Sunday, 27 June 2010

Marxism as a Middle Class Ideology

The abstract below circulated on Historical Materialism's announcement's list is interesting. Alberto Martínez Delgado's doctoral thesis, An exploration of the Class Character of the Marxist Conception of Right argues Marxism is not an expression of proletarian experience, interests and aspirations. Instead it speaks to and articulates the outlook of an intermediary class of organisers different to and independent of the working class and the bourgeoisie. Before anyone dismisses Delgado out of hand, there are two points that make it at least worthy of consideration. The experience of Stalinism and national liberation struggles demonstrates how Marxism, or at least bastardised versions of it, were attractive to intelligentsias and other technocratic class fractions: a development Tony Cliff tried to get to grips with via his notion of deflected permanent revolution. Secondly Delgado locates his project within the critical realist tradition, itself an offshoot (often an esoteric one at that) of Marxism. In other words, he is "one of us" and his argument should be treated as coming from within Marxism rather than as a neoconservative or pomo attack from without.

Hopefully I'll find time later in the week to write something more about Delgado's thesis. While middling "organising" layers do secrete their own ideologies I do not think Marxism can be described as one of them. Here's the abstract for readers interested in learning more (it's been slightly altered to improve the standard of translation from the Spanish):
The aim of this thesis is to analyse the hypothesis that Marxism – including its juridical ideas - does not correspond to a proletarian class character. Rather, it offers conclusive signs of being representative of the interests of a new
rising social class in the capitalist society: the socialist class, the managerial class, the cadres class or the organizers class.

This central hypothesis is divided into three hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1 (socio-economic): the evolution of capitalist society engenders from the start a rising social class different from the proletariat: the organizers class; whose social functions justify its aspiration for a new economic, social and juridical structure of the society, and of the State, under its rule.

Hypothesis 2 (socio-ideological): the new emergent social class, in accordance with its own social development generates as its own ideology the Marxist socialist theory, a characteristic ideology of the new social class of the cadres, organizers, managers, or socialist class; especially of its revolutionary sector.

Hypothesis 3 (juridical): the juridical Marxist conception agrees with the interests and with the general ideology of the socialist or cadres class.

The experience of the countries of 'actually existing socialism' is a crucial support for our thesis. However, the thesis does not focus on the generalised historical lessons of the experience, but on their 'official' Marxist ideologies and on sociological and historical data about the cadres social class. This allows for a new hypothesis to emerge to explain contradictions within these societies (until their reversion to capitalism) and inside their official doctrines. This boils down to divisions between the orthodox/revolutionary tendency and the revisionist/reformist one, corresponding to the 'state-centralist' cadres and the 'enterpriselist-decentralist' cadres.

From an epistemological viewpoint, our investigation can be located in the scientific tradition of social inquiry; of trying to achieve a degree of objectivity in our knowledge, best exemplified by critical realism. The materialist approach of Marxism, which focuses on production and social classes, appears dissociated from dialectical thinking. Our materialist view connects the sociological analysis of societies, capitalist and socialist, with the “suspicion hermeneutics” of which is a a good example Marx himself: “... and just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge a revolutionary period by its consciousness, …” (
Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy).

14 comments:

maps said...

The left-wing American sociologist Alvin Gouldner put forward the same sort of argument back in the
'70s - he thought Marxism was the natural expression of the interests of intellectuals. Martin Jay, who is best-known for his studies of the Frankfurt School, has a good essay about Gouldner's work in his book Fin de Sciecle Socialism.

james said...

Interesting. I stumbled across a book in a charity shop the other day which argued that the radicalisation of the Labour Party during the '70s and '80s was a response to increasing influence of the middle class. It was written by a member of the SDP...

The only radical argument for this I theory I can think of is Michael Albert's "co-ordinatorism" as a way of describing "actually existing" socialism - power residing with a ruling class of co-ordinators. I can't recall if he develops this in historical terms, but it could be argued that as industrial capitalism necessarily required a layer of people who are paid wages for superindendance - and to whom the model of state socialism would appeal.

I recall Toni Negri speaking in a documentary about how his father, an agricultural labourer, wanted nothing more than to be able to send his son to university so that he didn't have to do back-breaking work. Perhaps the appeal of Marxism for the managerial class would be that it provides the basis for solidarising with the managed?

Arthur Bough said...

The problem it seems to me is that as with many other such critiques what it is actually dealing with is not Marx's Marxism, but the Marxism of those who followed him, and indeed of those of Marx's contemporaries like Lassalle who shaped that later movement.

The bourgeoisie have been most guilty of that, and often not from a dishonest motivation. I've lost count of how many bouregois critiques attribute Lassalle's "Iron Law of Wages" to Marx, despite the fact that marx argued bitterly against it. That is not, however, surprising because the idea of "immiseration" has been one that has been prominent in the "Marxist" movement right up to today.

One of the best exposes I think is Hal Draper's Two Souls of Socialism. In one part there he refers to a US academic who is forced to admit that there is no element of Statism in Marx's theory, but who falls back on, "but Marxism is statist because look at the experience in states that call themselves Marxist"!

In fact, if you look at Marx & Engels activity as well as their writing this criticism of being "organisers" is wide of the mark. It is however true of Leninists, but that is to equate Leninism with Marxism. Leninism does contain a large chunk of Marxism, but as a descendant of the Second International it contains far more Lassalleanism.

Marx & Engels stressed the idea of not forcing ideas down the workers throats, but of allowing them to learn themselves. In the First International they argued against being prescriptive for that reason. For example, on Co-ops they set out as part of the programme that workers should establish Co-ops, they even set out what they beleived was necesary for them to be succesful, but they refused to dictate to workers that they should establish Co-ops that fitted some definite model. That was their attitude to the Workers Party too, to act as a wing of it, and to educate the workers in struggle to show how every setback was due to an inadequate programme.

I think that what we have is a critique of "Marxists" not Marxism. And as marx once said of such Marxists, "If this is Marxism then I am no Marxist."

Mark P said...

My strong suspicion, without yet knowing more about Delgado than is contained in the abstract, is that his paper is likely to be anarchoid gibberish.

SamG said...

I think there is a heavy dose of academia is not for the plebs about things like this.

Paul Mattick wrote about these issues so they are nothing new, just that he, being ‘one of us’, knew the difference between Marxism and Marxist.
From what you have said here I really can’t take this Delgado in good faith.

Mattick is well worth reading incidentally:

http://www.marxists.org/archive/mattick-paul/index.htm

gray said...

Arthur Bough makes some pretty good observations.

I couldn't help thinking that Delgado is one of those writers who is out to prove a prejudice.

Marxism - if one must use that nonsense expression - has always been part of the proletarian movement. It's a hoary old myth that socialism/communism started with Marx and Engels and that they are the ones who created the entire set of theory, (Dietzgen, anyone?). And of course, the nature of exploitation, the class basis of society and the establishment of common ownership are directly in the interests of the working class.

In fact, it could be said that marxism was perverted and distorted first in the years after the Russian revolution to give some sort of justification to Soviet state capitalism.

The abstract is most applicable (only with "marxism" replaced by "leninism") when applied to National Liberation struggles. The old imperialist/colonial powers were replaced by a brand new ruling class, who had used "socialism" and "anti-imperialism" in their ideological struggles. If that is accepted, then that begs the question as to why the western left have supported such national liberation groups; it would mean they were supporting one bunch of blood sucking bandits against another band of blood sucking bandits

jgw said...

Castoriadis (aka Paul Cardin and Pierre Chaulieu) makes a similar point. But, as people have already noted, those arguing this position are not discussing Marxism but people who used (and use) the discourse of Marxism to say something else.

Arthur Bough is correct to bring up Draper's The Two souls of Socialism in this context. One thing I disagree with on, however, is his assertion that Lenin was a Lassallean of sorts. Lenin was a Marxist, straight down the line, who eventually saw through the Second International. The State and Revolution, for example, was an essential text in helping re-establish the the Marxist tradition as, of course, was the Russian Revolution itself.

Boffy said...

I don't think Lenin was a marxist straight down the line. I think he was conflicted. In much of his analysis Lenin applies the Marxist Method. State & Revolution is a good example of that - "Imperialism" not so much. But, ultimately, Lenin was a practical revolutionary in the tradition of the Great French Revolution. He saw the need for a Revolution in Russia - primarily he beleived a bourgeois revolution, and set about the practical tasks to achieve it under the specifically Russian conditions. Hence his comments about what was needed specifically in Russia as opposed to western Europe as regards the Party, as set out in "What Is To Be Done?"

In that regard he also ditches Marx's Mistorical Materialsm, in particular what Marx says in the Critique of the Gotha Programme about the State being a product of Civil Society and not vice versa as the Lassalleans had it. He does so because under the specific Russian conditions of a tiny, backward working class Marx's concept of socialist revolution as stemming from the "winning of the battle of democracy" i.e. winning over the majority of workers (who also form a majority of society)to a conscious belief in Socialism, is impossible. He says so explicitly, which is his argument instead for the idea of a Vanguard, and of the Party as the Vanguard of the Vanguard.

The idea that this Vanguard captures the State, and then transforms Civil Society, thereby transforming Social relations, which in turn transforms workers conscioussness, is the very opposite to Marxism. It is Lassallean statism. It cannot work, precisely because the timescales involved in transforming conscioussness are too great, and something has to fill the vaccuum in the meantime. That something is the bureaucracy.

That is why whatever Lenin SAID in S&R, which is his Marxist side in analysis mode, the reality was immediately after the the seizure of power, that the Tsarist officials had to be brought back, the former Managers had to be brought back to manage the firms, and so on. It wasn't Stalin who created the bureaucracy it was Lenin's revolutionary model.

The irony is that Draper refuses to actually draw that conclusion in the Two Souls. He can't, because he was a follower of Shachtman who himself had this elitist conception that workers cannot achieve a socialist conscioussness until after the revolutioanry vanguard have seized power for them, and have begun to transform society from the top down.

Ken said...

The experience of Stalinism and national liberation struggles demonstrates how Marxism, or at least bastardised versions of it, were attractive to intelligentsias and other technocratic class fractions:

Isn't this argument rather undercut by the experience of most socialist revolutions, where the great bulk of 'the intelligentsia and other technocratic class fractions' have usually taken to exile or - at least initial -opposition? The Russian intelligentsia as a whole was by no means sympathetic to the October revolution. And the technical and managerial layers in capitalism are generally to the right the closer they are to the actual organization of production. The left and liberal intelligentsia are usually drawn from or at least educated in the social sciences (and 'social work' of various kinds), the arts, and to some extent from the natural sciences, rather than from the production organisers who would (as it happens) do rather well in a planned economy.

I don't think this is a stereotype - I was politically active at Brunel as a Mech Eng postgrad, and the only left-winger I met in that department was a CP member. Most of the left on campus came from the social sciences, pure sciences, or arts - except among the many radical students from overseas, who were usually doing some business or technical course (and often had to very circumspect about their politics).

Re 'leninism': over at Kasama, an article by Lars T. Lih is presented over a very interesting series of posts. It demolishes the legend that Lenin's 'What is to be Done?' is about the dominance of intellectuals (and quite a few other legends about it).

Boffy said...

Its quite right that "What Is To be Done?" has been grossly distorted by the "Leninist/Trotskyist" sects. They have taken what Lenin says about a "Party of Professionals", and turned it into a fetish about the need to create parties made up of "pure", 100% committed revolutionaries. Of course, such a Party would make a virtue out of being small and select, and that virtue just happens to fit with the necessity of these sects to be tiny and self-selecting, because they are not able to appeal to and gain wider working-class support.

In fact, what lenin was talking about was the need to have a "professional" core within the Workers Party able to deal with the conditions of a Police State in Russia. They would be able to produce the Party paper, and so on without being arrested every 5 minutes. But, his idea of what the Workers party should be was modelled on the German SPD. His notion of "professional" here he sets out as meaning that its Palriamentary representatives should be able to talk to all layers of society on an equal footing, should udnerstand the problems facing all layers of society, and so on.

This is not the problem with Lenin's position as I set out above. It is the kernel within WITBD where he speaks about limiting the "freedom of criticism" in order to avoid being dragged down into the swamp, which in large part was a reaction to the fact that it was the mensheviks who had the majority of theoreticians. It was lenin's tendency to take this to the extent of continually threatening to split if he didn't get his own way - which he was threatening with the April Theses and before, for instance - his willingness to play fast and loose with demcoratic principles - the first "Lenin Levy" was by Lenin himself where he brought in masses of workers in "April" who voted through the Theses against the opposition of the "Old" Bolsheviks, and led to many of them defecting to the Mensheviks.

And, that tendency had been heightened with the debates with the reformist and centrists leading up to the First World War, and the consequent split in the World Workers Movement. Its all those elements of "Leninism" that have plagued the movement ever since.

Chris said...

If only Lenin had had the wise advice of the modern left to guide his actions, history could have been so much different!

Just like capitalism, socialism will need management, budgetary control, costing, planning, accountancy, statistics, monitoring, experts, risk assessment and all the other bland tools needed to run an efficient and effective modern system. The idea that socialism represents a rise of this ‘class’ assumes they are somehow of insignificance under capitalism. To those who believe this I would say you need to get out more.

Jacob Richter said...

For some reason I think this paper is more "academic Marxist" garbage.

Coming from the perspective of helping to spearhead a Kautsky Revival both historically and politically, a more accurate assessment of the "Marxist tradition" (even when not considering bastardizations) is one of *vacillation* between the proletariat and Albert-Hahnel's coordinator class.

One of the reasons for this was a lack of consistency in applying a workers-only membership policy in political parties. The idea that non-workers (lawyers, self-employed, small-business people, managerial elements, tenured professors, and even the odd person high up in finance) could "declasse" and become ideologically "proletarian" is nonsense.

Another and related reason is the Marxist defense of the concept of *elections* - thought of to be oligarchic and democratic by the classical Greek philosophers. Thus, already among Delgado's so-called "cadres class," you have "thinkers" at the top and "grunts" at the bottom.

Ludwik Kowalski said...

1) There are many kinds of social engineers. Some of them are Marxists. How to distinguish a Marxist from a non-Marxist? Everyone who believes that the proletarian dictatorship is needed, after the overthrow of capitalism, to improve social conditions, is a Marxist. The idea of proletarian dictatorship unites all kinds of communists, Stalinists, Trotskyites, Leninists, etc. Anarchists, are not Marxists because they are against any form of state (capitalist and socialist). But all communists are Marxists and all Marxists are communists. These social engineers, like Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union, form parties that are said to be "the vanguards of proletariat."

A) Failure of Bolsheviks, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, is a very powerful arguments against Marxs' idea of proletarian dictatorship. But some disagree, saying that the theory is good but it was not applied properly.

B) Some of you might also be interested the gift described below.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

My two books are now ON-LINE and FREE. Anyone can read them by using a browser--any browser. The titles and the links are shown below.

1) "Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist regime."

      http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/father2/introduction.html


2) “Diary of a Former Communist: Thoughts, Feelings, Reality.”

      http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/life/intro.html


Some have said that my books are "imperialist propaganda" and "cold war relics." I was not commissioned to write them. The books are dedicated to my parents, and to all other victims of Stalinism. Writing was a moral obligation for me.

The first book was written for Americans who know very little about Soviet history. In addition to easy-to-read descriptions of Soviet proletarian dictatorship, the book discusses communist morality (Section 3.7), and the results of a survey of American students’ knowledge about Stalin (Section 4.5). Chapter 7 illustrates how Stalinism has been discussed by professors at one American university.

The second book is an autobiography illustrating my evolution from one extreme to another--from a devoted Stalinist to an active anti-communist. This testimony is based on a diary I kept between 1946 and 2004 (in the USSR, Poland, France and the USA).

Please share the links above with a potential reviewer, and with others who might also be interested, especially young people, and their teachers. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated.

Thank you in advance,

Ludwik Kowalski
Professor Emeritus
Montclair State University (USA)

Ludwik Kowalski said...

1) There are many kinds of social engineers. Some of them are Marxists. How to distinguish a Marxist from a non-Marxist? Everyone who believes that the proletarian dictatorship is needed, after the overthrow of capitalism, to improve social conditions, is a Marxist. The idea of proletarian dictatorship unites all kinds of communists, Stalinists, Trotskyites, Leninists, etc. Anarchists, are not Marxists because they are against any form of state (capitalist and socialist). But all communists are Marxists and all Marxists are communists. These social engineers, like Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union, form parties that are said to be "the vanguards of proletariat."

2) Failure of Bolsheviks, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, is a very powerful arguments against Marxs' idea of proletarian dictatorship. But some disagree, saying that the theory is good but it was not applied properly.

3) Some of you might also be interested in a gift described below. How can a retired teacher resist temptations to share what he knows and things?

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

My two books are now ON-LINE and FREE. Anyone can read them by using a browser--any browser. The titles and the links are shown below.

1) "Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist regime."
      h*ttp://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/father2/introduction.html (remove the *)

2) “Diary of a Former Communist: Thoughts, Feelings, Reality.”

h*ttp://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/life/intro.html (remove *)

Some have said that my books are "imperialist propaganda" and "cold war relics." I was not commissioned to write them. The books are dedicated to my parents, and to all other victims of Stalinism. Writing was a moral obligation for me.

The first book was written for Americans who know very little about Soviet history. In addition to easy-to-read descriptions of Soviet proletarian dictatorship, the book discusses communist morality (Section 3.7), and the results of a survey of American students’ knowledge about Stalin (Section 4.5). Chapter 7 illustrates how Stalinism has been discussed by professors at one American university.

The second book is an autobiography illustrating my evolution from one extreme to another--from a devoted Stalinist to an active anti-communist. This testimony is based on a diary I kept between 1946 and 2004 (in the USSR, Poland, France and the USA).

Please share the links above with a potential reviewer, and with others who might also be interested, especially young people, and their teachers. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated.

Thank you in advance,

Ludwik Kowalski
Professor Emeritus
Montclair State University (USA)