When my friends and I who think we have a certain level of political awareness get together we like to discuss and argue. What often comes up is the issue of when socialism got screwed up.
Some maintain that this began with Marx himself, others put the accent on Lenin, and the rest blame Stalin.
To contribute to that discussion, I’m presenting this blog entry inspired by the writing of Cornelius Castoriadis, a person who discussed this question in the second half of last century. As he noted, “The role of Bolshevik ideology in the appearance of the bureaucracy” revolved around the acceptance by the high rungs of the party hierarchy to a resistance movement known as the “Labor Opposition” at the beginning of the 1920s.
It seems that an extensive fraction of the Russian workers was already at odds with the hierarchic leadership of the Bolshevik party then in power (led by Lenin and Trotsky, among others). Their bone of contention was around who should organize and direct the production process. The opposition advocated the workers themselves taking charge of it, while the ranking Bolsheviks did what they could to secure this control in their hands and finally succeeded in seeing this leading role assumed by a single man, an administrative official who was accountable to the party.
We can look at the response to this proposition on the part of Trotsky, who said: “It would be the worst of errors to confuse the question of the authority of the proletariat with that of work crews that administer factories. The dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed through the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, through domination over the entire soviet mechanism by the will of the masses, and not through the form of management of various companies.” Trotsky: Terrorism and Communism, ed. 10-18, Paris, 1963, p. 243.
Later on in the same text, he says that what is reprehensible in bourgeois militarism and in the bourgeois army are individuals acting in the service of the bourgeoisie; as for the rest, he says nothing. The sole difference lies in “who holds the power? “ Trotsky: Terrorism and Communism, ed. 10-18, Paris, 1963, p. 257.
And also, later he says: “Under a capitalist regime, where work is paid for by the unit (or piecework), the operationalization of the system of Taylorism, etc., had as a goal to increase the exploitation of the workers and to snatch their surplus value from them. As a consequence of the socialization of production, piecework, etc., this points to a growth in socialist production and therefore to an increase in the common good. Workers who contribute more effort than others to the common good acquire the right to receive a greater portion of the social product than ungenerous, idle and disorganized workers.” Trotsky: Terrorism and Communism, ed. 10-18, Paris, 1963, p. 257.
Lenin seems not to lag too far behind. In his writings and speeches from that period he repeatedly proposed that Russia should learn from the advanced capitalist countries and convince itself that it was necessary to adopt capitalist “rationalization,” methods of capitalist management and “capitalist work incentives.”
It seems that these men who were the self-proclaimed vanguard of the labor movement marched well to its rear.
Concerning the response provided by the Bolshevik leadership, Greek philosopher and psychoanalyst Cornelius Castoriadis points out:
... the same means cannot be used indifferently at the service of different ends; … an intrinsic relationship exists between the instruments that are used and the results that one obtains; … neither the army nor the factory are simple “means” or “instruments” but social structures where there are organized two fundamental forms of relations between people (production and violence)…
(For Lenin and Trotsky)… it is only about the development of production, and to accomplish that they urge using those methods and structures that have demonstrated that they work. The fact that, among those “demonstrations” the principal one would constitute the development of “capitalism” as a social system, that is to say that a factory doesn’t only produce fabric or steel, but also proletarians and capital, that was unworthy of attention.
I believe that these reflections by Castoriadis are a useful analysis of the current Cuban situation, especially now that “the principal concern is economic development” and that we are amid a wave of layoffs in which the bosses will ultimately be the ones who decide who will end up on the street.
There is now being born in Cuba (or was it always here?) a new labor opposition and it would be magnificent if it didn’t succumb to the rhetoric and the pressures of the “vanguard.”