaucracy and thereby reconciled to the bourgeois order - either as labour lieutenants of capital, as in Germany and France, or as trade unions combined with petty sects competing for "niche markets" in the bourgeois political marketplace, as in England and the USA.

5. Russia was exceptional in this process in that the process of loss of proletarian control did not take effect until after the seizure of power. There are two sides to this exception.
The first is that Lenin and his co-thinkers actually organized the socialist left into an organized faction capable of taking independent political action - while the socialist left elsewhere in Europe developed only a merely ideological polemic with the right within the framework of the existing workers' organizations. As a result the Bolsheviki were capable of acting as a political leadership in 1917, while the Spartakists, etc., lacked this capability in 1918-19. It is probably wrong to see this as a matter of Lenin's political-organizational genius. Rather it resulted primarily from the semi-accident that the Bolsheviki captured an episodic majority of the RSDLP in 1903 and thereafter, though they remained within a common party identification with the Mensheviki until 1912 and in many respects until 1917, and did episodically compromise for common action with the Mensheviki, refused to carry compromise to an extent that would bar them from independent action.
The second is the activity of the Tsarist state in conducting an inefficient repression of the socialists and of trade unions. If the Tsarist state had conducted an efficient repression of the socialists, they probably would have been wiped out, as the Bolshevik oppositions were in the 1930s USSR or the Indonesian CP in the 1960s. If it had abandoned repression altogether, the trade unions and the socialists would have developed a bureaucratic apparatus or apparatuses, which would have become reconciled with the bourgeoisie either as labour lieutenants of capital or as competing sects.
The result of inefficient repression was that the party could develop through various cracks in the repression, while, at the same time, the development of a bureaucratic apparatus was blocked, since the leadership (a) was subjected to rotation of office in the form of arrest by the Tsarist police, and (b) actually disposed of no power over the local branches and sectoral fractions other than its political authority, so that this authority and the unity of the party was constructed purely through ideological debate.

6. The expansion in the former Tsarist Empire/ USSR of the party and union apparatus at the expense of its dependence on the proletarian ranks began almost immediately on the seizure of power, as could be predicted from understanding it as the same phenomenon which had already destroyed the proletariat's control of its organizations elsewhere in Europe. The Bolsheviks' (including Trotsky's) failure to understand the process can be seen in four ways:
(1) They persistently attributed the whole process in Russia to one element of it, which was the "cultural capture" of the workers' officials by the culture of the Tsarist late-feudal bureaucracy (blat, chains of personal patron-client relations, etc.).
(2) Reflecting this mis-assessment, their responses to it (Control Commission, purges and levies, Rabkrin, etc) in fact merely created more bureaucrats and more power of the bureaucracy over dissent.
(3) They attributed the failure of the Second International not to capture by the party and union apparatuses but to capture by "accidental elements" in the socialist intelligentsia or "opportunists" (the latter not in the sense of rightists as such, but of career bourgeois politicians who saw an opportunity to obtain office by attaching themselves to the workers' movement, a real but secondary phenomenon).
(4) Reflecting this mis-assessment, their ideas for the organization of the parties of the Third International involved both rigid organizational centralism, and discipline requirements designed to keep out "accidental elements". These positions, characterized by Lenin as "too Russian", facilitated rapid bureaucratic capture of the European parties of the Comintern in the 1920s, so that serious oppositions developed only in the colonies and semi-colonies, where bourgeois or other imperfect repression prevented full implementation of "Bolshevization".
In the light of this much of what Lenin, Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders wrote about the dictatorship of the proletariat during and in the immediate aftermath of the Russian civil war has to be discarded as being addressed to Russian specificities and even there inadequate.

7. The result of the error on the failure of the SI was - and here Trotsky was right - that the parties of the Comintern in the imperialist centres were turned into instruments of the foreign policy of the USSR - when the proletarian dictatorship should have had the opposite result, that the foreign policy of the USSR served the needs of the international proletariat. In 1931-33 in Germany, 1936 (possibly) in France, and 1936-39 in Spain, the effect was to lead to major defeats for the working class, block revolutionary developments, and thereby reinforce the isolation of the Russian revolution. This was almost certainly also true of the policy of the PCI and PCF in the immediate aftermath of WWII and may be of that of the CPGB both in the run up to and during the 1945 Labour Government. In the colonial world, however, the problem was a different one: that the ideological system developed to justify Moscow's diplomatic manoeuvres with "democratic imperialism", etc., was capable of paralysing the action of some, though not all, CPs.

8. The problem of bureaucratic capture of workers' organizations is logically identical to the problem of the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat - subordination of the state to the proletariat - as a state form. A state is, after all, merely a very successful armed organisation. It is a problem which remains unsolved even in theory.
The solution of the Left Communists, Spontaneists and Autonomi - rejection of permanent organization, or of intervention in bourgeois politics - has proved over eighty years to create organizations which are ineffective and are often in reality as strongly dominated by the intellectual petty proprietors as their opponents. The left Maoists' attempt in the Cultural Revolution to pursue a similar policy of the immediate destruction of the middle classes was ineffective and massively destructive. The idea that anti-bureaucratic ideological commitment is enough is disproved by the fate of the Trotskyists, including state-capitalist and bureaucratic-collectivist variants, over sixty years.
On theoretical grounds - that we are concerned with the capture of workers' organizations by a segment of the petty proprietors who then convert the organization and the leadership posts into a form of property and throw up a (Louis) Bonaparte to "send rain and sun from on high", the keys should involve:
complete transparency (openness of the organization's conduct of its debates - no secrets from the class - and of the leadership's - no secrets from the membership);
complete freedom of the members to organize tendencies, factions, caucuses, etc, running across the official organizations of the organization and outside it;
systematic education of all members as potential leaders; and
some form of rotation of officers or term limits as a means to resist the conversion of leadership positions into a form of property.
The difficulty is that the positive experimental evidence is so weak (there's plenty of negative experimental evidence!). It does, however, seem to be clear that only those socialist organizations which have been subjected to "inefficient repression", with the result that the leadership is financially weak relative to the local and sectoral organizations, subjected to ‘term limits’ by the repression, and hence dependent on immediate political persuasion for authority and resources, have been capable of playing a revolutionary role (not, notice, all such organizations; scientific political ideas or an approximation to them is also necessary).

Anonymous said...

III. The illusion of the worker-peasant alliance and Bolshevik Bonapartism

9. Hitherto we have been concerned with a general problem of proletarian revolution, applicable as much in the imperialist centres as in the colonies and semicolonies and centrally relevant to the surviving bureaucratic regimes. But there is also a specific problem which affected Russia, Poland, southeastern Europe, China, Korea and Indochina (though not Czechoslovakia, the GDR or Cuba). This is the local dominance of small peasant agricultural production at the time of the overthrow of capitalism. The problem is that the small peasantry is a segment of the class of petty proprietors. If we analyze the petty proprietors as a class in Marxist terms it is clear that:
(1) They seek (as insurance as much as for accumulation) to retain the whole of their surplus product for themselves, so that in the absence of market pressures on them, or slave or capitalist large-scale agriculture, no civilisation can exist without coercive extraction of the agricultural surplus from the peasantry.
(2) The male petty proprietors have a class interest in the exploitation - in the strict sense, since it forms the basis of small-scale accumulation - of their labour of their dependent wives and children, and therefore in patriarchal legal status rules which are opposed to the interest of the proletariat in class unity through the emancipation of women and youth.
(3) The peasant petty proprietors are, due to their atomization, incapable of ruling for themselves, and therefore as far as they take political action tend to throw up the absolutist bureaucratic state. (This is also true of the urban petty proprietors, but by an indirect route. Their horizon tends to be limited to the locality, and they throw up localised guild-corporatist forms which then through their localism throw up the absolutist bureaucratic state.)
In consequence, there can be no strategic alliance of the workers and peasants, smychka, or "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" except in the very short-term transitional sense of the Russian soviets between February and October. What is possible in the long term is either (a) the dictatorship of the landlord class supported by the bourgeoisie over the peasantry (Tsarism, pre-1945 Italy, Franquist Spain); or (b) the dictatorship of the proletariat over the peasantry (which may be more generous than the landlord or bourgeois class dictatorship, but cannot allow the peasantry to retain the whole agricultural surplus or its proceeds, and must therefore coerce the peasantry); or (c) the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the peasantry leading to the liquidation of the peasantry as a class (England, the US, north Germany, etc.); or (d) a bourgeois state which partially acts as a Bonaparte to preserve the peasantry (France, South Germany, post-1945 Italy, EU); or (e) an absolutist state as the Louis-Bonapartist political representative/ master of the petty proprietors.

10. The political problem this poses in countries dominated by peasant agriculture is this. If tomorrow capitalism was overthrown in Britain or the USA, the dictatorship of the proletariat over the petty proprietors would be a dictatorship of the substantial majority over a minority, albeit a significant minority. The same was true (obviously) in the GDR, since the north-east was the centre of capitalist agribusiness in Germany, and (less obviously) in Cuba in 1961, since landless urban and rural workers were the clear majority of the Cuban population in 1958. But in Russia in 1917 the dictatorship of the proletariat over the petty producers meant the dictatorship of a class perhaps 10% of the population over the remaining 90%. The problem was less acute but still present in south-eastern Europe and Poland (though not in Czechoslovakia and the GDR), and equally present, albeit under different rural and urban forms, in China, Korea and Indochina.
This placed the Bolsheviks in a dilemma, not when they attempted to take power as the advance guard of the European revolution, but when they decided to hold on and wait for the European revolution - to try to retain power, after the European revolution had ebbed by 1921. If they stood openly for the dictatorship of the proletariat over the peasantry, they would lose the peasant base which they had obtained by adopting the SRs' land reform programme and be destroyed by an uprising of the large majority of the country: this was the hidden meaning of the Makhnovites, ‘Greens’ / Antonovschina and of Kronstadt. If, in contrast, they attempted to politically represent the peasantry, they could do so only by crushing the struggles of the proletariat and its most advanced sections - by becoming a collective Louis Bonaparte. But in this case - unlike Louis Bonaparte, who in the last analysis rested on the bourgeoisie, or the similar Byzantine or pre-revolutionary Chinese regimes, which in the last analysis rested on slaveholder and landlord classes - the Bolsheviks could not count on the peasantry's class fear, but could only rely on ideology and direct coercion.

11. The NEP was the Bolsheviks' attempt to square this circle, at least temporarily, by making a deliberate, explicit and partial retreat to capitalism (in the form of a kind of state capitalism). It performed well for a short period and then ran up against the resistance of the peasantry in the form of the scissors crisis. The Left Opposition offered technical solutions to this problem (Preobrazhensky) which failed to recognize that the scissors crisis was the expression of an underlying struggle of the peasantry to retain the whole product of the agricultural surplus, that is, a form of tax strike, a class struggle against what was still de facto a dictatorship of the cities over the country; or, in the alternative (Trotsky, Radek) urged a more strongly left course in international affairs and the Comintern in the hope of triggering the European revolution and thereby saving the USSR. The right (Bukharin) claimed the problem would correct itself.
From 1928 Stalin finally embarked, with the support of the majority of the former left, on the road of coercion of the peasantry (and in international affairs on the adventurism of the "Third Period"). The results are well known: enormous destruction of forces of production in agriculture, mass starvation, and coercion turned first against agricultural kulaks and 'saboteurs', then against urban 'saboteurs', and against the party itself, and the creation of industrial penal slavery under the aegis of the GPU.
Along with this went internal passports and the development of factory-by-factory and town-by-town corporatism, a curious caricature of the regimes of the later Roman Empire and Byzantium, pre-revolutionary China, and eighteenth century Germany. The effect was a de-proletarianisation of the urban working class even as this class grew. Without a labour market - which implies freedom of movement of workers and of capital - a working class is not a proletariat in the sense of Marx’s analysis, but an urban serf class. There was also a major growth of state slavery, in the form of the gulag.
Analytically, this turn was - paradoxical as it may seem - the completion of the shift of the CPSU to becoming the political representative of the peasantry. The peasantry cannot rule: and in consequence it can only, when it acts independently, find a master who will coerce it to produce for the society. That master is the absolutist state. The forced collectivizations and their consequences were not the result of Stalin the monster, or even merely of economic mismanagement. They were the consequences of letting the peasantry loose in the first place through the land reform and the ideology of the smychka. That this is the case can be demonstrated easily enough from the parallels in other Soviet-model states. The very same phenomenon - scissors crisis, leading to a wildly ultra-left swing to coercing the peasantry under the name of "mobilizing" them, leading to mass starvation, etc. - can be seen most clearly in China's "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution". Milder forms of the same phenomenon have occurred in every soviet-style regime to have had a significant peasantry in the first place or to have created one through "land reform". A more extreme version can be seen in Cambodia under Pol Pot.

12. Trotsky anticipated in 1938 that the Stalin regime would collapse in the face of the coming world war. This assessment proved to be wrong. The frontal assault of Nazism in 1941 called forth an enormous mobilization of the Russian people (note the deliberate non-class expression of this point - workers, peasants and urban intelligentsia alike) under the banner of the defence of Holy Russia and the global people's front with US and British imperialism. The Soviet bureaucracy was significantly reshaped politically, but the regime held together at the head of this mass mobilization. The victories of the USSR opened the way for the creation of new Soviet-style regimes in Eastern Europe, China, Korea and Vietnam.
But the underlying contradictions remained in place and were exported to the new “peoples’ democracies”. Underlying them all was the continued stubborn resistance of the peasantry, even under forced collectivization, leading to agricultural underproduction; and of the working class, "peasantized", or more exactly reduced to guild-corporatist subordination, by the absolutist political regime. In both cases this resistance took the form of go-slow: again a form of resistance familiar from slave and feudal regimes. On its own this would not have broken the state; but the USSR and its satellite regimes became, from the middle 1970s, subject to a new form of attack from world imperialism.

Anonymous said...

IV. Capitalist resistance and counter-attacks

13. The bourgeoisie as a class tolerated, for a while, being governed by feudal-absolutist regimes it did not control. But as the feudal regimes decayed, the bourgeoisie was increasingly driven to tax strikes against the use of state revenue for feudal-dynastic purposes; from tax strikes to political organization; and from political organization to the overthrow of the feudal state regimes and the creation of bourgeois states. These latter are characteristically based round central banks and bourgeois-contractual forms of corrupt dependency of the state officials on the major capitals, and structured and legitimated by “the rule of law”. Both the feudal-dynastic and the feudal-clerical elites fought back, but by the 1780s (when the French feudal state’s intervention in the American Revolution succeeded only in assisting the creation of a new bourgeois state and bankrupting the French state) their capacity for global, as opposed to local, resistance was gone.
As a result, since the nineteenth century the bourgeoisie’s willingness as a class to tolerate state regimes it does not control has been limited to cases (a) where an old state is tolerated, on condition that it does not seriously interfere with capital, because the alternative appears to be the rise of the proletariat (1848 and after); and (b) as in the case of the USSR and its satellites, where the bourgeoisie has attempted unsuccessfully to overthrow the state (1918-21, 1941-45) and calculates that the political-military costs of the attempt are too high for an immediate assault. In other cases, any escape of the state power from bourgeois class control is met with immediate attacks first on the state’s financial structure from the banks, then on the productive economy from individual capitals attempting to disinvest. This pattern of capitalist behaviour has been repeatedly evidenced, not only in cases where the bourgeoisie has actually lost state power (the USSR, eastern Europe, China, north Korea, Cuba, Vietnam) but also in cases where the bourgeoisie merely fears that it may lose state power: disinvestment and economic dislocation in the former Tsarist empire began well before October 1917, and the same phenomena appeared in Italy and Germany in the early 1920s, Spain in the 1930s, in several neocolonial countries faced with revolution up to the present date (most recently Nicaragua), and even, on a milder scale, in response to the popular front governments in the aftermath of WWII, and the 1945 and 1974 Labour Governments in Britain.
The bourgeoisie does not need to conspire for this purpose (though conspiracies undoubtedly do occur): it is the natural and rational response of every individual capitalist to the loss of political security, so long as capitalist class control remains in any significant country. Thus the idea of a “national bourgeoisie” which is more committed to the nation-state than to its class position is illusory; and so is any strategy based on retaining the “mixed economy” by avoiding as far as possible statization of the economy, until the proletariat takes the power on a global scale. (Once the proletariat has taken power on a global scale, i.e. eliminated the capitalist states both in the existing imperialist centres and in potential successors (India, China, Brazil) surviving capitals will be forced to accept their loss of political power and a ‘mixed economy’ will be a possible and - in countries with a substantial peasantry - a highly desirable tactic.)

14. In addition, the evidence is now clear that the capitalist class is from its earliest days international in its operations, and that the bourgeois order – even a nascent bourgeois order – always contains a ‘world-hegemonic’ state which is the ultimate guarantor of international money and the international market. Venice played this role in the later middle ages, the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, Britain from the eighteenth to the early twentieth, and the USA from the 1940s to today.
Because the world-hegemonic state is the ultimate guarantor of the international market, its calculations are governed as much by geopolitical considerations affecting this market, as by the immediate interests of the particular capitals on which it depends. Thus Britain in the 1790s intervened, not primarily against French capital, but against the threat of plebeian democratic revolution.
For the same reasons, the British in 1918-21 orchestrated intervention against the Russian Revolution, and the USA since 1945 has engaged in a series of political interventions of one sort or another which were against the immediate interests of significant sectors of US capital, and probably against the immediate interests of capital as a whole, but consciously aimed by state strategy to secure the interests of capital as a global class (most clearly the Vietnam war).
It is thus necessary to in order to understand the actions of the world-hegemonic state to analyze them not only through class interests but also through the conscious conceptions of state/ class strategy held by central state actors. As a result, political dynamics and very localised political ideologies can here, at least temporarily, override objective class interests. This means that the evolution of policy can only be discussed historically and not derived directly by either formal or dialectical deduction from underlying dynamics.

15. The first response of British imperialism and its Entente and US partners to the Soviet regime was to attempt reconquest through the White generals or to carve out as many dependent states as possible from the body of the former Tsarist empire. By 1921 this policy had been clearly defeated, and the most far-sighted element of the British imperialist centre, the wing of the Liberals led by Lloyd George, sought to exploit NEP to restore capitalism. However, forces linked to the Whites were strong enough in the domestic political relation of forces and in the state apparatuses in both Britain and France to block a change of policy in this direction, and the former Entente powers continued to maintain a regime of, in effect, trade sanctions against the USSR through the 1920s and 1930s.
Lenin and Chicherin, while fighting for trade opening with the Entente powers, more realistically sought to develop Russian relations with the defeated German imperialism, and achieved a substantial agreement at Rapallo (1922). However, here, too, the internal relation of forces was an obstacle to the development of trade relations producing the sort of broad-ranging trade and investment the USSR needed. The German advocates of the Rapallo policy came from the military-heavy industrial complex and their political representatives on the nationalist-revanchist right. German light industry, and the German Social-Democracy, was committed to a rapprochement with the Entente powers and opposed this policy. Thus, though Rapallo did allow some Russo-German trade and German investment in Russian reconstruction, it was skewed towards heavy industry and did not alleviate the problem of relations between the proletariat and peasantry.
Stalin’s turn to quasi-re-enserf the peasantry through forced collectivisation and the five year plans took place within this framework of semi-blockade. Through the idea of ‘socialism in one country’ it actually celebrated the semi-blockade - thereby representing the nationalism of the petty proprietors even as the regime made itself their master.

16. In the aftermath of the 1929 crash the international relation of forces was profoundly altered. Britain was forced to major cuts in arms expenditure which entailed losing its absolute global military-technical predominance, while the US under Roosevelt and Germany after Hitler’s coup embarked on deficit-led public works programmes, including arms expansion. A sector of US capital assisted in funding German rearmament, clearly with a view partly to finally breaking British power, partly to German eastwards expansion and conquest of the USSR. A sector of the British state elite clearly accepted this latter project and it informed their attitudes to the Austrian Anschluss and to the 1938 Sudetenland crisis. In this sense the political dynamic had shifted again to a policy of reconquest, leading up to 1941.
However, the specific configuration of diplomatic dynamics, and of British and French domestic political dynamics, in 1939-40 had the effect that the Nazi regime set out to conquer western Europe before attacking the USSR, and found itself through this course of action and through its alliances with Italy and Japan in direct conflict first with Britain and, from 1941, with the US.
Under these conditions the Stalin regime was able in response to the 1941 invasion to mobilise its population under the banner of national self-defence and an international People’s Front, i.e. alliance with the western ‘democratic capitalists’, and received significant material aid from the western imperialist Allies.
This configuration of forces inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Nazi regime, allowed the Kremlin to create a glacis in eastern Europe and northern Korea and CPs in Yugoslavia, Albania, China and northern Vietnam to seize power, and thereby gave a powerful ideological impulsion to the ideologies of people’s front, national roads to socialism and party monolithism. It also allowed a very substantial technology transfer to the Moscow regime both from the US and from the defeated Germans, and thereby gave a powerful material impulsion to the Soviet economy which was not to be exhausted till the later 1960s.

17. In response to these developments US policy-makers in the late 1940s developed the systematic policy of ‘containment’ of communism. This was in substance a return to the policy of blockade on a more systematic level: trade controls were accompanied by a large-scale military presence of the US and its allies at the borders, and by major concessions to the European (Marshall Aid, GATT 1, Bretton Woods), and, later, the east Asian bourgeoisies and to their working classes, to make capitalism more attractive to the populations of the borderlands on both sides of the line. The Soviet and soviet-modelled regimes responded by accentuating their commitments to nationalism and ‘socialism in one country’ and by positive steps of self-blockade, most strikingly symbolised by the Berlin Wall.
The partial blockade and self-blockade was never complete: trade between the ‘West’ and the ‘East’ continued, under controls. But it did block movement of persons, movement of capital, and the integration of the peasantry into the world market, which are critical elements in the formation of the proletariat as a class and the decline of the petty proprietors, and substantially reduce technology transfers. As a result it reinforced the underlying condition of Bonapartist dictatorship in countries dominated by extant or re-created peasant agriculture, in spite of the absolute growth of the urban working class. The apparent stability of the regimes, which was actually an effect of the policy of ‘containment’, made them appear to be a real alternative to capitalism.

18. The apparent strength of the bureaucratic regimes and of the ideological project of the people’s front - national roads - socialism in one country - party monolithism was not a simple fake which international capital supported as a weapon of control over the working class (e.g. Ticktin’s argument). Rather, the political-military configuration of forces in 1939-45 supported it between 1941 and 1948. This configuration of forces grew out of the internal contradictions of the capitalist order: the fact that 1939-45 was not only an attempt to reconquer the USSR, but also a war for world imperialist hegemony.
US imperialism’s policy of ‘containment’ was not originally started because Stalinism was a good way of controlling the working class: it wasn’t, as the late 1960s and early 1970s proved. It was started because of the weakness of international capital in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and the - probably justified - belief that starting a new general war in 1948 over the east European glacis states (or China) would result in revolution in western Europe and Britain and might even bring down the US state.
Nonetheless, the survival and even extension of the bureaucratic regimes between 1948 and the 1980s was an artefact of the US’s policy of containment. The internal contradictions of these regimes meant that they needed to be under blockade: a real opening to the world market would destroy the internal social relationship of forces which supported the regime.
Conversely, the nationalism which ideologically supported the policy of economic autarky inevitably meant conflicts between national bureaucracies which emerged in the period of containment: first Tito, then Gomulka, then Nagy, who went too far and was crushed, then the Sino-Soviet split. The Sino-Soviet split legitimised and gave potential material backing to more independent behaviour both of regimes (Cuba, Albania, Romania) and of communist parties in the capitalist countries. This in turn weakened the ability of the regimes to respond to the centralised manoeuvres of US-led world imperialism, and reinforced (by producing national plans inconsistent with a rational international division of labour in Comecon) the planning irrationalities which flowed from bureaucratic control of information, from the go-slow resistance of the workers and peasants, and from the development of local corporatisms.

19. The policy of containment reached its limits with US defeat in Vietnam and the offensive of the working class in the US and Europe around 1970. The underlying problem was that (a) the absolute dominance of US productive capital in the wake of 1945 had been eroded, with the result that US military commitments in Vietnam and the resulting budget deficit blew up the Bretton Woods monetary system, and (b) the material and ideological concessions made to the US and European proletariat from the 1950s for the sake of containment began to threaten capitalist control.
In the result the US state gradually and experimentally evolved a new policy. The first element of this policy was Nixon’s China turn: an increased attention to exploiting national divisions between the bureaucracies. The second, also dating from the Nixon administration, and connected, was applied both to the Soviet-style regimes and to the neocolonies. It was a major turn to international lending to states, which would supposedly finance development projects. This was expected to draw states away from bilateral relations with the USSR and towards integration in the western financial system. Thirdly, and consistent with these policies, the Nixon and Ford administrations began the policy of the US responding to colonial nationalism with ‘counter-subversion’ using covert aid to minority nationality and religious groups to support guerrilla resistance.
Fourth was an ideological offensive, initiated under Jimmy Carter, around the banners of ‘human rights’ and a revival of pre-Keynesian economic theory. At this period US covert funding was shifted in Europe from right social-democrats to neo-liberals and in the colonies from rightist military nationalists to forms of religious traditionalism.
The final element was put in place by the Reagan administration. A major expansion of US arms expenditure was financed on a deficit basis (which was made available by US seigniorage in the floating currencies regime which followed the collapse of Bretton Woods). On the one hand, this delivered a substantial stimulus to the US economy at the expense of rival capitalist centres. It thereby enabled the creation of a new political coalition in the US which could escape the concessions to the proletariat which had affected the ‘New Deal’ coalition of the 1940s-1960s. On the other hand, it confronted the Moscow regime with a choice between attempting to match US spending, or becoming subject to nuclear blackmail to enforce US demands that Moscow abandon support for colonial national movements and for its own satellite states.
US and British strategic thinkers writing around 1980 anticipated that the ‘Soviet empire’ would break up under the weight of its national contradictions (which the US was sedulously promoting): Afghanistan was to be the shape of the Soviet future.
In fact, what happened was both unexpected and unexpectedly rapid. Moscow briefly attempted to match US military spending, and as a result destroyed the state budget and the (already pretty limited) functionality of the central plan. Then, under Gorbachev, the regime collapsed politically and financially, and abandoned its former clients, leading to rapid collapses in eastern Europe. Only at the final stage did national contradictions of the regimes break through to break up the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.

20. Capitalist theorists expected the Soviet regime to break up around the national question. In fact, it collapsed politically, from the centre outwards. Trotskyist theorists held that there could be a workers’ revolution against the bureaucratic regime, a view shared by ‘state capitalism’ theorists and by some ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ theorists. In fact, the collapse of the regimes produced demoralisation of the working class, further atomisation and a tendency for collective political life in general to be reduced to gravel. These phenomena were radically unlike the crises and collapses of feudal and capitalist political regimes with which we are all familiar from history. The political collapse of the regime has echoed through the workers’ organisations internationally: even the social-democracy has proved to be less autonomous of the Soviet regime than, for the last eighty years, it proudly believed.
These unexpected results occurred because though the Soviet bureaucracy had escaped from the control of the proletariat and come to be the Bonapartist representative-master of the petty proprietors, it had not escaped from ideological and social dependence on the quasi-enserfed Russian urban working class, or from ideological dependence on and integration in the international workers’ movement.

Anonymous said...

V. The state, its ‘1921 ideology’ and the form of the collapse

21. The Soviet bureaucracy was not a class and the Chinese, Cuban, etc., bureaucracies do not form a class. Class is an inheritable relation to the means of production, grounded on the social institution of private property in the means of production. (Though this proposition does not appear explicitly in Marx, the reason it does not is fairly clearly that as a lawyer trained in the civilian tradition he assumed that the relation of “ownership” was inherently an inheritable and private one.)
Class formations are tolerated by societies over prolonged periods of time for two reasons. The first is that the competitive relations between private slaveowners, feudal barons, capitalists, etc., tend to create incentives to develop the forces of production (albeit more slowly in pre-capitalist than in capitalist societies). The second is that the institution of small productive property (the peasant’s farm, the artisan’s shop, and so on) legitimates the individual property claims of large owners.
The bureaucracy had neither form of legitimacy. But for the form of 1939-45 it would have collapsed in that period; because of the form of that attack and the character of US policy after 1948, it survived for one more generation of the political regime and collapsed with the dying-off or retirement of the generation that fought in 1941-45.
Instead, the bureaucracy is a segment of the intelligentsia, distinguished by political, managerial, etc., office within the hierarchy of the regime. A sacked bureaucrat, or a bureaucrat’s child, is no longer a bureaucrat but just another manager or professional. The intelligentsia in turn is a segment of the class of petty proprietors, defined by its collective monopoly of certain skills and information and individual ownership of other skills and information. The bureaucracy as distinct from the petty proprietors in general is thus a political entity distinguished by its participation in the state as a special organisation of armed force.

22. A state is a body of armed forces backed by a bureaucratic logistics apparatus and having a sufficient military preponderance in a territory to be capable of levying taxes to support itself. Put another way, a state is an exceptionally successful protection racket. Historically, several states have started out as simple looting operations, and in the recent past a number of states have collapsed into competing small-scale looting operations. Without more, however, what we have is not the state but warlordism.
To go beyond small-scale warlordism the state needs to be able to hold soldiers and bureaucrats back from simple looting, for two reasons. The first is that an army is different from any other bunch of people with weapons because it is organisationally coherent. The second is that at the end of the day the state is a minority group and if it loots to excess, or fails to provide the services normally expected of states (military defence, dispute management and the management of natural emergencies) the society as a whole will cease to tolerate it.
For a single generation, or at most two, coherence can be provided by the role of a charismatic individual leader (Genghis Khan, etc.). To go beyond this a state needs a political ideology, expressed partly directly as ideas and culture and partly in organisational forms, to give it organisational coherence and enable state self-control of the tendency of individual soldiers and bureaucrats to loot. US state actors, for example, have to believe that they are defending and applying the US Constitution.
In classical antiquity both ideology and structural form are given to the state by the religio-political ideologies of the slaveowner power; in feudalism by the ideas of organised religion, the nation, and the feudal patron-client chain. In most modern states this ideology and organisational form is given by the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The state is held together by the ideas of the state as a ‘national’ firm in the world market and of constitutionalism and the ‘rule of law’, i.e. the assimilation of all disputes to private property disputes. The organisational forms of credit financing of the state through a central bank and financial markets, and the rule-structure of the bureaucracy through tax law, military law and constitutional and administrative law provide the institutional basis of coherence. These forms render the states in question dependent on and committed to the classes (slaveowners, landlords, capitalists) which created them.

23. The Soviet state was created in 1918-21, after the collapse of the ‘Commune state’ policy, by creating a military striking force, whose core was drawn from the urban proletariat, which could represent the peasants’ struggle against the landlords by mastering the peasants’ resistance to food levies. This state was cohered by the ideology that the Communist Party politically represented the working class as its most advanced element, as against the ‘backward’ elements of the mass of the class opposed to the Party, and that the party leadership similarly represented the party as its most advanced element, against the ‘backward’ elements of the party ranks opposed to it. Its critical institutional forms were thus the ‘leading role of the party’ and the internal hierarchical form of the party. The ideology of representation of the proletariat was given organisational form through the policy of levies and purges, which would supposedly maintain the proletarian purity of the party and its connection to the class.
Other institutional pillars of the state were given by steps taken to defeat the economic resistance first of the bourgeoisie and then of the peasants, priests and ‘NEPmen’: the state monopoly of foreign trade, the general statization of large-scale industry, the campaigns against religion, and finally general planification and the forced collectivisations. These institutional forms destroyed both the right of property, and religion, as potential ideological bases of the state.
All that was left was (a) nationalism - ‘socialism in one country’ - reflecting the character of the regime as the representative of the petty proprietors; and (b) the ideology that the party represented the proletariat, reflecting its historical origin in the proletarian movement and need of a worker-origin core to be able to master the peasantry. In order to remain coherent as a state, the bureaucracy thus had to believe that it politically represented the proletariat - and it had to continue the policy initiated as ‘levies and purges’, which tied it sociologically to a section of the proletariat.

24. The ideology that the Party represented the proletariat had the consequence in domestic politics that the bureaucracy could not enter into endemic open collective conflict with the quasi-enserfed urban working class and the working class could not enter into endemic open collective conflict with the bureaucracy. This is a radical divergence from capitalism, where the endemic open conflict of proletarian and capitalist over pay, hours and conditions of work both grounds the formation of independent proletarian organisations and has major effects in shaping capitalist politics.
The bureaucracy, if it entered into endemic open conflict with the working class, would suffer increasing ideological crisis and the state would lose its internal coherence. Hence in the first phase of the bureaucratic regime under Stalin, the bureaucracy’s struggle for power took the form of removing oppositionists and suspected oppositionists from the society: the purges, the labour camps and mass executions. In the post-Stalin period, the result was a dynamic in which collective worker resistance led initially to sharp repression, followed by concessions: some worker leaders were removed from the society, while others were integrated into the bureaucracy. This regime tended towards stagnation, because the individual resistance of the working class in the form of go-slow and low quality labour could not be crushed or a reserve army of labour created without the state losing ideological coherence. The bureaucracy thus tended, not to maximise the extraction of the social surplus from the primary producers, but to fail to extract a social surplus except in the absolutely marginal form of personal consumption privileges.
The working class, conversely, could not develop organisations and experienced local activists independent of the bureaucracy (a “workers’ vanguard”), because workers’ leaders who refused integration into the bureaucracy would be removed from the society. The bureaucracy’s ideological claim to represent the working class, and its reflection in the integration of a section of worker leaders into the bureaucracy, had the effect of disabling class politics as an ideology of resistance. It was thus guaranteed that when the bureaucracy finally collapsed, and even in episodic crises like those in Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, and Poland 1976 and 1980, the working class would be unable to develop class political independence.

25. The ideology that the Party represented the proletariat had the consequence in international politics that the bureaucracy was bound by its nature to attempt to master the international workers’ movement, and by virtue of its possession of state power was likely to succeed in doing so.
The bureaucracy was bound to attempt to master the international workers’ movement for two reasons. The first and fundamental was that it its core ideology that the party represented the class meant that it was no more capable of entering into endemic and unmitigated conflict with the workers’ organisations internationally than it was of entering into endemic conflict with the domestic working urban class. The RSDLP-Majorityite was born out of the Second International’s policy of unifying the socialist groups into parties; the Russian Communist Party was born in the struggle for the Communist International. If the Soviet state was not only isolated on the world stage but also isolated within the international workers’ movement, ideological collapse would result. This dynamic produced the attempts of several distinct national bureaucracies after the Sino-Soviet split to produce their own ‘international communist movements’ (Beijing, Havana, Tirana).
Secondly and secondarily, the international workers’ movement played an important ancillary role in the struggles in 1918-21 to defeat the intervention and in the NEP period to break out of the partial trade blockade. It thus became an important, albeit secondary, component of the political culture of the regime to call on the aid of the international workers’ movement for its diplomatic manoeuvres. This ideology informed the advice of the Comintern leadership to the CPs in Britain in 1926, China in 1927, France in 1936 and - most spectacularly - GPU operations against the left in Spain in 1936-38. The phenomenon of official Communist parties and their fellow-travellers being drawn into tactics aimed to support Moscow’s (or Maoists Beijing’s) diplomatic operations continued down to the collapse, though after 1941-45 it had much less practical significance.
The bureaucracy was likely to succeed in mastering the international workers’ movement because its possession of state power meant that it had both the authority of apparent success, and much greater material resources than those possessed by any workers’ organisation under capitalism. Only the pro-capitalists and social-democrats, who threw the weight of the capitalist states into the balance against the official communists, could overwhelm them. In addition, the ideology of monolithism, national roads and peoples’ fronts actually expressed the interests of the trade union and social-democratic bureaucracies, as they are opposed to those of the proletariat as a class, more perfectly than classical social-democracy: there was therefore a tendency for even the overt pro-capitalist wings of the social-democracy to become ‘stalinised’ while rejecting the official communists’ and their fellow-travellers’ support for the USSR (etc.).
The principle of top-down military-style discipline and the authority of higher committees over lower also had the effect that within broader workers’ organisations the momentary striking power of those parties whose organisational forms built on the 1921 Theses was far greater than their unorganised or less centralised opponents. The price paid for this was, however, an underlying tendency - proceeding more slowly in the capitalist countries than in the USSR and the other bureaucratic regimes - to annihilate the local mediations between the party (or trade union, etc.!) centre and the mass of the class. Communist parties and Communist-led organisations (and semi-Stalinised social-democratic ones) increasingly tended to become hollowed-out shells at the base.
The hegemony of the bureaucracy in the international workers’ movement meant that it was absolutely impossible for a forward movement in the class elsewhere in the world to produce a rival revolutionary pole which could overthrow the bureaucracy, or animate a movement in the Soviet-model regimes for its overthrow, in the interests of the working class. Any such forward movement would, even if it started outside official communism, be forced to elect between the hegemony of the bureaucracy and that of the capitalist state system.

26. On this basis it should be possible to see why the collapse took the form and had the consequences it did. The efforts of the imperialists to detach the USSR’s clients and draw them into the US orbit promoted not only this direct effect, but also nationalism at the centre: a sense that Russia was losing out, both by subsidising the client states, and by not getting the apparent benefits of the world financial market (in the first phase of the US’s turn, when private capitals lent freely to semicolonial countries and to Soviet clients who were prepared to take ideological distance from Moscow). The pressure of US high-tech on Soviet military budgets displayed with awful clarity the inferiority of the bureaucratic regime as a producer of military technology and, indeed, more generally of ‘growth’. The generation of the top bureaucracy below those adult and active in 1939-45 thus simply ceased to believe in the superiority of the Soviet system and the ideology that the party represented the working class. When, under Gorbachev, they began to carry this loss of belief into practice, the client regimes were abandoned and the central political regime collapsed like a house of cards.
In collapsing in this way, the bureaucracy demonstrated the utter falsity of the theory of “Soviet imperialism”: the existence of the client regimes flowed from the bureaucracy’s ideological commitments and in particular from the ideologies that the party represented the proletariat and of the ‘anti-imperialist front’, not from any internal dynamic driving a desire to expand the surplus controlled by the bureaucracy.
The inability of the working class to attain class-political independence in this crisis, resulting from the prior character of the regime, meant that all that was left was a choice between pure petty-proprietor nationalism and the importation of ideas from the US. Given the fact that the US’s turn was a response to the decline of its world-hegemony, there was never any question of a ‘New Marshall Plan’ to restore capitalism as it had been restored in postwar western Europe. The result of the ascendancy of the free-market ideologues was therefore immediate exposure to the world market and a catastrophic economic collapse. This collapse further weakened the working class as a class (as collapses always do), and was interpreted as further evidence of the uselessness of the Soviet economic regime.

27. Internationally, the hegemony of the Soviet model meant that the regime could not go down without dealing a body-blow in ideology and morale to the international workers’ movement. If the policy of the Trotskyists and semi-Trotskyists, of a workers’ revolution against the bureaucracy, had had any purchase on the course of events, the left would have been reorganised round (some variant of) Trotskyism. But precisely because the bureaucracy was in reality socially and ideologically dependent on its claim to represent the working class, the idea of a workers’ revolution against the bureaucracy was illusory: the working class could not attain class-political independence without the prior overthrow of the bureaucracy by some other force, which inevitably meant its overthrow by capital.
In addition, the Trotskyists and semi-Trotskyists, by their commitment to the cult of the personality of Trotsky, had committed themselves to not examining the proletariat’s loss of control of the state in 1918-21 or the centrality of 1921 to the ideology of the bureaucracy. They were thus none of them real advocates of the overthrow of the bureaucracy, whose forms they replicated in little in their own ranks, producing unprincipled splits, a wilderness of sects, and a tendency to collapse politically into left variants of official communism. Those leftists who were prepared to recognise that the proletariat lost control of the state in 1918-21, on the other hand, clung to utopian commitments to the council state, rejected party organisation and the ‘Kautskyite’ preparatory tasks of building mass organisations of the working class and fighting for a minimum programme, and marginalised themselves - or else simply joined the camp of the social-democracy.
Once the bureaucracy had collapsed, there began to be space for class trade union and political organisation. In eastern Europe this space was rapidly occupied by an element of the former bureaucracy, which transformed itself into bureaucracies of unions and workers’ parties under capitalism. This was predictable, since, as we have already seen, the bureaucratic regimes precisely drew into the regime workers’ leaders who under a capitalist regime would have formed a component of the broad workers’ vanguard. In the former ‘capitalist world’ the uselessness of Trotskyist ideology meant that the official CPs by and large survived, albeit on a much smaller scale than before, or dissolved into left-nationalist utopian socialist and populist formations. The collapse of the USSR therefore meant a continued hegemony of the ideas of official communism within a workers’ movement tending to decline both in size and coherence.

Anonymous said...

VI. The remaining bureaucratic regimes

28. China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba are variants on the Soviet blocked social configuration of forces and state formation ideologically connected to the working class, created by different means and less immediately dependent on the Soviet state than the regimes of eastern Europe were. For this reason they did not fall when the USSR fell. It is incorrect to regard capitalist, or semi-colonial, political regimes as having yet been restored in any of these countries.
In China and Vietnam the 1918-21 Russian process of an army and bureaucracy originally based on a small proletariat becoming the collective representative-master of the peasantry took place before the formal seizure of power, and at some distance from the proletarian movements (Shanghai 1920s, Tonkin 1930s) which formed the basis of the parties in question becoming mass parties. The civil war-revolution process also took place in response to actual direct national subordination to imperialism rather than, as in Russia in 1918-21, to secondary imperialist intervention in a civil war. The result is that the relative weight of petty-proprietor nationalism in the regime’s ideology, relative to the 1921 ideology, is higher than it was in the USSR’s state formation. The 1921 ideology is, however, by no means absent, and it is not yet clear whether it is critical for the ability of the state to retain coherence or can be dispensed with without collapsing the state.
North Korea is an east Asian equivalent of the GDR without the pre-history of the development of workers’ parties under capitalism. Originally created by Soviet occupation in 1945, it was saved from US reconquest by Chinese intervention in 1950-53. After the Sino-Soviet split it became a Soviet client in order to maintain national autonomy from China, a choice also followed by Vietnam after the 1970s turn of China to support for US global policy. The US in the period of ‘containment’ forced through land reform and built up a substantial autonomous capitalism in South Korea. The result is that Korean capitalist reunification is neither in Chinese interests (because it would risk creating a US client with a substantial land border with China) nor in US interests, unless it involves a war sufficiently destructive to knock South Korean capital out of the global picture (because it would risk creating a fully autonomous capitalist state and reducing US strategic control in the far east). North Korea thus remains under rigorous blockade, and - understandably, given the original marginality of the proletariat in the creation of the state - the bureaucracy has created in ‘Juche’ an ultra-nationalist ideology.
Cuba was at the time of the revolution a dependent capitalist country with a proletarian majority, and the revolution was made by the proletariat through a general strike in November 1958 leading to the political collapse of the Batistiano state, and the creation of quasi-soviet forms in the aftermath of this collapse. In 1959-61 a US policy of blockade, together with efforts of the Khrushchev leadership in the USSR to posture to the left at the period of the Sino-Soviet split, led to the attachment of Cuba to the USSR as a client state and the creation of bureaucratic state forms (leading role of the party, etc.) and ‘land reform’ which strengthened the previously marginal Cuban peasantry. Guevara endeavoured to create a myth of the Cuban revolution as the product of rural guerrilla warfare, and this myth has had some impact on the internal ideology of the Cuban state (as well as extensive and disastrous impact on these elements of the left in Latin America which bought the Guevarist myth). However, the (dependent) capitalist character of the pre-revolutionary social order, and the leading role of the proletariat in the revolution, have had the effects (1) that the internal contradictions of the regime are less violent than elsewhere and (2) that an ideological form of internationalism, going deeper than Soviet internationalist ideology, has been a persistent theme of Cuban state ideology. As a further result, the regime has considerable political support both in Latin America and in the US left. Cuba remains under US blockade both for this reason and for US domestic political reasons: like the White Russians in 1920s Britain and France, the Cuban emigrés have a significant organised lobby in the US.

29. In China, uniquely, there is some possibility of the emergence of a fully independent capitalist state, which would naturally become a contender for imperialist hegemony, out of the bureaucratic regime. There are several reasons for this distinctive dynamic.
Pre-revolutionary China was, in levels of technique and culture, a relatively highly developed area of the world, though the emergence of an autonomous Chinese capitalist state was blocked by the late survival of a ‘late antique’ state form which, in turn, artificially preserved free peasant landownership. US geopolitics towards the Chinese revolution in the 1950s led to the substantial pre-existent expatriate Chinese bourgeoisie being able to develop an enclave mercantile-financial capitalism, alongside significant industrial development in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Within this background, US geopolitics in relation to the USSR and Vietnam led in the 1970s to the US making significant trade, financial and technical openings towards China. The result, after the fall of the ‘Gang of Four’, was a major shift, through a NEP-style policy, in the direction of the development of capitalism in China within the political integument of the bureaucratic regime. This development has involved not only inwards investment by capitals from the existing imperialist centres, but also a substantial growth of Chinese capitals.
Under these conditions the Chinese state leadership has around the turn of the century been endeavouring to reinvent the state with a view to managing a cold transition to capitalism without collapsing into semi-colonial status. For ideological forms for this purpose it has drawn both on the long history of the pre-revolutionary Confucian bureaucracy, and on ‘social market’, ‘sustainable development’ and social-democratic ideas current in western Europe. It faces, however, two major contradictions in this project.
The first is that it is not in the interests of the US that China should emerge as an independent capitalist or imperialist power, either strategically - because the ring of US clients and semi-clients round China is not at all identical to the effective subordination of the European powers to the US, so that an independent capitalist China would present a strategic threat to US world hegemony - or immediately - because the immediate solvency of the US financial system depends on sucking Chinese money capital into US money markets. This contradiction is reflected in US ‘human rights’ rhetoric, in US pressure on China to alter its monetary and economic policies in favour of the US and “enforce IPRs effectively”, and in US endeavours to manipulate control of oil supplies and to create a more effective encirclement of China through US moves into central Asia.
The second is that the Chinese bureaucracy remains a descendant of the Soviet bureaucracy, and the claim of the CPC to represent the workers and peasants remains an important component in the internal coherence of the party and in the legitimacy of the party’s “leading role”. This contradiction is reflected both internally in ideological manoeuvres and inner-party tensions in the CPC, and externally in ‘democracy’ mutterings from the intelligentsia and localised worker and peasant protests, of types very traditional in the bureaucratic regimes. The failure of an independent trade union movement to emerge, in spite of massive proletarianisation and growth of a reserve army of labour, and the presence instead of local protests which appeal to honest bureaucrats against corrupt bureaucrats, are the clearest evidence in the considerable obscurity of current Chinese politics that the bureaucratic regime remains in place despite its extensive capitalist overlay.

30. It thus remains as true in China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea as it was in the USSR and the other former ‘socialist’ countries that the idea of a workers’ revolution against the bureaucracy before the full restoration of capitalism is illusory. Even when the bureaucracy presides over an economic order close to capitalism, as in China, its dynamics and its ideological foundation in the claim to represent the workers through the leading role of the party still operate to decapitate and integrate the quasi-enserfed urban working class and deprive it of the capacity to attain proletarian class-political independence.
For precisely the same reasons, as in the USSR and eastern Europe, if the regime does collapse into semicolonial status - or, in China, make a successful transition to capitalism - a section of the regime itself will emerge as the cadre of trade unions and of a party of a broadly social-democratic character.
Two alternative outcomes are possible. The first - probably particularly relevant to Cuba and North Korea - is destruction through US military operations. This would leave behind nothing but wreckage (Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq ...).
The second is the possible contingency that the imperialist centres’ current juggling act fails, and global financial markets, and with them the banks and the dollar seigniorage system, collapse before the failure of the surviving bureaucratic regimes. In this case the surviving role of the 1921 ideology in the regimes could lead to a ‘left Stalinist’ / ‘Maoist’ shift back to autarky and planning, which would be lent strength and legitimacy - as in the case of Russia in the aftermath of the 1929 crash - by the manifest crisis of capitalism. However, the extent of the dependence of society in the imperialist centres on credit money and the financial system at the present date means that such a collapse would quite clearly bring with it immediate dislocation of the social metabolism (bank deposits become worthless; no-one gets paid at the end of the week; food supplies, etc., are dislocated) and hence probably bring down the imperialist political regimes in their current form. The longer term results of such a collapse are utterly unpredictable. For precisely this reason the imperialist centres will go to any length, including war, to avoid such a collapse.

Anonymous said...

VII. Marxism against and after Stalinism

31. It should thus be apparent that the whole project of ‘socialism in one country’ is a blind alley. What it leads to is at best the restoration of capitalism after a detour which includes labour camps, episodes of mass starvation, etc.
But we have to go further. The project of ‘socialism in one country’ emerged from the international isolation of the Russian revolution, the preponderance of the petty proprietors in Russian society under blockade, and the utopian character of the project of a strategic or long-term worker-peasant alliance. Though peasant predominance is gone from the imperialist countries, the converse is that - as 1914-18 and 1939-45 demonstrated - these countries are more vulnerable to economic blockade than the former Tsarist empire was.
Because the bourgeoisie is an international class and the nation-states are part of an international state system under the hegemony of a leading global capital-state, outside of the immediate crisis of a world hegemon, like 1939-45, inter-capitalist contradictions will always be secondary to the class contradiction involved in the bourgeoisie losing political power in a single country or group of countries. The fate of the Russian revolution is thus a disproof of any strategy which involves taking power in a single country and subsequently spreading the revolution by any means other than immediate international revolutionary war.
Both the problem of the international character of capital, and the problem of the proletariat’s relations with the petty proprietors, thus entail that the only feasible strategy is to develop the proletariat’s action and organisation on an international scale before the question of power is immediately posed. This means developing work with a view not to ancillary ‘solidarity’ on the scale which occurred in e.g. Britain in the aftermath of 1917, but to international strikes, etc., and to posing the question of power globally or at least on a continental scale in response to crises which will have an international character. It implies that trade union and workers’ party organisation needs to move towards continental or global rather than national forms.

32. In the long historical view, the Soviet regime and its imitators can be seen in two ways. From one point of view it is a Münster Commune on a very large scale. That is, it is a utopian-socialist adventure emerging out of the collapse of pre-capitalist political and social orders, based ultimately on the petty proprietors, and destined to be overthrown in favour of capitalism. From another point of view it is an analogue on a world scale of the craft union pre-entry closed shop. That is, it is a gain for a section of the working class at the expense of the interests of the class as a whole. Specifically, the large majority of the workers’ vanguard decided to prioritise the short-term survival of the Soviet state (and the limited social gains for the quasi-enserfed Soviet urban working class, by comparison with semi-colonial capitalism, that the Soviet state made possible) over the strategic interests of the proletariat as an international class. It is this decision which was expressed in the 1921 ideology.
The resulting regime was (in Jack Conrad’s useful expression) ‘ectopic’: that is, it was blocked from any real development or forward movement in the direction of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism. Because of its hegemony over the international workers’ movement (above 25.) it also stood as an absolute roadblock in the way of the creation of the dictatorship of the proletariat anywhere else, and one which could only be removed by the regime collapsing faced with capitalist dynamics. But its character as a roadblock, and the ‘ectopic’ character of the regime itself, depended precisely on the fact that the regime contained the elements of a workers’ vanguard, which emerge after the fall of the regime as the cadre of trade unions and workers’ parties, and that it hegemonised the workers’ vanguard internationally.

33. The survival of the regime and the hegemony of its ideology in the international workers’ movement presented those Marxists who refused to accept official communist ideology (Trotskyists, etc.; for the sake of brevity, “independent Marxists”) with an apparent devil’s choice. To defend the historical ideas of Marxism against official communist ideology and against the anti-communist orthodoxies of capitalist ideology required independent Marxists to take political and moral distance from the Soviet bureaucracy and its crimes. But to do so threatened also to separate the independent Marxists from the large majority of the workers’ vanguard and therefore from the mass movements this vanguard led. The result would be a further choice: between integration in the social-democracy, and an existence as petty sects attempting to compete with the official communists and the social-democracy for raw newly radicalising recruits.
The resulting tension was most acute among the Trotskyists. In the first place, their commitment to the theses of the first four Congresses of the Comintern made it hard for them to reconcile to either integration in the social-democracy or a purely sectarian existence. Secondly, they believed (a) that there could be a workers’ revolution against the bureaucracy (“political revolution”, though Trotsky’s original sense of this was more like 1830, i.e. a coup against Stalin and his immediate cothinkers, or the overthrow of this group faced with a mass movement without a full-dress collapse of the state), and (b) that that the USSR represented a strategic gain for the working class which had to be defended as such against the capitalists. The second of these beliefs would only be true if the first was, and the first was false, so that the Trotskyist perspective was utopian. Both positions were also in sharp tension with taking political distance from the bureaucracy: a tension which first became apparent in 1939-40, and which drove an endless succession of splits afterward. Trotskyist groups tended to oscillate between the three poles of (a) the “non-Stalinist workers’ movement” (i.e. the social-democracy and simple syndicalism), (b) pure sectarianism, and (c) “integration in the mass movement” and “anti-imperialism” (i.e. collapse into left versions of official communism).
After the fall of the USSR it initially appeared that these problems had become moot and that it should be possible to regroup all those forces who were prepared to commit to an open and democratic socialism and an internationalist strategy as an alternative to capitalist ‘globalisation’. With the turn of the US to more open direct military attacks on ‘third world’ countries, it has become transparent that there is not a ‘new movement’: that is, that in spite of the fall of the USSR the ideology of official communism is still dominant in the international workers’ movement. The independent Marxists are, therefore, still paralyzed by the apparent devil’s choice between taking political distance from official communism and thereby separating from the mass movements led by official communists (and by decomposed variants of official communism and its fellow-travellers) or ‘integrating in the mass movement’ at the price of abandoning fundamental strategic positions of marxism.

34. Once we grasp the underlying dynamic that the bureaucratic regime acted as a global block on the forward movement of the proletariat because of the ideological dependence of the regime on the party-state’s claim to represent the proletariat, it becomes apparent that the apparent devil’s choice is actually a false choice. As long as the bureaucratic regime survived, any hope of the independent Marxists leading an independent forward movement of the proletariat by bypassing the official communists was illusory. Conversely, accepting suppression of the fundamentals of Marxism for the sake of integration in the mass movement was also illusory, since this option in effect bought in to the blind-alley strategy of official communism.
The task of the independent Marxists was therefore to prepare for the inevitable collapse of the regimes. This remains the task of independent Marxists in relation to the Chinese, North Korean, Cuban and Vietnamese regimes. The independent Marxists could only have prepared for the collapse of the regimes - and contemporary independent Marxists can only prepare for the fall of the surviving bureaucratic regimes - by acting as an external faction of the official communist movement. That is, simultaneously keeping physically as close as possible to the militants of the official communist parties and the movements they led/ lead, while constantly politically explaining that the regimes and the ideology of official communism amounts to a historical blind alley bound to end in collapse, and putting forward an alternative strategy based on political democracy and developing the international and continental action of the proletariat. Until the collapse, such a policy could only support propaganda groups. But at the point of the collapse, it could - unlike Trotskyism - have provided those militants of the official communist movement who did not altogether abandon the cause of the working class with a road back to Marxism (in the surviving regimes could this is still just about possible).

35. Trotsky and the Trotskyists argued for a policy of defence of the USSR - and the Trotskyists extended this policy to the other Soviet-style states - on the basis that the USSR was a strategic gain for the working class. This claim partly depended on the possibility of ‘political revolution’, which was actually impossible. It partly depended on the claim that the USSR embodied, through the statization of industry, the state monopoly of foreign trade and the plan, new proletarian “property relations”. This second claim was a profound theoretical error, and one which helped promote a drift of Trotskyism into economism.
The policy of defencism was nonetheless correct and remains correct in relation to the surviving bureaucratic regimes both in relation to external wars with the surrounding capitalist states and in relation to pro-capitalist movements within the regimes (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Poland 1980, Tienanmen 1989).
The underlying reason for this policy is precisely (a) those ideological linkages between the bureaucratic state and the quasi-serf urban working class and the international workers’ movement which have the effect that the bureaucratic regime is a block on the development of the workers’ movement, and (b) the contradiction between the bureaucratic regimes and the surrounding capitalist regimes.
The primary result is that though the regimes are not strategic gains for the working class, they are in general - like the craft union pre-entry closed shop - partial gains for sections of the working class relative to the extant capitalist alternatives. The truth of this point was made visible by the results of the fall of the USSR and of the Soviet abandonment of the USSR’s Afghan clients.
Defensism does not imply that we seek either to preserve the regimes, or to restore the regime of autarkic planning. If by some piece of magic independent Marxists suddenly acquired the leadership of, for example, the CPC, our policy would be to detach the party and unions from the state in order to conduct a retreat to capitalism in the best possible order. By analogy, Marxists do not defend the pre-entry closed shop, and if we had had the leadership of the print unions, for example, would have argued for getting rid of it in order to create stronger industrial unions: but when workers went into action under the craft union misleaders to defend it, we did not align ourselves Eddie Shah or News International. The analogy holds in spite of the fact that the proletarian masses will not defend the bureaucratic regime, because it is only from the elements of the regime which would, but for the structure of the regime, be part of the workers’ vanguard that a workers’ vanguard can, after the unavoidable fall of the regimes, be forged.
In most concrete cases of wars between bureaucratic states and capitalist states the point is perfectly comprehensible to the broad workers’ vanguard, and no-one on the left - with the possible exception of the AWL - would find any difficulty in defending Cuba, North Korea, China or Vietnam against direct US attack.
Secondly - and more important in relation to pro-capitalist internal movements - we are concerned with orienting those militants of the official communist movements who do not abandon the cause of the working class, in relation to the struggles that will follow the inevitable collapse of the regime. “Defencism” here does not mean advocating repression or the use of force, unless as a response to an actual seizure of power by the far right. It means advocating an ideological battle against those who would propose that the head of the national church should become a minister of state (Hungary) or “access to the mass media for representatives of all religions” (Poland), that state industries should be broken up and privatised (Czechoslovakia), or that “It is necessary to sweep away the bureaucratic barriers which make it impossible for the market to operate” (Poland), or that “the movement is not ready for worker participation because democracy must first be absorbed by the students and intellectuals before they can spread it to others” (Tienanmen). It is thus opposed to the majority policy of the Trotskyists, of prettifying pro-capitalist movements, and thus adding their small mite to the demoralisation and disorientation produced by the collapse when it comes.
In both cases the caveat is necessary and has to be emphasised that independent Marxists must not identify with, or take responsibility for, the policy of the bureaucratic regime. To give a concrete example, independent Marxists should have been Soviet-defensists in relation to the war between the Red Army and the USSR’s Afghan clients and the US’s mujahedin clients: that is, once the war had started, we should have been for the victory of the Red Army and PDPA and the defeat of the mujahedin. But this would not imply that we supported the decision of Moscow to use the Red Army to overthrow the Khalq faction of the PDPA. Here and generally, the course of the bureaucracy in the war in Afghanistan was guaranteed to lead to defeat, and independent Marxists should have said so openly.

November 2004

Boffy said...


Thank you for that. I found your comments and analysis very interesting. I also found it more honest than most on the left, certainly more so than that presented by Sean in respect of Cliff’s State capitalism. I remember during the debate with the Thornettites, Sean reproduced Trotsky’s article entitled “Learn to Think”, but it seems to me that part of the problem with the AWL’s approach is that it has simply replaced one set of US Trotskyist gurus with another having decided that the horse they originally backed has fallen. Hence the filling of the pages of the paper and magazine with uncritical reprints of the writings of Shachtman et al from 50 years ago. What is worse is that in reprinting this material on occasion the lack of criticism makes no sense except as a means of defending a wrong theory and methodology. Take Shachtman’s argument in relation to Soviet Imperialism. Shachtman presented this as the USSR plundering Eastern Europe etc. At the time Shachtman wrote that there was some justification, the USSR was taking large amounts of Capital equipment from East Germany – though it should be borne in mind that Nazi Germany had previously taken 25% of Soviet agricultural and industrial production – but decades before the AWL uncritically reprinted this article the USSR far from plundering Eastern Europe was propping it up with huge transfers, just as it was propping up Vietnam, Cuba etc. and giving vast sums of money to liberation movements!

But, to have challenged the theory of Soviet Imperialism would necessarily have meant challenging the Shachtmanite, Third Camp new class theories which are inextricably tied to it, be that in the Bureaucratic Collectivist or State Capitalist variety. Again its noticeable that the AWL does not base its argumentation on any new thinking in respect of either variant, but relies on simply reproducing the arguments of others from within that Third Camp tendency. It is very light on its own empirical evidence in justification of the theory it has adopted. In thoroughly unMarxist style it makes assertions about the existence of such a new class, but has repeatedly failed to prove the existence of such a class, or to provide any empirical evidence to contradict the detailed analysis of say Ticktin or other contributors to Critique who showed why in Marxists terms no such new class existed – I have for instance referred to the arguments of Mary Macaulay, and Sheila Fitzpatrick. We have assertions that the bureaucracy – whatever that means as its never properly defined or delineated – reproduced itself, but no empirical evidence to justify the assertion. In fact as Macaulay and Fitzpatrick show, it wasn’t true. As I have shown in relation to the last Politburo – the very body you would think would embody the reproduction of this bureaucratic class – its members were drawn not from the offspring of ruling bureaucrats, but from the lower layers of society.

I believe that Trotskyists as Leninists are forced to adopt such positions because only in doing so can they remain true to Leninism, avoid the necessary criticism of the Leninist theory of the revolutionary party and the socialist transformation, whilst separating themselves from the concrete truth of the historical experience of the nature of the Workers States that emerged from the application of that theory. I think the thesis you put forward avoids that problem, and does ask questions about that Leninist theory. However, I do disagree with the thesis you have outlined, and I will reply in a separate blog entry to facilitate reading and further comment.

See:Reply to Mike McNair PartI