Thursday, December 10, 2015

Marx and the State (1979)

Book Review from the November 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution. Volume 1: State and Bureaucracy by Hal Draper, Monthly Review Press, £5.60 paperback.

This is an interesting book by the man who wrote the very useful study of Marx's references to the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' which confirmed the view we had long held. In New Politics, Vol. 1, No.4, Summer 1962, he shows that the phrase was used by Marx comparatively rarely and, when it was, to mean simply the democratic exercise of political power by the working class.

In this new book, Draper is arguing a case which cannot be fully understood without some knowledge of his background. He is a Trotskyist, but of the dissident variety known to other Trotskyist sects as 'the Shachtmanites'. During the great controversy on the nature of Russian society in the American Trotskyist movement just before the last war, three views emerged: 1) that Russia was a 'degenerate Workers' State', the view of Trotsky himself and the Trotskyist orthodoxy to this day; 2) that it was state capitalist; and 3) that it was neither a 'Workers' State' nor state capitalism but a new exploiting class society which Shachtman, borrowing a term from Bruno Rizzi, called 'bureaucratic collectivism'. Draper was for years a leading figure in the Shachtmanite tendency which existed as an independent group until 1958 when its members joined the reformist SP of America.

So in showing that Marx held that a state bureaucracy could be a ruling class and that a class society could exist on the basis of the state monopoly of the means of production, Draper is demolishing one of the arguments used by orthodox Trotskyists to defend their preposterous theory about Russia, Marx not only admitted this as a theoretical possibility but used the terms 'Asiatic mode of production' and 'Oriental despotism' to describe just such a society as had existed in ancient times, and not just in Asia. The ruling class had then been a state bureaucracy, controlling the means of production and hence collectively monopolising them. The parallel with present-day Russia is obvious; though not, of course, with regard to the mode of production itself (which is capitalism).

In The Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels referred to the 'executive of the modern State' as 'but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie'. Draper warns that, if taken too literally to mean that the government is always directly controlled by the capitalist class, then this is an oversimplification; there are cases where the government, though still used in the interest of the capitalist class, is not actually controlled by them.

Marx in fact devoted quite a bit of time to studying one such case: the Second French Empire (1852-1870). Napoleon's nephew, Louis Bonaparte, had been elected President of the Republic established in 1848 after the overthrow of the bourgeois King Louis Philippe. In 1851 he staged a coup d'etat and a year later had himself proclaimed Emperor (the events are written up in Marx's inimitable journalistic style in the pamphlet The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte). Here was an example of a capitalist society where the government was not controlled by the capitalist class through a parliament, elections and so on, but by a dictator not subject to their control even if he did protect their interests. Marx called this phenomenon 'Bonapartism', and Engels argued that Bismarckian Germany exhibited similar characteristics. This phenomenon—where the capitalist class has been prepared, sometimes even compelled (sections of it, at least) to surrender political control of the government through representative institutions in exchange for the law and order imposed by a strong dictatorship — has been fairly widespread since, from fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Franco Spain to the present-day dictatorships in Chile and Argentina.

Of course, such dictatorships are still governments of capitalism and have to run capitalism in the only way it can be; as a profit-making system and so ultimately in the interests of the capitalist class. Thus Draper's conclusion about Marx's theory of the state, not just in capitalism but in class societies generally, is fair enough (the quotes are from Engels):
The state, 'necessary and logical product of the [given] social conditions', is always in the last analysis 'the executor of the economic necessities of the national situation'. Thus it is always the organizer of society in the interests of the class (exploitative) structure taken as a whole.
One criticism. As a Trotskyist, even if an unorthodox one, Draper still believes in a 'Workers' State' (a term never used by Marx himself), and he sometimes seems too keen to play down the the anti-state element in Marx's thinking. Certainly Marx thought that the working class should use the state to abolish capitalism, but this was to be a temporary affair leading fairly rapidly to the dismantling of the state and the establishment of a stateless socialist society.
Adam Buick


Book Review from the May 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier; Selected Texts on Work, Love and Passionate Attraction, Translated and edited by Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu. Cape, £3.95

Marx and Engels praised and criticized Fourier. The criticism, inevitably, was that of all the Utopian Socialists of 1800 and thereabouts. As Engels put it in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific:
The solution of the social problems, which as yet lay hidden in undeveloped economic conditions, the Utopians attempted to evolve out of the human brain. Society presented nothing but wrongs; to remove these was the task of reason. It was necessary, then, to discover a new and more perfect system of social order and to impose this upon society from without by propaganda, and, wherever it was possible, by the example of model experiments. These new social systems were foredoomed as Utopian; the more completely they were worked out in detail, the more they could not avoid drifting off into pure phantasies.
Yet the praise was undeniable too: for Fourier's satire, the "power and charm" of his denunciations of commerce, his view of women's position, and his historical insight.

Of all the Utopians, Fourier most readily wins sympathy today. Saint-Simon's gospel of work may seem too severe. Owen's experiments not free from the suspicion of progressive management; with Fourier, however, the human concern which won that word "charm" is almost irresistible. His answer to the classic question of who would do dirty work under Socialism is memorable. Muck? Filth? Let children do it: they love such things.

The present collection of Fourier's writings draw strongly on material which was not available to Marx and Engels. This is the volume published for the first time in Paris in 1967 under the title Le Nouveau Monde Amoureux (The New Amorous World). It would not have altered their view, but it greatly amplifies the vision of a satisfying society as Fourier saw it. It enables us also to see how far away the Fourierists who founded 19th-century communities were from what was in his mind: straitlaced groups who, as the Introduction remarks, "for tactical as well as personal reasons" ignored his intention of a realm of sexual freedom.

After a financially comfortable upbringing, Fourier was woken to the realities of social life in the years following the French Revolution. Experiences in the Lyon insurrection of 1793 are said to have given him "a lasting horror of political revolution and social turmoil", and the rifeness of profiteering and speculation under the Directory made him a bitter critic of "anarchic" competition. From these points of departure he constructed a series of proposals for the reconstruction of society, leading to the master-plan: a scheme of "natural association" in which the gratification of personal desires and passions would be for human good. By 1819 he had completed, but was never able to publish in entirety, his Grande Traité on society and human nature.

It was essential to Fourier that his idea be put into practice. His conception was of a community called the Phalanx, made up of small "passional" groups. For years he sought a patron to provide the land and the backing; he tried bankers, philanthropists and ambassadors. Though these appeals brought nothing, a small band of disciples formed. He quickly dissociated himself from an attempt at a community in 1833; after his death in 1837 Fourierism became a political fashion for a few years. Fourierist study groups in Russia included Dostoevsky and Alexander Herzen among their members. A number of Fourier communities were set up in America, almost all under-capitalized and incapable of survival for any length of time—the only part-successful one, Brook Farm, was ruined by a fire in 1846.

Fourier's emphasis was on human fulfilment. He saw that capitalism and its commerce were not only degrading and starving millions of people physically, but also deprived them of necessary emotional satisfactions. He was concerned about ending work as slavery—not by inducement to make work attractive, but by letting it be attractive as he was convinced it was to everyone: civilization had perverted it. There was no reason why men should spend all their lives or even all day at one kind of work. In Harmony (Fourier's name for his Utopia) they would do many different things, in pleasant surroundings and among friends and lovers. Economic security would be provided by the "social minimum", a guaranteed income which made the framework for freedom of choice.

Like most Utopians, Fourier advocated a predominantly agricultural life. He did not deny the place of industry, but it had to be secondary; and factories and workshops must be specially luxurious if people were to want to work in them. However, he argued a great increase in agricultural production and a decrease in manufacture: goods would be so excellently made as to need replacing only occasionally, while the Harmonians would consume correspondingly more of the social wealth in food. The fullest expression of pleasure in work would be the appearance of armies of "a million industrial athletes" for huge projects like bridge-building and land reclamation.

But the real destiny of mankind in this new world was the complete liberation of the instincts. The satisfaction of material needs led to organised release from sexual and emotional bondage. As Engels pointed out, Fourier was "the first to declare that in any given society the degree of women's emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation". Fourier attacked Christianity's "enslaved monogamy" furiously, for brutalizing sexual relations and for the hypocrisy which turned love into a self-centred activity. He saw sexual love as a central part of community life.
Love in the Phalanstery is no longer, as it is with us, a recreation which detracts from work; on the contrary it is the soul and the vehicle, the mainspring of all works and of the whole of universal attraction.
The proposals for a free sexual life turn out to be elaborately regulated. There is a hierarchy of officials, and a mighty rule-book. The orgies sound like committee-ridden village fêtes, and there are even Courts allotting playful forfeit-type penalties. Fourier insists that the code is voluntary and to facilitate expression, but it rings uneasily of regimentation; the high priests, matrons, pontiffs etc. are plainly sexual bureaucrats in the making. Nevertheless, the vision remains a remarkable one when it is seen in contrast with all that was taken for granted about sex relationships in the bourgeois society of the period.

In one respect particularly Fourier was startlingly ahead of his time. His Utopia involved the liberation of the sexual "deviant":
In Harmony manias will be particularly bizarre and plentiful among the more complex personality types. In civilization on the contrary the complex personalities are those who try hardest to stifle and hide their manias. They do so out of an excessive respect for civilised standards and public opinion and also out of a desire to avoid criticism, of which they already have quite enough. 
Every person's proclivities would be marked on papers he carried, so as to find appropriate partners without difficulty. The "manias" would contribute to society's well-being just as much as normal sexuality. The only line Fourier drew was at activities in which a person was abused, or made an object against his will. Thus, he anticipated by a century and a half the "gay liberation" movement and its logical conclusion—that society must be reorganized first.

This was indeed the great merit which enables us to see Fourier as a forerunner of Socialism. He perceived that the material basis of life was the essential condition to be provided, and this could be done only by creating a new kind of social order. Capitalism's "disgusting civilization" was inimical to every human need:
The results of this system—poverty, oppression, deceit and carnage—are wholly contrary to man's desires and to the goal of nature.
When security, comfort and pleasure in work have been attained, man could then become truly liberated. Sexual relationships would be freed from coercion and necessity, and the gratification of instinct produce social enthusiasm and harmony.

The translation of this vision to class-consciousness and comprehension of political power as the means was, as Engels wrote, simply not possible in Fourier's time. It remained an idea, hopeful of achievement by luck or infection. There is very much, however, which resembles what Socialists today look forward to in the society of the future. The belief in small communities as islands of liberated living still persists, but—as in Fourier's day—a world away from what his mind saw. His view was of a whole society; no group of men is an island.
Robert Barltrop

Party News (1981)

From the October 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month two debates took place between the Socialist Party and organisations standing for free market capitalism. On September 10 in Islington, with 83 people present, Ron Cook of the SPGB debated with David Steele of the Libertarian Alliance. The declared principles of the Libertarian Alliance include "The right of all persons to life, liberty and justly acquired property". For the Libertarians, "justly acquired property" includes the wealth accumulated by the owners of capital through the work carried out for them by the rest of us, with the threat of enforced hunger of we refuse. David Steele's objection to socialism was that without the mechanism of profit and prices, goods could not be efficiently distributed to those who need them. It was pointed out that millions starve at this moment, precisely because they cannot afford to pay the prices, and that a system of production for use according to needs could be based on the modern means of communication which already exist. People could declare needs directly and worldwide as the basis for production, instead of the present buying and selling mechanism. The following day, in Guildford, Steve Coleman of the Socialist Party debated with Professor Anthony Flew of the Philosophy Department of Reading University. 65 people attended the debate, which was on the question of "Is Equality Just a Socialist Myth?"