[Marxism] The two souls of socialism (was: RE: John Holloway-AlexCallinicos debate)

Ian Pace ian at ianpace.com
Fri Aug 19 18:24:58 MDT 2005

Some replies to a few of the points you make (from one more sympathetic to 
Callinicos's ideas):

From: "Joaquín Bustelo" <jbustelo at bellsouth.net>

> Because Callinicos doesn't recognize this, we get a sentence like
"Whether it is a Communist party with Stalinist traditions or a social
democratic party like the Workers Party in Brazil today, it involves the
idea that the party changes things for you and everyone else remains

> But is that what is really going on in either case? The expression of an
idea, the manifestation of a "from above" ethereal soul?

> This does, I grant you, handily resolve all sorts of wicked
contradictions. There is no need, for example, to study in detail and on
its own terms the Soviet state and its evolution

Callinicos and other SWP/ISO types have indeed done this, at great length.

> or the state that
issued from the Cuban revolution and how it evolved. It is only
necessary to verify the non-existence of a state of the Paris Commune
type and one can then safely dispatch the given case to the
"not-socialism-from-below" pigeonhole, whether this be labeled "state
capitalism," "bureaucratic collectivism" or even "Stalinism."

I feel the Paris Commune was too short-lived for us to be able to draw any 
satisfactory conclusions. But the forces of capital were ranged against it 
from the outset (as with Russia), in the manner Callinicos identifies.

> The idea of "socialism from below," Callinicos says, "requires us to
confront and overthrow the existing state and replacing it with a
radically different form of state power." But so does the idea of the
Kingdom of God on earth. The problem is not describing the ideal forms
but discovering in this vale of tears the actual social processes of
which those ideas are a reified expression.

I think Callinicos would certainly realise that this is to be achieved in 
stages - but that it requires a major crisis in world capitalism for its 

> The "ideal" form of the proletarian state is quite thoroughly explained
in the Marxist classics: the Paris Commune form of state, a state which,
from its inception, is already in the process of withering away, i.e.,
where the functions of social organization and control which became
concentrated in a body standing above society (because of the class
division in society) returning increasingly to society as a whole,
because what is now being "controlled" by the state is not the majority,
but a minority.

> What experience has shown, however, is that the pure form of such a
state has proven to not yet be possible in any country where a
successful anticapitalist revolution has taken place, nor is it easy to
anticipate a successful revolution where a pure form of this state would
be possible under current circumstances.

Because of the power of global capital, as Callinicos describes.

> The only case where it is likely that the form of the state after a
successful revolution is going to be one of a "pure" Paris Commune or
Soviet type is that of nearly simultaneous revolutions in the main
imperialist centers.

We've never had a national workers' revolution in any of the major 
industrialised and imperialist countries. Just one such might have a 
profound impact.

> Rejection of "impure" forms of a workers state is thus tantamount to
rejection of all currently possible revolutions and --carried out
logically to the end-- it carries the danger of embracing a messianic
vision of white euro-north american revolution.

Which is reasonably consistent with classical Marxism, I think (though 
absolutely at cross-purposes with Maoism). Change needs to happen in the 
developed and industrialised world first.

> Callinicos has already travel a fair distance in this direction, and
although couched in optimistic terms, what he preaches is daunting if
not defeatist.

> "John talked about fissures. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a
fissure. It tore a great hole in the capitalist system, the biggest
fissure so far in world history. But just to break a hole in capitalism,
even a hole as big as Russia, was not enough. There was a simple reason.
The power of capital is global and it can concentrate its forces
massively to destroy any fissure that threatens it. That is what they
have been trying to do with Chávez in Venezuela. Whatever the problem is
with his politics and so on, the US and its allies have been trying to
break the experiment taking place in Venezuela because it threatens to
open up a fissure.

> "The power of capital is so great that usually they can close the
fissures. Usually they do so by overthrowing the revolutionary process
and destroying its leaders and activists. There are many examples of
that. In the Russian case there was a particularly horrible way in which
capital won, by creating such pressures as to cause the revolutionary
regime to transform itself into a barbarous replica of the global

> "The reason that happened was not that Marx liked the state, but that
there was not a powerful enough global movement to break the power of
capital globally. That doesn't have to be our fate. We are already in
the process collectively of creating the greatest global movement
against capitalism in world history. But we won't do that if we think
that simply creating holes, fissures, in the existing system is enough
to destroy it."

> For Callinicos, a successful revolution is only possible if there is "a
powerful enough global movement to break the power of capital globally"
and he rejects the idea of revolutions surviving for a time within the
framework of a single or a few countries. He thinks, in fact, those
revolutions are a diversion: "we won't do that [building a global
movement] if we think that simply creating holes, fissures, in the
existing system is enough to destroy it."

I think that, with respect to the third world, he's right. I don't really 
count Venezuela as a socialist revolution, though, more a social democratic 
one (though still very threatening to the US as a result).

> Callinicos's argument that "The power of capital is global and it can
concentrate its forces massively to destroy any fissure that threatens
it" is false.

> It turns the capitalist classes, which is what exists in the real world,
into a God -- "Capital" in general -- and imputes to it supernatural
strength. The reality, as is being shown daily in Iraq, is otherwise.

The power of global capital and its political allies is indeed immense, as 
I'm sure we all know - that is what Callinicos is describing.

> The idea that Capital can simply make a decision to concentrate all its
forces is completely undialectical. There is not one, but many capitals.
Their fundamental relationship of one "capital" to the others is not
cooperation, but competition.

Certainly, but capitalism per se thrives upon that. Conflicting interests of 
different concentrations of capital aren't de facto anathema to the workings 
of capitalism itself, though do have the potential to throw the whole system 
into turmoil. For now, the industrial nations seem to have found a way of 
avoiding conflict between one another, and passing the burden onto the third 
world. With the continuing growth of China as a major industrial power, this 
may change, though.

> Their competition undermines, limits and
constrains their cooperation, as does the existence of *other* classes
with *other* class interests.

No, those two things are fundamentally different.

> Capitalist society isn't one made up
exclusively of capitalists where they all act in concert and therefore
can do just as they please.

I don't think Callinicos or anyone else other than rather infantile 
socialists has ever suggested that.

> Look no further than the Iraq War, where most of the West European
imperialist countries refused to go along with U.S. imperialism, because
their interests as individual imperialist countries (composed, in turn,
of individual masses of capital) clashed with the interests of the
United States.

That is absolutely true, but doesn't undermine the argument about global 
capitalism. Ultimately the interests of global capital gravitated more 
towards the US's policies in this situation.

> The exception, Britain, can best be understood by looking
at the interpenetration of English and American capitalism. There is a
sense in which one can talk about Anglo-American imperialism which would
be false if extended to "Franco-American imperialism" or "Italo-American
imperialism." And there is a material basis for the London-Washington
"special relationship" which is quite evident if you look at the
interpenetration of these two capitalist classes as reflected in the
London and New York stock exchanges.

France, Italy or wherever, still hold on a little to the social democratic 
model which the US opposes - that's at the root of the antipathy, I believe.

> And in addition to the contradictions between Anglo-American imperialism
and the continental imperialisms, there are also other social forces.
Unless you believe the hoary imperialist myths of "ancient hatreds" that
spring from strictly confessional concerns, the Iraqi resistance is an
expression of certain social classes and layers of classes. As with so
many other political struggles throughout history, these interests may
not be explicitly proclaimed or even understood by many participants,
but they are there. And they have been a very definite constraint on
what the imperialists could do in Iraq, what they could get away with.

The imperialists can and will get away with whatever they need to do in 
Iraq, and will find the right propaganda to enable them to do so. If this 
spirals into involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, in a possible nuclear 
conflict, though, it might exceed the capabilities of the US to handle the 

> Even on the level of vulgar common sense, Callinicos's posited
all-powerful worldwide Capital does not compute. If this were so, how
could there be any unions?

Unions are possible, or at least vaguely tolerated, in a social democratic 
society, which is a variant of capitalism which incorporates a few socialist 
tendencies. Most of Western Europe (but not so much the USA) has gone in 
this direction in the post-war years.

> How could any semicolonial countries have achieved independence?

Colonialism is alive and well, just practised by different means (to put a 
better spin on it). In a way that means less chance of rivalries between 
imperial powers leading to direct military confrontation, which has been 
shown in the past to be of at the very least questionable value for 

> How could lesbians and gays be winning civil rights like the right to 
> adopt children and to marry?

That isn't necessarily at odds with capitalism, just with Christian Right 

> Are we to view all these concessions as capitalist plots?

No, for the reasons given above.

> More to the point of Callinicos's argument: how could there be a Cuba?
Even if one accepts for arguments sake Callinicos's characterization of
Cuba as "state capitalist," how is it possible for a regime that is
anathema to the world's most powerful imperialist center to survive for
nearly five decades, given the absolute or almost absolute capacity of
capital to concentrate all its worldwide forces? This is the tenth
successive U.S. administration that has tried to destroy the Cuban
Revolution. Why hasn't it been able to do so?

The opposition to Cuba is largely symbolic in the post-Cold War era, I 
believe. Cuba doesn't present any major strategic or economic threat to the 

> Supporters of the state capitalist theses might argue that the hostility
doesn't run all that deep, Fidel is really part of the family, not an
absolute enemy. I think you'd be hard-pressed to prove this empirically,
but the plain fact is that these state capitalist comrades --unlike both
the imperialists and the masses in Latin America, for example-- do not
ascribe any special significance to Cuba at all.


> In part, this is because Callinicos judges revolutionary success by
idealist criteria.

All Marxism is idealistic to a degree. I think it's hard to deny that the 
outcome of Eastern European and Asian communism have set the cause of real 
socialism back quite a long way, for all the other possible benefits in the 
short term. Callinicos's 'idealism' is not least about opposing reactionary 
tendencies that will shelter under umbrella definitions of socialism.

> Either you measure up to what Lenin said in The State
and Revolution, or you're not the real thing, but a bogus item. But
there are good reasons why it is unrealistic and wrong to expect
revolutions to be Lenin's little book transformed into a living reality.

> In his analysis in State and Revolution, Lenin completely abstracts from
the international context, from the world imperialist system within
which such states are born. He also doesn't take up the relation between
the level of culture and economic development of the country where such
a state has arisen and the rest of the world.

> However, these real-world circumstances make a state "simply" of the
Paris Commune type impossible.

> It is one thing to suppress the fading remnants of bourgeois resistance.
This is easily enough done with popularly based organs such as the
block-by-block Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in
Cuba. If that were ALL that was involved, then something like the CDR's
would be the main bodies that carry out policing-type functions, and it
would be an especially striking confirmation of the theses that this is
a state that isn't really a state, that it is already in the process of
withering away.

> But to confront not just bourgeois stragglers, but the military might
and intelligence services of the most powerful imperialism the world has
ever known, something more than a CDR is necessary. There is a need for
a regular army, specialized organs of intelligence, counter-espionage
and counter-sabotage.

This surely seems to prove Callinicos's point about the power of global 
capital, though?

> In the economic sphere it is pretty much the same situation. Lenin in
State and Revolution explains that, in the initial stages of the
development of communist society, distribution  will have to be
restricted, i.e., based on "bourgeois law," and adds:

> "Of course, bourgeois law in regard to the distribution of consumer
goods inevitably presupposes the existence of the bourgeois state, for
law is nothing without an apparatus capable of enforcing the observance
of the rules of law.

> "It follows that under communism there remains for a time not only
bourgeois law, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie!"

Which is quite different from Stalinist-style oligarchies, though.

> It is very important to recognize that, even in presenting the "pure"
proletarian state, abstracted from its world context, Lenin explained
that it was anything but pure, and would involve much more than soviet
or commune-type bodies, but also ones that could only be described as a
"bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie." When you place that state in
its international context, you get Lenin's "bourgeois state without the
bourgeoisie" on steroids.

> If the productivity of labor in the country of the revolution were
already significantly superior to those of the capitalist countries,
then perhaps one might question the need for a state monopoly of foreign
trade. But since it isn't, it is necessary to protect the internal
economy of the country from being penetrated and ravaged by imperialist

This is, I believe, an inevitable outcome of revolution in a country that 
has not yet achieved fully developed industrial capitalism.

> And like this you can go through specific fields and functions,
diplomacy, education, health care, and see that, especially because of
the existence of a much stronger imperialist camp, none of these things
can simply be left to a committee of the national Soviet in a direct,
immediate and transparent way, but MUST instead be handled by
specialized bureaucratic-administrative structure, a "bourgeois state
without the bourgeoisie."

See above. Such a structure could be under democratic control in a real 
post-bourgeois revolution.

> Lenin is undoubtedly correct in calling this a "bourgeois state without
the bourgeoisie" rather that a "proletarian" administrative apparatus or
some other such prettification. These are not the historically evolved
nonpolitical, classless, mechanisms of administration of a society of
the XXIII Century, but rather the existing political and "classist"
forms of administration applied to regulation of a society which,
although no longer ruled by the bourgeoisie, is entirely a product of
bourgeois society.

> And because it is a "bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie," a
*tendency* towards bureaucratization is inevitable, and under certain
circumstances (the destruction of the revolution as a living mass
movement of the toilers) this tendency gives rise to a consolidated
bureaucratic layer, a caste.

> This, of course, is the transformation of "socialism from below" into
"socialism from above," except that it is marked by the transfer of
political control from the working class and its project of developing a
socialist society to a self-serving bureaucratic caste. But as Trotsky
explained in The Revolution Betrayed, and as life has now completely
confirmed, it is a caste whose interests lie not in any form of
socialism at all (whether from above or below, or even a fake-socialist
"state capitalism") but rather in outright capitalist restoration.

> Comrades from the Callinicos group and others argue, in essence, that
the transfer of political control to a caste, means that the revolution
has been completely stripped of all proletarian content. I think that
the experience of the USSR and Eastern Europe has now confirmed beyond
any possible doubt that, for the toilers, there can be something worse
than the British SWP's "state capitalism" -- there can be plain vanilla
real capitalism. The assertion that the difference between the two sorts
of regime isn't qualitative isn't supported by the data.

> Moreover, you have the case of Cuba, where you have a government issued
from a popular worker and peasant revolution, a government which led the
armed workers in carrying out the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a
class, and where that government has for nearly a half century carried
out a foreign policy of opposition to imperialism, the highest stage of
capitalism, as well as a domestic policy aimed at a much more
egalitarian society than even the "really existing" socialism of Eastern
Europe, never mind more egalitarian than neighboring countries, which
are substantially similar to Cuba in virtually all ways but one: they
did not have a revolution like Cuba's.

Cuba is an interesting and unusual case in this respect, I agree. But why 
was the Cuban situation not replicated in other communist countries?

> For an analysis that starts with fundamental categories like "socialism
from above" and "socialism from below," the difference a revolution
makes is well-nigh inexplicable. Unless you want to posit that
socialism's "from above" soul suffers from multiple-personality
disorder, including one stable personality that imagines it is socialism
from below and sets its policies accordingly.

> It is much better to dump the whole schema and instead accept Trotsky's
analysis, that these are transitory and highly unstable
socio-economic-political formations that do not yet represent even what
can be anticipated as the first forms of relatively unfettered and
unrestrained proletarian power. Much more than the beginning of what a
world socialist commonwealth will look like, a place like Cuba can in
many ways better be understood as the world's most successful union, a
revolutionary union local with superpowers.

I'm not an expert on Cuba by any means - I'd be interested to see of other 
subscribers to this group might present a rather more critical view.

> I say that because there are *elements* of a state capitalist analysis
that clearly do represent insights into reality. And most of all, the
reality that Cuba's toilers are still exploited, imperialism still
extracts surplus value from the island, due to its insertion in the
world capitalist market. Viewed from the angle of the imperialist system
as a whole, Cuba relates to it as a single conglomerate, as one more
enterprise, a firm.

> Why not accept then the classification of it as "state capitalism"?
Because the politics of it are all wrong. This state does not represent,
neither in its origins nor in its quite consistent policies over nearly
a half a century, the fusion of local capital with the state into a
state monopoly capitalism. It represents rather the expropriation of the
capitalists -- which isn't a small detail -- and policies that flow from
that politically.

I think that the fact that Cuba is a small country, hardly a major world 
industrial power now or previously, makes it of questionable value to 
extrapolate from it towards other possibilities.

> If you label a place like Cuba, or even the USSR, state capitalism, then
I think, on the basis of the evidence, you have to say that this kind of
capitalism is relatively more progressive than the regular flavor; that
the working people do have a stake, therefore, in defending this sort of
capitalist regime against the previous kinds; and that pending the
arrival of the simultaneous world social revolution, workers in a place
like Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia should fight for this kind
of "capitalism."

Would it definitely take on the same form as in Cuba - not least bearing in 
mind that the US would react much more violently to multiple revolutions in 
all these countries?

> Trotsky's concept --workers state-- a transitional formation that does
not yet represent the sort of full-fledged beginning of the building of
socialism analyzed by Marx (in the Critique of the Gotha Program) and
Lenin (in State and Revolution) because it is still a besieged island
surrounded by much bigger and more productive capitalism, recognizes the
contradictory nature of the reality.

> The illusion that there is such a thing as a "socialism from above"
embodied in Stalinism and social democracy was a product of World War II
and its specific outcome, in which both the Soviet Union and U.S.
imperialism were victors, and the world imperialist system emerged
significantly weakened which obligated its recomposition on a new basis.

Yes, but "socialism from above" existed in the USSR well before World War 
II. Certainly the victory of both the Soviet Union and the US forced a 
recomposition of imperialism, but not necessarily any less hideous.

> This led to emergence of long term, stable "social" (welfare state)
bourgeois democracies in Western Europe;

A propaganda move to hive off real socialism, but one which certainly had 
some positive benefits (and are worth fighting to maintain).

> and to the working out of the
logic of the position of the bureaucratic caste in the USSR taking on a
protracted character.

> Neither condition obtains any longer and I, for one, greatly doubt that
"classical" Stalinism, a prolonged interregnum of bureaucratic rule, is
going to reappear anywhere, quite simply because everyone now knows how
the story ends.

I can't feel so optimistic as you in that respect.

> The bureaucratic usurpation of power in from a
revolutionary working class that has become exhausted or atomized in the
future will I believe immediately have a restorationist character, even
if hidden behind slogans about a mixed economy or even socialism.

This has continued to occur over a long period in China, I feel. It's 
amazing and disturbing that the 'socialist' character of the state seemed 
the easiest thing to jettison.

[Stuff on Brazil, that I want to think about, snipped for now]


More information about the Marxism mailing list