Friday, 2 July 2010

The Third Camp & Opportunism - Part 2

The Origins Of The Third Camp

For today, understanding the politics of these groups and the consequences of this methodology is important not because of some theoretical debate over the USSR, but what it says about their political practice. That's important not for their attitude to defending remaining deformed Workers' States like Cuba, against Imperialism – because in reality these organisations are so insignificant that whatever position they adopt will make no practical difference – but because of how they relate on a day to day basis to workers' struggles. For example, in the discussion referred to above the AWL have spelled out why they would not defend Russian “State Capitalism”, why it was reactionary and so on. I have set out earlier why the Third Camp adopted this position in reaction to the pressure they felt from liberal, moral Public Opinion within their milieu. However, compare that position with that adopted towards a real State Capitalism. They do not claim that the very real State Capitalism of say the NHS, under the control of a very real, very powerful Capitalist State, is “reactionary”. On the contrary, they largely ignore the bureaucratic, inefficient nature of that State Capitalism in order to portray it as in some way “progressive”, even in some sense “socialist”. Where Marxists argued that the USSR should be defended without in any way stopping to criticise the bureaucratic, Stalinist regime that ruled it, indeed ceasing to try to overthrow it, even if it was “State Capitalist”, because even State Capitalism is historically progressive compared to Liberal Free Market Capitalism, the Third Campists refused. Yet, when it comes to defending an actual State capitalism such as the NHS, or various Public Services, the Third Campists are quite happy not only to come to its defence, but do so whilst abandoning any criticism, and attempt to overthrow the existing state bureaucratic control whatsoever. In essence they form an uncritical alliance with the State Capitalist bureaucracy, and given their sociological composition that is not surprising. They are themselves overwhelmingly petit-bourgeois in composition, just like much of that State bureaucracy, indeed many of them are inextricably linked to that State bureaucracy, because many of them obtain their living as employees of the Capitalist state themselves!

It is a thoroughly Opportunist politics, which determines action not on the basis of marxist analysis, but on the basis of bourgeois – albeit radical, liberal bourgeois – Public Opinion. The USSR was nasty and brutish, so it cannot be described as progressive. The NHS, Welfarism and State Capitalist Public Services are deemed to be “good”, so they must be progressive. It is a politics based on moral judgement not objective analysis, on the Marxist, Historical materialist basis of what offers the potential for developing the productive forces, what offers the potential for developing the working-class as a class independent of the bourgeoisie. It is the same kind of moral politics that led organisations like the AWL to disdain the workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, who in raising slogans about “British Jobs For British Workers” threatened the romanticised view of a working-class that is automatically, and naturally revolutionary and progressive, and which more importantly offended the radical-liberal sensibilities of its petit-bourgeois milieu. Just as the reality of the Workers' State in Russia offended those sensibilities, and contradicted the nice cosy view that anything with the prefix “Worker” could only every be the best possible, in the best of all possible worlds, meant that the prefix “Worker” could not possibly be correct, so the slogans of real workers at LOR contradicted such a view, and meant that these could not be real workers, at least not workers deserving support. Indeed, the petit-bourgeois sensibilities of some AWL members were so offended, the pressure from their studentist milieu so great that not only did they decide that the workers could not be supported, but that it was necessary to organise a picket against them! This is precisely what Trotsky meant when he argued that the followers of the Third Camp, would start from a revulsion of what they did not like within the real world, and would end up in the Camp of the bourgeoisie opposing the working-class. It is what has happened to nearly all those that adopted the Third Camp position.

What is the philosophical and ideological root of this Third Campism? The historical origin of this trend was identified by Marx in the Communist Manifesto. Marx refers to it as Petit-bourgeois Socialism.

“In countries where modern civilisation has become fully developed, a new class of petty bourgeois has been formed, fluctuating between proletariat and bourgeoisie, and ever renewing itself as a supplementary part of bourgeois society. The individual members of this class, however, are being constantly hurled down into the proletariat by the action of competition, and, as modern industry develops, they even see the moment approaching when they will completely disappear as an independent section of modern society, to be replaced in manufactures, agriculture and commerce, by overlookers, bailiffs and shopmen.

In countries like France, where the peasants constitute far more than half of the population, it was natural that writers who sided with the proletariat against the bourgeoisie should use, in their criticism of the bourgeois régime, the standard of the peasant and petty bourgeois, and from the standpoint of these intermediate classes, should take up the cudgels for the working class. Thus arose petty-bourgeois Socialism. Sismondi was the head of this school, not only in France but also in England.

This school of Socialism dissected with great acuteness the contradictions in the conditions of modern production. It laid bare the hypocritical apologies of economists. It proved, incontrovertibly, the disastrous effects of machinery and division of labour; the concentration of capital and land in a few hands; overproduction and crises; it pointed out the inevitable ruin of the petty bourgeois and peasant, the misery of the proletariat, the anarchy in production, the crying inequalities in the distribution of wealth, the industrial war of extermination between nations, the dissolution of old moral bonds, of the old family relations, of the old nationalities.

In its positive aims, however, this form of Socialism aspires either to restoring the old means of production and of exchange, and with them the old property relations, and the old society, or to cramping the modern means of production and of exchange within the framework of the old property relations that have been, and were bound to be, exploded by those means. In either case, it is both reactionary and Utopian.

Its last words are: corporate guilds for manufacture; patriarchal relations in agriculture.

Ultimately, when stubborn historical facts had dispersed all intoxicating effects of self-deception, this form of Socialism ended in a miserable fit of the blues.”

Marx is obviously speaking here of this form of Socialism in relation to Capitalism. But, what he says here about its methods is just as applicable to that same ideological in its attitude to the USSR. Marx did not deny the subjective desires of those like Sismondi for a better society, a society that was absent all of those vicissitudes of Capitalism, which as he says, this strand of Socialism did such a good job of exposing. But, it was precisely the fact that they concentrated solely on those vicissitudes, on all of the horrors of Capitalism – of which there were many – that blinded them to its progressive nature. Progressive not because it offered workers something better than they had previously experienced, but because it represented the next stage of human development, the means by which the forces of production could be raised to new heights. Not only did it not offer the majority of society something better than they had experienced under feudalism, but the means by which it effected this revolutionising of the forces of production required, on the contrary, that the vast majority of society, the new working class, be cast down into the utmost depravity, in all senses of the word.

In its initial stages Capitalism did not even raise production to a higher level than Feudalism. The precursor of Capitalism proper, the Mercantilism that developed in the Mediterranean City States, so exploited the peasant producers that they were so impoverished that they could not even sustain themselves and production itself was undermined. Even as industrial Capitalism proper gets under way in Britain, at the beginning of the 19th Century, workers living standards were decimated, and life expectancy was cut in half. In Capital, as I've summarised elsewhere, We was Robbed, Marx details all of this.

In addition to the terrible working and living conditions that Engels had previously described in detail, Marx outlines the devastating effect on diet, and life expectancy.

“The cotton trade has existed for ninety years…It has existed for three generations of the English race, and I believe I may safely say that during that period it has destroyed nine generations of factory operatives.”

(Ferrand’s speech in the House of Commons 27th April 1863.)

But, he also details the way Capitalism resorted to previous modes of production such as slavery, not just through the external slave trade, but within Britain itself, with inmates of the Workhouse in agricultural areas in the South and East, regularly being sold to Northern manufacturers, and shipped up by the barge load.

“This system had grown up unto a regular trade. This House will hardly believe it, but I tell them, that this traffic in human flesh was as well kept up, they were in effect as regularly sold to the (Manchester) manufacturers as slaves are sold to the cotton grower in the United States…. In 1860, the cotton trade was at its zenith…. The manufacturers again found that they were short of hands…. They applied to the ‘flesh agents’ as they are called. Those agents sent to the Southern downs of England, to the pastures of Dorsetshire, to the glades of Devonshire, to the people tending kine in Wiltshire, but they sought in vain. The surplus population was ‘absorbed’.”


Marx also refers to a Statute of 1547which ordained that anyone refusing to work be made a slave of the person who denounced them. If they run away they are branded a slave for life literally by having an S branded on their forehead or back. Every master has the right to put an iron ring around the neck of the slave. The latter part of this Statute remained in place until well into the 19th century, the slaves kept within it were known as “roundsmen”.

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