Sunday, December 23, 2012


In a letter to Maxim Gorky in 1913, Lenin pointed out that "a war between Austria and Russia would be a very useful thing for the revolutions throughout Eastern Europe, but it is not very probable that Franz-Josef and Nicky will give us this pleasure." So much for Lenin's ability to read into the future.  In Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism he sought to demonstrate that capitalism was not only in decline, but exhausted its progressive role in history, it had become, in its imperialist phase, positively retrogressive, also missed the mark.  Lenin’s article on imperialism was written at a time where members of the Second International were busy voting for war credits while the working class was being slaughtered by the millions so Lenin was not interested in writing a “theory” of imperialism for all time but a polemic during WW1, an inter-imperialist conflict. The main branch of support for this was that it was German militarism which supposedly caused the war. Lenin made the point of showing how all the allied powers were probably far worse imperialists and militarists than Germany. Having identified the "age of imperialism" as "capitalism's last stage of development" and as "the eve of the proletarian revolution," Lenin saw the WW1 as the beginning of an international revolution and consistently called not for the restoration of the capitalist peace but for turning the imperialist war into civil war.

Lenin's anti-imperial analysis gets in the way of a class analysis too much -- especially since a useful class analysis should be rooted in immediate experience and struggle. The basis for an labour aristocracy — so called “superprofits” — simply does not correlate with the actual profits, and investments made in less developed countries. If the goal of imperialism, according to Lenin, is to extract super-profits, then how does one explain the fact that the USA invests far more in places like Canada or Britain than Nigeria or the Philippines?

Marx's explanation as to why wages were higher in some countries is that productivity and the rate of exploitation (ratio of paid to unpaid labour) are higher there:
"The more productive one country is relative to another in the world market, the higher will be its wages compared with the other. In England, not only nominal wages but (also) real wages are higher than on the continent. The worker eats more meat, he satisfies more needs. This, however, only applies to the industrial worker and not the agricultural labourer. But in proportion to the productivity of the English workers their wages are not higher (than the wages paid in other countries)"
(Theories of Surplus Value, Part Two, pages 16-17).

Industrialisation and technology works both to reduce the costs of subsistence and drive down the cost of wages and coincidentally allows wages to rise above “absolute subsistence” to the required level of social subsistence.

The actual source of the higher wages afforded the workers in the advanced countries is derived from 1) The higher costs of subsistence and  the costs of reproduction of a skilled working class capable of functioning in an advanced country. 2) The shrinking portion of wages, no matter how high, in the exchange with capital — in relation to the constant capital — machinery, raw materials, so that wages even ten times those of wage-laborers in less-developed countries are still a smaller portion of the “total input” into capital. Industrialisation and technology works both to reduce the costs of subsistence and drive down the cost of wages and coincidentally allows wages to rise above “absolute subsistence” to the required level of social subsistence. 3) The class struggle. The working class is seen as passive. This is particularly clear in Lenin's conception of the labour aristocracy in terms of workers being 'bought off' rather than in terms of them winning concessions. Where does a wage rise gained by struggle end and a bribe begin? Lenin's theory is to locate the movement towards communism in the contradictions of capital as an objective economic system rather than in the revolutionary self-activity of the working class. The group Wildcat argued  .
"Lenin argued that Imperialism was in part a conscious strategy to buy off the working classes in the Imperialist countries. His evidence consists of one quote from arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes, and one from Engels to the effect that the workers of England "merrily share the feast" of its colonies...From Rhodes' opinion that Imperialism would help avoid revolution in Britain, Lenin derived his theory of the Labour Aristocracy...Lenin's position was not a mistake. The Labour Aristocracy theory had the political purpose of enabling the Bolsheviks to argue for the workers in the colonies to form united fronts with their local ruling classes against Imperialism. This in turn had the aim of dividing the working class internationally, and turning it into cannon fodder for capitalist war."

Any supposed "Marxism" which tells workers in poor countries that they have more in common with their own ruling class than with the workers of the 'rich' countries is a fraud.  Any supposed "Marxism" that militates against the fundamental idea for the workers of the world to unite to overthrow all their exploiters and oppressors is clearly not Marxist . It is political poison for workers everywhere. Imperialism is not the “highest stage of capitalism” but a normal feature of capitalism from its beginnings. The overthrow of US  imperialism without the overthrow of capitalism would merely result in a global imperialist system led by some other power. Lenin's theory of imperialism pits the working class of undeveloped countries against that of the developed ones, upholding national interest against class interest. All nation-states are imperialist. They promote their own interests at the expense of rivals; they compete for larger markets for their own national capitals. Some (those who can get away with it) are militaristic; the biggest are global adventurers (eg the USA, Britain, France, China) and the smaller powers are local adventurers (India and Indonesia); and the really weak 'merely' support terrorist movements in other countries. The more powerful states throw their muscle around to intimidate other states, but they also have their clients and these clients are constantly trying to extend their own spheres of influence, either economically or militarily or both. Imperialism is just another name for geo-politics.

 There is no doubting the Bolsheviks sincerity, only their judgement. The extent to which the Bolshevik leaders really did believe at this time that they were turning “Russia into a socialist country”can be gauged from a passage in an article included in this book that Zinoviev later wrote on his “Twelve Days in Germany”:“We are approaching a time when we shall do away with all money. We are paying wages in kind, we are introducing free tramways, we have free schools, a free dinner, perhaps for the time being unsatisfactory free housing, light, etc.”

How divorced from reality can be gauged from this 1920 claim by Zinoviev quoted in a book that received extensive reviews by the CPGB that in England “the beginning of the proletarian revolution can be clearly seen...I am convinced that in two or three years, it will be said that this was the beginning of a new era. The proletarian revolution has a great chance in England.”

 It was who Martov argued that the workers in Europe were certainly discontented but that this was not an expression of socialist consciousness but of despair.  Martov said that the Bolshevik party had “conquered state power in a country with a proletariat that was numerically insignificant, a country with an insignificant productivity of labour, with a complete lack of the basic economic and cultural preconditions for the organisation of socialist production - and these objective conditions presented the Bolsheviks with an insurmountable obstacle for the realisation of their ideals.”He went on to point out that “the development of the revolution in the West …is not going as quickly as the Bolshevik party had reckoned when it obtained state power through a fortunate confluence of circumstances and then used this power in an attempt to turn Russia into a socialist country by a radically accelerated path.” Lih says that Martov could be seen as a sort of “premature Trotskyist”, however the SPGB would argue he reflects of our own position.

 The Bolsheviks had choices.

.(1) To share power with bourgeois parties.  (2) to entrench themselves in intransigent opposition and decline the responsibilities of power (3) to try to seize power by force.

The last option was the Bolshevik solution. It failed to produce socialism and necessarily failed to do so because even in power and ruling by dictat, the Commissars of the people, still found themselves face-to-face with hard economic reality, denying them the possibility of immediate establishment of Socialism."

"Bourgeois revolution" signifies a revolution that destroys feudalism and opens the way to industrialization, with all the social consequences this implies. The Russian Revolution is thus in the direct line of the English Revolution and the French Revolution. The Russian working class was not yet mature enough to govern itself.  The Russian Revolution may seemed to be a proletarian revolution but the participation of workers is not suffice. The criteria is if the workers are simply the foot-soldiers of others or if they fight for their own goals.

Prior to October 1917 the Communist Party never proclaimed that it had to take power or that its dictatorship would be the dictatorship of the proletariat. It had always proclaimed that the soviets, the representatives of the masses, had to take power; the Party itself formulated this program, it fought for it, and since the majority of the soviets finally acknowledged this program to be correct, they took government power into their hands, at which moment the Communist Cadres spontaneously took control of its executive offices. The Bolshevik Party, little by little, succeeded in appropriating more and more power. The Russian factories were again ruled by managers appointed from above and all the important political positions had been seized by the Communist Party. The workers got new masters instead of the old ones. The workers were not masters over their workshops, they were not masters of the means of production. Capitalism does not change by a change of management personnel. The essence of socialism is that the working class direct their work themselves, collectively.

Like a meteor the Russian revolution flared up and lit up the World. Only a few years it had burnt out. The character of  Russia determined the character of the Third International, red-hot rhetoric and shameless opportunism.

Martov recognized the Russian Revolution to be a progressive, pro-capitalist, national revolution that cleared the way for the solution of the economic backwardness of the country. He recognized the Russian Revolution as a "bourgeois" revolution, directed in part by the proletariat and impregnated with the utopianism typical of the proletariat of a backward country. He emphasized that the dictatorship of the Bolshevik "professional revolutionists" was not to be confused with the "dictatorship" of the working class, which, according to him, was impossible in a country like Russia. He foresaw that the pretensions to a program of world revolution affected by the Bolsheviks during their "heroic" period served as a sort of camouflage to protect their rule, and would in time give way again to the program of Russian "national socialism," the traditional and real program of Bolshevism.

"Martov expected the workers themselves to accomplish their emancipation. He believed that with historic experience, the working class would undergo a political and moral development and overcome in time the current Utopias and swindles in political theory and practice fostered among them by various sets of "leaders." He understood that the socialist revolution could only take place in countries that were economically ripe for socialism. He understood that the political setup produced by the socialist revolution could never be the Jacobin dictatorship of a revolutionary minority but could only be the expression of the majority rule of the population. He believed that after the proletariat of the countries economically ripe for socialism had once seized power, it could never find itself in a situation where its rule was anything else but the majority rule of the population."
- from the foreward by Integer (1938) to The State and the Socialist Revolution, articles by Martov written between 1919 and 1923.

Martov ridiculed the Bolsheviks for their belief that revolutions were ready to break out everywhere, for their belief that workers and peasants, by embracing Soviets (a world merely meaning Council), could establish Socialism. He held the Marxian view that no political form can enable Socialism to be won, unless the material conditions are ripe for such a change, unless capitalism has reached a high degree of development. Says Martov: “Soviets are the perfect form of State. They are the magic wand by which all inequalities, all misery, may be suppressed” adding that it is “No less than mystic is the concept of a political form that, by virtue of its particular character, can surmount all economic social and national conditions”

In his essay on “Dictatorship of the Minority”, Martov shows how the Bolsheviks were forced by conditions of the time to change their tactics and ideas.

In 1917, Lenin urged that the Russian workers would shatter the old bureaucratic and oppressive features of the State, once they had gained political power. He wrote of “the substitution of a universal popular militia for the police”, of the “electiveness and recall at any moment of all functionaries and commanding ranks”, of “workers’ control in its primitive sense, direct participation of the people at the courts” . Indeed, Lenin claimed that the triumph of the Bolsheviks would bring to the Russian workers a more real democracy than that found in capitalist countries with the parliamentary system.

This soon proved to be an idle dream. (And yet, perhaps, it was not so “idle”, since such talk helped Lenin and his clique to gain support and power.) In any case, the programme above outlined was soon abandoned. It was found impossible to put it into effect in face of the backward condition of industry and agriculture, and of the peasant outlook. Already, by1919, Martov could observe that the machinery of State in Russia was being strengthened, and that the apparatus for repression was being improved and extended. Martov sums up the matter in these words:

“Reality has cruelly shattered all these illusions. The ‘Soviet State’ has not established in any instance electiveness and recall of public officials and the commanding staff. It has not suppressed the professional police . . . It has not done away with social hierarchy in production . . . On the contrary, in proportion to its evolution, the Soviet State shows a tendency in the opposite direction. It shows a tendency toward the utmost possible strengthening of the principles of hierarchy and compulsion. It shows a tendency toward the development of a more specialised apparatus of repression than before . . . It shows a tendency toward the total freedom of the executive organisms from the tutelage of the electors” 
Again Martov tells us how things developed after 1917. “In Russia the evolution of the ‘Soviet State’ has already created a new and complicated State machine, based on the ‘administration of persons’ as against the ‘administration of things’ based on the opposition of  . . . The functionary (official) to the citizen. THESE ANTAGONISMS ARE IN NO WAY DIFFERENT FROM THE ANTAGONISMS THAT CHARACTERISE THE CAPITALIST STATE” (Our emphasis).

Engels and Marx knew from experience that before there could be a Socialist revolution, capitalism must have reached a high stage of development for “no social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room within it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society” (Marx’s Preface to the Critique of Political Economy).

The Bolsheviks, however, thought it possible for an active minority, representing the vague aspirations of the workers, to gain political power before the capitalist revolution itself had been completed. What would happen if such a minority gained a political victory over the capitalist classes?

Marx himself answers this question in clear-cut terms in his article, “Moralising Criticism”. Briefly stated, his answer is the following: In those circumstances, the minority become merely the tools of the capitalist class, which has not been virile enough to gain or hold power. Such a minority finds itself in the position of having to develop and run capitalism for a class unable, at the time, to do it successfully itself. Hence, let it be remembered, in running capitalism, the minority will be compelled to use its power to keep the working class in its slave position. Says Marx:

“Its victory will only be a point in the process of the bourgeois (capitalist) revolution itself, and will serve the cause of the latter by aiding its further development. This happened in 1794, and will happen again as long as the march, the movement, of history will not have elaborated the material factors that will create the necessity of putting an end to the bourgeois methods of production and, as a consequence, to the political domination of the bourgeoisie”

Hence, we see the real content and meaning of the Russian Revolution. It was “only a point in the process of the capitalist revolution itself”.  The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged themselves to do what had not been done previously, i.e., develop capitalism. The Bolsheviks performed the task of setting Russian capitalism on its feet and helping it through a very stormy period. “For the proletariat can score a victory over when the march of history will have elaborated the NECESSITY (not merely the objective POSSIBILITY) of putting an end to the capitalist methods of production” .

 Martov’s appears to add further proof of the correctness of the attitude taken up by the SPGB on the Russian Revolution. He dispels many of those illusions which have been hindering the growth of a socialist movement during the years. Martov put forward the Marxist argument against this. Socialism, he argued, could only be achieved by a politically conscious working class. It is the experience of workers under capitalism which drives them to understand the need for Socialism and this process is enhanced by the degree of democracy which they have won for themselves. Dictatorial power wielded by a vanguard minority, no matter how sincere its intentions, can never act as a substitute. That way the workers remain a subject class and the dictators, having acquired a taste for power, consolidate their own rule.

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