Sunday, 26 January 2014

For A Political Revolution At The Co-op - Part 10

There is a similarity between all organisations big and small, whether it is a sports club, trade union, co-operative, or a society. But similarity does not mean they are the same. All of the former organisations exist within the last, each is conditioned by it, in a way that it is not conditioned by them. Marx criticises the Gotha Programme because,

“... instead of treating existing society (and this holds good for any future one) as the basis of the existing state (or of the future state in the case of future society), it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own intellectual, ethical, and libertarian bases.”

In a sentence this describes the problem of attempting to capture the state by a Political Revolution, as opposed to a Political Revolution flowing itself from the change in the class nature of the state, arising from a social revolution, which changes the underlying property and social relations. The Lassalleans believed that by securing control over the State, they would be free to utilise it to create Socialism. The same kind of view is put forward by the Fabians, and in a more dramatic manner by the Leninists. But, this is to treat the State as though it is an “independent entity”, something to be picked up and wielded like a club by its possessor, rather than as being what it is, something which itself is inextricably tied to and arises from the existing society.

Locke's Second Treatise on Government symbolises the point when
bourgeois ideas become dominant, yet that point when the state
 becomes a capitalist state, predates the Political Revolution that
gives direct control of the political regime to the bourgeoisie
by at least 150 years.
The feudal state does not exist as a feudal state, because feudalists seized control of it, any more than the capitalist state exists because capitalists seized it. These states exist because the economic reality of the society in which they exist, is based upon respectively feudal or capitalist forms of property and methods of production. The state exists as a feudal state or a capitalist state not because it is captured by feudalists or capitalists, but because the ideas it is led to defend, the ideas it is imbued with itself, are the dominant ideas of the society on which it is based, the ideas of the dominant social class, even if that class has not yet achieved outright control over the political regime itself, i.e. if the social revolution, which changes the class basis of the society and of the state has not yet been consummated via a Political Revolution.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels
describe how, as the economic and social position
of the bourgeoisie develops within feudalism, the
bourgeoisie also develop their own state organs,
continually pushing forward their own political
In fact, the idea that the State can be captured to be used in such a way is itself wholly at odds with Marx's theory of Historical Materialism. It is as though it were some kind of empty vessel into which different class content can be poured, modified so as to meet the other class's needs. But, of course, as Marx set out as far back as the Communist Manifesto, the revolutionary class does not capture the existing state at all. It develops its own class organs in opposition to the existing state as part of its own development and struggle against that state, over a long period of time. In the end, the existing state cannot be captured and utilised, but has to be smashed. As Marx says in “The Eighteenth Brumaire”, 

“ All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it. The parties, which alternately contended for domination, regarded the possession of this huge state structure as the chief spoils of the victor. 

But under the absolute monarchy, during the first Revolution, and under Napoleon the bureaucracy was only the means of preparing the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Under the Restoration, under Louis Philippe, under the parliamentary republic, it was the instrument of the ruling class, however much it strove for power of its own.”

This indeed is the essence of Bonapartism. The Bonapartist state, whether it is that of Cromwell, Bonaparte, Hitler or Stalin, however much it attempts to obtain power for itself, however much, indeed, its actions appear to amount to attacks on the ruling class (remember Lenin's seemingly contradictory statement about the Russian workers needing trades unions to defend them against their own state?), cannot escape the need to operate within the constraints of the economic and social relations which dominate the society, and thereby, objectively, to fulfil the role of “instrument of the ruling class, however much it strove for power of its own.”

Even within long-established bourgeois societies this contradiction manifests itself. The Capitalist class requires its own bureaucracy to administer its property, be it in the form of executives appointed as managers of its corporations, or state bureaucrats appointed to fulfil the same functions within the national and local state. On the one hand, this bureaucracy is constrained to operate within the requirements of the needs of capital. In the 1940's, Hayek had picked up on the arguments put forward by renegades from Marxism, like James Burnham and Max Shachtman, symbolised in "The Managerial Revolution", that these new bureaucracies were becoming a new global, managerial or bureaucratic collectivist class.  In the 1960's, with Hayek installed at the London School of Economics, this argument becomes codified as the so called Post-Capitalist Thesis, propounded by others at the LSE such as Ralf Dahrendorf.  There followed prolonged debate in which these ideas were soundly defeated by Marxists like Robin Blackburn, who demonstrated with a large volume of data, and argument, (see for example, "The New Capitalism") the point that Marx makes above, that however powerful these elites became they were constrained objectively to act in the interests of the ruling social class, because have to pursue the interests of the dominant forms of property within the society.  See the discussions here.

In fact, although the most capitalistic of nations, the US, has the most highly paid executives, it also has a high number of those executives, as happened at TYCO, Enron etc., who “strive for power of their own”, and attempt to pursue their own interests – its been argued that one reason for the lack of investment, currently in the US, by companies with huge cash piles (currently estimated at nearly $3 trillion) , is that their executives have more incentive to use the cash to buy back shares, to boost the value of their own share options – they have to do so in the limits of the interests of capital (unless they act illegally), and moreover, the US tends to be harder than most other developed economies in punishing such executives when they overstep the bounds.

In other words, even a powerful and entrenched ruling class, must have at its disposal means by which it keeps that bureaucracy in place, up to and including the use of a political revolution to replace a corrupt bureaucracy where its actions stray too far. That the process for workers in trying to exert control over their own bureaucracy represents an even more difficult task, when that bureaucracy, and its own organisations exist within a society that is dominated by its class enemy, is even more clear. That is not just a problem that arose at the Co-op Bank, but exists within all of the Labour Movement, as I will examine in Part 11.

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