Monday, 16 June 2008

A Reply To Mike McNair - Conclusion

The Marxian Theory

1) Historical Materialism

Marx and Engels Theory of social revolution can only be taken from their mature writings, and what they say they retained from their earlier beliefs, for example as set out in the Communist Manifesto. That theory begins with the analysis of the way in which society develops, largely behind men’s backs, and yet as the product of the actions of real human beings, through class struggle, a struggle that is the reflection of real, and objectively determinable, conflicting interests between individuals grouped into social classes. The basic determinant, though not the only one as Marx’s more complex writings on class demonstrate, of the foundation of these social classes is the economic relationships which arise in society out of the way in which Man at different times, and in different places goes about producing his own means of existence, and reproduction.

As Engels describes it in his letter to Bloch,

"In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power that works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion. But from the fact that the wills of individuals — each of whom desires what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the last resort economic, circumstances (either his own personal circumstances or those of society in general) — do not attain what they want, but are merged into an aggregate mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each contributes to the resultant and is to this extent included in it.”

Engels Letter to Bloch 1890

See:Letter to Bloch

This process is a dialectical interaction between those things, the material forces of production, which Man inherits from the past, and the utilisation he makes of those forces, both to reproduce them, and to develop them. Man does not create the basic forces of production inherited from Nature, the wind, the Sun, the power of water, or the natural fertility of the soil. They come to him gratis but in his primitive state it is essentially only these forces that are available to him, and thereby his ability to produce, the range of things that can be produced and the productivity of his labour are thereby constrained. But, these constraints also impinge not only on what can be produced, but how it can be produced. Primitive man is forced to produce collectively, and co-operatively not just because like every other animal that is how he himself emerges from nature as a social being, but also because this is the only effective means of hunting and gathering. And having produced collectively and co-operatively, the only rational means of distribution is itself, collective and co-operative. This in itself determines the type of society that Man creates which is based on this collectivism and co-operation, a society, which must be inherently democratic and egalitarian.

The inability of society to produce more, and sometimes not even that, than it requires for its subsistence means that even the first form of class society, slavery, is not possible. There is no point owning a slave, if the level of productivity is only sufficient for the slave to produce enough to keep himself or herself alive. It is only the further development of Man’s productive powers as he takes that which he inherits, and develops it further that enables man to create a social surplus, which in turn makes possible first the holding of slaves, and then as society develops its productive powers even further, other forms of class society.

Herein lies the heart of Marx’s theory. Man develops the productive forces out of an innate desire to produce more, and to produce more effectively. But, as the productive forces develop, they change with or without man’s consent not only what is produced, but also how it is produced. But, the how things are produced, that is the productive relations established, can only ultimately exist if the social relations that exist conform to those production relations. A slave society cannot create a capitalist and a working class. Nor can the social relations between the slaves and the masters be based on principles of equality.

The slave by his condition is led to rebel against the slave owner, but ultimately it is not this rebellion that causes society to change, and to develop, but the development of the productive forces that create conditions under which these old social relations are no longer in correspondence. There is a serious misunderstanding amongst many Marxists on this point, arising, out of the Leninist conception of social revolution, i.e. the idea that it is class struggle itself that transforms society, but it is not, and according to Marx’s theory cannot be. No matter how many times Spartacus or his followers might rebel against slave society, the fact remains that without a transformation of the basic way in which society went about producing, a transformation that can only be based on a development of the productive forces which necessitates such a change, then no new type of class society could arise. This is probably why slave society ultimately does not transcend itself, but collapses with the ruin of the contending classes. Only had the free men, as peasants been able to develop the productive forces sufficiently in order to overhaul slave production could such a transformation have arisen. But, they could not, partly because with such a low level of technology, slave production could always undercut the production of the peasants, and because the slave owners having political power and control of the State, were able to tax the peasants, and thereby impoverish them.

But, this point is crucial to understanding the Marxian concept of social revolution, and transformation, and is highly significant for understanding the socialist transformation. The Peasants and Serfs too could have engaged in One Peasant War after another, might even have succeeded in establishing some land redistribution etc. – rather as the American Settlers were able to establish a natural economy based on peasant farming without an aristocratic class – but absent capitalist development, feudal society would have reappeared, some peasants would have prospered and others not, some become more powerful and taken over others land, and ultimately a new class of landlords would have been re-established. It is not the class struggle, the repeated clashes between Landlords and Peasants which brings about the social revolution, but the establishment of Capitalist productive relations, the overhauling of feudal production by Capitalist production, proving its superiority, which enables the Capitalist class to put itself at the head of society, for its ideas to become seen as natural, and accepted by the whole of society – though not, of course, at first, by the landlords. The peasant sees in the capitalist farmer himself reflected in magnified form, as does the artisan looking at the small industrial capitalist. The ideas on which the capitalist confronts the landlord class become the ideas of these intermediary classes, and even of the small working class to the extent that it seeks political liberty. Yes, ultimately it is class struggle, the actions of real men that reflect this actual social revolution, in the political act of revolution, but this is essentially only appearance being brought into conformity with reality. The real political revolutions were not the Civil War, or the Glorious Revolution, or the Great French Revolution, but the 1832 Reform Act, and the establishment of the Third Republic. In effect, the putting down of the slaveholders revolt.

But, this holds true for the proletarian revolution too. Every old mode of production leaves the stage when it can no longer fulfil a progressive historic role, but that is something that can only be determined historically and relatively. Without the development of capitalism there is no reason why feudalism could not have simply continued in the same old way it had done for several hundred years. It may have experienced severe crises if population grew beyond what the productive forces were capable of accommodating, but the natural process had for centuries kept population in check. It was precisely, the development of the productive forces, the bringing together of large numbers into the towns, the collapse in survival rates that encouraged an explosion of population. Feudalism becomes no longer progressive, precisely because it is surpassed by capitalism.

Capitalism can only truly be considered to no longer be capable of providing a progressive development when some other mode of production has demonstrated its superiority. As with the slave rebellions against slave society, and the peasant rebellions against feudal society, it is not these rebellions which are the basis of the transformation of society, but the growing over of the productive forces, of which these rebellions, this class struggle, is mere reflection. The bourgeoisie was only able to secure for itself permanent control of the State when the productive relations of which it was the representative became dominant. In the same way the proletariat can only gain permanent control of the State when the productive relations of which it is the representative become dominant.

Just as with the peasants or slaves it could effect a social revolution, but without the socialist relations proving themselves superior to capitalism such a situation cannot be permanent. For example, a society that went over from private ownership to co-operative ownership of the means of production would eventually fall back, if either that co-operative ownership remained at the level of essentially capitalist production by groups of worker-owners, or else proved historically not to be more efficient than capitalist production. Only if this latter condition were fulfilled, and the working class began systematically to replace competition with increasing co-operation between enterprises throughout the economy, first on a national then on an international scale, could the workers’ hold on state power be secured. That is not to say that only when that complete transformation has occurred can the political revolution that gives state power to the revolutionary class take place. History is made by real men, and the reflection of the material world, the productive relations, in their ideas and consciousness is not a mechanical one to one relationship.

The nascent bourgeoisie launched its first political revolution against the feudal aristocracy in the English Civil War, long before its system of productive relations had become dominant. Yet that development that had occurred was sufficient to lead to the development of a class consciousness – albeit given the undeveloped state of those productive relations, a very unclear class consciousness shrouded in religious verbiage, and veneer – sufficient not only for them to launch such a challenge, but also to mobilise the other exploited classes behind them. But, yet again confirming Marx’s materialist theory, it is the undeveloped nature of those relations, which creates the weakness of the class, forces it to rely on a section of the class, and a small disciplined force, in the form of Cromwell’s New Model Army, which results in its victory being temporary, and its hold on the State being exercised not by itself, but by that force on which it had had to rely because of that weakness. That is its economic and social weakness as a class leads its Dictatorship to take the form of Bonapartism.

The working class too is able to glimpse the future society in the sporadic creation of co-operative production, and even through the distorted lens of its own co-operative action in capitalist production, and its fragmented attempts at solidarity and co-operation in its own struggles against capitalism. Unlike the bourgeoisie or previous revolutionary classes it has the advantage of a Party armed with a science – Marxism – that is able to analyse society and to demonstrate in words what the new society should be like. But, as Marx himself pointed out deeds speak much more loudly than words, and especially today when workers have experienced for themselves the manifestation of those words in varying forms – be they the state capitalist nationalisations of capitalism, under Social Democratic (largely) governments, or the State control of the economy in Workers States – and on the back of those experiences, it is no wonder that they now require much more than mere words to convince them that Capitalism is no longer historically progressive that a socialist society offers a better alternative.

2. Trade Union and Socialist Consciousness

There is nothing in the slave’s revolt against the slave owner, or the peasant’s revolt against the Landlord that gives them a progressive character. It is not what is revolted AGAINST that gives a struggle a progressive character, but what is being struggled FOR. In and of itself the slave and the peasant’s revolt is purely negative it has no way of transcending existing relationships, only the transformation of the productive relations going on behind men’s backs achieves that only the recognition of the nature of that transformation as a historically progressive transformation, and the political action arising out of that transformation has the power of bringing about a progressive change. But workers rebellions against Capitalism, too, are wholly of that order. The struggle for higher wages, against job losses, for this or that reform, in and of themselves may be important for bringing temporary relief for the working class, but in and of themselves they have no progressive content, indeed on some occasions may be even reactionary, for example the actions of the Luddites and Saboteurs.

On the back of such action can arise a recognition of the need for a Trade Union the better for workers in a particular factory or industry to secure their direct and immediate interests against the employer, but again in and of itself this is not a development of class consciousness. It is merely a recognition of a sectional interest. Lenin in one of his early writings – I can’t remember which for now, if I find it I’ll post the link – makes the same point. He says that in so far as workers come into conflict with their employer this remains merely a Trade Union not a class-consciousness. It is only, he says, when workers are brought into conflict with all employers, or with the State acting in locus of all employers that the workers can begin to develop a class-consciousness. But, the problem clearly for Marxists is how often does that happen. In reality not that frequently. And in the absence of that the same operation of capitalism that causes individual workers to compete against each other for jobs and wages, which militates even against a Trade Union consciousness, also causes workers in one factory, or one industry, or one country to compete against groups of workers in others. At the same time that the natural process of Capitalist production brings workers together that same process continually divides them, and sets them against each other.

It is clear that on this basis no socialist working class consciousness can be developed. At best all that can be developed is a Trade Union consciousness, and even that for much of the time only weakly, as a look at the percentage of Trade Union membership demonstrates, even during the best times.

3. Marx and the Theory of Right

In the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx says,

“Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

Part I

What does Marx mean by this. He means effectively what was stated earlier about the kind of social relationships that can arise within society as conditioned by the productive relations, and their objective requirements and limitations. There can be no “Right” to equality in a society based on slavery. There can be no “Right” to a free market in a society based on feudal and guild monopolies. Under capitalism there can be no “Right” to free and equal education or healthcare. He spells it out in stark terms,

"Equal elementary education"? What idea lies behind these words? Is it believed that in present-day society (and it is only with this one has to deal) education can be equal for all classes? Or is it demanded that the upper classes also shall be compulsorily reduced to the modicum of education — the elementary school — that alone is compatible with the economic conditions not only of the wageworkers but of the peasants as well?

"Universal compulsory school attendance. Free instruction." The former exists even in Germany, the second in Switzerland and in the United States in the case of elementary schools. If in some states of the latter country higher education institutions are also "free", that only means in fact defraying the cost of education of the upper classes from the general tax receipts. Incidentally, the same holds good for "free administration of justice" demanded under A, 5. The administration of criminal justice is to be had free everywhere; that of civil justice is concerned almost exclusively with conflicts over property and hence affects almost exclusively the possessing classes. Are they to carry on their litigation at the expense of the national coffers?

This paragraph on the schools should at least have demanded technical schools (theoretical and practical) in combination with the elementary school.
"Elementary education by the state" is altogether objectionable. Defining by a general law the expenditures on the elementary schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the branches of instruction, etc., and, as is done in the United States, supervising the fulfilment of these legal specifications by state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people! Government and church should rather be equally excluded from any influence on the school. Particularly, indeed, in the Prusso-German Empire (and one should not take refuge in the rotten subterfuge that one is speaking of a "state of the future"; we have seen how matters stand in this respect) the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people.

But the whole program, for all its democratic clang, is tainted through and through by the Lassallean sect's servile belief in the state, or, what is no better, by a democratic belief in miracles; or rather it is a compromise between these two kinds of belief in miracles, both equally remote from socialism”,

And in relation to child labour he says,

“Prohibition of child labour." Here it was absolutely essential to state the age limit.

A general prohibition of child labour is incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish. Its realization -- if it were possible -- would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other safety measures for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labour with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society.”

In other words completely lacking from Marx is any sense of moralising about what should or should not be a Right for workers under Capitalism, instead there is just the simple and obvious conclusion that Capitalism can only provide as a “Right” those things which are compatible with Capitalism. To demand that the Capitalist State provides anything else as a “Right” is to sow illusions in that State, and mislead workers, to send them in the wrong direction. It is to exhibit that same “servile belief in the state, or, what is no better, by a democratic belief in miracles; or rather it is a compromise between these two kinds of belief in miracles, both equally remote from socialism. It is not to say that Capitalism will not itself provide “free” education, or even “free” healthcare – not in reality free, but paid for out of taxes paid by workers, some of which goes also to subsidise the education and healthcare of the rich – where it sees it as in its interests, but in like manner it is just as likely to withdraw them when it no longer considers that to be the case. The only “Right” under Capitalism in respect to education or healthcare that can exist is the same “Right” that exists in respect of any other commodity the “Right” to purchase them in the market.

Explaining that fact to workers is a primary duty of Marxists, just as much as explaining to them that the struggle for higher wages is ultimately a lost cause that only the abolition of the wage system can resolve their problems. Yet almost every Marxist today, including those rrrrevolutionary Marxists of the Leninist and Trotskyist tradition are as guilty as the statist reformists of sowing these illusions among the working class.

4) Marx versus Statism

Hal Draper in his “Two Souls of Socialism” says,

““Instead of the revolutionary process of transformation of society,” wrote Marx, Lassalle sees socialism arising “from the ‘state aid’ that the state gives to the producers’ cooperative societies and which the state, not the worker, ‘calls into being.’” Marx derides this. “But as far as the present cooperative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the government or of the bourgeoisie.” Here is a classic statement of the meaning of the word independent as the keystone of Socialism-from-Below versus state-socialism.”

See Draper:here

This quote from Marx is one I have referred to many times indicating how far Marx’s view was from the statist, top down conception of socialist construction represented by Leninism. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, from where this quote is taken Marx gives, further ample evidence of his hostility to the State as the means by which socialism could be established, and not just the present state as he makes clear, but the future state too.

“Second, "democratic" means in German "Volksherrschaftlich" [by the rule of the people]. But what does "control by the rule of the people of the toiling people" mean? And particularly in the case of a toiling people which, through these demands that it puts to the state, expresses its full consciousness that it neither rules nor is ripe for ruling!”

“Particularly, indeed, in the Prusso-German Empire (and one should not take refuge in the rotten subterfuge that one is speaking of a "state of the future"; we have seen how matters stand in this respect) the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people.”

Draper comments,

“There is an instructive instance of what happens when an American-type academic anti-Marxist runs into this aspect of Marx. Mayo’s Democracy and Marxism (later revised as Introduction to Marxist Theory) handily proves that Marxism is anti-democratic mainly by the simple expedient of defining Marxism as “the Moscow orthodoxy.” But at least he seems to have read Marx, and realized that nowhere, in acres of writing and a long life, did Marx evince concern about more power for the state but rather the reverse. Marx, it dawned on him, was not a “statist”:
“The popular criticism levelled against Marxism is that it tends to degenerate into a form of ‘statism.’ At first sight [i.e., reading] the criticism appears wide of the mark, for the virtue of Marx’s political theory ... is the entire absence from it of any glorification of the state.””


5. Marx versus Plannism

“This discovery offers a notable challenge to Marx-critics, who of course know in advance that Marxism must glorify the state. Mayo solves the difficulty in two statements: (1) “the statism is implicit in the requirements of total planning ...” (2) Look at Russia. But Marx made no fetish of “total planning.” He has so often been denounced (by other Marx-critics) for failing to draw up a blueprint of socialism precisely because he reacted so violently against his predecessors’ utopian “plannism” or planning-from-above. “Plannism” is precisely the conception of socialism that Marxism wished to destroy. Socialism must involve planning, but “total planning” does not equal socialism just as any fool can be a professor but not every professor need be a fool.” ( ibid)

Draper is, of course absolutely correct, there is no plannism in Marx. He does talk of the overcoming of market relations, and the disappearance of Exchange Value, but that disappearance is discussed within the terms not of State ownership, and a State plan, but in terms of the normal operation of a Co-operative society. He says,

“The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises. into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.”

(Capital Vol III pp441-2)

It is clear here that Marx sees the continuation of market relations for some time after workers have begun to establish co-operative enterprises, and have begun to buy up Joint Stock Companies.

In a letter to Bebel on the issue, Engels comments,

“"The matter has nothing to do with either Sch[ulze]-Delitzsch or with Lassalle. Both propagated small cooperatives, the one with, the other without state help; however, in both cases the cooperatives were not meant to come under the ownership of already existing means of production, but create alongside the existing capitalist production a new cooperative one. My suggestion requires the entry of the cooperatives into the existing production. One should give them land which otherwise would be exploited by capitalist means: as demanded by the Paris Commune, the workers should operate the factories shut down by the factory-owners on a cooperative basis. That is the great difference. And Marx and I never doubted that in the transition to the full communist economy we will have to use the cooperative system as an intermediate stage on a large scale."

Engels Letter to Bebel 20th January 1886

Nor indeed, was their any intention according to Lenin or Trotsky to have moved to a planned economy overnight in Russia. Rather planning was forced upon them by the needds of War Communism, though it is hard to deny that Trotsky seems to have been keen on an early adoption of planning methods, and his own involvement in Planning at Vizkhel, appears to have suffered all the same top-down aspects of centralism, and bureaucratism that Stalinist planning was guilty of.

6. Marx and Socialist Transformation

Here then we have the basis of the Marxist conception of socialist transformation. Social revolutions are a process which unfold behind the back of society as changes in the productive forces, bring about changes in productive relations, and as their concomitant changes in social relations. Once dominant social classes decline as others become more powerful. These changes become reflected in the society at large as they bring about organically changes in the way in which individuals see society and their place within it. Increasingly, those changes in ideas and culture, together with the recognition of the economic and social power of new players within society, also come to be reflected in the ideas, and composition of the permanent state machinery. These changes do not automatically come to be reflected in the politicial power within society, which can contiue to reflect the past form of society, and not its present reality. The old ruling class, will undoubtedly attempt to use this political power to frustrate, and limit the advance of the revolutionary class. Recognition, of this fact will lead the new ruling social class into a necessary political conflict with the old ruling class, requiring it to put down a slaveholers revolt. As Marx related in respect of workers and Co-operatives in his Address to the First International.

“But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labour over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands”. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart. In England, the seeds of the co-operative system were sown by Robert Owen; the workingmen’s experiments tried on the Continent were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed, in 1848.
At the same time the experience of the period from 1848 to 1864 has proved beyond doubt that, however, excellent in principle and however useful in practice, co-operative labour, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries. It is perhaps for this very reason that plausible noblemen, philanthropic middle-class spouters, and even keep political economists have all at once turned nauseously complimentary to the very co-operative labour system they had vainly tried to nip in the bud by deriding it as the utopia of the dreamer, or stigmatising it as the sacrilege of the socialist. To save the industrious masses, co-operative labour ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means. Yet the lords of the land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defence and perpetuation of their economic monopolies. So far from promoting, they will continue to lay every possible impediment in the way of the emancipation of labour. Remember the sneer with which, last session, Lord Palmerston put down the advocated of the Irish Tenants’ Right Bill. The House of Commons, cried he, is a house of landed proprietors. To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes. They seem to have comprehended this, for in England, Germany, Italy, and France, there have taken place simultaneous revivals, and simultaneous efforts are being made at the political organization of the workingmen’s party.

One element of success they possess — numbers; but numbers weigh in the balance only if united by combination and led by knowledge. Past experience has shown how disregard of that bond of brotherhood which ought to exist between the workmen of different countries, and incite them to stand firmly by each other in all their struggles for emancipation, will be chastised by the common discomfiture of their incoherent efforts. This thought prompted the workingmen of different countries assembled on September 28, 1864, in public meeting at St. Martin’s Hall, to found the International Association.”
7. Marx and the Workers Party

We know then that Marx, and Engels conception of socialist transformation differs considerably from the top-down statist model of the Leninists. What then of Marx and Engels conception of the Workers Party compared to Lenin’s notion of the revolutionary Party, which I believe leads inevitably to the two different ideas about socialist transformation. Marx and Engels, as the quote above from Marx’s Address to the First International shows, certainly believed that it was necessary for workers to organise in order to win political power. They may have believed that the new society develops out of the old, but the historical materialist doctrine is not determinist. The social revolution still requires a midwife to bring the political superstructure into conformance. The old ruling class, otherwise, will utilise its control over the political power to frustrate any further forward movement that challenges its power. The greater the economic and social weight of the revolutionary class the less the old ruling class is able to resist, but the ability of that class to mobilise the political power, and from that legitimacy, whatever support it has within the state power, cannot be underestimated.

The bourgeoisie in its rise developed new political forms and forums to those of feudalism. In place of the role of the Court coterie, more democratic forms through Parliamentary institutions that reflected the bourgeois democratic ideology arose. The working class in its rise will develop its own forms more appropriate to its ideology, and method of production and social relations. Co-operative production requires forms based around the actual act of production, forms which require a high degree of direct democracy, and of participation. Similar co-operative forms within the development of co-operative housing, and management of communities require similar forms, and if these are to link together in order to provide the necessary extension of co-operative forms throughout the economy, then yet further new forms that enable effective decision making to arise, and control to be exercised will also be needed. IN fact we already know largely the shape of these forms, they exist in the embryonic forms of workers democracy that exist within the Trade Unions, that exist in the development of Factory Committees, that even exist in the form of Tenants and Residents Associations, but whose form and operation would be still further transformed if these bodies were to act not just as discussion forums, but as executive bodies responsible for taking management decisions, and carrying them out. IN contrast to the bourgeois democratic forms of the Local Council, we also have seen the development of Trades and Labour Councils, and of Workers Councils, or Soviets as such combined legislative and executive bodies.

Under Capitalism these bodies are largely lifeless discussion clubs that spring to life during periods of increased class struggle, but then fall back. The development of a growing number of co-operative enterprises, of co-operatively managed communities etc. would necessitate, and galvanise such bodies as permanent workers institutions, and constitute in embryo the new workers semi-state. But, also as long as Capitalism survives workers could not simply ignore bourgeois democratic structures, because these would continue to represent the basis of actual bourgeois law and right, would legitimate bourgeois rule, and be the first line of resistance utilised by the bourgeoisie against the encroaching mode of production. In addition, millions of workers, as Lenin said in Left-Wing Communism, brought up on a couple of centuries of bourgeois democracy would continue to see these institutions as the legitimate forums for society to discuss those laws. The new workers state structures would simply provide, alongside the increasing economic and social power of he working class, a further base and support, a higher strategic ground from which to engage in those new battles with the bourgeoisie on its own political and ideological territory just as the growing economic and social power of the workers through the development of the co-operatives enables them to engage the bourgeoisie in struggle more effectively on the economic and industrial front..

But, the simple development of those forms, the growing economic and social power of the workers cannot arise automatically, or progress by some deterministic method. It can only proceed, or at least proceed effectively, if a Workers Party exists to provide an analysis for the workers, and a political programme that flows from the workers daily experiences, leads them forward to learn the lessons of their new forms of production, of the resistance put up to them by the bourgeoisie, explains to other groups of workers why they too should follow the example of the workers that have escaped the dominion of Capital, and established their own Co-operative forms, and so on.

It is almost tautological to say that the nature of this Party as a Workers Party flows necessarily from this conception. The Workers Party can only be one that seeks to include within its ranks all those workers that have reached the stage whereby they recognise that they constitute a class with some set of shared interests. They may not at first even recognise that those interests are in themselves contradictory to those of the bourgeoisie. That should not be a block from the Marxists joining such a party, just as Marx and Engels joined the German Democrats. As Trotsky said in trying to persuade the French Trotskyists to join the Socialist Party,

”At the same time, as good revolutionists, we do not want to stand on the sidelines. IN 1848 Marx and his weak Communist organisation entered the Democratic Party. In order not to stand on the sidelines, Plekhanov attempted to join his group ‘Emancipation of labour’ to that of the People’s Will (Narodnaya Volya), with which he had broken on principles grounds only five years before”

Trotsky “The League Faced With a Turn” June 1934

and concluded,

”The Koran says that the mountain came to the prophet. Marxism counsels the prophet to go to the mountain.”

An absolutely correct analysis and one which those that claim to adhere to his analysis should consider today instead of writing off the workers in the LP, and engaging in a fantasy adventure to build their own Workers Party, in the hope that the workers will come to it like some field of dreams.

The whole point is that the Marxists task is to take the workers from this point, and through their experiences develop their class-consciousness. There is a symbiotic, and sympathetic development, and indeed a dialectical development of this consciousness with the extension and development of the workers own economic and social position. In the same measure that the workers develop their own co-operative forms, and their social position is strengthened, so too does this feedback into the consciousness of the workers, and as that consciousness rises, so too does the programme and praxis of the Workers Party develop, bringing it ever closer to that Programme which is identical to the actual needs and interests of the working class, not just in its immediate needs, but in its further development.

As Engels put it in his advice to the American socialists,

” When we returned to Germany, in spring 1848, we joined the Democratic Party as the only possible means of getting the ear of the working class; we were the most advanced wing of that party, but still a wing of it. When Marx founded the International, he drew up the General Rules in such a way that all working-class socialists of that period could join it -- Proudhonists, Pierre Lerouxists and even the more advanced section of the English Trades Unions; and it was only through this latitude that the International became what it was, the means of gradually dissolving and absorbing all these minor sects, with the exception of the Anarchists, whose sudden appearance in various countries was but the effect of the violent bourgeois reaction after the Commune and could therefore safely be left by us to die out of itself, as it did. Had we from 1864, to 1873 insisted on working together only with those who openly adopted our platform where should we be to day? I think that all our practice has shown that it is possible to work along with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinct position and even organisation, and I am afraid that if the German Americans choose a different line they will commit a great mistake.”

Source: Engels to Florence Kelley Wischnewetsky


”….It is far more important that the movement should spread, proceed harmoniously, take root and embrace as much as possible the whole American proletariat, than that it should start and proceed from the beginning on theoretically perfectly correct lines. There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than "durch Schaden klug tererden" [to learn by one's own mistakes]. And for a whole large class, there is no other road, especially for a nation so eminently practical as the Americans. The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class; that once obtained, they will soon find the right direction, and all who resist, H.G. or Powderly, will be left out in the cold with small sects of their own.”
and further

“…What the Germans ought to do is to act up to their own theory --if they understand it, as we did in 1845 and 1848--to go in for any real general working-class movement, accept its faktische starting points as such and work it gradually up to the theoretical level by pointing out how every mistake made, every reverse suffered, was a necessary consequence of mistaken theoretical views in the original programme; they ought, in the words of The Communist Manifesto, to represent the movement of the future in the movement of the present. But above all give the movement time to consolidate, do not make the inevitable confusion of the first start worse confounded by forcing down people's throats things which at present they cannot properly understand, but which they soon will learn. A million or two of workingmen's votes next November for a bona fide workingmen's party is worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform.”

“…But anything that might delay or prevent that national consolidation of the workingmen's party--no matter what platform--I should consider a great mistake…”


Engels. The Condition of the Working Class in England, Preface to the American Edition

“…To bring about this result, the unification of the various independent bodies into one national Labour Army, with no matter how inadequate a provisional platform, provided it be a truly working-class platform — that is the next great step to be accomplished in America. To effect this, and to make that platform worthy of the cause, the Socialist Labour Party can contribute a great deal, if they will only act in the same way as the European Socialists have acted at the time when they were but a small minority of the working class. That line of action was first laid down in the “Communist Manifesto” of 1847 in the following words:

“The Communists” — that was the name we took at the time and which even now we are far from repudiating — “the Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties.”

“They have no interests separate and apart from the interests of the whole working class.

“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and model the proletarian movement…..”

“…That is the line of action which the great founder of Modern Socialism, Karl Marx, and with him, I and the Socialists of all nations who worked along with us, have followed for more than forty years, with the result that it has led to victory everywhere, and that at this moment the mass of European Socialists, in Germany and in France, in Belgium, Holland and Switzerland, in Denmark and Sweden as well as in Spain and Portugal, are fighting as one common army under one and the same flag.”

Source: Condition of the Working Class in England, Marx-Engels Archive

This concept of the Workers Party, which flows directly from Marx’s view of socialist transformation as one that develops organically from the bottom up, and is grounded solidly on the theory of historical materialism, and the transformation of social relations largely behind men’s backs, but arising from conscious decisions about how to go about the process of production is sharply at odds with the Leninist concept of the revolutionary party, as a vanguard party which begins with a requirement for Marxist purity, and a belief that only a small section, the vanguard can ever achieve a sufficient level of class consciousness to bring about the revolutionary overthrow.

See also:Marxists and the Workers party

The Leninist Conception

1. The Material Basis of Leninism

For obvious reasons Lenin’s conception differs from Marx’s. Marx begins from a position where he sees socialism arising from the bottom-up. The working class through the development of Co-operatives of necessity develops a level of class conscioussness, but also through this process also acquires for itself the economic means for further development, and transformation of the productive relations. It is axiomatic for marx, then, that socialism can only arise in a country where a level of development has occurred sufficient for workers to begin on that process of transformation. In Britain, Marx true to his method based his evaluation not just on the objective possibility of that development, but on the empirical evidence of it actually happening. Workers were using their savings, and Credit in order to develop co-operative industry, and it was more efficient, and efective than private capital. The consequences he expected from such a development were apparent. It was not just the Owenites that engaged in such activities. The Chartists too engaged in the establishment of similar ventures.

But, those conditions did not exist in backward Russia. The closest was the village Communes, but as marx had written Zasulich, these forms at best could only form the basis of a socialist development, IF a socialist transformation had already taken place. Lenin, who was by no means hostile to the idea of Co-operatives explained why they could not be a significant force in Russia.

"It goes without saying that Kautsky very emphatically maintains that communal, collective large-scale production is superior to capitalist large scale production. He deals with the experiments in collective farming made in England by the followers of Robert Owen* and with analogous communes in the United States of North America. All these experiments, says Kautsky, irrefutably prove that it is quite possible for workers to carry on large-scale modern farming collectively, but that for this possibility to become a reality "a number of definite economic, political, and intellectual conditions" are necessary. The transition of the small producer (both artisan and peasant) to collective production is hindered by the extremely low development of solidarity and discipline, the isolation, and the "property-owner fanaticism," noted not only among West-European peasants, but, let us add, also among the Russian "commune" peasants (recall A. N. Engelhardt and G. Uspensky). Kautsky categorically declares, "it is absurd to expect that the peasant in modern society will go over to communal production" (S. 129). “

* On pages 124-26 Kautsky describes the agricultural commune in Ralahine, of which, incidentally. Mr. Dioneo tells his Russian readers in Russkoye Bogatstvo,[51] No. 2, for this year.

Lenin Capitalism in Agriculture page 122

The point that Lenin makes here is important that the condition for success is the absence of an “extremely low development of solidarity and discipline, the isolation, and the "property-owner fanaticism,"” It was that which made the development of the co-operative at Ralahine in Ireland, the co-operatives in Lancashire, set out as examples by Marx, and the various other co-operative ventures established by Owen – and also less well known ones by the Chartists – successful. By the same token it was the absence of all those factors in Russia after the Revolution which meant that collective production both industrial and agricultural did not take root within the consciousness of the working class – largely made up of peasants that had recently moved to the towns and cities, and even more within the peasantry, and which led instead to the need for Managers etc. which itself led to bureaucratisation of the economy.

It was inevitable then that Lenin’s concept of socialist construction was highly statist that the workers state had to make up for that “extremely low development of solidarity and discipline, the isolation, and the "property-owner fanaticism”.
There is also another aspect. Draper has argued, correctly, that the so-called “Marxist” parties of the Second International were in fact more influenced by the statist tendencies of Lassalleanism, and Fabianism than Marxism. Lenin who grew up in that school was inevitably infected and affected by that mentality. Another aspect of Lassalle’s ideas, which has infected the Marxist movement, not just the Stalinists who are most guilty of this sin, but also the Trotskyists, is the idea of the immiseration of the working class, the concept that capitalist competition continually drives wages down to, and even sometimes below the level of subsistence. This concept clearly flies in the face of reality as far as the vast majority of workers in the West are concerned. We should all support the current strike action by Shell tanker drivers, but their wages of over £30,000 a year can hardly be describes as immiserating. The explanation given for this that it is due to class struggle, to the success of Trade Unions to negotiate higher wages, or that it is due to a transfer from super exploited workers in less developed economies simply does not wash as compatible either with the facts or with Marxist economic theory. This concept in fact comes again not from Marx, but from Lassalle and his Iron Law of Wages, that did indeed make such a prediction. In the Grundrisse Marx rather speaks of the “civilising mission” of Capital, whose continual expansion and revolutionising of the productive forces not only brings about, but requires that the needs and consumption of the workers is continually expanded to new use values, to the possibility of greater leisure time that enables the worker to educate himself and his family, and so on. Rosdolsky who analysed Marx’s economic writings in considerable detail concluded that in over 1,000 references to wages, there was just one instance where Marx’s words could in any way justify the concept of immiseration. Marx certainly wrote that wages fall relatively as a share of total output, he wrote that a section of the working class can be thrown down into fairly permanent poverty, and that the reserve army of labour ebbs and flows, but nowhere in Marx is there a theory of general immiseration. On the contrary, in the Critique of the Gotha programme, he writes,

“It is well known that nothing of the "iron law of wages" is Lassalle's except the word "iron" borrowed from Goethe's "great, eternal iron laws". [1] The word "iron" is a label by which the true believers recognize one another. But if I take the law with Lassalle's stamp on it, and consequently in his sense, then I must also take it with his substantiation for it. And what is that? As Lange already showed, shortly after Lassalle's death, it is the Malthusian theory of population (preached by Lange himself). But if this theory is correct, then again I cannot abolish the law even if I abolish wage labour a hundred times over, because the law then governs not only the system of wage labour but every social system. Basing themselves directly on this, the economists have been proving for 50 years and more that socialism cannot abolish poverty, which has its basis in nature, but can only make it general, distribute it simultaneously over the whole surface of society!
But all this is not the main thing. Quite apart from the false Lassallean formulation of the law, the truly outrageous retrogression consists in the following:

Since Lassalle's death, there has asserted itself in our party the scientific understanding that wages are not what they appear to be -- namely, the value, or price, of labour—but only a masked form for the value, or price, of labour power. Thereby, the whole bourgeois conception of wages hitherto, as well as all the criticism hitherto directed against this conception, was thrown overboard once and for all. It was made clear that the wage worker has permission to work for his own subsistence—that is, to live, only insofar as he works for a certain time gratis for the capitalist (and hence also for the latter's co-consumers of surplus value); that the whole capitalist system of production turns on the increase of this gratis labour by extending the working day, or by developing the productivity—that is, increasing the intensity or labour power, etc.; that, consequently, the system of wage labour is a system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labour develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment. And after this understanding has gained more and more ground in our party, some return to Lassalle's dogma although they must have known that Lassalle did not know what wages were, but, following in the wake of the bourgeois economists, took the appearance for the essence of the matter.
It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the program of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!”

In short Marxists do not argue for the ending of the system of wage labour because it can only result in lower wages, or that wages cannot exceed some low maximum, but because however, high wages are, workers remain exploited by capitalists as the necessary condition for the continuation of the system.

In the Grundrisse Marx sets out how this civilising mission of capital lays the basis for the socialist transformation. It enables workers to gain access to education and culture for themselves and the families as the precondition for the development of the necessary class-consciousness. In addition, although Marx sets out why savings can never emancipate workers, but can only ever be deferred consumption, the transformation of these savings into Capital DOES provide the basis for the workers emancipation. He says,

" … if the worker’s savings are not to remain merely the product of circulation - saved up money , which can be realised only by being converted sooner or later into the substantial content of wealth, pleasures etc. – then the saved up money would itself have to become capital, i.e. buy labour, relate to labour as use-value. It thus pre-supposes labour which is not capital, and presupposes that labour has become its opposite – not labour. In order to become capital, it itself presupposes labour as not-capital as against Capital; hence it presupposes the establishment at another point of the contradiction it is supposed to overcome. If, then, in the original relation itself, the object and the product of the worker’s exchange – as product of mere exchange, it can be no other – were not use value, subsistence, satisfaction of direct needs, withdrawal from circulation of the equivalent put into it in order to be destroyed by consumption – then labour would confront capital not as labour, not as not-capital, but as capital. But capital, too, cannot confront capital if capital does not confront labour, since capital is only capital as not-labour; in this contradictory relation. Thus the concept and the relation of capital itself would be destroyed.”

And this concept of Labour which is not Labour, Capital which is not Capital is precisely the solution that Marx gives to the problem. He has here subverted the starting point of the Ideal Labour and the Ideal Capital by standing them on their head and relating them not to the Ideal but the material realities. The worker cannot get out of his situation, cannot but be reproduced as labour through saving, but only through ownership of Capital. How does the worker become the owner of Capital rather than mere savings, precisely in the way Marx refers to in Capital III (where he also mentions ownership of shares in Joint Stock Companies), in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, and in his Address to the First International, by the setting up of Co-operatives which by their nature are transitional forms because within them Labour is at the same time not-Labour, and Capital is at the same time not-Capital.

But Lenin cannot adopt such a perspective in backward Russia. Objectively, the conditions which enabled Marx to talk about the transformation of workers savings in Britain or France do not exist in Russia. Engels himself had said that his and Marx’s statements about the imminence of socialist revolution in the middle of the 19th century were ridiculous because only in Britain at that time was the working class a significant size. In Russia the working class was tiny. Moreover, armed with the lingering sentiments of Lassalle’s Iron Law of Wages the idea that workers wages are never going to rise sufficiently to enable workers to be able to create any sizeable co-operative sector of the economy – a position which most of the Second International, which by that time was deeply committed to the Lassalean and Fabian concept of socialist transformation from above through Parliament, had arrived at – and faced with a ruthless police state that made any workers organisation extremely difficult let alone any that might actually challenge the power of Capital, it is no wonder that Lenin arrives at the same essential conclusion as the Second International. Socialism is only possible from above, by a transformation of productive relations by the State. The only difference is that for the Second International this State was the bouregois State, for Lenin it is a Workers State created by the carrying through not of a social revolution, but of a political revolution.

In effect we have exactly the position that Cromwell arrived at. A recognition of the need for a political revolution, but in conditions where the class whose revolution that should be is not economically or socially dominant, or even strong enough to sustain the political power, and which in consequence does not even fully have a sufficient class conscioussness to recognise its historic mission. As throughout history rebellions occur against the ruling power by exploited or rising classes, rebellions AGAINST what exists and not necessarily FOR what is to replace them, the outbreak of suich a rebellion provides the basis of the more class conscious elements to seize the day, and push through a political revolution to gain control of the State. That is what Cromwell’s revolution was, it is what Lenin’s revolution was.

2. The Leninist Mythology

Trotsky says that Marxists should always begin by telling the truth, but the fact is that an entire mythology has developed around Leninism, around, Lenin, around the Bolsheviks,and around the Revolution. Lenin himself is not particularly to blame for that, but those that claim the mantle of Leninism cetainly are.

Lenin’s view of what the Workers Party is is coloured by the condiitons in which he is operating, and the history of the development of Workers Parties up to that point. On the one hand by the beginning of the twentieth century large Workers Parties have arisen that nominally are “Marxist” parties i.e. parties that associate themselves with Marx’s theories, analysis, and method, and which have adopted Programs accordingly. In fact, as Draper says, the parties were in fact Lassallean and Fabian, rather than Marxist. Nevertheless, from the perspective of Lenin what already exists across at least the developed world are large Marxist parties, indeed parties which have already on the back of the votes of millions of workers already experienced electoral success. Not without reason then does he consider that a fundamental aspect of a Workers Party is that it should be one that is founded upon a Marxist programme. Basing himself on the model of such a party – the German SPD – he argues for the establishment of such a Party in Russia, but adds that given the specific conditions in Russia of the Police State, that a section of this party should operate as a secret organisation, with specific rules and methods, should be comprised of suitably qualified comrades, able to operate in such a clandestine manner in order to facilitate the necessary work of producing a Party paper and distributing it without the continual disruption such operations would inevitably encounter were these functions to be carried out in the open. Later Leninists have taken what Lenin said about the need for such a party to be professional, by whiich he means, and cites to explain what he means, the way in which the German SPD operated, particularly in Parliament as a professional outfit, with trained members for the job, able to take on the bourgeois representatives on their own terms, and in their own environment, and combined it with this later statement about a secret organisation, and turned it into a model of what the Leninist party should be, essentially a clandestine organisation of professional revolutionaries taken as being people who do nothing else effectively other than revolutionary political activity!

The other aspect of these ideas formulated by Lenin in “What is to be Done?”, was the battle that Lenin was fighting at the time against the Russian economists, who were the Russian variant of the Bernsteinian Revisionists in Germany. The basis of revisionism was the idea that capitalist development would inevitably be transformed into socialism without the need for revolutionary political intervention. The workers representatives would simply reflect the change, the growing over of capitalism into socialism by the steady evolution of Parliamentary reforms. What this completely misses is the fact that history is not an automatic process, but only arises as Engels states as a result of the interaction of millions of individual human wills each motivated ultimately by economic considerations. Co-operatives would not simply evolve unless workers recognised the advantage of them, itself something wgich only partially arises from the workers experience, and in fact, requires great deal of propaganda, education and organisation on the part of Marxists and the Workers Party to bring about, and took action to establish them. The bosses would not simply sit idly by and would try to frustrate the workers attempts, and so the workers would be forced themselves to engage in political action. The ideasof the Economists and revisionists, Lenin argued, were, in fact, bouregois ideas. They had no place within a Marxist Party, and so the idea that there should be freedom of criticism could not be accepted, because it could lead to the Marxist Party being infected by these bourgeois ideas.

We can see here the fundamental problem with Lenin’s conception. For Marx, and Engels as Historical Materialists ideas are a function of material conditions, not just economic conditions as Engels rightly points out, but ultimately economic conditions. For Marx and Engels socialism is not possible unless the working class at least in its vast majority not only rejects and rebels against capitalism, but is won over to the idea of socialism, learns through its experience what that is, and its fundamental role in creating it. As they put it, that the battle of democracy is won within the working class. In reality this concept is completely different from that of Lenin. Lenin, certainly believes that its necessary to get the majority of the workers to follow the revolutionary party, but simply following a Party is not the same as actually understanding its Programme, and especially in relation to a socialist transformation which can only be brought about by a working class which is fully conscious of its role this difference is crucial. Nor is the fact of following a Party under conditions of rebllion against existing conditions a good guide either, a party which has truly won the battle of democracy within the working class should be able to demonstrate that it has that support under ALL conditions not just under exceptional conditions. And the reality was that the Bolsheviks did not have that support, they had not won the batlle of democracy within the working class. Their support was quite small. Even at the outbreak of the February revolution the Bolsheviks represented a tiny minority. But what then of the fact that by October the Bolsheviks had won over a large majority. Well that is not exactly true either. The fact is that we have conflicting sources of evidence.

In the elections to the Constituent Assembly the Bolsheviks won around 25% of the vote. The majority went to the Mensheviks and SR’s. But, of course the Constituent Assembly votes included the votes of bouregois as well as just workers and peasants. On the other hand the Bolsheviks had a clear majority in the Soviets in the main centres in Petersburg and Moscow. But, what are we to make of these majorities.

Trotsky describes the nature of the Soviets which Leninist mythology tells us were the most democratic institutions the world has seen,

“There were over 150,000 soldiers in Petrograd. There were at least four times as many working men and women of all categories. Nevertheless for every two worker-delegates in the Soviet there five soldiers. The rules of representation were extremely elastic (I’ll say AB), and they were always stretched to the advantage of the soldiers. Whereas the workers elected only one delegate for every thousand, the most petty military unit would frequently send two. The grey army cloth became the general ground-tone of the Soviet.

“But by no means all even of the civilians were selected by workers. No small number of people got into the Soviet by individual invitation, through pull, or simply thanks to their own penetrative ability. Radical lawyers, physicians, students, journalists, representing various problematical groups – or most often representing their own ambition. This obviously distorted character of the Soviet was even welcomed by the leaders, who were not a bit sorry to dilute the too concentrated essence of factory and barrack with the lukewarm water of cultivated Philistia. Many of these accidental crashers-in, seekers of adventure, self-appointed Messiahs, and professional bunk shooters, for a long time crowded out with their authoritative elbows the silent workers and irresolute soldiers.

“And if this was so in Petrograd, it is not hard to imagine how it looked in the provinces, where the victory came wholly without struggle.” (Trotsky – History of the Russian revolution pp234-5)

But, of course not all lawyers, journalists and so on were Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks had their share of lawyers and journalists too! If I’m not mistaken Lenin was a Lawyer, and Trotsky a journalist! From exactly, which factory were they elected as representatives to their local Soviet? An organisation that prided itself on its discipline and organisation like the Bolsheviks should itself have been capable of no small amount of elbowing as we have seen by the ability of Leninist in the Trade Union movement to obtain representation way above any real support they have amongst the union membership. Of course, I’m not picking fault with that fact. In 1984-5, when I was elected as Secretary of the North Staffs Miners Support Committee, I was in fact a part-time lecturer. I was sent, though, as a delegate to the Trades Council, which organised the Support Committee, from my old Royal Doulton ASTMS Branch, membership of which I’d retained since I went to University in 1977. I was not alone around the country such Support Committees were stuffed with revolutionaries and Leftists of one stripe or another, many of whom were intellectuals and so on. That has been the case throughout history. Cromwell’s New Model Army also contained experienced military personnel, from the ranks of the nobility. The vanguard of the revolutionary class often includes representatives of the old ruling class that have glimpsed the future. Marx and Engels, for instance. But, we should not confuse a natural phenomenon, and the progressive historical role it plays, for that vanguard then representing the vast mass of the revolutionary class. But, that is precisely the deception that Leninism inflicts upon itself.

Indeed, in his “The Class nature of the USSR” Trotsky admits that long after October,

“Not only up to the Brest-Litovsk peace but even up to autumn of 1918, the social content of the revolution was restricted to a petty-bourgeois agrarian overturn and workers’ control over production. This means that the revolution in its actions had not yet passed the boundaries of bourgeois society. During this first period, soldiers’ soviets ruled side by side with workers’ soviets, and often elbowed them aside. Only toward the autumn of 1918 did the petty-bourgeois soldier-agrarian elemental wave recede a little to its shores, and the workers went forward with the nationalization of the means of production. Only from this time can one speak of the inception of a real dictatorship of the proletariat. But even here it is necessary to make certain large reservations. During those initial years, the dictatorship was geographically confined to the old Moscow principality and was compelled to wage a three-years’ war along all the radii from Moscow to the periphery. This means that up to 1921, precisely up to the NEP, that is, what went on was still the struggle to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat upon the national scale.”

So it is clear that what is going on here is not a socialist revolution in which a class conscious proletariat fully aware of its historic mission engages on a social and political transformation, but essentially a bourgeois revolution carried out by the working class and peasantry, which as Trotsky rightly analysed in Permanent Revolution necessarily is transformed into a proletarian revolution. Indeed, unless that was the nature of the revolution it is unlikely that the Leninists could have gained the position they did. Even in that they were fortunate. Had the Mensheviks and SR’s been more savvy they would have conceded the demands of the workers and peasants, they would have pulled out of the war, legislated a reduction in working hours, and attempted as soon as possible to feed the cities. The Leninist argument is that they could not do this because they were the pawns of the bourgeoisie. The latter may be true, but I do not believe this prevented them adopting a conciliatory stance. History is replete with examples of ruling classes on the back foot making such concessions in order to diffuse a dangerous situation, and then clawing them back when the danger had passed.

For some considerable time the workers and peasants continued to give their support to the Mensheviks and SR’s, the Bolsheviks remained not only in a minority, but for much of the time had to keep their head down lest they got a beating from the very workers they claimed to lead. It was not the correctness of the Bolshevik Programme that was decisive, nor even the proclivity for organisation, but the utter ineptness of the Mensheviks and SR’s which ultimately drove the workers and peasants into the hands of the Bolsheviks, not because they had had an epiphany that led them to a socialist class consciousness in October that they did not possess two months earlier, but because the Bolsheviks unlike the other parties continued to offer them hope of the immediate things they required – Bread, Peace and Land and the 8 hour day – whereas the other parties did not. It was not a positive affirmation of the Bolsheviks, but a rejection of the only alternatives.

The reality was that all of those conditions which Lenin had previously cited as to why the Russian peasants could not establish co-operatives their “extremely low development of solidarity and discipline, the isolation, and the "property-owner fanaticism”, remained as much in place after October as they had been before. No doubt in places workers did as Trotsky says begin to take over factories, particularly when factory owners began actively to try to sabotage production as the Civil War got under way. But the reality was that many workers were barely different from peasants they had only recent come to the cities, and as the Civil War got under way, and the conditions in the cities rapidly deteriorated, many simply went back to their villages, where at least they had the hope of producing their own subsistence.

In reality the weakness of the working class resided not just in its extremely small numbers, but also in its entire development as a class. A working class which has over a reasonably prolonged period developed through its own ownership and control of the means of production through co-operative industry, which has grown used to the exercise of such control, has drawn the necessary political conclusions about its own nature, and that of the capitalist class has established its own democratic and organisational forms out of that material development can pass over – even then not necessarily that easily – to the same kind of control over the means of production and society in general. It already has not just confidence in its ability to do it, but has already developed the skills and knowledge that it actually can do it. Lenin in State and Revolution thought that these everyday tasks of running society, of running enterprises, and the State would be simple, but he was sorely mistaken. In short order the Bolsheviks found themselves relying on the old ruling class both in the management of industry, and in the administration of the State.

The Bolsheviks revolution like that of Cromwell draws behind it the exploited classes of society on the back of real grievances, but only a fuzzy idea of what is to be put in place of what exists. For the peasants the issue of socialism does not exist, all they are interested in is land reform; within the working class the main concern is working conditions, living standards and the working day. Few even of the workers have any real conception of socialism, and in the main they support the view of the Mensheviks that what they want is a series of reforms of the existing conditions. Even within the ranks of the Bolsheviks whose sole basis of existing as a separate party from the Mensheviks was the need for purity, there is huge confusion and division. Long time Bolsheviks like Zinoviev and even Kamenev, who has for years been Lenin’s closest associate, believe that the revolution can only be a bourgeois revolution, so does Lenin’s main administrator and practical organiser Stalin. But most of the long-standing members of the party take this view too. Lenin only gets his way by threatening to split the Party, and by relying on the votes of workers who have only just entered the party, and who cannot be fully aware of all of the preceding years of discussion, cannot be soundly based on Marxist theory. Nor is this the first occasion on which this Party of supposedly iron disciplined professional revolutionaries has been in this position. On the outbreak of the War the Bolsheviks representatives in the Duma, and all its leading members inside Russia simply ignored Lenin’s ideas on Revolutionary Defeatism, and took the same position as the Mensheviks.

This is the real background to the revolution, and as Trotsky says, the positions of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev in later years, did not simply materialise from nowhere, they were nothing more than a manifestation of the, essentially Menshevik, positions they had at the outbreak of the revolution. There is again resemblance here with Cromwell’s Revolution. After the Monarchy is overthrown the majority of the Parliamentarians seek not to carry through the logic of the revolution, but to sit largely on small gains – mostly for themselves. At the same time within Cromwell’s own forces there are those such as the Levellers who are not content with what has been achieved, and want to go further, and who are ultimately suppressed by Cromwell. It is not that Cromwell begins by seeking power for himself, but that he is forced to install the Protectorate, because the weak social basis of the class Dictatorship is manifest in the confusion, and corruption of the bourgeois Parliamentarians. In like manner Trotsky once said of Stalin that had he known in 1917 where he would end up he would have put a bullet through his own head.

The main difference between the Civil War, and the Bolshevik Revolution is that in the Civil War the Parliamentarians removed the King, they confiscated property from some of the King’s supporters, but in large part the economic and social base of the feudal aristocracy was left in place. The Bolsheviks too did not begin by completely tearing up the social roots of the bourgeoisie, though as Trotsky relates above the first few years were devoted pretty decisively to tearing up the roots of the Landlords. Cromwell in not dealing, decisively, with the aristocrats, provides the potential for their return. The same thing would have happened in Russia as NEP led to a growth of the kulaks and NEPmen, but just as Cromwell was forced to close down Parliament and install the Protectorate, so Stalin is forced to install his own Bonapartist regime, and does not make the mistake of Cromwell, but tears up the social roots of the old classes.

Cromwell’s Dictatorship arises due to the weakness of the bourgeoisie. The weakness of the bourgeois social Dictatorship is manifest in the persistence of elements of the old regime within the State – no regime is pure, all contain elements of some other social regime, even remnants carried over from ancient regimes. Yet that Dictatorship rests on the nascent bourgeois and petit bourgeois. The same is true of the Bonapartist regime of Stalin. It too contains to begin with those elements of the old regime that the Bolsheviks had been forced to draw in due to their own lack of expertise. But, unlike Cromwell’s regime, the tearing up of the economic and social basis of those old classes removes the seedbed for those elements to find their way into the State apparatus. In their place come a mixture of party functionaries, and in time, the children of workers and peasants who have passed through the new educational system. Especially, in Russia, however, where the country’s backwardness means that living standards are low, and as Trotsky points out, the need to industrialise meant that satisfying consumer demands had to be made secondary, the living standards these workers and peasants children find in their new positions are a world apart from those of their parents. They necessarily develop a petit-bourgeois lifestyle, and outlook.

As Trotsky explains in “The Class Nature of the USSR” above the Soviet Union never was a Workers State in the sense that the ultra-Left, and Third Campist persist define the term. And their formalistic and scholastic theories leave no room for a Workers State that is not pure, not perfect. For the Third Campists who want to remain attached to the mythology and theory of Leninism they end up in all sorts of ridiculous tangles in trying to resolve this. Having insisted that a Workers State can only be a Workers State if the Workers exercise political power, they tell us that Lenin’s regime was okay, that was a workers state, because although the workers did not hold political power as they insist MUST be the case, basically Lenin was a good guy, the Bolsheviks under Lenin held political power on behalf of the Workers! What kind of Marxism is this which rather than basing itself on objective criteria and assessment instead relies on a thoroughly subjective assessment that its okay for A to hold power on behalf of the workers but not B?????

At best what exists after 1917 is a deformed Workers State, in which the Working Class as a result of the political revolution that has occurred, and the subsequent dismantling in part of the old State, and the ability of the Workers supported by the armed forces and the peasantry to exert their interests against those of the bourgeoisie and landlords constitutes the dominant social class in society, but are only able to do so via a State structure, and military regime largely under the control not of themselves, but of the Bolshevik Party, and its apparatus. At worst what exists is a dual power similar to that, which existed during the period of the English Civil War. That dual power does not cease, with the end of the Civil War and the intervention, but continues in muted form through NEP. The Workers State really only arises at the point where that situation of dual power reappears in the Kulak rebellion and is put down leading to the ending of NEP, and the forced collectivisation. At that point the economic and social basis of all other social classes disappears, and the USSR appears in full form as a deformed Workers State, a State in which the working class and the peasantry are the only remaining social classes, and given the heterogeneous and atomised and individualist nature of the peasantry, leaves the working class as the dominant and ruling social class. However, it is a ruling social class, which like the bourgeoisie under Cromwell can, because of its inherent weakness only exercise its social Dictatorship by means of a powerful State that compensates for its economic and social weakness, a State which thereby is able to enjoy considerable freedom of action from the Civil Society of which it is part.

As Marx had put it, the State arises out of Civil society is a product of Civil Society not vice versa.

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