Friday, 2 July 2010

The Third Camp & Opportunism - Part 3

Petit-bourgeois Socialism

Anyone using the subjectivist method of Sismondi, and seeing these horrors could not have but concluded that this Capitalism could not be described as progressive. Marx disagreed, because he saw through the subjectivism, and saw the potential of the system to raise the productive forces to new heights, to create a powerful working class, and thereby to create the conditions for developing anew type of society. Yet, it is precisely that method of Sismondi that the Third Campists adopt when they look at the USSR.

The same ideological trend appeared in Russia at the end of the 19th Century in the form of the Narodniks. Lenin spent a considerable part of his early political life arguing against them, from precisely this standpoint. Anyone, who wants to understand the sociological roots of Third Campism as a petit-bouregois trend, and to understand the fundamental philosophical difference between Marxism and Third Camp subjectivism should read these writings of Lenin against the Narodniks contained in the first 5 volumes of his Collected Works. In particular, they should read,

A Characterisation Of Economic Romanticism.

And, in his “Development of Capitalism In Russia”, Lenin writes,

“Finally, perhaps the profoundest cause of disagreement with the Narodniks is the difference in our fundamental views on social and economic processes. When studying the latter, the Narodnik usually draws conclusions that point to some moral; he does not regard the diverse groups of persons taking part in production as creators of various forms of life; he does not set out to present the sum-total of social and economic relationships as the result of the mutual relations between these groups, which have different interests and different historical roles. . . . If the writer of these lines has succeeded in providing some material for clarifying these problems, he may regard his labours as not having been fruitless.”

In these devastating attacks on the Narodniks, Lenin was at pains not to deny that the Narodniks were subjectively revolutionary. On the contrary he was full of praise for their revolutionary credentials that are been proved time and again in various acts of heroism, if frequently reckless heroism. But, in a note to one of his writings he draws the distinction between this subjective revolutionism, and the fundamentally reactionary nature of the ideas and theories that they propounded. He was particularly scathing of the way they manipulated the facts to fit those theories, and his “Development of Capitalism” is as much a detailed refutation of that distortion as anything else. The Narodniks were also not beyond editing the writing of Marx, in order to fit their arguments either. The Russian revolutionary Vera Zasulich had written to Marx asking if he believed that it might be possible for Russia to move to Socialism without first having to pass through the stage of Capitalism with all its horrors. Part of the Narodnik theory was that the Russian village Commune could develop in such a way that Russia might be able to make such a transition. Marx had replied in very guarded tones, because he realised that his answer could be misused. In theory, he argued such a transition was possible, but ONLY on condition that elsewhere in the advanced industrialised world, Socialism had been established, which could facilitate such a transition in Russia. The Narodniks frequently quoted Marx's statement that it was theoretically possible, but always failed to include the caveat, which in reality meant that it was not. We see the same kind of manipulation of facts, and of the writings of others by the Third Camp, as I have referenced elsewhere in relation to the AWL. Trotsky & the Epigones.

The classic explanation of what the Third Camp is was provided by Trotsky in his A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party.

“Comrade Shachtman’s attitude toward the dialectic method, as manifested in the above-quoted argumentation, cannot be called anything but eclectical skepticism. It is clear that Shachtman became infected with this attitude not in the school of Marx but among the petty-bourgeois intellectuals to whom all forms of skepticism are proper.”

Trotsky summed it up like this.

“In his recent polemical article against me, Burnham explained that socialism is a “moral ideal.” To be sure, this is not so very new. At the opening of the last century, morality served as the basis for the “True German Socialism” which Marx and Engels criticized at the very beginning of their activity. At the beginning of our century, the Russian Social Revolutionaries counterpoised the “moral ideal” to materialistic socialism…

“The petty-bourgeois minority of the SWP split from the proletarian majority on the basis of a struggle against revolutionary Marxism. Burnham proclaimed dialectic materialism to be incompatible with his motheaten “science.” Shachtman proclaimed revolutionary Marxism to be of no moment from the standpoint of “practical tasks.” Abern hastened to hook up his little booth with the anti-Marxist bloc. And now these gentlemen label the magazine they filched from the party an “organ of revolutionary Marxism.”…

“The very first “programmatic” articles of the purloined organ already reveal completely the light-mindedness and hollowness of this new anti-Marxist grouping which appears under the label of the “Third Camp.” What is this animal? There is the camp of capitalism; there is the camp of the proletariat. But is there perhaps a “third camp” – a petty-bourgeois sanctuary? In the nature of things, it is nothing else. But, as always, the petty bourgeois camouflages his “camp” with the paper flowers of rhetoric. Let us lend our ears! Here is one camp: France and England. There’s another camp: Hitler and Stalin. And a third camp: Burnham, with Shachtman. The Fourth International turns out for them to be in Hitler’s camp (Stalin made this discovery long ago). And so, a new great slogan: Muddlers and pacifists of the world, all ye suffering from the pin-pricks of fate, rally to the “third” camp!…

“Only the other day Shachtman referred to himself in the press as a “Trotskyist.” If this be Trotskyism then I at least am no Trotskyist. With the present ideas of Shachtman, not to mention Burnham, I have nothing in common. I used to collaborate actively with the New International, protesting in letters against Shachtman’s frivolous attitude toward theory and his unprincipled concessions to Burnham, the strutting petty-bourgeois pedant. But at the time both Burnham and Shachtman were kept in check by the party and the International. Today the pressure of petty-bourgeois democracy has unbridled them. Toward their new magazine my attitude can only be the same as toward all other petty-bourgeois counterfeits of Marxism. As for their “organizational methods” and political “morality,” these evoke in me nothing but contempt….

“Advanced workers! Not one cent’s worth of confidence in the “third front” of the petty bourgeoisie!”

Trotsky - Petty-Bourgeois Moralists and the Proletarian Party

The separation of most of the Left sects from the working class means that they are all subject to the pressure of petit-bourgeois public opinion in the milieu from which they come, and in which they look to new recruits. That inevitably leads to the kind of abandonment of Marxist theory and adoption of eclecticism that Trotsky refers to above. In turn that leads to Opportunism as political practice is increasingly based not on theory, but on responding to that petit-bourgeois Public Opinion. Positions zig and zag from one thing to another, and theory becomes merely a tool to be wielded to justify the swings. Facts become mere playthings to be manipulated and distorted to try to back up the latest version of the theory, and in order to retain some semblance of authority, the writings of the creators and developers of Marxist theory, have to be bowdlerised and edited to fit the latest version of the truth. Its not surprsing that organisations like the AWL, then have difficulty in defending their theory – which theory, that of today or that which was only yesterday's truth – and seek instead to replace free and open discussion, with lecturing, hectoring, bullying, and bureaucratic censorship.

The Workers Party can never be built by such means. It is then perhaps fortunate that such sects are as remote from the Workers Party as they are from the working class itself. If the healthy elements cut themselves adrift from these sects, and join the Workers Party they should be welcomed. But, we do not have time to concern ourselves with that overly. We have work to do, and time is limited. The petit-bourgeois sects should be allowed to just die a natural death.

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