Friday, January 20, 2012

'Black Flame' and the Marxist tradition/s: Comments on Wayne Price's review of "Black Flame"

These are reproduced from the discussion at anarkismo, here

Comment 1: Some responses from an author
Hi Wayne
Thanks for all the positive comments, and for what I think is a fair summary of the book. In the same spirit of comradely engagement, I'd like to perhaps mention two areas where I disagree with your assessment. Again, I stress that I do this in an open spirit; like you, I despise petty squabbling, in favour of clear (and clarifying) debate.
a) on labels and 'sectarian' issues: I agree labels can be a bit tricky, but I don't really agree that insisting that anarchism = class struggle anarchism 'seems' 'pointless,' raises 'a terminological dispute which makes us look sectarian.'
We defined anarchism historically, and as accurately as possible. Without doing this, it is simply impossible to do a general history and analysis of anarchism (and syndicalism); this is why works like that of Peter Marshall tend to ramble, to have huge gaps and peculiar choices (in his case, including both Thatcher and Che in his history of anarchism...). To change the definition would radically change the book (and the book to follow).
I agree, of course, that the approach will offend some people, but I'd also insist that accuracy and terminology cannot (and should not) be shaped by current day political considerations (or by the confusion in the ‘anarchist’ milieu). That, I think that is tending a bit towards unprincipled opportunism. That is obviously not your intention, but I think it’s the logical consequence of your suggestion.
Conversely, I really don't think using the ‘anarchist’ label in a particular way prevents a discussion and a serious debate with people with whom anarchists disagree. In the English-speaking milieu, levels of debate are often extremely poor (I mean debate, not rants, labeling, etc.) and this is partly due to the fuzziness of many concepts deployed. It is difficult to debate if there is no clarity on what is being debated in the first place.
b) on Marxism: as the book states, there are tensions in Marx's own thought, and there are radically democratic elements, and there are also radically democratic traditions of Marxism e.g. Councilism.
However, to claim, as bluntly as you do, that 'Marx did not believe in a specific “strategy of the dictatorship of the proletariat” (p. 99) to create a state ruled by a centralized party,' as he merely meant 'the rule of the working class as a class, such as in the radically-democratic Paris Commune' is not accurate.
That is a very one-sided reading of Marx but its a-historical and misleading; it relies on a single text as the definitive statement of Marx's views and praxis, and ignores a host of materials that say something quite different. Many of these are cited in Black Flame, which does not rely on Lenin et al to paint the picture of Marxism.
On numerous occasions, Marx specifically called for precisely a 'state ruled by a centralized party' (Black Flame, p. 99), not least in the resolutions he forced through the rigged Hague Congress of the IWMA in 1872 after trying to 'expel' the anarchists. That is, the very year after he wrote The Civil War, he insisted that 'the proletariat can only act as a class by turning itself into a political party', aimed at the 'conquest of state power', with a 'proletarian dictatorship' based upon ‘centralisation' and 'force' (Hans Gerth, ed., The First International: Minutes of the Hague Conference of 1872, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1958, pp. 216-17, 285-86).
This was quite in line with the Communist Manifesto – which no one would dispute is the canonical Marxist document – which proposes as ‘generally applicable’ the following measures: ‘abolition of private property in land’, a ‘heavy progressive or graduated income tax’, ‘centralisation of credit in the hands of the state’, ‘centralisation of all means of communication and transport in the hands of the state’, ‘factories and instruments of production owned by the state’, ‘industrial armies, especially for agriculture.’ Moreover, the Marxists ‘always and everywhere represent the interests’ of the working class, because they ‘understand the line of march’ better than ‘the great mass’ (see Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1954, Henry Regnery, pp. 40, 55-56).
The overall outline of socialism in The Civil War was, moreover, never seriously proposed or implemented by the groups that Marx set up, going back to the Communist League, and carrying through to the German SDP, nor the Labour and Socialist International (after the anarchists were expelled) nor the Communist International. Nor was it the policy of any mass Marxist party or formation in the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries.
As you say, 'Despite his defects, Marx did not at all aim for the murderous totalitarian state capitalism of Soviet Russia or Communist China': we agree, and in fact say pretty much this on p. 24: 'The creation of the gulag system in the USSR, which placed tens of millions into concentration camps based on forced labour, was an integral part of the Soviet system, but was probably not part of Marx’s plan. The harsh circumstances under which the Russian Revolution and the establishment of the USSR took place obviously also left a profound imprint. The features of the USSR and the later Marxist regimes cannot, then, simply be reduced to Marxist politics.'
That does not, however, exonerate Marx himself, because the predominant element in his thought, his movement and (though we do not go into this third part in Black Flame), his personal political behaviour (e.g. the struggle against Weitling, Proudhon, Bakunin, his role on the IWMA etc.) was centralist and authoritarian. Just as we need to discuss anarchism (and syndicalism) historically, we need to discuss Marxism historically; just as we cannot reduce a history of Christianity to a study of the original gospels, but must look at its history, and which interpretations mattered historically, we must judge Marxism historically.
In no sense can the history of Marxism be delinked from, say, Communism, and in no way can Marx and the Marxist mainstream's stress on 'a highly centralized state, headed by a communist party, controlling labour and the other forces of production and claiming to be the sole repository of “scientific” truth,’ be sharply divorced from the ‘evolution of Marxism in the twentieth century into an ideology of dictatorship after dictatorship' (Black Flame, pp. 24-25).

The fact is that 'The history of Marxism in the third of the world once ruled by Marxist regimes is a part—the major part—of the history of Marxism' (p. 25). When we are discussing Marxism, we are not discussing hypothetical Marxisms that could have been, but an actual movement.
I agree with your insistence on breaking with the crude understanding of Marxism so common in the anarchist milieu, but equally, I cannot that Marx is basically radical-democrat maligned by the misreadings of posterity.
PS. you insist that 'Marx did not think that commodity prices were directly due to the labor-time invested in the commodity (its value)' because he purportedly 'thought that the relation between labor-time values and prices was indirect and complicated (what has been called the ‘transformation problem.’).’
Black Flame's formulations are rather more qualified: that 'Marx, like Proudhon, used a labour theory of value; he argued that only living labour created new value, and that value underpinned prices. All things being equal, and given the operation of a competitive market system that equalised prices for given commodities, the price of a commodity must correspond closely to the “socially necessary” or average labour time used to produce it... Marx spoke of the exchange values of commodities, set in production by labour time, as determining prices' (p. 86). Moreover, 'Marx admitted that prices could vary somewhat according to supply and demand ...' (p. 89).
I think this is a fair summary of Marx. In Value, Price and Profit chapter 2 Marx states that, in a situation of market equilibrium, market prices correspond to 'natural prices,' which are 'determined by the respective quantities of labor required for their production.' In Capital III, chapter 9, Marx insists that prices are still obtained from values, but this 'general law' only applies at the level of combined capital in given spheres of production (as alluded to Black Flame p. 88).

Comment 2: Marx and the DOP
Wayne, as always, I appreciate your thoughtful comments and comradely style. But I do not agree with your claims regarding Marx and the "dictatorship of the proletariat" (DOP).

There is a direct link between the Marxist regimes, and the thought of Marx.

Admittedly, there are "many tensions and ambiguities in Marx’s thought," including democratic elements, but, equally, there is a very clear, central "authoritarian and statist" thrust as well (Black Flame, p. 24).

Draper placed the most democratic, feel-good spin on Marx's authoritarian and statist elements, but that does not make them vanish; they can't be vanished by waving Draper. And whatever Draper may have thought, the fact is that 99% of Marxists did not (and do not) agree with him, and there are libraries of Marxist literature to this effect. These views - this reading of Marx's work - is by the way very much in line with what Bakunin viewed as the core project of Marxism (admittedly Bakunin did not read Draper, but he knew and directly debated, both formally and informally, with Marx and Engels).

Nor is Draper's scholarship unimpeachable, as his calumnies against Bakunin, his mispresentation of the Commune, his presentation of Lenin as a radical democrat, his defence of Trotsky's terrorism against the popular classes etc., all attest.

Why exactly we should take Draper's views on the real meaning of "every goddamned incidence" of Marx's views on the DOP as more accurate than, for example, Lenin's views on the exact same matter? Or frankly, than the views on the matter of the historic anarchist tradition, which competed with and debated Marxist mass movements for well over a century?

Draper, then, simply cannot be taken as the authoritative source on all things regarding Marx and the DOP; he does not have that status or recognition among most Marxists.

Secondly, in a world where the history of Marxism rested on Draper's idiosyncratic views, that history would perhaps be very different to what it was; however, we are not dealing in hypotheticals.

Every single Marxist regime, ever, has been a dictatorship; every single major Marxist party, ever, either renounced Marxism for social democracy, or, remaining revolutionary, acted as apologists for dictatorships (that includes all Communists and Trotskyists, including the ISO, which still exonerates the Lenin-Trotsky period - on the same lines as Draper), or actually headed brutal dictatorships.

Debating what Marx "really meant” is vastly less important than what Marxism was (and is) (although of course it fits very well with the almost theological culture of Marx studies, where Marx is always assumed to be right, and where debates are settled by quote swapping). But as I said before, you don't judge Christianity on the basis of the gospels alone.

Marxism, too, must be judged by history; that requires an assessment of its record, rather than on the basis of Draper's opinions.

Thirdly, Wayne, as your own analysis admits, there are elements in Marx's writings that played a role in the Marxist regimes: "there are useful and nonuseful (for anarchists) aspects of Marx's Marxism, and that the nonuseful aspects (determinism, centralism, etc.) played a role in the eventual development of Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism."

I agree: there is direct link between "Marx's Marxism," and "Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism." Therefore we cannot "exonerate classical Marxism from a good deal of responsibility for the oppression and inequities of the old East bloc" (Black Flame, p. 24)

At the same time, you downplay this link, claiming that (for instance) Marx's resolutions in the IWMA were really about "advocating that the proletariat should act as a class and turn itself into a party to conquer power for the working class. That is, the whole class should organize itself into a class-wide party so that the whole class can take over the state." Also, you state the DOP meant would "mean the democratic rule of the whole working class--Marx's original meaning."

Those are two very different claims. A "party" with mass "class-wide" support acting to "take over the state" is very common (PT in Brazil, ANC in South Africa, SDP in Germany ..) , but that is something quite different to "the democratic rule of the whole working class". Even the Bolsheviks, arch-vanguardists as they were, actively sought mass support, despite the fact that they had no interest in "the democratic rule of the whole working class."

The only way you can reconcile these two propositions - a mass party, democratic rule - is to assume that Marx collapses class and party, and that he envisaged a state form in which there is literal "democratic rule" by the "whole" working class.

Do we find either position in Marx?

On the first (collapse of class and party): Marx and Engels clearly reject such a collapse. The "Manifesto" distinguishes "proletarians and communists", with the latter happily understanding "the line of march" better than "the great mass". This is not a "class-wide party," but merely "the most advanced and resolute section" of the many "working class parties" to be found in "every country" (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1954, Henry Regnery, p. 40).

The party is only identical to the class in the indirect (and vanguardist) sense that it somehow will "always and everywhere represent the interests" of the working class (no matter what "the great mass" may think) (p. 40). The corollary is that all other socialists are non-proletarian: as explained at length in chapter III, they are variously "feudal," "reactionary," "petty bourgeois," and "bourgeois" (pp. 58-78).

This is a clear example of the reasoning later identified with Leninist regimes: Mensheviks, anarchists, syndicalists etc. are by definition ‘bourgeois’ (Lenin, ‘Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government,’ in Selected Works in Three Volumes, p. 599), and party dictatorship is by definition ‘the dictatorship of the class’ (Trotsky, Challenge of the Left Opposition, 1923-1925, Pathfinder, 1975, p. 161).

Only the second (a state form enabling actual "democratic rule" by the "whole" working class): Marx and Engels do not argue this. The communist party's aim is "the same as that of all the other proletarian parties … conquest of political power by the proletariat" (ibid). The aim is "the same" i.e. the party winning state power for the class, not the literal "democratic rule of the whole working class."

And what would the state form be? It would be a centralized under party control, where only one party will "always and everywhere" represent the class.

Wayne suggests that Marx advocated "centralism" only as measure for "overthrowing the feudal divisions of Europe and creating large nations run from central cities by single parliaments." On the contrary: Marx and Engels insisted that economic centralization, including of labour control through "industrial armies," would be "generally applicable" in precisely "the most advanced countries’ as part of the socialist (not the bourgeois-democratic) project (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1954, Henry Regnery, p. 55). (Wayne suggests that Black Flame makes it case "with quotes from Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao--not Marx." Not at all: the views by Marx and Engels mentioned here may all be found in the book (e.g. pp. 24, 98, 101).

A ruling party that knows alone knows the true interests of the "great mass"; the claim that all rivals are anti-proletarian; the stress on the centralised state, including nationalisation and "industrial armies": these are the elements of "Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism," and they are all easily found in the Manifesto.

Comment 3: The transformation problem
Wayne says: "Lucien defends his interpretation of Marx's derivation of commodity prices from values (socially-necessary labor time)" but his account relies "too much on Value Price and Profit, Marx's little pamphlet. It is not as authoritative as is vol. III of Capital."

I did quote vol III in my response, but to be quite clear: chapter 9 of Capital III is not a retreat from the basic approach that natural prices reflect average labour time: "If the labor time required for the production of these commodities is reduced, prices fall; if it is increased, prices rise, other circumstances remaining the same" (Capital III, chp 9). The "assumption that the commodities of the various spheres of production are sold at their value implies, of course, only that their value is the center of gravity around which prices fluctuate, and around which their rise and fall tends to an equilibrium" (ditto). The problem Marx tackles here is that while prices correspond to values, market prices for given commodities are average prices, rather than prices set by the specific amount of labour time embodied into commodities by different capitals. If such a proposition was granted, the least efficient capitals would be the most profitable, and there would no tendency for a rising organic composition of capital etc.

Wayne adds: Marx "knew that commodity values were greatly distorted by many factors when they appeared as prices, such as the average rate of profit."

Of course, but that is not a refutation of Black Flame. It merely means there is a true price that is "distorted" in some situations. Thus, vol III: "... their value is the center of gravity around which prices fluctuate" , and around which their rise and fall tends to an equilibrium." What is the true price? Labour time is materialised in commodities as the basis of their exchange value and money-price (meaning average prices). Which is pretty much what Black Flame states, "All things being equal, and given the operation of a competitive market system that equalised prices for given commodities, the price of a commodity must correspond closely to the 'socially necessary' or average labour time used to produce it" (p. 86).

Wayne continues: “If their interpretation was correct, then why did so many Marxist economists spend so much time on the 'transformation problem' (of values into prices)?"

The fact that there is a "transformation problem" that preoccupies these economists is not a refutation of the arguments made in Black Flame. It is simply that there is supposedly a "problem" of finding a general rule to transform the "values" of commodities (based on labour according to his labour theory of value) into the "competitive prices" of the marketplace. Marx's explanation has been subject to various empirical and theoretical critiques. Hence later work by Itoh, Shaik, Cockshot etc. which tries to fix it (or defend it).
PS. I just wanted to close my responses by reiterating that I appreciate the opportunity to debate with you, and that I, too, have learned a great deal from you.

Comradely yours

Comment 4: Marx and the DOP #2 - last words
Sorry Wayne, it’s not that simple.

You have not shown any reason why Draper (or Mattick) should be taken more seriously than the views and readings on these issues of the entire mainstream tradition of Marxism. (Not to mention the views and readings of the entire mainstream tradition of anarchism on these issues).

Nor have you really addressed any of the Marx-Engels textual material Iain and I provide that refutes Draper's claims, nor refuted it.

Rather, on both counts, your position rests on argument-by-authority.

Insistence on Draper also effectively sidesteps the whole historical aspect of the issues, ignoring how Marx-Engels actually operated politically, the parties and formations they formed and/ or led, and what those show about their views. There is a history of Marxism before Leninism, that shows something rather different to what Draper claims (and in any case, the history of Marxism with Leninism is still part - the major part - of the history of Marxism, and has definite continuities with the earlier history).

Even if Draper's exegeses were correct (which they are not), this effectively means debating in a historical vacuum where the truth of what Marx-Engels meant is all a matter of interpretation, settled by quotation and exegeses, rather like debating theology.

Understanding Marx-Engels and Marxism historically means, on the contrary, that we can easily settle which interpretation is correct by the simple expedient of seeing which one corresponds to the programmes and positions of C19 (and C20) Marxist movements - not least those that Marx-Engels founded.

Thus, the Marx-Weitling class, Marx-Proudhon clash, the Communist League, Marx-Bakunin clash, the expulsion of the anarchists from the Labour and Socialist international, the debates against the Jungen in the old German SDP, also provide a rich field for settling these issues.

Anyway, I will leave matters there.


PS. So Mattick meant the DOP in the most literal sense. Good for him. That does not prove its the mainstream Marxist view, nor Marx's own view. We can find plenty of anarchists saying the exact same thing, but we don't assume this means anything about Marx's views. In 1919,. Eusebio Cardo of the Spanish CNT also stated (meaning DOP in this sense) that "We justify the dictatorship, we admire the dictatorship, we long that the dictatorship come, and we long for it," (Thorpe, Workers Themselves, p. 112). And Malatesta stated that year, too, taht if "the expression ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ to mean simply the revolutionary action of the workers in taking possession of the land and the instruments of labour,” then “the discrepancy between us would be nothing more than a question of semantics" (No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, pp. 38-9).
Comment 5: Addendums
1. I should have added that the "Marx-Weitling class, Marx-Proudhon clash, the Communist League, Marx-Bakunin clash, the expulsion of the anarchists from the Labour and Socialist international, the debates against the Jungen in the old German SDP" all provide plenty of context for what Marx wrote and what it meant. None of these contexts show a particularly democratic or libertarian bent to Marx-Engels. Draper's bias against anarchism - which you claim is "not the topic in dispute" - is revelant precisely because because Draper, in "discussing" the "context " of Marx-Engels statements, misrepresents the context by misrepresenting the actors and issues.

2. My criticism of your position on Marx-Engels certainly does not make the mistake to which Iain refers i.e. "someone who criticized Stirner or Proudhon after reading Marx's critique of themt, without personally reading either one's actual writings." We are debating Marx-Engels, and my positions all rest on primary texts, not citations of secondary sources (like Draper), although I use a number of secondary texts as well (e.g. Gouldner). Of course Draper comes in, but how can Draper be criticised if NOT by primary materials?

3. I admit that p. 99 does not provide a direct Marx quote. My point (in citing other pages) is simply that you are incorrect to cite this as evidence of misresentation of Marx on these issues.

Comment 6: Draper right, Bakunin and everyone else wrong? Then why anarchism? And why Marxism, for that matter?
Wayne, one last note to a discussion that has tailed off.

If Draper was right, then a whole lot follows; I don't think you have fully considered the implications for anarchism itself of Draper's claims.

- IF Draper was right, and Marx's DOP merely meant the whole working class ruling, directly, then there was no need whatsoever for the emergence of anarchism in the first place. As Malatesta said, that's the sort of DOP anarchists would support.

- IF Draper was right, then all the major anarchists were either fools or liars, because they failed to understand Marxism in the days of Marx, or simply lied. What reason, then, is there why any of us should bother with such a lame and inept tradition?

- IF Draper was right, then Marx was right, and Bakunin wrong, on the central issues in the Marx/ Bakunin debate. If so, by rights, we should side with Marx. But if we side with Marx, then we side against Bakunin/ the Alliance/ the FORE / the anarchist majority in the IWMA and have no place in the anarchist tradition. What then are we doing on anarkismo?

This doesn't imply we should move to Marxism, though:

- IF Draper was right, of course, then Marxism itself is pretty much a movement of fools and liars as well. Draper's claims would render pretty much every Marxist after Marx - including notables like Kautsky, Bebel, Plekhanov, Lenin, Mao, Stalin, Castro, Ho, Machel- as fools or liars, and their movements as movements based on idiocy or ill-intent. Draper does not do Marxism any favours.

- IF Draper was right, too, then there is pretty much no Marxist tradition to speak of, because Draper's claims would render pretty much all of Marxism after Marx a monument to futility. Just as Draper's claims would make of anarchism a lame and inept tradition, it would make of Marxism another.

- IF Draper is right, then Marx himself was a monumental fool, unable to convey his basic ideas in a language understandable to men of real brilliance like Lenin. But this point, like the two that precede it, would make of Marxism (at most) a great historical failure, and of Draper's masterwork an exercise in scholastic futility for the simple reason that Marx and Marxism would evidently have very little to offer anyone. His supposed recovery of Marx would necessarily also imply the necessity of repudiating Marxism.


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