Tuesday, October 25, 2005

capitalism and socialism by Maurice Brinton


from Red Star
The following article reprinted with kind permission from the
comrades at AKPress http://www.akuk.com/ can
be found in the wonderful collection ‘For Workers Power, selected writings of
Maurice Brinton’ Edited by David Goodway ISBN1-904859-07-0.
Maurice Brinton
was the pen name for Chris Pallis who died earlier this year. A revolutionary
socialist, veteran of first the wartime cpgb, then the trotskyist revolutionary
communist party (RCP), his pursuit of a medical career put paid to political
activity for a number of years. Pallis was appointed to a consultants post in a
London hospital in 1957 and this brought him back into contact with the
revolutionary left, such as it was in late 50s Britain. Pallis joined the newly
launched SLL (socialist labour league), the SLL was the largest of Britain’s
trotskyist groups and had benefited from the exodus from the communist party
following the suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and gained a
number of talented militants and intellectuals, such as Brian Behan, brother of
the playwright Brendan Behan and a militant in the building workers union, and
Peter Fryer, The Daily Worker correspondent in Hungary who had quit when his
articles telling the truth about the revolution were suppressed. The SLL also
maintained Trotsky’s final predictions as gospel truth; Russia was ‘degenerated’
but still ‘a workers state’ and therefore should be defended against ‘western
imperialism (in the context of the first mass movement against nuclear weapons
this meant that UK and US bombs were bad but the ‘Workers Bomb’ was to be
defended!?!); western capitalism was in terminal crisis, mass unemployment, that
would make the wall street crash and the great depression look like Sunday
school picnics were just around the corner, capitalism had no remedy and any
moment the ‘desperate masses’ would turn in their millions to the banner of the
4th international (You have to admire, in a way, the sheer tenacity of holding
to this world view-especially as this was the middle of the greatest and most
sustained world capitalist boom in history ). The SLL was led by its founder,
Gerry Healy who maintained a hot house regime of paranoia and suspicion (if the
system was about to collapse then the forces of the state were at all times
desperate to disrupt the activity of the ‘True Marxists’). This would all get
far worse in the late seventies and eighties when the economic crisis finally
arrived, to be greeted by the faithful in a manner akin to the second coming of
Christ, but the Masses firmly refused to rally to the banner of Gerry Healy, the
Crazy Frog of Trotskyism.

Pallis was expelled from the SLL in 1960, and together with
other former SLLers formed the Socialism Reaffirmed group, this group which soon
became Solidarity, had close links to the French journal Socialisme ou Barbarie,
and especially the ideas of its main theorist Cornelius Castoriadis, many of
whose works Pallis translated into English (under the pseudonym Paul Cardan).
The Solidarity group became known for a strong critique of the ‘trad’ left,
both reformist and Leninist, as holding parallel elitist views of the role of
the working class and that of the ‘Party’.
‘We do not accept the view that
by itself the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness. On the
contrary we believe that its conditions of life and its experiences in
production constantly drive the working class to adopt priorities and values and
to find methods of organisation which challenge the established social order and
established pattern of thought. These responses are implicitly socialist. On the
other hand, the working class is fragmented, dispossessed of the means of
communication, and its various sections are at different levels of awareness and
consciousness. The task of the revolutionary organisation is to help give
proletarian consciousness an explicitly socialist content, to give practical
assistance to workers in struggle, and to help those in different areas to
exchange experiences and link up with one another.We do not see ourselves as yet
another leadership, but merely as an instrument of working class action. The
function of SOLIDARITY is to help all those who are in conflict with the present
authoritarian social structure, both in industry and in society at large, to
generalise their experience, to make a total critique of their condition and of
its causes, and to develop the mass revolutionary consciousness necessary if
society is to be totally transformed.’
From ‘As We See It’ first published
in solidarity IV April 1967 reprinted in For Workers Power. Page 154 AKPress
(Also available online see below)
Solidarity stressed the need for ‘workers
self management’ in industry; this was contrasted with the Leninist slogan of
workers control;
‘To manage is to initiate the decisions oneself. As a
sovereign person or collectively, in full knowledge of all the relevant facts.
To control is to supervise, inspect or check decisions initiated by others.
'Control' implies a limitation of sovereignty or, at best, a state of duality of
power, wherein some people determine the objectives while others see that the
appropriate means are used to achieve them. Historically, controversies about
workers control have tended to break out precisely in such conditions of
economic dual power.
Like all forms of dual power, economic dual power is
essentially unstable. It will evolve into a consolidation of bureaucratic power
(with the working class exerting less and less of the control). Or it will
evolve into workers' management. With the working class taking over all
managerial functions.’
From The Bolsheviks and Workers Control 1917 - 1921
The State and Counter-revolution by M.Brinton first published as a book in 1970
reprinted in full in ‘For Workers Power, selected writings of Maurice Brinton’.
Page 294. (Also available online, see below for details.)
Pallis explored a
Marxism that was light years from the Puritanical killjoy attitude of much of
the left in the 60s and 70s (and which still continues today) the Solidarity
group introduced (and subjected to fierce criticism) the ideas of the Marxist
psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich to a British audience (The Irrational In Politics).
Faced with the longest boom in history Castoriadis formulated a theory that
capitalism had begun to overcome some of its tendencies toward crises, at the
price of increased bureaucratization and reduction of civil and political
freedom, this meant a convergence between western ‘Free Market’ capitalism and
its Stalinist counterpart across the Iron Curtain. In the workplace;

….(T)thousands of jobs and professions formerly requiring skill and training and
offering their occupants status and satisfaction have today been stripped of
their specialized nature. Not only have they been reduced to the tedium and
monotonous grind of any factory job, but their operatives have been degraded to
simple executors of orders, as alienated in their work as any bench hand.
Marxists would be better employed analyzing the implications of this important
change in the social structure rather than waving their antiquated economic
slide rules…’
Introduction to Paul Cardan, The Meaning Of Socialism Maurice
Brinton, For Workers Power page 61
This meant that it was unlikely , as was
insisted by Traditional Leninists, that the working class was going to be thrust
into mass poverty by a cataclysmic crash and that this would be the impetus for
a upsurge in support for the revolutionary leadership. It was however in the
struggle within the workplace over the right to manage over capitalism attempt
to dictate and control every facet of the worker life that would be the spark
point for further class struggles. This immediately smashes Lenin’s dictum that
the workers left to themselves are only able to develop trades union
consciousness, an idea that Pallis felt particular contempt.
The return of
economic crises to the West in the 1970s and the later collapse of Bureaucratic
state capitalism in the old Stalinist empire cut a large chunk out of
Castoriadis’ basic theory, but the fact remains that despite the reappearance of
periods of mass unemployment and the destruction of much of Britain industrial
and manufacturing base the overall standard of living of the mass of workers HAS
continued to grow, just as at the same time Proletarianization has proceeded
This introduction does not do justice to full range of Maurice
Brinton/ Chris Pallis’ work, - as well as a Marxist he was also a highly
respected neurologist, fuller obituaries from comrades who knew him can be found
here http://libsoc.blogspot.com/2005/03/socialist-for-all-seasons-paul.html
I will finish this Brief introduction in traditional form with Chris Pallis’
own words once again from For Workers Power;
“….(We) will be labelled
“Anarcho-Marxist” by those who like ready made tabs for their ideological wares.
The cap fits insofar as we stand in a double line of fire, denounced as
anarchists(by the Marxists) and as Marxists (by the anarchists). It is true
insofar as we appeal to the libertarian ideals of some Marxists and to the need-
clearly felt by some anarchists- for a self constant and modern ideology going
further than the slogan “Politics: Out!”. basically however we are ourselves and
nothing more. We live here and now, not in Petrograd in 1917, nor in Barcelona
in 1936. We have no gods not even revolutionary ones. Paraphrasing Marx
(“philosophers have only interpreted the world. What is necessary is to change
it” ), we might say that “ revolutionaries have only interpreted Marx (or
Bakunin), what is necessary is to change them”.
We are the product of the
degeneration of traditional politics and of the revolt of youth against
established society in an advanced industrial country in the second half of the
twentieth century. The aim of this book is to give both purpose and meaning to
this revolt and to merge it with the constant working class struggle for its own
April 1965

Further Reading;
The best
collection of Chris Pallis’ work is ‘For Workers Power, selected writings of
Maurice Brinton’ Edited by David Goodway ISBN1-904859-07-0. Published by akpress http://www.akuk.com/
Chris Pallis also
appears (as martin Grainger, another of his pseudonyms) in David Widgery’s book
The Left In Britain, Penguin books 1976 isbn 0 14 055.99 2 ; There are two
pieces, an (edited) version of the solidarity pamphlet Paris: May 1968
also an article from The Newsletter, the paper of Healy’s SLL from 1958 ‘We
Marched against Britain’s Death Factory’
Online, some texts are available
here; http://www.af-north.org/solidarity_pamphlets.htm
And here:http://www.libcom.org/

What is basically wrong with
capitalism? Ask a number of socialists and you will get a number of different
answers. These will depend on their vision of what socialism might be like and
to what their ideas as to what political action is all about. Revolutionary
libertarian socialists see these things very differently from the trad ‘left’.
This article is not an attempt to counterpoise two conceptions of socialism and
political action. It is an attempt to stress a facet of socialist thought that
is in danger of being forgotten.
When one scratches beneath the surface,
‘progressive’ capitalists, liberals, Labour reformists, ‘communist’
macro-bureaucrats and Trotskyist mini-bureaucrats see all the evils of
capitalism in much the same way. They all see them as primarily economic ills,
flowing from a particular pattern of ownership of the means of production. When
Khrushchev equated socialism with ‘more goulash for everyone’ he was voicing a
widespread view. Innumerable quotations could be found to substantiate this
If you don’t believe that traditional socialists think in this
way, try suggesting to one of them that capitalism is beginning to solve some
economic problems. He will immediately denounce you as having ’given up the
struggle for socialism’. He cannot grasp that slumps were a feature of societies
that state capitalism had not sufficiently permeated and that they are not
intrinsic to features of capitalist society. “No economic crisis” is, for the
traditional socialist, tantamount to “no crisis”. It is synonymous to
“capitalism has solved its problems”. The traditional socialist feels insecure,
as a socialist, if told that capitalism can solve this kind of problem, because
for him this is the problem, par excellence, affecting capitalist society.
The tradition ‘left today has a crude vision of man, of his aspirations and
his needs, a vision moulded by the rotten society in which we live. It has a
narrow concept of class consciousness. For them class consciousness is primarily
an awareness of “non ownership”. They see the “social problem” being solved as
the majority of the population gain access to material wealth. All would be
well, they say or imply, if as a result of their capture of state power (and of
their particular brand of planning) the masses could only be assured a higher
level of consumption. “Socialism” is equated with full bellies. The filling of
these bellies is seen as the fundamental task of the socialist revolution.
Intimately related to this concept of man as essentially a producing and
consuming machine is the whole traditional left critique of laissez-faire
capitalism. Many on the left continue to believe that we live under this kind of
capitalism and continue to criticize it because it is inefficient (in the domain
of production) the whole of John Strachey’s writings prior to ww2 were dominated
by these conceptions. His ‘Why You Should Be a Socialist’ sold nearly a million
copies- and yet the ideas of freedom or self management do not appear in it, as
part of the socialist objective. Many of the leaders of today’s left graduated
at this school, including the so called revolutionaries. Even the usual vision
of communism “from each according to his ability to each according to his
needs”, usually relates, in the minds of “Marxists”, to the division of the cake
and not at all to the relations to man with man and between man and his
For the traditional socialist “raising the standard of living”
is the main purpose of social change. Capitalism cannot any longer develop
production. (Anyone ever caught in a traffic jam, or in a working class shopping
area on a Saturday afternoon, will find this a strange proposition.) It seems to
be of secondary importance to this kind of socialist that under modern
capitalism are brutalised at work, manipulated in consumption and in leisure,
their intellectual capacity stunted or their taste corrupted by a commercial
culture. One must be “soft”, it is implied, if one considers the systematic
destruction to be worth a big song and dance. Those who talk of socialist
objectives as being freedom in production (as well as out of it) are dismissed
as Utopians.
Were it not that misrepresentation is now an established way of
life on the “left”, it would seem unnecessary to stress that as long as millions
of the world’s population have insufficient food and clothing, the satisfaction
of basic material needs must be an essential part of the socialist programme
(and in fact of any social programme whatsoever, which does not extol the
virtues of poverty.) The point is that by concentrating on this aspect of the
critique of capitalism the propaganda of the traditional left deprives itself of
one of the most telling weapons of socialist criticism, namely an exposure of
what capitalism does to people, particularly in countries where basic needs have
been met. And whether Guevarist or Maoist friends like it or not, it is in these
countries, where there is a proletariat, that the socialist future of mankind
will be decided.
This particular emphasis in the propaganda of the
traditional organisations is not accidental. When they talk of increasing
production in order to increase consumption, reformists and bureaucrats of one
kind or another feel on fairly safe ground. Despite the nonsense talked by many
“Marxists” about “stagnation of the productive forces” bureaucratic capitalism
(of both eastern and western types) can develop the means of production, has
done so and is still doing so on a gigantic scale. It can provide (and
historically has provided) a gradual increase in the standard of living- at the
cost of intensified exploitation during the working day. It can provide a fairly
steady level of employment. So can a well run gaol. But on the ground of the
subjection of man to institutions that are not of his choice, the socialist
critiques of capitalism and bureaucratic society retain all their validity. In
fact, their validity increases as modern society simultaneously solves the
problem of mass poverty and becomes increasingly bureaucratic and totalitarian.
It will probably be objected that some offbeat trends in the “Marxist”
movement do indulge in this wider kind of critique and in a sense this is true.
Yet whatever the institutions criticized, their critique usually hinges,
ultimately, on the notion of the unequal distribution of wealth. It consists on
variations on the theme of the corrupting influence of money. When they talk for
instance of the sexual problem or of the family, they talk of the economic
barriers to sexual emancipation, of hunger pushing women to prostitution, of the
poor young girl sold to the wealthy man, from the domestic tragedies resulting
from poverty. When they denounce what capitalism does to culture they will do so
in terms of the obstacles that economic needs puts in the way of talent, or they
will talk of the venality of artists. All this is undoubtedly of great
importance. But it is only the surface of the problem. Those socialists who can
only speak in these terms see man in much less than his full stature. They see
him as the bourgeoisie does, as a consumer (of food, of wealth, of culture,
etc.) The essential, however, for man is fulfilling himself. Socialism must give
man an opportunity to create, not simply in the economic field, but in all
fields of human endeavour. Let the cynics smile and pretend that all this is
petty bourgeois utopianism.” The problem,” Marx said, “is to organise the world
in such a manner that man experiences in it the truly human, becomes accustomed
to experience himself as a man to assert his true individuality”.
in class society do not simply result from inequalities of distribution, or flow
from a given division of the surplus value, itself a result of a given pattern
of ownership of the means of production. Exploitation does not only result in a
limitation of consumption for the many and financial enrichment for the few.
Equally important are the attempts by both private and bureaucratic capitalism
to limit- and finally suppress altogether- the human role of man in the
productive process. Man is increasingly expropriated from the very management of
his own acts. He is increasingly alienated during all his activities, whether
individual or collective. By subjecting man to the machine- and through the
machine to an abstract and hostile will- class society deprives man of the real
purpose of human endeavour, which is the constant, conscious transformation of
the world around him. That men resist this process (and that their resistance
implicitly raises the question of self management0 is as much a driving force in
the class struggle as the conflict over the distribution of the surplus. Marx
doubtless had these ideas in mind when he wrote that the proletariat “regards
its independence and sense of personal dignity as more important than its daily
Class society naturally inhibits the natural tendency of man to
fulfil himself in the objects of his activity. In every country of the world
this state of affairs is experienced day after day by the working class as an
absolute misfortune, as a permanent mutilation. It results in a constant
struggle at the most fundamental level of production: that of conscious, willing
participation. The producers utterly reject (and quite rightly so) a system of
production which is imposed upon them from above and in which they are mere
cogs. Their inventiveness, their creative ability, their ingenuity, their
initiative may be shown in their own lives, but are certainly not shown in
production. In the factory these aptitudes may be used, but to quite different
and “non productive” ends! They manifest themselves in a resistance to
production. This result in a constant and fantastic waste compared with which
the wastage resulting from capitalist crises or capitalist wars is really quite
Alienation in capitalist society is not simply economic. It
manifests itself in many other ways. The conflict in production does not
“create” or “determine” secondary conflicts in other fields. Class domination
manifests itself in all fields, at one at the same time. Its effects could not
otherwise be understood. Exploitation, for instance, can only occur if the
producers are expropriated from the management of production. But this
presupposes that they are partly expropriated from the capacities of
management-in other words from culture. And this cultural expropriation in turn
reinforces those in command of the productive machine. Similarly a society in
which relations between people are based on domination will maintain
authoritarian attitudes in relation to sex and to education, attitudes creating
deep inhibitions, frustrations and much unhappiness. The conflicts engendered by
class society take place in every one of us. A social structure containing deep
antagonisms reproduces these antagonisms in variable degrees in each of the
individuals comprising it.
There is a profound dialectical interrelationship
between the social structure of a society and the attitudes and behaviour of its
members. “The dominant ideas of each epoch are the ideas of the ruling class”,
whatever modern sociologists may think. Class society can only exist to the
extent that it succeeds in imposing a widespread acceptance of its norms. From
his earliest days man is subjected to constant pressures designed to mould his
views in relation to work, to culture, to leisure, to thought itself. These
pressures tend to deprive him of the natural enjoyment of his activity and even
to make him accept this deprivation as something intrinsically good. In the past
this job was assisted by religion. Today the same role is played by “socialist”
and “communist” ideologies. But man is not infinitely malleable. This is why the
bureaucratic project will become unstuck. Its objectives are in conflict with
fundamental human aspirations.
We mention all this only to underline the
essential identity of relations of domination- whether they manifest themselves
in the capitalist factory, in the patriarchal family, in the authoritarian
upbringing of children or in “aristocratic” cultural traditions. We also mention
these facts to show the socialist revolution will have to take all these fields
within its compass, and immediately, not in some far distant future. The
revolution must of course start with the overthrow of the exploiting class and
with the institution of workers management of production. But it will
immediately have to tackle the reconstruction of social life in all its aspects.
If it does not, it will surely die.

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