The organization of work and the post-capitalist state apparatus (was: Re: Update on the SWP)

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Tue Sep 7 17:41:00 MDT 1999

[I have been trying to post this for a couple of days now. For some reason,
it seems not to. This time, I've cut-and-pasted the text from the original
into a reply to one of Louis's posts. If there is some glitch in my e-mail
setup that's preventing me from seeing my own post echoed back and this is
yet another repetition, apologies and please send me an email telling me
this post got through!]

>I was never a member of the SWP and from time to time I find posts about
>it of interest.  However, this post seems much ado about nothing.  Why
>waste a few thousand words belaboring the obvious?  I tried to engineer
>a debate about work, something critical to the real world and brother
>Perez dismisses me as an ultra-leftist.  Never mind that he does not
>know me and got my name wrong.  Yet instead of debating Taylorism (and
>Lenin's support of it) and the whole nature of work in capitalism, why
>the labor movement shies away from discussing this subject, what workers
>think of their work, etc., he gives us a long and boring exegesis of the
>SWP. I think whenever I see SWP in the subject line, I'm going to press
>the delete button.  Louis P. has already taught me enough about it and
>in a more interesting manner.


    First, since I haven't yet finished or posted the direct reply to yours,
and I'm not sure it's going to be today, let me say here what I had there:
I'm sorry for the rather flippant tone of my initial reply (and apologize to
you and Mr. York --whoever he may be-- for my confusion).

    The question you raise, about the organization of work in countries
where capitalism has been abolished, cannot be properly addressed, I don't
think, without a very concrete analysis of the state and state apparatus
(way beyond one or two word labels), the mechanisms for social control,
coercion and repression, and a host of other things.

    My opinion is that all post-capitalist or socialist societies that
lasted any time at all have had  a really weird state structure part of
which (at least part) corresponds, not so much to the class in power, the
proletariat, but to the class it is fighting, the bourgeoisie. That's
because although in the Marxist classics the proletariat (and its allies),
upon seizing power, "win the battle for democracy" and therefore can afford
to have a state of the Paris Commune type, directly rooted in and arising
from the mass of the people, a state that even at its birth has begun to
wither away, which is no longer a bureaucratic-military apparatus that has
risen out of society, split off from it, and now lords it over everyone,
limiting oneself to this kind of state isn't possible when the working class
comes to power in one (or a few) countries surrounded by a stronger, hostile
capitalist world. The triumphant revolution must create a new specialized
apparatus, "bodies or armed men" to defend itself  in the midst of a hostile
world; these bodies are built on the basis of the only model available, the
capitalist one. This bureaucratic-military machine on the bourgeois model is
hardly the state that cannot help but wither away of Lenin's State and
Revolution. On the contrary, it tends to grow and seek to control and direct
anything and everything.

    The organization of labor can't help but be impacted by this situation,
and especially in places where, for a whole series of reasons, the
bureaucratic-military apparatus escapes the control of the workers'
organization, and begin to put foremost in guiding state policy the defense
of its own privileges. The archetype of this "bureaucratic degeneration" of
a socialist revolution is the USSR: its culmination, we now know, is the
bureaucracy abandoning the defense of the socialized property relations
which embody the historical conquests of the working class and turning
openly towards capitalist restoration, since property is a much firmer
foundation for privilege than one's ranking in the bureaucracy. In carrying
out this restoration, the bureaucracy finds ready-made a suitable
instrument, the bureaucratic-military apparatus sitting atop the workers'
state. A couple of shocks or structural changes is all that is  needed to
shake it our of its inertia and lethargy; there is no need to "smash" this
state apparatus to reintroduce capitalist property and subordinate the
country once again to the capitalist world market.

    The resistance of the workers to the project of capitalist restoration
is minimal. While usually paternalistic and affording working people a
rising standard of living, what the bureaucratically degenerated socialist
state, even, or perhaps especially at its most paternalistic, denies the
working class is its courage, its dignity, its self-confidence, its pride in
its own accomplishments, its sense of independence, its feelings of
solidarity, precisely those qualities which makes the proletariat a
revolutionary class and which, as Marx said, it needs even more than bread
itself. Instead the old "virtues"  of cowardice, abasement, looking out for
number one, and submissiveness  are inculcated. And for those proletarians
whose rebel spirit or communist convictions could not be so easily broken,
there was always the Gulag.

    Since "really existing" East European and Soviet socialism had for
generations now presented itself to the workers in the form of this
overweening nanny backed up by the most ferocious repression, it is hardly
surprising that the workers failed to recognize in that "really existing
socialism" the embodiment of their own conquests. On the contrary, in many
places the workers joined gleefully, enthusiastically in the protests
the old system. And, miracle of miracles, the "old system" gives way with
surprising ease, no one
resists -- because the bureaucracy itself in its big majority leaps at the
chance to begin the reintroduction of capitalism.

    Now, when Lenin says, let's figure out what Taylor knows about
organizing production, economizing labor time and so on, he subordinates
that explicitly to the Soviet power and Soviet organization, i.e., to the
dominance in society of a state of the Paris Commune type. Although that
state has already begun adding to itself "specialized organs," so far their
true significance was far from revealing itself. All that came later. Saying
Taylorism is 100% bourgeois is no reason for the workers to not investigate
what there is in it that can be adapted for their own use; for on the
morning after the victory, it is inevitable that all such tools are going to
be capitalist tools. It may be that the utility of Taylorism lies precisely
in showing the workers how NOT to accomplish some of the same sorts of goals
(economy of labor time and so on) under socialism, and repel them, so to
speak, in a better direction. But I can't see where there can be any
starting point on the technical side of things other than where the
bourgeoisie left off.

    It is a totally different thing, of course, to speak of introducing
Taylorism or other bourgeois "scientific management" schemes in a workers
state under
bureaucratic domination.

    That's because it simply makes no sense to abstract the organization of
work from the question of power. The problems in the USSR did not reside in
labor relations and the organization of work; those problems, rather,
stemmed from the political problems of Soviet society. The organization of
labor did not advance further towards what might emerge in the socialist
future because the working class wound up being politically expropriated in
the 1920s. A faction that represented the interests of the bureaucracy, not
those of any segment of the working people, wound up dominating the Soviet
CP and all the institutions of society. That this bureaucratic layer had
little in  common with the communists who made the 1917 revolution goes
without saying. The expulsions, purges, show trials, and executions of the
late 20s and 30s in the USSR did away with all the best-known (and probably
it'd be more accurate to say all the known) leaders of the October
revolution and of the first few years of the revolution save Stalin. A feel
for how savage was the drive to stamp out every last living human ember of
the October revolution can be gotten from Khruschev's 1956 "secret" speech
to the XXth Congress of the CPSU, where Khruschev points out how many of the
leaders of Stalin's own faction of the CPSU had been shot (basically, all of

    One socialist country that, in my opinion, has clearly avoided a
bureaucratic degeneration of its revolution is Cuba. It cannot, of course,
have avoided the creation of a bourgeois-type bureaucratic military
apparatus, and in that sense you could say it is a socialism with
"bureaucratic deformations" or such some thing. I don't because it implies
there's something wrong in Cuba, when I believe the emergence of such an
apparatus while hardly desirable, isn;t avoidable, and in Cuba, that
apparatus has remained subordinate to a revolutionary leadership and a
revolutionary working class that consciously views itself and the Cuban
revolution as one part of a world-wide struggle for socialism. They have
understood and acted on the understanding that the strategic interests of
Cuban workers lie with that struggle, and override anything that might be
gained from unprincipled accommodations with the capitalists, i.e., ones
that, whatever immediate practical or economic gains might be in it for
Cuba, undermine the international solidarity and revolutionary action of the
working class.

    It is no accident that the figure from the Cuban revolution most
identified with the revolution's proletarian internationalism, Che Guevara,
is ALSO the figure most identified with ways of organizing labor that break
radically with bourgeois norms, methods and mechanisms, such as totally
unpaid, voluntary, manual labor. However, we shouldn't exaggerate how far
Cuba has gone or can go, under current circumstances, in the direction of
being able to leave behind the mechanisms of compulsion and control
inherited from capitalist society, and however modified and humanized by the
revolution; in the last analysis, the emergence as an overriding economic
phenomenon of the new, truly post-capitalist forms of labor organization
depend on the level of development of the productive forces and the degree
to which society is able to forego a bureaucratic-military state apparatus,
which I think is something that corresponds to the period when we can truly
say that, in the main, capitalism has been defeated on a world scale.

    Well, I started to explain why I hadn't yet posted a response, and wound
up with at least a summary of that response which I think is better than
what I was working on before, so I'll rename this post and let this stand
for the serious answer I owed you.


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