Late August, Indian workers preparing for general strike, in  Sept;  160 million workers went on strike.

Late August, Indian workers preparing for general strike, in Sept; 160 million workers went on strike.

by Susil Gupta, 17 November 2016

I was warned that my controversial article (here) would raise some hackles but, to be truthful, I had hoped for some intelligent counter-blasts. 

Orwell once said that a Communist was “part gramophone, part gangster.” My old comrade Russell is not a gangster, but he is certainly all gramophone. Since his post is so paradigmatic of the rotting or ossified nature of Leftist western thinking, it is worth taking up his post (here) in detail. 

First, note that Russell does not engage with any point made in my article.  Like a tiresome Jehova’s Witness on your doorstep, he just repeats the same old religion.  Let’s take point by point. 

“I hadn’t realised you guys were so down on the metropolitan working classes!”

By ‘metropolitan’ Russell means ‘Western’, a usage that goes back to the 1960s where his thinking is firmly and obdurately stuck. In those distant times there were few non-western cities with a population of more than a million. As I have pointed out on this blog, (https://rdln.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/imperialism-study-group-some-notes-on-the-changing-global-working-class/), China now has 105 cities with more than a million inhabitants, and by 2030 will have 148 million-people cities. Shanghai alone has 25 million inhabitants, which is about as ‘metropolitan’ as it gets. India has 58, and Latin America has 67. The EU has 34 such urban areas and the US 45. In China and many other Asian countries there are massive industrial areas and factories that have no parallel in the West. 

Russell, and much of the old Western Left, still seem to labour under the self-serving illusion that billions of people in the global ‘South’ live in villages, work in paddy fields, survive on a daily bowl of rice, and are incapable, poor things, of organised radical politics. What else explains such an obstinate refusal to face reality? 

When I entered radical politics over 40 years ago the European Left was at least a power to be reckoned with, and Marxism was taken to be a serious danger. Today the Left in the privileged West has nothing. Zero. Left meetings are now largely a gathering of dead-beat geriatrics. Within the next ten years they will disappear. The Left is despised by the working class and ignored by the young. If you have no popular support, you have nothing. Zilch. But the idea that Marxism and Revolution belong properly in the West, and nowhere else, has to be defended like the last stand at the Alamo. So, despite a massive and growing literature in the bourgeois social sciences on the remarkable industrialization, proletarianization and urbanization of the ‘South’, the Left ignores it.

Finally, a personal note. After 35 misspent years ‘building socialism’ in the UK I was eventually forced to conclude – facts are stubborn things – that it was the ‘metropolitan working classes’ that are ‘down on Socialism’ or any kind of radical politics and took myself off to where I could be more useful, as revolutionaries used to do in a by-gone era.

“Maybe Gupta would call the relatively well-paid, but shrinking industrial working class here a labour aristocracy too? Our ruling elites certainly do.”

Well, Russell, Gupta would most certainly not. Firstly, I made no reference to a labour aristocracy whatsoever and, moreover, my argument entails a specific rejection of the theory of the labour aristocracy since I argue that all strata of the working class in the privileged West – even the poor – benefit from the exploitation of the South and have done so for a very long time. This has totally institutionalized or ‘nationalised’ working class politics into a tripartite pro-imperialist amalgam (capital-state-workers) from which the working class cannot now extricate itself, and of which the welfare state is its most finished expression. 

Not only does this make revolutionary or radical politics impossible – it makes reactionary nationalist welfarism inevitable as a response to the crisis (see Tony Norfield’s recent article here). If this were not so, the decline in popular living standards would have led, at the very least, to the poorer sections of the working class pulling away from the alleged influence of a labour aristocracy, and away from nationalistic solutions, xenophobia and support for imperialism. The reverse is true and overwhelmingly so. Far from fighting its class enemy as a way out of the crisis, the Western working class has opted for instead for the only thing it knows and trusts: imperialist and capitalist entrenchment expressed as the defence of the welfare state against all foreign threats, imagined or real.  When the strategic outlook of the working class is dominated by the idea that its own bourgeoisie, by going global and international, has let national capitalism down, there is noting for socialists to do.

The labour aristocracy theory is a piece of junk, developed to foster the comforting illusion that only a very few privileged workers benefit from imperialist exploitation and lead the mass of workers astray, a mass that would otherwise join Left organizations and fight for Socialism. Without this illusion, the Western Left would have to face reality and, like Russell’s old organization, take a decision to pack up and abandon revolutionary politics completely. Privileged Western elites do not need the assistance of a labour aristocracy to dupe the workers into supporting imperialism because their state-provided privileges and benefits that speak louder than words.   

Secondly, note also the thoroughly dishonest way of arguing: “Our ruling elites certainly do.” I was unaware that ruling elites had adopted the labour aristocracy theory. Why they should do so is baffling.  But I suspect that what Russell really means is that if you say the same things as ruling elites do, or appear to do so, your argument must be capitalist as well. It’s a familiar Stalinist smear technique.  Perhaps there is something of the gangster in Russell after all. 

“This stuff reads a bit like David Yaffe of old in his ANC-loving third worldist phase or the old IMG”.

For those of younger years who may not know who either was/is, let me explain. David Yaffe’s Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism organization has made a career out of defending third world liberation movements. It strongly and uncritically supported the ANC. I never have, the ANC being the architect of the defeat of the South African working class in the transition from apartheid. Yaffe also defends Cuba as a model of Socialism. I never have. In shining contrast to the rest of Latin America, Cuba does the best it can to help its people. But it is not Socialism. 

For a while the International Marxist Group defended third world insurrectionary movements such as Che Guevara’s misguided adventures in Bolivia as ‘the way forward’. The ‘theory of revolutionary bases’ argued that in the rural third world, revolutionary organizations could establish popular movements, taking advantage of the army’s weakness in the countryside. Such movements, having rallied the rural masses, could then move on the towns and topple the state. The Cuban revolution appeared to support such a strategy, although it is not what actually happened. 

Both these phenomena belong to a different era, where Russell still resides, and have absolutely nothing to do with anything I have argued. My argument is based on the massive proletarianization and urbanization of the ‘South’ and their inevitable consequences for working class politics.  

 

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Comments
  1. Lycaon says:

    “When I entered radical politics over 40 years ago the European Left was at least a power to be reckoned with, and Marxism was taken to be a serious danger.”

    The above may have been Susil’s perception of the European Left forty years ago, but did it correspond to reality or Left wishful thinking and self delusion?

    The main battalions of the left forty years ago consisted of the Social Democratic parties and the “official” communist parties such as the PCF, PCI, CPGB, PCE, etc all of which had strong links with their respective working classes.

    The Social Democratic parties of the Second International were avowedly pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist after WW II, so there is little need to discuss them any further. The “official” Communist parties, were, despite their radical phrase-mongering and mass memberships, not organisations of working class self-emancipation but tools of the Soviet foreign policy. As far as the Soviet state and ruling bureaucracy were concerned, the post-war European Communist Parties were instruments to lever West European ruling classes and regimes in a direction less antagonistic and more favourable to coexistence with the USSR.

    Being under the thumb of the bureaucracies of the official Communist parties from the 1920s into the 1990s had a catastrophic effect on the intellectual and political culture of the entire Left. Millions of honest cadre were mis-educated, treated like imbeciles, and brought up on a diet of constant lies and reactionary anti-Marxist swill fed to them by all knowing and all powerful bureaucracies modelled in the Stalinist mould. In actuality, these parties worked to weaken the working classes and contain them in the political cage of the settlement between the great powers after the Second World War.

    As Hillel Ticktin has argued, from the 1920s Stalinism stabilised capitalism and made it impossible to build a workers’ party that could carry through a socialist revolution.

    Far from being the revolutionary force or danger that Susil perceived them to be, the Left and the Stalinist Communist parties were, up to their waning in the 1980s, a structural pillar of the post-war capitalist order.

    Unfortunately this legacy of Social Democracy and Stalinism did not disappear with these parties.

    Today the working classes everywhere still associate socialism and communism with the catastrophes of Stalinism, while the politically active Left, including the minuscule forces the Trotskyist left, remains mired in the rotten anti-Marxist Stalinist political culture in which generations of Left wing cadre were steeped after circa 1925.

    These facts underlie the prevailing common sense which is milked to maximum political advantage by the bourgeoisie everywhere today.

    • daphna says:

      Lycaon, it seems to me your points back up Susil’s observation that the Left was a force 40 years ago. A big part of that Left included the non-revolutionary left. In New Zealand at least, not only has the revolutionary left been reduced to a tiny handful of people, but the left social democrats have not been able to rebuild. Numerous party building projects have flopped; so too have their attempts to regain seats in parliament over the past 15 years.

      Despite their shortcomings the former ‘socialist’ countries represented an alternative to capitalism that no longer exists. As capitalism is the only show in town – and workers in the West enjoy a level of relative privilege – their consciousness is shaped by that reality. I think this has a far greater effect than the anti-communist propaganda or critiques of the early attempts to build socialism. In addition, deindustrialisation has vastly changed the composition of the working class in the West.

      Also, forty years ago there were powerful national liberation movements with a socialist perspective, so an altogether different climate to today. In fact, it is almost 40 years since there has been a workers’ and peasants’ movement that has overthrown their ruling classes (Nicaragua).

      I think endless autopsies of the former communist parties and the socialist bloc are of little value nowadays. It is far more important we weigh up the forces that exist in the world today and find a way forward.

  2. Lycaon says:

    “it seems to me your points back up Susil’s observation that the Left was a force 40 years ago. ”

    Daphna,

    No, you are wrong. Whereas Susil claims to believe that the left was a serious revolutionary force 40 years ago, I cited Hillel Ticktin’s position (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillel_Ticktin) that the mass working class movements of the day, Stalinism and Social Democracy, worked to stabilise capitalism and made it objectively impossible to build a workers’ party that could carry through a socialist revolution.

    Nor were the USSR and its satellite states a viable mode of production. Ticktin shows that they were a historical abortion where, in the absence of either planning or the market, labour was forcibly extracted through coercion; hence the social control through the secret police, show trials and the use of labour camps.

    This abortive social formation, which was neither socialist nor capitalist, was a product of the Stalinist counter-revolution of 1928 that followed the isolation of the Russian revolution in the early 1920s. The abortive social formation created by the Stalinist counter-revolution was never a viable alternative to capitalism. Hence its ignominious collapse in 1991.

    We cannot blame the global working classes, as you and Susil apparently do, for their hostility to a Left which is associated with and continues to thoughtlessly reproduce the anti-Marxist politics and methods which it acquired under the tutelage of Stalinism.

    In response to your opposition to “endles autopsies” of the official Communist parties and regimes, I note that sweeping history and politics under the rug, imposing silences, all typically accompanied by outright lying about contentious subjects is the Stalinist method writ large. This Stalinist approach to politics and history is completely antithetical to Marxism.

    Less charitably, Jack Conrad has referred to proscriptions on discussion of the USSR as follows:

    “Replying to honest questioning evasively, with obfuscation, saying, in effect, that history does not matter or should be put aside, is certainly seen for exactly what it is. A crude attempt to gag awkward critics, a way to shrug off mass killings and a flimsy cover for an ongoing admiration of Stalin and bureaucratic socialism.” (See https://tinyurl.com/zoeo5u8 and https://tinyurl.com/zbl3xdp)

    • Daphna says:

      I see the first attempts at socialism in a far less negative light. It seems too one-sided to write them off as completely abortive attempts. After all we are talking about a movement that attracted and mobilised millions of workers, peasants, intellectuals and artists.

      There are so many differing opinions on what went wrong and these views have been debated for decades. Saying, ‘let’s stop the autopsies’ is not sweeping anything under the carpet, rather it is a recognition that my ability to alter the past is zilch.

      New revolutions will develop in different contexts shaped by their own conditions. What we lack is a good grasp on the world today, where our ability to effect change may be small but is real.

    • Admin says:

      Re: Lycaon

      It’s our policy to discourage people writing comments from using pseudonyms, especially when they make attacks on individual Redline collective members. If we wanted to use your language, we might suggest that you’re engaged in dishonesty and a form of Stalinism. The person being attacked is at a disadvantage as they neither know who you are (although some of us might guess!) or what politics you defend. We’ve let the comment above through, but you are now on moderation. You need to use your real name or let us know if there are serious security reasons why you can’t.

  3. Ha ha. It’s a bit over the top to write a whole blog post in reply to a three line comment?
    But this is very bad logic. Because the working class in Europe and the US is generally quiescent, does it follow that the working class in the ‘Third World’ is ‘warming up nicely’? Not at all. First it is far too broad a category. The working classes in different parts of the world are all operating in different circumstances. The large working class in Turkey, for example, was very active in support of the right wing Erdogan government and the popular opposition to the coup against him. Active? Yes. But in a right wing direction. So, too, did Egyptian labourers largely support the Muslim Brotherhood before the coup. Active, yes, but in a right wing direction. What of the workers in Thailand, or Indonesia? We see much activity, but with no obviously progressive intent. Much, indeed like the workers in Britain and America – reacting against neoliberalism, but not to the left.
    To draw attention to the decline in working class militancy in the North is reasonable, but to claim that the third world is on the move is without much foundation.
    You take issue with Russell Grinker for attributing a ‘labour aristocracy’ theory to you, but you wrote:

    ‘the Western working class is thoroughly and irredeemably imperialist, colonialist, arrogant and capitalist, that a working class that continually and substantially benefits from the exploitation of ‘lesser peoples’ can never set itself free ‘.

    That is a labour aristocracy theory, and it is wrong. The working class in Britain and America does not substantially, or any other way, benefit from the exploitation of ‘lesser peoples’. No working class, being itself exploited, could at the same time benefit from the exploitation of others. Exploitation is not a moral category. It means that the producing class is exploited, i.e. it produces more than it consumes, and that surplus is given up to the exploiting class.
    In the US the working class produces output of around $18 trillion. It gets back in pay 44 per cent of that. Who is the US working class exploiting? It is exploited.

    All that you are saying when you say that the ‘the Western working class is thoroughly and irredeemably imperialist, colonialist, arrogant and capitalist’ is that the left wing political appeal that you are making is not very effective. Instead of blaming the working classes for that, you need to start looking at what is wrong with what you are saying to them.

    In the first instance, you might start by considering how effective an appeal this is:

    ‘Hey, you, you irredeemably imperialist, colonialist, arrogant and capitalist workers, fight against the system!’

    Fuck me. Who needs to parody the left when they so comprehensively parody themselves.

  4. Phil says:

    James, the argument wasn’t that the working class in the imperialist world *exploits* anyone. This is a ‘straw man’ argument. Of course, they are exploited. The issue was that imperialism creates super-profits and some of these super-profits are used to buy class peace in the West by providing all kinds of benefits for the working class in the imperialist countries. Marx and Engels noted this of Britain in the 1800s, Lenin noted it in his theory of imperialism (and in examining the material basis for opportunism in the mass social-democratic parties of the Second International). Etc etc.

    In terms of appealing to the working class. . . well, you were part of the RCP and the RCP failed. Can you show me please where their, or your, critique of that failure is? After all, it would be a bit cheeky to say what you said about our failure without having dealt with exactly the same failure of the project that you were part of (and which did influence a few of us). Perhaps that failure had something to do with the RCP’s politics being crap (maybe it did but, personally, I don’t think so) or perhaps it had something to do with the material conditions prevailing in Britain, part of which is the British working class having the buffer of a welfare state which is partly possible because of the fruits of imperialism (more likely, in my view).

    Your last two sentences are kind of amusing, but they have little connection to what Redline says. What this blog overwhelmingly says to workers in NZ is that they can’t, and won’t, be free until they start to see themselves as members of a *global class* and act in accordance with that – championing opposition to imperialist intervention in the Third World, campaigning for open borders etc etc.

    Moreover, you have conflated Susil and us. Susil, as always, expresses his views in a forthright manner – generally something to be welcomed, as I’m sure you’d agree – but he has his name as an individual on what he wrote. So to leap to suggesting what *we* at Redline say to NZ workers is a bit silly, isn’t it?

    Your reaction to Susil’s article seems rather an over-reaction.

    Lastly, the simple fact is that the bulk of the working class is no longer in the imperialist heartlands. Anyone who favours a world socialist revolution has to take cognisance of that and adjust their political activity accordingly. You seem to resent this new reality and play down another simple fact – the struggle in the Third World is *generally* more advanced than in the First World. Sorry James, but these days Britain ain’t the centre of the world. It is just an island off the coast of Europe with a set of pretensions based on a bygone era. It has a significant arms industry and a significant financial sector, but that’s it – most of its international status is artificial and maintained in no small part by its ‘special relationship’ with US imperialism. But, politically, it’s something of a backwater and revolutions are rather more likely to break out elsewhere.

    Phil

  5. That’s a very weird reply, Phil. I think I can’t take you seriously.