Thursday, 28 February 2008

The Workers State and the Vision of Perfection

This is a brief reply to a point made by USRed in a debate on Workers States here.

The discussion was essentially in relation to the nature of Cuba, and how could it be a Workers State when it upheld reactionary policies such as the illegality of homosexuality.

The essential answer to this is that there is a great divide between the fact that a State may be a Workers State i.e. that objectively the workers are the ruling social class, and it being socialist, which would imply that a whole series of other changes in the conscioussness of the working class have taken place. To view things in the terms USRed does is to surround the working class with an aura of perfection that certainly does not exist, and is unlikely to exist for some considerable time even after the working class take power. The historical answer is to look at the USSR not in its Stalinist form, but in the revolutionary form of 1917/18. Despite the mythology that Leninists try to surround this period with the actual leaders of the revolution at that time - Lenin and Trotsky - had no problem addressing the reality of the time, and the shortcomings of the working class and peasantry.

The fact is that in 1918 not only the Russian workers and peasants, but the supposed advanced workers, the actual rank and file members of the Bolshevik Party were riddled with Black Hundredism. Great Russian chauvinism ran rampant amongst them in Ukraine in 1918. And as I pointed out in the debate the fact is that the most militant section of the British working class, the most advanced workers that would have been at the spearhead of any revolutionary, political General Strike in the 1970's and 1980's - indeed did lead what was effectively a political General Strike in 1974 that brought down the Tory Government - the Miners were also riddled with a macho spirit, and sexism. Given the number of miners its likely that there were as high a proprtion of gay miners as in the rest of the population, yet it is amazing how a macho environment can intimidate people into conformity. Yes, the Miners Wives Groups did take on the question of sexism with some success, but largely in forcing the sexism underground rather than abolishing it, and even near the end of the strike there were still the Chants of "Get Your Tits out for the Boys."

Reactionary ideas are a function of the degradation of individuals that class society, and capitalism in particular engender. It is anti-materialist to beleive that such ideas can be adequately dealt with short of dealing with the underlying material causes of them. Capitalism is worse than most other class systems in this regard for the very reason that it is premised on the idea of EQUALITY. There is an excellent analysis of this in relation to RACISM by a black American Marxist sociologist called Oliver Cromwell Cox. Cox's argument is simple. In previous class systems there was no need of racism, because the basis of society WAS inequality, whether it be the master slave relation in Slave owning societies, or the division of society by rank in feudal society. The idea that someone should occupy a subordinate role did not require explanation or justification. IN Spain, for instance, he relates, it was quite common for rich women to marry one of their black slaves after their husband died. But capitalist ideology baases itself on the premise that each individual is equal to another. How then CAN the unequal treatment of some be justified EXCEPT by suggesting that they are somehow not the same as other individuals?

Now I accept entirely the idea that a SOCIALIST society cannot be created unless these ideas are overcome, but that can only arise in conjunction with the transformation of the material basis of society,and that requires that a Workers State is created first. As Marx put it "Right cannot be higher than the material basis of society." I agree that if Marx's vision of the transformation of society were to be adopted - the clawing back of the emans of production into the hands of the working class via the creation of co-operatives etc. prior to the political revolution - then the spirit of co-operation and solidarity this engenders, together with the necessary work of the Workers party in education would go a long way to overcoming such reactionary ideas, but we have seen - or at least I would argue we have seen USRed may disagree - the creation of workers states by methods other than this, and we may well if we live long enough see the creation of others by yet different means.

One of the problems with democracy is that it can turn out to be hell for Minorities, which is why real democrats have always argued that an essential aspect of democracy has to be the protection of the Rights of Minorities, but demanding that Right, and the Majority conceding it, are two different things. The fact that the Miners in 1984 still held to sexist ideas, did not prevent their wives,a nd other women, or gay miners, and gay socialists and Trade Unionists supporting them. And quite rightly so. Were a similar situation to erupt which spilled over into a revolutionary situation, I doubt too that women, or lesbians and gay class conscious workers would make their support conditional upon the immediate eradication of such ideas. They would almost certainly fight on the basis of being able to eradicate those ideas once the victory was achieved. But, there is absolutely no guarantee they would do so. Leninists can proceed on the basis of taking the question for granted, because they cannot conceive of such a revolution in which it is not actually they as opposed to the real working class that actually holds power, but they can't have it both ways. If they really mean that it is the workers that hold power, then they have to acccept the possibility, and in some cultures the probability, that such reactionary ideas will continue for some considerable time.

The real working class has been turned by the petit-bouregois socialists into a Philosopher's Stone. They beleive that it can only exist as some pure perfection, that putting the word "worker" in ffront of anything automatically acts to purify whatever it prefixes just as the Philosopher's Stone was supposed to purify everything, and turn base metal into gold. Down such a route can only lead dissapointment,and a rejection of everything that fails to meet up to the vision of perfection, a search to then describe it as soemthing else, in order to rationalise the rejection - as the Third campists did with the USSR - and the postponement of any real progress until some new dawn arises.

See Also: Cox 1948 - "Caste, Class and Race" here

1 comment:

vngelis said...

An analysis of Nobel prize winners comments on Russia-Stiglitz

An eye-witness account in Putins Moscow from 2005