An Anarchist Critique of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy

by Wayne Price on April 2, 2013

Both Marxism and anarchism come out of the 19th century workers’ and socialist movements. They shared certain goals:  the end of classes and of capitalism, the end of the state, and of all oppression. They believed that these goals would be achieved through the international revolution of the working class, in alliance with all oppressed sections of society. They both advocated the formation of labor unions (their practical dispute was over whether to also form electoral workers’ parties). And they both have been historical failures, in that neither has led to successful, lasting, working class revolutions—so far. Yet they have been at odds since the bitter faction fight which blew up the First International, between the forces led by Karl Marx and those of Michael Bakunin, primary founder of anarchism as a movement.

In discussing the relationship of anarchism and Marxism, it can be worthwhile to focus on their views of political economy. I write this although I am not a Marxist. I do not accept the whole of Marx’s world-view, even though I find much of it to be valuable. (And I am certainly not an economist of any sort.) I regard myself as a “Marxist-informed anarchist”  (see Price 2013a; 2013b)

When I write of “Marxism,” I focus on the Marxism of Marx and Engels. In politics, this means those who believe that “the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself.” In economic analysis, I look to what Murray Smith (1994) calls “fundamentalist value analysis.” He refers to those theorists who use Marx’s labor theory of value/law of value as well as the tendency of the rate of profit to fall—and, I would add, who accept Marx and Engels’ concept of state capitalism (for example, Paul Mattick Jr. [2011], Andrew Kliman [2012], Walter Daum [1990], and Loren Goldner [2009]).

By “anarchism,” I refer to what Schmidt & van der Walt (2009) in Black Flame call the “broad anarchist tradition,” of revolutionary, class-struggle, socialist-anarchism. This aims to replace the state with a federation of workplace councils and neighborhood assemblies and to replace capitalism with a federation of self-managing workplaces, industries, associations, and communities.

How Does Capitalism Work?

Radical political economy actually covers two related topics. (1)  A critical analysis of how capitalism works, and (2) suggestions for alternate economic systems; visions of post-capitalist, post-revolution, economies. It is my opinion that Marx’s economic critique is highly useful for (1), and that the anarchist program is essential for (2). Of course, anarchism makes contributions to the first topic and Marxism has something to say about the second; it is a matter of emphasis.

As to “how capitalism works,” anarchists have never worked out a full system of political economy. Proudhon (the first person to call himself an anarchist) made a beginning, but neither he nor anyone else elaborated a developed system. Instead, anarchists have often used Marx’s economic theories. This has been true since Bakunin, despite his political conflicts with Marx. As Black Flame states,

“…Anarchism is deeply imprinted with elements of classical Marxism—specifically Marxist economics….In Bakunin’s view…a sufficiently rigorous analysis of capitalism…was to be found in Marx’s economic analyses, and Bakunin praised Marx’s economics as ‘an analysis so profound, so luminous, so scientific, so decisive…’ that no apologist for capitalism had yet succeeded in refuting it” (van der Walt & Schmidt, 2009; pp. 83, 85).

Suppose anarchists reject Marx’s critique of political economy, perhaps due to the evil history of Stalinism. Since there is no developed “anarchist economics” in this sense, the only alternative is bourgeois economics, in its liberal-Keynesian or its far-right versions. These approaches serve to justify capitalism, and to advise capitalist politicians to do what they want to do anyway. The system this endorses has its own monstrous evils, of wars, dictatorships, and ecological destruction. It is in no way superior to the crimes committed by Marxists. Its theories are much less accurate.

There have long been minorities among Marxists which base themselves on the libertarian, anti-statist, and radically democratic aspects of Marx’s work. This started with William Morris, the British friend of both Engels and Kropotkin. It included the Council Communists (denounced by Lenin as “infantile leftists”), the “Johnson-Forest Tendency” (C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya), the early Socialisme ou Barbarie, the Italian “workerists,” and others. Today they would be called “autonomous Marxists,” Left Communists, “libertarian communists,” or “libertarian Marxists.”

I am not arguing that this minority had a  “correct” interpretation of Marx’s theories, as opposed, say, to Mao’s understanding. (In my opinion, both the libertarian and authoritarian Marxists root themselves in real aspects of Marx’s theory, which had both libertarian-humanistic-proletarian aspects and authoritarian-bureaucratic aspects.) Nor do I necessarily agree with all of their theories. I merely point to the empirical reality that it has been possible to hold to Marx’s economic theories while advocating a politics very close to that of revolutionary anarchism.

After Capitalism?

The second topic is that of a post-capitalist vision. Marxism is weak in this area on purpose. Agreeing with Marx, Draper states,

“…From early on, Marx and Engels habitually stated their political aim not in terms of a desired change in social system (socialism) but in terms of a change in class power (proletarian rule)….The revolutionary program is defined in terms of a new class ascendency;…the revolution is not the adoption of a certain social schema”  (Draper, 1978; pp. 24, 27, 28).

But for the anarchists, there was no such gap between means and ends. For anarchists, the  purpose of the “change in class power,”  the winning of “a new class ascendency” of “proletarian rule,” was in order to “change [the] social system,” to adopt “a certain social schema,” namely libertarian socialism–and for no other reason. A good deal of discussion went into consideration of what such a society would be like, as opposed to the Marx”s view which sort of told the workers to take power and then we will see.

Like Marx, revolutionary anarchists are also for the workers and oppressed “taking power” and dismantling the state and capitalism. They were for the workers  ruling through a non-state association of popular councils and an armed people (so long as is necessary). What they object to is “taking state power,” that is, setting up a new bureaucratic-military alienated social machine to rule over the workers and all others. This was not Marx’s goal, but it became what Marxists did. (See Price 2007.)

This is connected with Marx’s non-moralism. You may read through many volumes of Marx and Engels and never find a statement that socialism is morally right or that workers and others should be for socialism. In fact, their writings, like their lives, are full of moral passion, but it is not part of their theory. Anarchists, whatever their failings, always saw their social goals as justified in terms of moral values. Kropotkin tried to work out a naturalistic ethics. They did not counterpose this to the social pressures which push the working class toward socialist revolution, but neither did they feel that these historical processes are enough by themselves to justify a revolution.

Marx’s Critique of Political Economy

It is not possible to summarize Marx’s economic theories here (see Price 2013a). He sought to understand how capitalism worked, in order to explain it to the working class and its allies, to aid them in making a total revolution. He demonstrated how the workers were exploited by the capitalists; how capitalism had been established through looting and violence; why the economy went through business cycles, with crashes at the end; why firms became ever larger, more monopolistic, more merged with the state, and more financialized; and why industrial capitalism developed an ecological “rift” between humanity and its “metabolism” with nature. He demonstrated how capitalism created a technology which had an ever greater potential for plenty for all, increased leisure for all, unalienated craftswork, ecological balance, and the abolition of the class division between order givers and order takers. Yet this same technology was used by capitalism to increase oppression and alienation, to create vast pools of poverty throughout the world, to make possible total wars of vast devastation and ecological destruction beyond all imagining.

Finally, he showed how this system had produced an agent capable of saving humanity:  the international working class or proletariat.

There is much dispute over whether Marx and Engels thought that proletarian revolution must inevitably happen, or whether they saw this as something which could happen, if the working class made a decision. They wrote things which could be interpreted either way. The classical social democratic Marxists and the later Stalinists interpreted them as saying that revolution was inevitable. Others believed that they saw it as a historical decision for the working class: “socialism or barbarism,” in the words of Rosa Luxemburg. Anarchists prefer the latter interpretation. But there is a strong trend toward teleological determinism in Marx’s work.

Marx presents socialism not just as something which would be nice, a pretty picture of a better society. His work tells us that socialist revolution is necessary, something we must have, if we are to avoid economic collapse, ecological/ environmental/ energy catastrophe, and/or ever worse wars–up to nuclear wars. The post-World War II “prosperity” has been over since about 1970 and society has returned to the conditions of the epoch of capitalist decay. (At this point, had I more space and time, I would  go into a discussion of working class consciousness, the relation of a revolutionary minority to the broader majority, and related issues. See Price, 2010.)

The Goal of Socialism/Communism

The socialist-anarchist (anarchist-communist) goal of a new society would be cooperative, with production for use, and would be radically democratic. While there would be delegates and representatives where necessary in the larger society, democracy would be a “way of life” at the local level, with people taking part in direct, face-to-face self-management of their neighborhoods and their jobs and their voluntary associations. It would be an experimental society, with people trying out various ways of organizing themselves to achieve various ends. Different regions, different industries, different communities, would be free to try various ways of self-organizing. One region might be somewhat more centralized, another more decentralized; one would go directly to full communism and another might try paying workers with credits for hourly labor. One region may try out a participatory economics (“Parecon”) system and another may try out a system without money or credits. And so on.

Marx and Engels wrote little about the communist goal. They focused on the workers’ seizure of power and they expected the historical process to take care of socialism, once the workers were in power. But by scouring their work, it is possible to find a program. They expected the workers’ revolution to replace the capitalist state with a much more democratic state, but still a state. This would nationalize most of the industrial economy and develop a centralized economic plan. While they regarded nationalization by a capitalist state as state capitalism (because that state was an agency of capital accumulation and exploitation), this new institution would be a “workers’ state.”  They expected this state to lose its coercive traits, as more people participated in its activities and as the former bourgeoisie die off or are assimilated. It would become a noncoercive “public authority” for coordinating the economy. (Again, this is not so much a program as a prediction of what would happen once the workers seized power.)

Anarchists have always thought that this approach, which they called “state socialism,” would in practice actually create “state capitalism.”  Instead they advocated worker and community managed industries to federate from the bottom-up.

A problem with Marx’s approach appeared when history produced mass-murdering state capitalist regimes which called themselves “socialist” or “communist.”  They were the product of the historical process. They had nationalized property (although the capital-labor relationship remained). Therefore most revolutionary socialists regarded them as “really existing socialism,” despite their shortcomings. Marxism had no moral standard by which to judge them.

Conclusion: Two Revolutions

The socialist revolution is qualitatively different from the bourgeois revolution. In the bourgeois revolution, what is centrally necessary is to clear away the obstacles to the semi-automatic workings of the market, releasing its “invisible hand” from the constraints of the bureaucratic state, the aristocracy, and the guilds. It dares not tell the truth to the people, that one ruling class will be replaced by another.

The socialist revolution is not automatic. It requires the working class and its allies among the oppressed to be fully conscious of what they are doing. It requires forethought, class consciousness, theoretical and practical awareness, and moral clarity. No one can stand in for the workers. No state, no vanguard, can “represent” them. They must attain freedom by themselves, for themselves. This is the program of libertarian socialism.



Daum, Walter (1990). The Life and Death of Stalinism; A Resurrection of Marxist Theory. NY: Socialist Voice Publishing Co.

Draper, Hal (1978). Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution; Vol. II:  The Politics of Social Classes. NY: Monthly Review Press.

Goldner, Loren (2009). “On the October Surprise”. Situations. Vol. 3, no. 1. Pp. 35 – 64.

Kliman, Andrew (2012). The Failure of Capitalist Production; Underlying Causes of the Great Recession. NY: Pluto Press.

Mattick, Paul Jr. (2011). Business as Usual; The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism. London: Reaktion Books.

Price, Wayne (2007). The Abolition of the State: Anarchist and Marxist Perspectives. Bloomington IN:  AuthorHouse.

Price, Wayne (2010). Anarchism and Socialism:  Reformism or Revolution?  Edmonton, Alberta: Thoughtcrime Ink.

Price, Wayne (2013a). The Value of Radical Theory; An Anarchist Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. Oakland: AK Press.

Price, Wayne (2013b). “Living through the Decline of Capitalism”Review of The Endless Crisis; How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China, by John Bellamy Foster & Robert W. McChesney

Smith, Murray E.G. (1994). Invisible Leviathan: The Marxist Critique of Market Despotism beyond Postmodernism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Van der Walt, Lucien, & Schmidt, Michael (2009). Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism; Counterpower; Vol. 1. Oakland CA:  AK Press.

  • http://communism.blogsport.eu negative potential

    WTF?! The title is completely misleading. This has nothing to do with a critique of Marx’s critique of political economy.

    It’s merely the gazillionth iteration of the anarchist critique of Marxist politics. Boring.

    Somebody buy Wayne Price a copy of Michael Heinrich’s _Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital_ so he can see how an engagement with Marx looks like outside of the stultifying orthodoxies of both “orthodox” Marxism and anarchism.

  • David Berger

    WAYNE PRICE: [Marxists] expected this [workers] state to lose its coercive traits, as more people participated in its activities and as the former bourgeoisie die off or are assimilated. It would become a noncoercive “public authority” for coordinating the economy. (Again, this is not so much a program as a prediction of what would happen once the workers seized power.)

    Anarchists have always thought that this approach, which they called “state socialism,” would in practice actually create “state capitalism.” Instead they advocated worker and community managed industries to federate from the bottom-up.

    DAVID BERGER: Frankly, I have never understood this critique. The notion that a “workers state would in practice actually create ,state capitalism'” has to be proven. I have always felt that at the heart of this anarchist notion lies a fear of the working class as being inadequate to its historic task of transforming society.

    • http://skepoet.wordpress.com/ C. Derick Varn

      David, I would ask for some clarification on this from Wayne Price on a few key subjects:

      Is it class relationships of exploitation that make something “capitalism” or some other notion of value that is at hand: “State capitalism” is not just a matter of workers control, as is made pretty clear in the Critique of the Gotha Program, but on the way value is exploited. So to critique class nature of the situation as the sole problem would be say that any class exploitation is capitalism. This seems a little lacking of nuance. For example, Stalin turns to a critique of value and tries to socialize the exploitation of surplus value instead of trying to end it. That is clear in his writings on value from the late 1920s forward. What can call that state capitalism, but if it is labor exploitation that is the issue, then this could happen under worker’s control too: the gap between means and ends would still be there, no?

      There is no reason to assume automatically that any of this by necessity becomes “state capitalism” unless the definition of capitalism is much weaker than normally assumed.

  • Wayne

    I am happy that my mini-essay was published on North Star and look forward to the promised other essays on this topic. I am attempting to have a discussion about the interrelation of anarchism and Marxism. The only two people who have responded so far will have none of it. They are simply dismissive. While Negative Potential has a point that my title seems to promise more than I cover, the essay does go over more than just politics. However, it is just a little essay, and not a whole book. Therefore it cannot cover as much as the Heinrich book he compares it to. Which is why I refer readers to my other books and another essay.
    David Berger does not understand, and “[has] never understood,” the anarchist rejection of “workers’ states” as leading to state capitalism. He ignores my stated support for a federation of workers’ councils and neighborhood assemblies to replace the state. If we define the “state” as a “socially alienated bureaucratic-miitary-police machine,” as I do, then it is obvious that the working class cannot use such an instrument (unlike previous new ruling classes, which were exploitative minorities) and there can be no such thing as a “workers’ state.” In any case, it is a historical fact that every state established by Marxists has become a totalitarian, oppressive, counterrevolutionary machine (which I describe as state-capitalist). It is you, not I, who have to explain how this has happened and why it won’t happen again on your program!

    • David Berger

      WAYNE PRICE: David Berger does not understand, and “[has] never understood,” the anarchist rejection of “workers’ states” as leading to state capitalism.

      DAVID BERGER: Correct.

      WAYNE PRICE: He ignores my stated support for a federation of workers’ councils and neighborhood assemblies to replace the state.

      DAVID BERGER: That, Comrade, is not a replacement for the state. It is a state. You can disguise it in any way you want, but it is an expression of class power and therefore a state. It will, if necessary, engaged in armed repression of counter-revolutionaries, allocate resources, etc. It’s a state.

      WAYNE PRICE: If we define the “state” as a “socially alienated bureaucratic-miitary-police machine,” as I do, then it is obvious that the working class cannot use such an instrument (unlike previous new ruling classes, which were exploitative minorities) and there can be no such thing as a “workers’ state.”

      DAVID BERGER: But who in their right mind wants a state like that? Who wants a socialist state like that? Unless you can find a few unreconstructed maoists or stalinists, you are beating a dead horse.

      WAYNE PRICE: In any case, it is a historical fact that every state established by Marxists has become a totalitarian, oppressive, counterrevolutionary machine (which I describe as state-capitalist).

      DAVID BERGER: It is also a fact that the one time that an anarchist party played a crucial role in history, during the Spanish Civil War, it engaged in disastrous class collaboration.

      WAYNE PRICE: It is you, not I, who have to explain how this has happened and why it won’t happen again on your program!

      DAVID BERGER: Since you and I were once comrades in the old IS, I’ll be charitable. You know full well that the IS tendency, which is a major Marxist tendency, in the form of the ISO, Solidarity, etc., has never stood for an authoritarian state, does not advocate such a state and would fight against such a state. That’s why it won’t happen — politics, not just IS politics but the evolved politics of Marxists today. In my opinion, if Occupy Wall Street was any example, we have more to fear from the bureaucracies that might develop from anarchist practices than from the practice of present-day Marxists.

      To generalize, I think you are fighting a political battle that was over by about 1990 when the stalinist states were finished.

  • http://skepoet.wordpress.com/ C. Derick Varn

    Over a year ago, I did an interview with Dr. Price on similar topics (http://skepoet.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/marginalia-on-radical-thinking-interview-with-wayne-price/), and I thought his understanding of the failures of some ends of the anarchist movement as briefly as they were expressed was pretty insightful, but I also thought that this characterization of Marx seemed to miss a little of what I saw implied by the Critique of the Gotha Program, and a key point about what Capitalism is in Das Kapital.

    Value theory here is at key: state capitalism would have to be focused solely on the extraction of surplus labor value instead of modifying the fundamental economic form. (I hope here to avoid the never-ending Trotskyist debates on deformed worker’s states and state capitalism). Now we do have evidence that Stalin actually didn’t understand this when he tried to turn the “law of value” into a platform of the Soviet economy, but that still places the problem within a misunderstanding of capitalism, not necessarily the political forms involved. Collectivizing the surplus value would be a problem whether it was bottom up or top down–which means syndicalism alone would not meet the requirements.

  • Mondor

    Agree with user “negative potential” above. This really doesn’t even scratch the surface of Marx’s critique of political economy. Also, agree that anyone interested in clarifying Capital should read the Heinrich introduction.

    Citations on the descriptions of Marx would be nice too. Seems like Price is amalgamating ideas from throughout Marx’s ouvre without noting their development.

    Last thing, on the idea that no one “developed” Proudhon’s system: Marx himself first praised and learned from, then completely surpassed and tore apart Proudhon’s attempt. Read the Poverty of Philosophy if you want to see why there is no subsequent “development” of Proudhon’s theory: it was a dead end. It didn’t go anywhere precisely because he relied, as Price is proud to do as well, on a vague ideal (“equality”) rather than on a rigorous investigation into the object on inquiry.

  • Arthur

    The list of references makes it obvious that the author has no intention of actually reading Marx.

    I agree that Marx’s demolition of Proudhonism in “The Poverty of Philosophy” would be useful to the author. Engels “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” would be an easier read.

    But what can one do with an anarchist who simply WILL NOT read ANY primary sources on Marxism?

    Given the fascination with “Stalinism”, perhaps he might be persuaded to read Stalin’s Anarchism or Socialsm. Its very short and focuses on the political issues the author actually cares about rather than the economics referenced only in the title.

    Here’s a “taster”:

    “We are not the kind of people who, when the word “anarchism” is mentioned, turn away contemptuously and say with a supercilious wave of the hand: “Why waste time on that, it’s not worth talking about!” We think that such cheap “criticism” is undignified and useless.

    Nor are we the kind of people who console themselves with the thought that the Anarchists “have no masses behind them and, therefore, are not so dangerous.” It is not who has a larger or smaller “mass” following today, but the essence of the doctrine that matters. If the “doctrine” of the Anarchists expresses the truth, then it goes without saying that it will certainly hew a path for itself and will rally the masses around itself. If, however, it is unsound and built up on a false foundation, it will not last long and will remain suspended in mid-air. But the unsoundness of anarchism must be proved.”

    http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1906/12/x01.htm

  • Etta

    “The emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself.”

    Maybe in theory. But in practice, Marx wasn’t a worker. His praxis was more like what he said here: “The head of this emancipation is philosophy, its heart the proletariat.” Which is to say, he saw himself (perhaps unconsciously) as yet another philosopher king, leading the proletariat. Small wonder if those who picked up where he left off ended up creating new hierarchies.

    • David Berger

      I wonder why the comrade is choosing to distort Marx? The quote of above is from the Introduction to the Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of the Right. It is an early work of Marx, written in 1843, five years before the Manifesto, and he more-or-less uses the word “philosophy” as a synonym for “theory.” The full quote, which demonstrates the importance of philosophy/theory for the working class, is below.

      A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
Introduction

      The only liberation of Germany which is practically possible is liberation from the point of view of that theory which declares man to be the supreme being for man. Germany can emancipate itself from the Middle Ages only if it emancipates itself at the same time from the partial victories over the Middle Ages. In Germany, no form of bondage can be broken without breaking all forms of bondage. Germany, which is renowned for its thoroughness, cannot make a revolution unless it is a thorough one. The emancipation of the German is the emancipation of man. The head of this emancipation is philosophy, its heart the proletariat. Philosophy cannot realize itself without the transcendence [Aufhebung] of the proletariat, and the proletariat cannot transcend itself without the realization [Verwirklichung] of philosophy.

      http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm

      • Etta

        Sorry, but how do you feel Marx’s practice, as a theorist attempting to guide the proletariat, contradicts the apparent meaning of the selection? I’ve read the original, of course, so you needn’t quote it at me.

        • David Berger

          ETTA: Sorry, but how do you feel Marx’s practice, as a theorist attempting to guide the proletariat, contradicts the apparent meaning of the selection? I’ve read the original, of course, so you needn’t quote it at me.

          DAVID BERGER: What you are basically stating, I think, is that because Marx wasn’t a worker, his notion of philosophy and its relationship to the working class are basically elitist. There is no basis in history for this notion. Marx participated in the struggles of the working class for all of his adult life.

          Marx was irascible, difficult and often overbearing, according to various biographies. And he was dedicated to the self-emancipation of the working class and the liberation of mankind from the yoke of all despotisms. There is no basis calling Marx a philosopher king over the proletariat (and sneaking in the notion that he might have considered himself so unconsciously is politically dishonest).

  • Wayne

    Let me focus on two issues which are being raised here, that of the “workers’ state” and that of “state capitalism” and the law of value. Neither of my views on these topics is necessarily “anarchist” as opposed to “left communist,” say. (I will only note the strange comments of Arthur who is absolute sure that I never read Marx, and who cites, as an authority on anarchism, Stalin! What, you couldn’t find a quotation from Hitler?)

    (1) What I and most anarchists (in the tradition of the Friends of Durruti, anyway) are for, is, as I said, a federation of workplace councils and neighborhood assemblies, with a popular militia. Is this a “workers’ state?” Not by the definition of a state made by Engels in The Origins of the State…. and quoted by Lenin in State & Revolution. This defined the state as a bureaucratic-military machine above society. This is why Engels, at one point, said that the Commune was “no longer” a state “as such.”

    Now I do not want to quibble over words. The issue became practical when Lenin and Trotsky and friends took power. Within a year or so they established a one-party police state dictatorship (both before and after the civil war). And yes, Dave, when we were in the IS (wasn’t sure it was you, since you have such a common name), all the I.S. Trotskyists regarded this as a pretty good “workers’ state” and were willing to establish something like that if circumstances required it. And all these types of anti-Stalinists still regarded the Soviet Union under Stalin as still being some sort of “workers’ state” at least up until 1929 or 1939 or whatever–even if no longer a very good workers’ state.

    Anyway, I repeat my answer to your question: why should we expect a so-called workers’ state to end up, in practice, as an authoritarian, counterrevolutionary, exploitative regime (state capitalist)? Because it always has. Maybe that is not “proof,” but it should at least be understandable!

    (2) As to state capitalism and the law of value: some folks seem to be arguing, not that the Soviet Union was not state capitalist, but that there cannot be such a thing as state capitalism, in Marxist theory. Therefore it is strange that Engels wrote a whole description of a totally statified capitalism in Anti-Duhring (and repeated it in Socialism: Utopian & Scientific) and that Marx went over the first book and made no complaint.

    Engels described a completely statified capitalism, which would be totally managed by “salaried employees,” but with stock-owning, coupon-clipping, bourgeoisie living as nonmanaging parasites (they would have no hand in running the system, in his model). Yet this would still be capitalist, he says, because the state is a capitalist machine, and there remains the capital/labor relationship in production. Whether he thought it was just a trend or would really happen, we don’t know, anyway Marx and he doubted it would be very stable. In any case, the Soviet Union, etc., pretty much fit his model, without the parasitic bourgeosie (in other places they discussed the existence of collectivized bureaucratic ruling classes, as in the “Asiatic” systems).

    What they did not discuss is where the law of value would be generated. It could be through competition with other capitals on a world scale, or, more importantly, by internal competition among the semi-independent parts of the not-really-unified “single capital.” I discuss this further in my book on Marx’s critique of political economy and elsewhere. Also see the reference to Daum, with whom I agree on this topic.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      “The issue became practical when Lenin and Trotsky and friends took power. Within a year or so they established a one-party police state dictatorship (both before and after the civil war).”

      The history of this is complicated, although the end result is indisputable.

      The Bolsheviks moved against their former governing partners, the Left SRs, in summer of 1918 even before the Left SR attempt to assassinate Count Mirbach and sabotage the Brest-Litovsk treaty on the eve of the fifth congress of soviets. Alexander Rabinowitch in Bolsheviks in Power presents evidence that the Bolsheviks denied many legit Left SR (peasant) delegates entry to the congress and that the credentials committee made up of representatives from the two parties was sharply polarized as a result. The Left SRs expected to have a majority at this congress because it was the first one to have full representation from peasant organizations since the October insurrection but ended up with perhaps one-quarter of the delegates thanks to the Bolsheviks’ machinations. With the path of legal, constitutional soviet reform and comradely debate closed off, the Left SRs resorted to assassination to try to get their way. The Bolsheviks lied and claimed that this was a counter-revolutionary, anti-soviet insurrection and squashed them. However, two parties formed out of the Left SRs, “Narodnik Communists” and the “The Party of Revolutionary Communism.” Essentially, they were against the Brest-Litovsk treaty but were not willing to resort to assassination and sabotage to undermine it, preferring to try to function as a loyal opposition within the framework of the soviet government. The former decided to merge with the Russian Communist Party of its own volition at its November 6, 1918 party congress; the latter joined the Russian Communist Party in 1920 after the Communist International (sensibly) decided every country should just have one communist party.

      So it’s not quite the case that, “within a year or so [Lenin and Trotsky] established a one-party police state dictatorship .” And it’s definitely not the case that the end result in Russia was the logical result of trying to create a workers’ state.

      Lenin famously corrected Trotsky on the class nature of the soviet state, saying it was a “workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions” in 1921. With 20/20 hindsight, I think Lenin’s description was right in 1918, but by 1921, it was more like a bureaucratic state with proletarian distortions. Russia’s working class lost the power it seized (along with the peasantry) in October 1917 through the process of the civil war, and I don’t think there was much Lenin or Trotsky could have done to stop that from happening; this does not absolve them from making mistakes and committing crimes (Kronstadt), but we should not confuse what ended up happening with any kind of evil/flawed design on their part.

      • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

        In my view the Bolshevik’s treatment of the left SRs played an important part in the degeneration of the revolution. While they were nominally part of a coalition government with the Bolsheviks their ministers were marginalised and allowed very little influence. The discussion on Brest-Litovsk took place entirely within the Bolshevik Party, without any attempt to consult the SRs or take their views into account. Whether a more serious engagement with them could have prevented the violent rupture that eventually took place is uncertain (they were difficult partners ) but the effect of the rupture was that the peasantry was left with no effective political representation, which had serious ramifications over the ensuing decade.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          “The discussion on Brest-Litovsk took place entirely within the Bolshevik Party, without any attempt to consult the SRs or take their views into account.”

          That’s not true. The Central Executive Committee of the Soviet government (supposedly the body above the Council of People’s Commissars or sovnarkom but in practice, not really) — Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, and Left SRs — debated the issue hotly and extensively before the treaty had Trotsky’s signature. Bukharin broke party fraction discipline by voting against it along with the Mensheviks and SRs. Good thing he didn’t have the deciding vote.

        • PatrickSMcNally

          We could follow that by saying that the insistence of the SRs to persist with the war against Germany played an important part in the degeneration of the revolution. That’s typical of the anarchistic mentality which many Left SRs reflected. No revolutionary government would have been able to remain stable in power while carrying on with World War One. Kerensky was doomed by his choice of remaining in the war. Lenin was certainly right to demand getting out of the war promptly. It was highly irresponsible for the SRs to advocate continuance of the war. This just reflected the fact that they had never formed a coherent plan for actually setting up a long-term revolutionary government whcih would seek to hold onto power. They could more easily court disaster while waving the consequences away.

          • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

            Perhaps, but we should also hold Trotsky accountable for delaying the signing of the treaty. The initial terms were far better and he turned it down in favor of “no war, no peace,” an empty policy if there ever was one.

            • PatrickSMcNally

              No doubt, although I would put more blame on Bukharin since Trotsky was acting more as a compromiser between Lenin & Bukharin than anything else. It was still a prescription for likely disaster.

      • Arthur

        Since there was no possibility of the democratic revolution surviving if they continued to fight the war there was also no option but to suppress the SRs. If Trotsky and Bukharin had got their way the Germans would have continued to advance and the whites would have won. Likewise if Kronstadt had not been suppressed the Bolsheviks the whites would have won.

        The choice was never between a Bolshevik dictatorship and some more democratic regime. The alternaive was a much more reactionary dictatorship. Ultimately the alternative to Stalin was Hitler.

        • http://skepoet.wordpress.com/ C. Derick Varn

          Here’s the problem with this: “The choice was never between a Bolshevik dictatorship and some more democratic regime. The alternaive was a much more reactionary dictatorship. Ultimately the alternative to Stalin was Hitler.”

          To a point I am sympathetic to this, but it breaks down quickly if you apply it consistently to Sino-Soviet history. If Stalin is a necessity, then was Stalinist liquidation during the Great Patriotic War–despite Lenin’s own stated fears about this in the last testament–if that is a necessity, then everything else from Khrushchev’s ascent because of the liquidation in the great purge to the late 1940s is also resultant from that choice, if that is that is the case, then Sino-Soviet split and the disaster that was the 1970s was also inevitable as a means not to having Hitler, and if that is the case, then Leonid Brezhnev’s regression is an inevitable result of the cold war, and if that is the case, Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xioping are also inevitable results of the decline.

          So, if you take that choice as given and don’t be selective on your time period on following that logic throw out: 1917 automatically would lead to 1991, there was never any other way for it go.

          I think that is much more damning than you realize, and I also think Lenin did point to another way in 1922-23, but neither Trotsky nor Stalin followed it out.

          • Arthur

            The revolution was eventually defeated. That doesn’t mean either that it wasn’t worthwhile or that it would be better if it had been defeated earlier. Nor that there was some more democratic option available that was mistakenly not taken. (Such options did exist with the Cultural Revolution in China but were also defeated. A more democratic option does currently exist in Nepal and is being pursued.)

            • http://skepoet.wordpress.com C Derick Varn

              Why was it defeated in Maoist China? I actually think one of Kliman’s points about the form of production holds the key.

              • Arthur

                Sorry, didn’t notice this before.

                Not sure what you are referring to. China still had bourgeois social relations based on commodity production and wage labor, with the state simultaneously maintaining and attempting to transform those relations. As Lenin indicated with regard to similar situation in the Soviet Union, this implied a bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie.

                The experience of the defeat of the Soviet revolution confirmed that there was also a bourgeoisie and Mao pointed out that it was right inside the communist party – specifically including the “capitalist roaders” in the top leadership who needed to be overthrown by further revolution.

                Those bourgeois social relations are certainly the material basis for the revolution being defeated. They are also an unavoidable necessity in any attempt at transition. The deeper understanding of that in Mao’s China than in Lenin and Stalin’s Soviet Union only meant that the likelihood of defeat was better known, not that it was prevented.

                There can be no such thing as revolutionary victories without revolutionary defeats. There is no magical formula that can bypass the historical epoch of class struggle nvolved in transition. Eliminating wage labor and commodity production cannot be done overnight and so far has not yet been successfully done anywhere.

            • http://billkerr2.blogspot.com.au Bill Kerr

              arthur,

              Doesn’t the nepal maoists support for multi party democracy represent a theoretical break from earlier versions of lenin-stalin-mao?

              It seems unlikely to me that all the years in which Lenin-Stalin and then Mao held state power in USSR / China would have been years where it was always impossible to introduce more than a one party dictatorship. ie. after the Cultural Revolution Mao assessed that something like a Shanghai commune as supported by Bettleheim would fail. But it would have been *possible* to introduce a multi party system at that point. It’s a judgment call that dictatorship of the party (which doesn’t trust the proletariat to vote their way) is a better way to go than democracy.

              Combine that with the fact that the Nepali maoists actually peacefully withdrew from holding state power when they had every right based on the results of democratic elections to hold it. But would have had to resort to violent overthrow to achieve that due to the spoiling tactics of the other parties. Would Lenin have made that same judgment?

              Should people have the democratic right to vote for capitalism if they prefer capitalism to the way socialism is working out? Kissinger said that the people of Chile had no democratic right to a version of socialism and helped organise a coup against that. Where does the right come from to reverse that logic in favour of socialism? We will continue with our dictatorship of the proletariat (party) because the masses are too dumb not to be fooled by bourgeois propaganda.

              Do those combined perspectives amount to a theoretical break suggested in my first paragraph? Please supply links to relevant Nepal maoist documents on this question.

              • Arthur

                Hi Bill, interesting questions:

                1. I think the Nepalese Maoists represents a further development in the light of lessons from historical experience rather than a return to Kautsky. They have not repudiated Lenin, Stalin or Mao (though they agree with Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of Lenin on democracy and are even more highly critical of Stalin than Mao was).

                2. Historical circumstances are very different for Nepal compared with Russia. On the one hand Nepal is far more backward and economically dependent so there is simply no possibility of bypassing a capitalist stage and suppressing the bourgeoisie just isn’t on the agenda yet. On the other hand they do not face imperialist intervention and civil war and, as a result of the changes in the world achieved both by the positive results of the Russian and Chinese revolutions and their own armed struggle, a democratic path is currently open. It isn’t meaningful to ask whether Lenin would have made the same choices. Lenin is not some abstraction but a product of his circumstances. When there was briefly a revolutionary government in Weimar Gemany his telegrams were insistent, not to say hysterical, on such issues as immediately taking hostages and violently suppressing the bourgeois parties. The subsequent history of Weimar Germany and the Third Reich suggests he was right. Although it doesn’t prove that they could have won if they had taken his advice.

                3. Whether a peaceful democratic path will remain open in Nepal and whether they will succeed reains to be seen. They do not hold state power and Nepal is still semi-feudal. Certainly given Nepal’s extreme backwardness, if they are able to continue the revolutin with full political freedom in Nepal, that should also be possible practically anywhere (only a few countries in Africa are more backward). A large section of the party including many of the activists from the people’s war has split off claiming that the majority have abandoned revolution. So far as I can make out they do not have any viable alternative to the current policies.

                4. I agree that failure to solve the problems Rosa Luxemburg raised is closely related to the defeat. But that doesn’t mean that some simple solution was readily available if only they had not made the mistake of not following it. Specifically I think history has confirmed that Mao was right about the Shanghai commune being too weak (and Marx held the same vew about the Paris commune and favoured the interim Central Committee keeping power for longer to launch an offensive against Versailles). The ease with which the bourgeoisie consolidated power following Mao’s death surely confirms that loosening up would only have made it easier for them. Certainly the result of their victory in China has not been multi-party democracy.

                5. I’ve been closely following Nepal despite its insignificance in the world, because of the importance of the historical experience of a party that has developed something new and interesting to solve the problem of combining revolution politics with a large mass party able to win free elections and maintain political freedom. Unfortunately they publish very little officially in english. In particular I haven’t been able to locate more than press reports their recent Congress decision on “Capitalist revolution”. As far as I know the clearest statement of their theoretical analysis on these issues is still Baburam Bhatterai’s 2004 article “The Question of Building a New Type of State”:

                http://southasiarev.wordpress.com/2008/05/28/where-do-they-stand-the-question-of-building-new-type-of-state/

                Also highly relevant is the detailed electoral program on which they won the 2006 Constituent Assembly elections:

                http://web.archive.org/web/20100727144700/http://cffn.ca/historicdocs/0803-CPNM-Manifesto-EN.php

                • http://billkerr2.blogspot.com.au Bill Kerr

                  Thanks for the links arthur.

                  I don’t comprehend how a multi party democracy is logically compatible with a dictatorship of the proletariat.

                  The second link, for public consumption doesn’t address this but simply advocates multi party democracy as a good thing and the way forward.

                  The first link, an internal party argument, claims to but is incoherent. There is no guarantee that the masses will prefer the party line. And when they don’t, if the masses vote for the capitalist road (expansion of bourgeois right), then what does the party do about that in a multi party democracy?

                  One problem here is the status of the slogan “communists are the best democrats”. Why should anyone trust Nepali maoists to continue to support multi party democracy well into the future given the historically record that lenin-stalin-mao communist parties in power have never supported it even though, as you argue, there are very valid grounds that to renounce one party dictatorship would have resulted in social-fascist dictatorship in those historical conditions.

                  As you say history shows in China that a relaxation of communist party rule would and did lead to social-fascist rule in the name of communism.

                  I also agree that in the 1930s in Europe the choice boiled down either support for communism or support for the Nazis. There was no real practical middle road. But after reading Alex Weissberg’s bio (referenced by Helena Sheehan) I also think that the issue of democracy v. dictatorship was so badly handled by Stalin that some of those in the middle of it (innocents who were gaoled and some of them shot) who experienced what was happening had little choice but to despair. Hence the slogan “communists are the best democrats” becomes hopelessly compromised or at least severely tarnished by the historically reality, which in turn is hard to decipher clearly, being drenched in blood and mud from all angles.

                  • Arthur

                    Multid-party democracy is compatible with a dictatorship of small minority bourgeoisie. Why shouldn’t it be compatible with the dictatorship of a large majority proletariat? Multi-party democracy wasn’t possible in the Soviet Union or China due to specific circumstances. Nor was it possible for the bourgeoisie in seventeenth century england. It is becoming the norm today.

                    Saying Bhatterai’s document is incoherent discourages people from reading the only substantive modern analysis I’ve seen on these isses. It isn’t incoherent. Here are some samples of crystal clarity:

                    “In this context it would be worthwhile to note the warnings of Rosa Luxemburg made from a left revolutionary angle, despite her certain idealist and voluntarist limitations, on the future of the Soviet state:

                    “Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously-at bottom, then, a clique affair- a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat, however, but only the dictatorship of the handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense…”. (Luxemburg 1918:118)

                    “A Party, which may be proletarian revolutionary, and a state, that may be democratic or socialist, at a particular time, place and condition, may turn counter-revolutionary at another time, place and condition. It is obvious that the synthesis of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, namely the masses and the revolutionaries should rebel in such a situation, is fully correct in its place. However, as if a particular Communist Party remains proletarian for ever once a New Democratic or Socialist state is established under the leadership of the Party, there is either no opportunity, or it is not prepared, or it is prohibited, for the masses to have a free democratic or socialist competition against it. As a result, since the ruling Party is not required to have a political competition with others amidst the masses, it gradually turns into a mechanistic bureaucratic Party with special privileges and the state under its leadership, too, turns into mechanistic and bureaucratic machinery. Similarly, the masses become a victim of formal democracy and gradually their limitless energy of creativity and dynamism gets sapped. This danger has been clearly observed in history. To solve this problem, the process of control, supervision and intervention of the masses over the state should be stressed to be organized in a lively and scientific manner, according to the principle of continuous revolution. Once again the question here is to dialectically organize scientific reality that the efficacy of dictatorship against the enemy is dependent upon the efficacy of exercising democracy among the people.

                    “ For this, a situation must be created to ensure continuous proletarization and revolutionization of the Communist Party by organizing political competition within the constitutional limits of the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist democratic state. Only by institutionalizing the rights of the masses to install an alternative revolutionary Party or leadership of the state if the Party fails to continuously revolutionalize itself the counter-revolution can be effectively checked. Among different anti-feudal and anti-imperialist political parties, organizations and institutions, which accept the constitutional provisions of the democratic state, their mutual relations should not be confined to that of a mechanistic relation of cooperation with the Communist Party but should be stressed to have dialectical relations of democratic political competition in the service of the people. It should be obvious that if anybody in this process transgresses the limits legally set by the democratic state, he would be subjected to democratic dictatorship. “ [CPN (Maoist) 2004:148-49]

                    Also, drawing correct lessons from the bitter experiences of failure of the masses to stage organized rebellion against counter-revolution in the past, we should ensure a system in the new context whereby political parties may be allowed to get organized keeping within definite progressive and revolutionary constitutional limits and they may be encouraged to function not only in a ‘cooperative’ manner but in a ‘competitive’ spirit vis-à-vis the formal Communist Party. There can be no objective and logical reason for the Communist Party claiming itself to be the representative of the majority proletarian and oppressed classes to hesitate to enter into political competition within a definite constitutional framework, once the economic monopoly of the feudal and bourgeois classes over land and capital and military monopoly over the mercenary professional army, which are the sources of their political hegemony, are thoroughly smashed. One should earnestly acknowledge that this is not an advocacy of bourgeois pluralism but is a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist method to objectively solve contradictions among the people as long as the class division in society exists….

                    “….it should be guaranteed that the people’s army of the 21st century is not marked by modernization with special arms and training confined to a barrack after the capture of state power but remains a torch-bearer of revolution engaged in militarization of the masses and in the service of the masses. It is only by developing armed masses from both ideological and physical point of view that one can resist foreign intervention and counter-intervention; this fact must be made clear before the armed forces right from the beginning. The main thrust of work for the 21st century people’s army should be to complete the historical responsibility of developing conscious armed masses so that they may learn to use their right to rebel.” [CPN (Maoist) 2004:147]

                    However, it is a bitter truth that in the past the proletarian state powers instead of serving the masses and acting as instruments of continuous revolution turned into masters of the people and instruments of counter-revolution, and rather than moving in the direction of withering away transformed into huge totalitarian bureaucracies and instruments of repression. The present day revolutionaries should draw appropriate lessons from this and should strive to lay proper foundation for the new type of state from the very beginning.

                    In this context the first thing the new state power should acknowledge and practice from the very inception, as Lenin initially propounded and Mao subsequently raised to a new height, is the concept of GPCR or continuous revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. As the defeated reactionary class can again raise its head in a new form and the material condition of the state power itself can give rise to a new bureaucratic capitalist class from within the revolutionary camp, we should institutionalize a mechanism of continuous struggle with the participation of the wider masses under the leadership of the proletariat in every sphere of the state and the superstructure. In other words, advancing from the GPCR in China we should look for new methods to exercise all round dictatorship over the old and the new reactionary classes and to continue this process till all classes are abolished in society.

                    Secondly, to transfer the state power that had become master of the people in the past into servant of the people and to lead it towards ultimate withering away, methods of ensuring participation of the wider masses in the state or expanding greater democracy in society should be institutionalized. In this context it may be worthwhile to keep in mind the following statement of Lenin:

                    ” From the moment all members of society, or at least the vast majority, have learned to administer the state themselves, have taken this work into their own hands, have organized control over the insignificant capitalist minority, over the gentry who wish to preserve their capitalist habits and over the workers who have been thoroughly corrupted by capitalism-from this moment the need for government of any kind begins to disappear altogether. The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it becomes unnecessary. The more democratic the “state” which consists of the armed workers, and which is “no longer a state in the proper sense of the word”, the more rapidly every form of state begins to wither away.” (Lenin 1917d: 334-5)

                    Thus, continuous revolution against the residual ‘pugmarks of the old state’ and newly emerging classes and participation of the wider masses in such a continuous revolution is the method of withering away of the state initially hammered by Marx and Engels and later developed by Lenin and Mao. Withering away is, therefore, neither the abolition of the state immediately after the revolution as contended by the anarchists, nor is it first developing in a bureaucratic form like the old state of the bourgeoisie and then miraculously collapsing some day in the distant future as claimed by the revisionists, or more particularly by the dogmato-revisionists. Withering away means cessation of only the ‘political’ function of the state as an instrument of coercion, and it begins on the very day of consummation of the revolution but gets completed only with the total victory over the residual and newly emerging classes through continuous revolution and with the ultimate submersion of the state in the sea of the masses. The new proletarian (including the people’s democratic) state should correctly grasp and implement this, and only in that sense would this state be different or ‘new’ from the old one.

                    3. Conclusion

                    Despite the contrary propaganda of the imperialists, the 21st century will once again go through a vicious class struggle or war for the state power. Our great PW is part of the same worldwide process. Hence it is imperative for all to focus their attention on the question of state power, which is the central question in every revolution. Every state is in essence an instrument of dictatorship over certain classes and that of democracy for some others. In this sense dictatorship and democracy remain as two sides of the same coin in every state, and it is just ridiculous to talk of a state with either only dictatorship or only democracy. But it is a great paradox of history that whereas the proletarian state with an essence of dictatorship over the limited exploiting classes and that of democracy for a majority of exploited classes has been denounced as ‘dictatorial’, the bourgeois democracy with an essence of democracy for a handful of exploiting classes and that of dictatorship over the majority of working classes is hailed as an ideal model of universal and eternal democracy. Apart from the class bias and disinformation campaign of the imperialists certain grave short comings in the practice of the proletarian state in the past, (for example, practical cessation of differences between the Party and the state, gradual inaction and demise of the people’s representative institutions, development and expansion of the standing army in place of arming the masses, virtual emasculation of the electoral system and freedom of speech and press, use of state force to solve contradictions within the Party and among the people, lack of people’s participation, supervision and intervention in the state affairs and development of totalitarian tendencies, etc.) are also responsible for this. In this background, we should dare develop the model of a new type of proletarian state with the ideological guidance of MLM and Prachanda Path and keeping in mind the experiences of revolutions from the Paris Commune through the Russian Soviet and the Chinese GPCR to our present revolution.

                    In this context it is imperative to keep in mind what Lenin has said:

                    ” The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Lenin 1917d: 286) (emphasis added).

                    In other words, the essence of the transitional revolutionary state to be built after smashing the old reactionary class state would be dictatorship of the proletariat or democratic dictatorship of the oppressed people. But the political forms of such transitional revolutionary dictatorship can be varied in keeping with different time and places, and we should exercise our revolutionary creativity in practicing and developing such forms. Particularly in the light of the historical experiences of easy degeneration of the past proletarian states into totalitarian bureaucratic capitalist states, we should strive to find newer forms of the ‘transitional’ state, which is said to be “no longer a state in the proper sense of the word”.

                    In the transitional period of a backward society like Nepal, where the transition has to take place from semi-feudal autocracy through bourgeois democracy to communism, there would be naturally more diversities and complexities. However, if we succeed to exercise continuous dictatorship over the handful of reactionaries with active participation of the masses by forging a united front of different sections subjected to class, national, regional, caste and gender oppressions under the leadership of a correct proletarian Party, we shall definitely attain the goal of classless and exploitationless society. The main thing is the correct proletarian outlook of the leadership and the question of ensuring continuous and active participation of the masses in the state affairs. This is the rationale behind our Party’s recent attempt to raise the question of democracy from a new perspective. The proletarian revolutionaries should firmly grasp that the question of democracy and new type of state are inseparably interlinked, and they should initiate the process of withering away of the state by submerging the state in the sea of the great democracy of the masses, as Lenin had said: “The more democratic the ‘state’… the more rapidly every form of state begins to wither away.” In this context, we should defeat the anarchist tendency that denies the very necessity of a transitional state, the Right revisionist tendency that gets swayed by the formal democracy of the bourgeoisie and abandons dictatorship of the proletariat, and the dogmato-revisionist tendency that vulgarizes the proletarian (or people’s democratic) dictatorship into a totalitarian bureaucratic capitalist dictatorship, and must-strive to establish the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought that leads to a classless and stateless communism through continuous revolution and withering away of the state by exercising great democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat (or people’s democratic dictatorship). In this eventuality no body can stop our great campaign to build a new type of proletarian state in the 21st century and march towards communism through continuous revolution and withering away of the state.”

                    The docment is clearly transitional and necessarily ambiguous. But actually grappling with an extremely complex and contradictory set of issues should not be mistaken for incoherence.

                    What is really incoherent is abandoning the dictatorship of the proletariat because it was defeated, denouncing historic leaders who did the best they could in the circumstances they were in and despairing because historic reality is reality is tarnished. bloody, and messy.

                    What are we supposed to do – find some less tarnished, compromised, complicated and messy species to make revolution on some other planet? Or leave the present the present rulers to rule in peace?

                • David Berger

                  FROM ARTHUR: I’ve been closely following Nepal despite its insignificance in the world, because of the importance of the historical experience of a party that has developed something new and interesting to solve the problem of combining revolution politics with a large mass party able to win free elections and maintain political freedom.

                  DAVID BERGER: This is a bit off the topic of anarchism, etc., but you’ve got to be joking. The Nepalese Maoists engaged in one of the most massive political sell-outs of recent years. They are now the government party of a fully capitalist nation, and are part and parcel of a capitalist state. Again and again, Maoism is being exposed as a pseudo-Marxist ideology that serves as a cover for the development of state capitalism and then full-blown capitalism. In Nepal, they didn’t even bother with state capitalism. It’s capitalism in spades.

                  • http://strangetimes.lastsuperpower.net/ patrickm

                    This site is known for supporting the struggle for democracy that is underway in Syria so it would be surprising if people did not support the same struggle of the Nepalese people to have such things.

                    What is being exposed in Nepal is that serious democrats/communists make good use of Mao’s work and build on the shoulders of such giants as the history of shaving has provided us. This is not a bunch of god bothering Islamists conducting ME level struggle for rights that are so primitive as to see very close to Nepal a little girl shot for wanting to promote education for her sex.

                    The politics of extremely backward Nepal is something that western eco-leftists and so forth that one comes across in occupy type events can reasonably cope with when compared to quite modern Syria or Libya – without the usual head implosion about armed struggle and bad old authoritarian armed struggling communists. Armed struggle was a no choice issue for people in all these places once peaceful methods leave your people shot dead on the streets by those that control the state.

                    The Nepalese comrades fought back against oppressors they did not start the civil war. Having justly taken up armed struggle to achieve democracy they fought a civil war against the ruling feudal oppressors to the point of conducting negotiations with their opponents to settle issues with elections and so forth. Elections and so forth have happened and the guns are silent we can only dream of the day that such events come to pass in Syria.

                    In Nepal progress has been made but with the other side still not having fully implemented properly their part of the deals that WERE done and are recorded and well known such that the masses of the Nepalese people know who is not in compliance. Thus the masses give more support to the Maoists NOW especially among the young fighting age population. The party itself has split with the more ‘impatient’ minority braking the Maoist dictum of unite and don’t split. So both wings are growing and the old opponents are more isolated than ever. There has been no return to civil war and this communist leadership is enabling peaceful development on all fronts.

                    This all sided development makes the sell out meme quite a puzzle to me when the revolutionary communists of Nepal are implementing exactly what they were referring to in the 2004 document that Arthur has referenced above.

                    They are stronger now than they were because they are right throughout the country and able to freely do their politics as are any anarchists that are developing their politics in Nepal.

                    I note that this
                    http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/Nepal/Six-years-after-civil-war-Nepal-peace-process-ends/Article1-1043648.aspx
                    is the current status of revolutionary transformation and I only wish that this was the revolutionary development levels reached in Syria or Libya or even in Iraq for that matter.

                    Any revolutionary leftist / communist / democrat ought to be able to look at this progress in Nepal and see just that. Progress from civil war and shooting to not shooting is good! These revolutionaries are engaged in plenty of struggle and politics is war by other means is it not?

                    Naturally an anti democratic liar like Mike Ely/Nando over at Kasama could have assumed that the Nepalese revolutionaries were a pack of liars just like him and the average coward that can’t even run a micro party with a functioning disputes committee, so he supports the sell out meme and thinks that the Maoist dictum is become a minority in the party and then split.

                    All are free to choose their politics in Nepal and that didn’t used to be the case when only a few short years ago people regularly raved on about the mass murdering Mao and the US government had the Nepali revolutionaries tagged as terrorists.

                    Practice is showing where people really stand.

                    • David Berger

                      One more time, the Nepali Maoists are running a capitalist government. That is not the role of Marxists; that’s the role of capitalists. However, anyone writing something like this, is likely not to understand that:

                      PATRICKM: Any revolutionary leftist / communist / democrat ought to be able to look at this progress in Nepal and see just that.

                      DAVID: I guess you see a situation where a revolutionary party disarmed its own militia and eventually formed a capitalist government is “progress.”

                      PATRICKM: Progress from civil war and shooting to not shooting is good!

                      DAVID BERGER: That is a peculiarly dumb thing to say.

                      PATRICKM: These revolutionaries are engaged in plenty of struggle and politics is war by other means is it not?

                      DAVID BERGER: No it is not. War is an extension of politics. Politics is not necessarily an extension of war.

                      PATRICKM: Practice is showing where people really stand.

                      DAVID BERGER: Indeed it does, and in Nepal, “practice” shows that Maoists stand for capitalism.

                    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

                      @Patrickm.re Hindustan Times report: You’re losing me: how does a report alleging large scale embezzlement provide evidence of “revolutionary development levels”?

  • David Berger

    WAYNE PRICE: What I and most anarchists (in the tradition of the Friends of Durruti, anyway) are for, is, as I said, a federation of workplace councils and neighborhood assemblies, with a popular militia. Is this a “workers’ state?” Not by the definition of a state made by Engels in The Origins of the State…. and quoted by Lenin in State & Revolution. This defined the state as a bureaucratic-military machine above society. This is why Engels, at one point, said that the Commune was “no longer” a state “as such.”

    DAVID BERGER: I don’t want to quibble at this point over what is and is not a state. Fact is, that the councils, assemblies, militias, etc., will require coordinating bodies, which will be drawn from all of them, not rest on top of them, but not be identical to them organizationally. Fuck Engels. That’s a state. And denying that it is will only contribute to the bureaucratization that both you and I loathe.

    What I am most concerned about in the anarchist schema is not this argument about the state but the argument over current strategy. What is the anarchist strategy for the current period? I hope that it has little to do with the orgy of stupidity that contributed to the destruction of the Occupy movement under the moniker of “anarchism.” I don’t think I’ve seen as many political illusions floated as eternal truths since the bad old days of the May Day Tribe.

    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

      Wayne is confusing statements made in different contexts. the phrase “military-bureaucratic-machine” is from Marx ‘The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonapart”e (and drawn on at length in Lenin’s State and Revolution). Its not a generic concept of the state but a characterisation of the Bonapartist state – which has to be “smashed” in the course of the proletarian revolution (as Marx believed the commune was) – but to be replaced by the “dictatorship of the proletariat” which was a(transitional form of state). Engels famous definition of the state was that it was “a body of armed men”. So your assemblies + militia would seem to fall into that category (and other classifications as well). The question is, do you believe that you can have complex decision making in large scale social formations that rests entirely on consensus and doesn’t have some form or degree of “authority” (ie coercion or imposition of majorities over minorities). If YES , then you are a genuine anarchist. If NO, then you are going to need some form of “state”.

  • Wayne

    To Etta: I suggest that, rather than simply rejecting Marx and all his works as authoritarian, you explore my approach. This is to see Marx as having two sides, one a sincerely libertarian-democratic-humanistic side and the other an implicitly authoritarian side. And to connect this with my assertion that anarchism is necessary for developing a vision of a post-capitalist society, but that Marx is necessary for understanding how capitalism works right now.

    To Dave: The point about seeing the state of Lenin and Trotsky as a “workers’ state” is whether you believe that there can be a “workers’ state” which the workers themselves do not democratically self-manage.

    Dave asks about anarchist strategy. There are two main trends in anarchism today. One is essentially reformist, believing in mainly building alternate institutions and peacefully replacing capitalism and the state. The other is revolutionary, class-struggle, anarchist-communism. Its overlap with left communism (autonomous Marxism) should be clear. As stated above, I am a supporter of that tendency. It was not, I am afraid, the main anarchist tendency in the OWS movement.

    Our main disagreement with the I.S. trend and most other Marxists is a rejection of electoralism (of aiming to build a new party, supposedly a party of labor but actually a third capitalist party). Instead we advocate mass struggles, strikes, demonstrations, civil disobedience, etc.

  • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

    Having read the book upon which the article is based, I recommend it. It is a good introduction to Marxism for anarchists, and provides a good starting off point for the kind of discussion between anarchists and Marxists about the state as some have participated in here. As much as I find David’s imputation of malicious motivation to people who disagree with him tiresome, I agree with him on the question: “What is the anarchist strategy for the current period?” Oddly enough, that question was implicitly raised in my post in this series as well, as I noted that current anarchist activity has been unable to initiate a mass based opposition to neoliberal capitalism.

    • Joe Vaughan

      “…current anarchist activity has been unable to initiate a mass-based opposition to neoliberal capitalism.”

      This is true only if you assume that Occupy–a quintessentially anarchist endeavor–is/was not “mass-based,” an assumption that has been debated vigorously by many (possibly because the movement assumed different characters in different places and at different times–the movement in Seattle, for example, clearly having more of a mass character than the one in Washington, DC).

      In any case, the basically anarchist Occupy came closer by a long chalk than any other recent radical movement to mass mobilization.

      With the infamous 99%/1% slogan, they at least introduced a functional conception of “the masses” to a political discourse in which such talk had for all practical purposes been forbidden since the days of the young Walter Lippman and Edward Bernays.

      This conversion of the unthinkable into everyday thinking reinforces the fact that there seems to have been a good deal of uptake among ordinary Americans under the age of 30 of anticapitalist ideas–as witnessed famously by the Pew survey in 2011 that found forty-nine percent of people in that age bracket saying they had a positive view of socialism while only 43 percent said they had a negative view. Certainly Occupy, anarchist or not, contributed to this.

      So only by a very limited definition can it be said either that “current anarchist activity” has failed to initiate–though perhaps “galvanize” would be a better word–“opposition to neoliberal capitalism,” or that in doing so, the movement damaged the chances of socialism.

      However it happened, there is more opposition to neoliberal capitalism now, at least among the young in the United States, than at any time in recent memory. And while this has been going on, anarchism has had a far greater share of such popular far-left sentiment as there is among the masses than has Marxism/Leninism and its sectarian and would-be non-sectarian descendants.

      Note: This entirely omits the appeal of ideas like those of Gar Alperowitz–widely popular among the Truthout crowd–which sometimes seem vaguely socialist/anarchist and sometimes merely another dose of employee-ownership capitalist mysticism, but at all events distinct from current mainstream “neoliberal capitalism.”

  • the red star twinkles mischievously

    It matters little whether a radically libertarian-democratic, pluralistic social formation like a society-wide council democracy is called a ‘workers state’ or not, but that it is actually a radically libertarian-democratic council democracy- and that this is what people concieve they are in favour of and think worth defending as an idea and democratic ideal. Of a social system based primarily on direct democracy, self-management and autonomy, guaranteeing all the elementary liberties and freedoms and then some, improving living standards, material conditions, etc. Personally I think terms like ‘council democracy’, ‘socialist democracy’, ‘Commune-state’ etc are less confusing, but people may disagree with me on that. Regarding the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks, and its degeneration, I recommend people check out the discussion of this in Wayne’s excellent book, ‘The Abolition of the State: Anarchist and Marxist Perspectives’, and ‘Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy’ by Samuel Farber, who also has a good new book out on Cuba. I also discuss this somewhat, along with a larger debate about strategy, tactics, contemporary issues and the history of the Left in my review of a book called ‘Anti-Capitalism’ in New Politics http://newpol.org/content/essential-anti-capitalist-primer The room for socialist-anarchist dialogue and co-operation I think is more possible and likely to produce positive outcomes than ever before given that the vast majority of self-concieved socialists, such as exist in the advanced capitalist countries (America, UK, Australia, etc) are some variety of revolutionary socialist, Trotskyist or Post-Trotskyist, independent democratic socialist, left social democrats, eco-socialists – i.e. are not Stalinists, take a critical minded perspective, and while some are overly admiring of populist-nationalist regimes like in Venezuela (though I admit that Venezuela is more than your typical populist-nationalist regime and that there are interesting things happening there ) they are generally not crass apologists for such regimes, and no matter which way you put it, Hugo Chavez was not Stalin, and Evo Morales is not Mao. That simply is not the case. And revolutionary socialists are usually not as dogmatic and authoritarian as a (sometimes) lazy anarchist analysis can make it seem. For example, you can find excellent discussions about democracy and self-management in the works of Ernest Mandel, Daniel Bensaid, and Michel Raptis, which few anarchists would dramatically disagree with. For example, this is from a biography of Mandel: ‘He called for the broadest possible inclusion of grassroots democracy in the form of workers’ councils in combination with parties’ (Ernest Mandel, A Rebel’s Dream Deferred, pg 180). Also: ‘Mandel did not ignore Lenin and Trotsky’s responsibilities. The ban on parties and the ban on factions within the Communist Party during the grim years of 1920-21 had blocked the way to political self-activity. The repression of the Mensheviks and the anarchists – of their press and organisations – had been a grave mistake’ (pg 181). Raptis defined self-management as ‘the free and democratic organisation and management of social life in all spheres and at all levels’ (Socialism, Democracy and Self-Management, pg 177). That sounds just like Castoriadis to me, who is also well worth reading. Those three in particular were part of or linked to the Fourth International – not to speak of Tony Cliff and others who were also concerned about socialism, democracy and self-management. All these people are well worth reading along with the anarchists and libertarian socialists like Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Makhno, Durruti, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Ricardo Flores Magon, Daniel Guerin, Victor Serge, CLR James, Anton Pannekoek, Murray Bookchin, Simone Weil, Rosa Luxemburg, and so on. I’d also plug Bob Gould’s work to add an Australian flavour (since I’m Australian!) to this, an Australian Marxist with revolutionary socialist leanings who was a prominent anti-Vietnam War, anti-censorship campaigner and defender of democratic rights and civil liberties at home and abroad, was very open minded and a advocate of left unity and co-operation. He really should be more well known than he is. You can find his writings on marxists.org http://www.marxists.org/archive/gould/ Here’s an extract from one of his articles that may attract readers’ interest: “What I remember most, however, is the righteous anger that those 10,000 demonstrators felt against the Vietnam War. We were unquestionably right. I remember with real nostalgia that time when Max and Danny and myself and Tom Uren, and our anarchist friends up the back were a good deal younger. Whatever we’ve done subsequently, the best part of our lives was when we were united, despite our differences, in genuine comradeship, as part of the minority that became the majority against the then popular, but totally unjustified, Australian involvement in Vietnam.”

  • Wayne

    (1) On the (perhaps obscure but important) issue of the Left SRs and the Brest-Litovsky peace treaty between imperial Germany and the early Soviet Union:

    The Bolsheviks did deny the Left SRs their large group of delegates to the Soviet, through gerrymandering and false counting and other methods (as Rabinowitz says). This was before the Civil War and was a step towards one-party dictatorship.

    While all the politically active forces discussed the peace treaty, the Bolsheviks ignored the discussions of other parties. They did not even once say, Hey, if we pass this treaty we will loose the support of the Left SRs, who (unlike us) have a base in the peasantry! and lose the anarchists and alienate the Ukrainians! This too was a step toward a one-party dictatorship.

    It is not clear that the Soviets would have lost a war against the Germans at this point– as Isaac Deutscher has pointed out. After all, the Germans were on the verge of loosing the world war anyway. Of course a new, revolutionary, army would have had to be buit in the course of fighting, but that is what was done eventually anyway. Note that the majority of the Bolsheviks were against the treaty (along with the Left SRs and anarchists) and so was Trotsky, who only supported it in order not to have a split with Lenin.

    But the main concept is that the working class and oppressed cannot rule except through their own power. They cannot have power through someone else taking power, whether Lenin, or Trotsky, or Mao. I believe that Marx believed this and therefore can find common ground with–and only with–Marxists who also believe this.

    • the red star twinkles mischievously

      ‘But the main concept is that the working class and oppressed cannot rule except through their own power.’ Of course! I completely agree. ‘No saviour from on high delivers, no faith have we in prince or peer’ as The Internationale puts it so eloquently.

    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

      As I expressed earlier, I have some sympathy with this viewpoint – especially with regard to the treatment of the SRs. But Binh was right to correct me and point out that there were some (at least formal) consultation between the Bolsheviks and the SRs – there was a joint meeting of the Bolshevik and SR fractions of the Central Executive Committee prior to the meeting of the CEC itself – http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/feb/23.htm – and the issue was discussed at both. I’ve reviewed the arguments closely and its almost impossible to decide betweeen the two sides – you can see why all the particpants in this debate shifted positions at various points (even Lenin had his inconsistencies). It was simply a terrible dilemma. In part it comes down to the attitude to risk – Lenin was simply not prepared to risk the fate of the revolution on what looked at the time like a huge gamble. I also agree with a number of Wayne’s arguments – but they are retrospective. Looked at in retrospect Lenin was probably wrong; but given the information available at the time he was probably right (although a huge price was paid).
      While the style of Bolshevik decison making may have distorted the outcome, I don’t think this equates to a fundamental critique of the structure of Bolshevik power – this decision was bound to be made by a restricted circle given its complexity and the compressed time frame.

  • PatrickSMcNally

    “They cannot have power through someone else taking power…”

    That is just false idealism. Did the English bourgeoisie really take power in the English Revolution of the 1600s? Or was it simply Oliver Cromwell establishing a military dictatorship? There are many social formations which all fall under the heading of “bourgeois class-rule” as marx understood it. What we can say is that Marx generally recognized bourgeois democratic forms as representing the optimal form (for the bourgeoisie!) of bourgeois class-rule. If Pinochet finds it opportune to overthrow Allende, then Marixm regards this as a sign of an underlying instability in bourgeois class-rule, although both Allende & Pinochet represent particular forms of bourgeois class-rule. This is why one cannot just mechanically say “Oh, this wasn’t democratic, therefore it wasn’t proletarian class-rule!” The most one can definitively argue is that the exercise of authoritatian methods under a proletarian state is evidence of an underlying instability in proletarian class-rule. To claim more than that would require a sharper argument. That doesn’t mean that the perceived need to apply such authoritarian methods didn’t carry the seeds of future problems. Of course it did. But the issue has to be seen as more complex than the way anarchist polemics like to cast it.

  • Wayne

    (2) I expected The Red Star to be in general agreement with me. However, all the folks he cites were actually not in agreement on this point.

    PatrickSMcNally should look at the concluding comments of my essay, “Conclusion: Two Revolutions.” This answers his argument. At least, after reading it, he can make a better criticism.

  • PatrickSMcNally

    Let’s recall how Bakunin described the expected post-revolutionary society. He called for “the collective dictatorship of a secret organization” and laid it out:

    “Denouncing all power, with what sort of power, or rather by what sort of force, shall we direct a people’s revolution? By a force that is invisible, that no one admits and that is not imposed on anyone, by the collective dictatorship of our organization which will be all the greater the more it remains unseen and undeclared, the more it is deprived of all official rights and significance.”

    This reads like something which Yagoda or Yezhov might recite in front of a mirror. It’s not that Bakunin deserves to be distinctively faulted for expressing such views. What is at fault is the way that anarchists try to imply that they have found some general rules which allow them to get around certain problems, when they really have not. Airy generalities become a means of dodging real issues.

    • jp

      ‘Yagoda or Yezhov’ or Yoda

  • the red star twinkles mischievously

    I guess my main point as regards left unity and co-operation is, while not toning down criticisms or ignoring differences, not to be overly antagonistic to people and groups that one can work democratically and co-operatively with, if they are in general agreement with your own political views/approaches/organisations. We should recognise who are our friends, comrades, and allies, and who can potentially become that, as well as who the real threat is. For example, Greece. Obviously, New Democracy, Golden Dawn, and all other right wing and far-right organisation are our foes. Equally clear is that the ultra-Stalinist Greek Communist Party are not our friends, they that have played an overwhelmingly negative role with their bureaucratic, sectarian and authoritarian approach (labelling their opponents ‘anarcha-fascists’ and ‘Trotskyites’). They were punished for that by losing votes to SYRIZA and becoming ever more deligitimised. And SYRIZA? Well, its a complex and contradictory political formation to say the least. They have done some good work. I And there are radicals in SYRIZA who are certainly to be regarded as comrades and friends – I’d mention the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA) in particular. Here’s the opinion of one Greek anarchist as regards SYRIZA: “We can say for example, for fun, the whole thing with Syriza and Alexander Tsipras – who are now the second most popular party in Greece – that half of the ideas that they were using to express the political agenda of their party were things that the Anti-Authoritarian Movement had already put forward. For example, it was first at the 2009 international anti-authoritarian festival (the BFest) in Athens that Michael Albert talked about something called “Solidarity Economy” – participatory economics – so then we started talking about it and making it reality. And then the Left started talking about it and making it reality as well – which is very popular and on the agenda of Syriza.” http://www.thenewsignificance.com/2013/02/13/the-future-of-greece-a-society-of-barbarism-or-of-social-spaces-for-freedom/ There’s also ANTARSYA as well, which contains SEK (Socialist Workers Party-Greek section of the IST) OKDE-Spartakos (Greek section of the Fourth International) ecologists, eco-socialists, social ecologists, ex-Communist Party members, socialists unaffliated to any particular ideology or tendency, as well as, unfortunately, some Maoists (just like how there are some Maoists in SYRIZA). They’ve done good anti-racist and anti-fascist work in particular. Should we just write off both SYRIZA and ANTARSYA because there are people with political views we strongly disagree with in these organisations? What about all the people in these organisations who would strongly agree with direct democracy, self-management, and autonomy? I’d bet there would be a lot of them. We should be in solidarity with them, encouraging those with more libertarian-democratic politics to continue to move in that direction.

    • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

      “Should we just write off both SYRIZA and ANTARSYA because there are people with political views we strongly disagree with in these organisations? What about all the people in these organisations who would strongly agree with direct democracy, self-management, and autonomy? I’d bet there would be a lot of them. We should be in solidarity with them, encouraging those with more libertarian-democratic politics to continue to move in that direction.”

      If only we were in a position here in the US to have such problems.

  • the red star twinkles mischievously

    Here’s a practical example in visual terms from Greece of how powerful people and the left can be when they engage in united action https://vimeo.com/55287615

  • Wayne

    To Patrick M: Yeah, there were a lot of problems with Bakunin, not to mention classical anarchism in general, not to mention the current anarchist movement. I have discussed this often. As my essay above stated, about anarchism and Marxism, “they both have been historical failures, in that neither has led to successful, lasting, working class revolutions—so far.” But at least anarchists have not murdered tens of millions of workers and peasants in the name of communism.

    But Patrick does not respond to my earlier response to him. It is misleading and dangerous to make an overly-close identification of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The traditional bourgeoisie owns property. It can have any of a whole range of possible states (democratic, monarchical, fascist, etc.) so long as these states protect their property (and let the market work its will). The proletariat does not own property. Its control of the economy is democratic collectivist or not at all. Any rule by a non-proletariat force (state) prevents the working class from having power. (Is it really possible that you never heard this line of argument?)

    To Twinkling Red Star: I am all for working with anyone at all to advance the immediate struggle. But with some folks (such as Maoists, for example) all we agree on is negative: we are both *against* the existing state and capitalist class, but what we are *for* is entirely different. We anarchists are for no state and no capitalist class and they are for a new state and (in effect) a new (collective) capitalist class.

  • Wayne

    To Patrick M: Yeah, there were a lot of problems with Bakunin, not to mention classical anarchism in general, not to mention the current anarchist movement. I have discussed this often. As my essay above stated, about anarchism and Marxism, “they both have been historical failures, in that neither has led to successful, lasting, working class revolutions—so far.” But at least anarchists have not murdered tens of millions of workers and peasants in the name of communism.

    But Patrick does not respond to my earlier response to him. It is misleading and dangerous to make an overly-close identification of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The traditional bourgeoisie owns property. It can have any of a whole range of possible states (democratic, monarchical, fascist, etc.) so long as these states protect their property (and let the market work its will). The proletariat does not own property. Its control of the economy is democratic collectivist or not at all. Any rule by a non-proletariat force (state) prevents the working class from having power. (Is it really possible that you never heard this line of argument?)

    To Twinkling Red Star: I am all for working with anyone at all to advance the immediate struggle. But with some folks (such as Maoists, for example) all we agree on is negative: we are both *against* the existing state and capitalist class, but what we are *for* is entirely different. We anarchists are for no state and no capitalist class and they are for a new state and (in effect) a new (collective) capitalist class.

    • PatrickSMcNally

      “murdered tens of millions of workers and peasants”

      Neither did the Bolsheviks. There you’re just regurgitating Right-wing propaganda ala Robert Conquest, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, James Mace, Dana Dalrymple et al. While the massacre of hundreds of thousands during the Soviet purges of the 1930s was on a scale like Suharto’s bloodbbath of 1965-6, these wild claims of “tens of millions” are far out of line with any actual historical evidence. That doesn’t mean that the Left should be endlessly cheering for the Moscow show trials the way that the CPUSA did in the 1930s, but recycling Right-wing mythology also does not help. More accurate revisionist histories have been produced by such as authors as Mark Tauger, Archibald Getty, Robert Thurston, Robert Davies, Stephen Wheatcroft, among others.

      Of course, Bakunin, Nechayev and the anarchists of the Narodniki were a very real influence on Lenin’s formation and it’s silly to divorce them from the events which actually occurred in the development of the Russian Revolution (once we have corrected the falsehoods promoted by Conquest et al). Many of Lenin’s Menshevik opponents in 1917 drew a direct parallel between himself and the Narodniki, not without good reason. There is a clearer tie between the more authoritarian features of Bolshevism and those of the Narodniki than can be found with anything by Marx.

      • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

        @Patrick. The figure “tens of millions” may be an overestimate; but your “Hundreds of thousands ” is a consideerable understatment. The matter isn’t simple, because it depends on whether you are talking about direct executions or consequent deaths that followed on from brutal measures (like “de-kulakisation”) or even the further effects of collapsing agricultural output and famine. Official glasnost-era figures place direct executions at 681,692 but there seems to be agreement among russian specialists that a total of one million+ is credible. (J Arch Getty who once downplayed the death-toll of the Stalin regime now suggests a “custodial mortality” figure of 2 million.). The alternative approach is to use demographic data to calculate “excess deaths” which will include both direct and consequential deaths. This appears to produce a figure of at least 5 million
        I think once you get into this league, arguing about precise statistics is a bit beyond the point.

        • PatrickSMcNally

          It is worth taking note here of that the fact that all of those claims which go in the range of “5 millkion” involve treating the famine of 1932-3 as a “manmade artificial famine” as was asserteed in older Cold War propaganda ala Conquest, Mace, Dalrymple et al. This was a famine caused by actual crop failures which resulted from natural disaster. The lies spread about a “manmade famine” involved have been discredited from the work or Mark Tauger especially, but also Robert Davies & Stephen Wheatcroft. During the actual years of the famine there were some formal figures published which suggested that crop yields were high enough to avoid famine. Liars like James Mace cited these as “proof” that the famine had occurred becuase Stalin had taken crops away from the peasants to an exorbitant degree. Mace used grain imports carried out in the second half of 1933, after the famine was over and coming out of the harvest of the summer of 1933, in order to inflate the numbers and imply that Stalin had caused the famine by shipping crops abroad. All of these lies have been debunked in great detail by Tauger.

          There was a real crop failure that was not principally caused by collectivization but mainly by factors of natural disaster. The extent of this crop failure was very poorly understood at the time. Plant diseases allowed grain stalks to grow while containing fewer grains and thereby creating the illusion of an abundant crop. The Soviet government had a poor understanding of these factors and thereby failed to realize that there was an essential need to import massive quantities of grain into the USSR immediately in order to halt famine. There are some criticisms which one make on these points, but one must first throw out the lies circulated by Robert Conquest, Dana Dalrymple and the rest on these matters. The “manmade famine” hoax does n0t bring any clarity.

          If we’re going to start going to just general demographic data, then the data there clearly shows that mortality rates among the Soviet population in the 1930s were sharply reduced from what had been the norm in Czarist Russia. The drop became even clearer in the 1950s. Clearly mortality statistics do support the view that Russia was much better off becaue of the revolution. The same people who casually throw out sweeping claims about deaths attributed to the Soviet government are always silent about any broad comparison with mortality statistics before and after the revolution.

          The one point which needs to be added to that is that describing the Russian & Chinese Revolutions of a century ago is very different from speaking about. Yes, I know that it gets tiresome when some people insist that Qaddafi was good because of some health statistics in Libya but then they proceed to ignore similar data for Saudi Arabia or South Korea. But the world had changed a lot since a century ago, and the biggest changes were brought about by the Russian & Chinese Revolutions. One absolutely can not seriously invoke economic successes achieved in Taiwan or Indonesia as part of a Cold War bloc and then project it backwards as an example of could have been possible for Russia in 1917.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      To sum up, anarchism as a trend may be confused, theoretically deficient, and whatever else but they don’t do gulags. (“They” being “you” in this case, I guess.)

  • Wayne

    To Pham Binh: Gee, how witty. I was admitting that there are problems with anarchism historically. But there are also great strengths, particularly in that it makes self-organization and self-management of the working class and oppressed central to its conception of a revolutionary struggle and of a new society.

    But yes, that Marxism has resulted in totalitarian mass murder (and this is not the place to get into a dispute of just how many workers and peasants were killed by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.) is something of a negative for Marxism (!). That anarchism has not done so is a positive, although, really, a rather low standard!

    I love Patrick’s final argument: Lenin’s authoritarianism was due to the influence upon him of anarchism and Narodnikism (which was not anarchist, btw), rather than of his deep-dyed Marxism. How this would have surprised Lenin!

    • PatrickSMcNally

      So we are told that that Nechayev and the Narodniki were not anarchist? How this would have surprised Nechayev! Perhaps the next thing is that Bakunin was not anarchist either? After all, Bakunin was very influential on Nechayev and the Narodniki. Lenin accepted that Marxism had a far greater theoretical strength and he learned to cast all theoretical arguments in a language which would fit with Kautsky. At the same time, he alway retained an admiration for the way that the Narodniki had been a fighting force and it is really difficult to account for why Lenin developed so differently from Kautsky if one ignores this.

      On the matter of numbers, well of course it is relevant to determine whether or not states like Russia or China were actually better off because of their revolutions (they clearly were). That does not justify every later witchhunt for Nazi saboteurs which resulted in hundreds of thousands being dragged away into the night by the NKVD. But it clearly does justify the victory of the revolution in the context of the world war and subsequent civil war, for both Russia and China.

      It’s hard to see what you’d intend by dragging Pol Pot in here. Pol Pot was always friendly towards Deng Xiao-ping while Deng was launching capitalist restoration in China. It clearly made no sense to see Pol Pot as a Maoist in any sense. The only reason that Pol Pot even gained authority within the Khmer Rouge was becaue of a US attack on Cambodia. Before that the leading branch of the party had favored waiting for Vietnam to win and then develop and expected that Cambodia would then develop itself alongside of a socialist Vietnam. The US bombing and invasion of Cambodia set loose the anti-Vietnamese faction which insisted on fighting and winning its own war right now apart from Vietnam. That brought Pol Pot to the head of the party and unleashed a wave of subsequent insanity. But there isn’t much reason for seeing that in terms of theoretical arguments over anarchism or Marxism or whatever.

      • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

        @Patrick. There is certainly an anarchist thread in Russian populism, but I don’t think you can characterise Narodnaya Volya (if that’s what you are referring to as narodniki) as anarchist – how does that sit with their central demand for a Constituent Assembly?

        • PatrickSMcNally

          As a matter of terminolgy, it si true that the term “narodniki” has been stretched and compressed in ways that vary (although I think that context has generally been clear). To break things down a bit, there were the Russian Nihilists who were unambiguously anarchist and sought the destruction of the state through campaigns of terror against officials. Out of the efforts of the Russian Nihilists there subsequently sprang a range of groups including the Circle of Tchaikovsky, the People’s Will, and Land and Liberty. In some usages the term “narodniki” may be applied to the whole panoply of such groups which emerged, including Land and Liberty, in other contexts it may be restricted to the People’s Will (whose name provides the basis for the derivative term “narodniki”), and at other times it may be more narrowly used for the original fighting anarchist attempts which arose from the Nihilists.

          Despite those variances in the uses of a term, it should be clear that I have in mind Nechayev, Bakunin and those who carried an anarchist strategy of seeking to destroy the state. These were true anarchists in ways which the Black Bloc doesn’t remotely approach. Unfortunately, and close examination of their actual methods shows that followed authoritarian methods which may have been unavoidable but do not provide any alternative to Lenin (who also adhered to these methods).

          The tendency to cast these issues in terms of a Marx/Bakunin conflict has been promoted by people like Chomsky. It really is better understood as the conflict between Lenin/Kautsky conflict. Unfortunately, people like Kautsky & Bernstein never managed to do much more than act as public relations frontline men for the Free Corps. Sort of like the way that Obama stepped in to calm things down after a huge mess had grown up under Bush. It’s a non-starter to pose that as an alternative to Lenin.

    • Richard Estes

      As much as I like the book, and recommend it highly, as well as its anarchist conclusions, I disagree with the use of the term “totalitarian” in relation to the USSR and the People’s Republic, as it is a creation of right wing US Sovietologists and their proteges (like Condi Rice). On another thread, Patrick correctly observed that recent scholarship has discredited the characterization of the USSR and the People’s Republic as “totalitarian”.

      Furthermore, there is the question as to the extent that social, cultural and nationalistic features influenced these outcomes instead of just attributing them to “Marxism”. Orlando Figes and his researchers have done excellent work in excavating the social foundations of Stalinism, while Chinese scholars have investigated why there was such mass complicity in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

      Use of the term “totalitarian” elides these issues, and can potentially result in an erroneous understanding of the relationship of people to the state, and the willingness of people to carry out the most vicious forms of repression upon direction to do so. For those of us who want to either transform the state or eliminate it, we need to understand this relationship better.

  • PatrickSMcNally

    It’s worth noting here that Wayne’s arguments are exactly the arguments which Kautsky had used when arguing against the Russian Revolution. Kautsky even had eulogized the Paris Commune for the way that they were so easily drowned in blood. This line of argument doesn’t really have much to do with Marx versus Bakunin but is more in the vein of the polemics with Kautksy that motivated Trotsky to write Terrorism and Communism.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      At least Kautsky never wavered on the necessity of political freedom and democracy for the proletariat. That’s more than I can say for Lenin.

      • PatrickSMcNally

        But the same point would apply if one made an honest rational comparison between Kautsky versus Bakunin, Nechayev and other such notable anarchists. They shared more in common with Lenin than Kautsky did, and the reasons are related to the actual climate of Russia. There has been a tendency in the last few decades for Left-leaning social democrats ala Noam Chomsky to dress themselves up in a more Leftist garb by calling themselves “anarchists” and invoking some select passages from Bakunin in the context of polemics with Marx. This does nothing to bring clarity.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          What does that have to do with Lenin’s revisionism?

      • Arthur

        Kautsky’s “unwavering” democracy did not prevent Weimar becoming the Third Reich.

        Similar attitudes from Lenin (and Stalin) would have resulted in a much earlier defeat. Left Communists (including Rosa Luxemburg) offer a much more attractive critique of Leninism than Kautsky’s since unlike Kautsky they were not “centrists” in the barbarism of the imperialist war. Lenin’s explanation of why the bolsheviks were unable to provide the political freedom their left critics demanded was, as always, brutally clear:

        ” Freedom of the press in the R.S.F.S.R., which is surrounded by the bourgeois enemies of the whole world, means freedom of political organisation for the bourgeoisie and its most loyal servants, the Memisheviks and SocialistRevolutionaries.

        This is an irrefutable fact.

        The bourgeoisie (all over the world) is still very much stronger than we are. To place in its hands yet another weapon like freedom of political organisation (= freedom of the press, for the press is the core and foundation of political organisation) means facilitating the enemy’s task, means helping the class enemy.

        We have no wish to commit suicide, and therefore, we will not do this.

        We clearly see this fact: “freedom of the press” means in practice that the international bourgeoisie will immediately buy up hundreds and thousands of Cadet, SocialistRevolutionary and Menshevik writers, and will organise their propaganda and fight against us.

        That is a fact. “They” are richer than we are and will buy a “force” ten times larger than we have, to fight us.”

        http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/aug/05.htm

        That WAS a fact. It makes no more sense to blame Lenin (or Stalin or Mao) for this fact. Than to blame Cromwell for Britain needing a military dictatorship initiating its transition from feudalism.

        It is also a fact that lack of political freedom for the bourgeoisie did not prevent the bourgeoisie from regaining power and that political freedom is vital to the working class for it to be able to actually exercise power and carry through revolution.

        These problems have not been solved. Lenin did not solve them. Mao took things much further with the Cultural Revolution. That too was unsuccessful. While the bourgeoisie remains very much stronger than we are, the problems remains intractable. But moving back from Lenin to Kaustky certainly won’t help. We already know where that path ends.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          Lenin denied freedom to the workers who wanted to fight the nascent and increasingly abusive party-state bureaucracy in the name of denying freedom to the bourgeoisie. His victory on this question was defeat.

          • Arthur

            True enough. But it doesn’t change the fact that it was not actually possible to provide freedom of the press for workers fighting the bureaucracy without that freedom being used far more effectively by the much stronger bourgeoisie (including its nascent form in the bureaucracy) to fight the workers).

            Notice how the critiques from the lefts were and still are taken up enthusiastically by opponents of the revolution. The alternative was not in fact, despite the hopes and wishes of any honest left communists, a society led by left communists but one led by whites who would have completely smashed both the left communists and the leninists.

            This was well illustrated in the Chinese Cultural Revolution where serious efforts were made to open up freedom of the press for the left while denying it to the right. (There were several hundred Red Guard newspapers in Peking in 1967 with vitriolic polemics). The right used “left” slogans to “denounce everybody” and escape. This ended up with the right firmly in power and total suppression of the left.

            The problem has not been solved and there isn’t an easy solution. Kautsky’s platitudes about democracy certainly were not and are not a solution and Rosa didn’t have a solution either.

            Certainly we should defend democracy against the social-fascists pretending to be leftists – and that includes defending bourgeois democracy as well as proletarian democracy. We need to learn from the failures of the past and improve on what was achieved before (which should certainly be possible in more advanced societies with a large majority of literate workers). But that won’t be helped by denouncing Lenin and siding with Kautsky.

            • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

              How was it “not possible” to give workers the freedom to organize and not the dispossessed bourgeoisie and ex-landlords (especially those in exile)? I agree it would be impossible to try to stop the reactionaries from trying to take advantage of worker organizing, but to say that the ruthlessly effective Cheka/GPU/NKVD of ~1921 couldn’t discriminate between factory workers and Miliukovs is not credible to me.

        • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

          This letter of Lenin’s may be representative of this thinking at this time – but its disingenuous. It refers to the power of the bourgeois press in a capitalist state,to fashion an argument about the totally different context that existed in a workers state. How could the bourgeoisie in 1921 Russia “buy a force ten times larger” than that of the Soviet state?

          • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

            My point exactly. I plan to address Lenin’s revisionism on this question in my Marxism-anarchism contribution.

            • Arthur

              Its really quite strange that people who live in societies where not merely large numbers of workers but the overwhelming majority go along with the dominant ideas of the dominant class somehow imagine that bourgeois ideology was not far stronger among workers in countries with far more backward conditins and a large peasant majority.

              The picture you have of Soviet state capabilities and strength in comparison to the bourgeoisie owes more to the propaganda about “totalitarianism” than to any grasp of the actual reality facing revolutionaries in Russia.

              • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

                You don’t counter bourgeois ideology by supressing the bourgeois press, but by stimulating the workers own media: something Lenin understood perfectly when it suited him, hence the large funds that the Bolsheviks provided for the left press in capitalist countries.

                • Arthur

                  Its so simple. If only they had been led by Kautsky instead of Lenin, Russia would have had a free press and the revolution would not have degenerated. The sheer childishness of this stuff is amazing.

  • Wayne

    (1) The references to Kautsky are puzzling. Anarchists did not agree with Kautsky. They were for a socialist, working class, revolution, for one thing, unlike Kautsky, and the Mensheviks and also the Bolsheviks. Except for Trotsky and a handful of people who agreed with him, all the Marxists were for a capitalist revolution. Lenin had never thought through what a Russian socialist revolution would involve (even after he realized that a Russian revolution could be socialist as part of a European revolution). Well,no wonder that is what he ended up with, a capitalist revolution (the working class being defeated early on).

    (2) The terrorist-authoritarian nut Nechaev thought he was an anarchist, more or less, but this has nothing to do with the narodniks (peasant-populists) and less with Lenin’s authoritarianism. On the other hand, Pol Pot thought he was a Marxist, as did Stalin and Mao. Clearly their beliefs and actions contradicted much that was democratic, libertarian, humanistic, and proletarian in Marx’s world view. But, I would argue, they were consistent with certain authoritarian aspects of his views. Some of these authoritarian aspects are on display in this thread.

    (3) Apparently some of the correspondents have little faith in the working class. Workers cannot be trusted to judge between reactionary and progressive, authoritarian and libertarian, opinions in newspapers or in competing parties. We, the kindly revolutionary elite, must judge for them. Perhaps they would have gotten it wrong, even if the Bolsheviks had tried to maintain a left-coalition with the Left SRs (supported by the anarchists). But *we know* what happened with Lenin’s policy of suppressing competing parties (even those who would abide by Soviet legality). It resulted in a one-party police state (with alternate caucuses banned within the one party and all unions subordinated to the party). By 1921 at the latest. And this congealed into a totalitarian state-capitalist counter-revolutionary system.

    (4) “Totalitarian” was a term used by the fascists with pride. Trotsky applied it to Stalinist Russia. It means that the ruling party seeks to control every aspect of life and culture, totally, unlike the looser monarchies and bureaucratic police states of old.

    (5) I look forward to reading Pham Binh’s Marxism-anarchism contribution.

  • PatrickSMcNally

    Mussolini’s Fascist Party actually did make a deliberate point of invoking the term “totalitarian” as a self-descriptive adjective. But hardly anyone today really accepts that as an accurate characterization of Mussolini’s state. The way in which Mussolini himself was deposed by internal opposition within the Fascist Party tends to run against such an interpretation. In his diaries Goebbels drew the conclusion that much of Mussolini’s authority was pure bluff. In that sense one could have greater validity when applying the term to Hitler or Stalin.

    But the popularization of the term as applied to such states came after World War II when Zbigniew Brzezinski and some others pushed it into general usage. The connotations which this term has derive from there and it should be judged according to that. Richard Overy, Ian Kershaw, Hans Mommsen, Archibald Getty, Shiela Fitzpatrick, Robert Thurston and many others have highlighted the problematic assumptions behind the Brzezinski-usage of the term.

    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

      Aren’t you overlooking Hannah Arendt? And the earliest critics of the Brzezinski-Friedrich school, Gordon Skilling and Jerry Hough?

  • Wayne

    So, if you don’t like “totalitarian”:
    Stalin’s Soviet Union, like Nazi Germany, was a highly centralized, extremely repressive and authoritarian, mass murdering, regime which sought to subordinate every aspect of life and culture to its party’s official ideology, and which defended economies based on the capital/labor relationship (varieties of capitalism). Does that change in terminology make you happy?

    The reason for the attack on the term “totalitarian” is not really about terminology but tenderness about the thing. The point is to find some way to associate the revolutionary left, proletarian, opposition to Stalinism with pro-Western, pro-capitalist opposition to Stalinism.

    To the bourgeoisie (traditional, stock-owning, capitalists), it does not matter whether they lose their wealth, power, and standing to a self-managing working class or to a collectivized, authoritarian, bureaucracy which maintains the capital/labor relationship. Either way, they lose their wealth and power. This is why they equate libertarian socialism with Stalinism (“Communism”).

    The same is true, in reverse, for the state capitalist bureaucrats. They do not care whether they lose power to traditional capitalists or to the working class. Either way, they loose their wealth and power. So they equate libertarian socialism with capitalism.. And so do their champions.

    (Actually, to be fair, the “East bloc” bureaucrats have often found it fairly easy to morph into a new bourgeosie, which has led them *in practice* to vastly prefer traditional capitalism to any form of real socialism.)

    • Richard Estes

      In all of the instances mentioned here, there was mass participation in the creation and implementation of repression. Use of the term “totalitarian” obscures this disturbing fact, suggesting that they were the responsibility of a relatively small group of people. Why did millions of people support Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini and others instead of embracing left alternatives? Why were they complicit in their acts of repression?

      While these have been primarily academic questions in recent decades, they could easily become much more serious. As the emergence of Golden Dawn indicates, we could find ourselves in a situation where we are desperate for answers fairly soon.

      • jp

        not to derail the subject, but wondering what acts of mao you consider to compare to those of the others you cited

        • Richard Estes

          it’s a fair question

          I would say the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957 and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1969. His refusal to acknowledge the failure of the Great Leap Forward when confronted with it by Peng Duhaui in 1959 resulted in a lot of unnecessary deaths, or, at least, made him responsible for refusing to take remedial action that might have improved the situation.

          But I agree with what appears to be the implicit thrust of your question, namely that Mao, except, perhaps during the Cultural Revolution, never concentrated power in himself and a small group of associates as the others did. So, it can be argued that my inclusion of him along with the others is unfair. My understanding is that the CCP acknowledged his excesses while recognizing his achievements in a revised party history released in the early 1980s.

          • jp

            after a lifetime of standard left assumptions on mao and china, i’m now in a [probably] permanent reassessment of mao mainly due to some enlightenment from the kasama website.

            for beginners like me it’s ‘Was Mao Really a Monster?: The Academic Response to Chang and Halliday’s “Mao: The Unknown Story”‘ [not primarily a left defense], and ‘Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History ‘

            ccp 80’s reassessment of mao is the next-to-last thing i’d rely on

            • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

              Mao was not a monster, and he was no Stalin, either.

              Roderick McFarquhar wrote a series of books that cover the period from 1956 to the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. In his last one, “The Origins of the Cultural Revolution”, he benefitted from increased access to party documents, and provides an amazingly thorough evaluation of the issues and conflicts within the party from 1961 to 1966. The depth of research and analysis is striking.

              It would take a long time to characterize his findings, but a few are worthy of note. First, after the Great Leap Forward, Mao delegated day to day administrative authority to people like Liu Shaoqi, Peng Zhen and Deng Xiaoping, and the disputes that exploded into the Cultural Revolution resulted from his marginalization and the bureaucratization of the party. His conclusion remains controversial, but it cuts against the grain of Mao as an unassailable, autocratic leader. He put forward policies, and frequently had to give ground in the face of internal party opposition. The displeasure of young people in China that fed into the Cultural Revolution was evocative of a similar dissatisfaction that young French people experienced in relation to Gaullism.

              Second, the party struggled to cope with economic growth and the uneven distribution of wealth that was already beginning to emerge. Party leaders, like Liu Shaoqi’s wife, Wang Guangmei, went undercover to live in a peasant commune to conduct an investigation, and reported disturbing findings in regard to corrupt administration and the peasantry’s enthusiasm for accumulating individual and familial wealth as opposed to communal wealth. Wang’s was harshly criticized for her covert methods by the Red Guards. Liu Shaoqi’s response in 1965 was to advocate for a “Socialist Education Movement” that would have resulted, according to Mao, in the purging of 20% of the party’s peasant membership.

              Mao blanched at this, and, remarkably, pursued the Cultural Revolution against the party as a less severe alternative. Whether it ended up that way is a subject for speculative debate, but it is indisputable that Shaoqi wanted to pursue a mass purge of the peasantry (not surprising, given his time in the USSR), and that Mao rejected it as too extreme. The subsequent rehabilitation of Liu Shaoqi by people like William Hinton’s daughter (in a film released about 8 to 10 years ago), as if Liu was a victim of the Cultural Revolution because of his advocacy of a more humane socialism is incredible.

              My understanding is that, even today, the complicity of other high ranking party members in the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution has not been addressed within China (Deng was a ruthless participant in the Anti-Rightist Campaign, for example, and Liu comes off poorly for his advocacy of the Socialist Education Movement). Better to let the burden fall solely on Mao’s broad shoulders, which remain capable of shouldering it.

              • jp

                thanks; i very much appreciate your thoughts on this. liu’s recommended? ‘purge’ of peasantry: what actions would this have involved? sorry to northstar for this diversion – maybe a mao piece can be posted for discussion.

                • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

                  I can only recommend Chapter 18, “From Grey Eminence to Red Leader” about Liu Shaoqi in McFarquhar’s “The Origins of the Cultural Revolution”. Chapter 15, “The Socialist Education Movement” is worthwhile as well. If you have access to a university library, consider checking it out.

                  Buth this gives you a flavor of the SEM to the extent that it was implemented in 1964 and 1965 before it was aborted:

                  “The new document exhibited the ruthless thoroughness of which Liu Shaoqi felt crucial for the success of the SEM. It was estimated that the campaign would take five to six years (!) in contrast t to the earlier two or three . . . Not just serious offenders but even cadres who had committed only minor sins now had to be confronted by the masses . . . Persuasive education to reform working people who had become profiteers was dropped in favor of struggle.” (P. 407)

                  “From this worm’s eye viewpoint, the SEM was a terrible experience. Each xian (county or district) selected for SEM treatment received a work team of over 10,000 people. . . In one commune in Qinghai province, perhaps cited as an example of leftism run rampant because it was one of the worst in the county, the work team decided that 47 percent of the cadres required dismissal and disciplinary action. In many places and at many times, cadres were beaten up or trussed up, and there were cases of flight and suicide.” (P. 408)

                  “In the words of one Western scholar, it was ‘in all probability the most intensive purge of rural Party members and cadres in the history of the Chinese People’s Republic.'” (P. 409)

                  “One reason Mao favored narrowing the number of people to be attacked was the sheer enormity of the task. It might amount, he suggested, to taking on 20 percent of the population, about 140m people. As a result, he declared himself a ‘rightist’ on the issue, and laid down that the percentage of families labelled as bad elements after struggle should not exceed 10 percent, itself a concession since the normal campaign quota was 5 percent. . . The Chairman was always sensitive to the danger of antagonizing too large a segment of the population, particularly in the countryside.

                  In opposition to Liu’s Robespierre-like rectitude, Mao even advocated going easy on those who had embezzled funds, rejecting the need for strictness and thoroughness in demanding repayment, and arguing for their quick readmission into the revolutionary ranks.” (P. 420)

                  Mao may have sincerely flinched at the enormity of the struggle that was being unleashed, but he also had a deeper motivation. By now, he had decided that if revisionism was to be prevented from infecting China, it was the CCP that had to be purified, not pilfering peasants. (Pp. 420-421)

                  Again, please consider finding the book. It is an extraordinary account of the period in question.

                  • jp

                    thanks again, very much, for taking the time for this – i’m looking to read the mcfarquhar book. mao and china – vast subject.

              • http://billkerr2.blogspot.com.au Bill Kerr

                Richard Estes:
                > Mao blanched at this, and, remarkably, pursued the Cultural Revolution against the party as a less severe alternative

                The issue here which you don’t mention is the analysis made by Mao and the gang of 4 about bourgeois right leading to the growth of a new capitalist class within the communist party. My guess is that would be the real reason that Mao took the path of the Cultural Revolution, that the problem was actually more serious than one of corruption.

                Thanks for reference to Roderick McFarquhar’s book, which I may buy.

                There were issues to do with Liu Shaoqi of course such as “self cultivation” which also was analysed in depth by Mao and his allies. I don’t know much about Liu’s wife activities though.

          • http://billkerr2.blogspot.com.au Bill Kerr

            Richard Estes:
            > His refusal to acknowledge the failure of the Great Leap Forward when confronted with it by Peng Duhaui in 1959

            Contrast this with Mobo Gao’s account in The Battle for China’s Past, p. 61-2.

            Despite the limitations of this category of literature, occasional exceptions can provide insights and valuable information if one ploughs
            through them with a critical attitude. In one book, for instance, Quan
            provides some personal insight into Peng Dehuai’s downfall. Quan
            reveals that at the 1959 Lushan Conference, Mao, who was intending
            to cool down the Great Leap Forward, initially did not find Peng’s
            letter criticizing the Great Leap Forward too offensive. Mao thought
            that Peng had ‘zichanjieji dongyaoxing (bourgeois vacillation) and only
            commented that Peng always gave him negative material. Mao still
            intended to conclude the conference as had been scheduled. However,
            when Mao gave his final speech, Peng chose not to sit with other
            members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, who, according
            to the customary hierarchical arrangement, were to sit on a (raised)
            platform facing the less prominent party officials. Instead, Peng took a
            seat at a back row among the lesser mortals, with his head recently
            shaven bald, a clear sign of challenge. Mao remarked that if the army
            did not want to follow him he could lead another guerrilla war.
            According to Quan this remark was directed at Peng, who was the
            Minister of Defence, a typical dry humour of Mao.

            After the speech, Mao and Peng bumped into each other when they
            came out of the conference hall. Mao smiled at Peng, and took the
            initiative in greeting him and invited him to have a talk, to which Peng
            replied in a loud voice, ‘There is nothing to talk about!’ and walked off.
            This encounter took place in front of many senior CCP leaders. Later
            when Mao went back to his residence several ‘CCP leaders’ came to
            offer critical remarks about Peng and suggested to Mao that the conference should be prolonged to solve the problem of ‘the struggle
            between the two lines’. Quan’s account offers an angle that is absent
            from the version offered by Li Rui, which is widely accepted in the
            West. Quan’s account is insightful because it reveals the role of other
            players. Moreover, it reveals, from a bodyguard’s point of view, the
            consequences of breaching the accepted norms and values of maintaining unity at least on the surface, and of respecting hierarchy in
            Chinese political culture.

            This book does acknowledge that the Great Leap Forward was a failure but does also contain quite a few other mitigating comments about Mao’s role in it.

  • PatrickSMcNally

    “Totalitarian” is a term which has been rejected for the Third Reich by historians who are not “tender” about Stalinism in any way. I very much doubt that you will find any historians who would regard Mussolini as “totalitarian” in any real sense, even though that was where the term originated. The term does not shed any light on anything one way or another.

    With regards to the USSR specifically, Stalin’s purges of the 1930s really were a mass-murder of revolutionaries in the same spirit as Suharto’s massacre of the Indonesian Communist Party. But even then, Russia was living better in 1937-8 than had ever been the case under the Czarist regime. The mortality rates among the general population were about two-thirds of what had been the case in 1913. That is definitely not a justification for Stalin’s purges, which reflected the mentality of The Protocols of Zion. It is, however, a justification for the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Revolution and the Civil War. Any meaningful critique of the political counter-revolution which happened in the Stalin years needs to start by recognizing that Russia was still much better off for having had the revolution.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    No more Nepal discussion in this thread please. Post here instead: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=8492 Be sure to read the article first!

  • Wayne

    (1) To Richard: I do not understand why you think use of the term “totalitarian” denies that such regimes were established through mass action. Certainly Trotsky used the term while insisting that fascism, especially Nazism, was mass based (on the middle class) and therefore capable to creating a uniquely repressive regime, much worse than the older monarchies or burearucratic police states. While we might argue about the Eastern European Stalinist states, there is no question that China Stalinism had a mass base–at least orginally in peasant-based armies, organized by declase’ middle class cadre, totally top-down.

    Anyway, this is an argument over a term, not over content. Unlike JP, who knows nothing of mass killings or artificial famines. Certainly he or she is aware that Maoist China was a one-party state, in which workers and peasants could not chose their leaders or their policies?

    (2) Patrick S McN assures us that things were much better in the Soviet Union than in the old Czarist empire. In some ways yes, but in other ways no (consider the mass starvation in Ukraine because Stalin sold their wheat abroad; consider the gulog and the purges and general repression, far worse than under Czarism).

    But the main point is that Stalinism (the outcome of Leninism) was a defeat for the world revolution!! Not only did it provide an awful model of what a revolutionary society would look like, but it took control over the left of the international working class movement and guided it into (alternately) sectarian ultra-leftism and then anti-revolutionary “moderate” politics (the Popular Front; the betrayal of Spain). When it is said that the alternatives were Stalin or Hitler, it is worth remembering that without Stalin there might not have been a Hitler. This culminated in the afdtermath of WWII, in which Stalinism either (a) set up repressive and unattractive regimes in Eastern Europe and (b) held back the workers from a real proletarian revolution in Western Europe.

    (3) As requested, I won’t say anything about the Maoists in Nepal. But how about the way almost all the Leninists (including the more “democratic” Trotskyists) have sung the praises of the Hugo Chavez regime? They do not seem to believe, any longer, that the old bourgeois state needs to first be overthrown before socialism can be built (which once was a major area of agreement between revolutionary Marxists and anarchists).

    • David Berger

      Wayne, you and I are old comrades, so one thing that are doing really burns my ass.

      Why is it that you consistently avoid mentioning the IS tendency in the US when you discuss Marxist, Leninist or Socialist groups? You know full well that we maintained a consistent and principled opposition to stalinism in all its forms, against social democracy, and we have not fallen into the shallow intellectual trap presented by the devotees of Chavismo.

    • PatrickSMcNally

      “mass starvation in Ukraine because Stalin solf their wheat abroad”

      This is a discredited Right-wing lie from the Cold War. Mark Tauger has done the most detailed studies of this. The famine which killed about 2.6 million Ukrainians in the harvest year of 1932-3 (and about another 1.2 million deaths in the Volga outside of Ukraine) was a result of crop failure. Grain requisitions were too small to account for the famine. Cold War liars like James Mace, Robert Conquest, Dana Dalrymple and other hucksters were the ones who promoted this myth of the “artificial manmade famine.”

      For a good debunking of the dishonest methods used by these people one should read Douglas Tottle, Fraud, Famine and Fascism: The Ukrainian Genocide Myth from Hitler to Harvard. Tottle’s book is not actually an analysis of the famine itself, but simply exposes the fraudulent accounts strung together by Conquest et al.

      For more detailed analyses of the famine itself the better accounts, based upon actual research in the archives of the USSR after 1991, would be:

      Mark Tauger, Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933, Carl Beck Papers, Number 1506.

      Mark Tauger, Statistical Falsification in the Soviet Union: A Comparative Case Study of Projections, Biases, and Trust, Donald W. Treadgold Papers, Number 34.

      Tauger, Davies, Wheatcroft, Stalin, Grain Stocks, and the Famine of 1932-1933, Slavic Review, Fall 1995.

      Mark Tauger, The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933, Slavic Review, Spring 1991.

      As follow-ups to the last it’s also worth checking out the letter exchanges between Tauger and Conquest which appear in Slavic Review, Spring 1992 and Spring 1994. Robert Conquest has been the prime figure in promoting the hoax of the manmade famine. Tauger’s research clearly surpasses Conquest, even apart from the instances of fakery which Tottle had already exposed in Fraud, Famine and Fascism.

      Sure it’s true that the purges of the 1930s involved many more executions than had ever occurred in Czarist Russia prior to 1913, even though the general mortality rates among the populace were much improved in 1937-8 over 1913. But the social explosion brought on by the First World War had already ruptured the old equilibrium and the reactionary forces of the Whites were not going to restore that. The triumph of Stalin over the other Bolsheviks such as Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev et al was a great tragedy in this respect. But Russia was still clearly better off with a victory of the Reds over the Whites in the Russian Revolution & Civil War.

      If one was going to make a comparison with the Third Reich, the most relevant point would be in the way that Hitler got into power because people like Franz Von Paper and Kurt Von Schleicher simply underestimated him. There is a natural analogy in the way that many of the more educated Bolsheviks simply underestimated Stalin and assumed that the broad political battlelines would be drawn between, say, Bukharin and Trotsky, while mostly ignoring Stalin as a serious player.

      That is actually quite similar to the way that Papen maneuvered to get Hitler the Chancellorship because he was determined to unseat Schleicher. Contrary to a popular myth on the Left, there is zero evidence that some broad “German capitalist class” somehow supported Hitler specifically in a desperate bid to save capitalism. The German upper class had always been hostile to the Weimar Republic, and they showed a very cozy attitude towards all forms of Right-wing politics. Some of that unavoidably played to Hitler’s advantage. But the NSDAP had gone into decline in the last half of 1932 and Papen’s moves to bring Hitler into office show no evidence of being guided by any macroscopic class perspective. Papen simply expected that Schleicher would be pushed out of the Chancellorship, and he didn’t think much further than that. There is some parallel in the way that the Trotsky, Bukharin et al so terribly underestimated Stalin.

  • Wayne

    (1) To David Berger: While I did not want to make a specific analysis of the I.S. trend by name, I did discuss it. Are you unaware that the ISO was for voting for Chavez? and for working in his “socialist” party? Similar to its support for a U.S. liberal pro-capitalist such as Nadar for election.

    Meanwhile, to repeat, I noted above that the I.S. trend (including you and I) regarded the police state dictatorship of Lenin and Trotsky as a more-or-less “good” “workers’ state,” only undemocratic due to “objective conditions” and a few mistakes. Meanwhile we regarded the Soviet Union under Stalin as not-so-good but still a “workers’ state” until about 1929 (Cliff) or the late 1930s (Shachtman). These views of Lenin’s and Stalin’s states show that *in fact* we believed that it was possible for the working class to rule (have its own state) even if the working class was powerless, oppressed, repressed, and exploited. This is a version of what is believed by the Pabloite wing of the Trotskyists (“Soviet defensists”). Sorry to “burn your ass,” but truth is truth.

    (2) Meanwhile I am astounded at the degree of Maoist denial (politically similar to Holocaust denial). Leave out the stuff about mass kills and starvation. Are you people really unaware that Mao led a one-party state? That whatever turmoil he created during the Cultural Revolution, he never suggested that the workers and peasants have the right to chose among leaders, programs, or organizations (that is, to form socialist parties and vote for the one they wanted)? You may think he was a “benevolent” dictator but to deny that he was a would-be dictator takes an amazing degree of willful blindness.

    • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

      Distinguishing Mao from Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini is far from characterizing him as “benevolent”. Nor does pointing out that Liu Shaoqi was even worse. I think we all know that he lead a one-party state.

      An emphasis upon Mao personally obscures the fact that he had numerous allies within the party, the military and the society at large, which actually makes a stronger anarchist case against the CCP. Deng Xiaoping and his successors have been able to impose a repressive neoliberal model upon China by claiming a distance from Mao that was unwarranted.

    • David Berger

      WAYNE PRICE: (1) To David Berger: While I did not want to make a specific analysis of the I.S. trend by name, I did discuss it. Are you unaware that the ISO was for voting for Chavez? and for working in his “socialist” party? Similar to its support for a U.S. liberal pro-capitalist such as Nadar for election.

      DAVID BERGER: And this is exactly what burns me: Your hectoring, almost whiny tone. Are you unaware that urging a vote for Chavez is a defensible position? You may disagree with it, but it is a reasonable postion from a Marxist point of view. You can’t dismiss it out of hand on the basis of moral outrage.

      WAYNE PRICE: Meanwhile, to repeat, I noted above that the I.S. trend (including you and I) regarded the police state dictatorship of Lenin and Trotsky as a more-or-less “good” “workers’ state,” only undemocratic due to “objective conditions” and a few mistakes.

      DAVID BERGER: Yes, we did. And that, too, is a defensible position. It may be right or wrong, but it can’t be dismissed out of hand. And, by the way, there was considerable support in the IS for the Workers Opposition.

      WAYNE PRICE: Meanwhile we regarded the Soviet Union under Stalin as not-so-good but still a “workers’ state” until about 1929 (Cliff) or the late 1930s (Shachtman).

      DAVID BERGER: Maybe you did. But, as i recall, at least in New York IS, the prevalent view was that it was all over by 1928. And we were extremely aware of the steady “degeneration” almost from the beginning.

      WAYNE PRICE: These views of Lenin’s and Stalin’s states show that *in fact* we believed that it was possible for the working class to rule (have its own state) even if the working class was powerless, oppressed, repressed, and exploited.

      DAVID BERGER: All of this, of course, ignores the conditions of WWI and the Civil War. Are you for Voline’s position? Or Makhno’s?

      WAYNE PRICE: This is a version of what is believed by the Pabloite wing of the Trotskyists (“Soviet defensists”). Sorry to “burn your ass,” but truth is truth.

      DAVID BERGER: Not sorry to correct you, but the IS had little or nothing to do with Pabloism except to oppose it. That’s a slander and you know it.

  • Wayne

    To the Maoists on this thread:

    I suggest reading “Notes toward a critique of Maoism”
    by a Left Communist, Loren Goldner
    http://bthp23.com/Maoism.pdf

    • Arthur

      I skimmed it. Mistaking that trot diatribe for a “left communist” critique simply confirms that the author has no conception of the different views he opposes and no more intention of actually studying Mao than he does for Marx.

      • David Berger

        I think, Arthur, as a supporter of the CPUSA for much of its existence, you’re going to have to do better than the epithet: trot. How about some politics?

        If you want to start mudslinging, instead of being politicals, I can bring up some gems from Communist analysis like the delightful phrase by Molotov that “Fascism is a matter of taste.”

    • http://billkerr2.blogspot.com.au Bill Kerr

      I read it.

      I think one problem with accounts of Mao, who emerged as a revolutionary leader and remained one for many years in the most difficult of circumstances (1927 massacre, Long March, Japanese invasion, civil war, split with the USSR etc.) is that if you depict him as always wrong and bad as the above account does, then it simply defies credibility that he would have emerged and remained a leader. The clear implication is that everyone around him must have been incredibly stupid and incompetent.

      The other problem is that it’s not an immanent critique, showing understanding of the internal dynamics, political understanding and subsequent policies etc., but is an externally applied “ideological” critique based on a political line (dogma) which is attempted (crudely) to be layered onto a perceived (distorted) “reality”.

      A critique worth studying would have to pass the Hegel test initially and this one does not.

      The genuine refutation must penetrate the opponent’s stronghold and meet him on his own ground; no advantage is gained by attacking him somewhere else and defeating him where he is not
      – GWF Hegel

      I’d recommend Mobo Gao’s The Battle for China’s Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution (2008) – pdf

      • David Berger

        BILL KERR: I think one problem with accounts of Mao, who emerged as a revolutionary leader and remained one for many years in the most difficult of circumstances (1927 massacre, Long March, Japanese invasion, civil war, split with the USSR etc.) is that if you depict him as always wrong and bad as the above account does, then it simply defies credibility that he would have emerged and remained a leader.

        DAVID BERGER: Duh! How about the fact that Mao was in fact “right,” in that he followed the “correct” class line, but it was not the line of the working class?

        BILL KERR: The clear implication is that everyone around him must have been incredibly stupid and incompetent.

        DAVID BERGER: No, the clear implication is that we are dealing with a coherent species of politics that, however, has little or nothing to do with socialism and uses Marxist terminology to cover its tracks.

        BILL KERR: The other problem is that it’s not an immanent critique, showing understanding of the internal dynamics, political understanding and subsequent policies etc., but is an externally applied “ideological” critique based on a political line (dogma) which is attempted (crudely) to be layered onto a perceived (distorted) “reality”.

        DAVID BERGER: Translation: I don’t like its politics.

        BILL KERR: A critique worth studying would have to pass the Hegel test initially and this one does not.

        DAVID BERGER: First time I’ve ever seen Hegel used as a criterion for judging Marxists, but whatever.

        HEGEL: The genuine refutation must penetrate the opponent’s stronghold and meet him on his own ground; no advantage is gained by attacking him somewhere else and defeating him where he is not
        – GWF Hegel

        DAVID BERGER: And that’s what Goldner does: Mao’s “stronghold” is that he is upheld as some kind of a revolutionary Marxist leader. Goldner shows that, in fact, he was not.

  • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

    Thanks for the link, Wayne: a lot of interesting things on this site. He seems very prolific.

  • Wayne

    (1) To Richard Estes: Let me agree that the issue is not “Mao personally.” It is his politics, which he shared with others, the party he participated in building, and the class he represented, along with others. This class, developing mostly out of the former middle layers of society, became a center for capital accumulation, the personification of capital.

    To say, “I think we all know that he lead a one-party state,” is to admit everything. So did Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini lead one-party states. You see, *it is a bad thing* to build a one-party state. Whether benevolent or whatever the subjective aims of the ruler, the result must be oppression, repression, exploitation, and economic inefficiency. Mao and his fellow Stalinists were “always wrong and bad” because they had bad goals, namely state capitalism (which they thought of as socialism). There is no alternative to the self-management of the working class and peasants, which must be pluralistic and democratic if it is to be at all.

    (2) Dave: If I come across as “whiny,” what can I say? I do not find voting for bourgeois politicians or supporting one-party police states as “defensible positions” (which is not to deny that you are sincere in discussing them). Of course I support the positions of Voline and especially Makhno. But my point was that the ISO and most Trotskyists have abandoned the Leninist concept that the existing state must be overthrown before socialism can be built, which was something which they had had in common with the anarchists.

    I was not saying that the ISers were the same as the Pabloites but that they agreed with the Pabloites on this key issue, a belief that there can be a “workers’ state” without the workers having any democratic control of that state. By 1928 the workers had lost any democratic control for years already.

    I am glad that some people got something out of reading Loren Goldner. He is, incidently, one of the most knowledgable people about Marx’s critique of political economy that I know.

    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

      @Wayne. This concept of the USSR as a “workers state” – which is a bit more complex than you grant: its intended not a characterisation of the political superstructure but of the mode of production / social formation – was not at all the property of Pablo and his supporters, but was (and is) the touchstone of “orthodox trotskyism” from Trotsky through all parties to the FI splits of the 1950s and their various descendants. “Pabloism” was formed around a distinct set of issues arising from postWWII developments and their implications for international revolutionary perspectives.

      • Wayne

        Brian,
        I am using “Pabloism” (as David Berger understood, I believe) to mean that wing of the Trotskyist movement after WWII which was under Pablo’s leadership and adopted the concept that the Eastern European countries were “deformed workers’ states” and that the Soviet Union remained a “degenerated workers’ state” (contrary to Trotsky’s insistence that it could not last in this form past the world war). This is a widespread use of the term and is synonomous with so-called “orthodox Trotskyism.” As is obvious, it denies that a working class revolution is essential to establish a “workers’ state” (whether seen as a form of production or of the state) or that the actual rule of the working class is necessary to have a “workers’ state.”

        My argument with Dave was that these two fallacies also apply to the views of the other wing of the Trotskyist movement (which includes the trend of the British SWP and the US ISO). This (correctly) sees Stalin’s Soviet Union as (at least eventually) becoming an exploitative class society, ruled by the collective bureaucracy (either state capitalism or some other formation), but (incorrectly) believes that that began only years after the workers lost all political, social, and economic power.

        • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

          @Wayne. I have no particlar axe to grind here, except that of of historical accuracy.
          However Your genealogy of the trotskyist movement is wrong. The split that took place in post-war “orthdodox trotskyism” was not over the characterisation of either the Soviet Union OR the Eastern European states. In 1951 the entire 4th International (including both sides of the later split into the International Secretariat (IS: Pablo) and the International Committee (IC: Healy, US SWP, Lambert, et al) adopted the position that the states of Eastern Europe were “deformed workers states”, based on their “structural assimilation” into the Soviet system. http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/fi/1950-1953/fi-3rdcongress/1951-congress08.htm
          This provoked various small splits, who were the source of the modern “state capitalist” currents. The division between the IS and IC (which gave rise to the label of “Pabloism”) did not take place until 1953 and was over other issues.
          It is also inaccurate to refer to “Trotsky’s INSISTENCE that it could not last in this form past the world war”. Tue, there are suggestions in Trotsky’s final writings that he was beginning to feel that the concept of a “degenerated workers state” would be difficult to sustain if Stalinism survived the war. But these are fragmentary and tentative thoughts – nothing “insistent” about them.
          Finally: in my view its essential to distinguish between the state form and the mode of production to get to grips with these issues.

          • Wayne

            Brian, I was not raising the post-WWII split in organized “orthodox” Trotskyism, as it thrashed around trying to decide how to remain Trotskyist despite (1) the postwar relative prosperity and (2) the survival of the bureaucratic rule of the Soviet Union and its actual spread into a third of Europe and a large part of Asia. Both of which contradicted Trotsky’s expectations and analysis. As I said, I was discussing the development of two wings of Trotskyism (those who continued Trotsky’s analysis of the USSR as a “workers’ state” and those who rejected it for a state capitalist or other analysis). No doubt Trotskyist tendencies can be grouped into various categories; this is the grouping which I am using because I think it has the most usefulness.The first concept was developed under the international leadership of Pablo and has often be called “Pabloism,” but I do not give a damn about the term (which has also been used for other purposes in the internecine fights of the Trotskyists). The content and the context are what counts: can the workers’ rule when the workers do not rule? The bourgeoise can rule the economy without necessarily ruling the state , but can the working class? (Leaving aside the issue of the “state” or other polity, I answer “No.”)

            Trotsky’s argument against calling the bureaucracy a class was mostly that it was only a temporary formation. It would not last (because nationalized property was inherently proletarian and not congruent with class rule and exploitation, contra Marx and Engels). He kept on saying, Wouldn’t it be silly to call it a new class when it would soon be gone? He was certain that it would either become traditional capitalism or be overthrown by a workers’ revolution. Not in 60 years (which happened, the first possibility) but rather soon. Certainly by the end of the coming world war. And it never entered his head that it might instead spread over Europe and be established by peasant-based, Stalinist-led, revolutions in Asia, etc.

            By “workers’ state,” Trotsky meant a state of the workers, the dictatorship of the proletariat. It would manage a commodity producing, wage-paying, economy in the context of a capitalist world market, while making steps toward socialism–holding on until the world revolution, at which point there could be huge steps. A “workers’ state” (degenerated, deformed, or otherwise abused) is not a distinct “mode of production.” There is capitalism and socialism and the transition between them (under the workers’ control), but no third mode of production.

            BTW, I notice that this discussion is no longer on the home page (nor is there any listing which could tell interested readers how to find it). I assume this means that this thread is over. I will look forward to the other three presentations on the topic which I understand are to be presented.

    • David Berger

      WAYNE PRICE: (2) Dave: If I come across as “whiny,” what can I say? I do not find voting for bourgeois politicians or supporting one-party police states as “defensible positions” (which is not to deny that you are sincere in discussing them).

      DAVID BERGER: That’s not my point. What I’m saying is that I find in what you’ve written is an ongoing set of moral quibbles against the political tradition of Independent Socialism as if the most important thing is to make sure that you are not confused with it.

      WAYNE PRICE: Of course I support the positions of Voline and especially Makhno.

      DAVID BERGER: Jesus, you’ve got to be kidding. Do you support crap like Voline’s opposition to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the continuation of the war, in spite of the fact that the first principle of the Bolshevik’s revolutionary program was a cessation of the war? And as to Makhno, his political epitaph was pronounced decades ago. If you want to open a thread on Makhno, be my guest.

      WAYNE PRICE: But my point was that the ISO and most Trotskyists have abandoned the Leninist concept that the existing state must be overthrown before socialism can be built, which was something which they had had in common with the anarchists.

      DAVID BERGER: Y0u are going to have to demonstrate that.

      WAYNE PRICE: I was not saying that the ISers were the same as the Pabloites but that they agreed with the Pabloites on this key issue, a belief that there can be a “workers’ state” without the workers having any democratic control of that state.

      DAVID BERGER: That is not true. The IS defended the USSR so long as there was any fighting remnant of workers power, expressed either in the political struggle or in the economy.

      WAYNE PRICE: By 1928 the workers had lost any democratic control for years already.

      DAVID BERGER: There was still a political opposition. However, why quibble about a few years. The point is that the IS was completely aware of the progress of stalinization. 1928 was only an absolute end. If you want to justify an earlier date fine. This is an example of what I call your whininess.

      WAYNE PRICE: I am glad that some people got something out of reading Loren Goldner. He is, incidently, one of the most knowledgable people about Marx’s critique of political economy that I know.

      DAVID BERGER: I happened to have met him for the first time about a year ago in the context of the Con Ed lockout and the support given to the workers by the then-existing Labor Alliance of Occupy Wall Street. Unfortunately, he seemed to have completely misjudged the situation and allied himself with a group of very inexperienced young radicals who refused to work with other groups and who vanished at the end of the lockout.

      • Wayne

        We see here the problem of discussing /debating major issues in the brief comments which can be made on threads such as this. I have made several comments already about why I think the nonorthodox wing of Trotskyism was wrong on the state. Apparently they are not enough for Dave to understand my views (let alone agree with them). But then he also seems to have missed my discussion of the Brest-Litovsky peace treaty in this thread. However, most peculiar, in his question and remarks about Voline and Makhno, is that he seems to be surprised that I am an anarchist! As the essay made clear.

        Anyone interested (probably not Dave, which is his right) might read my essay “The Degeneration of the Russian Revolution/The Date Question” in my book, Anarchism & Socialism (2010; thoughtcrimeink.com). Speaking of the I.S. tradition, it also has my essay , “Hal Draper and Socialism-from-Below,” a mostly positive critique.

  • PatrickSMcNally

    Yang Jisheng has gotten a lot of publicity lately for publishing a melange of half-truths and lies meant to promote the more open restoration of capitalism in China. I can only repeat the review already given elsewhere for his book Tombstone:

    —–
    This is a topic which has frequently attracted fake misuses of statistics, and so I was prepared for that when I ordered the book. If the author were a US writer then the book would not be worth looking at. This author is Chinese and represents that sector of the current capitalist class which seeks to more broadly disown the revolution. As such, the author has an agenda but is still worth looking at critically.

    OK, so what happened and what does this book attempt to do? The general outline is rather clear, despite gaps in the data. The first major gap which we’re faced with is that no system of regular population counts, with registry of births and deaths, had really existed in pre-revolutionary China. All of the existing reports from the earlier era support something like what John Finley summarized in the Foreword to the 1926 publication of the American Geographical Society by Walter Mallory, China: Land of Famine:

    “It is a shocking fact that with all of the labor expended and virtues practiced, nearly a fourth of the people of the globe live in a land of famine–not of general famine at any one time nor of continuous famine in any one place, but of famine in one or another province or locality all the time.”

    That is not a substitute for real hard statistics, but it gives an idea of what China in peaceful years was like. One can also gain some useful information by looking at the known statistics for the provinces of Czarist Russia that remained in the USSR after 1917, as given in Frank Lorimer, The Population of the Soviet Union:

    Year_____Deaths per thousand among the population
    1899_____33.4
    1900_____32.3
    1901_____33.6
    1902_____33.1
    1903_____31.1
    1904_____31.1
    1905_____33.2
    1906_____31.6
    1907_____30.2
    1908_____30.2
    1909_____31.6
    1910_____33.3
    1911_____29.2
    1912_____28.7
    1913_____30.9

    You can find some books which give the number 30.2 for 1913 instead of Lorimer’s 30.9. That has to do with the 11 other provinces of Czarist Russia which broke away from the USSR after 1917. Mortality was actually higher in the main Russian part of the Czarist Empire than in Finland, Poland or the Baltic.

    For another comparison, some select years of the United States can be placed alongside this:

    Year_____Deaths per thousand among the population
    1913_____13.8
    1915_____13.2
    1940_____10.8
    1950_____9.6
    1951_____9.7
    1952_____9.6
    1953_____9.6
    1954_____9.2
    1955_____9.3
    1956_____9.4
    1957_____9.6

    These offer some useful guides on what is realistic to think of as likely death rates in China. It is beyond question that any serious guess of mortality rates under the most peaceful conditions in pre-revolutionary China would have to be notably higher than all of the rates listed for Czarist Russia. It also makes sense to assume that mortality rates in China for the first decade after the revolution of 1949 would have been notably higher than the death rates listed above for the United States. Unfortunately, the very flawed statistics published by the Statistical Yearbook of China 1986 are obviously way off and do not meet these criteria:

    Year_____Deaths per thousand among the population
    1949_____20.00
    1950_____18.00
    1951_____17.80
    1952_____17.00
    1953_____14.00
    1954_____13.18
    1955_____12.28
    1956_____11.40
    1957_____10.80
    1958_____11.98
    1959_____14.59
    1960_____25.43
    1961_____14.24
    1962_____10.02
    1963_____10.04

    These are comical underestimates. There is no way that Chinese mortality could have been as low as 20/1000 in 1949 or 10.8/1000 in 1957. At the same time the official Chinese data is instructive on general patterns. What this table asserts is that mortality for China in 1958, 1959 and 1961 (11.98, 14.59, 14.24) was well below anything that had ever existed in pre-revolutionary China. 1960 was a year of famine which these numbers imply caused about 3.36 million deaths over and above the rates of 1949 (25.43 – 20 = 5.43, multiplied by the approximate size of the population). At the same time, if one were to compute from the official data the numbers who died in 1958-61 above the 1957 death rate of 10.8, then the result would be 15.1 million. That says something about the general pattern, but the numbers are obviously all wrong.

    Judith Banister constructed a different table, in response to official statistics, and Banister’s numbers are a bit more realistic:

    Year_____Deaths per thousand among the population
    1949_____38
    1950_____35
    1951_____32
    1952_____29
    1953_____25.77
    1954_____24.20
    1955_____22.33
    1956_____20.11
    1957_____18.12
    1958_____20.65
    1959_____22.06
    1960_____44.60
    1961_____23.01
    1962_____14.02
    1963_____13.81

    Banister’s numbers are more realistic, while conforming to the same general pattern as the official statistics. Banister’s assigned numbers for the years 1958, 1959, and 1961 (20.65, 22.06, 23.01) are all visibly lower than all of the death rates recorded for Czarist Russia, and far lower than anything which had ever occurred in pre-revolutionary China. Banister’s numbers imply that 4.35 million deaths occurred in 1960 above the death rate of 1949 (44.6 – 38 = 6.6, multiplied by the approximate size of the population). At the same time they indicate about 25.4 million dying in 1958-61 above the rate of 18.12 which Banister assigns to 1957.

    Banister’s numbers may suffer from some inaccuracies with inflated birth rates in several years. For 1957-63, Banister assigns fertility rates per thousand of 43.25, 37.76, 28.53, 26.76, 22.43, 41.02, and 49.79. These numbers imply that fertility surpassed mortality by a large margin in all years but 1960-1, and only in 1960 did mortality exceed fertility by a wide margin. That is not very likely. Even such an aithor as Jasper Becker, who is also part of the same bandwagon in support of capitalist restoration, maintains:

    “Very few women were able to have children during the famine. A large proportion stopped menstruating because of the lack of protein in their diet. Some students sent down to the countryside said that they stopped menstruating for as long as five years.”
    — Hungry Ghosts, p. 210.

    The numbers given for fertility by both Banister and the official yearbook do not reflect such tendencies of loss in fertility. That may probably mean that Banister has overestimated the death rate in 1960. But regardless, the general pattern given is clear and makes sense. China experienced a dramatic unprecedented drop in mortality rates during the years following the revolution. Revolutionary leaders became overambitious and attempted a Great Leap Forward, which proved to be a failure in 1958-9. That resulted in some increase in mortality rates in those years, without actually reaching what had been the normal annual death rates in pre-revolutionary China, or even Czarist Russia. By the year 1960 the main effort of the Great Leap Forward had been called off, but this also proved to be a year of severe weather catastrophe. Even Roderick MacFarquhar has documented this fact:

    “Not surprisingly in view of the drought, most of the flooding had been due to the typhoons, more of which had hit the Chinese mainland than in any of the previous 50 years, 11 between June and October; and each typhoon had lasted longer than usual, averaging ten hours, the longest stretching to 20. Moreover, nature had played an additional trick. The typhoon did not strike north-westwards as usual, but northwards. This added to their impact because it meant that there were no high mountains to ward them 0ff, and that less rain reached the rest of the country. In the aftermath of the drought and floods came insect pests and plant diseases.”
    — The Great Leap Forward 1958-1960, Volume 2 of The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, p. 322.

    Against the background of these natural disasters, further compunded by the lack of comprehension within the Party apparatus, which led to even more errors, the mortality rate in China rose to a level that was fairly common in many previous famines which used to occur quite regularly in pre-revolutionary China, perhaps approaching 44.6 per thousand for the country as a whole. That brought an end to the age when China was regarded as “the land of famine” and by 1963 China’s mortality rate had fallen as low as 13.81 per thosand and continued to fall thereafter steadily during the years before Deng Xiao-ping began the capitalist counter-revolution. That is what the real data shows.

    Not surprisingly, many proponents of capitalist restoration in China have sought to promote the most wildly inflated estimates of famine deaths in these years in an effort to justify counter-revolution. The more honest books will simply quote plausible numbers for the years 1957-63, but without telling the reader anything about what real mortality patterns in China historically looked like. But there is another even more dishonest approach favored among some proponents of capitalism which actually requires deliberately faking statistics where it is politically convenient, yet citing higher numbers from other sources for other years.

    It is analogous to if someone found two census agencies which regularly offer an annual estimate of the black population in the USA, but which use a different criterion so that there is always a disparity of one million in the numbers for each year. Now suppose that someone looked up such numbers from such sources and quoted them for two consecutive years in a way which implied that white racists had murdered one million black people. That is the type of hoax which Yang Jisheng tries playing in this book.

    It’s easy to cite specific illustrations of this from the text. On p. 394 he says:

    “The mortality rate in Sichuan from 1958 to 1962 was 1.517 percent, 4.69 percent, 5.39 percent, 2.942 percent, and 1.482 percent.”

    Comparing these numbers with the given by both Judith Banister and Statistical Yearbook, it’s clear that the number “1.517 percent” which he gives for 1958 is meant to read as a little bit higher than the number “11.98 per thousand” which the Statistical Yearbook gives. Yet this number is significantly lower than the number “18.12 per thousand” which Banister gives for 1957, and the gap is even larger when compared with the “20.65 per thousand” which Banister assigns to 1958 itself.

    This isn’t just a fluke accident. On pp. 408-9 the author lists alleged death rates which clearly come from the Statistical Yearbook and he uses them to compute what he declares to be a “normal mortality rate” of 1.047 percent. This is obviously a very steep underestimate of what real mortality rates in China up to 1957 had been like. Banister’s guess of 18.12 per thousand may even be too low, as it assumes a dramatic heretofore unprecedented drop in Chinese mortality over the years 1949-57. If Chinese mortality in 1957 had only been as low as 25 per thousand then that would still represent a dramatic gain over the performances of Czarist Russia and pre-1949 China, while still being larger than each of the mortality rates which Banister assigns to 1958, 1959 and 1961.

    Obviously the reason why Yang Jisheng uses the number of 1.047 percent as an estimate drawn from the Statistical Yearbook is because when such a steep underestimate of real mortality in China is cited, then followed by more realistic estimates for the later years, it allows one to dramatically raise the numbers of deaths occurring over an alleged “normal mortality rate.” This is a very dishonest cut-and-paste method of generating false statistical results. Because of this all of the more special assertions made in this book which do not already have a general corroboration need to be treated with high skepticism. This book was put together with an agenda, and that shows.

    Although this can not and will not stand with sustained authority over the long haul, it may still be worth examining with a very critical eye. Probably the most notable thing about this book is that the author does confirm that an incredible decline in annual mortality was brought about by the Chinese Revolution. He obviously doesn’t mean to state it that way. But it would be unnecessary for him to assert that mortality in Sichuan was as low in 1958 as 1.517 percent if that were not the case. I can actually believe that death rates in Sichuan in 1958 may have been higher than the national rate of 20.65 which Banister assigns to the year 1958. But again, even that number is far lower than the normal death rates of Czarist Russia and pre-revolutionary China.

    There is undoubtedly a need for some methodical critique of the whole era which takes everything into account. Although the weather of 1960 definitely did play an important role in raising the death rate for 1960 above those of 1958-9, and although one does need to appreciate the real progress that was accomplished in the first decade after 1949 in order to see how the Chinese government became overambitious, but it was still acknowledged even within the Party that thw whole thing had been badky handled. That much is undoubtedly true even when the distortions of capitalist propaganda are taken into account. But this book is just another distorting piece of propaganda.

  • http://billkerr2.blogspot.com.au Bill Kerr

    Here’s one simple example (there are many) of what I mean:

    In China the Popular Front meant, for the CCP, supporting Chiang kai-shek (who, it will
    be recalled, had massacred thousands of workers eight years earlier) against Japan

    Isn’t that implying that Mao was simply stupid – to call for unity with Chiang kai-shek against the Japanese occupation – when Chiang kai-shek had led the massacre of the Communist Party in 1927 and had killed many more on the Long March? And yet that policy (which wasn’t actually implemented until after the communists captured Chiang kai-shek and made it a condition of his release) was successful in helping convince the Chinese people that the communists were more sincere and resolute in fighting the Japanese occupiers. It was successful, the communists led and won the war against Japan. How do we account for such success if (a) the “popular front” (not mao’s words I believe) was bad policy (b) Mao was stupid in calling for unity with someone who was trying to kill him. If the idea was so stupid then why didn’t Mao’s fellow communists get rid of him?

    The writing is one of an author imposing some preconceived “correct line” onto the Chinese reality without study or reflection.

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