Friday, 2 July 2010

The Third Camp & Opportunism - Part 1

The Third Camp & The USSR

I referred the other day to a discussion on the AWL website - They Really Have No Shame that stemmed from an article about the Russian Revolution. The discussion centred on the Stalinist politics of the AWL, which uses the methods of bureaucracy, misrepresentation, and a general bullying manner to shout down its opponents, to stifle real debate, and to promote its ideas. Its interesting that in order to divert attention from discussion of these methods, it has sought in that thread to divert attention away on to a discussion about the nature of Stalinism, and the class nature of the Soviet Union. As an adherent of late to the so called “Third Camp”, the AWL abandoned the Marxist class analysis of the Soviet State in favour of a subjectivist analysis. Its unable to decide on that basis whether the USSR was “State Capitalist”, or some new form of class society known as “Bureaucratic Collectivism”. Both theories have no basis in Marxist theory, and in fact represent an Opportunist trend arising from pressure on petit-bourgeois elements within the workers movement from the natural milieu. Especially now after its demise, the actual question of what the nature of the USSR was is not in itself important – though a discussion of the nature of the Russian State, and more particularly the Chinese State, I think is necessary – but what is important, is the methodology by which such analysis is undertaken, and what it tells us about the groups that adopt that methodology, about the social pressures that lead them to adopt it, and what it tells us about the general political method of such organisations.

In particular, in this last regard the element of Opportunism is most clearly visible in this. Such organisations, having adopted theories that denied that the USSR was any kind of Workers State then argued that there was no responsibility on Marxists to defend it against Imperialism. In fact, as Trotsky demonstrated in the debates on this in the 1930's this appearance was in reality a reversal of the actual mental process through which these organisations arrived at this position. Under pressure from the petit-bourgeois milieu from which they came, and in which they existed, a milieu dominated by radical liberal rather than socialist ideas, because of the undoubted horrors of Stalinism in Russia, they came to the conclusion that they could not defend Russia, because that would appear to be also defending Stalinism. But, Marxists have to defend workers organisations and property no matter how reactionary, bureaucratic and even anti-worker they may be. As Trotsky pointed out, there is no shortage of examples of Trade Unions that are dominated by a powerful, and often reactionary bureaucracy, which also frequently attack the workers in those unions, expelling them, selling them out to the bosses etc. Yet, Marxists do not side with the bosses against even these unions. To the extent that the reactionary bureaucrats do conduct a fight against the bosses, we support them, whilst giving them no credibility, and all the time attempting to enable the ordinary members to kick them out, to reform the structures and so on.

The only way out of this situation for these organisations was for them to develop a theory by which Russia could be described as not being a Workers State – even a deformed or degenerated Workers State. That was what they did, but in order to do so they had to ditch Marxist analysis, Marxist categories, and instead adopt the methods and analysis of bourgeois sociology, of subjectivism. In place of the Marxist method of Historical Materialism, which starts with the material base of society, with the relations of production, and the classes that arise upon it, the social relations that then develop between these classes, and the laws and mores of the political superstructure, which arise on top of that, the Third Campists turned that on its head. Instead they began with the political supestructure, and showing that this political superstructure was dominated by a bureaucracy that was self-serving – what bureaucracy is not – and acted against the workers interests, noting that this political superstructure exercised control over the means of production, rather than the workers, they concluded that this could not possibly be a Workers State.

It was as if someone had looked at a Trade Union, and noting that it was dominated by a powerful bureaucracy, whose members were self-serving, had lifestyles similar to those of the bosses rather than the workers, that it was entrenched in large offices with considerable resources at its disposal, and effective control over all the property of the union, and which it used to further its own interests rather than those of the members, had concluded that this could not be a Workers organisation, but was in fact a bosses' organisation.

And that was the next step. Having concluded that it was not a Workers State they had to come up with a theory of what it actually was. Hence the argument of one faction that it was in fact a form of State Capitalism – a theory which requires that all of the criteria set out by Marx about what Capital actually is, be overthrown, essentially in favour of a Ricardian definition of Capital – and of the other, which baulked at this, and had to come up with a theory, which postulated some new unheard of class of Bureaucratic Collectivists. This theory is not as crass as the theory of State Capitalism, but it is crass nevertheless. Likewise it has to overthrow the basic categories, and theories of Marxism that define class, and that define the relation between the State and Civil Society. They tend to adopt the ideas of Eugene Duhring in relation to the means by which ruling classes acquire and retain power in society by the use of force, rather than as Marx and Engels demonstrated, arising and reproducing themselves naturally as a result of the functioning of the Mode of production itself. Another version of this Bureaucratic Collectivist theory was put forward by Hillel Ticktin. Unlike most of the classic Bureaucratic Collectivists, Ticktin had actually undertaken some detailed study of the USSR. Anyone who does so quickly realises that not only does the State Capitalist theory disintegrate, not just because it is alien to Marxist theory, but also because the actual economic system in the USSR simply did not conform to what State Capitalism requires, but such an analysis also shows that there is simply no basis for postulating the existence of a ruling Bureaucratic Class. That is true probably in bourgeois sociological terms, let alone in the Marxist terms of relation to the means of production, and so on. Ticktin was reduced to an impossible, unMarxist position, though, as a result, of denying that the USSR was any kind of Workers State, but unable to identify any other ruling class to take its place as the basis of the State. Yet, a State most certainly did exist, and according to Marxist theory the State only exists as a class state, as the means by which a ruling class resolves the differences within it, and defends itself against other ruling classes, and against other classes within its borders.

There is only one exception to that, and it is the exception that Marx and Engels analysed in relation to the Asiatic Mode of Production. Under the AMP, as it existed in various countries of the Middle East, and most classically in China and India, the State arises out of what is essentially a voluntary collective organisation, a bureaucratic apparatus, which had become necessary under the specific geographical and climatic conditions, in order to develop irrigation, and other major hydraulic and civil engineering works, needed for agriculture. Over a prolonged period of time this State, through its control of the means of production, carves out a privileged position for itself. The State becomes the means by which this privileged group holds power. There are clear parallels here with the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism. Indeed, the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism, as advanced by its most renowned proponent, James Burnham, was applied not just to the USSR, but also to developed Capitalism. Burnham argued that, in the West too, it was the professional bureaucracy of managers and Administrators both within the large Corporations, and within the State, which formed a single new Bureaucratic Collectivist class that ruled by its control over rather than ownership of the means of production. The idea was eagerly taken up by Libertarians like Frederick Hayek, who quoted Burnham to support their own right-wing ideas, about the growth of the State. In the 1960's, and 70's it was also the basis of a series of bourgeois theories that postulated the idea of such a “Post-Capitalist” society, prominent amongst which were the ideas of Ralf Dahrendorf of the London School of Economics, which was also the base of Hayek himself.

The problem is that these States under the AMP only developed over considerable periods of time. It required a very long social process in order that the voluntary administrative bodies that arose out out of primitive society could coalesce into a bureaucratic state apparatus, and even then not without struggle, and repeated complete social overturns as the history of China demonstrates with one Dynasty replacing another. Nor, was the position of these states secured purely on the basis of force. In China, as Barrington Moore Jnr. shows, the State bureaucracy was recruited on the basis of stringent exams. Its true the bureaucracy through its privileged position could educate its children in order to pass those exams, but it was also forced to ally itself with the powerful Landlord class, which in reality provided most of the recruits for the State, and where powerful Landlord families did not have clever enough children themselves they used to adopt clever children of peasants, and train them for a position. In India, the position was even clearer. This Caste system, whereby it was control over the means of production and over the State, which was more important than ownership could only exist on the basis of extensive laws and taboos that restricted entry by birth.

What is clear is that in Russia, none of that existed. There were no special laws, or taboos which limited access into the State apparatus by birth, or which guaranteed that such positions could be handed down inside the bureaucracy. The sections of the elite, which were best able to ensure that their children received a good education, in order to get a good job, were in fact, not the top bureaucrats, but were the intelligentsia, but all the evidence is that the children of the intelligentsia themselves tended to take up jobs in culture, in education, in science and so on. And, if we look at the social background of even the last Politburo, prior to the demise of the USSR, we do not see the picture the Bureaucratic Collectivists try to portray. The top bureaucrat – Gorbachev – was not the child of bureaucrats, but of peasants! At least two of the Politburo members grew up in State Orphanages. The other members of the Politburo had equally modest social origins! The facts, simply disprove the Bureaucratic Collectivist thesis. But, then concern for the facts has never been a main concern for the adherents of the Third Camp.

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