Sunday, December 07, 2008

Some notes on understanding Socialism’s failure.

What was the cause of the failure of the great movement of the twentieth century?

Why was it that socialism, which promised the end of the history of Human oppression through class exploitation, should fail so completely?

How did a movement which embodied the high ideals of creating a new human millennium free from tyranny, slavery and oppression have become so compromised by its support for tyranny, slavery and oppression?

These are some notes I have been playing with to try to answer these questions any comments would be welcome.

I have written before of my belief that the answer to these questions lies in the real class interest which the socialist parties have pursued.

Marx was undoubtedly correct when he described the principle actors in the class struggle of Modern industrialised capitalism as being between the modern proletariat and the bourgeoisie and he was careful to add that this did not preclude the existence of other classes. I believe that Marx missed the development of a third historic class, which emerged to meet the needs of managing and administrating an increasingly intricate and complex capitalist state system; this class is the educated managerial class, the Salatariat.

Marx once noted that the New Model army did not defy, defeat, and execute a Divinely appointed King under a banner emblazoned with the motto 'protection of the dividend', nor did the French San culottes take their revolution across Europe on the end of their bayonets in the name of 'all power to the Bourse!', instead the class interests that these revolutions were fought were disguised behind the most noble of slogans and programmes, of liberty, equality and brotherhood. The first, and most important, of the tasks of the victorious regimes brought to power by these revolutions has been the suppression of the hopes and aspirations which those slogans and programmes have created. Because these revolutions were for the benefit of minority Classes they were forced to hide their true programme and interests, the working class, Marx declared, as the vast majority, had no need to disguise its programme, and so would inscribe it upon their banners; "Abolition of the wages system!". (It may be instructive that, with the exception of the venerable old SPGB, none of the various 'Marxist' or socialist parties ever actually used that slogan).

Capitalism could maintain its 'classical' form only as long as it remained a mercantile system; the industrial revolution required a concurrent managerial revolution reflecting the increased complexity of controlling industrial capitalist companies. This new management in industry was matched by the expansion of a new state bureaucracy which grew to adapt to the burgeoning interrelation between industry and state. The expansion of Empire upon which so much of Britain's industrial growth depended for its profit also needed its own army of functionaries. To provide personnel for the Imperial, state and private bureaucracies meant a vast expansion of education and a major change in its character. The universities became the entry points to the Salatariat, producing a pool of educated young men (and occasionally women) to provide for the needs of industrialised State and Capital.

Whilst a very few functionaries of empire, government and industry held important and powerful positions vital to the continued running of society the vast majority undertook mundane work for rewards which, in their eyes, failed to account for their expertise and provided little or no control over the society which they helped to run. Amongst these young intellectuals grew new political ideas based upon conceptions of 'meritocracy', which the power of the state was to be invoked and expanded to take over control of the whole of society on 'rational grounds' by which what was meant it should be run by those whose education and ability made them best suited to do so. In early nineteenth century Europe the marginalisation of radical alternatives following the victory of Reaction after Waterloo, pushed these meritocrats into collusion with the emergent working class movement. Very different and divergent concepts of how a future society was to be organised developed alongside each other and became confused with each other.

An essential difference which was lost at this time was the recognition of the true nature of the state; the state was created alongside the emergence of Class exploitative society, for the ruling class of any such society the state is the armed wing, the protector, and the enforcer of its rule. Class society and the state are inseparable; one cannot remove the one and maintain the existence of the other.

When Marx, himself a member of this new class of intellectuals, found himself in conflict within the first International with the supporters of Bakunin, who despite their many faults, at least understood the nature of the state, he found support from the leaders of 'state socialism', Jaures, Liebknecht, Lassalle etc. Who, after Marx's death, collaborated with the aging Engels to determine the character of 'Marxian' socialism as a socialism which was wedded to the state as the instrument of transformation.

In most of Western Europe the state and capital accommodated and assisted in the growth of the EMC, but in Tsarist Russia the backward and entrenched powerful aristocracy which controlled the autocratic regime of the Tsar, whilst recognising the necessity of modernising their economy to be able to compete in the inter imperialist great game, were terrified of the threat to their power that the democratic reforms that accompanied the expansion of industrial capitalism in the west. Thus, although the educational establishments necessary to provide the state with its new bureaucracy and industry with its new managers were being created throughout Russia, the autocracy viewed their alumni with fear and distrust, preferring to rely on the old aristocratic feudal bureaucratic state structure, and import industry from France and Britain.

Excluded almost in their entirety from their place within Russian society, the, would be, EMC constituted a new, volatile, class, unique to Russia; the intelligencia, that became synonymous with revolutionary opposition to Tsarism. Various intellectuals advocated various solutions; Populism, Anarchism and agrarian social utopianism etc. And various strategies; peaceful agitation, communalism, terrorism, but it was Marxism that came to dominate the politics of the radicalised intelligencia. The promise of a combative and young Russian working class spearheading the struggle against Tsarism (with of course a intellectual leadership) appealed to many of the intelligencia who had grown tired of sacrificing itself in struggle against the cops and Cossacks, or trying to galvanise the peasantry into conflict with the state (the peasants who were never slow to take up their cudgels and torches in their own interest whenever the local aristos showed weakness, were far less willing to do so in the interests of what they recognised as a separate class).

How these Marxists wanted to try to relate to the Russian working class was the cause of the great schism in Russian Marxism, both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks were convinced of the necessity of their leadership, but Lenin was determined that no challenge to the intelligencia's control of the party.

The socialist movements which dominated working class politics throughout the twentieth century were thus not the expression of the interests of the working class, but instead were a manifestation of the political aspirations of sections of the educated Managerial class.

The Russian anarchist Machajski identified the class nature of bolshevism (, but did not extend the analysis beyond the borders of the Russian empire. The success of the revolution meant that clones of Lenin's party sprang up all over the world, monopolising and dominating the revolutionary movement for 80 years.

Bolshevist state centralism represented the rule of the Educated Managerial Class in its purest form, but was a part of a world-wide trend as the increasingly complex interaction between sate and capital concentrated more power into the hands of the EMC. Fascism, Nazism, corporatism and even Roosevelt's New Deal all were differing versions of increased EMC power in the face of the global economic crisis (as described in James Burnham's Managerial Revolution.).

The Russian experience confirmed Bakunin's dictum; "We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality." That if one seeks to destroy capitalism whilst retaining the State, one does not gain freedom but replaces one set of tyrants for another.

But what of the social democratic experience?

Social democracy experienced its 'golden age' in the aftermath of World War two; the tasks of both rebuilding Capital and redirecting it on a more harmonious relationship between state and private Bureaucracy was beyond what could be achieved without extensive direct state involvement in Capitalist accumulation. The reforms achieved in this period made a real difference in the lives of the working class, in housing, health, and education, however the true benefits of these reforms were overwhelmingly the EMC.

Within the socialist democratic parties there has always been a constant conflict between the organised working class who provide the bulk of these parties electoral supporters and a fair number of members, and the EMC who made up the parties leadership and ideological driving force, this struggle was never as it has been portrayed by Trotskyite agitators one of a simple left/ right = working class/ middle class dichotomy, many times 'left wing' activity was undertaken by the EMC against, and in opposition to, Working Class interests within the party.

The Leninists resolved this tension between the working class base of their organisation and its EMC leadership by creating the 'professional revolutionary' and the organisational theory of 'democratic Centralism' which excluded the workers from any influence whatsoever in the Leninist party.

Despite all the propaganda against the pro-capitalist policies of social democracy, it was within social democracy that workers had more influence and a voice; the nature of social democracy in seeking to find an accommodation with capitalism encouraged those elements of the working class which sought better conditions within capitalism and further isolate those who would strangle it.

The massive expansion of higher education in the 1950s and 60s was deeply connected to the need of the modern state for more and more educated graduates to fulfil minor managerial roles in the policing and regimenting of an increasingly surveillance society.

The growth of this lower educated managerial Class has been observable in the growth of white collar trades unionism and a radicalised 'new left', which marked both the Bennite left of the labour party in the 1980's, and the neo Trotskyites of todays Leninite left. These groups were identified by both an adherence to abstract principles completely divorced from any real relevance to their own declared audience, the working class; for example an anti imperialist pose which champions any butcher of workers abroad on the proviso that they be in temporary opposition to our own ruling class, and a inability to relate in even the simplest way with the working class in their own communities- witness their total incapacity to respond to the growth of support for BNP fascism amongst some workers. With The shrill shrieks of 'Nazi' and waving of lollipops, combined with calls for state bans and police action alongside the thrill of being able to finally put down the 'Chavs' who steadfastly refuse to follow the leadership of the party cadres, after all the only supporters of the BNP are the 'scum off the estates', The would be patricians of these socialist parties display their ultimate satisfaction with the status quo, with only one small alteration, they should be in charge.








1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you're over-analising it a little. Socialism failed because, well, aren't all attempts to act out neurotic fantasies on the political stage doomed to failure by their very nature?