Sunday, October 26, 2008

I just finished reading State Capitalism and World Revolution by C. L. R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, and Grace Lee [Boggs], the founders of what came to be known as the "Forest-Johnson Tendency," after the pseudonyms that James and Dunayevskaya used in many of their first collaborative projects. The book is incredibly timely because it confronts the question of what socialism is. Right now, there are two public debates running concurrently, both of which use the term "socialism" rather liberally. The first has to do with Obama's plan for moderate tax cuts to the middle and lower classes and tax hikes for the wealthy. The specter of socialism is raised here, and strenuously denied by the Obama camp, simply as a tactic to divert the argument from tax policy to political philosophy. I don't think it is worth discussing. The second deals with the Treasury's billions of dollars in loans to banks and their plan (TARP) to buy up hundreds of billions in bad assets; this move amounts to strong-arming taxpayers into becoming corporate investors in incredibly risky ventures. The claim is that this is state socialism - the state is stepping in to take control of the banks, and becoming de facto socialist. But State Capitalism and World Revolution takes aim against precisely this notion of socialism, i.e. the Stalinist, Titoist model of state "socialism." They argue that centralization in the state and state property is capitalism of a specific kind: state capitalism. Instead of Capitalists, you have bureaucrats, but their function is essentially the same; they are to keep power out of the hands of the proletariat, to keep the workers chained to the factories, and to work at the constant intensification of labor. Russian Stakhanovism is the same as American Taylorism:
With the Stakhanovites, the bureaucratic administration acquires a social base, and alongside, there grows the instability and cirsis in the economy. It is the counter-revolution of state-capital.
In capitalism, surplus value amasses in the hands of individual capitalists and capitalist trusts. Under Stalin, on the other hand, it amasses in the hands of the state. The results, seen from the standpoint of the workers, are identical: constant intensification of labor, prevention of unionization, by force if necessary, the growth of a managerial class to keep workers on pace and prevent worker uprisings. What State Capitalism and World Revolution highlights is that 1) not only can the means of production be nationalized without being socialized, but 2) nationalization manifests itself as the concentration of wealth at the expense of the working majority. In a word, TARP is not socialism except insofar as socialism has been equated with Stalinism in this country, the better to demonize it. James, Dunayevskaya, and Lee confront the claims that nationalization is tantamount to socialism. Instead, they argue that the task for the Fourth International (which is the major anti-Stalinist Socialist body circa 1950, the year of the composition of SC&WR) is to denounce all state dictatorships in favor of World Revolution. The discussions on the possibility for revolution right now (as opposed to 1950, when the world did see various revolutions in the so-called "third world") are numerous, and I will not go into the account here. Virtually every paper written in the humanities makes what has been called by one of my colleagues the "shrug toward Utopia." If nothing else, this book offers a set of principals through which to view the scare-tactics of anti-socialism in our own period, and also a lens with which to view the strategy of Paulson, which I think can only facetiously be called "socialism."

3 comments:

Ludwik Kowalski said...

The term Stalinism is now used in so many contexts that one can be confused.
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Those who know very little about the true Stalinism might learn a lot from my short and easy-to-read 2008 book entitled "Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist Regime." The book (ISBN 978-1-60047-232-9) can be ordered online, for example, at

www.amazon.com

or from a large bookstore, like Barnes&Noble or Borders. Excerpts are at:

http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/excerpts.html

Please share this URL with those who might be interested.

P.S. It is not a scholarly volume with new information or ideas; it is an educational book for those who know very little about tragic aspects of Soviet history. It mixes well-known facts, described by survivors of gulag camps, with comments and observations worth discussing.

As shown on the back cover, the book was not written to make money (royalties are committed to a scholarship fund); it was written to expose horrors of proletarian dictatorship. The book is dedicated to all victims of Stalinism, including my idealistic father. My goal is to place as many of its copies as possible in homes, libraries and bookstores. But that is a very difficult task, especially for a self-published author. Would you, or someone you know, be able to review my book for a local, or not-so-local, newspaper? A review would probably convince bookstores that the book is worth ordering.

Pasting the above book information into messages to potential readers, librarians and bookstore owners would be highly appreciated. The topic deserves it.

Thank you for your help.
Ludwik Kowalski, Ph.D.

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traxus4420 said...

this is a good article on theories of state capitalism and the current crisis (less alarmist than you might expect as it was published october 2nd).

traxus4420 said...

on second thought, that article has some serious problems that come in part from its age (the most recent action is the fannie mae/freddie mac takeover in early september). i think paulson and the treasury's actions since the 1st 700 billion plan can hardly be described as an attempt to shore up the system in the abstract.

as with '90s post-berlin wall globalization the rest of the world's capitalist powers may be interested in stabilizing the system, but the u.s. administration is still powergaming. i mean the original plan would basically have turned paulson into the manager of the biggest hedge fund in the universe. the plan has been moderated but you have to keep in mind the original attempt to understand current motivations. the real question is whether the next administration is going to join the international state capitalist consensus or continue building the private safety dome.