Saturday, 14 June 2008

A Reply To Mike McNair Part VIII

“The project of ‘socialism in one country’ emerged from the international isolation of the Russian revolution, the preponderance of the petty proprietors in Russian society under blockade, and the utopian character of the project of a strategic or long-term worker-peasant alliance. Though peasant predominance is gone from the imperialist countries, the converse is that - as 1914-18 and 1939-45 demonstrated - these countries are more vulnerable to economic blockade than the former Tsarist empire was.”

The whole of Social Democratic thinking was national reformist. That is why, as Trotsky says, each Social Democracy was able to argue for War Credits in 1914. The French argued that what they were defending was not Frencg Capitalism, but the French revolutionary tradition, and working class advance. By similar token the German Social Democrats argued that what they were defending was all of the achievements of German Social Democracy as the basis of the transformation into socialism. By its nature they had a view of socialism being created on a national basis. But, the position of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev at the outbreak of he Revolution, was effectively no different than that of the Mensheviks. It was equally national-reformist. It is in my opinion wrong to see “Socialism in One Country” as arising entirely from the isolation of backward Russia, it was in effect a continuation of the ideology of national reformism inherent in Social Democracy, and continued by the Centrists of Stalinism. I can see good reason for the peasants and petty producers, basing themselves on a provincialism and narrow mindedness, but I can also see good reasons why peasants facing dwindling prices for their products on the home market would look to be able to sell those products on the export market. I can see why petit-bourgeois intellectuals would be aghast at the thought of being cut off from world culture. On the other hand I can well understand why workers – who had at least a provincial outlook as the peasantry from which they had just come – would after all of their exhaustion from War and revolution, seek a quiet life, which is precisely what SIOC offered.

I’m not at all convinced by the last part of your statement here. Whilst, not at all advocating SOIC, I find it hard to see how France which has both developed industrial and agricultural sectors, or even Germany, Spain or Italy would fall into the situation you describe. Certainly, it doesn’t apply to the US. However, I would argue that the process of transformation I have set out following Marx, again undermines the legitimacy of any attempt by imperialist powers to blockade a country undergoing such a transformation, even at the stage where the proletariat is forced to undertake a political revolution to establish its power in the face of attempts at sabotage and counter-revolution by its own bourgeoisie. Its slow and organic development establishes precisely the kind of international relations between workers that you propose in your later argumentation.

“The fate of the Russian revolution is thus a disproof of any strategy which involves taking power in a single country and subsequently spreading the revolution by any means other than immediate international revolutionary war.”

This proposition can only be maintained if we accept that the reason for the deformation/degeneration of the Revolution can be explained entirely by the isolation of a backward economy. I do not believe that is the case. I would argue that the basis of the deformation is the leading role played by Leninism, and the Leninist party, and in its statist conception of transformation. I have no doubt that even had their been a healthier transformation, and in a country with a more advance economy – though I doubt the Bolsheviks could ever have achieved the position they achieved in Russia in an advanced economy – then that isolation would necessarily have had a damaging effect, certainly it would have prevented he establishment of “socialism”. Even then I think there is room for debate. Marxists, Leninists and Trotskyists have always said that for socialism to be possible the revolution must occur in a number of advanced economies. But, it seems to me that a state the size of the USSR, had it had an advanced economy would have been at least equivalent to a number of advanced West European economies. The problem can only be understood dialectically as Trotsky analysed it, to understand that the whole problem is to arrive at that stage of equivalent economic development to those developed states, in the actual concrete circumstances of original backwardness, and economic blockade, not to mention threat of attack. As he put it in “The New Course”, a lion can see off a number of dogs, but if the dogs get the lion whilst its still a cub, they can kill the lion.

In fact, it seems to me that the experience of Russia, which began in such obviously unpromising conditions, and yet made the remarkable progress it did, in yet further terrible conditions, or the example of Cuba, which despite the economic blockade and sabotage of the US and other imperialist powers has survived, and in some senses prospered, certainly compared to similar capitalist states in the region, demonstrates the tremendous power of a Workers State, even one that is grossly deformed by Stalinism. Had those states developed on the firm basis of workers ownership of property through the development of Co-operative industry, had they through the normal economic operations of that form of workers property developed the necessary international links, including the encouragement of workers internationally to follow their example, had on the basis of that they developed a healthy worker owned economy I can only imagine that the position of the working class would have been incredibly enhanced.

“Both the problem of the international character of capital, and the problem of the proletariat’s relations with the petty proprietors, thus entail that the only feasible strategy is to develop the proletariat’s action and organisation on an international scale before the question of power is immediately posed.”

I agree, but the posing of the question is not entirely in the hands of socialists, or even the working class. Marx advised the Parisian workers not to rebel, but they did. Was Marx right to support the Commune? In my opinion absolutely. Often the bourgeoisie will force the question of power to be posed themselves. That is what they did in 1926, its what Thatcher did in 1984. Under such conditions the worst thing that workers can do is to submit without a fight, though they may wish to fight more intelligently than they did, certainly in 1984. Marxists might as Marx did in 1871 advise workers that the time is not propitious etc. but once the fight begins Marxists have to be at the head if possible. Moreover, the very functioning of Capitalism mitigates against the argument you are making correct though it is in principle. I have recently been arguing with an American Libertarian (anarcho-capitalist) who for some reason – though thinking about it perhaps not entirely surprising – was a friend of a leader of one of the auto unions. We were discussing class interest and class actions. His argument, which is wrong in principal, was that there is no such thing as class interest, because every day you see groups of workers or workers as individuals acting not out of class interest, but out of individual or sectional interest. Now in practice it is hard to deny that, because every honest socialist, and every Trade Unionist does see it everyday, its what the Trade Union bureaucracy, not to mention the bosses count on. And the very operation of Capital which forces every worker to compete against every other worker, forces workers in this industry to compete against workers in some other industry, or this plant against that plant or this country against that country is a very powerful force. Even the CP in its Alternative Economic Strategy adopted that perspective by setting British workers against foreign workers through Import Controls etc. It is why Marx argues that those Trade Union struggles can never lead to socialism, because as long as workers remain on that ground those essential aspects of Capitalism will override in the end any solidarity that workers create amongst each other. That is not to deny the obvious reality that there are lots of examples of where workers have exhibited that solidarity, have acted out of class interest, it is to recognise the limitations on that. The only solution to that dilemma, as Marx points out, is to move outside that frame of reference. The necessary solidarity and co-operation between workers can only be built on the basis not of them competing against each other as workers, but co-operating as workers, and that can only be systematically, and sustainably be built if they co-operate as producers, replacing the essential – under Capitalism – competition between themselves, with Competition with Capital as Marx describes in the Grundrisse.

“Britain in the aftermath of 1917, but to international strikes, etc., and to posing the question of power globally or at least on a continental scale in response to crises which will have an international character. It implies that trade union and workers’ party organisation needs to move towards continental or global rather than national forms.”

I agree that this is essential, but I maintain that the basis of developing workers economic and social power through the development of Co-operatives, including the integration of those Co-operatives on an international scale is the securest means by which this can be achieved. Moreover, I think the idea that the question of power could be put off until it can be posed on a continental let alone global scale is utopian. Economic, and thereby political and ideological development takes place via a process of combined and uneven development. However, the process of fusing the working class together on an international scale on the basis I have outlined DOES mean that the best possible conditions are created for workers to undertake a political revolution when it is required whilst undermining the potential for imperialist intervention, and indeed, for ensuring the greatest solidarity, and possibly internationalising of that action.

“The resulting regime was (in Jack Conrad’s useful expression) ‘ectopic’: that is, it was blocked from any real development or forward movement in the direction of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism.”

Although, in practice I believe that is true, and the dialectic is always expressed in the understanding that the truth is always concrete, theoretically I think this basic idea is false. Trotsky is right, in my opinion, that had a socialist revolution occurred in at least one major developed economy that established a healthy workers state, then that could have provided the basis for a developing proletariat in Russia, could have provided it not just with the example, but with the necessary ideology, and means by which to take into its own ownership and control the means of production. But, concretely that could not happen. It could not happen because the conjuncture was passed by the mid 20’s with the working class on the defensive. It could not happen because the working class even in its most advanced countries was not ripe for socialism, and it was not ripe for socialism, not just because of the role of Social Democracy, or even of Stalinism, but because of Leninism too. None of these ideologies provided the basis on which the working class could develop as the ruling social class. All of them placed the working class rather in the position of foot-soldiers to do the work allotted to them by some elite, be it social-democratic, Leninist, or Stalinist. The working class can only develop the belief in itself as ruling class, if it actually does experience for itself the ownership and control of the means of production. Some vicarious expression of that ownership and control will not do, and indeed might be counterproductive. Nor can the working class be palmed off with the idea that it should have that ownership and control some time in the future, after the revolution. The whole problem IS, on what basis is the revolution carried out, under whose control is that process. If the workers have not had experience of ownership and control before the revolution, if the revolution is not something they arrive at by understanding through that process of ownership and control, it will never be truly their revolution, never be really under their control, and they will fail to secure that ownership and control after the revolution as a result, even if at that point they recognise the need for it – which they likely would not.

“But its character as a roadblock, and the ‘ectopic’ character of the regime itself, depended precisely on the fact that the regime contained the elements of a workers’ vanguard, which emerge after the fall of the regime as the cadre of trade unions and workers’ parties, and that it hegemonised the workers’ vanguard internationally.”

I don’t think this is true at all. I disagree with the view of say the AWL which seems to have a view of the bureaucracy and the party as an homogenous block, rather than recognising the wholly stratified nature of both, and therefore,, the potential for Marxists under the right conditions to have split it along those fissures, and won over some of the lower layers. However, I think to believe that just because such people were members of the CP meant they represented the workers vanguard is scholastic. In the 1930’s for instance, there were many elements within the Social Democracy that were far healthier than the majority of the CP’s, and indeed were moving Left, whilst the CP’s were moving right. Partly, this is a reflection of the greater democracy within the Social Democracy compared with either the Stalinist or Trotskyist organisations which stultify individual critical thinking.

“But to do so threatened also to separate the independent Marxists from the large majority of the workers’ vanguard and therefore from the mass movements this vanguard led. The result would be a further choice: between integration in the social-democracy, and an existence as petty sects attempting to compete with the official communists and the social-democracy for raw newly radicalising recruits.”

Again I believe this is scholastic and formalistic. It is to view the “vanguard” as some static entity. It also leans heavily on Leninist orthodoxy, which cannot see further than the nose of this vanguardism. In fact, what vanguardism leads to is a similar phenomenon to Pareto’s circulating elites, except what we have is a circulating vanguard. The whole point for Marxists, and the reason the Labour movement has failed to progress over the last 100 years is not to rely on some vanguard, but as Marx and Engels insisted, to win the battle of democracy within the class as a whole. That as Engels points out is the whole crux, for the class to move as a whole. It is the continual chasing after vanguards which has so isolated Marxists from the class.

There was a clear alternative to those you have outlined. That is that Marxists could have followed the advice of Marx and Engels. They could have joined the existing Workers parties, however, bad they were. The could have constituted themselves as the honest, and conscientious Left-Wing of those parties, as open factions if possible, as undisclosed factions if necessary, adopting whatever tactic was required for them to continue to work inside those parties. On that basis they could follow again the advice of Marx and Engels, to slowly raise up the Workers and these parties, by pointing out in a non-hectoring manner, the basis of every setback, and mistake in the inadequacy of the Programme. They could have actively advanced the need for workers to step outside the bounds imposed upon them by Capitalist production, the need in place of strikes for higher pay, to have control over their own pay levels, the need in place of continual unemployment and lack of security to control their own hours of work. All of which could only arise by owning and controlling for themselves the means of production, and avoiding the repeated crises they faced by integrating their own enterprises with those of other workers similarly organised in co-operative enterprises. On the back of that, and the further advances this brought to the workers party, that Party could show as Marx argued in his Address to the First International, by deeds rather than words how the working class could build an alternative, and a better form of society.

On the basis of that they could also provide a model, an ideology and a pole of attraction around which those workers in the Stalinist States could be attracted showing that their was an alternative to either Stalinism or Capitalism, and that what was presented to them as socialism was a fraud.

“The task of the independent Marxists was therefore to prepare for the inevitable collapse of the regimes. This remains the task of independent Marxists in relation to the Chinese, North Korean, Cuban and Vietnamese regimes. The independent Marxists could only have prepared for the collapse of the regimes - and contemporary independent Marxists can only prepare for the fall of the surviving bureaucratic regimes - by acting as an external faction of the official communist movement. That is, simultaneously keeping physically as close as possible to the militants of the official communist parties and the movements they led/ lead, while constantly politically explaining that the regimes and the ideology of official communism amounts to a historical blind alley bound to end in collapse, and putting forward an alternative strategy based on political democracy and developing the international and continental action of the proletariat. Until the collapse, such a policy could only support propaganda groups. But at the point of the collapse, it could - unlike Trotskyism - have provided those militants of the official communist movement who did not altogether abandon the cause of the working class with a road back to Marxism (in the surviving regimes could this is still just about possible).”

I think this is again extremely formalistic, not to mention defeatist. IN the event of collapse the most likely outcome is considerable demoralisation, and a drawing away from political activity. The other response is likely to be that some elements will simply move from being a part of the Stalinist apparatus to a part of some capitalist, or colonial apparatus. Neither is a very enervating scenario. The only possible progressive solution is to seek the transfer into the hands of the workers the means of production, in order that they can obtain some sense of benefit from defending them against the potential for their overturn. That should be the Programme that Marxists adopt for these regimes, alongside the development of corresponding democratic forms, and a workers militia, as well as a programme to mobilise the International Working class for defence of the Workers and Peasants property. Concretely, given the weakness of Marxism, and of the labour movement such a mobilisation is difficult to visualise. That does not change the duty of Marxists to advocate that course of action which is necessary for the working class to adopt as the correct line of march. In fact, it is necessary to understand things dialectically. Rather like the discussion over Iraq, it is necessary to understand that an adequate movement does not simply materialise from thin air, or evolve over time, or through the press of a button, but is developed itself through struggle, but not just any old struggle, but a struggle based around and fighting for the correct set of demands and ideas.

“If by some piece of magic independent Marxists suddenly acquired the leadership of, for example, the CPC, our policy would be to detach the party and unions from the state in order to conduct a retreat to capitalism in the best possible order. By analogy, Marxists do not defend the pre-entry closed shop, and if we had had the leadership of the print unions, for example, would have argued for getting rid of it in order to create stronger industrial unions: but when workers went into action under the craft union misleaders to defend it, we did not align ourselves Eddie Shah or News International.”

I think this is extremely confused and confusing. Moreover, its fundamentally wrong, and your analogy actually proves its wrong. How can you say to workers, “We think the best thing for you is actually capitalism”, but then say to those workers they should oppose those capitalist forces that will bring that about??? At least the AWL were consistent. They believed the workers were too weak to proceed via their own independent action – though of course they wouldn’t admit that is what they believe, but it runs like a yellow thread through all their analysis and positions from the NHS to Iraq – and so saw the only realistic option being a capitalist restoration, bringing in their beloved bourgeois democracy, and so backed Yeltsin’s capitalist counter-revolution. The only ay your position makes any sense is if you don’t actually tell the workers that you think capitalism is the best option, and what kind of Marxist attitude is that, to hide your real programme from the workers.

If we take your analogy we have a reactionary craft union replaced with stronger industrial unions, but of course they both remain workers organisations. But, your proposal to replace workers property (albeit Stalinised) with Capitalism is not just a change of form, but a complete revolutionary overturn of class ownership and relations! The equivalent would be to have replaced SOGAT with a union owned, and managed by Rupert Murdoch!!!!

“In most concrete cases of wars between bureaucratic states and capitalist states the point is perfectly comprehensible to the broad workers’ vanguard, and no-one on the left - with the possible exception of the AWL - would find any difficulty in defending Cuba, North Korea, China or Vietnam against direct US attack.”

The AWL say they would support Cuba, but as usual they hedge around this issue with weasel words. They say they would defend it in the same way they would defend any small state’s right of self determination against an imperialist aggressor. As usual on the question of the class nature of Stalinist States, on which they seem very unsure of their ideas – hence the fact they have two conflicting positions in the organisation – they run away from open debate on their position. I asked why they are prepared to defend the state capitalist property of the NHS, but are not prepared to defend nationalised property in Cuba, to which they responded that they would defend the health service and other progressive social services in Cuba. Again a weasel avoidance of the issue. How are the other nationalised properties such as those which supply the health service, education service for instance any less progressive, or worthy of defence??? What would be their attitude to defending a hospital that the Cuban State sent forces to also defend? Would they form a United Front with the Cuban State to defend it, or would they refuse to enter such a United Front with the class enemy? Not surprisingly, they are not prepared to answer such questions, as it blows apart the entire basis of their new class analysis.

I find your position on defencism inadequate, and little better than that of the AWL. In relation to Afghanistan the Soviet invasion was wholly reactionary. Had it succeeded in overthrowing and removing completely the old exploiting classes, and had transformed property relations, then as Trotsky argued in relation to Poland, Marxists should defend those property relations against capitalist restoration, though in Afghanistan in reality it was against feudal or warlordist restoration. In reality the USSR did not and could not have achieved any such transformation. Its occupation of Afghanistan could never have been anymore than that of a colonial power – I emphasise colonial rather than imperialist power, as its motivation and the dynamic for its actions had nothing to do with an objective necessity for Capital expansion.

The AWL's posiiton on Afghanistan is wholly at odds with their position on Iraq. In Afghanistan they argued for, quite correctly, Soviet withdrawal. In Iraq they do not call for US withdrawal. Their argument is that if the US withdraws then the situation in Iraq will be worse for the Iraqi workers, for women, gays etc. But, all of that was true for Afghanistan too. It didn't prevent the AWL calling for a Soviet withdrawal. Its their subjectivism and moral socialism showing through again. IN fact, in Afghanistan the Soviets did introduce some progressive reforms in relation to women, did actually try to fight the Islamists. In contrast the US in Iraq is behind the anti-union laws, the attacks on TRade UNion offices and so on, and has armed and trained the very Islamists that are now in most of the country establishing mini-Taliban states that are murdering and raping, women, and gays!

I think the actual solution comes from the print union analogy you gave earlier. This has practical application for possible developments in Cuba. The answer to the Craft union situation is the transformation of a narrow craft union that enhances the conditions of some workers at the expense of others, by a process of democratisation and the extension of the union onto a wider footing so as to benefit all workers. I would argue in similar fashion that the answer, for example, in Cuba, is not a capitalist restoration, but the transformation of State property, which is utilised by revenue extraction to benefit sections of the bureaucracy, into co-operative property owned and controlled directly by Cuban workers – though clearly as Trotsky argued in his advice on the Mexican Second Six year Plan, there is no reason why the Cuban workers could not operate these businesses on some form of joint ownership provided they retained overall ownership and control – and in order to overcome the problems inherent in planning a complex modern economy, for these co-operative enterprises to operate within a market framework, integrating their activities, and consciously bringing economic activity under their control as and when they develop the necessary technique for doing so. Precisely, because the workers themselves own and control the means of production this use of the market does not represent a return to Capitalism, but to sanity, a rejection of the plannism, and plan fetishism that Marxists have fallen into in the last 80 years, and which is alien to Marx.

In my final post in reply I will summarise my position in relation to the class nature of the USSR.

Go to Conclusion

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