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Guest Connolly

"Socialism" as a Class Society

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Guest Connolly

Redstar 2000: Socialism as a Class Society

 

Socialism = capitalism (temporarily) without capitalists

 

How can this "outrageous" thing be said?

 

In a word, because it's true.

 

Why? Because in each and every one of the 20th century countries that called themselves "socialist", there were two groups of people who stood in a different relationship to the means of production -- which is the Marxist definition of class.

 

Most people, just like here, owned nothing but their labor-power...which they had to sell to an employer in order to remain alive.

 

Under "socialism", the only employer (with a few rare exceptions) was the state apparatus.

 

Now it's not as if the socialist state apparatus was utterly monolithic; under varying circumstances, different parts of the apparatus competed for labor with other parts of the apparatus...particularly during periods of rapid industrialization.

 

And another important difference was that some part of the state apparatus had to give you a job...even if it was "make-work" and socially useless.

 

So it was "better" than ordinary capitalism in the sense that the "ultimate threat" that hangs over every worker's head here -- homelessness and starvation -- did not exist. On the other hand, not having evidence of employment could result in imprisonment and compulsory (slave) labor...so the "whip" was always ready to hand if required.

 

Rationing of basic consumer goods (food, housing) also helped...the kind of absolute deprivation that yet afflicts modern capitalism was not a normal feature of "socialism".

 

But one very important thing was the same as we have here; there was an elite that managed and controlled the means of production according to their own interests. The vanguard party -- and especially its leading members -- had the power to make all substantive political and economic decisions for the entire society...without regard for the wishes of the working class or even the wishes of ordinary party members.

 

Indeed, a bloated repressive apparatus -- police, prisons, army, labor camps, etc. -- was a prominent feature of those regimes. Outright massacres were not common but not unknown...very much like modern capitalism. Prisons and labor camps were genuine hell-holes -- torture was either occasional or common, depending on which accounts you find most credible. An unknown but substantial number of people died from the poor conditions.

 

Thus, the party elite could impose its will (for a considerable period of time) without concerning itself with possible resistance from the working class.

 

Just as in capitalist countries, workers had a lengthy list of "legal rights"...and just as here, any attempt to exercise those rights risked imprisonment or death.

 

What was it actually like for the ordinary person to live under "socialism"?

 

Well, you got up every morning and went to work. The pace of your job, under most circumstances, was far less exhausting than under capitalism...and in some situations, it didn't even matter if you showed up at all. When you got off, there wasn't much to do...entertainment was a low priority under "socialism" and what little there was tended to be too expensive for ordinary people. If you could afford a bottle of booze (and found a state store that had some), you and your friends could drink yourselves into oblivion.

 

You spent a big part of your life dealing with shortages of basic consumer needs...and when you did find something desirable, you bought as much of it as you could -- bartering the items you didn't need with friends who had a surplus of things that you did need. The party elite in all of those countries had first crack at consumer necessities and ordinary people had to "make do" with whatever was left over.

 

The party elites did not live in the kind of obscene luxury characteristic of modern capitalism...it was probably more like what we would call "upper-middle-class". Even so, it was far above what the ordinary person in those countries lived like.

 

There was a surplus of political rhetoric, flag-waving, etc. -- mostly ignored by ordinary people since they knew they had no voice in "important matters".

 

Over time, the "revolution" became as meaningless as "the 4th of July" here...just so much background noise.

 

And that was true in the party elite as well...especially as their standard of living rose much faster than that of the ordinary person. As a proto-capitalist class, they had contact with the capitalist world and saw what real luxury was like. It was only a matter of time before they began to "want some of that" for themselves...a particularly pronounced trend among the sons and daughters of the elite. Towards the end, massive corruption became the norm...the USSR by 1990 most closely resembled Enron and met the same fate.

 

As the old generation of revolutionaries died off, the new elite shed their "socialism" like worn-out clothes...who cares what Stalin or Mao said compared to what Bill Gates says or what Alan Greenspan says or, hell, what Madonna says!

 

But what about "the transition to communist society" and "the withering away of the state"?

 

Hah! You might just as well ask what happened to the "Second Coming of Christ".

 

Communism was never "on the agenda" in any of those countries...nor was there ever any serious attempt to devolve state power to the working class itself. All there was, besides the red flags, was great leader worship, vulgar nationalism, intrigue, corruption...and economic development required for the emergence of modern capitalism.

 

In the modern imperialist world, Russia and China are now "players"...they've "made the cut".

 

Ok, what about a proletarian revolution in an advanced capitalist country? Would "socialism" turn out the same way?

 

If Marx was right, only a transitional state under the control of the working class itself would avoid the unhappy fate of 20th century "socialism". His view was that all state officials must be elected and recallable at all times...and must be compensated at the same rate that ordinary workers are compensated. At no time did he suggest that a particular "party" of "Marxists" should be in unlimited command of the proletarian state.

 

I'm personally not confident that even that would work; if there is a "political center of gravity" it will inevitably attract exactly the kind of people that you don't want to have "in charge" of anything...people who think they are "especially fit to rule others".

 

The rather unlikely quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson is appropriate here. The idea that most people are born with saddles on their backs while a few are born booted and spurred, ready to ride, is one that is "passing out of history".

 

If he did say that, he was being wildly optimistic...especially for a guy who owned slaves himself. Nevertheless, it is passing out of history, if all too slowly.

 

Let's speed it on its way.

 

http://www.revleft.c...3480/index.html

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Redstar 2000: Socialism as a Class Society

 

Socialism = capitalism (temporarily) without capitalists

 

How can this "outrageous" thing be said?

 

Class is an ownership relation to the of the means of production. Not just any relation to the means of production.

 

You have failed to undertstand the points i have made numerous times already. Im not repeating them.

 

Its a very wild claim that there was never any intention to introduce Communism to the USSR.

 

I presume such an attempt could only be made when the rest of the world is socialist.

 

It is also a wild claim to say that the Soviet elite ran the USSR for their own interest alone - particularly when he doesn't bother to supply one shred of evidence for his claims.

 

Because of their collective relationship to the MoP. Marxism 101.

 

People in the USSR had far more genuine entertainment than we have today.

 

Evidence required.

 

He is also wrong to say that it was too expensive. Ordinary people flocked to the cinemas and theaters, and they were provided with quality programming - unlike the mind numbing garbage that we are fed today.

 

[insert evidence]

 

 

As for the "whip," I'm afraid it is a fact that some compulsion is always needed in society. You can't run a factory, if workers only turn up "when they have time."

 

Not a fact at all.

 

In reality, there is always likely to be more compulsion in Communism than Capitalism, as Capitalism has a structural need for a great number of unemployed people, so anyone who doesn't want to work, and is satisfied to live on the dole, can get away with doing this for a very long time, if not all their lives. Communism demands that everyone who can work will work.

 

Man you have such a different view of communism than me. Or indeed Marx for that matter.

 

I have to say, I see a vein of Anglo-Saxon liberalism all through Redstar's posts. He even seems to regret that Russia and China are now world powers. It is this liberalism which leads him to consistently ask the wrong questions and arrive at the wrong conclusions.

 

Its more that he understands historical materialism, and then looks at state capitalism from that angle.

 

Rather than doing it the opposite way and trying to shoe-horn state capitalism into Marxist theory.

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Guest Connolly

Looks like something happened the post above. I seem to have edited it by mistake, rather than reply.

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To be honest, a chara, its thinking like that of the OP that has left the Socialist parties of the West in a state of mental paralysis for the last 50 years. It all adds up to: Lets not do anything - for fear of doing something wrong.

 

And why do you ask me for evidence - when you accept the pontification of Redstar without one shred of evidence?

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Guest Connolly

To be honest, a chara, its thinking like that of the OP that has left the Socialist parties of the West in a state of mental paralysis for the last 50 years. It all adds up to: Lets not do anything - for fear of doing something wrong.

 

No thats just reflective of your lack of understanding of what Marxism is.

 

I dont "do nothing". But I certainly wouldnt profess to be able to bring about socialism, or indeed, know what socialism actually is beyond vague deductive outlines.

 

Like Marx,I believe socialism will be the product of the working class. Not by me, or a vanguard of ideological priests who, in reality, know very little about the objective world and immeasurably complex social processes.

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No thats just reflective of your lack of understanding of what Marxism is.

 

I dont "do nothing". But I certainly wouldnt profess to be able to bring about socialism, or indeed, know what socialism actually is beyond vague deductive outlines.

 

Like Marx,I believe socialism will be the product of the working class. Not by me, or a vanguard of ideological priests who, in reality, know very little about the objective world and immeasurably complex social processes.

 

Are you sure you have not abstracted the working class out of existence? Are you sure you have not abstracted yourself out of existence? Are you sure there is any objective world outside of what we, as humans, understand? Are you sure that this "objective world" of yours is not just a fetish? You have already admitted that nobody today can know this "objective world." Might it be that it doesn't actually exist? Might it be that, given the technological base available to us, it is we ourselves, in our own time, that make our own world?

 

I'm afraid that Redstar is very typical of a lot of people in the West, who proclaim to want Communism. They spend 99% of their time agreeing with the bourgeoisie that any attempt to gain Socialism has been a terrible disaster. And they spend the other 1% of their time saying that they wouldn't know what Socialism is anyway - or even if its a good idea.

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Guest Connolly

Are you sure there is any objective world outside of what we, as humans, understand? Are you sure that this "objective world" of yours is not just a fetish?

 

If one understands, and then follows Marxism, then one accepts historical materialism and philosophical materialism.

 

Its not a fetish, its called Marxism.

 

Perhaps you should reconsider your 'political label'. But Leninism is fine to me because it deviates so far from Marxism that it has become nothing much to do with Marxism at all. Unfortunately those who seek genuine socialism are tarred with the despotism that calls itself socialism.

 

You have already admitted that nobody today can know this "objective world." Might it be that it doesn't actually exist?

 

Well I believe it to exist. Philosophical materialism and solpsism are really the only consistent philosophical positions to take, and it would be pretty lonely if I took the latter.

 

That nobody can fully undserstand the objective world does not mean it does not exist.

 

Might it be that, given the technological base available to us, it is we ourselves, in our own time, that make our own world?

 

No, you see, that is not Marxism.

 

Such a position, or understanding of the world does not logically make sense.

 

I'm afraid that Redstar is very typical of a lot of people in the West, who proclaim to want Communism. They spend 99% of their time agreeing with the bourgeoisie that any attempt to gain Socialism has been a terrible disaster. And they spend the other 1% of their time saying that they wouldn't know what Socialism is anyway - or even if its a good idea.

 

What you believe to be socialism is infact an alternative sociol-productive configuration of the existing mode of production and its productive forces.

 

In otherwords, that you propose and seek to implement it makes you a reformist.

 

In reality, you do not seek to change the mode of production. Rather, make a "softer" reconfigured version of it that you call socialism. But to anyone who understands historical materialism it is infact capitalism, or a varient of it.

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If one understands, and then follows Marxism, then one accepts historical materialism and philosophical materialism.

 

Its not a fetish, its called Marxism.

 

Perhaps you should reconsider your 'political label'. But Leninism is fine to me because it deviates so far from Marxism that it has become nothing much to do with Marxism at all. Unfortunately those who seek genuine socialism are tarred with the despotism that calls itself socialism.

 

 

 

Well I believe it to exist. Philosophical materialism and solpsism are really the only consistent philosophical positions to take, and it would be pretty lonely if I took the latter.

 

That nobody can fully undserstand the objective world does not mean it does not exist.

 

 

 

No, you see, that is not Marxism.

 

Such a position, or understanding of the world does not logically make sense.

 

 

 

What you believe to be socialism is infact an alternative sociol-productive configuration of the existing mode of production and its productive forces.

 

In otherwords, that you propose and seek to implement it makes you a reformist.

 

In reality, you do not seek to change the mode of production. Rather, make a "softer" reconfigured version of it that you call socialism. But to anyone who understands historical materialism it is infact capitalism, or a varient of it.

 

It is not a fact that you and Redstar set the bar so high, that you can be sure nobody will attempt to get over it? We all know, for example, that Hugo Chavez rules over a country with some of the worst examples of exploitation, poverty and extreme wealth in the world. Does that mean that he has achieved nothing? That he is not a Socialist?

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Guest Connolly

It is not a fact that you and Redstar set the bar so high, that you can be sure nobody will attempt to get over it? We all know, for example, that Hugo Chavez rules over a country with some of the worst examples of exploitation, poverty and extreme wealth in the world. Does that mean that he has achieved nothing? That he is not a Socialist?

 

It is not about setting the bar so high.

 

Its about seeing that the form of society, or failing that, the intensity of the struggle to change that society, corresponds to the social forces of production.

 

Its called historical materialism and Marxism.

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It is not about setting the bar so high.

 

Its about seeing that the form of society, or failing that, the intensity of the struggle to change that society, corresponds to the social forces of production.

 

Its called historical materialism and Marxism.

 

So, is Chavez a Socialist?

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Guest Connolly

So, is Chavez a Socialist?

 

In my opinion, no. Not in the Marxist sense.

 

He may think he is. But what he thinks is as relevant as what the pope thinks.

 

Marxist materialism does not analyse the thoughts of men. It analyses the material conditions which give rise to those men and their thoughts.

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"Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production." - Marx

 

This passage alone is problematic for the concept of a "vanguard" - a self proclaimed group of priests who "think of themselves" and of their "own consciousness" as being one of socialist transformation.

 

On the contrary, Marx says, the consciousness must be explained from material life.

 

Who can understand the complexities of material society in the moment? - only a God. Or the prophets who come to deliver us from evil. The Vanguard.

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Guest Connolly
Class is an ownership relation to the of the means of production. Not just any relation to the means of production.

 

"At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, orwhat is but a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters." - Marx - http://www.marxists....preface-abs.htm

 

In otherwords, it is ones relationship to the means of production which matters. While the legal superstructure can exist to protect or express those relationships.

 

In the USSR property was state owned. Those who controlled the state, as Redstar rigthtly pointed out, had a different relationship to the MoP than the ordinary worker. The legal system reflected, defended and maintained this relationship - "in defence of the state".

 

So you are incorrect to state that class is just an ownership relationship. The codified legal system, in whatever form, simply reflects and serves the relationship itself - whether private ownership or despotic "socialism".

 

Class is the relationship itself. Law, or the superstructure, is in servitude to that relationship..

 

So Redstar is right on that.

 

It is entirely consitent to Marxist theory to exclaim the USSR as a class society, with a ruling exploiting class and a working exploited class - even if all property is owned by the state and not private individuals.

 

Contrary to all your previous protestations.

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Just as a note of clarification, I would say that my definition of an exceptional human being is one that stands up, as a human being, even if that means certain death. Without such people, slavery can be the only status quo - regardless of the technological base.

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I would also say that Marx had a romantic soul. Indeed, one of the greatest romantic souls of all time. He was the last of the Jewish prophets, shouting out in the wilderness. Every year, he read Shakespeare's complete works, from cover to cover. One of his favourite quotes was from Hamlet: "The time is out of joint: O cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right!”

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Guest Connolly

Fodla, I will give you one thing. You have a pretty 'different' way of approaching things that I havnt seen before, and thats a good thing. I still dont have a good picture of your way of thinking yet. You sound like you integrate a bit of that psychoanalysis into your perspective.

 

However a lot of what you say is very much inconsistent with Marxist theory. You say it was Lenin's writings that you adopted socialism through. I would say that is not a good starting point for the reasons I have explained already in the two threads. Lenin's theories are deeply flawed and actual Marxist theory blows a hole in it, particularly when we have historical hindsight - something that Lenin did not have "in the moment".

 

Its a pitty you did not start with Marx, and end up integrating what is the very different insight/perspective you have into that theoretical framework ( the more logical and coherent one).

 

----------------

But as to whether one man can make a difference.

 

To a certain extent they can. We are not robots that cannot change our own situation. But what changes we can make are limited.

 

Take the following analogy. Picture a man locked in a small room trying to get out. The walls of the room are made of thin plaster board. Out side and around the room is a corridor and another set of walls of impenetrable steel.

 

The man can try and get out. He can change the situation partly. He can punch holes in the plaster board and get out of the small room and into the corridor. But once there he can go no further because of the impenetrable steel walls.

 

In this analogy the plasterboard are our immediate set of material circumstances from which we can attempt action, in the hope of change. We do not know the extent for which we can change our situation until we actually try, agitate, struggle, within the given set of circumstances we are in.

 

But there are fundamental limiting factors as to what we can do or what we can create. This is the steel walls. It is the forces of production - independent of mans will.

 

These steel walls), the level of which they are at, are very much unknown to us until revealed through struggle and agitation. Until we punch through the plasterboard and see the steel.

 

Does this analogy make sense?

 

So we have the ability to change our situation - but not a situation of our own choosing.

 

And this is where we are at now - and have always been.

 

Actually applying a Marxist analysis to, say, Gaddafi, or Malcolm X, and trying to understand why exactly they emerged due to a given level of forces of production is very difficult.

 

Partly because Marxist historical materialism is very sharp an analysing the transformation from one mode of production to another - but far more "blunt" when looking at what are essentially different configuartions of the one mode of production.

 

I mean, as I have argued already, we can see the class divide in the Soviet Union and Libya. The exploiter and the exploited. And this relationship is fixed with a given level of the forces of production. Man cannot break free from them. They are, essentially, inevitable.

 

So what we have seen in history is attempts to 'reconfigure' the superstructure and mechanisms (the plasterboard) in which this relationship takes place. Humanity attempting to "soften" and make more tolerable the definite relationships. And there is conflict over how best to do that, how best to reconfigure. Do we form a large economic union? do we fight for our own nation state? Do we fight against imperialism or just let it happen? Do we nationalise the land or privatise the land?

 

These are all questions of reconfiguring the existing mode of production, and softening the effects of the definite relationships. Perhaps it can be said that what we have witnessed, and are witnessing today, are struggles of the political realm. Struggles of the superstructure. Man has the freedom to do this.

 

It is, I guess, reformism.

 

Fighting for socialism - a new but hitherto elusive new mode of production - is where actual Marxists and Anarchists are at. And it is a task of much greater proportions. Of far less certainty. Of far greater complexity. It is a fight to change the economic base of society - and the definite relationships which result.

 

It is a fight down a blind alley in which the only certainty are a recognition of inherent antagonistic relationships.

 

Marxist analysis is therefore critical. It is critical of social stratification, of power stratification, of the systems which maintain the identified social relationships.

 

A Marxist in the soviet union fights against the system. Seeks to expose the evident relationships. He is critical.

 

Gaddafi led a section of the bourgeoisie (consciously or not) in their quest to implement a reconfiguration of the existing mode of production. That he 'led' them is consistent with this epoch of time. The epoch of despotism, of leaders, of elites, of managers - of the exploited and the exploiter.

 

The socialist mode of production should be a very different one. If it happens at all.

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My own view is that one needs to read Marx, Neitzsche and Freud to have anything like an understanding of the world we live in today. It surprising how well the ideas of those three authors integrate. I would also consider the work of Lacan and Deleuze to be vital, along with the work of Baudrillard and the continuing work of philosophers like Zizek. One doesn't need to agree with everything these philosophers say, but, one thing's for sure, you will never think the same way again, once you have read them.

 

I remember have a conversation with your good self, where you criticized certain Marxists for not giving enough thought to the psychological factors - which may not be so absolutely tied to the productive forces. I agreed with you at the time, and I still do. I didn't become a Communist because I liked Lenin's writing style, or because I considered Marx's analysis to be correct. I became a Communist because I felt Communism in my stomach and in my heart. I imagine that this is true of nearly all Communists - if they are Communists.

 

So, as much as I admire Marx's writings, I would never hesitate to take a different view to Marx, in the light of new information. I believe that Marx's analysis of the capitalist régime is 100% correct. But, as you said yourself, the world has changed a lot since the 19th century. I think the main change is that Marx wrote about a Europe that was structured on production. He did notice the tendency of England, as the most advanced imperialist state, towards a new structuring, i.e. a society structured on consumption. England was already exporting a large percentage of it's capital to it's colonies, and producing goods in the colonies, for the consumption of the English population. That exception has now become the rule in all of the West. Western society is a society based on consumption, not production. So, while Marx's analysis barely needs any modification to describe most of the world, i.e. the Third World, i.e. the world of production, one is taking Marx as the starting point in the analysis of the society of consumption. And I think Baudrillard has done this very well - though his view of the future is excessively bleak for me.

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Guest Connolly

I didn't become a Communist because I liked Lenin's writing style, or because I considered Marx's analysis to be correct. I became a Communist because I felt Communism in my stomach and in my heart. I imagine that this is true of nearly all Communists - if they are Communists.

 

As I say, you have a very different perspective to what I have seen. I think I would be the complete opposite. I battle with communism all the time because my heart tells me just how impossible it is. Of what my heart views as the sheer stupidity and barbarity of humanity.

 

Look at these scummy bastards:

 

 

But my brain, equpped with what it sees as the most coherent and logical framework for percieving the world and my fellow humans, tells me otherwise.

 

So, as much as I admire Marx's writings, I would never hesitate to take a different view to Marx, in the light of new information. I believe that Marx's analysis of the capitalist régime is 100% correct. But, as you said yourself, the world has changed a lot since the 19th century. I think the main change is that Marx wrote about a European that was structured on production. He did notice the tendency of England, as the most advanced imperialist state, towards a new structuring, i.e. a society structured on consumption. England was already exporting a large percentage of it's capital to it's colonies, and producing goods in the colonies, for the consumption of the English population. That exception has now become the rule in all of the West. Western society is a society based on consumption, not production. So, while Marx's analysis barely needs any modification to describe most of the world, i.e. the Third World, i.e. the world of production, one is taking Marx as the starting point in the analysis of the society of consumption. And I think Baudrillard has done this very well - though his view of the future is excessively bleak for me.

 

Your post contains so many points I think id be here all month addressing them.

 

But, however, if you see a problem with my "logic" (dont want to sound like captain spock here), please do so. It is through that that I evaluate my own understanding. I saw a problem with what you were saying early in the CPIR thread, I pointed it out and I think presented a more coherent and logical position.

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I don't see a problem with your logic, a chara, other than you, perhaps, depend on logic too much. We are mysterious and surprising beings. I believe that a Communist is, above all, a person of faith. Faith combined with an iron will.

 

I remember some idiot writing in the Irish Independent, and he thought he was showing up how ridiculous the IRA is by telling a joke. The joke went: How many terrorists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: As many as it takes for a long as it takes. What the idiot didnt realize was that he had given the IRA the greatest compliment possible.

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I think Redstars analysis of the USSR is spot on from a Marxist perspective. Just because a class arose in the USSR and China that ultimately came to sit in a more privileged position than the working class isn't however a reason to reject communism. The points he makes about the people who gravitate towards power being those who should never have power in the first place are good points, (and indeed were made previously by Plato, as we are reminded in another thread!!)

 

Pointing out that we have an impossible task is also not necessarily a bad thing. Striving towards the impossible is truly just. Striving towards the possible is by its very nature a temporary task, that can easily be corrupted by that possibility (or by some compromise) being granted. That is perhaps straying into the philosophical, but I think very tangible and possible results can arise by striving for what you know to be impossible.

 

I don't doubt that the vanguard parties thought they were doing something great for the working class, or indeed that they did great things for the working class, but ultimately they weren't the working class. The vanguard idea is a flawed one, which is why the CPIR has not adopted this approach. Does that negate everything positive that came from Lenin, Stalin and Mao for the working class? I don't think so. The fact that when market capitalism re-asserted itself in the former USSR, that lifespan decreased so drastically tells us that, despite these flaws, that there were benefits.

 

As we don't adopt the vanguard approach, we would hope to emulate the positives without succumbing to the drawbacks. Tweaking their experience and trying again. But we can't learn from our mistakes if we do not admit them. Defending these regimes so vigourously amounts to a defence of vanguardism. Criticising the results of this vanguardism does not amount to surrendering the high ground to capitalism.

 

I think that people appreciate when you are frank about your mistakes. People know, and I don't think its simply because of western media, that life under the USSR and Chinese regimes is not for them. They can see that in those regimes the working class did not control the means of production. Why would they support a system that replaces one elite with another? Yes, it may add 10 years to your life, but in a war with capitalism which promises you wealth beyond human comprehension, people need more than an extra 10 years of a subservient existance to justify putting the rest of their lives on the line. That is only human.

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But were they mistakes? Or at least what you are referring to. Was it a mistake to have a vanguard party in 1917? I don't think so. If Ireland today had the same conditions as Russia had in 1917, or China a bit later, I would also recommend a vanguard party. Ireland today has a level of prosperity, education, communications, etc. that were unthinkable in 1917. Nor are we in the middle of an all out World War, with the state in collapse. This gives us a luxury that Lenin and Mao didn't have. It is a question often asked: If James Connolly had founded a vanguard party, would Irish history be very different? Perhaps it was the lack of a vanguard Marxist party that let a mediocre crew like Sinn Féin take power, and then crush the Working Class. The treachery really started with the destruction of the Limerick Soviet - not by the Brits, but by Sinn Féin in collaboration with the Catholic bishops. I have very little doubt that if Lenin had not been able to enforce his will in October 1917, there would have been no Revolution.

 

Even with us, say we have a multiplicity of Soviets in Federation. Is that Federation not a kind of vanguard, when compared with the rest of the population of Ireland, or Europe. Say the European state collapses - chaos reigns - would we refrain from using the power of the Soviets to impose a Soviet peace?

 

Or take India today. I'm not at all convinced that our methods would be effective there. I think the Maoists are probably right to maintain a vanguard party

 

Defending the USSR does not mean wanting to do it all over again. That would be impossible. What it does mean is that we recognise that the transition from Capitalism to Communism will follow a similar trajectory as the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, i.e. Communist states bubbling up, being destroyed, then bubbling up again, until the time comes when the contradiction between base and superstructure is so great, that we will finally reach our French Revolution moment, i.e. the final stake through the heart of Capitalism. Sadly, we must now recognise that the USSR was just the first magnificent eruption of the Communist idea into state reality. I think there will be many more. Capitalism had nothing like so glorious a start. Many little capitalist states bubbled up, starting in the 12th century, and were then destroyed, only to rise again. It took 500 years and more for the transition to be completed. I suspect that the transition will be much faster from Capitalism to Communism, due to the rapidity of communications and technological change.

 

What is vital is that we Communists never try to deny our origins, or our previous attempts. I think there is now a sort of humiliating ritual that all Socialists of any kind are expected to go through, i.e. you have to condemn the "mistakes" of the USSR before you are allowed to talk. The public, of course, have been conditioned to expect this mea culpa, and today's Socialist parties, being the spineless populists they are, are only too happy to oblige. We should never allow ourselves to be herded like that.

 

There's a saying in the media - when you're explaining yourself, you're loosing.

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Well it depends on what you mean as a vanguard. I was thinking about this after I posted, and the prophetic shock minority term used by some Republicans also has the same connotation. I think it amounts to the same and that it has some considerable value when faced with the vast challenges of transition from one mode of production to another.

 

However, while true prophets can exist without seeking exaltation, there is a tendency when someone is given prophet status, or the status as being the true conscience of the working class, that this ossifies, and without sufficiently addressing the base and superstructural issues of the time, that this minority becomes the new elite and perpetuates class division.

 

I think the term vanguard was chosen partially to mitigate against this. A vanguard does not claim to be the whole of the working class, just a portion of it. A vanguard is nothing without its main body. But at some point the Party became exalted and had effective primacy over the soviets. I don't criticise Lenin for adopting a vanguard structure, I don't doubt that without it that the revolution would not have occured. However, learning from what happened, we can ensure as much as possible that we do not exalt our vanguard.

 

That perhaps starts by finding a new term to express the requirement for some people to take the lead in organising a revolution. But already we have been explicit in the constitution that the party seeks no special exaltation and ensured that the party is subject to the institutions of the Republic.

 

However, even that does not prevent us from exalting the institutions themselves, and if they do not grow for whatever reason, then those institutions could easily fill the role that the party did in the USSR. If those institutions siezed power while they did not constitute more than a vanguard, then there would be a huge risk that they would simply become the new elite and enjoy a particular relationship to the means of production that ordinary people do not.

 

Marx talked about the state withering away. He didn't advocate a vanguard, if he had done, perhaps he would have talked about the need of the vanguard to wither away. But for anything to wither away, there needs to be some structure there to ensure that it happens. It won't just happen by itself. It certainly didn't happen in the USSR, because IMO the party did not contemplate its demise. I don't think we can come up with a complete way to avoid this happening, but as Connolly referred to above, recallable delegates and no material advantage to those who make decisions would be a very good start.

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