Once again I am grateful to my friend John Rudge for digging out and writing an introduction to this hitherto unknown original version of Cliff’s critique of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism.
Tony Cliff and Bureaucratic Collectivism
John Rudge Issued 20th December 2017 Grim and Dim Version
To my mind the most enigmatic of the writings of Tony Cliff is that on the subject of the theory of “Bureaucratic Collectivism”. The reason for this is not hard to define. Cliff’s original duplicated internal document (a) on the subject is everywhere said to have been published in 1948. This is not correct. It was actually finished in 1949 (b) but, in any event, that document has never before been made available publicly. Writing in 1971 Richard Kuper stated, “no original of “The Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism – A Critique” could be found”. Cliff wrote a revised version of the document as an article that appeared in the International Socialism Journal No. 32 in Spring 1968 (c). It is only this later article that has ever seen the public gaze. It has subsequently appeared in the following books – “The Fourth International, Stalinism and the Origins of the International Socialists: Some Documents” (Pluto Press, 1971); “Neither Washington Nor Moscow: Essays on Revolutionary Socialism by Tony Cliff” (Bookmarks, 1982); “State Capitalism in Russia” (Bookmarks, 1988) and “Tony Cliff. Marxist Theory After Trotsky: Selected Writings Volume 3” (Bookmarks, 2003). Not only has this later version appeared in these IS/SWP publications but, as far as I am aware, all critiques of Cliff’s views on the subject of “Bureaucratic Collectivism”, both positive and negative, have been made based solely on this 1968 version. The assumption is always that what Cliff wrote in 1968 is what he wrote in 1949. This is just not true. The 1949 document is much longer, more detailed, has a wider scope and a deeper historical and Marxist theoretical content. In it Cliff also tackles James Burnham’s “The Managerial Revolution” – a work not mentioned at all in 1968. Its 1949 title is different and reflects its greater ambition – “Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism”. It was written specifically to be read alongside Cliff’s mammoth Revolutionary Communist Party 1948 work, “The Nature of Stalinist Russia”. It also had a different purpose to the later version. The 1968 article was published with a covering note explaining that:
“This article might seem as if it deals with sectariana. However, the target of the criticism is not Shachtman and his theory of bureaucratic collectivism alone, but rather, a widespread conception of Stalinist Russia as being neither socialist nor capitalist. Many anti-Communists and their socialist opponents share this view, and, as a result, fail to apply common criteria to all advanced societies – whether this is a pretext for displaying sympathy with the “Soviet Experiment” or even more dramatically condemning the Soviet regime.”
Its rationale for re-publication in 1982 was because:
“The idea (under various fresh labels) that Stalinism represents an entirely new mode of production is again enjoying a certain popularity in the writings of Bahro, Rakovski, Ticktin and others.” (Hallas, 1982).
In 1988 the article was introduced with:
“The view [that Russia is a new sort of class society, quite distinct from both socialism and capitalism] has been revised in recent years by various writers such as Rudolf Bahro, Antonio Carlo, Hillel Ticktin and George Bence and Janos Kis (writing jointly under the pseudonym Rakovski). It shows signs of being the “common sense” of a whole section of the non-Stalinist intellectual left.” (Harman, 1988).
By contrast, the original 1949 document was a product of the debates within the British and international Trotskyist movement of the time over the nature of Stalinist Russia and what this meant for Trotskyist methods and organisation. It was written as an active weapon in the Trotskyist politics of its day. The 1949 document needs to be seen in the context of being one of the three theoretical works by Cliff laying the foundations of the Socialist Review Group, alongside “The Nature of Stalinist Russia (1948) and “On the Class Nature of the People’s Democracies” (1950). Collectively, these documents were key to differentiating Cliff and his small group of “State Caps” within the crumbling British Trotskyist movement. Differentiating, not just from the Shachtmanites, of whom there were a number in and around the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), but also from the groups around Gerry Healy and Ted Grant. They positioned the Socialist Review Group and its successor organisations as far more able to withstand the pull of Stalin and Stalinism through the Korean War, the Cold War and beyond. They enabled the organisation to hold fast to the slogan “Neither Washington Nor Moscow, but international socialism”.
What about the content of the 1949 document? Well, what you won’t find is Cliff’s alternative to Bureaucratic Collectivism. As Cliff says, this is to be found in the pages of his 1948 “The Nature of Stalinist Russia” document. What you will find is a well-written, even elegant, document. Cliff’s method is to take key sections of text from Max Shachtman, Bruno Rizzi and James Burnham and interrogate them closely. He uses his wide knowledge of Marx, Engels and Hegel, or alternative facts, or statistics, or simple logic, or analogy, to dissect and then rebut the point in hand. As one would expect, several of the arguments are carried forward in their entirety from Cliff’s “The Nature of Stalinist Russia”. To my mind, in most instances Cliff is persuasive and successful in his arguments. Of course, the 1949 document was written close to the time of the writings Cliff is critiquing and this gives it a much more contemporary feel (although it does pay to “put yourself in that time” when reading it). As well as the piece on Burnham’s “The Managerial Revolution”, whole sections from 1949, such as on dialectics, on the inevitability of socialism, on Nazi Germany and more, are missing from the 1968 article.
Some of these “lost” sections from 1949 are particularly interesting, albeit for a host of different reasons.
Cliff first tackled Burnham’s “The Managerial Revolution” in 1943 in an article that was found amongst his papers after his death. That article “Managerial Revolution (A counter-revolutionary theory of monopoly capitalism)” was written when Cliff was still in Palestine and he uses his pseudonym “Y. Tsur”. It is important as it shows Cliff thinking deeply about state capitalism prior to his arrival in Britain and the debates in the Revolutionary Communist Party and beyond. It is not known where the article was published but it is available on the Marxist Internet Archive.The 1949 document’s section on “The Managerial Revolution” is more than an update enabled by the passing of time, although of course, it is that. The first article was written during the Second World War and the second was written after the War, when much more information on Nazi Germany and other matters was available. In keeping with the 1949 document being a “weapon” for use in the struggles of the day, its section on Burnham is more rooted in the arguments that could be used by the comrades – including focuses on Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the Bolsheviks’ Programme.
Cliff rarely wrote on the subject of dialectics so, by default, this section from 1949 is of some interest. To my mind, the treatment of the subject in 1949 is thin, mechanical and over-long. From a theoretical point of view, Cliff’s focus might well have been justified. However, given the fact that the British Trotskyists in and around the RCP were largely working-class militants, it seems that the particular argument is stretched to breaking point (even if Cliff says he is following Trotsky with this focus).
As regards the section on the inevitability of socialism then this is important background to something that happened, or in a sense, something that did not happen in 1963. It was in that year that Alasdair MacIntyre wrote a very important piece titled “Prediction and Politics” (MacIntyre, 1963) in which he argued against inevitability (amongst other things). Cliff strongly disagreed with MacIntyre but declined to put forward his own reply, instead promoting the publication of an article from 1947 by the American Bureaucratic Collectivist, Hal Draper (Draper, 1963-1964). This episode is covered both in Birchall’s biography of Cliff (Birchall, 2011 page 198) and, in slightly more detail, in the “Introduction” to “Alasdair MacIntyre’s Engagement with Marxism” (Blackledge and Davidson (Eds.), 2009). Ian Birchall has this to say:
“Cliff’s 1949 section on inevitability is, I think, weak. It is certainly unconvincing to those of us who live in the epoch of nuclear weapons and climate change, but, I think, poor even when placed in its historical context. As I point out in the Cliff biography, Cliff still held this position in 1963-4…..By 1968 I think he was changing his position, though he never theorised it.” (Birchall, pers. comms.).
An additional negative for me from 1949 is a “sin of omission”. Cliff’s failure to critique Shachtman’s view that the Stalinist parties were worse than the social democrats and social democrats should be supported in preference to Stalinists, was a serious oversight. Shachtman’s policy was bound to have a drastic impact on united front work, and the possibility for Trotskyists to work with CP militants in the trade unions. Cliff’s aberration also had an adverse impact on the Socialist Review Group in its earliest months. At the time it was left to Duncan Hallas to correct Cliff’s oversight (see Rudge, 2017). The 1968 article has a new section “Attitude to the Stalinist Parties” which does make the correct point. This was nearly 20 years late and strikes me as closing the stable door very much after the horse had bolted (d).
Cliff’s conclusions for the two pieces are different. The 1949 conclusion says that the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism is a “labyrinth of contradictions” because it is shot through with a “non-dialectical method of thought”. Concluding in 1968 Cliff calls Bureaucratic Collectivism “supra-historical, negative and abstract. It does not define the economic laws of motion of the system, explain its inherent contradictions and the motivation of the class struggle. It is completely arbitrary. Hence it does not give a perspective, nor can it serve as a basis for a strategy for Socialists”. Whilst, however, the wording of the two conclusions are articulated differently the core politics of the two pieces are very similar. The 1968 conclusion could have equally fitted the 1949 document, (although the fit it not so appropriate the other way around).
There can be no doubting that the 1949 publication is an extremely important document. I could not agree more with Ian Birchall when he says, “In general, the document, in both its versions, is impressive as Cliff generally is at his best” (Birchall, pers. comms.).
All the above having been said, I think it is fair to say that, to date, all those who have praised or criticised Cliff’s work on Bureaucratic Collectivism, have been inadvertently praising or criticising the “wrong” thing. It is the text written at the time, in that moment of struggle, that should be the point of departure – not the one written with the benefit of years of hindsight. All those who have commented on this aspect of Cliff’s work in the past would do well to read the original version that is reproduced here for the first time. At the same time, for those seeking an admirably non-judgemental and detailed overview of the competing theories on the “Russian Question” – understanding the political, economic and social dynamics of the former Soviet Union – I recommend Marcel van der Linden’s excellent book (van der Linden, 2009).
Of course, Soviet Russia has long since passed into history so is the question of what form of society it was still relevant? Most certainly it is.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution those of us in the IS Tradition are celebrating the fact that in that mighty October event workers were willing and able to take control of the society in which they toiled. But we also recognise that a revolution isn’t an event, it’s a process. For those still committed to workers’ revolution today, it is vital to understand what happened in Russia, why it happened and to where the process led. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Tony Cliff’s original 1949 document “Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism” is reproduced in full as Appendix 1. For comparison the widely-known 1968 version can be viewed on the Tony Cliff Section of the Marxist Internet Archive: https://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/index.htm My article “Hillman, Hallas and the Stalinist Parties” (Rudge, 2017) can be usefully read as a companion piece to this present article. Acknowledgements As always, my main thanks go to Ian Birchall whose insightful comments have made this introduction to Cliff’s writings on Bureaucratic Collectivism possible. Thanks are also due to Richard Kuper, Nigel Harris and Colin Barker all of whom stretched their memories to breaking point to help.
Burnham, James – (1905-1987). A Professor of Philosophy who was a Trotskyist for a short period in the second half of the 1930’s. He resigned from the Workers’ Party in 1940 and effectively renounced Marxism.
Bruno R. – Bruno Rizzi (1901–1977) was an Italian political theorist. His most important work “The Bureaucratisation of the World” was published in 1939. He wrote as Bruno R. and it was only later that his true name became known.
Dallas, C. – who translated the original document from Hebrew is the name that was used by Cliff’s partner Chanie Rosenberg.
I.K.D. (Internationale Kommunisten Deutschlands) – the “International Communists of Germany” was the name used by the Left Opposition of the German Communist Party (KPD) from 1933 after they had decided to work for the construction of a new party. A number of the German Trotskyists fled Germany after the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933 and established an exile organisation in Paris.
Shachtman, Max – (1904-1971). A major figure in the American Trotskyist movement beginning in the 1930s. Leader of the minority section of the Socialist Workers Party that split with Trotsky over the analysis of Russia and formed, in 1940, the Workers’ Party (eventually the Independent Socialist League).
Cliff’s 1949 document “Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism” has been typed from a photocopy in my personal archive. It is transcribed as it was produced by Cliff and Chanie Rosenberg with two minor differences. In the original the footnotes are contained within the text. For ease of reading I have numbered each one and placed them at the end of the document. I have also corrected a handful of typing errors.
See Cliff’s Footnote number 5 where he writes that he has “received the 1949 resolution of the Independent Socialist League, formerly the Workers’ Party”. Whilst resolutions for submission to the Workers’ Party’s Fifth Convention held in April 1949 were produced in Workers’ Party Bulletins from the end of 1948, the official launch of the ISL was May Day 1949. The Resolution that Cliff quotes from (although he does not say so), is “The Struggle for the World Today: Capitalism, Stalinism and the Third World War”. It was agreed by the Workers’ Party Political Committee and published on November 23rd, 1948, for consideration at the April 1949 Conference.
Ian Birchall has raised an interesting scenario around the possible date of the 1968 version. Ian writes:
“An interesting question for me is: when was the 1968 piece written? I remember Nigel Harris (then editor of International Socialism Journal) saying Cliff had just produced it from a drawer. I think we were led to believe it was the original 1949 piece, though of course a quick glance at the text shows it wasn’t – note 8 refers to a book published in 1962. And there are various references to Orwell, who was probably unknown to Cliff in 1949, but who was central to the anti-Communist ideological offensive in the 1950s and 1960s (when I was at school we were all made to read 1984 and Animal Farm).
On the other hand, I do not believe that Cliff revised his earlier article in 1968 – he was far too busy with other things. So, I suspect it was written somewhat earlier (though clearly after 1962). Cliff wrote the 1949 piece to refute Shachtman – who had a small group of followers in the RCP, led by a man called Bert Atkinson (or so I was told by George Leslie). But by the time the Socialist Review Group had taken off it was working more closely with the Shachtmanites than with the state caps around Dunayevskaya and James. Thus, in a footnote to the 1949-piece Cliff commends an article by “J.R. Johnson” as “a good Marxist criticism”. He would have been unlikely to commend James much later than that. So, the 1949 piece disappeared into oblivion, and Cliff did not come back to the topic.
But by the early sixties we had quite fraternal relations with Draper and the YPSL. Cliff may have been worried that Shachtmanite ideas might become influential. I remember an IS editorial board meeting in 1963 or 1964 when Cliff argued that we ought to take on the argument about bureaucratic collectivism. Kidron and MacIntyre (who had been in the US, which Cliff never had) argued strongly against, saying such a confrontation would simply push the Shachtmanites into a defensive position and create unnecessary polarisation. It may be that Cliff revised his article then, perhaps intending to have another go at getting it published, forgot about it with all the other things that came up with the 1964 Labour government.” (Birchall, pers. comms.).
Ian also states that it was from late 1962 that Cliff started a debate about Cuba with Sam Farber, a Shachtmanite from the USA, who was a member of IS. This is another reason why it may have been this period which provoked Cliff into wanting to polemicise with the Shachtmanites again. The debate is covered in Chapter 5 of Ian’s Cliff biography.
It must be said that, neither Nigel Harris nor Colin Barker, respectively the Editor and Assistant Editor of the International Socialism Journal in 1968, can recall the circumstances of Cliff producing his article. Richard Kuper, who oversaw the production of the 1971 Pluto Press book of early documents confirms that neither Cliff nor Duncan Hallas (the only two likely candidates) ever suggested they still had access to the 1949 document in 1971.
- In one sense it may be possible to cut Cliff some slack here. In his 1968 article he cites Shachtman’s article on social democracy and Stalinism as being published in September 1948. Cliff is mistaken. The article he cites (although he does not name it) is titled, “Left Wing of the Labor Movement?” and was published in “New International” journal in September 1949. It is therefore possible that Cliff had not seen these precise words of Shachtman’s when writing his own 1949 document. That said, my criticism still stands. Whilst perhaps not stating his sentiment so baldly before, the implication of Shachtman’s viewpoint was crystal clear and had been for some time. For example, in the Workers’ Party Political Committee Resolution of November 23rd, 1948 which Cliff had clearly read (see Note b above) it says “Above all, it is not reformism which is today in most of the world the main enemy of revolutionary Marxism within the working class movement. That is Stalinism.” For an earlier example, specifically about day-to-day trade union work, see Shachtman (1947).
Birchall, I. 2011. Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time. Bookmarks Publications, London, 664pp.
Blackledge, P. and N. Davidson (Eds.). 2009. Alasdair MacIntyre’s Engagement with Marxism. Haymarket Books, Chicago, USA, 443pp.
Draper, H. 1963-1964. The “Inevitability of Socialism”. International Socialism Journal Number 15 (Winter 1963-1964), pp. 21-28. [This article was originally published in a slightly longer format in The New International journal Volume 13 Number 9, December 1947].
Hallas, D. 1982. Introduction in “Neither Washington Nor Moscow: Essays on Revolutionary Socialism by Tony Cliff”. Bookmarks, London, 286pp.
Harman, C. 1988. Introduction in “State Capitalism in Russia”. Bookmarks, London, 382pp.
Kuper, R. 1971. A Note on the Texts in “The Fourth International, Stalinism and the Origins of the International Socialists: Some Documents”. Pluto Press, London, 104pp.
Rudge, J. 2017. Hillman, Hallas and the Stalinist Parties. Available online:
Shachtman, M. 1947. The Nature of the Stalinist Parties: Their Class Roots, Political Role and Basic Aims. New International Vol. XIII No. III March 1947 pp. 67-74.
Tsur, Y. 1943. Managerial Revolution (A counter-revolutionary theory of monopoly capitalism). Available online: https://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1943/xx/burnham.html
van der Linden, M. 2009. Western Marxism and the Soviet Union: A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates Since 1917. Haymarket Books, Chicago, USA, 379pp.
APPENDIX 1 – Original Document from 1949
Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism
By T. Cliff Translated by C. Dallas
It is not possible effectively to destroy a theory without putting forward an alternative theory. Accordingly the incorrectness of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism cannot be proved unless another theory is advanced which explains the nature of Russian economy, society and politics. This other theory I have analysed at length in the document “The Nature of Stalinist Russia”. It remains for me now to criticise the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism, which is the purpose of this article. The criticism, however, will not be complete unless the reader connects it with what is said in the above-mentioned document. For lack of space, and in order to avoid repetition, the present article will therefore only from time to time mention in passing my positive alternative to the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism, which is the theory that Stalinist Russia is a Bureaucratic State Capitalist country. It is necessary to make another preliminary remark. Under the name Bureaucratic Collectivism different proponents of the theory understand different things. Bruno R., Dwight MacDonald, Shachtman and others each have their own conception of it. Burnham’s conception of managerial society, although he uses different terms, is also in essence no different to the conception of Bureaucratic Collectivism. In this article we intend to deal mainly with the theory advanced by Shachtman. At the outset we are confronted with a difficulty: nowhere does Shachtman do more than describe some features of what he calls Bureaucratic Collectivist society. This alone would have made an analysis difficult. But worse than this, at different times he advances different features, some mutually exclusive, as being fundamental to Bureaucratic Collectivism. What determines the Place of Any Regime in History? At first glance what is more simple than to say that Stalinist Russia is neither a capitalist nor a workers’ state? This simplification, however, is of small value. In itself it tells us very little about the regime; for feudalism too is neither capitalism nor socialism, likewise slave society, or any other regime that has existed at any time in history, or for that matter any regime that has not existed but that our imagination may conjure up. As the history of all class society is the history of the class struggle, it is clear that what does determine the place of any regime in the chain of historical development are those factors which determine the character of the class struggle in it. Now, the character, the methods and the aims of the class struggle of the oppressed class are dependent on the nature of the oppressed class itself: the position it has in the process of production, the relation between its members in this process, and the relation to the owners of the means of production (1). These are not determined by the mode of appropriation or mode of recruitment of the ruling class. A few examples will explain this. We know that in the Middle Ages the feudal lord had the right of bequeathing his feudal rights to his heirs; on the other hand the bishop did not have this right, nor even that of raising a family. The feudal lord was the son of a feudal lord, a nobleman; the bishops were recruited from different classes and layers of society, often from the peasantry. (Engels pointed to the plebeian origin of the upper hierarchy of the Church – and even of a number of Popes – as one of the causes for the stability of the Church in the Middle Ages). Thus the mode of recruitment of the bishops was totally different to that of the private feudal lords. As regards the form of appropriation the difference was equally great: the feudal lord, as an owner, was entitled to all the rent he could collect from his serfs, while the bishop was legally propertyless and as such only entitled to a “salary”. But did these differences between the mode of appropriation and the mode of recruitment of the feudal lords and the upper hierarchy of the Church make any basic difference to the class struggle of the serfs on Church land, or the lord’s land? Of course not. The toiler with his primitive means of production, with the individualistic mode of production, had the same relation to other toilers, the same relation to the means of production (primarily the land), and the same relation to his exploiter, whether he was a feudal lord or a collective exploiter – the upper clergy (or as Kautsky calls them in a book highly recommended by Engels, the “Papacy Class”). There was yet a third form of appropriation and recruitment of the feudal ruling class current in Arab feudalism (1250-1517 – the Mameluke period) where the state was the collective feudal lord, and the rulers recruited from among the freed slaves. Similarly, in slave society there was besides the private ownership of slaves, collective state ownership, as in Sparta (2). From the standpoint of the exploiters the question of their mode of appropriation and recruitment is of prime importance. Thus, for instance, Kautsky, in “Thomas More and his Utopia” says: “It looked as if the Church aspired to become the sole landed proprietor in Christendom. But the mightiest were to be curbed. The nobles were always hostile to the Church; when the latter acquired too much land, the king turned to the nobles for assistance in setting limits to the pretensions of the Church. Moreover, the Church was weakened by the invasion of Heathen tribes and the Mohammedans.” (p.38). The Church acquired, not without a struggle (in which one of the weapons it used was the forging of deeds of gift), about a third of all the land in Europe as a whole, in some countries as much as the majority of the land (e.g., Hungary, Bohemia). Obviously, therefore, the nobles considered the differences between themselves and the upper clergy – in their origin, and mode of appropriation – of importance. But from the standpoint of the class struggle of the serfs or the rising bourgeoisie against feudalism, these differences were of quite secondary importance. It would not be correct to say that they were of no importance, as the differences in the composition of the ruling class to some extent conditioned the struggle of the serfs or the rising bourgeoisie. Thus, for instance, the concentration of the means of production in the hands of the Church made the struggle of the serfs against the Church much more difficult than their struggle against the individual landlords; the ideological justification of feudal ownership was different in form when blue blood and coats of arms were presented than when religious phrases were quoted in Latin. And the fact that while Church property was officially called “patrimonium pauperum”, (the inheritance of the poor), private feudal property was not endowed with this exalted title, helps to prove that these judicial differences were not unimportant. But from the standpoint of the historical process as a whole, i.e., from the standpoint of the class struggle, all the differences in the mode of appropriation and way of recruitment of the different groups of feudals are only secondary. Thus the big differences between the mode of appropriation and recruitment of the Russian bureaucrats and that of the bourgeoisie, in itself does not at all prove that Russia represents a non-capitalist society, a new class society of Bureaucratic Collectivism. To prove this, it is necessary to show that the nature of the toiling class – its conditions of living and struggle – is fundamentally different in Russia from what represents, even for Shachtman, capitalism. The Nature of the Working Class in Russia On the question of whether the workers in Russia are proletarians, the proponents of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism answer, and must answer, if they think the question out: No! They compare the Russian worker with the classical worker who was “free” of the means of production and also free of any legal impediments to selling his labour power. It is true that there are legal impediments to the movement of Russian workers from one enterprise to another. But is this a sufficient reason to say that the Russian worker is not a proletarian? If so, there is no doubt that the German worker under Hitler was also not a proletarian. Or, at the other extreme, workers in power are also not proletarians inasmuch as they are not “free” as a collective from the means of production. No doubt an American worker is very different from a Chinese coolie, or from an indentured girl in a Japanese factory who is under contract for a number of years and must live in the company’s barracks for that time. But basically they are members of one and the same class. They were born together with the most dynamic production history has ever known, they are united by the process of social production, they are in actuality the antithesis of capital and in potentiality socialism itself. (By the way, because of the dynamics of modern economy, no legal impediments put an end altogether to the movement of workers from one enterprise to another). Hilferding, Bruno R., and Dwight MacDonald were consistent and maintained that just as much as they did not consider a Russian worker to be a proletarian, so they did not consider a worker in Hitler Germany to be a proletarian. The Shachtmanites try to avoid this conclusion. In so doing they are led to falsify facts. For instance, they claim that the German workers under Hitler were freer to move than the Russian, that they were freer to bargain with their employers, and that slave labour was never as widespread in Germany as in Russia. Thus Irving Howe writes: “The Nazis did not use slave labor to the extent that Stalinist Russia has; under the Hitler regime, slave labor never became as indispensable a part of Germany’s national economy as it has become for Russia under Stalin….industry under Hitler was still largely based on “free labor” (in the Marxist sense; that is, free from ownership of the means of production and thereby forced to sell labor power, but also possessing the freedom to decide whether or not to sell this labor power). For all of the Hitlerite restrictions, there was considerable bargaining between the capitalist and proletarian, as well as between capitalists for workers during labor shortages”. (New International, December 1947). In reality, the Russian worker, notwithstanding all restrictions, moves from one factory to another much more than the German worker, or for that matter than any other worker in the whole world. As early as September 1930 workers were prohibited from changing their place of work without special permission, and year after year brought new prohibitions. Despite this, the rate of turnover was tremendous. In 1928, as against 100 workers employed in industry 92.4 leavings were registered; in 1929, 115.2; 1930, 152.4; 1931, 136.8; 1932, 135.3; 1933, 122.4; 1934, 96.7; 1935, 86.1. In later years figures were not published, but it is clear that the large turnover continued, to which the frequent declamations in the press bear witness. Even the war did not put an end to it. The German administration was incomparably more efficient in combating the free movement of labour under Hitler. This, in addition to other factors (especially the relatively much greater dynamism of the Russian economy) made the labour turnover in Germany much lower than in Russia. What about the slave camps in Russia? Shachtman tries to make out that slave labour is the basic factor of production in Russia. But this is absolutely wrong. The labour of prisoners is suitable only for manual work where modern technique is not used. It is therefore employed in the construction of factories, roads, etc. Despite its cheapness, it is necessarily only of secondary importance to the labour of workers, as “unfree” labour is always very unproductive. If not for the fact that slave labour were an impediment to the rise of the productivity of labour, the decline of Roman society would not have taken place. Likewise, although in different circumstances, slavery would not have been abolished in the United States. In the face of special circumstances – the lack of means of production and the abundance of labour power – it is explicable that the Stalinist bureaucracy should introduce and use slave labour on a large scale. But it is clear that the main historical tendency is in an opposite direction. All the factories in Russia producing tanks and aeroplanes, machinery, etc., are run on wage labour. During the war Hitler Germany found it expedient to use twelve million foreign workers, most of whom had been recruited as prisoners and forced labourers. This made the old IKD emigrant group (3) lose its head, and, overlooking the fundamental question of the productivity of labour, they wrote in 1943: “The “camps system” labor and forced labor service, prisons, etc., became by the massive extent and the manner of their utilization, first, special forms of slave labor, and beyond that, imperialist forms of utilizing the capitalist overpopulation.” “….politically, and to a large extent economically, it (the proletariat) lives under the conditions and forms of slavery”. They came to the conclusion that whichever imperialist power triumphed in the war, slave camps would spread more and more all over the world. They forgot that an American worker with a bulldozer can excavate much more cheaply than a foreign slave labourer under Hitler, or prisoner in Siberia. They forgot that Marx maintained that the historical tendency towards the degradation of the proletariat, its increased oppression by capital, is fundamental to capitalism, whereas the substitution of the proletariat by a new, or rather, ancient, class of slaves is quite contrary to the general tendency of history. As we have said, only a lack of means of production and an abundance of labour power can explain the widespread use of prison labour in Russia. A cataclysmic destruction of capital which would result from a third world war, might cause the Stalinist bureaucracy, if it is not overthrown in the meantime, to make a new effort to tap its tremendous resources of cheap human labour. A similar result can be effected by the annexation of backward areas with large populations. Even then, slave labour remains only secondary to the labour of “free” workers. We have seen how, on the basis of the lack of free movement of the workers, one proponent of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism declares the Russian worker a slave, another declares the German worker a slave. There is yet a third “unique” theory, propounded by Gitermann: fascist Germany did not renew slavery, but serfdom. Germany is “industrial feudalism” based on serf labour. (See V. Gitermann, “Die Historische Tragik der Sozialistischen Idee”, 1939, p.356). This is not less logical than to call the workers slaves: indeed, from the standpoint of formal logic there can be as many substitutes as there existed forms of exploitation in the past, or as our imagination may conceive of. The adherents of Shachtman’s theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism must draw their thinking to its logical conclusion. If the Russian worker is not a proletarian, the German worker under Hitler was not a proletarian, and in Hitler Germany there was not a wage labour system, but a system of “collective slavery”. Accordingly the ruling class in Hitler Germany could not be called a capitalist class, as capitalists are exploiters of proletarians. Bruno R., Dwight MacDonald and Hilferding at least have the merit of consistency. They drew these conclusions and were therefore justified in calling Hitler Germany Bureaucratic Collectivist (Bruno R. and Dwight MacDonald) or a “Totalitarian State Economy” (Hilferding). A further conclusion must be drawn. There is an inevitable connection between the substitution of slaves for workers, which is contrary to the progress of the productive forces, and the theory of retrogression of the emigrant IKD group. The fact that the Workers’ Party did not draw these conclusions is because it does not think to the end. It states baldly that the Russian worker is not a proletarian. It publishes the IKD thesis without a whisper of disagreement with its assumption that the tendency of capitalism is to substitute a new exploited class – war prisoners, slaves – for the proletariat. Without making its position clear it for years let the impression be given that it supported the theory of retrogression, then one fine day published, without editorial comment, an article by Hal Draper attacking the theory in passing (New International, December 1947). It must be made clear that a denial of the existence of a proletariat in Russia must necessarily lead to a denial of the existence of a proletariat in Hitler Germany, must necessarily lead to the conclusion that capitalism by itself develops into its total negation, grows into a new society. If we accepted that workers employed by the Stalinist state are not proletarians, we should have to come to the absurd conclusion that in the Western Powers’ zones of Berlin the workers are proletarians, but in the Russian zone those employed in Russian owned enterprises and the nationalised German enterprises are not proletarians, while those employed in the Russian zone by private industry (about a third of all industry) are proletarians! The Historical Function of the Stalinist Bureaucracy Not one of the proponents of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism try to pose the question of what the place of this bureaucracy is in the general chain of historical development, what is its function, what is the relation between its function and the function of the bourgeoisie. In the final analysis the mode of production, the relations between people in the process of production, are determined by the level of development of the productive forces, by the relation between man and nature. To understand the prevailing mode of production in Russia, it is necessary first of all to see to what level the productivity of labour rose on the eve of the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy. In my document “The Nature of Stalinist Russia”, on pages 28-30 I have brought statistical material to prove that the average income per occupied person in Russia on the eve of the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy was the same as existed in Britain a century before the industrial revolution. The overwhelming majority of the Russian population were yet engaged in individual small peasant production. The document says: “The historical mission of the bourgeoisie is the socialisation of labour and the concentration of the means of production. On a world scale this task has already been fulfilled. In Russia the revolution got rid of the impediments to the development of the productive forces, put an end to the remnants of feudalism, built up a monopoly of foreign trade which defends the development of the productive forces of the country from the devastating pressure of world capitalism, and also gave a tremendous lever to the development of the productive forces in the form of the state ownership of the means of production. Under such conditions, all the impediments to the historical mission of capitalism – the socialisation of labour and the concentration of the means of production which are necessary prerequisites for the establishment of socialism, and which the bourgeoisie was not able to fulfil – are abolished. Post-October Russia stood before the fulfilment of the historical mission of the bourgeoisie, which Lenin summed up in two postulates “increase in the productive forces of social labour and the socialisation of labour””. (p.32). Having to solve the same problem as the bourgeoisie solved in the past with a very small national income per capita at its disposal, but needing to do it very rapidly, the Stalinist bureaucracy in its rise naturally had to sharpen all the class antagonisms characteristic of capitalism. The document, on pages 33-59 shows that until the complete rule of Stalin, until the First Five Year Plan, consumption was not subordinated to accumulation, poverty did not accumulate as an accompaniment of the accumulation of capital, the standard of living of the workers did not decline at the same time as the rise in productivity of their labour, control over production, even if limited, remained in the hands of the workers, the relations of distribution were such that the bureaucracy took a negligible part of the national income, there was full legal freedom for the workers as regards strikes, there was no forced labour, etc., etc. With the Five Year Plan, all this changed. The document brings a lot of statistical data to prove this. Then, with the inauguration of the Five Year Plan, no matter what the intentions of the Stalinist bureaucracy may have been, its function became that of the accumulation of capital. Marx said that “except as personified capital, the capitalist has no historical value, and no right to….historical existence….” (Capital, Vol. 1, p.648). If the Stalinist bureaucracy became a class simply because it personifies the accumulation of capital, then it is not a representative of a new non-capitalist economy. To deny this means to evaluate the Stalinist bureaucracy not according to its historical function, but according to a number of external traits such as the form of its organisation, recruitment and appropriation. The historical reasons for the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy – the fact that Russian capitalism did not come to maturity before October – and the historical function of the bureaucracy in bridging the gap in her development, are clear proof that Russia is not a Bureaucratic Collectivist society but a state capitalist one. The Motive of Exploitation in Bureaucratic Collectivist Society Engels explains why in the past society was divided into exploiters and exploited: “The division of society into an exploiting and an exploited class, a ruling and an oppressed class, was the necessary outcome of the low development of production hitherto. So long as the sum of social labour yielded a product which only slightly exceeded what was necessary for the bare existence of all; so long, therefore, as all or almost all the time of the great majority of the members of society was absorbed in labour, so long was society necessarily divided into classes. Alongside of this great majority exclusively absorbed in labour there developed a class, freed from direct productive labour, which managed the general business of society: the direction of labour, affairs of state, justice, science, art and so forth”. (My emphasis – T.C. Engels, “Socialism Utopian and Scientific”, Marx Selected Works, Vol. 1, p.183). In an economy in which the motive of production is the production of use values, there are certain limits to the extent the exploitation of the toilers can reach. Thus, for instance, in feudal society, village and town alike were subjugated to the feudal lords’ need of consumption goods, and so long as the produce which the serfs gave to their lord was not widely marketed, “the walls of his stomach, set the limits to his exploitation of the peasant”. (Marx). This does not explain the existence of exploitation under capitalism. The walls of the capitalist’s stomach are undoubtedly much wider than those of the feudal lord of the Middle Ages, but at the same time the productive capacity of capitalist economy is incomparably greater than that of the feudal economy. We should therefore be quite mistaken if we explained the increase in the exploitation of the masses of workers as the result of the widening of the bourgeoise’s stomach. Under capitalism there is a different motive for the exploitation of the masses. The capitalist pays for labour power according to its value, because capitalist relations of production – the separation of the workers from the means of production, and the subordination of the enterprises to capitalist competition – drive him inexorably to cut his costs of production, and renew and increase his quantity of capital. This can be done only if the rate of exploitation, which is the ratio between surplus labour and necessary labour, is increased. Thus the rate of exploitation under feudalism as well as under capitalism, is not dependent on the arbitrary will of the exploiters, but on the objective material relations, which are independent of their will. The proponents of the theory that Russia is a state capitalist country derive the laws which subordinate the toilers, the wage-workers, from the capitalist law of value. As long as the toilers in social production are separated from the means of production and as long as there is competition between the different independent producers (individuals, corporations, or states), the law of value is dominant, the means of production are capital and the workers proletarians. The necessary concomitants of the law of value are the subordination of consumption to accumulation, the subordination of the workers to the means of production (and their owners), the increase of constant capital relatively to variable, the increase in the rate of exploitation. To declare that Russian economy is not based on the exploitation of the proletariat but on that of another class, is synonymous with saying that Russia is free of the law of value. Now the law of value is the expression of the dependence of people in social production on blind forces working behind their backs, independent of them, dominant over them. If the toilers in Bureaucratic Collectivist society are free of this law, what is the law which decides the tendency of exploitation? And will exploitation increase or decrease with the development of the productive forces? As the proponents of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism free this society from the law of value they remain free to answer this question as they please. Because of this they remain totally free to determine arbitrarily that Bureaucratic Collectivist society is more progressive than capitalism or is not. We shall set out to prove the arbitrariness of the adherents of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism as regards the tendency of the rate of exploitation and as regards the progressiveness of Bureaucratic Collectivism relatively to capitalism Is Bureaucratic Collectivism more Progressive than Capitalism? Shachtman first called Russia a Bureaucratic Collectivist state in 1941. The resolution of the 1941 Convention of the Workers’ Party on the Russian question states: “From the standpoint of socialism the bureaucratic collectivist state is a reactionary social order; in relation to the capitalist world, it is on a historically more progressive plane.” On the basis of this conclusion an attitude of conditional defencism is adopted. The Resolution states: “The revolutionary proletariat can consider a revolutionary (that is, a critical, entirely independent, class) defensist position with regard to the Stalinist regime only under conditions where the decisive issue in the war is the attempt by a hostile force to restore capitalism in Russia, where this issue is not subordinated to other, more dominant, issues. Thus, in case of a civil war in which one section of the bureaucracy seeks to restore capitalist private property, it is possible for the revolutionary vanguard to fight with the army of the Stalinist regime against the army of capitalist restoration. Thus, in case of a war by which world imperialism seeks to subdue the Soviet Union and acquire a new lease of life by reducing Russia to an imperialist colony, it is possible for the proletariat to take a revolutionary defensist position in Russia. Thus, in case of a civil war organized against the existing regime by an army basing itself on “popular discontent” but actually on the capitalist and semi-capitalist elements still existing in the country, and aspiring to the restoration of capitalism, it is again possible that the proletariat would fight in the army of Stalin against the army of capitalist reaction. In all those or similar cases, the critical support of the proletariat is possible only if the proletariat is not yet prepared itself to overthrow the Stalinist regime.” Shachtman and the Workers’ Party were against the defence of Russia in 1941, on the ground that even though Russia was more progressive than capitalist Germany, her war was nevertheless only a subordinate part of the total war, the basic character of which was a struggle between two capitalist imperialist camps. He writes: “The character of the war, the conduct of the war and (for the present) the outcome of the war, are determined by the two couples of imperialist titans which dominate each camp respectively, the United States and Great Britain, and Germany and Japan. (Within each of the two, in turn, there is a senior and a junior partner!). All the other countries in the two great coalitions are reduced to vassalage to the giants which differs in each case only in degree. This vassalage is determined by the economic (industrial-technical), and therefore the financial, and therefore the political, and therefore the military domination of the war by the two great “power-couples”. Italy is less dependent upon the masters of its coalition than Hungary, and Hungary less than Slovakia. But these facts do not alter the state of the vassalage – they only determine its degree. Stalinist Russia is less dependent upon the masters of its coalition than China (it would lead us too far afield to show in what sense, however, it is even more dependent upon U.S.-England than China), and China less than the Philippines. But again, these facts only determine the degree of their vassalage. Except, therefore, for inconsequential cranks and special pleaders in the bourgeois world, everyone in it understands the total nature of the war as a whole; the total nature of each coalition; the relative position and weight of each sector of the coalition; the mutual interdependence of all fronts.” (“China in the World War”, New International, June 1942). Thus, although Bureaucratic Collectivism is more progressive than capitalism, a defeatist position is taken up because of Russia’s vassalage to Anglo-American imperialism. The New International of September, 1941, emphasized the point: “Stalinism has lost the last vestige of independence…Soviet diplomacy is already dictated in London.” We shall not dwell on the factual mistakes. These are important. But it is much more important to analyse the method by which Shachtman arrives at his conclusions, and the persistency with which he keeps to it. Marxism demands that from sociological definitions we draw political conclusions. When the course of the war disproved his factual evaluation of Russia as a vassal state, Shachtman have should denounced his previous defeatist position, for Bureaucratic Collectivism, he says, is more progressive than capitalism. Instead, he held to the political conclusion of defeatism and altered his sociological evaluation. Bureaucratic Collectivism now came to be called the new barbarism, the decline of civilization, etc. Yet in no document did the Workers’ Party give any new analysis of Russian economy after the Resolution of the 1941 Convention. In no place do they try to show that they were wrong in fundamentals, and why they were wrong in their affirmation that Bureaucratic Collectivism is a higher form of society than capitalism. The only two constant elements in the theory are, firstly, the conclusion that in the concrete conditions, Stalinist Russia must not be defended (no matter that all the time the concrete conditions change); secondly that the name of the Stalinist regime is Bureaucratic Collectivism. As regards the first element. Serious revolutionaries, while holding consistently to the same principles, often change their tactics, as tactics are always dependent on and subordinate to principles and they change with the changing circumstances. They never decide on one tactic and hold to it when the basis for their conclusion is proved incorrect. This is eclecticism, impressionism. But exactly this approach is adopted by Shachtman. He draws the same conclusion from two opposite and mutually exclusive assumptions, the one that Bureaucratic Collectivism is more progressive than capitalism, the other that it is the image of barbarism. Defeatism is the tactic. Why? Once because Russia was not the main power, but only a vassal of Anglo-American imperialism, now because Russia is a major imperialist power which threatens to conquer the world. This makes a laughing stock of scientific analysis. As regards the name, we may well repeat Marx’s apt criticism of Prouhon, who used to invent lofty words, thinking in this way to advance science. Marx quoted the following against him: ” wo Begriffe felhen Da stellt zur rechten Zeit ein Wort sich ein.” (Where there is a lack of concepts it is not difficult to find an empty phrase). In Marx’s and Engels’ analysis of capitalism, the fundamentals – the place of capitalism in history, its internal contradictions, etc. – remained constant from their earliest tackling of the problem until the end of their lives. Their later years brought only elaborations of and additions to the basic theme. The theory of bureaucratic collectivism in its short history, has had a much less happy fate. Why is this so? Is it an accident or is it a necessary result of the theory itself? Is it not because the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism, of a state that is neither proletarian nor capitalist, is by very definition necessarily and inevitably devoid of any sociological substance, so that each adherent of the theory may arbitrarily mix whatever stew he fancies in the same pot? Shachtman first considered Bureaucratic Collectivism more progressive than capitalism, and then as “totalitarian barbarism”. Another proponent of the theory, Bruno R., at one and the same time considers it both a slave society and the threshold of a peaceful transition to communism. Bruno R. on Bureaucratic Collectivism
Bruno R differs from Shachtman in many fundamentals. His analysis of the genesis of Bureaucratic Collectivism, for instance, is basically different to Shachtman’s analysis. They agree on the genesis of the system in Russia. But when they step beyond its borders, they are at variance. While the Resolution of the Workers’ Party Convention of 1941 maintains that “bureaucratic collectivism is a nationally-limited phenomenon, appearing in history in the course of a single conjuncture of circumstances”, Bruno R sees it as a society which will replace capitalism on a world scale through the expropriation of the bourgeoisie by the Stalinist bureaucracy and the fascist bureaucracy. However, on the characterisation, description, and analysis of Bureaucratic Collectivism as such – as a social order – they are in entire agreement.
In his book “La Bureaucratisation du Monde” (Paris 1939), Bruno R writes:
“In our opinion, the USSR represents a new type of society led by a new social class: that is our conclusion. Collectivised property actually belongs to this class which has introduced a new – and superior – system of production. Exploitation is transferred from the individual to the class.” (p.31)
“In our opinion, the Stalinist regime is an intermediary regime; it eliminates outdated capitalism, but does not rule out Socialism for the future. It is a new social form based on class property and class exploitation.” (p.95)
“In our opinion, in the USSR, the property owners are the bureaucrats, for it is they who hold force in their hands. It is they who direct the economy as was usual amongst the bourgeoisie; it is they who appropriate the profits to themselves, as was usual amongst all exploiting classes, and it is they who fix wages and the prices of goods: once again, it is the bureaucrats.” (p.56).
What is the character of the ruled class? Does there exist a Russian proletariat, or, just as the bourgeoisie was substituted by a new exploiting class, is the proletariat substituted by a new exploited class? Bruno R answers thus:
“Exploitation occurs exactly as in a society based on slavery: the subject of the state works for the one master who has bought him, he becomes a part of his master’s capital, he represents the livestock which must be cared for and housed and whose reproduction is a matter of great importance for the master. The payment of a so-called wage, consisting partly of State services and goods, should not induce us into error and lead us to suppose the existence of a Socialist form of remuneration: for indeed, it only means the upkeep of a slave! The sole fundamental difference is that in ancient times the slaves did not have the honour of carrying arms, whilst the modern slaves are skilfully trained in the art of war … The Russian working class are no longer proletarians; they are merely slaves. It is a class of slaves in its economic substance and in its social manifestations. It kneels as the “little Father” passes by and deifies him, it assumes all the characteristics of servility and allows itself to be tossed about from one end of the immense empire to the other. It digs canals, builds roads and railways, just as in ancient times this same class erected the Pyramids or the Coliseum.
A small part of this class have not yet lost themselves in complete agnosticism; retaining their faith, they meet in caves for purposes of discussion, as of old, the Christians praying in the catacombs. From time to time the pretorians organise a raid and round everybody up. “Monster” trials are staged, in the style of Nero, and the accused, instead of defending themselves, say “mea culpa”. The Russian workers differ completely from the proletarians in every respect, they have become state subjects and have acquired all the characteristics of slaves.
They no longer have anything in common with free workers except the sweat on their brow. The Marxists will truly need Diogenes’ lamp if they intend to find any proletarians in the Soviet towns.” (pp.72-4).
Even though Bruno R describes Stalinist Russia as the renewal of slavery (with all the historical retrogression connected with it), he nevertheless says that this regime is more progressive than capitalism, and, furthermore, that it leads directly, without leaps or struggles, to communist society. He says:
“We believe that the new society will lead directly to Socialism, because of the enormous volume attained by production.
The leaders (so will now be called those whom we have despisingly labelled bureaucrats, and the new class will be called leading class), having satisfied their material, intellectual and moral needs, may of course find a pleasurable occupation in the constant material, intellectual and moral elevation of the working class”. (p.283).
“The totalitarian State should not impress the Marxists. For the time being, it is totalitarian rather in the political than in the economic sense. These factors will be reversed in the course of the forthcoming and normal social developments. The totalitarian State will more and more lose its political characteristics and retain only its administrative characteristics. At the end of this process we will have a classless society and Socialism”. (p.284).
A new “withering away”! – of “collective slavery”, of “totalitarian bureaucratic collectivism”, in communism! And this development Bruno R proudly acclaims “THE TRIUMPH OF HISTORICAL MATERIALISM”! (See particularly the chapter in his book under this name.)
Bruno R’s Bureaucratic Collectivism leads directly, automatically, to communism. It is undoubtedly a materialist conception, but it is not dialectical; it is a mechanical, fatalist approach to history which denies the class struggle of the oppressed as the necessary motive force. Can Slaves Make the Socialist Revolution? Bruno R., as we have seen, writes: “” Monster” trials are staged, in the style of Nero, and the accused, instead of defending themselves, say “mea culpa”. The Russian workers differ completely from the proletarians in every respect, they have become State subjects and have acquired all the characteristics of slaves”. (p.74). He is therefore quite consistent in drawing the conclusion that Russian slaves are not capable of playing any independent historical role: “Like the Jews, going out every year beyond the walls to await the Messiah, the philistine Marxists wait, in Russia, for the proletariat to come to the rescue. They will have to wait as long as for the Messiah”. (p.74). The thesis of the emigrant IKD group, “Capitalist Barbarism or Socialism”, says: “The modern slave differs much less politically from the slave of antiquity than appears at first glance.” What Shachtman thinks about the political capacity of the “new slaves” to struggle for socialism is difficult to divine, as on one hand he has never stated any disagreement with the IKD theory of retrogression, and on the other, has never stated how the above-quoted IKD characterisation of the proletariat under Hitler applies to the Russian slaves. In addition it is impossible to come to any conclusion as regards the class struggle under Bureaucratic Collectivism without a prior determination of the tendency of the relations of exploitation. As we have shown, with the help of historical materialism we could not determine this tendency one way or another. The laws of political economy in Bureaucratic Collectivism are equally unknown, and we believe, indeterminable. We therefore remain completely in the dark regarding the character of the class struggle in Bureaucratic Collectivism. Thus socialism declines to the level of a Utopia, of voluntarism. “The Managerial Revolution” Among those who have prophesied that a non-socialist society would rise on the ruins of bourgeois society, the greatest prominence has been reached by Burnham who expounded his theory in “The Managerial Revolution” which appeared in 1941. He puts forward two fundamental ideas, one of the decline of capitalism, an old idea with no new elements added to a simplification of Marx’s formulations, the other of a new non-socialist society, rising on the basis of capitalist decline. Through the medium of the first idea he succeeds in smuggling in the second. In analysing the first idea, Burnham, perched on the back of the giant, Marx, for, but himself a Lilliputian, can get no further than plagiarism of Marx’s idea. By mixing together the two elements, Marx’s ideas with his own “contribution”, he can simulate originality only to those who are ignorant of Marx’s thoughts. It is unnecessary to discuss the first element in the analysis, and we shall therefore deal only with the second. The first thing we should like to prove is that where Burnham goes beyond a repetition of Marx he shows himself to be a shallow impressionist. What characterizes an impressionist is that he generalizes the immediate facts and projects them to the future. Germany’s victories in 1939-40 led Burnham to predict Germany’s triumph in the war. From this he concludes that the Nazi regime was superior to the regime of its opponents, that it was not capitalist. He finds many “proofs” for this: “Nazi Germany’s elimination of unemployment is, in and by itself, a sufficient proof that Germany has left the basis of capitalism and entered the road of a new form of society…Similarly, Germany has broken through the restrictions of capitalist finance. According to all the “laws” of capitalism, Germany should have been bankrupt five years ago; its currency should have gone into a wild inflation; it should have been impossible for the state to finance its vast undertakings. But, under the state control of finance, none of the “laws” held. Again, through state control of imports and exports, Germany has been able to carry on foreign trade without the means, according to capitalist standards, of doing so. And huge outlets – primarily in state enterprises – have been found for the investment funds that sit idly in the banks of the great capitalist powers. In territory, Germany has been expanding rapidly, first in peace and now in war…Rapid territorial expansion has always been a sign not of decadence – societies break up in their decadent period – but of renewal… “Finally, there is the notorious Nazi “Fifth Column”…Hitler, like Stalin, can always count on a Fifth Column in every nation. Such a phenomenon is intelligible only if Hitler and Stalin both represent a social-revolutionary force, a force which cuts across and through the boundaries of capitalist-nationalism”. (“The Managerial Revolution”, Penguin Books, pp. 195-7). “The Managerial Revolution” was written in 1940, immediately after the Russo-Finnish war. Being impressed by the poor show the Russian army put up in the war, Burnham discounts Russia as a big Power, and predicts: “the division of the world among three super-states. The nuclei of these three super-states are, whatever may be there future names, the previously existing nations Japan, Germany and the United States.” (Ibid. p.151). Furthermore, “during the course of the next years Russia will split apart into an eastern and western section, each section gravitating towards one of the key areas which constitute the strategic bases of the super-states of the future. “Indeed, this process has already started. Siberia is so far away from Moscow and so badly connected with European Russia that it naturally swings toward the East as it has for some years been conspicuously doing. Its future brings it into always-closer integration with the East Asian central area of advanced industry. And similarly, at an increased rate since the Nazi-Soviet pact, European Russia swings toward the central European area.” (Ibid. p.188). In a note added to the Penguin edition, which appears to have been written at the end of 1941, at the time of the great victories of Germany on the Russian front, Burnham speaks as though the splitting of Russia has already taken place. All this changed very quickly with the change on the military front. In an article entitled “Lenin’s Heir” which appeared in Partisan Review, Winter 1944-5, Burnham with the same confidence predicts that Russia was now in sight of conquering the whole of Europe and Asia. The interesting thing about these predictions is, not only that they change very swiftly with every change on the military front, thus proving Burnham’s impressionism, but even that the various impressions gathered at each stage are not themselves woven into a general system. I shall illustrate this by one example. According to “The Managerial Revolution” managerial society has its purest form in Russia; the USA was at the beginning of the transition to such a society and Nazi Germany lay somewhere between the two, but much nearer to Russia. Now, Nazi Germany’s military victories served as proof to Burnham that Nazi Germany was socially superior to France, and represented a higher regime than capitalism. If Russia had an even purer form of managerial society than Nazi Germany, how could Burnham predict the disintegration of Russia, as he did at that time? And how to account for the poor show Russia put up in the war with Finland? If military prowess is a criterion of the superiority of a regime, Russia at that time could not have been considered as representing a higher form of society. Such simple logic, however, is beyond the impressionist Burnham. In the same shallow way Burnham finds proofs that a) Roosevelt was not representative of the capitalist class but of the rising managerial class, and b) that Lenin was a conscious representative not of the working class, but of the very same managers. Let us look at the “proofs” of Roosevelt’s position: “It was fascinating to observe that when Roosevelt appealed to “the people” in his brilliant 1940 election speeches, he called for the support of all classes, including “production men”, “technicians in industry” and “managers”, with one most notable exception: never, by any of the usual American terms of “business men” or “owners” or “bankers” or even “industry” did he address himself to the capitalists”. (Ibid. p.171). Secondly, in the 1940 elections: “there was not even a handful of big capitalists supporting Roosevelt”. (Ibid. p.217). These are weak “proofs”. No capitalist politician will declare that he speaks on behalf of the capitalists, as his desire is to get the support of the non-capitalists for a capitalist policy, which would be impossible if he spoke as an open spokesman of the capitalist class. These arguments would have applied better to the Roosevelt election campaign of 1944 or even more the Truman election campaign of 1948. Yet oddly enough – but for an impressionist not so oddly – Burnham in his book “The Struggle for the World” (1947) completely forgets that the USA is no more capitalist and he approaches it as just such a regime. The “proofs” as regards Lenin are even more absurd. He writes: “After all, there is more than passing significance in the fact that, for many years, probably the most intimate colleague of Lenin’s, the man with whom he exercised hidden control over the Bolshevik party underneath the party’s formal apparatus, was the brilliant and successful engineer – the manager – Krassin.” (Ibid. p.178). What a treat for the enemies of Bolshevism! And what hypocrisy! Krassin was a member of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party at the time of the 1905 revolution, but afterwards, in the period of reaction, he left the party, and when the October Revolution broke out he was hostile to it, considering it an adventure. He rejoined the party later, but was never among its foremost leaders. The second “proof” is even more ridiculous. According to Burnham, the: “Leninist doctrine (both the Stalinist and Trotskyist variants), not so much in public writings as in theories elaborated primarily for party members” also admits the idea that the revolution is merely a transition to managerial society. “” Workers control”, the doctrine now reads, is a “transition slogan”, but loses its relevance once the revolution is successful and the new state established. By calling it a “transition slogan” it is meant that the slogan, and the act, of establishing workers’ control are useful in arousing mass sentiment against the existing capitalist regime and in bringing about the downfall of the capitalist order – both undoubtedly the case; but that, when the new regime is functioning, workers’ control must, naturally, step aside.” (Ibid. p.182). What an insinuation! Where does Burnham glean the slightest inkling that by “transition slogan” the Bolshevik programme meant transition to managerial control? Working so arbitrarily he could with as much justification have said transition to feudalism, to a war economy, to anything! What the programme of the Bolsheviks clearly and unequivocably speaks of is workers’ control, in which capitalist ownership is limited by the control of the workers, as a transition to workers’ management, in which the capitalists have already been expropriated and the economy is managed by the workers. The few examples cited above should amply prove Burnham’s complete lack of scientific scrupulousness. Let us, however, examine the question of the managerial revolution itself. To assume that inevitably a managerial society will rise on the ruins of capitalism demands that we find the source of this society in the process of production itself. Burnham discovers this source in the fact that the present level of technique makes it impossible for workers to run production, and thus necessary for the control over production to be concentrated in the hands of a small group of managers. The argument that the workers are not able to run production is decisive for Burnham’s whole conception. He writes: “In Marx’s time one could think without too much strain of the worker’s taking over the factories and mines and railroads and shipyards, and running them for themselves; at least, on the side of the actual running of the productive machine, there was no reason to suppose that the workers could not handle it. Such a possibility is to-day excluded on purely technical grounds if on no others.” (Ibid. p.47). If the workers’ lagging behind what is necessary to organise production were the cause of the impossibility of socialism, the corollary to this conclusion should be that all the technicians should be in control of production. Such a conclusion, of course, Burnham could not come to, because, as there are millions of such technicians, control in their hands would not mean small oligarchic groups ruling the world. Already today capitalism has such a “mass production” of engineers, chemists, physicists, biochemists etc., that a managerial society based on the control of these millions of technicians would bear no resemblance either to the Russian, the Nazi or Roosevelt’s regime, where control is concentrated in very few hands. Burnham, in order to explain how it is that control falls into the hands of a tiny group, conveniently forgets the argument he put forward that it is technical ability which determines the capacity to run production. Instead he merely states that by the managers he does not mean the engineers, chemists, etc., as they “are merely highly skilled workers” (Ibid. p.70). Who then are the managers? “We may often recognize them as “production managers”, operating executives, superintendents, administrative engineers, supervisory technicians; or, in government (for they are to be found in governmental enterprise just as in private enterprise) as administrators, commissioners, bureau heads, and so on. I mean by managers, in short, those who already for the most part in contemporary society are actually managing, on its technical side, the actual process of production, no matter what the legal and financial form – individual, corporate, governmental – of the process.” (Ibid. pp.70-1). Now even if we assume that workers cannot control production because of their technical mental backwardness, this surely cannot be the reason why the technicians should lose control to the managers. There are vast numbers of engineers under capitalism today who are technically able to replace those above them, vast numbers of whom in turn can replace those above them, and so forth. There is no technical basis why the chief managers, of all the technicians, should have the class monopoly of control. The mass production, and consequent proletarisation of technicians, the introduction of automatic apparatus control which demands an understanding of switchboard control, the mechanisation of office work by the introduction of accounting machinery etc., enhances the mental element in labour, and makes it lose its colourlessness. All this, in addition to the basic fact that under conditions of abundance, leisure can become the portion of everyone, and with it the conditions for the mental development of all and the abolition of the separation of mental and manual labour, makes the gap today between the culture of the engineer and that of the manager or even the worker and the manager narrower than the gap between the culture of the worker and the culture of the capitalist owner in Marx’s time. This Burnham does not take into account. While he insists that socialism is not possible because of the peculiarities of industry today which makes workers’ management out of the question, when posing the question why all the technicians would not run industry, he finds refuge not in technique but in nature. The nature of man is such that a small minority will always rule and the vast majority be ruled. While in “The Managerial Revolution” this is but implied, it becomes the centre of the argument in “The Machiavellians” (1943). For Burnham the old order never changes. Because hitherto society has been divided into classes it must continue to be so. No matter that whereas for the past thousands of years the level of technique did not permit of abundance and leisure for everybody and therefore the interest of progress and culture itself demanded the separation of society into classes, no matter that the technical revolution brought about by capitalism changed this state of affairs fundamentally. This means nothing to Burnham. He is the impressionist par excellence. He is the conservative who shivers in the face of the tottering of the old world, and consoles himself by saying that the old order never changes. In the new the old will triumph again. And to prove this he uses elements of the new – plagiarism of Marx – in order to prove the old, that man is born with the original sin (4). A Comparison of Nazi German Economy and Russian Economy and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism The proponents of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism think that the strongest point in their armoury proving that Russia is not capitalist is the non-existence of a class of private owners of the means of production. But as we have seen, from the standpoint of historical materialism in general the mode of appropriation of a ruling class and the mode of recruitment of its members are not decisive in determining the class nature of a regime. The proponents of the theory should really have reached this conclusion even if they did not pay attention to history and its laws (historical materialism), but had on the one hand simply compared the economy of a capitalist country of private property, which is highly developed and has a high degree of state intervention in the economy, with classical capitalism, and on the other hand, had compared the former with Russia. In “The Nature of Stalinist Russia”, I wrote: “If Adam Smith came to life today, he would have found great difficulty in discovering the similarity between the economy of, let us say, Nazi Germany with its tremendous monopoly organisations, state regulation of the distribution of raw materials, state purchase of more than half the national product, state regulation of the labour market, etc, and the manufacture of the eighteenth century based on the employment of a few or at most a few score workers, free competition between the enterprises, the active participation of the capitalists in organising production, the non-existence of the capitalist crisis of overproduction, etc.” (pp.61-2). Already in the first world war Lenin stated that if the government buys products, capitalism is partially negated. He writes: “When capitalists work for the defence, i.e., for the government, it is obviously no more “pure” capitalism, it is a special form of national economy. Pure capitalism means commodity production. Commodity production means work for an uncertain and free market. But the capitalist “working” for the defence does not work for the market at all. He fills the orders of government, and money is invariably advanced to him by the treasury”. (Lenin, “Collected Works”, Vol. XX, Book II, p.236). Hence, when the state in Nazi Germany directly bought more than half the national product, it thereby really caused even the production of other industries to be production not “for an uncertain and free market”; when four-fifths of Nazi Germany’s banking capital was invested in government securities, when the state regulation of the investment of capital abrogated the freedom of contract which is a necessary element in the conception of private property, when the selling of labour power was meticulously regulated, what were the great differences between the working of the Nazi economy and the Stalinist economy? None of the proponents of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism paid attention to the above clearly formulated idea of Lenin, and as a result many of them (Dwight MacDonald, Bruno R., and Hilferding – the only serious economist among them who called the regime “Totalitarian State Economy” but meant the same thing) who say that Russia is not capitalist came inevitably to the conclusion that Nazi Germany also was not. But of course to assume that Nazi Germany was not capitalist leads to even more absurd, anti-Marxist conclusions. Seeing the common and the different elements in Nazi German and Stalinist Russian economy, those who think both of them capitalist must define the first as a state capitalist cartel and the second as a state capitalist trust, or in short State Capitalism. And in order not to overlook the judicial relations prevailing in Russia (the mode of appropriation of the bureaucracy, its mode of recruitment) which distinguishes it from state capitalism evolving gradually from monopoly capitalism, we should be even more precise if we called Russian economy and society Bureaucratic State Capitalism (5). Shachtman and the Question of the Inevitability of Socialism Shachtman argues against the thought that socialism is inevitable. His argument is that it denies the necessity of fighting for socialism. He says of one who declares the inevitability of socialism: “He may well remain a socialist, he may well continue to favor the ideal of socialism, but he is no longer fighting for this ideal inasmuch as he has denied theoretically and absolutely and in advance the very possibility of any other development except socialism. By this denial, he no longer needs to fight for socialism. It will come of itself and its triumph is absolutely guaranteed”. (“The Nature of the Russian State”, New International, 1947). This argument is very old. Already fifty years ago Eduard Bernstein, the founder of Revisionism, in commenting on Marx’s words in the Communist Manifesto: “Its (the bourgeoisie’s) fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable”, said that if it was correct then agitation for socialism is as superfluous as propaganda for the rotation of the earth around its axis. Werner Sombart repeated this argument, saying that a socialist party is not needed any more than a party is needed to struggle for the eclipse of the moon. Many anti-Marxists have attacked Marx on this question in a similar fashion. The argument seems convincing. But since it was given, Marxists have many times shown its falsity. Thus, G.V. Plekhanov, in his pamphlet “The Role of the Individual in History” (first published 1898), wrote in answer to it: “….history shows that even fatalism was not always a hindrance to energetic, practical action; on the contrary, in certain epochs it was a psychologically necessary basis for such action. In proof of this we will point to the Puritans, who in energy excelled all the other parties in England in the Seventeenth Century; and to the followers of Mahomet, who in a short space of time subjugated an enormous part of the globe from India to Spain”. (p.7). He adds: “….consciousness of necessity is quite compatible with the most energetic, practical action. At all events, this has been the case in history so far”. (p.10) “We repeat: The consciousness that a given phenomenon is absolutely inevitable can only increase the energy of a man who sympathizes with that phenomenon and who regards himself as one of the forces which called it into being”. (p.14). After feudal society capitalism was inevitable. No other system could take its place. This did not make the rising bourgeoisie any the less active in its fight against feudalism. Man makes history. The fact that history has objective laws of its own does not decrease the importance of the human will, of subjective action as a necessary link in historical development. As there is no other system than socialism which can drive forward the productive forces, and as the proletariat exists so long as social production exists, the fight for socialism is inevitable and its victory is inevitable. The consciousness of the inevitability of socialism can on no account lead to quietism, as in the same way as the fight of the proletariat for socialism is inevitable, so also is the struggle of the oppressors in defence of capitalism inevitable. It will use ever more brutal and barbaric measures for the oppression of the working class. Capitalist barbarism, however, expressed in wars, crises, fascism, Stalinism, etc., does not signify the total negation of capitalism, but the price the proletariat and humanity are paying for the belatedness of the socialist revolution. To equate the inevitability of socialism with astronomical inevitability is a totally unsound method of reasoning. The eclipse of the moon takes place independently of human will, consciousness and activity. On the other hand, the human will intervenes on both sides of the barricades in the class struggle. Because there is no direct causalic connection between the will, consciousness and activity of men and the economic situation in which they find themselves, because different secondary and tertiary links of causes and effects play a part in moulding man’s will, consciousness and activity, accidents – i.e., things whose connection is remote from the general process of history, fulfil a big role. This, however, does not exclude the possibility of making a general prognosis as regards human history, of foreseeing the inevitable decline of capitalism and its overthrow by the socialist revolution. As Plekhanov said: “….sometimes the fate of nations depends on fortuities, which may be called fortuities of the second degree. “In allem Endlichen is ein Element des zufalligen,” said Hegel (in everything finite there is an element of fortuity). In science we deal only with the “finite”; hence we can say that all the processes studied by science contain an element of the fortuitous. Does not this preclude the scientific cognition of phenomena? No. Fortuity is something relative”. (“The Role of the Individual in History”, p.36). In a general prognosis, accidents are abstracted. We can not know how long the fight between labour and capital will take, what stages it will pass through, how many defeats the proletariat will suffer and what sacrifices it will make in the struggle, etc. etc. But we do know that as long as the proletariat exists, no amount of defeats will be able to put an end to the fight for socialism, which will ever be renewed on a larger scale and with greater determination. This does not allow us to view with complacency the belatedness of the proletarian revolution. Although the replacement of feudalism by capitalism was inevitable, the feudal class bitterly opposed the rising bourgeoisie, and their temporary successes cost humanity very much. For instance, the victory of the princes over the peasants in Germany in 1525 (brought about by the indecision of the rising bourgeoisie and even its enmity towards the peasants) pushed Germany back two to three centuries, and allowed it to become a battle-field for decades (1618-48). The working class today is much stronger than the bourgeoisie was in its rise; but the opposition it meets is also much stronger than that met by the bourgeoisie in its rise. The greater fierceness of the struggle, carried on with all the terrible means of destruction at the disposal of each contender today causes the belatedness of the proletarian revolution to bear immensely more suffering in its wake than the belatedness of the bourgeois revolution ever did. Nevertheless we can definitely say that the proletarian struggle is never hopeless, for the very means of destruction (tanks, aeroplanes, atom bombs) are the products of social labour, of the proletariat. Every general prognosis is based on the analysis of the necessary, and it ignores the accidental, the fortuitous. The more concrete the prognosis the more must secondary and tertiary factors be taken into account: if the thinking is correct, the lower level of abstraction is subordinated to the higher, more generalized level of abstraction and derived with its help. For a long time Marxists posed the alternatives of social revolution or capitalist barbarism as a general prognosis. After the victory of Mussolini it became possible to give a less abstract prognosis: either social revolution or fascism. Today we can formulate the same alternative in another way less abstract than the first: social revolution or capitalist-imperialist atomic wars. And so forth. If our thinking is correct every stage of our thought complements the former stages and comes nearer to the concrete truth. An understanding of reality is thus gained by a combination of abstractions in a similar manner to the way a number of searchlights seek an aeroplane in flight, approaching ever nearer the target, and eventually converging on it. It is typical of Shachtman, as of all eclectics, in the name of “concreteness” to forget general laws. His assertion that there is a contradiction between the concept of inevitability of socialism and the struggle of the proletariat for socialism is a revealing example. Dialectics and Bureaucratic Collectivism In “Dialectics of Nature” Engels advances as the main laws of dialectics: “…transformations of quantity and quality – mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when driven to extremes – development by contradiction or negation of the negation – spiral form of development”. (p.269). The law of the negation of the negation “figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system”. (p.26). For the present discussion it will be sufficient to give a short demonstration of the application of these laws as expounded by Marx and Engels to the development of capitalism till its replacement by communism. Capitalism is the negation of feudalism. It is a unity of two polar opposites – wage labour and capital – the existence of each of which is dependent on the existence of the other. The socialisation of labour and the concentration of capital quantitively increase following quantitative changes in the productive forces. The quantitative changes in the productive forces at a certain stage bring about qualitative changes – partial negations – in the mode of production: the manufactory gives way to the factory, the industrial enterprise of free competition gives way to monopolies, and this gives way to state capitalism (of lower or higher form – cartel or trust): commercial capitalism gives way to industrial capitalism which gives way to monopoly capitalism, etc. These changes cause the conflict between the polar opposites – increasingly socialised labour and concentrated capital – to reach such a stage that the whole system threatens to burst asunder. When the proletariat triumphs over the bourgeoisie, it abolishes the capitalist class, and in so doing abolishes also the polar opposite of the capitalist class, which is itself as a proletariat. This is the total negation of capitalism. Thus capitalism came into being by the labourer who owns the means of production (the peasant and artisan of feudalism) being expropriated by capital; the many independent producers of early capitalism being expropriated by a few big capitalists; whole groups of capitalists being expropriated by imperialist capital; whole imperialist countries being subordinated to a couple of imperialist Colossuses; these expropriators being themselves expropriated by the socialist revolution. This expropriation of the expropriators, this negation of the negation, from anew places the labourers in the position of owners of the means of production. But it does not renew individual ownership of small-scale, backward means of production, but introduces social ownership of highly developed means of production, which are the heritage of capitalism. We may thus say that historical development through the negation of the negation means development in a spiral form. One might argue that Bureaucratic Collectivism does not fit in with the scheme of a rising historical spiral on the basis of the victory of the revolutionary class, but fits in with a declining spiral of development of society which leads to “the common ruin of the contending classes”. These words of Marx and Engels from the Communist Manifesto applied to Roman society. Let us now assume, for arguments sake, in order the more simply to prove the undialectical, metaphysical character of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism, that the common ruin of the contending classes is also an alternative before modern society to socialism. From the above demonstration of the application of the dialectical laws to the rising spiral of historical development, it should not be difficult to understand what the main elements of a declining spiral would be. In the fight between the slaves and their owners the latter were generally victorious. But they gained merely a Pyrrhic victory. For, as slave production became a serious obstacle to the rise of the productivity of labour, the slave owners, in their desperate attempt to increase the surplus product exploited the slaves so harshly that after a few generations they were simply wiped out. This caused an ever larger part of the latifundia to remain uncultivated and the slave-owning class itself in consequence to decline. Thus, in the struggle between the polar opposites – the slaves and their owners – the victory of the old oppressing class was caused, and assisted, by the decline of the productive forces, whose declining quantitative changes were the basis of qualitative changes in the mode of production, till society was totally destroyed. The negation of the negation here took place in a declining spiral: the small peasants of the time of the Roman Republic were expropriated and replaced by social production based on slaves; slavery declined and was replaced anew by the small peasants – the colonus and afterwards the feudal serf – who, however, had not the freedom of the small private farmer of Republican times, but was bound by the duties of the feudal manor. It is not an accident that Europe of the Middle Ages (excluding Arab Spain) contributed nothing to the development of science, and stood far behind the culture created hundreds of years B.C. in the East. (The “common ruin of the contending classes” caused such a catastrophic decline of the population, that, had the Germans not entered, Europe would have declined altogether, perhaps for thousands of years. The entry of the barbarians, although it introduced a culture lower than the Romans’ had been, was a progressive development, necessary for the emergence of Europe some centuries later from barbarism). Now let us see how Bureaucratic Collectivism fits in with the scheme of either historical progression or retrogression. Bureaucratic Collectivism is neither the result of the victory of the proletariat over the capitalist class, nor of the victory of the capitalist class over the proletariat. Historical development is thus not the result of a struggle between the two polar opposites, but is the result of the intervention of a third force, the bureaucracy, which annihilates the two (by expropriating the capitalists and transforming the proletarians into slaves). It would be in absolute contradiction to dialectical laws to assume that this third force is both the polar opposite of the bourgeoisie and also the polar opposite of the proletariat. As Hegel says: “In opposition, the different is not confronted by any other, but by its other” (“Encyclopaedia, “Logic”, Oxford, 1892, p.222). To assume that the bureaucracy has as its other the bourgeoisie would mean to assume that the proletariat in the decline of capitalism is not its (the bourgeoisie’s) other. But, as Hegel says, dialectics does not mean that development takes place as a result of different forces opposing one another, but that it goes in contradictions, at every stage a thesis being opposed by its antithesis (“other”). The Stalinist bureaucracy replacing the bourgeoisie and fulfilling its historical function (being the “other” to the proletariat) is not in contradiction to dialectics, while if it fulfils another historical function it does negate dialectics. The fundamental contradiction of capitalism – the contradiction between labour and capital – is the result of social production on the one hand and the separation of the masses from the means of production on the other. The socialist revolution brings the victory of social production over the separation of the workers from the means of production. In Roman slave society production was social and ownership private. The slaves could not succeed in solving the contradiction by making ownership social, so the “solution” came instead in the form of private production still based on private ownership. This was barbarism. Bureaucratic Collectivism is a strange form of barbarism. Social production continues, and the separation of the masses from the means of production continues. Neither of the opposites achieves victory; neither is negated; yet, at the same time, the classes connected with them – the proletariat and the bourgeoisie – are both vanquished! This is, of course, theoretically nonsense! The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa also does not apply to Bureaucratic Collectivism. According to Marx, the victory of the revolutionary class gives a tremendous impulse to the development of the productive forces, while the common and total ruin of the contending classes, i.e., the victory of barbarism, must necessarily, as the polar opposite of progress, lead to retrogression of the productive forces. Bureaucratic Collectivism follows upon the ruin of the two contending classes. But while the mode of production thus retrogresses, the productive forces progress. The negation of the negation means that a potential development becomes an actual development. In the present there is the embryo of the future, and with its becoming an actuality, it is abolished as an embryo. Social production, personified in the proletariat, is in potentiality socialism. The negation of capitalism by the socialist revolution will transform it into an actuality, and thus the proletariat ceases to exist. According to the same dialectical law, a negation which means the common ruin of the contending classes must abolish the embryo, not by transforming it into socialism, but by its total destruction. Bureaucratic Collectivism is neither the one nor the other, neither the development of the embryo (social production) nor its destruction, and so is entirely free of the law of the negation of the negation. It contradicts the laws of dialectics also inasmuch as instead of presenting Russian society as a combination of elements of the present and the future, of capitalism and socialism, where the socialist elements are subordinated to the capitalist, instead of speaking of “the invading socialist society”, an invasion which is the result of the continued existence of capitalism notwithstanding the objective maturity of the world for socialism, it declares only that Bureaucratic Collectivism is neither the one nor the other: it empties it of all sociological content, of all factors of motion, of dialectics. The presence of the elements of the future side by side with the elements of the past are inevitable in every transition stage, otherwise the process of transition itself becomes incomprehensible. The period of the rise of the bourgeoisie from the Renaissance until the bourgeois revolution saw the combination of capitalist and feudal elements fighting against one another. The Catholic reaction after the Renaissance used many of the elements of the new sciences in order to uphold the old. The new knowledge of nature served the Jesuits to “produce miracles” and thus to bolster up the superstitions of the ignorant. But the fact that the Jesuits were compelled to use the elements of the new in order to bolster up the old, was in itself an admission of the obsoleteness of the old. The fact that today all the exploiters are compelled to use more and more elements of the socialist future, such as planning etc, in defence of their interests, is only a sign of the historical obsoleteness of capitalism. The worst period of persecution and fanaticism in the Middle Ages came after the Renaissance, when feudalism entered the last stages of its existence. The worst period of exploitation, of persecution of the working class, comes in the last decades of convulsive declining capitalism. To the people who live in the transition period, the hypocritical use of elements of the new to bolster up the old can cause a feeling of helplessness and despair, but taking it from a historical point of view, this hypocritical use is a sign of the old paying homage to the new. Is the Rise of Bureaucratic Collectivism Accidental? The Resolution of the Workers’ Party Convention of 1941, as we have seen, maintained that Bureaucratic Collectivism was a “nationally limited phenomenon, appearing in history in the course of a single conjuncture of circumstances”. The 1946 Convention Resolution said that whether Stalinism will conquer the world “cannot be resolved in a purely theoretical way. It can be resolved only in struggle.” Now, at first glance, the two formulations do not appear to contradict each other. The origin of bureaucratic collectivism as the result of a “single conjuncture of circumstances” it seems does not deny the theoretical possibility of its spreading beyond the national boundaries all over the world. The struggle, practice, will prove if this will happen or not. Thus a simple bridge seems to exist between the 1941 and 1946 formulations. This, however, is not so. Here, as in other places, the Workers’ Party, in making the bridge, substitutes for the dialectic a mechanistic conception, and falls unavoidably into eclecticism. This will be clear if we see whether the rise of Bureaucratic Collectivism is an accident or a necessity. As Hegel so well explained, in every phenomenon necessity and accident (contingent) are interpenetrating polar opposites. “The Contingent”, he says, “has no ground because it is contingent; and, equally, because it is contingent it has a ground”. A simple example will illustrate this. The fact that Robespierre lived at the time of the French Revolution is, from the standpoint of the development of French history, an accident, i.e., it has no direct, immediate causalic connection with general history, in other words, it has no cause. On the other hand, the role of Robespierre was the result of his intervention in the Revolution. As such, from the standpoint of French history, Robespierre has a cause. (It is clear that what appears as an accident from the standpoint of the French Revolution need not appear as an accident, but as a fundamental necessity, from another standpoint, for example, from the standpoint of Robespierre himself). Whenever two or more inevitable processes which are relatively independent of each other intersect, one of them is an accident from the standpoint of the other; as such it is caused and not caused at one and the same time. This does not contradict determinism proper, but does contradict its mechanical interpretation, as for instance, that given by the French materialists of the eighteenth century. They were satisfied to declare that everything that exists is caused, and they thus could not distinguish between necessity and accident, substance and contingent. The Hegelian conception distinguishes between necessity and accident as united polar opposites. To the extent that an event intervenes as an accident in a certain necessary process, it can influence its course only to a relatively limited extent. Had Robespierre died before the Revolution, events would have taken fundamentally the same course. His place would have been taken by somebody else with different personal characteristics, but this would have changed the course of events only to a small extent relative to the general course of history. In the proletarian revolution foresight and organisation, the role of leadership, i.e., the revolutionary party and its leaders, fulfil a much greater role. Yet here, too, accidental elements, while intersecting with necessity, remain subordinate to it, to the general law of development. As Marx says in a letter to Kugelmann: “World history…would…be of a very mystical nature, if “accidents” played no part. These accidents themselves fall naturally into the general course of development and are compensated for, again, by other accidents. But acceleration and delay are very dependent upon such “accidents”…” (17 April, 1871). If accidents of human history are not compensated for by other accidents, then they are not accidents, but the inevitable, necessary result of human history. Let us see how the Resolutions of the 1941 and 1946 Workers’ Party Conventions stand the test of the dialectical distinction between accident and necessity. In the 1941 Resolution Bureaucratic Collectivism appears as an accident in the general historical development. The 1946 Resolution raises this accident to the level of necessity, for if Stalinism can conquer the world, then from the standpoint of human history it is not an accident but a necessity. If so, the basic features of Russian Bureaucratic Collectivism must appear as a tendency all over the world, beyond the scope of influence of Russian post-October conditions, and out of the development of capitalism itself, so that, independent of the intervention of the Stalinist bureaucracy Bureaucratic Collectivism would triumph in the world. If so, it is not Bureaucratic Collectivism as such that is the result of “a single conjuncture of circumstances” but the Russian features of it, while Bureaucratic Collectivism itself is necessary, inevitable. Here Bruno R., Dwight MacDonald and Burnham are quite consistent and say that this is the case. But Shachtman denies this, and in so doing forgets that accident and necessity, although united, are at the same time polar opposites, forgets that the part is subordinated to the whole, accident to necessity. If the part triumphs over the whole, it is because the tendency of the whole itself is in the same direction as the part and would have reached the same fundamental end independently of the part. If Bureaucratic Collectivism is the image of barbarism, and can, theoretically, triumph, then only secondary features of it are connected with the “singular conjuncture of circumstances” – the October revolution and its defeat. In Conclusion Thus if we carry any of the assumptions of the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism to their logical conclusions we enter a labyrinth of contradictions. The reason for this is the non-dialectical method of thought with which the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism is shot through. Trotsky was undoubtedly correct when he put the main emphasis in his discussion with Shachtman and Burnham in 1939-40 on the dialectical approach. However little attention the theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism pays to dialectics, dialectics pays attention to it. Its whole structure only affirms an “old and well-known dialectical law”: “…incorrect thinking, carried to its logical conclusion, inevitably arrives at the opposite of its point of departure”. (Engels, “Dialectics of Nature”, p.309). Footnotes
- These are dependent, in the last analysis, on the level of development of the productive forces. The words “in the last analysis” must be emphasised, as the same level of the productive forces, of technique, of the rule of man over nature, can be the material basis of more than one regime. Thus while in the last half century or so the productive forces, on an international scale, have been mature for socialism, the same productive forces today serve capitalism.
- Kautsky describes this regime: “The Spartans made up the minority, perhaps a tenth of the population. Their state was based on real War Communism, the barrack communism of the ruling class. Plato drew his ideal of the state from it. The ideal differed from real Sparta only in that it was not the military chiefs, but the “philosophers”, that is, the intellectuals, who directed the war communism.” (“Die Materialistische Geschichtauffassung”, Zwieten Band, Berlin, 1927, Ss.132-3).
- For a good Marxist criticism of the basic elements of the IKD theory of retrogression, see J.R. Johnson’s article, “Historical Retrogression or Socialist Revolution”, in the New International of January and February, 1946.
- Many points in Burnham’s arguments are identical with those of Shachtman, and are dealt with in other parts of this article.
- While finishing this article I have received the 1949 resolution of the Independent Socialist League, formerly the Workers’ Party, and I feel bound to mention one point. The resolution speaks about the “capitalist tendency toward “bureaucratic collectivization”” which will in the coming world war bring about US capitalism’s “descent into that modern-type barbarism” of which the bureaucratic collectivism of Stalin’s Russia is the fully-fledged embodiment. The pointers in this direction are:
“war economy – bureaucratisation – bureaucratic planning – control – regimentation – declining standard of living in the midst of “full employment” for war production”. What is the difference between this picture of US capitalism in the third world war and that of German capitalism in the second world war? And if there is no difference, there is consequently no fundamental difference between the laws of motion of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russian economy. It follows that either Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia are not capitalist, or that both of them are. Shachtman once again shows his eclecticism, his incapacity to think to the end and to unite his different impressions. Among the important “discoveries” in the above document is the existence of a social revolutionary force in our period besides the proletariat, and in opposition to it, a force which “is visible in the Western capitalist countries only in broad outline”. What a monstrous idea!
13. Max Shachtman, op cit., pp. 306, 308 9. A by-product of this hysterical anti-Stalinism is softness, even idealisation, of Social Democracy: “In most of the countries of Europe west of the barbed-wire frontiers, the socialist parties not only represent the sole serious alternative to the futile and futureless parties of the status quo but are the political instrument of the democratic working class.”