Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A Political Disagreement

"Unfortunately, Communism - more accurately, Marxism-Leninism - makes human improvability a dogma rather than a theory, hypothesis, or pious wish."
-Poul Anderson, Poul Anderson replies to E. Brandis and V. Dmitrevskiy (trans. Theodre Guerchon), "The Future, Its Promoters And False Prophets" IN FSF, Oct '65.

I disagree. Marxism has four off-shoots:

(i) European Social Democracy which became parliamentarist and pro-capitalist like the trade union-based British Labour Party;

(ii) Stalinism which retained the name "Communism" but became "socialism in one country," thus ceasing to be internationalist;

(iii) orthodox Trotskyism based on the idea that Stalinist Russia remained socialist albeit bureaucratically degenerated;

(iv) unorthodox Trotskyism based on an analysis of Stalinist Russia as not socialist but state capitalist with the bureaucracy exploiting labour in order to compete militarily against the Western powers.

I do not include Maoism, which was Chinese Third World nationalism with a Stalinist ideology, and I regard unorthodox Trotskyism as preserving Marxist theory and practice undogmatically. The leading theoretician, Cliff, had to break from dogma in order to analyze Stalinism as a form of capitalism.

16 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I'm not sure I can quite agree here. Isn't the Marxist-Lenist dogmatism about human improvability one of the basic ideas all four of these offshoots of Marxism have or had in common? Including even Maoism (the stunning ruthlessness of Mao's rule of China was, after all, based on trying to "improve" China).

The problem with your point (i) is that European style "social democracy" inevitably meant a drastic expansion of the state, it's bureaucracy, heavy taxes, etc., burdening what were once freer economies and societies. That made them LESS capitalistic.

As regards your point (ii) I would argue that Stalin's "socialism in one country" was not meant to be permanent, but only a delay, for tactical reasons, in expanding socialism. Stalin did manage to occupy most of eastern Europe and set up client regimes subservient to Moscow's. wishes in the nations there. And the Comintern was used for pro-Communist/Soviet agitation and subversion elsewhere.

As for "unorthodox Trotskyism," I find it very difficult to think of STALINISM as a form of capitalism. It was the very OPPOSITE of genuinely free economy, with only a few moderate restraints imposed by the state.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Not dogmatism. Some of us think that humanity can transform itself but we have to persuade a lot of other people before it can be attempted.
Yes, the Comintern was used as an agent of Stalin's foreign policies, not as an agent of social transformation elsewhere.
You think of capitalism as a free economy but it is compatible with a military dictatorship. The Marxist criteria for capitalism are exploitation and competition. Cliff showed that competition drove the Russian economy but this competition took the form of stockpiling weapons for use against an external competitor, the US, as against the familiar economic competition between firms within a country.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I don't object to you, and others who agree with you, thinking it is possible to "transform" mankind, despite my skepticism about that idea. But I hope people who think like will not try to force or coerce dissenters into agreeing with them.

I did some quick googling, and the Comintern WAS meant to be used for sowing agitation and subversion in other nations, with the goal of implanting Soviet style communism in them. If Lenin and Stalin believed in transforming humanity into "Soviet man," how does that make the Comintern NOT "an agent of social transformation"?

Yes, I agree a more or less free enterprise economy can be compatible, to some degree, with dictatorship, military or otherwise. But for that to WORK I argue such a regime has to deny any belief that it has the right or is able to regulate all aspects of human life. To me, the classic example of that was the gov't of Francisco Franco of Spain. During the last 20 years or so of his rule Franco employed economists who had been disciples of Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman to overhaul and reform the economy along free enterprise lines. Because Franco had become dissatisfied with the results of using Falangist economic ideas.

It's also my belief that for such policies to succeed, LONG TERM, a dictatorship has to change or evolve into a stabler regime based on the rule of law. Again, Franco's Spain comes to mind: he made arrangements for the restoration of a constitutional monarchy to succeed him after his death. And, so far, the Restored monarchy has endured.

I still have to disagree with Mr. Cliff. His description of the Soviet economy still looks like a COMMAND economy controlled by the state using all resources possible for military ends. It's simply not the same as Coca Cola competing with Pepsi in selling soft drinks!

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Very different: Coke v. Pepsi and USSR v. US! But still economic accumulation for the purpose of competition. The USSR's competition was external, not internal.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Yes, but the differences between Coca Cola/Pepsi and the USSR is REAL and fundamental. That is, a company like Coca Cola is not a GOVERNMENT with the power to coerce and force people to do what it wants. Coca Cola can't force me to drink its stuff if I don't want to!

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Of course. Cliff was focusing on an underlying economic factor, the drive to accumulate and compete, while acknowledging all the differences.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

That makes me feel a bit less critical of Mr. Cliff. Except, I wonder if he is not quite adequately taking into account the MOTIVATION for the USSR to be so aggressive. That is Marxist/Leninist dogma was pushing Lenin and his successors down to Brezhnev into following irrational policies.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Here I think we have put our finger on one of our more basic disagreements. I think that:
the Bolsheviks wanted to build a better society and spread it internationally;
they failed - overwhelmed by isolation, backwardness, the devastation of World War, White military resistance and thirteen (I think) armies of intervention, including British;
their successors, the bureaucrats, were motivated neither by Marxism nor by dogma but only by survival;
(capitalist firms must compete in order to survive);
of course, the bureaucrats justified their oppression in terms of an inherited Marxist theoretical framework but they were contradicting Marxism by suppressing workers' democracy instead of trying to restore it;
the popular democracy of the soviets (workers' councils) had been lost when the small industrial working class had been physically destroyed by war and privation;
the words "soviet" and "Communism" were turned into their opposites as has happened with other terminology throughout history;
so I do not recognize any motivating continuity of dogma from Marx through to Brezhnev.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

It's possible SOME of the Bolsheviks wanted to build a better society. But the sheer brutality and callous cruelty of Lenin and Stalin and their hencemen made that impossible. You cannot build a reasonably tolerable regime and society using terror, tyranny, and slavery. Thank you, compared to how the Bolsheviks actually turned out, I far prefer the bungling or fumbling regime of Tsar Nicholas II.

I believe the Bolsheviks also failed because their Marxist ideas were simply NOT workable, not compatible with human nature. And thus did not DESERVE to succeed. Not just because of the factors you listed: backwardness, WW I, White Russian resistance, foreign intervention, etc. I would far rather the White Russians had won the civil war or that foreign intervention had been EFFECTIVE enough to destroy Lenin's regime.

I don't think ALL of the bureaucratic successors of Stalin were motivated ONLY by corruption and cynical self interest. Decade after decade of indoctrination in the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc., would have left SOME mark on them. Esp., if the only way the Soviet regime could claim LEGITIMACY was thru Marxism. And I still think Brezhnev, in his rather thuggish, dim witted way, was motivated in how he governed by Marxism.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
We cannot build a better society using terror and tyranny. I agree with Anderson and you on that. When those means were used, the revolution was already lost.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

And to use such means should make anyone conclude such a revolution DESERVED to be lost.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Trotsky was exiled, campaigned against Stalinist repression and was murdered.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

True, but I have scant respect for Trotsky. After all, he was just as guilty as Lenin at being brutal and tyrannical. I have strong doubts Trotsky would have been much better than Stalin if he had won the struggle for power which broke out after Lenin died.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Unfortunately, if a revolution goes wrong, many revolutionaries go wrong. I wonder which of my comrades would kill me if we were involved in a revolution in retreat. But that is not our current situation. In Britain, we have many issues to campaign about. The power is not in our hands.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

And MOST revolutions do go wrong, if they were not already bad from the beginning. That was why both myself and PA are so skeptical of revolutions. And be glad nothing like a Communist revolution succeeded in seizing power in what would have been the FORMER United Kingdom. The odds would have been very high that fanatical revolutionaries would have purged the less fanatical and genuine moderates like you!

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

One more point, before this blog piece disappears from the "front page." Of the four replies to the Soviet article pub. by F&SF critiquing American SF, I thought Poul Anderson's response was the most carefully thought out and penetrating.

Sean