Thursday, 4 May 2017

Social-Democracy, Bonapartism and Permanent Revolution, Chapter 11 – Results and Prospects (5)

Chapter 11 – Results and Prospects

Part 5

How then can we summarise the current situation? The dominant form of property is socialised capital, which exists in a variety of forms from the worker-owned co-operative, through employee owned enterprises, consumer co-ops, and through to the limited liability company, multinational corporation, and state owned enterprises. To use Marx's terminology, in Capital III, the capital in all these forms is the property of the associated producers within the firm.

But, except in the case of the worker owned co-operative, these associated producers – the workers and managers – do not have control of the property. Control rests with boards of directors placed above the functioning capitalists. In the case of corporations, these boards of directors are appointed by shareholders, which, in practice, means that less than 0.1% of the population that owns the controlling proportion of company shares. In the case of nationalised industries, the directors are appointed by the state, but these directors are invariably drawn from the same pool as, and frequently interchangeable with, the directors of corporations.

The USSR, and other deformed workers' states, represented simply the rational and mature form of this relation, whereby all major productive wealth, in society, was owned by the workers, but was in the possession of the state, with whom control also rested. In this sense, it was social-democracy without the democracy. There is another sense in which the deformed workers' states are the mature form of this relation. As the dominant form of property, this socialised capital determines the economic and social relations of society. The personification of this socialised capital is the functioning capitalist, the professional day to day managers, technicians, and administrators and bureaucrats.

It was this middle class social layer that formed the basis of the Stalinist state bureaucracy. It was bureaucratic, technocratic and meritocratic, seeing society as a machine it had to maintain and regulate, and in line with the Hobbesian idea, discussed earlier, it selected the brightest and best from each generation to succeed it.

As Michael Clarke put it,

“The social base of state socialism lies in the stratum of intellectual workers, including such groups as managers, administrators, scientists, technicians, engineers, social workers and teachers as well as the intelligentsia more narrowly defined.” These groups believe that the key to a more just society lies “in their mobilisation of their technical, administrative and intellectual expertise... The ability of this stratum to achieve its rationalist ambitions depends on its having access to positions of social and political power.” 

(“Crisis of Socialism Or Crisis Of the State?”, in Capital & Class 42, Winter 1990 )

This is one reason that this state bureaucracy could never have formed a ruling class, or even a ruling caste, because its personnel were continually being refreshed with each generation. In the old dynastic regimes of the Asiatic Mode of Production, as Barrington Moore describes, it was quite common for members of the ruling caste, which took centuries to form, and was kept in place with a whole series of laws and taboos, to adopt bright children from peasant backgrounds, to nurture, where they saw them as the best hope of passing the exams required to get into the bureaucracy, but by and large that was still an exception.

If we take the last Politburo of the USSR, it comprised, in 1990,

Burokevicius, Gumbaridze, Gorbachev, Gurenko, Dzasokhov, Ivashko, Karimov, Luchinsky, Masaliyev, Makhkamov, Movsisyan, Mutalibov, Nazarbayev, Niyazov, Polozkov, Prokofyev, Rubiks, Semyonova, Sillari, Ye. Sokolov, Stroyev, Frolov, Shenin and Yanayev elected members of the Politburo at the Central Committee plenum 1990. 

At least two of these grew up in Soviet state orphanages. The backgrounds of the rest do not fit the bill of people that came from families that were high ranking Soviet bureaucrats or members of some new ruling class. At best their parents appear to have been doctors or similar workers.

As Mary Macaulay (“Politics and the Soviet Union”) says, if entry into the bureaucracy, through educational achievement, is to be seen as the main basis of the reproduction of a new ruling class then the prime candidate for this new ruling class would, in fact, be not the bureaucracy itself, but the intelligentsia. Yet it was from within the ranks of this intelligentsia that probably most opposition to the regime came, in the form of samizdat papers, and the works of prominent dissidents. Moreover, as Macaulay points out, educational achievement did not necessarily mean a career within the bureaucracy. It was equally, if not more likely, that such educated children would themselves enter a career in one of the academies, or in education, or the arts.

But, in any case, as Macaulay points out, and as the details of the Politburo – which, if there was going to be any indication of a new class reproducing itself, would be the first place it would be manifested – and it is only in the Politburo where the condition of “controlling” the social surplus can be said to exist, in any meaningful sense – demonstrate, the idea of a self perpetuating new bureaucratic class simply is refuted.

And as Macaulay puts it in relation to this new class being broader than this small group,

“These are taken to be the “controllers” of production, the functionaries of the State who prevent the working class from exerting political and economic control. The trouble with this is that it is difficult to see the sense in which this ‘bureaucracy’ does stand in a specific relationship to the means of production – that the relationship of the industrial minister, official of the local soviet, and enterprise director have anything in common one with another – or the sense in which the majority can be said to ‘control’ the means of production. If one uses the ‘relationship to the means of production’ criterion, it is difficult to distinguish anything more than the very small ruling circles. If one drops that criterion and simply uses ‘bureaucracy’ in its usual sense of administrative officials paid by the State, one ends up with an enormous category ranging from accountants in enterprises and head teachers to secretariat and ministerial officials. But any definition that produces a category which includes the privileged leading personnel and the lower ranks of the administrative or industrial apparatus runs into the problem of specifying the common aim of such a ‘class.’” 

(p. 314-5) 

As Macaulay points out some within such a group actually fared worse materially than the members of other alternative privileged groups.

Because they base themselves on an objective analysis, a materialist analysis, Marxists can fairly easily set out the criteria for belonging to say the capitalist class or the working class. There may be disputes at the margin as to whether this or that individual is a capitalist or a petit-bourgeois, but they are at the margin. The problem for those that propose the new class theories is that they never specify who the members of this new class are. They cannot do so because they cannot specify the criteria that has to be fulfilled to belong to this new class. Once they specify any criteria, it turns out that the reality of the USSR was different from the reality that would have been required for any such class to exist.

The facts are that the highest ranks of the USSR were drawn from children of working class and poor peasant backgrounds. Entry into the lower ranks of the ‘bureaucracy’ from children from poor backgrounds is likely to be even more evident.

Macaulay comments,

And indeed the twenties, thirties and forties were a time of rapid social mobility. Those young men of the thirties who survived the Stalin period and since his death have occupied the commanding posts in society come predominantly from poor backgrounds. To them this feature of Soviet society is very important.”

(p. 309)

As Alec Nove has pointed out in his writings, critiques of the USSR from Trotskyists or the New Left have always suffered from a desire to distance itself and stand in opposition to Stalinism – understandably so – and a consequent bias against an objective assessment of the reality of the economic and social relations existing within that society. The two positions adopted by the ‘orthodox’ and Schactmanite Trotskyists are easily identified as stemming from a common desire to cling to Leninist orthodoxy.

“59 percent of Politburo members (both candidate and full) were of rural origins, while 41 percent were urban. Interestingly, the first members of the Politburo were predominantly from urban areas. For instance, on the 9th Politburo, two out of eight (Trotsky and Mikhail Kalinin) were born in rural areas. From the 1930s onwards, the majority of Politburo members had a father who worked either as a peasant or as a worker. This is strange, considering that one would assume a rise in representation of the intelligentsia as the Soviet Union became more advanced. From 1960s onwards the majority of new members had workers background, as expected. What is strange, however, is that from 1975 to 1981, a sudden increase of people of peasant background took place. When looking at first profession, the majority of members had worked as workers, but the majority of them had attended higher education later in their life (the majority of them choosing engineering). 43 percent of Politburo members attained higher education credentials during their life, while in a close second place, 32 percent of members earned an education in technical engineering." 

The need to see the deformed workers' states as some kind of new class state, derives from the Trotskyist desire to avoid recognising that they, in fact, flowed from the Leninist conception of the political revolution, in conditions where the revolutionary class was absolutely weak, and where, thereby a Bonapartist regime was inevitably going to rise up above civil society.

As Clarke cites, in the article referred to earlier,

“For the working-class the Party is a means of mobilising and generalising its opposition to capital and its state, and of building autonomous forms of collective organisation, while for the intellectual stratum it is a means of achieving power over capital and the state... As soon as the party has secured state power, by whatever means, it has fulfilled its positive role as far as the intellectual stratum is concerned. The latter's task is now to consolidate and exploit its position of power to secure the implementation of the Party's programme in the interests of the 'working class'. Once the Party has seized power, any opposition it encounters from the working class is immediately identified as sectional or factional opposition to the interests of the working class as a whole, the latter being identified with the Party as its self-conscious representative.” 


This link between social democracy and Stalinism was also raised by Hal Draper.

“The distinction between the Bolshevik and social democratic variants of state socialism should not be ignored, but it is more a matter of degree than of substance. The 'degeneration' of the Russian Revolution was not a matter of Lenin's intolerance, nor of Trotsky's militarism, nor of Stalin's personality, nor of the economic backwardness nor of the relatively small size of the Russian working class, nor of the autocratic character of the Russian State, nor of the embattled position of the revolutionary regime, although all these factors played their part in determining the extent of the degeneration. The degeneration was already inherent in the class character of the revolution which underlay the statist conception of socialism which it adopted as its project.” 

(The Two Souls of Socialism)

Table of Contents

Part 4

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