Sunday, 6 February 2011

Egypt - What Is To Be Done - Part 1

Third Camp "Idiocy"

After more than a week of mass demonstrations, drawing together tens of thousands of people from all strata of Egyptian society, the Egyptian Army declaring that it will not fire on the Egyptian people, statements from the US President, and leaders of the other major Capitalist States that an orderly transition to bourgeois democracy must begin now, and even statements by John Kerry in the US that Mubarak should go now, the Egyptian President has said that, although he will not stand for election in September, he will not step down until then.
He says he wants to stay in place to ensure that orderly transition. If the Egyptian masses accept that then their revolution is lost. History is littered with examples of where an embattled ruler has made such promises, and once the masses have demobilised have found themselves harried, undermined, arrested and subject to the harshest reaction. The fact, even that such rulers allow elections to take place, and new Parliaments to be established is not enough. In 1848, the Prussian rulers took advantage of the fact that the elected Chambers were weak, and failed to press through their advantage, to ensure that the old regime was completely uprooted, and simply mobilised the reliable troops when the time was right to close them down.
The Russian Tsar agreed to elections for a Duma in 1905, but with the main levers of his political power still in place, he slowly undermined it, neutered it, and began to arrest and exile his opponents, until such time as the Duma was nothing more than a toothless talking shop. But, if the Egyptian masses should learn from the many lessons of history on this matter in that regard, the question then arises, What is to be done?

There are many theories going around at the moment about what will happen in Egypt. In truth, no one knows what will happen. As Marxists our job is not to act as fortune tellers, or tea leaf readers forecasting that this outcome or the other is inevitable.
For a Marxist, nothing in history is inevitable. We do not believe in some kind of fate determined in another realm of existence, which determines the lives of human beings here in the material world. We believe that history is the result of the actions of real human beings. A particular outcome will only result because, real human beings, brought it about through their own conscious actions. Of course, the exact end result may not be the result that the majority, or in fact, any of those human beings intended, because different human beings participating in that process will each seek a different outcome, and what results will be a complex interplay of all their wills and actions, as well as being limited by what is physically possible.
The best description of this within the Marxist theory of history is given by Engels in his letter to Bloch where he writes,

“We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions...

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 forces, 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.”

Engels Letter To Block 1890

Our task as Marxists is not to act as gamblers on the historical process, betting that, in this or that instance, this or that result is more likely, and simply standing on the sidelines waiting to see if our horse does in fact cross the line first. That is the position of various sectarians such as the SPGB. Nor is it to conclude that our horse in the race has no chance of victory, and simply limit ourselves to supporting some other horse that might have a better chance, merely on the basis of our hostility towards the favourite. That, in practice is the position of the various Third Campists, who having given up on the revolutionary potential of the working-class look to some other group to carry their banner.
On the one hand it leads those such as the SWP to support various groups of clerical-fascists merely on the basis of their hatred of “Imperialism”, seeing the former as a lesser evil to the latter. On the other hand it leads other Third Campists such as the AWL, who see the latter as a lesser-evil to the former, to essentially throw in their towel with Imperialism in order to defeat the former.
In both cases, the working-class are reduced to playing only a background role whose demands are to be limited to merely an Economistic improvement of their condition, and workers elsewhere limited to a role of merely providing support at the same Economistic level.

In fact, its not surprising that these two sides of the third camp coin arrive at this position. Both stem from a collapse into a deep pessimism in the 1930's by their predecessors. That pessimism was itself both a function of the defeats of the working-class during that time, and of the fact that these predecessors were unable to counter that by their grounding in Marxist theory. They were unable to do that, because in reality they did not utilise Marxist methodology, but a bourgeois subjectivist methodology.
The main theorist of this reactionary, petit-bourgeois trend was the US academic James Burnham. Burnham, never accepted the fundamental bases of Marxism, Historical Materialism and Dialectics. The other main leader of the petit-bourgeois trend within the movement, Max Shachtman, although nominally a Marxist, had been criticised by Trotsky even during the 1920's and early 30's as a sloppy thinker, a journalist prepared to hitch his wagon to other people's theoretical horse, and to defend them polemically.
Although, nominally a Marxist, Shachtman never criticised Burnham's rejection of Marxism, never defended against him the basic foundations of Marxist theory.

The bourgeois, subjectivist methodology they adopted led them into all kinds of mistakes, and, ungrounded in Marxist theory, they were left responding to each event as it occurred – indeed this “common sense”, “practical politics” was central to their theory. Because it was subjectivist, it led them to base themselves not in the reality of situations grounded in material foundations, but instead to base themselves on superficial appearances.
It was essentially no different than the moral socialism that others had developed in the 19th Century based on Kantianism, the ultimately reactionary theories of the Sismondists criticised by Marx, or the Narodniks criticised by Lenin.
The definition of progressive was no longer that of Marx, based on an objective assessment of things based on their historical role, but was essentially reduced to the equivalent of “good” understood in moral terms. So today, “imperialism” is “bad” for the SWP and their co-thinkers, and consequently any force that is “anti-imperialist” must be “good”. The consequence of this is that the interests of the working-class are subordinated to those of the forces seen most capable of carrying the banner of “anti-imperialism”, even when those forces are the most vile imaginable. As the flip side of this same coin, the AWL and their co-thinkers, see anything that is undemocratic or authoritarian as “bad”, and so anything that opposes its manifestation – Stalinism in the USSR and elsewhere, Milosevich in Serbia, or clerical-fascism – is seen as “good”.
That is why it sided with Yeltsin's counter-revolution, is prepared to justify Israel bombing Iran, and with Imperialism's bombing of Serbia, on the basis of support for Kosovo, but opposed Russia's identical response to Georgia in defence of South Ossetia. It inevitably leads to Opportunism, switching position from event to event based upon who was seen to be the most “moral”. It is no surprise that as Trotsky predicted all those that abandoned Marxism for the Third Camp of the petit-bourgeois sooner or later drifted into the camp of the bourgeoisie if not outright reaction.

But, in his analysis of the Third Camp, Trotsky also provides the answer as to why its adherents now are so despondent in relation to the revolutionary role of the working-class, and why they seek only to ameliorate its condition.
The culmination of the subjectivist theories of Burnham and his supporters was the notion that in the USSR a new type of Mode of Production had been established, which had not been foreseen by Marx or other Marxists. This new type of society was one in which a Managerial elite, a bureaucracy transformed itself magically into a new ruling class.
In fact, this idea was not novel either. The same ideas were being propounded by other opponents of Socialism. It formed a basis to the ideas of Von Mises going back to the 1920's, and in Frederick Hayek's 1940 book “The Road To Serfdom”, not only is the same idea elaborated, that the establishment of large organisations be they private or public Monopolies – both of which are seen to be a function of the intervention of the State in the operation of the free market – leads to the establishment of special interests and the rising to power of individuals based on patronage and privilege rather than merit, but Burnham himself is cited by Hayek for having arrived at this conclusion.
Hayek was, of course, a motivating ideological force upon Thatcher and her co-thinkers in the 1980's. The same idea was propounded in the 1970's by the proponents of a “Post-Capitalist” society such as Ralf Dahrendorf, who, like Hayek, was based at the London School of Economics.

Some of today's proponents of the Third Camp, such as the AWL, refer to a sentence by Trotsky in response to Burnham, which they claim shows that Trotsky himself was moving towards the idea of Bureaucratic Collectivism. But, of course, they take this sentence completely out of context, thereby distorting its meaning entirely. The sentence they quote says,

“Some comrades evidently were surprised that I spoke in my article (The USSR in the War) of the system of “bureaucratic collectivism” as a theoretical possibility.”

Again and Once More Again on the Nature of the USSR.

In fact, this section is very interesting in relation to what I have already said about the Marxist approach to history. Trotsky goes on to say,

“The Marxist comprehension of historical necessity has nothing in common with fatalism. Socialism is not realizable “by itself,” but as a result of the struggle of living forces, classes and their parties. The proletariat’s decisive advantage in this struggle resides in the fact that it represents historical progress, while the bourgeoisie incarnates reaction and decline. Precisely in this is the source of our conviction in victory. But we have full right to ask ourselves: What character will society take if the forces of reaction conquer?”

The originator of the Third Campist theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism, Burnham, of course, drew the logical conclusion, and those like Dahrendorf endorse it in their own way.
This new form of society was not an aberration, but could be seen in the development of a powerful managerial class in all developed societies, and a concentration of control if not ownership in its hands. Without actually, admitting that they have now reached this same conclusion, the adherents of the Third Camp today act in such a way as to belie that reality. That is so because they fail to quote the rest of what Trotsky had to say on this matter. He writes,

“I endeavored to demonstrate in my article The USSR in the War that the perspective of a non-worker and non-bourgeois society of exploitation, or “bureaucratic collectivism,” is the perspective of complete defeat and the decline of the international proletariat, the perspective of the most profound historical pessimism."

And in that earlier document The USSR In War, Trotsky spells out the implications of that.

“The disintegration of capitalism has reached extreme limits, likewise the disintegration of the old ruling class. The further existence of this system is impossible. The productive forces must be organized in accordance with a plan. But who will accomplish this task – the proletariat, or a new ruling class of “commissars” – politicians, administrators and technicians? Historical experience bears witness, in the opinion of certain rationalizers that one cannot entertain hope in the proletariat. The proletariat proved “incapable” of averting the last imperialist war although the material prerequisites for a socialist revolution already existed at that time.
The successes of Fascism after the war were once again the consequence of the “incapacity” of the proletariat to lead capitalist society out of the blind alley. The bureaucratization of the Soviet State was in its turn the consequence of the “incapacity” of the proletariat itself to regulate society through the democratic mechanism. The Spanish revolution was strangled by the Fascist and Stalinist bureaucracies before the very eyes of the world proletariat.
Finally, last link in this chain is the new imperialist war, the preparation of which took place quite openly, with complete impotence on the part of the world proletariat. If this conception is adopted, that is, if it is acknowledged that the proletariat does not have the forces to accomplish the socialist revolution, then the urgent task of the statification of the productive forces will obviously be accomplished by somebody else. By whom? By a new bureaucracy, which will replace the decayed bourgeoisie as a new ruling class on a world scale. That is how the question is beginning to be posed by those “leftists” who do not rest content with debating over words...

An analogous result might occur in the event that the proletariat of advanced capitalist countries, having conquered power, should prove incapable of holding it and surrender it, as in the USSR, to a privileged bureaucracy.
Then we would be compelled to acknowledge that the reason for the bureaucratic relapse is rooted not in the backwardness of the country and not in the imperialist environment but in the congenital incapacity of the proletariat to become a ruling class. Then it would be necessary in retrospect to establish that in its fundamental traits the present USSR was the precursor of a new exploiting régime on an international scale...

If the second prognosis proves to be correct, then, of course, the bureaucracy will become a new exploiting class. However onerous the second perspective may be, if the world proletariat should actually prove incapable of fulfilling the mission placed upon it by the course of development, nothing else would remain except openly to recognize that the socialist program based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended as a Utopia. It is self evident that a new “minimum” program would be required for the defense of the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic society.

But are there such incontrovertible or even impressive objective data as would compel us today to renounce the prospect of the socialist revolution? That is the whole question.”

It is clear that the adherents of the Third Camp have in practice followed Burnham at least part of the way already. Although, they retain the Maximum Demands for Socialist Revolution in their programmes, and publish theoretical pamphlets discussing the issue and organise annual Day Schools to discuss how these things might apply on paper, when it comes to day to day activity or responding to real events, it is clear that they have essentially given up on the idea of Socialist Revolution, at least for a very long time, if not altogether. Instead of the working-class occupying centre stage in the historical process the Third Campists instead act as cheerleaders for other forces, or look to those other forces to act, even to act on behalf of the workers.

So the “statification of the productive forces” is no longer something that has to be done by the working-class itself as part of a revolutionary transformation of society, but can be achieved within Capitalist Society, by Capitalist Governments and under the auspices of the Capitalist State.
Its no longer the role of the international working-class to organise itself across borders and to intervene in class struggles at a physical and political level, but something we have to look to some other force to undertake – cheerleading “democratic Imperialism” in one variety, or “anti-imperialist forces” in the other.
And rather than advocating a political struggle by workers rather than just an Economistic Trades Union struggle, the workers are at best expected to settle for bourgeois democracy as the best they can expect for now, and to endure the torture of some despotic “anti-imperialist” regime at worst. In other words, what the Third Campists are left with is as Trotsky predicted, “a new “minimum” program would be required for the defense of the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic society.
Except, its not just within these new forms of society that the Third Campists pursue this approach, but within even existing bourgeois democratic society, limiting themselves to an Economistic struggle for higher wages and better conditions, idealist notions about a transfer of wealth and power from the rich to the poor via taxation, which is the programme of Fabianism not of Marxism, and a tinkering around the edges in search of a more consistent bourgeois democracy, rather than the development of an alternative Workers Democracy, and Workers State, based on a developing economic and social power of Workers' Property.

In short, our task as Marxists is to reject all of these petit-bourgeois approaches that limit the aspiration and role of the working-class, and tie its fortunes to those of some other social group.
Our role is to help organise the working-class as an independent political force, capable of intervening not just to pursue goals which immediately are in its interests – such as the establishment or defence of basic bourgeois freedoms, but which at the same time furthers the development of the working-class as a class for itself, which develops its forms separate from those of the bossesseparate forms of property, separate forms of organisation, separate forms of democracy, and separate forms of State. That was the conclusion that Marx and Engels drew from their experiences in the Revolutions of 1848.

Forward To Part 2

1 comment:

Jacob Richter said...

Have you had the chance to read yet my People's Histories commentary, my recent Weekly Worker letter submissions, and my diagram?

Since you're touching upon Third World strategy, I elaborated upon my position in those documents.