Sunday, 20 July 2008

Dialectics at Work

Trotsky said that the essence of the dialectic was the understanding that the truth is always concrete. By that what he meant was that for Marxists there can be no room for formalistic thinking when it came to analysing social realities, and how they should react to them. There ar no absolutes. In the last few days I have been reading some of the online material of a couple of left groups, and there are a couple of instances where this approach applies clearly, but where the left still appears stuck in a formalistic method. I am sure there are many more, but its these two in particular I have been reading, and in one case responding to.

Permanent Revolution

The first is a discussion on the permanent Revolution website. The discussion began by an article about Venezuela, and the PSUV, and how Marxists should respond to it. See: PSUV. But, the debate has widened somewhat to encompass the question - "What constitutes a Workers Party?", and "How Should Marxists Relate to Existing Mass Parties?" I have dealt with this question myself before in my blog - Marxists and the Workers Party.

Marx and Definitions

The point is that a Workers Party like a Workers State or any other kind of social formation cannot be viewed as some kind of absolute, cannot be viewed in the formalistic terms of syllogistic logic, where A always equals A, a Workers State is always a Workers State, a Workers party always a Workers Party and so on, provided the definition of what Workers State or Workers Party is set down clearly, and so every example can be compared to see if it matches. It cannot be like that for the simple reason that there cannot be some absolute definition set down in stone of what a Workers State is, or what a Workers Party is. That definition must for a Marxist be determined itself with reference not to absolutes, but with reference to reality.

Look in Marx for a fixed definition of what is central to his theory - class. You will not find it. Look for a similar definition of the other aspect of his theory, which is fundamental - productive relations. Again you will not find it. In Capital III Marx did begin to give an elaborated theory of class, but stopped work on it, because he found himself going round in circles. All we are left with in Capital is a small fragment. As one theorist has put it, Marx found himself becoming a "box person", whereby he found himself trying to fit phenomena such as class, or more precisely individuals in this case into boxes i.e. this individual has this set of characteristics, and therefore goes in this box rather than that box. That is the method of twentieth century analytical science. But in fact, such an approach would be fundamentally alien to Marx and Engels, and indeed many other theorists of the 19th century. The reason it is fundamentally alien can be seen by looking at how Marx and Engels actually did proceed.

Does the fact that Marx never set down in black and white what he meant by class, or by productive relations mean that in fact he did not have a definition of those things, that in fact, therefore, he did not really have a theory based on such a definition? Of course not. Marx does define what he means by class, but what he means by class is not at all formalistic, is not a fixed definition, so he could not define class in terms of class is A, B, C, D etc. characteristics, precisely because at some other time and place, class would not be those components, but might be some of them but not others, might include other components and so on. Look at Marx's clearest use of the concept of class in his works such as the Civil War in France, or the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. There you will see that Marx does not begin by giving a list like definition of class before proceeding to his analysis, but proceeds by an analysis of reality, and defines the various classes in terms of their actual reality and interrelationships.

Engels to Bloch

Engels in his letter to Bloch outlines why he and Marx could not possibly have a definition of class, which sought to locate individuals in particular classes according to fixed formula. He writes,

"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 force, 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 which 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."

See: Engels letter to Bloch

But, the same is true for productive relations. Marx and Engels refer t productive relations many times in their work, but nowhere are they actually defied, nor could they be. Throughout Capital Marx defines Productive Relations not in some fixed, formalistic way, but in their concrete reality, in their process of development as they arise in society.

For the same reason it is not possible to define a Workers State or a Workers Party in such absolute and formalistic terms. To say this cannot be a Workers Party because although the majority of its members are workers its leadership is bourgeois is not a Marxist, dialectical method of analysis. In the same way saying this MUST be a Workers Party, because it is made up of workers, or because it has a Marxist programme etc. is not Marxist either. There can be no such absolute definitions. The only basis of definition can be to take the phenomenon in its concrete reality including all other conditions of its existence, and the direction of the process of development. The German Democrats in terms of its Programme and leadership were when Marx and Engels joined them, but in its concrete reality was it a Workers Party? Yes, it was, precisely because given the historical development and the material conditions there was nothing more advanced that could at the time have existed, nothing that could more closely have approximated the Workers Party in its state of maturity. It would have been sectarian folly then for Marx and Engels to have simply looked at this party in the formal terms of its Programme and leadership, declared it bourgeois, and set off on some adventure to create yet another tiny and irrelevant sect. That is why they didn't do it.

At the same time with a working class demonstrating a clearer class consciousness, clamouring for a Party that more closely met its needs, and coincided with its ideas it would have been equally folly to have argued against establishing the Labour Party - as for example the Fabians did - on the basis that the majority of workers still gave their support to the Liberals!

Dialectics and the Workers Party Today

But, if we apply that dialectical method to today what conclusion do we reach. Can we identify any material conditions which justify the belief that a Workers Party could exist in Britain that was a Workers Party in the way that the LP is i.e. that it is made up of largely ordinary working class people, attracts the support of ordinary working class people, is organically linked to the Labour Movement through the Trade Unions and Co-operative Movement, and yet which had a programme that more adequately reflected the needs of the working class? If anyone can I would love to see it. The fact is that no such material conditions currently exist. The LP is what it is, and is where it is, not for some inexplicable reason, but for wholly identifiable reasons. All of those sects from the Communist Party, through the WRP, to the SWP, to the Socialist Alliance, through to the latest farce of the Left List in the London Elections, have failed to win any kind of substantial working class backing, in votes or in membership for perfectly understandable reasons. The reason was given by Engels, don't try to ram down the throats of workers ideas they are not yet ready to accept. And the fact is that workers CANNOT accept the ideas of such organisations in the mass for the simple reason that the workers consciousness has not yet reached the necessary level to be able to accept those ideas. They remain dominated by bourgeois ideas, at best bourgeois ideas as refracted through the lens of Social Democracy, at worst in their unrefracted clarity through the Tory Party, the Lib Dems, or Blairism. In order for workers consciousness to change the workers material condition has to change, and that in itself is a dialectical process.


For most of the 20th century the workers experience of "socialism" was refracted through the lens of statism. Having experienced the crisis of Capitalism in WWI, in the depression of the 1930's, in the rise of Fascism, of the catastrophe of WWII it is not surprising that workers could reach the conclusion that there must be something better than that. Having seen the success of the Russian Revolution, seen the capacity for Stalinism to develop a medieval economy at a rapid pace at precisely the time when capitalism was collapsing during the Depression, it is not surprising that at least a large section of workers would see in that example a way forward, especially if they either were unaware of, or else set aside from their thoughts the brutal aspects of Stalinism. Having seen, the fact that State provision of certain services such as Education could provide them with some improvement in their lot, and given the fact that all the Socialist and Communist Parties had such state provision as the core of their Programmes, it is not surprising that workers should see such statism as the means of resolving their problems. So we have a combination of material and ideological factors interrelating here in a dialectical fashion to shape workers consciousness. But, in fact as Marx outlined in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, that Programme of statism whether in its Leninist form or in its Social democratic form could in reality never lead workers towards a socialist class consciousness, precisely because it leads workers to rely not on their own self-activity, but to rely on the State whether that be in the former instance a Workers State under the control of an elitist vanguard (at best), or a bourgeois state theoretically at the disposal of a Workers Government.

It is no wonder that this whole edifice collapsed once as Marx had warned such a programme was shown to have nothing to with socialism. And it collapsed not just in its Leninist, but in its Social Democratic forms. Workers consciousness can only be raised and moved towards a socialist consciousness if the material conditions change in a direction which provides the basis for that. That means if the means of production begin to come under the ownership and control not of some State, but of the workers themselves. Only on that basis can workers arrive at the conclusion, not only CAN they manage without bosses, but that they MUST manage without bosses. The workers might fail, this or that co-operative might collapse because it is not competitive etc. But workers can understand that, learn the lessons and move on. They can learn that they need more Capital, they need to be better trained or educated, that they need a greater degree of co-operation with other co-operatives, that they need a political struggle to prevent the bourgeois state and the bourgeoisie from frustrating their efforts. But all of these are lessons that workers can learn that RAISE their level of class-consciousness. And in doing so they facilitate the development of socialist ideas within the class, facilitate their spread and their formulation within the Programme of the Workers Party. None of that is true of those statist approaches, which seek to divert workers down the path of seeking solutions by the good grace of some State.

That is not to say that in order to move forward to socialism workers will not need to establish a Workers State, or that within that process they will need to go beyond individually owned co-operatives, into an economy based on State owned property, this is not a programme of Anarchism or Proudhonism, but it is to suggest as Marx and Engels did, that that process can only arise from the bottom up, that the Workers State rests upon a Civil Society in which Workers Property and Workers Control dominates, and not vice versa. Read, Engels for instance ho insists that he and Marx saw Co-operatives as fulfilling a central role for a long time in the process of transformation between capitalism and socialism, and who says that their view of State ownership amounted to nothing more than that the State held the title deeds to the property, whilst the actual day to day management rested with the workers themselves in each enterprise.

Workers have experienced this statism, and reject it. Even in the form most people have some kind of affinity to - the NHS - a recent poll showed that 70% of people if they could afford would use private health care. Experience of the inefficient, bureaucratic, nature of state provision necessarily leads workers to reject it as a solution to their problems, whereas once - precisely because all they could compare against was private capitalist provision - they saw it as a solution. Marxists should never have been advocating that statist solution to workers problems, but as Draper has correctly argued the mass Social Democratic parties of the late 19th and early centuries owed most of their Programme not to Marx, but to Lassalle and to Fabianism. Lenin cast off the reformist elements of the Second International, but his ideology retained all of that Lassallean statism. It is no use Marxists today continuing to bang hat drum. It is time to get back to the ideas of Marx, and Engels, and indeed others such as Morris that insists on solutions coming from the direct, self-activity of the class, and which sets as its basis the transformation of the workers material conditions as the fundamental requirement for the transformation of consciousness.

See also: Why Marxists Do Not Call for Nationalisation

Workers cannot align themselves with the ideas that the left propose, because the reality is that such ideas are outside the realm of what appears real to them. You cannot ask workers to support a Programme based on statism when they have seen such statism in Britain, and in the USSR and reject it – and quite rightly too. You cannot ask workers to support the idea that all would be well if only the workers in these industries had Workers Control, because the obvious question a worker will ask is, “Why should an employer allow me to exercise control over his business?” Given that only a tiny minority of workers even go to their union Branch meetings, why would these same workers want to put themselves out to go to yet another meeting to exercise such control? That only becomes an obvious and necessary function for the workers to carry out, and something they can understand IF they themselves are the owners of the business. Even if the business is owned by a “Workers State” there is no necessary connection between that ownership, and the individual workers relationship to it. That is one reason why in Russia, workers were prepared to allow in the main the State itself to organise the control, and so led to the formation of a bureaucratic stratum. A necessary alienation between the workers and those means of production is set up from the beginning.

London and the Left List

So time and again the left decide that the Labour Party – or other mass Workers parties elsewhere – is dead, and if only they build the New Workers Party “they will come”. Unfortunately, life is not a movie, and the illusions remain just a dream. Look at the fiasco of the London Elections. The SWP sets up yet another front organisation to contest the elections. Even the SWP’s most virulent opponents, the AWL, having declared the LP a stinking corpse, decides to jump on its bandwagon – See: Vote labour, and The Labour Party is Dead - and calls for a vote for the reactionaries of Hezbollah/SWP. The Left got less than 1% of the vote, just a quarter of the vote that went to the BNP!!! The result was not only that Boris Johnson was elected, which is a catastrophe for all London’s workers, but that it strengthened the Right in the LP, who can now turn round, and demonstrate just how irrelevant the left is, and use that as a weapon against the left in the Workers Party.

Consequence of a Labour Defeat

It is quite possible given the current state of the Parties that Brown will lose the next General Election. It is not certain, they were written off a couple of weeks ago for the Glasgow East by-election, but now look certain to win it, and much will depend upon what happens to the economy, and what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iran. See: Will Mr Brown Be Sent Off to the Coast? But, the likely consequence of such a defeat will not be that Workers will swarm to some new Left Party. The likely consequence is that it will spell the end of Brown/Blairism, will lead the TU bureaucrats to reassert some control, and thereby to establish some kind of semi-Stalinist, Left reformist Party with a consequent return of many Old Labour supporters, and probably a significant number of new ones who simply respond to the lifting of the dead-weight of Blairism. That will not be a particularly progressive development. It would be far better were Marxists now to be organising themselves within the Labour Party ready to shape such developments.

The CPGB and the USSR

The second discussion I was reading was one in the Weekly Worker from some time ago about the USSR. The CPGB says in its Draft Programme,


“From the point of view of world revolution, programmes for wholesale nationalisation are today objectively reactionary. The historic task of the working class is to fully socialise the giant transnational corporations not break them up into inefficient national units. Our starting point is the most advanced achievements of capitalism. Globalised production needs global social control.
Communists oppose the illusion that nationalisation equates in some way with socialism. There is nothing inherently progressive or socialistic about nationalised industries.”

Point 3.4

Other than the fact that the first part of this is a bit maximalist and ultimatist, this is largely correct for the reasons I have given above in my blog “Why Marxists Do Not Argue for nationalisation”. But, for the reasons outlined there, the next part of the Weekly Workers Programme is wrong, when it says,

“Under definite circumstances, however, nationalisation serves the interests of the workers. Faced with plans for closure or mass sackings, communists demand that the state - the executive committee of the bourgeoisie - not the workers bear the consequences for failure.”

No it does not!!! The capitalists state if it nationalises something does not do it for the benefit of the workers, but for the benefit of the capitalist class it serves. To suggest otherwise is extremely foolish and misleads the working class. To suggest that the Capitalist state has done this to meet the interest of workers is to suggest one of two things either that in the same way that the Lassalleans and Katheder Socialists argued the State is some kind of empty vessel devoid of class content, which can just as easily act in workers interests as bosses interests, or it is to suggest that workers can actually exercise control over that state. But, Trotsky showed what was wrong with this last concept. Criticising the Comintern and other centrists who argued that it was possible to control the army of the capitalist state he wrote,

"Where and when has an oppressed proletariat “controlled” the foreign policy of the bourgeoisie and the activities of its arm? How can it achieve this when the entire power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie? In order to lead the army, it is necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize power. There is no other road. But the new policy of the Communist International implies the renunciation of this only road.

When a working class party proclaims that in the event of war it is prepared to “control” (i.e., to support) its national militarism and not to overthrow it, it transforms itself by this very thing into the domestic beast of capital. There is not the slightest ground for fearing such a party: it is not a revolutionary tiger but a trained donkey. It may be kept in starvation, flogged, spat upon it – it will nevertheless.”

Marxists and Adequate Slogans of Struggle

But, it is just as ludicrous to suggest that workers can control the actions of the bouregois state in terms of it nationalising means of production, as is the idea that workers can control the armed forces of that state. In a superficial sense the fact that the State interferes to “save” workers jobs appears beneficial, but the state only does that in order to save Capital, not to save the workers jobs. The workers do not make the bourgeois state pay for the crisis, the bouregois state uses its greater power than the power of the private capitalit the better to throw the cost of that crisis on to the workers. Just look at the nationalisation of Norther Rock. The capitalists were protected, the first action of the newly nationalised company was to announce the redundancy of thousands of workers!!!! Of course, just as marxists do not turn round to workers engaging in a strike for higher pay, and procalim, “Your struggle is futile, you should be struggling for the aboliiton of the wages system” so Marxists would not oppose, or stand aside from a struggle by workers for such nationalisation, nor would they argue for private ownership as against a decision of the capitalist state to nationalise. But, the task of Marxists IS at the same time as supporting the workers struggle to raise with them demands which give them an adequate slogan of struggle as Marx put it in his letter to Ruge. In a pay strike, Marxists SHOULD be also pointing out that such can only be a skirmish, that the bosses will seek to claw back any gains, and that only by becoming their own bosses can that change. Similarly, as Engels argued where businesses are being threatened with closure the Marxists argue not for nationalisation, but for the establishment of a Co-operative.

“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. It must only be so organised that society, initially the state, retains the ownership of the means of production so that the private interests of the cooperative vis-a-vis society as a whole cannot establish themselves. It does not matter that the Empire has no domains; one can find the form, just as in the case of the Poland debate, in which the evictions would not directly affect the Empire.”

See:Engels on Co-operatives

As I have argued in my blog “Why Marxists Do Not Call for Nationalisation” Marxists argue for a solution based on workers self-activity, which can act to develop class consciousness, and at the same time change the material conditions of the class – the establishment of co-operatives – not for nationalisation, but that does not mean that Marxists argue AGAINST nationalisation, in favour of private ownership. We take nationalisation for what it is, a more mature, and therefore, more historically progressive form of Capitalist ownership, and defend it against less mature. Less progressive forms such as private ownership, but that defence does not prevent us arguing for going beyond that form, arguing that it is reactionary compared with workers ownership, with the co-operative form.

The demands set out by the CPGB then:

“Against closures and mass sackings communists demand:
· No redundancies. Nationalise threatened workplaces or industries under workers' control.
· Compensation to former owners should be paid only in cases of proven need.
· There must be no business secrets hidden from the workers. The books and data banks of every company must be open to the inspection of specialists appointed by and responsible to the workers. “

Are meaningless. Who are these demands addressed to? If they are addressed to the bourgeois state, then why on Earth would the bourgeois state accede to them? If the state can be forced to accede to them, then the working class must already be in a position of power itself, must have overthrown the bourgeoisie and exercises state power itself!

Defence of Workers Gains

Of course, Marxists can recognise that say the NHS is inefficient, is run in the interests of the capitalists, not the workers and so on, and needs to be superseded by a Health Service owned and controlled by workers, but that does not mean that Marxists will not oppose attempts to private the NHS, to defend the gains already made, and attempt to build on them. That is so despite the fact that the NHS contains nothing that is socialist any more than any other state capitalist institution. In fact, as I have said, the majority of workers would use private medicine if they could afford. The CPGB agree with this concept of defending existing gains. However, when it comes to dealing with the USSR they abandon that method. In a debate on the USSR, we read,

“Comrade Ticktin declared himself amazed than anyone could still hold to a view of defending the USSR state. He described the Soviet Union in the 1960s, when he lived there, as a crude, brutal society. It is possible to demonstrate both theoretically and practically that there was nothing to defend in the USSR state, and any group that does defend it damns itself and shames the left. We should repudiate the regime, not defend it, he added.”

See: CPGB Debate on USSR.
No one can doubt what Comrade Ticktin says about the brutality etc., but to draw from this the conclusion that there is nothing to defend is to lapse into moralism and subjectivism not Marxism. Capitalism itself in the early 19th century was pretty brutal too, it sat by and watched a quarter of the population of Ireland starve to death in the name of the Free market, for instance. And for much of its existence from its inception in the 15th century, Capitalism was not even more productive than the existing feudal economy. Yet that did not prevent Marx from identifying the process of which it was a part, and the fact that viewed dialectically and not formalistically, Capitalism was progressive, precisely because of the potential it represented. The NHS could be viewed in exactly the same way, it is pretty brutal in the way it denies some workers the treatments and the medication they require, even more brutal in the fact that instead of making some workers better it kills them through MRSA, and other infections that arise because of inadequate cleaning, a concentration on economies of scale to save money at the expense of patient care and so on. It like Stalinism is run by a self serving bureaucracy, with an almost feudal set of patriarchal staff relations and so on. Yet, I am sure that Comrade Ticktin would defend it as against a return of private medicine.

Those comrades at the CPGB debate who argued, “that what should be defended is not a state, but the gains of the working class in and against any system. In Britain, for example, we defend the gains of the working class in the form of a health service and so on, without, of course, defending British capitalism, under which those gains have been won.” Were at least partially correct then, but too mealy mouthed in their response. Marxists do not just defend the gains of the working class in the form of a Health Service without defending British capitalism, they defend the Health Service itself, even in its current form, as against a return to private medicine. Marxists should, but largely don’t, argue that the best way to prevent a return of private medicine is for the health Service to be adequate to the needs of Workers, which would mean supporting measures here and now to exercise some form of democratic control over it, by workers and patients. But, in line with what I have said above, it is necessary for Marxists to set out to workers why any such control either will not be given, or will only be given under extreme duress, and will be undermined and taken back by the State, and why, therefore, it is necessary for workers to establish their own Health Service owned and controlled by them. If we apply that to the USSR then it is clear that the workers of the USSR could not set up some other State, some other complex of economic and social relations apart from the actual State that constituted the USSR. Defending the gains made by workers could not be separated from defending the actual territory of the USSR itself. That does not mean defending Stalinism, any more than defending the NHS against private medicine means defending the bureaucratic, inefficient nature of the NHS. On the contrary, just as the best means of defending the workers gains in Britain meant going beyond the limitations of the NHS, so too the best means of defending the workers gains in the USSR meant going beyond Stalinism.

Comrade Ticktin’s argument ends up in reality no different from that of the Bureaucratic Collectivists who denied that the USSR was a Workers State in order to get round the problem that they did not like what they saw, could not reconcile themselves with a reactionary form covering a progressive content. The Moral Socialists, the Economic Romanticists of the Sismondi School had exactly the same problem in relation to their disgust for the horrors of Capitalism. The Narodniks later suffered the same problem as Lenin polemicised against. It is the same methodology that leads some Marxists to deny that the Labour party is a Workers Party, because they disdain the fact that a Workers Party could have such a Programme, and set that outside time and space against their vision of some perfect Workers Party to which all others have to compare. Hillel has the advantage over the Bureaucratic Collectivists that unlike most of them, he has at least undertaken a serious study of the USSR, and rightly concluded that the new class they believe to have sprung miraculously into existence, is in fact a chimera. Unfortunately, he is then left with the problem of explaining what the State in the USSR was. He ends up then denying a basic tenet of Marxism and positing a State, which is not a class state, a state which is not the instrument of any class! Such is the consequence of abandoning Marxist objectivity.



WhiteDwarfStar said...

Wrong. Ticktin thinks the USSR was a bourgeois state without a capitalist economy. Ask him.

Boffy said...


My understanding f Ticktin's position is that he believes that the USSR was a "non-mode of production". By which he means that there were no reproducible relations of production. There was no Bureaucratic or State Capitalist class, because thoe who those theorists seek to place in that role, in fact, did not have the necessary charateristics of a class, and in particular did not exercise real control -let alone ownership- of the means of production.

My point is that under those conditions Marxists have a problem. Without revising the basic tenets of Marxism it becomes impossible to define the State in class terms, because for a Marxist the State is he State of a specific ruling class. It is so for very good Marxist historical materialist reasons i.e. the dominant economic and socil relations deermine who the ruling social class is, who then exercise their influence hrough real livinghuman beings in the State apparatus, and because the very mechanisms of the productive relations set the limits and constraints within which all social players act.

It is possible for a social regime to exist with a governmental or political power which is not synchronous with the dominant social relations - for example, Russia had Capitalist econoic and social relations, and a Capitalist State, but the political power rested with the old Tsarist aristocracy. But, it is not possible for any length of time for the State power not to coincide with the dominant social relations, and the social rule of the dominant class which rests on those relations.

Now Ticktin's position as I understand it - I have not seen his latest views, but I was having a debate with one of his adherents not too long ago who continued to present this view - is that the State in the USSR was then a non-class state, akin to the State's of the Asiatc Mode of Production.

There is some basis for the argument that this state is bouregois in Marx, in what he says in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, where he says that the State under the first Stage of Communism will remain bourgeois, for the simple reason that until you can reach the Higher Stage of Communism i.e. sufficient abundance that the Law of Value ceases to operate, no constraint on choices, "From each..., to each...."

But, it seems to use this as a justification or decribing the State as bouregois is to snatch this quote out of context. Marx is speaking dialectically here, he issimply making the point - n fact reinforcing the point I made above - that what dominates the nature of theStateis the underlying economic and social relations. He is saying that there are no absolutes, even a Workers State remains constrained in what it can do by those underlying economic relations, as long as choice remains necessary, bourgeois Right continues.

To use this to say that the State is then bouregois seems to me to completely distort wha Marx is saying. So it does not matter whether you try to get over the problem for a Marxist of being left with a non-class State, by calling it bourgeois, or as Mike Mcnair does, saying that it is Transitional between Feudalism and Capitalism. All you do is push the real question one step back, because it remains necessary to explain sociologically the material base on which this bourgeois or feudal state rests, where are the bourgeois or feudal classes that necssarily must exist for such a definition.

In fact, I agree with the description of the USSR as a non-mode of Production, but I see no problem for a Marxist in that. The whole point of the definition "Workers State" is that it relates to a Transitional society, and a Transitional society, again by definition, is not a reproducible phenomonen, by definition it is moving from one pole to another.

A Bourgeois State is not Transitional it represents Capitalist relations of production. The only time a Bourgeois State is TRansitional is in a period of dual power, for example, as it seeks to overturn the feudal state, or as it is being overturned by a workers state. But, once establihed it is not Transitional it, and the Mode of production it represents are straight away reproducible an reinforcing.

But, a Workers State can only exist in the interval between Capitalist Relations and Socialist Relations. By definition it is the State form of the Transition Period, it is nothing mor than what Marx described as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. But, as soon as that Transition period ends, as soon, therfore, as reproducible relations of production arise - and thereby the new mode of production is established - the Workers State ceases to exist, the more such a society has been approaching that Mode of prouction, the more that State has been withering away.

If I have misrepresented Comrade Hillel's viws here, I would be more than happy for him to corect me, pehaps i would enrich the existing debate with Mike McNair, who tells me he is shortly to respond to the points I made on his thesis.

WhiteDwarfStar said...

Ticktin's argument is this:

The USSR was not a mode of production, it was an unviable historical entity bound to decline once its fundamental basis ended -- surplus labour power, which it commanded and could direct but whose labour process it could not control. There have been short periods in history when the form of exploitation has not gelled either because the entity-temporary set of social relations -- which we may call a social system -- cannot become part of a mode of production for some accidental reason or because it is unviable as was the case with the USSR.

The same argument applies to the state. Of course the state is an organ of repression and in the case of the USSR it was the most monstrous organ of repression ever, reflecting the instability of the ruling group and the system itself. We can pose the same question of any transitional period -- whose state is it? Does the proletariat repress itself? Another conundrum poses itself during the time of Stalin and the purges. The chief
victim of the purges was the elite itself. Stalin alone remained inviolate.

Ticktin claims that we cannot argue that the state was a proletarian state, partly because any state is inimical to the interests of the working class but partly because the whole nature of the Stalinist state was _designed to repress the society as a whole and particularly the working class._ Ticktin argues that the state always remains a bourgeois state even under a genuine transition period. Lenin, _State & Revolution_: "The state is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms." It cannot be refashioned. It has to be destroyed. However, in the transition period, it is possible for the proletariat to use it as a foreign entity provided it has strict controls and provided that it is allowed to gradually wither away.

The fellow who thought that Ticktin was saying that the Stalinist state was not a class state was misrepresenting Ticktin.

Boffy said...


1. My point is that all Transitional societies are "unviable", none of them are Modes of Production. A Mode of production can only arise when the productive and socail relations are reproducible, and when the political superstructure is in synch with the material base. A chrysalis is not a separate creature, it does not beget more chrysalii. It is a transition between the caterpillar and the butterfly.

2. Was the USSR unviable. Certainly, on the basis that no society can remain transitional forever, but must move either forward or backwards then it was unviable. But, for a considerable time it clearly had been viable, was moving forward etc. within the limits of what a planned economy, particularly a bureaucratically planned economy could achieve given the existing material conditions. As I have argued previously, had the working class undertaken succesful evoluiotns elsewhere, it is not at all clear to me that the workers in the USSR could not have learned from that, and simply (well clearly not so simply it would have taken a mighty struggle) made the de jure ownership of the means of production a de facto ownership and control. My personal beleif is that having done so they would in order to have made progress, had to have run enterpises as co-operatives, and thereby leanred how to manage these enterprises for themselves, how to co-ordinate their activities with other co-operatives, how to ensure that output met the needs of consumers etc., as the basis of building an icnreasing degree of planning into the economy. But this is not a SOCIAL revolution, it is a political revoluiton. It involves no real fundamental change in the nature of productive relations, and certainly no liquidation of an exploiting class.

3. To say simply that the State is an organ of repression is in my view wrong, and unmarxist, precisely because it removes from the analysis of what the State is the whole thesis of marxism that the State is an instrument of class rule. An ihnstrument of repression? But repression for what purpose, just for the hell of it? No the repression is necessary for no other reason than to maintain a class in power. But we then have to ask what class? If this was a bouregois state then its sole purpose is to maintain in power a bouregoisie. But where was this bourgeoisie? Lenin in State and revoluiton, simply borrows from the formulation of marx in the Critique of the Gotha Programme. But, as I said what Marx is saying there is that the State under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat retains the basic element of being a bourgeois state, precisely because it s not yet a fully socialist society. The necessity to make chocies means bourgeois Right persists. But, all this demonstrates is marx and lenin speaking dialectically, saying a Workers State is a Workers State, but is also a bourgeois State, what is decisive here is what dominates.

In thelink I gave on Engels and Co-operatives, there is a discussion of the role of commodity production, and the reason Marx and Engels argued that udner the D of P the State should retain judicial ownership of the means of poduction. The reason that the more commodity production dominates, the more capitalist relations will reassert themselves. Marx and Engels thought that there would be a very lengthy period of class struggle that unfolded during the D of P. So clearly the nature of this State is a reflection of that class struggle. In fact in the USSR that was not the case, the exploiting classes were effectively but bureaucratically eliminated.

But, there is another example of this in what Marx says about his view that the vehicle of transition is the co-operatives (in Capital Vol III). He talks about the contradiction between the worker and capitalist being resolved positively by the worker becoming his own capitalist. It is clear that marx envisages this process being one in which these Co-operatives continue to operate within a market environment. So Marx is able to view this process dialectically. To the greater extent that the worker acts as worker - which means co-operating with other workers etc. - the less does his combined and contradictory character of worker-capitalist reflect the capitalist pole of that relationship.

4. I think the argument that the USSR State represses everyone and particularly the workers is a red-herring. The function of a State is to protect and preserve the ruling class, and thereby the social relations on which that class rests. In doing that such a State can frequently come into conflict not just with individual elements within the ruling class, but even with the class as a whole where to do so is the only way of preserving those social relations. In particular, in those conditions where the ruling cass itself is too weak to exercise political rule in its own name. That is in situations where a Bonapartist state is able to rise above society.

That it seems to me is precisely what existed in the USSR. Even where we see sections of the Soviet bureaucracy arguing for the reintroduction of the market - and I think sections of the left make far too much of this, Marx arguing against Plannism as Draper points out, Marxists are surely in favour of raising the level of the productive forces by effective means aren't they not some fetish of planning, and lenin introduced the NEP - such a reintroduction remained on the basis of State and co-operatively owned property.

There were undoubtedly sections of the bureaucracy who favoured a capitalist restoration, but they could not dominate, and did not dominate. For one thing, there were millions of members of that bureaucracy whose entire livelihood depended on the continuation of state owned, and planned economy. For them to favour a return to capitalism would be like turkeys voting for Xmas.

WhiteDwarfStar said...

You seem to use Draper a lot. Funny, seeing as he was the Third Campist/bureaucratic collectivist par excellence.

I fail to see the relevance of anything you say about cooperatives to the topic at hand: the USSR.

Regarding the USSR and markets. Ticktin argues that the Soviet Union did not have a real market but it had forms which imitated it or produced comparable results which allowed the elite to be privileged. It was not capitalist itself but the forms ultimately derived from capitalism, not socialism. They were internally conflicted. The state was a reflection of this situation. The Stalinist state was an entity which could only exist for a short time precisely because of its enormous extent and level of repression. Though the state, of its nature, derived from capitalism, it had become autonomous under Stalin but internally conflicted and ultimately itself inviable.

Ticktin says of this repression that when we look at the goals of the Soviet state we do not get a clear result. Under Stalin it would appear to have been an irrational repression. It can be explained of course but that does not make it less irrational. After Stalin the extreme repression was needed to maintain the unviable entity but to what purpose? The Stalinist state in the end represented the 'Soviet' ruling group, an entity without a past and without a future.

Boffy said...

Reply To Jason on Ticktin and the Stalinist State

1. Jason you refer to the fact that I refer a lot to Draper. A strange observation. I am not aware that it has ever been a requirement of Marxism to throw babies out with their attendant bathwater. I also refer quite a lot to Trotsky and to Lenin, despite the fact that I disagree with the Leninist theory of the Party, and of socialist construction. As far as I am aware I have no more quoted Draper to support my view on the class nature of the USSR than I have quoted Lenin or Trotsky to support my view of the Party or socialist construction, in fact I have probably if anything been more likely to have done the latter than the former. I think that Draper’s “Two Souls of Socialism” is a useful piece of work, though in fact in referring to it previously I have also pointed out that Draper himself draws short of drawing the necessary conclusion, and recognising within Lenin and Trotsky those same elements of statism that he identifies in Kautsky and others. I quoted Draper, precisely, because of what he said about the fact that later Marxists have made a fetish of plannism, which is absent from the works of Marx himself. I made this reference because a common criticism of the Stalinist state by Trotskyists, and the New Left has been its discussions around the question of the reintroduction of the market in place of a planned economy, which was failing. Incidentally, despite Draper’s Third Campism I do hold some of what he wrote and did in some regard. It is not the term Third Camp that I particularly object to, it is just a term, but what the Third Campists constitute as a tendency within the workers movement. Draper held to the concept of what the Third Camp is supposed to represent – independent working class action – and left the IS because as he put it it had ceased to place the working class at the centre of its politics. He is to be applauded in that, but the fact is that the nature of the Third Camp methodology ensured that all such organisations were to travel that road of the IS.

2. On Co-operatives. The relevance was two fold. Firstly, I was in fact quoting from the link I had given. That link was making the following point. A determinant of the extent to which a transitional society is closer to socialism or to capitalism is the extent to which commodity production predominates. Why is this important? Because the greater commodity production predominates, the more social relations favour the reestablishment of capitalist ideas and mores, and ultimately of the personification of Capital in human form – i.e. the return of capitalists and a capitalist class. The more this process continues the greater social weight this class exerts, and so the more its representatives show up within the state apparatus. The growth of the Kulaks and NEPmen were a good example of that. However, it is not enough that commodity production exists for this process to be viewed as inevitable. Such a view is to merely run the Bernsteinian film backwards. Crucial in this process is class struggle, and consequently class-consciousness.

The second relevance of Co-operatives here was merely to illustrate this point. Marx argues for the establishment of Co-operatives on a wide scale as the means by which socialist transformation is brought about. He is clearly speaking about this process taking place within the context of a Capitalist state as his comments in numerous places indicate. Now it is quite possible to envisage a situation such as that put forward by say Proudhon or the Owenites, in which such co-operatives simply exist as individual capitalist enterprises, that just happen to be owned by workers. Not only is such a perspective Utopian as a means of bringing about socialist transformation, but it is quite clear that down this road will simply lie the retransformation of such enterprises into private capitalist concerns pure and simple, because certain individuals will come to dominate within them etc. or as has happened say with the mutual Building Societies, the members will be tempted to sell out for a cash prize. The only criteria by which such co-operatives can fulfil the role Marx sets out for them is if they are an integral aspect of class struggle, if instead of remaining as isolated enterprises, the workers within such co-operatives link them up with other enterprises, with local communities, with the Trade Unions, and if a Workers Party acts on and through them to raise class consciousness. But, it is NOT whether such Co-operatives operate on the basis of continued commodity production or not which determines this development. It is the fact of workers ownership and control that is decisive, and the set of ideas that workers develop on that basis, and with the assistance of the workers party.

So my argument was that in similar fashion it is not the existence of plan or commodity production, which ultimately is decisive in the USSR, but the question of workers ownership of the means of production. It is quite possible – indeed I would say desirable and inevitable – under a system of workers ownership and control for the market to continue to exist for some time, provided that the workers ownership and control is heading in the direction of a recognition of the need for all workers to co-ordinate their actions, and in so doing to gradually reduce the unplanned nature of economic relations. Commodity production can and under certain conditions will lead to a restoration of capitalism, but it is not an inevitability. A transitional society by definition contains elements of Capitalism; the question still remains on the basis of the social relations that exist are Capitalist social relations or proletarian relations dominant. I fail to see how in the absence of a significant number of Capitalists let alone a capitalist class, any Marxist can look at the facts and proclaim that capitalist social relations predominate!!!

3. On the market and the USSR. I hold Ticktin’s empirical study in high regard. I became a subscriber to Critique back in the late 1970’s when I was studying the USSR and the economics of Socialist countries at University. I bought all the back catalogue, and continued to subscribe for many years. In fact, I was about to start re-reading the back catalogue. But, I cannot accept this view. All economic systems have some features of past economic systems that have been replaced. Indeed, they normally have features of the system that will replace them too. But, I find it difficult on the basis of any objective analysis of the USSR to describe the economy as either a market economy or in any way based on the market.

Take the position of the privileged layer. How does a ruling class obtain its privileges in a market economy? Does it do so by the use of force? Absolutely not, as Engels sets out in Anti-Duhring in his demolition of the Force Theory. It obtains these privileges through the normal operation of the economic and social relations. Relations, which to all participants appear absolutely normal and fair to all, participating in the exchange – indeed as Marx sets out Labour Power is paid for with its equivalent Exchange Value. The capitalist requires no force, nor does he require any special shops in which he and no other members of society can shop, he simply takes that portion of his profits not being used for accumulation and buys freely those commodities, which any other member of society can purchase if they too have the wherewithal. How does that actual market relationship compare with anything we actually know about how the economy in the USSR functioned, and how the elite had to obtain their privileges???

How does the situation in regard to the hoarding of labour stack up in relation to a market? It doesn’t. A basic function of a capitalist or market economy is the necessity for a reserve army of labour without which capitalism cannot function, both because it is required to overcome the frictions of Capital and resource allocation, because it is necessary for economic growth to occur, and because without it there is no way of exerting downward pressure on wages. Yet, even though there was undoubtedly some unemployment in the USSR, the fact is – and this was more than abundantly demonstrated after the Yeltsin counter-revolution – vast quantities of labour was employed in the state enterprises way beyond anything that a capitalist economy would have tolerated.

But, finally, even were it the case that market relations existed as I have said above this in itself is not decisive unless you accept that Bernsteinian view of Marxist in all its economic determinism. Capitalism does not automatically evolve towards socialism, nor does socialism automatically regress towards capitalism simply on the back of economic relations. Both require the intervention of real living human beings in this process, motivated by a set of ideas. True that idea themselves have roots in those economic relations, but as Engels letter to Bloch illustrates this process is far more complex than just a mechanical determinism. In order for workers to replace capitalism with socialism it requires that real life workers acquire a socialist class-consciousness, and act upon it, gaining control of the State. IN order for socialist or post-capitalist relations to be replaced by capitalism it requires real life capitalists to be able to exert the same kind of social influence, and likewise regain control of the State. Commodity relations are not enough. It requires from those relations the development of a capitalist class, the re-emergence in society of the ideas of those capitalists as pre-eminent, and the consequent seizing back by real capitalists of the State. That was not the case in the USSR. In fact, it is hardly the case now as a continuing struggle goes on between the remnants of the old Stalinist elite entrenched within the State apparatus and personified by Putin, and the potential new capitalist ruling class of the oligarchs, a battle which at the moment the oligarchs are losing.

4. I think that Ticktin’s view of the State is an abstraction too far. What is missing from this view is what are essential – real human beings. We are asked to believe in a capitalist state that exists almost in the ether. It is a state that exists without the material support of actual capitalist relations, without the fundamental requirement for any class state – the human material derived from within the ranks of the exploiting class that staff this state, and give it its class nature. The Capitalist state is capitalist for the simple reason that the capitalist class becomes, on the basis of the development of productive relations, the most important and most powerful class. Its ideas dominate society, and become accepted as the norm, the natural order of things. Its representatives made up of its children, its social milieu begin to fill all the most important positions within the State, and thereby determine the dominant ideas it defends. That State then permeates and percolates those ideas through the rest of society. But without a capitalist class that process cannot even begin. The development of a proletarian state proceeds on exactly the same basis, but in the USSR, the weakness of the working class, and the paucity of the material conditions make it impossible to consummate. The real human beings that find their way into the State apparatus are not bourgeois, they are proletarian or peasant. But having found their place in the apparatus rather like the worker drawn into the Social Democratic or Trade Union bureaucracy they find themselves drawn away from their proletarian roots, and by their lifestyle and social function into a petit-bourgeois milieu and outlook.

I find Ticktin’s definition of the USSR state rather like that of someone who pronounces a Church to be Catholic. Yet this Church has no worshippers or Priests. It does have some of the ornaments of Catholicism inside it, and in the society in which it exists all the necessary conditions for the development of Catholicism exist. To a subjectivist the Church could indeed be defined as a Catholic Church, but to a Marxist the lack of any human involvement with this building makes it simply that – a building. IN the absence of a capitalist class in the Soviet Union, which is the fundamental requirement for the provision of the human material to staff a Capitalist State, I find that all Ticktin’s analysis leads us to is the existence of a State whose class nature must be indeterminate. For a Marxist such a conclusion is unacceptable.

5. I believe that this conclusion is unacceptable for other reasons, but let me set out just one. How on the basis of this definition of a Capitalist state are we to explain the other actions of this State? I could say why was it so slow in restoring capitalist relations, and a Capitalist class, but more significantly how can we explain the actions of this State in relation to its dealings with other Eastern European and Stalinist states. How are we to explain the vast sums of money this State spent on supporting national liberation movements? The only basis on which these actions can be explained is on the basis of the need for this State to continue to pay some homage to its own roots, and to see the basis of its own salvation in the replication of its version of socialism on a world scale, and implemented by means of its own bureaucratic military methods. Methods, which fulfil the requirement of all bureaucracies, to maintain control over events, and over the mass over the rank and file, on whose social base they stand.

Boffy said...

It should be also apparent from what I say above that my view of social revolution and political revolution is not that of lenin or Trotsky and most modern marxists. I blieve that my view is more consonant with the views and method of Marx.

For me the social revolution is in fact that process which goes on almost behind men's backs whereby the change in productive relations brings about the change of economic and social relations which leads inevitably to the rise of one dominant class in place of another.

This process in itself is not some straightforward affair separated from politics, because the existing ruling class will always attempt to use its political power and control of the State to place obstacles in the path of the rise of the new class. However, the innate superiority of the new productive relations must ultimately override such attempts, and the growing importance and strength of the new class means that the ideas that synchrnise with it become t be accepted as the norm throughout society, become taken up in he educational establishemtns and so on, and thereby become dominant within the state appaatus itself.

Consequently, unlike for Leninism which sees the gaining of State power as the result of the political revolution, I do not. I see the dominance of the ideas of the new class within the State as the consummation of the Social revolution itself.

In fact Lenin's view is necessarily contradictory here. He repeatedly describes - corectly the state in Tsarist Russia as a capitalist state. On the basis I have outlined above this is correct. BY the end of the 19th century the Capitalist class in Russia was the dominant social class, and it was capitalist ideas, which dominated society, the state itself was made up of personnel who were connected by family and socail ties to the bouregoisie, and its ideas dominated its ethos.

However, political/Governmental power, as opposed to state power rested with the Tsarist aristocracy. A political revolution was required not to gain state power for the bouregoisie - because they already had that - but to transfer political power into the hands of the bouregoisie of which they were effectively denied by the legacy of feudal political strutures.

In fact this process can be seen playing out in all the main countries. By the time of the Glorious Revolution the British bourgeoisie has become dominant and has control of the British State. It does not exercise political power, and only achieves that with the Second Reform Act. The Frecnh bourgeoisie becomes dominant by the mid 19th century and has control of the French State, but it does not have political power which fluctuates between the political regimes of Bonaparte, Louis Phillippe, and Louis Bonaparte. It gains political power with the advent of the Third Republic.

In fact closer inspection will show that the very nature of the State changes. IN reality the new class does not simply take over an existing state, but creates the basis of a new state of its own in the process of its development.

The workingclass is no different though the difference is more noticeable. A working class that develops its own co-operative industry, and its own co-operative communties, is forced to develop corresponding democratic forms to go alongside them. These new democratic forms can be nothing else but this embryonic new state form, which ultimately must come into conflict with the bouregois state itself. The working class does not simply staff the existing state apparatus with its own personnel over a period of time as the old revoluitonary classes appeared to do, but is forced from the beginning to develop its own state form, and to staff it from the beginning with its own representatives.

WhiteDwarfStar said...

I'll get to the rest of your points later, but just for now I'll respond to this:

"But, I find it difficult on the basis of any objective analysis of the USSR to describe the economy as either a market economy or in any way based on the market."

You must have misread me. Ticktin does NOT say that the USSR's economy was a market economy. All he says is that the USSR had forms which imitated the market or produced comparable results which allowed the elite to be privileged. Which it did. Ticktin has argued effectively against the "state capitalist" argument (usually made by Italian Left Communist types) that the USSR had a market economy. I think you're misreading Ticktin, or at least misreading me.

Boffy said...


Actually, I know that Ticktin argues against the State Capitalist as well as the Bureaucratic Collectivist arguments. I was just taking up the argument you were presenting on his behalf where you say,

"Regarding the USSR and markets. Ticktin argues that the Soviet Union did not have a real market but it had forms which imitated it or produced comparable results which allowed the elite to be privileged. It was not capitalist itself but the forms ultimately derived from capitalism, not socialism."

Now it seems to me that if you are going to present as the basis of your case that what existed was a bouregois state that the USSR economy was characterised by "forms which ultimately derived from capitalism", that it had forms which mimicked the market and produced comparable results you can hardly complain that someone challenges whether in fact what existed were market relations or anything approaching it.

I could just as easily respond that if you want to be so picky about definitions and want to emphasise "mimic", "derive from" etc. as opposed to what would be the defining aspect i.e. capitalism, market then the logical concusion from this is that the State was not bouregois, but "mimicked", was "derived from" a bourgeois State!!

The problem still exists to show how the material productive relations lead to the development of a ruling class, whose specific ideas and mores can be so galvanised as to dominate society, and which find representation in real human beings who then provide the staff of the real living state, rather than some abstraction of such a possible state.

The fact is no such situation can be demonstrated as far as the USSR is concerned. In fact, all that is stated is nothing more than a repetition of the ideas of Craipeau, and little more needs to be added than the rsponse given by TRotsky in Once Again: the USSR and its Defence

Boffy said...

Just as a short point. If we take a Workers Co-operative within the context of a capitalist environment i.e. a market with commodity production. Would we describe this institution as a Workers enterprise or a Capitalist enterprise? I think we would naturally, despite the fact that it operates on Capitalst principles describe it as a Workers Co-operative, not a Capitalist Co-operative. We do so because, the very fact of workers ownership opens up the possibility of development, means that this co-operative, can inspire others, can combine with others, can develop on the basis of principles which are ultimately contradictory to capitalism, and lead to the workers in such being forced to ask questions which develop their class conscioussness.

Even where such a Co-operative runs into problems due to a hostile environment that remains true. Even where or whatever reason certain individuals within the Co-operative acquire a dominat and privileged role that remains true. A Workers State is no different.