Wednesday, 11 June 2008

A Reply To Mike McNair Part III

“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.”

I agree, but we cannot forget that this failure is dialectically linked to the Revolution itself, just as the degeneration (in Trotsky’s view) or I would say deformation of the revolution was dialectically linked to the role of Leninism. Indeed, I would go further and argue that the loss of control of the workers organisations by the workers – though I would want to place caveats on that conception – was itself a function of the division of the labour movement that Leninism created. It drew the most advanced workers and revolutionary Marxists away, thereby giving the right reformists an open field in the socialist parties – which largely remained where the majority of the class gave its allegiance – and it created, ultimately, the conditions under which Stalinism could control not just a national section of the international labour movement, but all of the sections of the Comintern. At the same time it created the kind of tribal warfare within the working class that we have seen replicated in miniature within the ranks of Trotskyism ever since, the tendency of individuals to say “My party right or wrong”, which in and of itself mitigates the basic requirement of any Marxist to learn to think for themselves.

Mike argues that the failure was due to the loss of control of the workers organisations to the petty proprietors, by which he means the middle class intellectuals. I think this is very debatable. I think there is plenty of evidence to show that it was not middle class individuals that captured these positions, rather it was often workers who were elected/appointed to such positions, and who as a result of the nature of the position – necessarily a mediating role, balanced between the employer and the worker often with a lifestyle closer to that of the employer than the worker and so on – that led such people to adopt a petty-bourgeois lifestyle and outlook. I have given some examples here in my blogs on the development of the Labour Movement in Stoke, and of the 1905 TUC.

Moreover, if we accept the Leninist view of the working class as remaining a slave class until the moment of its emancipation then this process of the workers organisations falling into the hands of such individuals must be a phenomenon that must continually repeat itself. What this concept seems to lack in my opinion, is any questioning of the actual material conditions which could enable such a process to come about, and therefore, what changes are required in those material foundations to prevent it. In Part II I think I have suggested how that is possible i.e. in developing co-operative enterprises here and now, in owning and controlling the means of production, the workers not only themselves become “petty property owners” in the form of means of production, but also in that other form of developing their own skills etc., become trained and conditioned from the beginning to participating in the control of their own lives in every respect. The very fact of the need to hold shop meetings in works time to discuss this or that item of production, and so on means that this form of property can only function if the workers participate fully in its administration and control. And it necessarily follows that the other workers organisations that arise out of this property form require the same degree of involvement and control by the workers themselves. This is not the same as some nationalised industry, be it one nationalised by a bourgeois state or a “Workers” state, where that state itself can employ a Manager who can become alienated from the rest of the workers.

Moreover, the most important caveat I would put to the notion that the workers organisations being captured by the petty producers would be that although there is clearly a dialectical relationship between leadership and mass, I think that Mike falls into the Trotskyist mindset of seeing all evils, and all solutions being simply a question of “leadership”. It is not at all clear to me that the existing leaderships of the Trade Unions or other Labour Movement bodies, such as the Labour Party do so in opposition to the views and wishes of the mass of their memberships. This view which implies that there is some vast reservoir out there of working class anger just waiting to be given the correct leadership, so that it can be unleashed against capitalism seems in my opinion to be so at odds with the empirical evidence that it simply beggars belief. Just look at the results of the last local elections and see how bad the “revolutionary” left alternatives to Labour did, even in comparison to the BNP. The fact that Labour did badly too doesn’t make that any better, it makes it worse. It means that in deserting Labour workers moved not left to the revolutionaries, but right to the Liberals, Tories and BNP!!! On that basis, perhaps we should be grateful that these bodies were captured by the petty property owners rather than being too reflective of that mass.

And how could it be otherwise? Ideas are a function of the material base. Workers can only develop socialist consciousness if they can see some form of property relations that advance their interests. Its not surprising that workers voted for New Labour, as opposed to the Tories or Old Labour. Both had offered failed solutions. But, when New Labour proved to be no better, the solutions offered by the left could have no grip on the working class, because there was nothing in reality, nothing in the workers actual experience that could suggest to them that these solutions were in any way possible. Of course, they viewed Capitalism as the only way things could be done, of course when one lot of Capitalist parties failed the only realistic solution for them was to look to some other Capitalist parties.

That is why Marx said in his address to the First International,

“But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labor 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 labor need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man himself; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.”

But, all workers see at the moment is the failure of the Soviet experiment, they see the inefficiency and bureaucracy of the old British State Capitalist enterprises, and conclude from these deeds that speak more loudly than words, if this is socialism, I’ll stick with Capitalism.

Mike’s argument that this process of the workers organisations being “captured” by the middle class didn’t happen in Russia until after the revolution again I find hard to accept. It seems to swallow the myth of the Leninists about the nature of the Bolsheviks. The fact is as Trotsky points out the Bolsheviks for most of the period up to October were largely inseparable from the Mensheviks and SR’s. Whether it is on the question of revolutionary defeatism, or the question of the Democratic Dictatorship, or the question even of the insurrection the mass of the party not only was against Lenin, but certainly on the first of these simply ignored his position, and that which was supposed to be the position of the party. Only when Russia began to do badly in the War and opposition began to arise did the Party masses begin to change their position. But also, a look at the actual mass organisations of the workers, the Trade Unions, shows most of them in the hands not of the Bolsheviks, but of the Mensheviks, so even were the myth of the steeled Leninist Bolshevik party true it would be irrelevant in respect of those organisations. A look too at Trotsky’s History of the Russian revolution shows as I have said elsewhere that even in that most revolutionary period, and in those organs most closely associated with the proletarian vanguard – the Soviets – we find them made up not on the basis of some super proletarian democracy, but instead made up of the troops (largely, therefore, representative of the peasantry), and in Trotsky’s words all kinds of hangers on who used their elbows to push their way in.

“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).”

I do not think this is a correct assessment. Rather I believe that Lenin’s argument is that precisely because the ideas of the bourgeoisie remain the dominant ideas – including amongst the working class – until the workers are emancipated, then those self same bourgeois ideas must find their reflections within the labour movement itself. They find themselves replicated necessarily within the Trade Unions – which is why Lenin was opposed to the incorporation of the unions into the party and insisted they be kept separate – and must even find their way into the workers party, and so leads to the need for regular purges to remove such influences, and so on. He was well aware that one manifestation of that was within the ranks of the intelligentsia, and accepted that the Revisionists – Bernstein and his followers, and the economists in Russia – had some of the better theoreticians. It was precisely for that reason he argued against freedom of criticism fearful that alternate views might infect the workers. We see the same approach by Leninist organisations today, for example in the way the AWL have censored my own posts to their website, showing that Leninist organisations are so unsure of their own politics that they even fear the views of individuals.

The issue of the role of the Comintern in limiting workers struggle is what I meant earlier by recognising the dialectical interrelationship between the fate of the Revolution, and the way they fed back on to the subsequent failure of revolution throughout Europe, a failure which in itself doomed the USSR. In effect the role of the bureaucracy became no different from the role of the trade Union or Social Democratic bureaucracy. Each has some vision of “socialism”, each seeks to move towards its aim, but within the constraints imposed on that, by the overarching requirement to keep that process tightly under its control. But, I think that even had Bolshevik parties existed in Germany in 1918 or 1923 the outcome would not have been considerably different. It is as likely that the statist conception of socialist construction would have simply replicated in Germany the system that developed in Russia. It would have simply strengthened Stalinism as an economic and military force. Other consequences flowing from that might have heightened the contradictions inherent within the system, the working class within those societies might have developed economically, socially and culturally and from that base overthrown the bureaucracy, but we can only speculate on that. The fact is that the Revolutionary wave that erupted in 1917 was the necessary reflection of the end of the Long Wave boom, whereas the defeats that the working class suffered in the 1920’s and 30’s were a reflection of the onset of the Long wave decline, just as the outbursts of ’68, the militant actions of the 1970’s were the equivalent response to the ending of the post war Long Wave boom, and the defeats of the 1980’s were the consequence of the Long Wave decline. It is impossible to separate out what are dialectically interrelated phenomena. The ability of Stalinism to exert the upper hand, the degeneration of the workers movement was itself a function of the inevitable defeats and demoralisation that accompanies those periods of Long Wave decline, in its turn the role of Stalinism gave those defeats their particular character.

“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.”

This seems to amalgamate two different things – at least. ON the one hand Mike points to the failure of the anarchistic type organisations that reject Leninist discipline, and then points to the failure of the Trotskyists who as Leninists clearly don’t. I agree both have failed, but it seems to me that the reason for their failure is not in and of itself a function of those particular ideas in regard of organisation. It seems to me that the reason for failure is because both are separated from the class, both offer solutions to which the working class cannot relate on any level. The reason that the BNP in Britain is being successful in winning workers votes is precisely because the solutions it offers, and increasingly the practical activity it undertakes within working class communities CAN be related to by ordinary workers, and does create a link between them.

Go to Part IV

1 comment:

Mike Macnair said...

Arthur: ... this failure is dialectically linked to the Revolution itself, just as the degeneration (in Trotsky’s view) or I would say deformation of the revolution was dialectically linked to the role of Leninism. Indeed, I would go further and argue that the loss of control of the workers organisations by the workers – though I would want to place caveats on that conception – was itself a function of the division of the labour movement that Leninism created. ...

Mike: I agree with the first point insofar as it is that by 1921 the unattractiveness of the Russian revolution was a problem for the western and central European and US left. It was much less of a problem for the left in eastern European countries and outside the imperialist core, because the capitalist regimes in these countries were much more unattractive and the soviet regime therefore looked less problematic

I disagree with the ‘Leninism’ formulation because (as I argue in my book) it makes an amalgam between several different political phenomena.

I think the observation about the division of the labour movement is misconceived. The USPD was expelled from the SPD by the right wing before the outbreak of the Russian revolution. The right wing walked out of the SFIO. The split impulse came primarily from the right, though Lenin IMO aggravated the problem by giving unsound reasons for the split. Divisions in the labour movement, moreover, antedated the war - the British and US movements were notorious; the Bulgarian split between the ‘Broads’ and ‘Narrows’ dated from 1903; and so on. Moreover, outside Europe and the US the socialist parties were so weak that they were rapidly overtaken by the communist parties as the main parties of the working class. The Second International had, in fact, made no serious effort to organise outside Europe and the US for reasons connected with the existing ascendancy of the right wing.

Arthur: Mike argues that the failure was due to the loss of control of the workers organisations to the petty proprietors, by which he means the middle class intellectuals. I think this is very debatable. I think there is plenty of evidence to show that it was not middle class individuals that captured these positions, rather it was often workers who were elected/appointed to such positions, and who as a result of the nature of the position – necessarily a mediating role, balanced between the employer and the worker often with a lifestyle closer to that of the employer than the worker and so on – that led such people to adopt a petty-bourgeois lifestyle and outlook. I have given some examples here in my blogs on the development of the Labour Movement in Stoke, and of the 1905 TUC.

Mike: My view is that people of worker origin who become trained full-time officials thereby become petty proprietors of IPRs in relation to skills and the ‘official information’ of the organisation. The “lifestyle closer to that of the employer than the worker” then follows, though I would be much more cautious about this: officials may sentimentalise about pub culture, etc., as a way of marking themselves off from the culture of the employer.

I don’t think the ‘mediating role’ is essential, since the dynamics apply equally to the bureaucracies of worker organisations which don’t involve the immediate negotiating role and to those of small left groups.

Arthur: Moreover, if we accept the Leninist view of the working class as remaining a slave class until the moment of its emancipation then this process of the workers organisations falling into the hands of such individuals must be a phenomenon that must continually repeat itself. ...

Mike: I agree with you that the idea that the working class remains a slave class until the moment of its emancipation is to be rejected. My argument is that the workers’ movement needs to find institutional forms, to be applied within existing workers’ organisations, and also fought for as institutional forms of the state (i.e. as (a) propaganda around ‘this is the sort of state we fight for’, (b) agitation round individual elements), which will tend to subordinate the officials to the ranks. My original Theses at para. 8 indicate some of this in extreme outline.

Arthur: Moreover, the most important caveat I would put to the notion that the workers organisations being captured by the petty producers would be that although there is clearly a dialectical relationship between leadership and mass, I think that Mike falls into the Trotskyist mindset of seeing all evils, and all solutions being simply a question of “leadership”. ...

Mike: Actually, no. I think that in August 1914 the right wing socialist leaderships accurately represented the nationalism of the large majority of the worker masses. But when the masses began to shift into opposition to the war, the right wing’s control of the party and union organisations became an obstacle to the expression of the ideas of the masses.

Arthur: And how could it be otherwise? Ideas are a function of the material base. Workers can only develop socialist consciousness if they can see some form of property relations that advance their interests.

Mike: “ideas are a function of the material base” is undialectical (Marx, Theses on Feuerbach; Dietzgen). “if they can see some form of property relations ...” fetishises proprietary forms. Communism is about transparent social relations; and the same is true of the collective self-organisation of the working class in forms which aren’t cooperatives (I wrote in my response to your part II against the fetishism of cooperatives.)

Arthur: But, all workers see at the moment is the failure of the Soviet experiment, they see the inefficiency and bureaucracy of the old British State Capitalist enterprises, and conclude from these deeds that speak more loudly than words, if this is socialism, I’ll stick with Capitalism.

Mike: agreed

Arthur: Mike’s argument that this process of the workers organisations being “captured” by the middle class didn’t happen in Russia until after the revolution again I find hard to accept. It seems to swallow the myth of the Leninists about the nature of the Bolsheviks. ...

Mike: My argument is simply that Tsarist partial repression of the RSDLP (and other socialist parties) and the trade unions prevented ‘career officials’ from emerging by enforcing rotation of office (by jailing and exiling potential career officials). I argue that if the Tsarist regime had allowed legal trade unions and reduced Okhrana operations against the socialist left, the trade union and party officialdom which would have emerged would have prevented the events of 1917 (probably a la Germany by keeping tighter control of the Soviets). The myths of Bolshevik history are therefore perfectly irrelevant.

Arthur: ...even in that most revolutionary period, and in those organs most closely associated with the proletarian vanguard – the Soviets – we find them made up not on the basis of some super proletarian democracy, but instead made up of the troops (largely, therefore, representative of the peasantry) ...

Mike: Though this idea (the troops represented the peasantry) is conventional Bolshevism, it is IMO untrue. Soldiers in a modern army are engaged in a complex cooperative task using machinery, under the authority of managers (officers) for which they are paid a wage. In other words, they are proletarians. The soldiers of peasant origin in the Tsarist army were therefore first-generation proletarians, and it is reasonably clear that they did not politically represent the peasantry, which radicalised at a different rate and in different forms to the soldiers

Arthur: ... Lenin’s argument is that precisely because the ideas of the bourgeoisie remain the dominant ideas – including amongst the working class – until the workers are emancipated, then those self same bourgeois ideas must find their reflections within the labour movement itself. They find themselves replicated necessarily within the Trade Unions – which is why Lenin was opposed to the incorporation of the unions into the party and insisted they be kept separate – and must even find their way into the workers party, and so leads to the need for regular purges to remove such influences, and so on. ....

Mike: You are right that this is an aspect of Lenin’s account of the split, and from this point of view my original formulation is one-sided. But my formulation does address ideas which were also present in proto-Comintern and Comintern comments on the split, and reflected (e.g.) in Trotsky on the PCF.

The more fundamental point is one which I made, and you made, earlier: it is as much the bureaucracy of proletarian family background, as the bureaucracy of intelligentsia family background, who form the basis of the right wing. Then my central point was that since the Comintern did not recognise this, their organisational measures against opportunism tended to strengthen opportunism

Arthur: It was precisely for that reason he argued against freedom of criticism fearful that alternate views might infect the workers.

Mike: When? This undifferentiated ‘Leninism’ really does buy the myth of Bolshevik continuity. See Lih Lenin redicovered; Harding, Lenin’s political thought, Rabinowitch, etc, etc. It is essential to differentiate between pre-revolutionary and revolutionary Bolshevism (as a part of the RSDLP, etc) and the ‘Leninism’ constructed in 1919-21 and after.

Arthur: We see the same approach by Leninist organisations today, for example in the way the AWL have censored my own posts to their website, showing that Leninist organisations are so unsure of their own politics that they even fear the views of individuals.

Mike: CPGB would probably not let you write at the length that you write at either on this blog, or in your postings to the AWL website at their high point (I am a member, and I don’t get to write at that length unless I can persuade the editors of the WW that what I have to say is worth a series) but we don’t engage in the sort of political censorship which has characterised the AWL’s recent response to you. Reason, because we aren’t “so unsure of [our] own politics that [we] even fear the views of individuals”. Yet we would regard ourselves as Leninist, in the sense of standing in the tradition of Lenin and the Bolsheviks before 1919-21.

Arthur: But, I think that even had Bolshevik parties existed in Germany in 1918 or 1923 the outcome would not have been considerably different. It is as likely that the statist conception of socialist construction would have simply replicated in Germany the system that developed in Russia. It would have simply strengthened Stalinism as an economic and military force.

Mike: I don’t agree (on this I take ‘Bolshevik’ parties to mean parties which (i) sought the European proletarian revolution as a solution to the war crisis, and (ii) had a substantial prior existence as public organised factions and led a minority section of the masses at the outbreak of the crisis, rather than parties which were similar in detail to the Bolsheviks). Rabinowitch’s work as well as that of others demonstrates that the relation of forces in the Bolshevik party and in the Soviet regime more generally in 1918 was by no means one of the absolute dominance of ‘Leninist statism’. Moreover, it is not just a question of Germany: the revolutionary tide in 1918-19 went much wider (for a hostile perspective, Anthony Read, The World on Fire). Of course, it didn’t happen; so both my point, and your point, are no more than counter-factual speculations.

Arthur: The fact is that the Revolutionary wave that erupted in 1917 was the necessary reflection of the end of the Long Wave boom, whereas the defeats that the working class suffered in the 1920’s and 30’s were a reflection of the onset of the Long wave decline, just as the outbursts of ’68, the militant actions of the 1970’s were the equivalent response to the ending of the post war Long Wave boom, and the defeats of the 1980’s were the consequence of the Long Wave decline. It is impossible to separate out what are dialectically interrelated phenomena. The ability of Stalinism to exert the upper hand, the degeneration of the workers movement was itself a function of the inevitable defeats and demoralisation that accompanies those periods of Long Wave decline, in its turn the role of Stalinism gave those defeats their particular character.

Mike: (1) I don’t buy Kondratiev; I don’t think the empirical evidence supports the level of regularity of long waves supposed here; (2) “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte). The point of the quote, for me, is that structural causation and human agency interplay. Certainly at crisis moments this is the case, and IMO it was the case between the opening of the terminal crisis of the British world hegemony in 1914 and the stabilisation of the US world hegemony and ‘Cold war system’ around 1948.

Arthur [on point 8 of my Theses This seems to amalgamate two different things – at least. ON the one hand Mike points to the failure of the anarchistic type organisations that reject Leninist discipline, and then points to the failure of the Trotskyists who as Leninists clearly don’t. I agree both have failed, but it seems to me that the reason for their failure is not in and of itself a function of those particular ideas in regard of organisation. It seems to me that the reason for failure is because both are separated from the class, both offer solutions to which the working class cannot relate on any level. The reason that the BNP in Britain is being successful in winning workers votes is precisely because the solutions it offers, and increasingly the practical activity it undertakes within working class communities CAN be related to by ordinary workers, and does create a link between them.

Mike: (1) There is no amalgamation, since I clearly characterise the spontaneists and the trots as different sorts of politics.

(2) I think it is unrealistic to characterise the Bolivian POR or Sri Lankan LSSP in the 1950s, or the big semi-spontaneist far left organisations in Italy in the 70s like Lotta Continua, as ‘separated from the class’.

(3) ‘separated from the class’ is a piece of Brit-perspective on far left sectarianism, I think originated by Pat Jordan. On the one hand it fails to explain the sectarianism of the Labour left; on the other, it fails to explain the short-term successes of unitary left formations like the Brazilian PT, Rifondazione, SSP, and Die Linke. What the working class can’t relate to is not so much the specific policies of the far left as its divisions.

(4) In any case, what I am concerned with in this section of the Theses is the problem of a theory and practice of organisation which will tend to subordinate the officials to the members. “Separated from the class” seems to me a classic piece of dodging this issue, very common among comrades of Trotskyist origin because Trotsky did tend to dodge the issue, as far back as Our political tasks and as far forward as his various comments in the 1930s that “... ‘the regime’ is not a political question”.

Mike