Sunday, 19 January 2014

For A Political Revolution At The Co-op - Part 9

A part of the Trotskyist mythology is that Stalin came to power because the growth of the bureaucracy, born out of the backward conditions existing in Russia, created a social layer whose interests were reflected by Stalinism. This social layer flooded into the Party, as part of the “Lenin Levy” organised by Stalin after Lenin's death. Although, as with most myths, there is some truth in this, the whole truth is more complex.

Trotsky, indeed points out that the first choice of this bureaucratic social layer, for its political representative was not Stalin, but Trotsky himself. Stalin was seen as rather crude, more the practical organiser than the thinker and intellectual, to which the petit-bourgeois elements of the bureaucracy more naturally had an affinity. Trotsky tells us that this bureaucracy even approached him in that role, but having been rebuffed swung behind Stalin. But again, the truth is more complex. Some years ago, in the the second edition of the journal Critique, published in 1973, David Law, described the actual sources of support within the Party for Stalin and for the Left Opposition of Trotsky.

“Besides considerable strength in Moscow, perhaps even an actual majority, the Opposition had managed to capture Party organisations in Ryazan, Penza, Kaluga, Simbirsk and Chelyabinsk. The Opposition’s strength in these provincial towns was plausibly attributed to there being, in those centres, a predominance of Party officials transferred as a reprisal for their dissident opinions. In Moscow the strength of the Opposition lay in the State administration (particularly in economic bodies), and student cells. The opposition was comparatively weak amongst the working class. No doubt this was partly a result of the past record of various members of the Opposition on questions of industrial management, and also partly because questions of immediate working class interest, such as wages, were not given any prominence. Whatever the reasons, in Moscow, at a time when it was gaining majorities among the students, the Opposition could only win 67 out of 346 cells of industrial workers.” (p 47)

Indeed, one of those whose past record “on questions of industrial management” did not endear him to the workers, was Trotsky himself. Trotsky and his supporters had been in control of Transport, and their record of management showed no less indication of bureaucratism than that of the Stalinists in other departments. Indeed, Trotsky came into conflict with Lenin himself over his proposals for the militarisation of labour, which he introduced in Transport, and over the role of Trades Unions. Trotsky believed that the Trades Unions should act as little more than transmission belts for the ideas of the state, rather than continuing to act as independent means of the workers to defend themselves against the Workers' State. Lenin pointed out what was wrong with this.

“Our Party Programme—a document which the author of the ABC of Communism knows very well—shows that ours is a workers’ state with a bureaucratic twist to it. We have had to mark it with this dismal, shall I say, tag. There you have the reality of the transition. Well, is it right to say that in a state that has taken this shape in practice the trade unions have nothing to protect, or that we can do without them in protecting the material and spiritual interests of the massively organised proletariat? No, this reasoning is theoretically quite wrong. It takes us into the sphere of abstraction or an ideal we shall achieve in 15 or 20 years’ time, and I am not so sure that we shall have achieved it even by then. What we actually have before us is a reality of which we have a good deal of knowledge, provided, that is, we keep our heads, and do not let ourselves be carried away by intellectualist talk or abstract reasoning, or by what may appear to be “theory” but is in fact error and misapprehension of the peculiarities of transition. We now have a state under which it is the business of the massively organised proletariat to protect itself, while we, for our part, must use these workers’ organisations to protect the workers from their state, and to get them to protect our state. Both forms of protection are achieved through the peculiar interweaving of our state measures and our agreeing or “coalescing” with our trade unions.” 

In other words, Lenin, for whom “The truth is always concrete”, was well aware, even in 1920, that this Workers' State, that they had brought into being, was a Workers State from which the workers themselves had to be protected! That is a dialectical contradiction, of course, that the formalists of Third Campism cannot grasp. Indeed, its a large part of their subjectivist reasoning for describing the actual state that was created as not being a Workers State, because it contradicts the syllogistic purity of their reasoning. On the same basis the sectarianism, which such a mindset engenders, because it constantly has to confront a real world where its Ideal is not realised, is also fed whenever real workers in the real world fail in their attempts to change it, for example, when their attempts to create worker owned property is frustrated, or when in some particular instance, such worker owned property comes into conflict with the workers themselves. But Lenin himself had gone along with the militarisation of labour in transport, introduced by Trotsky, and for very simple reasons. Transport, in particular the railway industry, was one of the most developed industries of the time. It had high levels of mechanisation, which required the most educated, most skilled workers, and as was the case elsewhere, it was these workers that had comprised the backbone of the Labour Movment. But, in Russia, those more advanced, better educated, more skilled workers traditionally belonged to the Mensheviks, whereas the Bolsheviks were mostly made up of the more recent workers, unskilled industrial workers recently recruited from the countryside. In fact, it is this rootlessness that everywhere tends to lead to such elements forming the most radicalised but also most volatile elements in times of revolt.

Given the importance of Transport to the economy, it is fairly clear why Lenin and the Bolsheviks could not sit by and allow the transport workers themselves to have control of the industry, because to do so would be to hand a crucial lever over to the Menshevik opponents of Bolshevism. But, this basic contradiction, also highlighted in the faction fight between Lenin and the Workers Opposition of Kollontai, is symptomatic of the basic contradiction that arises when such a revolution is carried out from above rather than arising from the actions of the workers themselves from below. It is the same contradiction that arises in Co-ops where ownership and control resides not directly with the workers of the enterprise themselves.

In Part 10, I will look at how Marx's analysis of the state and of Bonapartism explains these relations, whether they exist within society, a social club, a Trade Union or a Co-operative.

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