Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Reply To Mike McNair Part IV

“(1) They seek (as insurance as much as for accumulation) to retain the whole of their surplus product for themselves, so that in the absence of market pressures on them, or slave or capitalist large-scale agriculture, no civilisation can exist without coercive extraction of the agricultural surplus from the peasantry.”

Other than in a rather vacuous sense I’m not sure that this statement is true. According to Engels in Anti-Duhring (The Force theory) ruling classes do not rule on the basis of force, but on the basis of legitimation. The peasant does not give up his surplus to the landlord because he is forced to do so, but because the peasant accepts such an arrangement as natural. If, the peasant gives up the surplus without the need for force “in the (presence) of market pressures on them, or slave or capitalist large-scale agriculture”, and as I have shown under feudalism then on what basis must we assume that force is required to extract the surplus under other conditions? It seems to me that precisely Trotsky’s argument that industrialisation, providing Capital equipment and consumer goods for the peasants in exchange for that surplus applies. There is a problem in respect of Primitive Socialist Accumulation as identified by Preobrazhensky, but I don’t think it’s the problem you identify here.

“(3) The peasant petty proprietors are, due to their atomization, incapable of ruling for themselves, and therefore as far as they take political action tend to throw up the absolutist bureaucratic state. (This is also true of the urban petty proprietors, but by an indirect route. Their horizon tends to be limited to the locality, and they throw up localised guild-corporatist forms which then through their localism throw up the absolutist bureaucratic state.)”

I think this is fundamentally wrong from a Marxist perspective. The peasantry in particular, but the petty-bourgeois and intermediate classes in general are not only incapable of ruling for themselves, but incapable of independent political action in general. Where they engage in what appears to be independent action, on further inspection it turns out to be at most nothing more than simply reaction to some other class e.g. acts of almost random violence, the burning and ransacking of landlord property for instance. It is one of the reasons that it is this layer of society that tends to throw up those that engage in individual acts of terror. The petit-bourgeois are incapable of independent class action not only because of their atomisation, which mitigates against effective organisation, and development of common ideas, culture etc. but also because of a lack of homogeneity within what is a highly differentiated strata, and a strata which by its nature is transitory, its members constantly rising up or falling down into other social classes. Not only do the interests of the peasant diverge from the interest of the solicitor or professor, but they differ also between the rich peasant and the poor peasant. It is what makes the other component of this strata – the bureaucracy – an impossible candidate for ruling class in the way the new class theorists of State capitalism or Bureaucratic Collectivism would have us believe.

So it is not true that this class “throw(s) up the absolutist bureaucratic state”. It is incapable of doing so. If such a state arises then it is the State of some other class. At best it is a reflection that this other class be it some feudal aristocracy, capitalist class or proletariat is too weak to effect the social change on its own account, and relies on the physical support of the peasantry in effecting a political revolution, and it is that same weakness that allows the resultant Bonapartist (or bureaucratic) state to rise above the conflicts between the contending classes, obtain a degree of independence from Civil Society for itself etc.

“In consequence, there can be no strategic alliance of the workers and peasants, smychka, or "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" except in the very short-term transitional sense of the Russian soviets between February and October.”

In a certain sense I agree with this, but not for the reasons you outline. At a more fundamental level I disagree with your argument here. Because, I believe that a Leninist political revolution will inevitably create a deformed workers state (at best) for the reasons I have previously outlined, I believe that an effective socialist revolution can only be effected on the basis of a social transformation, in short the development on a fairly large scale of co-operatives etc. I have elsewhere quoted Lenin, who in turn was quoting Kautsky on Agriculture, where he states that large scale Co-operative agriculture is more efficient than large scale private agriculture, BUT he goes on such a development is only possible under certain conditions, that is that the workers who are going to run and establish these co-operatives must themselves be of a certain cultural level, must be bound by a certain degree of discipline etc. In other words it assumes that the society has reached a certain level of economic and social development, that the workers in this society have through class struggle developed that minimum level of culture, and class solidarity that enables them to go beyond the limitations of individualism, and petit-property owner mentality. It is hard to reconcile these requirements with a society in which the working class constitutes a small minority of the population.

For that reason I believe that the conditions for creating a socialist transformation of property relations as the precondition for developing the necessary class consciousness of the working class as a whole, and of creating the kind of economic and social foundations on which a successful political revolution can be effected are not compatible with a society in which a smytchka between workers and peasants is a requirement for that political revolution.

But, to apply that principal absolutely would be to treat class struggle and proletarian revolution as something which proceeds as from a play book a failing of the petit-bourgeois socialists. History is not made that way. In the words of Harold Macmillan, “Events dear boy”. Or in the words of Marx, “Man makes his own history, but under conditions not of his own choosing.” Revolutions do not just happen when the revolutionary class has achieved a socialist class consciousness they happen also when they have just become so pissed off with the existing system that they lash out even without knowing what they will put in its place. In almost every instance of such revolts they end up with something they didn’t want, whether it be a Stalin, or whether it be some Ayatollah.

Moreover, I can think of at least two situations in which what you say does not apply. A country like France for instance with a highly developed working class COULD develop co-operative industries, and those co-operatives could either link up with either agricultural co-ops or with individual peasant producers. The problem that Russia had was precisely the problem that Preobrazhensky formulated of the need for primitive Capital accumulation due to the weakness both of Russian Capitalism, and of the working class. But, as Marx points out in relation to Britain the workers DO develop savings, the “civilising mission” of capital as he describes it in the Grundrisse, does raise workers intellectual and cultural level, as well as providing them with the basis of that accumulation. Yes, as he says as long as those higher earnings are diverted into consumption or into savings they cannot change the workers condition, he simply becomes a more affluent worker, but if those savings are used not simply as savings but as Capital, then a fundamental change comes about. Moreover, the worker as a collective is able to overcome the problem of primitive Capital accumulation via commercial credit, again a solution which did not exist for Russia due to its economic isolation. Under such a situation workers COULD carry through a socialist revolution without the assistance of the peasantry, PROVIDED only that the peasantry did not oppose them. But it is precisely to avoid such a potentiality that a sensible proletariat would seek to maintain a smytchka with at least sections of the poor peasantry.

Secondly, it is highly likely that if a successful socialist transformation were effected say in Europe then workers would want to establish a smytchka with peasant farmers say in Africa, and thereby to encourage trade and development, not because such a smytchka was necessary politically or militarily for the European workers, but because such an arrangement would undercut any existing imperialist powers, would strengthen the position of workers and socialist forces in those countries, and would ultimately lay the basis for the effective transformation of those economies, as well as facilitating trade and economic development.

“It performed well for a short period and then ran up against the resistance of the peasantry in the form of the scissors crisis. The Left Opposition offered technical solutions to this problem (Preobrazhensky) which failed to recognize that the scissors crisis was the expression of an underlying struggle of the peasantry to retain the whole product of the agricultural surplus, that is, a form of tax strike, a class struggle against what was still de facto a dictatorship of the cities over the country”

But this is not an accurate depiction of the situation. The resistance of the peasantry was not a reflection of those peasants wanting to retain the whole of the surplus. The fact is that NEP together with some of the other benefits of the ending of War Communism, meant that agricultural production rose quickly. But, NEP was certainly not a free market. The State continued to dictate prices of important commodities such as grain, and bought them at those prices. As Supply of those commodities rose, so prices fell. Meanwhile, industrial production only rose slowly. The ending of war Communism the leasing back to private capitalists, the repair of old equipment that could be quickly brought back into production eased the problem of capital accumulation, but it could only be a quick fix. The majority of manufacturing even under NEP remained in the hands of the State, and management of State enterprises was largely in the hands of the former owners or Party bureaucrats. The workers themselves had no real control over the enterprises, and no experience or skill for exercising such control, and consequently, given all the exertions of the War, and Civil War little enthusiasm for yet more demands on their time and energy. As industrial production rose more slowly than agricultural production the relative price of agricultural goods to industrial goods fell. The response of the peasantry was not a response based on a desire to retain the full surplus, but a response to becoming steadily worse off! What the peasant is really interested in is not the abstract question of the surplus product, but his living standard whether the products he takes to market can bring him more or less goods in exchange.

As I wrote elsewhere the fact is that whatever the Trotskyists believe the answer could not have come from the introduction of more planning, nor of the introduction of democratic planning in place of bureaucratic planning – look at Trotsky’s discussion of planning in these early years it is just as bureaucratic and centralist as that developed by the Stalinists, the only difference is that Trotsky argued for lower targets, and for the plan to be corrected as errors materialised themselves – as Draper points out in “The Two Souls of Socialism” this fetish with planning that the left has adopted has no grounding within Marx, planning can only develop organically by experience, and experiment. The real solution to the problem of Capital accumulation and of providing the necessary commodities for both workers and peasants that would have tied them to the Dictatorship was the use of the market. But, the market as NEP demonstrated meant the restoration and growing power of capitalist elements, and thereby of capitalist ideology. The only counter to that would have been the operation of the market on the basis of property owned by the workers in Co-operatives, but that was not possible. It was not possible because of a) the statist ideology of Leninism which required that property be owned and controlled by the State, and b) because that consideration of Kautsky, that the workers be sufficiently developed, disciplined etc. to be able to own and control co-operative enterprises was lacking.

“Without a labour market - which implies freedom of movement of workers and of capital - a working class is not a proletariat in the sense of Marx’s analysis, but an urban serf class. There was also a major growth of state slavery, in the form of the gulag.”

There is a confusion of ideas and terms here. Does a labour market imply freedom of movement? What about the existence of immigration controls in most countries? Moreoever, its quite true that Capital cannot exist without wage labour, but does the fact that a worker is not a wage worker mean he is not a worker? I think the idea that the workers in the USSR and other Stalinist states were an urban serf class does not stack up. If we are to make a comparison with the serfs under feudalism this becomes apparent. The actual serfs were tied to the land, and to the landlord. In the Stalinist states, enterprises hoarded labour because they had such a problem with retaining it. Workers would simply fail to turn up to work, and go and try a different factory or enterprise where they thought they might do better. They would often simply not turn up for work in the afternoon, frequently because they were drunk. This is not during those later times when workers were seeking methods of expressing frustration at the regime, but right from the beginning. It reflected that peasant, undisciplined attitude to work, and was as much a concern for Lenin and Trotsky as it was for Stalin.

The existence of slave type labour does not characterise the economy as pre-capitalist, but merely at a low level of technical development. Look at the extent that capitalism itself was dependent upon slavery as a means of primitive capital accumulation. Even in the 19th century as Marx remarks in Capital the capitalists were engaging in slavery within Britain itself with canal boat loads of workhouse inmates being bought wholesale by Northern Industrialists from the owners of the workhouses in the South and East Anglia, or the use of the Vagrancy laws which enabled right up until the end of the 19th century vagrants to be branded with an S on their foreheads, and used as a slave by whoever captured them. But, slavery and serfdom is slavery by another name is only compatible with low levels of productivity, primitive production. As the nature of production changes and more accurate and more delicate tools are used slavery dies out.

Its true that the USSR had to adjust the machines it acquired from the West, but the reason for that was the low technical level of the new workers who had only just been transformed from being peasants using medieval tools on the land. In the 1930’s productivity rose significantly, and it rose not because of Stakhanovism, but largely because of the effects of the investment in education and training that had by then been made, and which led to the establishment of a more highly skilled workforce. Unfortunately, a workforce that was wiped out in tens of millions a few years later in WWII.

“The very same phenomenon - scissors crisis, leading to a wildly ultra-left swing to coercing the peasantry under the name of "mobilizing" them, leading to mass starvation, etc. - can be seen most clearly in China's "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution". Milder forms of the same phenomenon have occurred in every soviet-style regime to have had a significant peasantry in the first place or to have created one through "land reform". A more extreme version can be seen in Cambodia under Pol Pot.”

But, the causes I would argue are the same, and not a function of freeing the peasantry, but of the inadequate development of industry, a problem of inadequate capital accumulation, and consequently an inability to meet the needs of the peasantry in terms of industrial products in exchange for their goods. In the case of Pol Pot, I don’t think even that is true. In Pol Pot’s case I would indeed agree with a description similar to yours, indeed I would go further and say that the State that he was trying to establish was not one transitional between feudalism and capitalism but was a feudal state full stop. For Marxists, the basic criteria is the development of the productive forces to a level beyond that achieved by Capitalism, but that was NEVER Pol Pot’s ambition. The charge could not be levelled at him that could be made against other “Marxist” regimes, to have tried and failed, because he never tried. From the beginning his goal was to smash all symbols of modernity, and to return Cambodia to a feudal, peasant economy.

“Trotsky anticipated in 1938 that the Stalin regime would collapse in the face of the coming world war. This assessment proved to be wrong. The frontal assault of Nazism in 1941 called forth an enormous mobilization of the Russian people (note the deliberate non-class expression of this point - workers, peasants and urban intelligentsia alike) under the banner of the defence of Holy Russia and the global people's front with US and British imperialism. The Soviet bureaucracy was significantly reshaped politically, but the regime held together at the head of this mass mobilization. The victories of the USSR opened the way for the creation of new Soviet-style regimes in Eastern Europe, China, Korea and Vietnam.”

But, I am concerned that you skip over the War in such a light manner given its importance, and its significance as a test both for your theory that the State was transitional between feudalism and capitalism, and for those new class theories which define the USSR as being some less progressive form than Capitalism. It has long been a dictum of Marxism that success in War is an indication of the development of the productive forces of a society. Certainly, in warfare for the last two centuries that has been the case, because the ability to effectively fight wars has been a function of the ability to produce effectively the means of destruction, and that is a function of the ability to produce industrially. In World War II, the USSR came up against one of the most industrially developed powers, Germany. Moreoever, despite the actual alignment of forces in the War itself Germany had been assisted in its rearmament both by Britain, and by the US. The US indeed, continued arming Germany through its plants in Germany such as Ford and General Motors which had been turned over to tank production, right up until the US entry into the War.

As Trotsky points out Russia despite its vast size and resources had not won a significant war against any developed nation for a long time. It could not even defeat Japan in 1905. Alec Nove gives details of Tsarist Russia’s terrible condition to fight a War in 1914, its utter incapacity to produce armaments in sufficient quantity or calibre, and so on. Yet, despite that, despite the enormous privations and destruction not just of the World war, but of the Civil War too, despite the terrible ineptitude, and waste of Stalinism we find a totally different picture even by the early 1930’s. Again Nove gives details of the percentage of GDP spent on armaments, a figure which remains remarkably low given the situation until the late 1930’s. Yet, Trotsky remarks in “The red Army” (March 1934) that the USSR was producing aircraft and heavy bombers in large numbers, he refers to a quote from Le temps which reported on a visit to the USSR by French technicians and French Minister of Aviation Cot, that they were “astonished and enthused” by the successes achieved.

And what of the actual empirical evidence? The fact is that on the outbreak of War with the USSR, despite the sizeable initial losses – the USSR lost around 25% of its industrial and agricultural production and territory, and around 30 million people, notably the young and future industrial proletariat – it was quickly able to relocate production, moving entire factories, and to direct that production into a war effort, which saw the introduction of some of the most technically developed equipment in terms of aircraft and tanks, and saw a massive commitment of Soviet citizens. Within short order it was able at a time when the US was not yet in the War, and was increasing its economic power, and when Britain was effectively defeated, and France actually was defeated, to turn all of that production round, and to roll over nazi Germany, and its allies in Eastern Europe. In addition we now know from Macarthur and others that the real reason for the Japanese surrender was not the dropping of the atomic bombs – the Japanese believed the US had none left – but was the fact that the USSR was sweeping down through Mongolia, and the Japanese preferred to surrender to the US than to be overrun by the USSR.

So for Marxists who place great store in determining societies from empirical evidence based on their productive capacity this begs some serious questions for those that argue that this was some reactionary (in the historical sense of the word) regime, because how is that a society with such productive relations can go from a medieval society, suffer the loss of millions of its citizens, huge swathes of its productive capacity, and yet in the space of 20 years turn itself into an industrial power capable of producing such technological weapons in such vast quantities, and simply roll over the most or at worst second most developed capitalist power of the time, and probably the most militarised power of the time, how indeed was it possible for this society with such a reactionary set of property relations, even despite the privations and losses caused to it during WWII, and the subsequent drain on its resources in propping up other regimes in Eastern Europe, in providing funding for national liberation movements around the world, and despite the economic restrictions placed upon it by the West, for such a society to become within just 30 years of the revolution the second superpower on the planet, a super power which outdid the other superpower in terms of the production of scientists, doctors and teachers, whose production relations enabled it to be the first into space, and even today to be ahead of the US in many aspects of space science. Now is not the time to get into whether the US actually did land on the Moon or not.

Go to Part V

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