[Marxism] RE: The two souls of Socialism

mike pearn neprimerimye at yahoo.co.uk
Sun Aug 21 14:38:17 MDT 2005

Reading comrade Joaquín Bustelos piece I was struck by
how little the comrade seems to know about the ideas
of Hal Draper and Alex Callinicos who he takes to task
for their supposed idealist deviations from Marxism.
Rather than look at the ideas of both men in relation
to the events and organisations they were interacting
with our friend takes a very few isolated texts and
analyses those documents according to his own
idealised picture of Cuba as a social system in the
process of transition from capitalism to socialism.

But even in taking Callinicos as an exemplar of the
ideas of Hal Draper is in itself problematic. It is
certainly true that the group of which Callinicos is a
leading member, the SWP Britain, sells Drapers
pamphlet but so too does the ersatz Shachmanite
Alliance for Workers Liberty. It should be clear that
Drapers legacy is contested and in certain respects
not desired by the SWP and others (including yours
truly) because of its politically ambiguous character
in certain respects. At most Drapers essay and to a
far greater degree his monumental Karl Marxs Theory of
Revolution should be seen as one influence among many
on the political views associated with the
International Socialism tradition.

That the IS current developed separately from the
organisations Draper was a part of and early on
differentiated itself from those groups must be
pointed out as it proves that Joaquins assertion that
Callinicos arguments are not derived from the
arguments of Draper but actually come from the ideas
of IS current and Tony Cliff. The relation of Drapers
ideas to the development of the IS tradition is both
complicated and a source of continued conflict.
Whatever the degree to which Drapers ideas have
influenced Callinicos it is a racing certainty that
the ideas of Cliff have been a far greater influence.
That said it is my understanding that Callinicos and
his group are moving away from the ideas of Socialism
from Below in certain important respects however
sophisticated his defence of those ideas when debating
his fellow academics.

But whatever my criticisms of Callinicos and his group
those of Joaquin are far from the mark. He writes that
Callinicos does not realise that the Two Souls of
Socialism are rooted in different class forces which
seems to betray a general lack of knowledge of the
rather large body of theoretical writings developed by
the IS current since 1948 which discuss exactly this
question. The comrades discussion is less than helpful
as he does not recognise that in the debate Callinicos
was attempting to engage with Holloway, and more
importantly those influenced by him, on the
ideological ground chosen by the latter and was not
seeking to develop an analysis of any specific form of
Socialism from Above other than in general terms to
contrast such bogus forms of socialism to a socialism
predicated on the understanding that socialism must be
the self conscious liberation of the proletariat or it
cannot but be its own negation.

This understanding that socialism must be the self
emancipation of the proletariat and the rejection of
all forms of substitutionism as a consequence that
leads those of us in the IS tradition to reject what
Joaquin calls “impure” workers states as being in no
sense at all workers states as they are not the
products of the workers conscious self activity but
are the product of class forces standing outside the
proletariat. Yet this general rejection of “impure”
workers states, I recall when they were described as
‘degenerated and deformed workers states’ which rather
dates me, should not be pushed too far. For the simple
reason that the IS tradition does recognise that the
Russian workers state which was destroyed in the late
1920s was almost from birth such an “impure” workers
state but unlike the other states which formed the
‘Communist third’ of blessed memory that “impure”
workers state was very obviously the product of the
conscious overthrow of the political rule of Capital
by the workers themselves.

It is as a part of his defence of the Russian
revolutionary experience and as part of  a an argument
for the international extension of any possible
revolution that Callinicos remarks that the power and
ability of Capital to crush or co-opt those making
breaches in its defences. In no sense is Callinicos
arguing that revolutions are not possible in the
former colonial world simply that unless the rule of
Capital is smashed in the imperialist metropoles that
fissures in its rule will, sooner or later, be closed
one way or another. That this reflects actual
historical experience seems to me an unassailable
fact. This does not mean that capital is seen as a
single bloc as the comrade asserts erroneously but is
a recognition that the economic drive of Capital and
indeed of individual Capitals to accumulate ever
greater quantities of Capital cannot be escaped in a
single country. Failing to recognise the nature of
Callinicos argument leads our comrade down a number of
false trails I’m afraid as with his discussion of

On this list it is of course the question of Cuba and
the class nature of the state that arose from the
overthrow of the Batista regime that most obviously
divides those of us holding to the state capitalist
thesis from the majority of former SWPers, ‘soft
Maoists‘ and social democrats. But this should not be
over emphasised as we too stand for the defence of
Cuba against any attempt to overthrow the Castro
regime by either the USA or by internal reaction.
Personally I suspect that within a very few years of
Castros death an arrangement will be reached that
Washington and the current ruling group will find
acceptable but that is for the future. What I think
must be pointed out now is that those of us belonging
to the IS tradition reject the idea that Cuba is in
any sense in transition to anything, other than a more
normative capitalism, as in our view it is already
subject to the economic laws of capitalism and the
regime cannot but bend to such inexorable pressures.

Frankly reference to Trotskys Revolution Betrayed is
out of place as the purpose of that work was to
explain why the Russian state remained a workers’
state despite the total destruction of workers’
democracy and what would become of that state in the
following few years. What The Revolution Betrayed does
not do and was not intended to do was explain the
continued existence of the Stalinist regime and its
extension following the derailment of the
revolutionary wave that arose from 1942 onwards by the
Stalinist parties. Moreover not only does The
Revolution Betrayed not erect a set of laws as to what
might happen to a thermidorean bureaucratic caste in a
series of states that might develop in “impure”
workers’ states but Trotsky categorically rejected the
possibility of such states coming into existence and
in this he was correct. As Cliff, Natalia Trotsky and
other revolutionary opponents of the revisionism of
the leadership of the Fourth International pointed out
as the epigonii destroyed the Fourth International
this is a betrayal of the revolutionary thought of
Leon Trotsky in the name of words and forms stripped
of meaning.

I find it curious that Joaquin goes from arguing that
Trotsky was correct, on a subject he wrote nothing of,
to stating without any supporting evidence, that
Callinicos rejects the very idea that a bureaucratic
caste can usurp the direct power of the proletariat in
a workers’ state. In fact this is not the case and the
IS tradition is fully supportive of Lenins analysis of
the degeneration of the Russian commune that the Left
opposition took over and sought to develop. What the
IS tradition rejects is that “impure” workers states
can be created by forces other than the proletariat
and why the workers would seek to create an “impure”
workers state is a mystery I cannot begin to
comprehend. Joaquin then takes his misreading of
Callinicos and argues that this means that the
Callinicos group - there is no such creature - cannot
therefore understand that there is “something worse”
than state capitalism. That “something worse” being
“vanilla capitalism” we are told.

“Vanilla capitalism” it seems is a capitalism which
for the toilers is inferior. A claim that a few years
ago was undoubtedly true but today living standards in
much of Eastern Europe are catching up and indeed
surpassing those of the pre-1989 era. Not only that
but the toilers have far greater opportunities to form
independent workers organisations and produce a
workers press than was the case under Stalinist
repression. That they have not yet done so or been
able to do so is testament to the terrible confusions
as to the emancipatory meaning of socialism produced
by the corruption of the dominant forms of Socialism
from Above namely Stalinism and Social Democracy in
the consciousness of the working classes. What Joaquin
does not ask, because he has not recognised it, is if
living standards and democratic freedoms are superior
now than before 1989 does this mean that “vanilla
capitalism” is superior? It may be that if the comrade
were intellectually honest with himself he might
answer yes but IS comrades do not face such a problem
as we recognise along with Trotsky that capitalism is
a decadent social system not simply because it may or
may not be able to develop living standards in one or
another part of the world but because it is a barrier
to the most effective and productive use of the means
of production.

It is because Cuba is subjected to similar economic
drives, distorted due to the decades long economic war
that America has waged on it, that we assert that Cuba
is a state capitalist society. That is it is a society
in which a bureaucratic ruling strata, call it a class
or a caste it changes nothing, plays a role in the
process of production and exchange analogous to that
played by the traditional capitalist class. A role
that on the whole is no longer played by the
capitalist class, no not even in the USA and Britain,
but by their legatees who actually run the massive
multi-nationals while the capitalists proper sit at
home and trim their nails. It matters not a jot that
certain capitalists were expropriated when capital was
fused with the state as a result of that expropriation
and the social strata that controls both state and
capital maintains an exploitative relationship with
the proletariat. What matters is that in Cuba we have
a working class that is exploited and a social strata
that exploits that class. In what sense is such a
“flavor” of capitalism more “progressive” than plain
“vanilla” capitalism? What is there worth defending
from the point of view of the exploited?

Comrade Joaquin tells us that this system is more
progressive and worth defending because it is less
productive! The comrade further asserts that it is
worth defending because it is a transitional system.
But this makes no sense for the student of history who
can see that the Russian Empire of Stalin and the
later Czars was in transition to “vanilla” capitalism
if it was in transition to anything. The same is most
certainly true of China today which seems to be in
transition not so much to “vanilla” capitalism but to
a double scoop vanilla capitalism with sprinkles and a
side order of freedom fries! I repeat what from the
point of view of the exploited is worth defending in
these countries? Any answer to this question will I
hope be informed by the knowledge that in 1989-91 the
exploited found nothing worthy of mounting any kind of
defence in these countries.

To close these remarks our comrade puts forward his
belief that Socialism from Above, in both its
Stalinist and Social Democratic forms, was the product
of the post-war boom and the welfare state and it is
certainly true that the state capitalism of that
period is perhaps the purest form of Socialism from
Above that has been seen and will not be seen again in
a form anywhere near as pure. But it is not true that
Socialism from Above only appears in the years of the
Long Boom. In fact it is fascinating to find in the
writing of pre-1914 Marxists warnings against ‘state
socialism’ and arguments that point out, quite
correctly, that the nationalisation of the means of
production means nothing if the workers are not in
control but continue to exist as extensions of their
own dead labour and nothing else. These comrades were
far sighted indeed and there is no good reason that I
can divine not to expect new forms of Socialism from
Above, that is political forces which claim to be
socialist but usurp the emancipatory role of the
politics and transform it into a new exploitation of
the proletariat, as long as we fail to build new Mass
Workers’ Parties in the imperialist heartlands. A
failure to understand that the central role of the
proletariat in the social revolution cannot be that of
any other social force but the proletariat will lead
revolutionaries to tail end class forces that are not
committed to the development of proletarian class
consciousness over all other political goals but to
the development of national economies using the
terminology and forms of socialist discourse while
discarding its internationalist and emancipatory core.

For Communism

Mike Pearn

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