Friday, June 27, 2008

Social Democracy for Africa?

This is the first of a four-parts topic...

Social Democracy in Africa:

Communism as we generally know it, hasn’t done Africa much good, and certainly, the present capitalist dominated environment of African nations hasn’t gotten Africans anywhere. What about ‘social democracy’ in Africa; can it work for Africans? — a question well worth pondering. To do so, it may be necessary to examine exactly what social democracy is; has it ever been implemented anywhere? Social democracy has often been misconstrued with what most have come to know as “communism”, and in most folks’ mind, it isn’t pretty. What has led to this development? Well, the answer to that lies in relentless propaganda campaign of major capitalist powers against any ‘flowering’ workers’ movement wherever it may arise, as exemplified by the Russian October Revolution of 1917, lack of clarity in the issues surrounding that Revolution — the first ever attempt at implementing social democracy on the basis of Marx’s and Engel’s philosophy, and the inability to identify conflicting and competing subjective forces within the Bolshevik party and how that changed the course of the party over its tenure under the leadership of Lenin through to Stalin.

While social democracy has yet to be fully implemented anywhere, it had its first shot in the aftermath of the Russian October Revolution; under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, the social democracy revolutionary process was in its infancy. However, the revolution found itself in a very hostile environment [both locally and internationally] and met with stiff resistance by counterrevolutionary forces [again both locally and internationally] from the onset. At the time of the October Revolution, Russia was still embroiled in the first World War on the international stage, and locally, the new leadership of the Bolshevik had to continue their fight with remnant loyalists of the czar autocracy, conservatives, various segments of peasantry, and foreign troops and their local proxies. The latter disparate local entities not only fought against the new Bolshevik leadership, but also with respect to the other non-Bolshevik affiliated entity. So, it was utter chaos right from that start of Bolshevik leadership. Needless to say, this was not the sort of environment for a flowering workers’ revolution to thrive. The revolution was a fairly new phenomenon in that, it drew its strongest base from the then newly emerging social class in the largely agrarian Russia: the modern industrial working class!

Given such extraordinarily adverse and hostile environment, the revolution had to do everything its power to survive, or else cease to exist in such a short time from the seizing of leadership of the Soviet nation by the Bolshevik revolutionaries. “Doing everything its power to survive” also meant having to make decisions that were ruthless and/or would have been out-of -the-ordinary in a more stable environment. Those decisions came under the “War Communism” act [1917-1921] by the Bolshevik leadership, so as to keep a handle on the civil war, and at the same time, stop the nation from undergoing total socio-economic collapse. It was during this period, that extraordinary “temporary” measures such as the agreed upon banning of party factionalism [ca. 1920], and militarization of labor [much of which was not actively enforced everywhere in a coherent or widespread manner, given the actual inadequate control of the entire nation by the Bolshevik leadership] were undertaken. Some reactionary opponents of social democracy have disfigured not only the socio-economic backdrop against which War Communism was undertaken, but also what the war-time measure itself was; rather, these reactionaries disingenuously refer to it as ‘terror and repression”. These folks would have one believe that, at a time of war, in the face of armed struggle against the new Bolshevik leadership, it should have simply responded with doing nothing; just utter passiveness. In other words, the revolution should have simply actively assisted its enemies in its own pulverization, through a no-self-defense policy. If someone were in a fist fight, and he/she could help it, would that someone just stand there and take punches, without throwing one back, or at least try to defend him/herself however he/she can? In such a situation, as an anecdote, the reactionaries would have it that one simply allow oneself, if not actively encouraging one’s opponent, to be beaten to pulp, if not to death.

The fact of the matter is, it wasn’t until about 1922 or so, did the civil war come to an end to any significant degree. By this time, Trotsky‘s ‘emergency measure’ for economic revival was adopted by the Bolshevik party under Lenin’s leadership; Trotsky was against the War Communism, but had to cave in, given its acceptance by way of majority vote within the party, and the extraordinary hostile environment and crumbling socio-economic situation not being lost on him [Trotsky]. This ‘emergency’ measure was to become what was known as “the New Economic Policy” (NEP) [1921 -1923]. The measure was to revive the nation’s weakened agricultural production, its near-collapse infrastructure, develop new industries and sustain preexisting ones, while bridging the rural sections of the society with the urban. Increased agricultural output, necessary to feed the nation and for foreign exchange, so as to put the nation in a condition to pay for infrastructure and development of new industries, was to implemented by scrapping the earlier “War Communism” measure of seizing agro-surplus over a certain surplus limit, and replacing it by taxation at a certain surplus level, with the remaining left to the benefit of the farmer, and on a proportionality basis, according to the capacity and resources of disparate farmers. The reason for this concession was to placate peasants, and so, encourage agricultural output. Farming lands were divided between and allotted to farmers, though not necessarily to own them. The revolution had no intention of privatizing land, but given the dire socio-economic situation, semi-privatization of land was tolerated. The same held true for the industrial sector of the economy. Semi-privatization was tolerated in that, small industries were allowed to be privately controlled, while large industries remained firmly under state control. Again, this was to give room for flowering smaller industries to grow, necessary for the industrialization of the economy.

Still on the issue of the economy, under the NEP, temporary “free-market” measures which undoubtedly contradicted the social-democracy objectives of the revolution, were also tolerated, going back to the aforementioned issue of badly needed foreign exchange for rehabilitation of the crumbling economy in the then, as it is now, bourgeois dominated counterrevolutionary environment. As Trotsky and the other Bolshevik revolutionary leaders realized, socialism ‘in a single nation’ or ‘in isolation’ was not a viable undertaking: 1) no nation could viably be totally self-sufficient, and hence, render international trade trivial. International trade system was unfortunately dominated by major counterrevolutionary economic powers, and even minor ones. So overhauling the international trade network by a single nation, to suit social democracy, was not something viable, nor could be done overnight; 2) socialism in a single nation would inevitably give rise to many social developments that contradict the social objectives of social democracy revolution, as it tried to attain self-reliance and abate ever growing pressures from the external global environment. As a consequence, revolutionary socialism in a single nation devolves into a counterrevolutionary one, as Stalin’s Soviet bureaucracy amply exemplifies. Social democracy has rendered the viability of the nation state outmoded; in order for it to be effective, it has to transcend national boundaries. In other words, “nationalism” [including sectarianism] is counterproductive to the objectives of social democracy. So, naturally, these measures were set up to be temporary by its author, Trotsky, as a transitory state of affairs, while at the same time, the Russian revolution took full part in the building of an extensive network of revolutionary partners in major capitalist economies of Europe, the success of which would be conducive to its spread elsewhere, globally. To this end, the establishment of the Comintern [short for Communist International] as a start, comes to mind. This would be the process through which, overhauling of the global trade environment would have been viable.

Trotsky himself spelled out the implications of this “New Economic policy”, as it relates to the above mentioned points:

"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." [1]


"…we never regarded the resources for industrialization as inexhaustible...We never thought that its tempo could be regulated by the administrative whip alone. We have always advanced, as a basic condition for industrialization, the necessity for systematic improvement in the conditions of the working class. 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…Collectivization and industrialization we bind by an unbreakable tie to the world revolution. The problems of our economy are decided in the final analysis on the international arena."[2]

With regards to the issue of isolation of socialism, Lenin expressed similar sentiments:

“In every country there has been a period in which the working class movement existed apart from socialism, each going its own way; and in every country this isolation has weakened both socialism and the working class movement. Only the fusion of socialism with the working class movement has in all countries created a durable basis for both.”

Lenin himself thought that the social disorganization of the peasantry, which was a large chunk of the Russian population then, and its lack of identification with the newly emerged modern industrial working class born out of empirical social experiences of similar nature, was a product of a nation still relatively socio-economically backward. That scenario made the work of the revolution in attaining social democracy that much harder, as it sought to continue its campaign of organizing the working proletariat through a unified workers’ political party, totally independent of bourgeois politics. In that respect, he envisioned that the “New Economic policy” would help facilitate the necessary growth, so as to bridge the rural to the urban.

Speaking of political organization of the working class, so as to attain the political dictatorship of the working class, this is something that can only be proactively introduced from outside through the bourgeois intelligentsia, not spontaneously amongst the working class in a coherent and widespread basis. While the intelligentsia works from within the preexisting bourgeois socio-economic framework, and in fact, draw lessons from that system, so as to educate others [the waged worker in particular] of the nature of that system, this doesn’t mean that they work for that system or for the bourgeois layer that rules it; hence, the name ‘bourgeois intelligentsia’. The bourgeois intelligentsia is obviously no homogeneous entity, but our focus is on the section whose undivided attention and task is revolutionary. You see, the complexity of the socio-economic order in which a waged worker operates, is simply too complex for the average waged worker to fully grasp. The average waged worker is primarily conscious of those empirical social hardships that the worker directly experiences at the level of his/her ‘social being’; this is obvious. These however, come in as fragmentary pieces of information in the worker’s mind, and doesn’t naturally cover the comprehensive complex network of subtle and the not-so-subtle workings [both political and economic] of the socio-economic order, of which the waged worker is a small part. Even the relatively basic level of the transitioning from one social being to another, is not something that is necessarily clearly understood by the average worker. Lenin relates this best:

Social Democracy is the combination of the working class movement and socialism. Its task is not to serve the working class movement passively at each of its separate stages, but to represent the interests of the movement as a whole, to point out to this movement its ultimate aim and its political tasks, and to safeguard its political and ideological independence. Isolated from Social Democracy, the working class movement becomes petty and inevitably becomes bourgeois. In waging only the economic struggle, the working class loses its political independence; it becomes the tail of other parties and betrays the great principle: ‘The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.’ [3]

“Not a single class in history has achieved power without producing its political leaders, its prominent representatives able to organize a movement and lead it.” [4]

It is of note, that both Lenin and Trotsky realize that social democracy is for the long haul, and that it is not a single event undertaking as some folks are predisposed into thinking; it has to go through stages, and a thread of processes before it reaches its final stage.

To be continued...see: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

[1] - The Platform of the Joint Opposition 1927 (London, 1973), p. 41
[2] - Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930 (New York, 1975), pp. 115-17 and Ibid., p. 117
[3] - Collected Works, Volume 4 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), p. 368.
[4] - Ibid, p. 369-70.

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