Monday, 12 January 2015

On the question of the "workers state"

Marxists and anarchists have long since debated on the role of the state and if it can be used to further the working class's interests. This question has always interested me too as I never quite grasped how the state would simply wither away once we're done with it and the ruling class are no longer a threat. This confused me greatly as all states as far as my old Marxist understanding went were bodies of armed men to defend a minority. So when the workers take control of the state turning it into a "workers state" which all trotskyists and Leninists wish to do there are many issues rising from this. To quote from an anarchist FAQ on the question of a workers state: "For me a workers state is a state like any other and so an instrument of minority rule. Yes, this minority may state it represents the majority but in practice it can only represent itself and claim that is what the majority desires. Hence, for anarchists, "the essence of the state . . . [is] centralised power or to put it another way the coercive authority of which the state enjoys the monopoly, in that organisation of violence know as 'government'; in the hierarchical despotism, juridical, police and military despotism that imposes laws on everyone." [Luigi Fabbri, Op. Cit., pp. 24-5] The so-called "semi-state" is nothing of the kind -- it is a centralised power in which a few govern the many. Therefore, the "workers' state" would be "workers" in name only. "To ensure that the workers maintain control over this state, Lenin argued for the election of all officials who should be held accountable and subject to recall, and paid no more than the wage of a skilled worker. All bureaucratic tasks should be rotated. There should be no special armed force standing apart from the people, and we would add, all political parties except fascists should be allowed to organise." This is what Lenin, essentially, said he desired in The State and Revolution Anarchists reply in three ways. Firstly, we note that "much that passes for 'Marxism' in State and Revolution is pure anarchism -- for example, the substitution of revolutionary militias for professional armed bodies and the substitution of organs of self-management for parliamentary bodies. What is authentically Marxist in Lenin's pamphlet is the demand for 'strict centralism,' the acceptance of a 'new' bureaucracy, and the identification of soviets with a state." [Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 213] As an example, let us look at the recall of "officials" (inspired by the Paris Commune). We find this in Bakunin's and Proudhon's work before it was applied by the Communards and praised by Marx. Bakunin in 1868 argued for a "Revolutionary Communal Council" composed of "delegates . . . vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 170-1] Proudhon's election manifesto of 1848 argued for "universal suffrage and as a consequence of universal suffrage, we want implementation of the binding mandate. Politicians balk at it! Which means that in their eyes, the people, in electing representatives, do not appoint mandatories but rather abjure their sovereignty! That is assuredly not socialism: it is not even democracy." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 63] As can be seen, Lenin's recommendations were first proposed by anarchists. Thus the positive aspects of Lenin's work are libertarian in nature, not Marxist as such. Indeed given how much time is spent on the Paris Commune (an essentially libertarian revolt obviously inspired by Proudhon's ideas) his work is more libertarian than Marxist, as Bookchin makes clear. It is the non-libertarian aspects which helped to undermine the anarchist elements of the work. Secondly, Lenin does not mention, never mind discuss, the role of the Bolshevik Party would have in the new "semi-state." Indeed, the party is mentioned only in passing. That in itself indicates the weakness of using The State and Revolution as a guide book to Leninist theory or practice. Given the importance of the role of the party in Lenin's previous and latter works, it suggests that to quote The State and Revolution as proof of Leninism's democratic heart leaves much to be desired. And even The State and Revolution, in its one serious reference to the Party, is ambiguous in the extreme: "By educating the workers' party, Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat which is capable of assuming power and of leading the whole people to Socialism, of directing and organising the new order, of being the teacher, the guide, the leader of all the toiling and exploited in the task of building up their social life without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie." [The Essential Lenin, p. 288] Is it the vanguard or the proletariat which is "capable of assuming power"? The answer is important as a social revolution requires the fullest participation of the formerly oppressed masses in the management of their own affairs. In the context of the rest of The State and Revolution it could be argued it is the proletariat. However, this cannot be squared with Lenin's (or Trotsky's) post-October arguments and practices or the resolution of the Second World Congress of the Communist International which stated that "[e]very class struggle is a political struggle. The goal of this struggle . . . is the conquest of political power. Political power cannot be seized, organised and operated except through a political party." [Cited by Duncan Hallas, the Comintern, p. 35] It is obvious that if the party rules, the working class does not. A socialist society cannot be built without the participation, self-activity and self-management of the working class. Thus the question of who makes decisions and how they do so is essential -- if it is not the masses then the slide into bureaucracy is inevitable. Thus to quote The State and Revolution proves nothing for anarchists -- it does not discuss the key question of the party and so fails to present a clear picture of Leninist politics and their immediate aims. As soon becomes clear if you look at Leninism in power -- i.e. what it actually did when it had the chance, to which we now turn. Thirdly, we point to what he actually did in power. In this we follow Marx, who argued that we should judge people by what they do rather than what they say. We will concentrate on the pre-Civil War (October 1917 to May 1918) period to indicate that this breaking of promises started before the horrors of Civil War can be claimed to have forced these decisions onto the Bolsheviks. Before the out-break of Civil War, the Bolsheviks had replaced election of "all officials" by appointment from above in many areas of life -- for example, they abolished the election of officers in the Red Army and replaced workers' self-management in production with one-man management, both forms of democracy being substituted by appointed from above. In addition, by the end of April, 1918, Lenin himself was arguing "[o]bedience and unquestioning obedience at that, during work to the one-man decisions of Soviet directors, of the dictators elected or appointed by Soviet institutions, vested with dictatorial powers." [Six Theses on the Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, p. 44 -- our emphasis] Moreover, the Soviet Constitution stated that "[e]very commissar [of the Council of People's Commissars -- i.e. the Soviet government] has a collegium (committee) of which he is the president, and the members of which are appointed by the Council of People's Commissars." Appointment was the rule at the very heights of the state. The "election of all officers" ("without exception" [Lenin, The State and Revolution, p. 302]) had ended by month six of the revolution even in Lenin's own writings -- and before the start of the Civil War. Lenin also argued in mid-April 1918 that the "socialist character of Soviet, i.e. proletarian, democracy" lies, in part, in "the people themselves determin[ing] the order and time of elections." [The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, pp. 36-7] Given that "the government [had] continually postponed the new general elections to the Petrograd Soviet, the term of which had ended in March 1918" because it "feared that the opposition parties would show gains" Lenin's comments seem hypocritical in the extreme. [Samuel Farber, Before Stalinism, p. 22] Moreover, the Bolsheviks did not stay true to Lenin's claim in The State and Revolution that "since the majority of the people itself suppresses its oppressors, a 'special force' is no longer necessary" as so "in place of a special repressive force, the whole population itself came on the scene." In this way the "state machine" would be "the armed masses of workers who become transformed into a universal people's militia." [Op. Cit., p. 301, p. 320 and p. 347] Instead they created a political police force (the Cheka) and a standing army (in which elections were a set aside by decree). These were special, professional, armed forces standing apart from the people and unaccountable to them. Indeed, they were used to repress strikes and working class unrest. So much for Leninist claims that "there should be no special armed force standing apart from the people" -- it did not last three months (the Cheka was founded two months into the revolution, the Red Army was created in early 1918 and elections set aside by March of that year). Lastly, the Bolsheviks banned newspapers from the start -- including other socialist papers. In addition, they did not allow other political tendencies to organise freely. The repression started before the Civil War with the attack, by the Cheka, in April 1918 on the anarchist movements in Petrograd and Moscow. While repression obviously existed during the Civil War, it is significant that it, in fact, started before it began. During the Civil War, the Bolsheviks repressed all political parties, including the Mensheviks even though they "consistently pursued a policy of peaceable opposition to the Bolshevik regime, a policy conducted by strictly legitimate means" and "[I]individual Mensheviks who joined organisations aiming at the overthrow of the Soviet Government were expelled from the Menshevik Party." [George Leggett, the Cheka: Lenin's Political Police, pp. 318-9 and p. 332] In fact, repression increased after the end of the Civil War -- a strange fact if it was that war which necessitated repression in the first place. Trotskyists Trotskyists argue that the "task of this state would be to develop the economy to eradicate want. Less need means less need to govern society, less need for a state. Class society and the state will begin to wither away as the government of people, the rule of one class over another, is replaced by the administration of things, the planned use of resources to meet society's needs." As Malatesta makes clear, this is pure sophistry: "Whoever has power over things has power over men; whoever governs production also governs the producers; who determines consumption is master over the consumer. "This is the question; either thing are administered on the basis of free agreement of the interested parties, and this is anarchy; or they are administered according to laws made by administrators and this is government, it is the State, and inevitably it turns out to be tyrannical. "It is not a question of the good intentions or the good will of this or that man, but of the inevitability of the situation, and of the tendencies which man generally develops in given circumstances." [Life and Ideas, p. 145] Moreover, it is debatable whether Trotskyists really desire the rule of one class over another in the sense of working class over capitalist class. To quote Trotsky: "The proletariat can take power only through its vanguard. In itself the necessity for state power arises from an insufficient cultural level of the masses and their heterogeneity. In the revolutionary vanguard, organised in a party, is crystallised the aspirations of the masses to obtain their freedom. Without the confidence of the class in the vanguard, without support of the vanguard by the class, there can be no talk of the conquest of power. "In this sense the proletarian revolution and dictatorship are the work of the whole class, but only under the leadership of the vanguard." [Stalinism and Bolshevism] Thus, rather than the working class as a whole seizing power, it is the "vanguard" which takes power -- "a revolutionary party, even after seizing power . . . is still by no means the sovereign ruler of society." [Ibid.] That is, of course, true -- they are still organs of working class self-management (such as factory committees, workers councils, trade unions, soldier committees) through which working people can still exercise their sovereignty. Little wonder Trotsky abolished independent unions, decreed the end of soldier committees and urged one-man management and the militarisation of labour when in power. Such working class organs do conflict with the sovereign rule of the party and so have to be abolished. After being in power four years, Trotsky was arguing that the "Party is obliged to maintain its dictatorship . . . regardless of temporary vacillations even in the working class . . . The dictatorship does not base itself at every moment on the formal principle of a workers' democracy." [Quoted by Brinton, the Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, p. 78] This position follows naturally from Trotsky's comments that the party "crystallises" the "aspirations" of the masses. If the masses reject the party then, obviously, their "cultural level" has fallen and so the party has the right, nay the duty, to impose its dictatorship over them. Similarly, the destruction of organs of working class self-management can be justified because the vanguard has taken power -- which is exactly what Trotsky argued. With regards to the Red Army and its elected officers, he stated in March 1918 that "the principle of election is politically purposeless and technically inexpedient, and it has been, in practice, abolished by decree" because the Bolshevik Party held power or, as he put it, "political power is in the hands of the same working class from whose ranks the Army is recruited." Of course, power was actually held by the Bolshevik party, not the working class, but never fears: "Once we have established the Soviet regime, that is a system under which the government is headed by persons who have been directly elected by the Soviets of Workers', Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies, there can be no antagonism between the government and the mass of the workers, just as there is no antagonism between the administration of the union and the general assembly of its members, and, therefore, there cannot be any grounds for fearing the appointment of members of the commanding staff by the organs of the Soviet Power." [Work, Discipline, Order] He made the same comments with regard the factory committees: "It would be a most crying error to confuse the question as to the supremacy of the proletariat with the question of boards of workers at the head of factories. The dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed in the abolition of private property in the means of production, in the supremacy of the collective will of the workers [a euphemism for the Party -- M.B.] and not at all in the form in which individual economic organisations are administered." [Quoted by Maurice Brinton, Op. Cit., p. 66] This point is reiterated in his essay, "Bolshevism and Stalinism" (written in 1937) when he argued that: "Those who propose the abstraction of Soviets to the party dictatorship should understand that only thanks to the party dictatorship were the Soviets able to lift themselves out of the mud of reformism and attain the state form of the proletariat." [Trotsky, Op. Cit., p. 18] And, obviously, without party dictatorship the soviets would return to the "mud." In other words, the soviets are only important to attain party rule and if the two come into conflict then Trotskyism provides the rule of the party with an ideological justification to eliminate soviet democracy. Lenin's and Trotsky's politics allowed them to argue that if you let the proletariat have a say then the dictatorship of the proletariat could be in danger. Thus, for Trotsky, the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is independent of allowing the proletariat to manage their own affairs directly. However, without the means of manage their own affairs directly, control their own lives, the proletariat are placed into the position of passive electors, who vote for parties who rule for and over them, in their own name. Moreover, they face the constant danger of the "vanguard" nullifying even these decisions as "temporary vacillations." A fine liberation indeed. As far as the wage labour social relationship goes (and do not forget that is the defining feature of capitalism), the Bolsheviks opposed workers' self-management in favor of, first, "control" over the capitalists and then one-man management. No change in social relationships there. Property relations did change in the sense that the state became the owner of capital rather than individual capitalists, but the social relationship workers experienced during the working day and within society was identical. The state bureaucrat replaced the capitalist. As for politics, the Bolshevik revolution replaced government with government. Initially, it was an elected government and so it had the typical social relationships of representative government. Later, it became a one party dictatorship -- a situation that did not change under Stalin. Thus the social relationships there, again, did not change. The Bolshevik Party became the head of the government. That is all. This event also saw the reconstruction of Soviet Society in the interest of a privileged minority -- it is well known that the Communists gave themselves the best rations, best premises and so on. Thus the Bolshevik revolution did not change the social relations people faced and so Trotsky's comments are wishful thinking. The "interests of the masses" could not, and were not, defended by the Bolshevik revolution as it did not change the relations of authority in a society -- the social relationships people experienced remain unchanged. Perhaps that is why Lenin argued that the proletarian nature of the Russian regime was ensured by the nature of the ruling party? There could be no other basis for saying the Bolshevik state was a workers' state. After all, nationalised property without workers' self-management does not change social relationships it just changes who are telling the workers what to do. The important point to note is that Trotsky argued that the proletariat could be a ruling class when it had no political influence, never mind democracy, when subject to a one-party state and bureaucratic dictatorship and when the social relations of the society were obviously capitalistic. No wonder he found it impossible to recognise that dictatorship by the party did not equal dictatorship by the proletariat. Therefore, the claim that Trotskyists see the "dictatorship of the proletariat" as "the rule of one class over another" is, as can be seen, a joke. Rather they see it as the rule of the party over the rest of society, including the working class. Even when that party had become a bureaucratic nightmare, murdering millions and sending hundreds of thousands to forced labour camps, Trotsky still argued that the "working class" was still the "ruling class." Not only that, his political perspective allowed him to justify the suppression of workers' democracy in the name of the "rule" of the workers. For this reason, anarchists feel that the real utopians are the Leninists who believe that party rule equals class rule and that centralised, hierarchical power in the hands of the few will not become a new form of class rule. History, we think, supports our politics on this issue (as in so many others). With extracts and quotes from

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