Friday, June 27, 2008

Social Democracy for Africa? Part 2

Carried from Social Democracy for Africa?

Continuing with the question of the introduction of systematic political consciousness of the working proletariat, as opposed to merely waiting for some spontaneous coherent conscious across the proletariat, of a comprehensive understanding of the workings of the complex socio-economic order they are a part of, Lenin says:

“We have said that there could not have been Social Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status, the founders of modern socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. In the same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social Democracy arose altogether independently of the spontaneous growth of the working class movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia.” [1]

“In all social formations of any complexity—and in the capitalist social formation in particular—people in their intercourse are not conscious of what kind of social relations are being formed, in accordance with what laws they develop, etc. For instance, a peasant when he sells his grain enters into ‘intercourse’ with the world producers of grain in the world market, but he is not conscious of it; nor is he conscious of what kind of social relations are formed on the basis of exchange. Social consciousness reflects social being—that is Marx’s teaching. A of the reflected, but reflection may be an approximately true copyto speak of identity is absurd…" [2]

"…Every individual producer in the world economic system realizes that he is introducing this or that change into the technique of production; every owner realizes that he exchanges certain products for others; but these producers and these owners do not realize that in doing so they are thereby changing social being. The sum-total of these changes in all their ramifications in the capitalist world economy could not be grasped even by seventy Marxes."[3]

“The most important thing is that the objective logic of these changes and of their historical development has in its chief and basic features been disclosed—objective, not in the sense that a society of conscious beings, of people, could exist and develop independently of the existence of conscious beings (and it is only such trifles that Bogdanov stresses by his ‘theory’), but in the sense that social being is independent of the social consciousness of people. The fact that you live and conduct your business, beget children, produce products and exchange them, gives rise to an objectively necessary chain of development, which is independent of your social consciousness, and is never grasped by the latter completely.

The highest task of humanity is to comprehend this objective logic of economic evolution (the evolution of social life) in its general and fundamental features, so that it may be possible to adapt to it one’s social consciousness and the consciousness of the advanced classes of all capitalist countries in as definite, clear and critical fashion as possible.”[4]

On this point, David North of the SEP (Socialist Equality Party) weighs in:

“When people go to work, to what extent are they aware of the vast network of global economic interconnections of which their own job is a minute element? One can reasonably assume that even the most intelligent worker would have only the vaguest sense of the relationship of his job, or his company, to the immensely complex processes of modern transnational production and exchange of goods and services. Nor is the individual worker in a position to penetrate the mysteries of international capitalist finance, the role of global hedge funds, and the secret and often impenetrable ways (even to experts in the field) that tens of billions of dollars in financial assets are moved across international borders every day. The realities of modern capitalist production, trade and finance are so complex that corporate and political leaders are dependent upon the analyses and advice of major academic institutions, which, more often than not, are divided among themselves as to the meaning of data at their disposal…

…the concept of exploitation is not one that is easily understood, let alone derived directly from the instinctive sense that one is not being paid enough. The worker who fills out an application form upon applying for a job does not perceive that she is offering to sell her labor power, or that the unique quality of that labor power is its capacity to produce a sum of value greater than the price (the wage) at which it has been purchased; and that profit is derived from this differential between the cost of labor power and the value that it creates.

Nor is a worker aware that when he purchases a commodity for a definite sum of money, the essence of that exchange is a relation not between things (a coat or some other commodity for a definite amount of money) but between people. Indeed, he does not understand the nature of money, how it emerged historically as the expression of the value form, and how it serves to mask, in a society in which the production and exchange of commodities have been universalized, the underlying social relations of capitalist society.

What I have just been speaking about might serve as a general introduction to what might be considered the theoretical-epistemological foundation of Marx’s most important work, Capital.

In the concluding section of the critical chapter one of volume one, Marx introduces his theory of commodity fetishism, which explains the objective source of the mystification of social relations within capitalist society—that is, the reason why in this particular economic system social relations between people necessarily appear as relations between things. It is not, and cannot be apparent to workers, on the basis of sense perception and immediate experience, that any given commodity’s value is the crystallized expression of the sum of human labor expended in its production. The discovery of the objective essence of the value form represented a historical milestone in scientific thought. Without this discovery, neither the objective socio-economic foundations of the class struggle nor their revolutionary implications could have been understood.” — The origins of Bolshevism and What Is To Be Done?

In other words, the schematic for social democracy revolution is based on scientific understanding of social evolution, not as single events, but a thread of complex processes within complex socio-economic frameworks over a protracted time span, taken into consideration with the advancements in science and technology along the way, in tandem with corresponding anticipation of the future course of such evolution based on what is now known. This takes deep seated understanding of not only the present, but also the past, and being able to disentangle the underlying forces within the socio-environmental backdrop against which, a series of events occurred along the way. In a few words, for reasons elaborated in the extensive quoting above, political consciousness is not something that necessarily comes to the average person spontaneously, let alone expecting spontaneous coherently organized political consciousness across the proletariat. Political consciousness has to be introduced to the working proletariat, side by side with their economic struggles, speaking of which…

Courtesy David North , Lenin continues, citing Karl Kautsky along the way:

"Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for socialist production as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither the one nor the other, no matter how much it may desire to do so; both arise out of the modern social process. The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done. Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle and not something that arose within it spontaneously. Accordingly, the old Hainfeld program quite rightly stated that the task of Social-Democracy is to imbue the proletariat with the consciousness of its position and the consciousness of its task. There would be no need for this if consciousness arose of itself from the class struggle.”[5]

“Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is—either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ‘third’ ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology, to its development along the lines of the Credo program; for the spontaneous working class movement is trade unionism, is Nur-Gewerkschaftlerei, and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working class from this spontaneous, trade unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy.”[6]

The new economic policy did improve the socio-economic situation, at least up until about the time Stalin assumed some degree of leadership within the Bolshevik party, when in 1928 the Five Year Plan was introduced. Now of course “improved” is a relative word, which doesn’t imply that all was okay all the time within the time span from when the NEP was voted on in 1921 to be implemented to the introduction of the Five Year Plan in 1928. The measures taken under the NEP to placate peasantry, and henceforth imbue them to increase their produce, led to the agricultural sector growing relatively faster than the industrial sector. This had the effect of putting manufacturers in a position where they felt the need to sell goods at fairly high prices to keep their operations economically viable, while prices of agricultural produce fell; a situation that also came to be known as the “Scissor crisis“. Extensive industrialization program was still underway, but it would have been dependent on foreign exchange needed to build up more large-scale industry; agricultural surplus was to be part of this foreign exchange earner apparatus. As a consequence, there were brief periods in between, when the peasantry engaged in the hoarding of their produce, as a response to inflation, wherein prices of manufactured goods rose and put some strains on the spending power of the peasants in purchasing those goods. Farmers who initially sold their surplus at reasonably low prices in the market, now felt the need to find ways to sell their produce at higher prices, as a way to enhance their spending power for manufactured goods. Thus this led to hoarding on the one hand, or selling their produce to retailers [the middle men here] at high enough [to them farmers] prices, who in turn, not to be left shortchanged, sold the produce at high prices. This of course, was an undesirable economic situation, and so, government had to step in and set prices for produce and manufactured goods at more affordable levels for consumers, as well as regulate the internal practices of manufacturers. Heavier regulation of peasants would come under the Five Year Plans under Stalin’s leadership.

Under the Five Year Plan implemented by Stalin and Krzhyzhanovsky, the campaign of collectivization sought to churn out maximum surplus from the farming sector within a short period of time, so as to facilitate rapid industrialization. Here, it is worth noting the mindset that shaped Stalin’s recklessness in implementing this program of collectivization, and how this derailed from the Bolshevik revolutionary agenda; hence, it provides an opportunity to revisit the impact of factionalism within the party on the course it took over the years. The party factionalism is something that has often been downplayed and overlooked by opponents of Lenin and Trotsky, as means to discredit the actual revolutionary objectives of the Marxist leaders at the time of the October Revolution and their rise to power thereof. The idea behind this homogenization of the Bolshevik leadership, is to of course paint it as one that came to power from the onset, with a socio-economic schematic which would steadfastly be carried out by Stalin. Since Stalin’s program of socialism wasn’t exactly what most would recognize as revolutionary, this painting of Bolshevik leadership respectively under Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin with a ‘single brush’ would in essence uncritically discredit the whole Bolshevik apparatus, from the October Revolution through to Stalin’s entire reign. However, reality tells us that Stalin’s brand of communism was shaped by his attitude of going ahead with the implementation of “Socialism in one nation”, which was just moments ago briefly discussed as something that strongly went against the Bolshevik objective under Lenin’s and Trotsky’s leadership. This in itself was a fundamental distinction in objective that any scientific-minded historian would avoid dismissing.

Apparently, Stalin was of the mindset that “socialism in one nation” was viable, while Lenin and Trotsky were not convinced of such a thing. Conversely, the unsuccessful undertaking of the German revolution and those elsewhere in Europe by proletariats who had been devastated and weakened by war, convinced Stalin that the international program of social democracy was a “utopian” undertaking that could not be realized. Whereas Lenin and Trotsky were steadfast in building a social democracy program over political boundaries of Europe, on the understanding that the proletariat in major capitalist European nations will regain their strength and inevitably get back on the path of workers’ revolutionary struggle. This mindset affected Stalin’s domestic and international policies. In setting up an example of how those differences in mindset had led to different approaches to the question of the nation‘s industrialization program, let’s revisit the collectivization of farms issue; remember, Trotsky said:

“We have always considered collectivization dependent upon industrialization. We saw the socialist reconstruction of peasant economy only as a prospect of many years. We never closed our eyes to the inevitability of internal conflicts during the socialist reconstruction of a single nation. To remove contradictions in rural life is possible only by removing contradictions between the city and countryside. This can be realized only through the world revolution. We never demanded, therefore, the liquidation of classes within the scope of the five-year plan of Stalin and Krzhyzhanovsky … The question of the tempo of industrialization is not a matter of bureaucratic fancy, but of the life and culture of the masses.”

Contrast this to the frantic collectivization campaign of Stalin, to attain industrialization in the shortest time, and in the process devastating the peasantry class. That right there, in the citation, is what the NEP was about; making some concessions against the socialist program, without the destruction of either the peasantry or the urban working class - that is, to use Trotsky’s words, “the liquidation of classes within the scope of the five year plan”. To Trotsky, in contrast to Stalin, the tempo of industrialization had to take into consideration, the pre-existing state and capacity of the masses, while still building the platform for an international socialist program. In doing so, he is not oblivious to the internal contradictions that would arise during reconstruction process in his own country, and realizes that it would have to be done within the framework of a global trade network dominated by major and minor capitalist economies, during a transitory period whose span is undetermined, on the understanding that there is no telling when the proletariat in major capitalist economies of Europe would undertake a successful workers’ revolution; hence the concession-giving NEP. To reiterate his words:

“Resting our hope on an isolated development of socialism and upon a rate of economic development independent of world economy distorts the whole outlook. It puts our planning leadership off the track, and offers no guiding threads for a correct regulation of our relations with world economy. We have no way of deciding what to manufacture ourselves and what to bring in from outside. A definite renunciation of the theory of an isolated socialist economy will mean, in the course of a few years, an incomparably more rational use of our resources, a swifter industrialization, and better planned and more powerful growth of our own machine construction. It will mean a swifter increase in the number of employed workers and a real lowering of prices — in a word, a genuine strengthening of the Soviet Union in the capitalist environment."

David North of SEP, again neatly summarizes this point:

“It may seem paradoxical that Trotsky, the great protagonist of world revolution, placed greater emphasis than any other Soviet leader of his time on the overriding importance of close economic links between the USSR and the world capitalist market. Soviet economic development, he insisted, required both access to the resources of the world market and the intelligent utilization of the international division of labor. The development of economic planning required at minimum a knowledge of competitive advantage and efficiencies at the international level. It served no rational economic purpose for the USSR to make a virtue of frittering away its own limited resources in a vain effort to duplicate on Soviet soil what it could obtain at far less cost on the world capitalist market

It is helpful to keep in mind that Trotsky belonged to a generation of Russian Marxists who had utilized the opportunity provided by revolutionary exile to carefully observe and study the workings of the capitalist system in the advanced countries. They were familiar not only with the oft-described "horrors" of capitalism, but also with its positive achievements. The countless hours they had spent studying Das Kapital were enriched by many years of observing capital in action. Upon their return to Russia — and this applies especially to those who were among Trotsky’s closest associates during the years of exile — they brought with them a keen understanding of the complexities of modern economic organization. If political struggles had not invested the issue with such profoundly tragic implications, they would have dismissed as simply laughable the idea that Russia could somehow leap into socialism merely by nationalizing its own paltry means of production. Far from overtaking and surpassing capitalism on the basis of national autarchy, Trotsky argued that a vital precondition for the development of the Soviet economy along socialist lines was its assimilation of the basic techniques of capitalist management, organization, accounting and production.”

To be continued...see: Part 3, and Part 4

[1] - Ibid, pp. 375-76
[2] - Collected Works, Volume 14 (Progress Publishers, 1977), p. 323
[3] - Ibid, p. 325
[4] - Ibid, p. 325
[5] - Ibid, p. 383-84
[6] - Ibid, p. 384

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