--- Appendix E ---
Ben replies to nine thoughtful questions
( with excerpts from "The Life of Grigory Isayev",
1. Daniel: Bearing in mind that there is no limit to how irrational the capitalist system can be, and therefore no limit to how severe its recurrent economic crises can be (something that Marx demonstrated "scientifically"), is there any foreseeable revolutionary situation in which, under "modern" (i.e. volatile) geopolitical and economic conditions, it would be necessary in principle for an incumbent "workers’ state" to implement globally repressive emergency measures--such as those implemented by the Bolsheviks in the immediate aftermath of October 1917--in order to maintain the political supremacy of the working class, or the economic stability of "its" state?
Ben: -- See section titled: "Ben replies to Daniel's political argument"
2. Daniel: By engaging in a slow deconstruction of the circuit of capital over time, under the auspices of a "worker’s state", how do you plan on preventing capitalists from materially bribing and corrupting the elected representatives of the working class, and the "armed bodies of men" that these elected representatives will have the right to command?
Ben: Incompetence, hypocrisy, bribery, corruption and all kinds of mischief will be successfully fought by the independent organizations of the masses using the weapon of transparency. Once you have a lot of independent organizations that have learned how to be active and militant--and which have created interactive media channels that connect them to the masses and to one another--it becomes increasing difficult to hide official wrongdoing from "little brother".
Daniel continues: For example, not being able to shut down the internet doesn’t prevent a state from massacring striking workers, does it?
Ben: It might prevent it from happening a second time -- in the same way that gravity would prevent you from jumping off a cliff twice: the first time is the last time. States which defend the interest of a ruling class always rule using a combination of force and political deception. But massacring striking workers in full view of the world would tend to undermine the last shred of legitimacy of any government claiming to represent the workers' interest. No state, under modern conditions, can rule for a long time on the basis of fear alone.
I don't want to come off as cavalier about this. No one can predict at precisely what point it becomes impossible for a reactionary government to engage in such actions and get away with it. What we can say is that this will become increasing difficult as the revolution in digital communications unfolds decade after decade. At a certain point the soldiers you send out to shoot down their class brothers turn around and shoot their officers instead. This happens even without the revolution in communications--as has been demonstrated repeatedly in history. But it becomes increasing difficult as it becomes impractical for a reactionary state to control the flow of mass communication.
Example # 1: The movement against the war in Vietnam had such an influence on American soldiers that eventually the army was forced to stop issuing fragmentation grenades to enlisted men in the Americal Division because they were being used so often to "frag" the gung-ho officers. By some estimates 20 to 25 percent of all officers killed in the war were killed by their own troops:
"By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous." ( official report, 1971).Example # 2: In the except (below) from the "Zhang Shanguang" article I noted that the Chinese authorities, faced with the task of suppressing the Tiananmen protests in 1989, were compelled to bring in troops from the rural provinces because the troops from local army units had proven sympathetic to the protesters and had given some of their weapons to the local population. But what happens as the internet begins to end the isolation of the rural population and connects them to everyone else--and there are no longer "rural" (ie: in the sense of being uninformed and ignorant) troops to draw from?
The "South American solution" to this problem is for the ruling class to use the military to decapitate the popular movement (ie: kill off the majority of the politically active people in the movement) and then arrange a transfer of power to a loyal set of social-democratic lackeys who will be able to more easily protect the interest of the ruling class once most of the activists have been eliminated. But this kind of deception will also become increasingly difficult as the revolution in communications matures.
3. Daniel: Or, if there are no such "armed bodies of men to push anyone around" except those under their own autonomous control on the streets, then what right do you have to call these groups of people a "state"? What similarities will the organisation such groups adopt have with states that have existed in the past, if they are not controlled from outside under a top-down chain of command?
Ben: During the period of economic transition I would expect that there would also be a parallel transition from top-down hierarchical (ie: full time, professional, paid) bodies such as police to self-organized, unpaid, part-time volunteer organizations.
In general I would expect there to be a transition of nearly all state functions --from-- agencies which are centralized, hierarchical and based on professional, full-time, paid labor --to-- volunteer, unpaid, self-organized groups.
The speed at which this transition takes place will depend on the abilities and competencies of the self-organized groups which take up responsibilities there were formerly handled by state organizations.
As long as major sections of the economy depend on a circuit of capital there will be a need for some kind of central bank and a centralized state to make and enforce a consistent set of rules governing this flow of capital. Therefor the final elimination of the state will require that the overwhelming majority of essential goods and services are created in the moneyless economy.
The excerpt (below) from the Zhang Shanguang article contrasts the way that mass intervention by tens of thousands of workers was used to quell student political activity that had gotten out of hand during the Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University in 1968--with the top-down methods used to massacre hundreds (if not thousands) of urban residents during the repression of the 1989 Tiananmen protests. (It is not completely clear how reliable Hinton's account is--his book "Hundred Day War" is a compelling and highly readable account of these events--but it was based entirely on what he was told by Chinese officials a considerable time later.)
It would be a considerable understatement to say that these methods of resolving disturbances are as different as night and day. A genuine workers' state would use the method of mass action. This method mobilizes and politicizes the population. Reactionary states are not able to use this method because the masses oppose reaction--and once the masses are in political motion it becomes difficult to control them.
4. Daniel: If you still believe I have misinterpreted your overall political framework, then what, precisely, is it that I have misinterpreted?
Ben: You understand my political framework better than most people do. Where you are weak is in understanding that: (a) truth is always concrete, (b) the laws of commodity production, (c) the nature of the state. It is possible that I have clarified some of these topics.
5. Daniel: How do you respond to my reading of Marx’s Capital, in which it is not exchange itself but exchange taking place through a universal equivalent (currency) that is the origin of the capital relation?
Ben: You are 100% wrong. The origin of the capital relation is the exchange of commodities. The next big step is the when human labor power also becomes a commodity. The development of currency is simply a logical and inevitable step in the evolution of the money-commodity into capital. See my section on the laws of commodity production.
6. Daniel: If you still believe that exchange itself is the origin of exploitation, then explain precisely how it is that we go from exchange-economy to gift-economy. You have stated that this will happen, but as far as I can tell haven’t explained how.
Ben: Good question!
Neither I nor anyone else has the ability to give you a precise answer. However thoughtful and intelligent speculation can be found in Appendix F: The ascendency of the self-organizing moneyless economy
7. Daniel: In your opinion, was there a degeneration at all of the Russian ‘workers’ state’ after 1917? Or was it only the inner degeneration of the Communist Party that really counted? If it is only ‘the Party’ that matters, that surely contradicts your claim that I misrepresented your view of the state as being able to take any form imaginable so long as it performs the right functions--a view I believe to be flawed.
Ben: One of the emergency measures that Lenin took following 1917 was the merger of the party and the state. This was not correct from a theoretical standpoint (and Lenin never pretended it was). Rather it was simply a product of extreme emergency and a shortage of competent and reliable people. (I think that I read in one of his speeches that Lenin said that there were only about 5,000 competent and trustworthy people in all of Moscow.)
From a theoretical view the functions of the party and state are completely different: the state has the power of coercion (ie: force) while the party's authority is based on voluntary compliance (ie: the party can expel people from its ranks--but it can't threaten to arrest them).
In this extreme situation the merger of the party and state greatly accelerated the degeneration of the party as it was flooded with clever self-seekers.
In a genuine workers' state in modern stable conditions the party and the state would be separate. There would probably be many working class parties and the state would represent the democratic consensus of the working class as a whole. The organization of the workers' parties (in the sense of being in simultaneous cooperation and competition with one another) might be a fluid and complex.
Your characterization of my view as "the state can take any form imaginable so long as it performs the right functions" is one step removed from what I actually said: that the state "can take any form imaginable so long as that form serves the class interests of the proletariat". So "serving the class interests of the proletariat" has been reduced to the "right functions" (ie: made more abstract, mechanical and difficult for readers to understand in a living way). The class interests of the proletariat include not simply their material conditions of life (food, shelter, transport, communication, etc) but also their ability, as a class, to self-organize and actively shape the world in which they live and create an economy and society where no state is needed.
8. Daniel: If there was in fact a degeneration of the entire apparatus of the "worker’s state" after 1917, how could this degeneration have been prevented after "the independent political activity of the masses" had been "largely shut down"? If your answer is that a return to normal rights of association would have been possible after economic stability had been achieved, how would this return to normal rights of association have taken place without the working class forcibly taking back these rights?
Ben: First: Yes, the return to normal democratic rights would only have been possible after economic stability had been achieved. But before going any further I would like to make the phrase "economic stability" less abstract and more concrete so that those readers who have not been closely following this debate will have a better chance of understanding the reality of Soviet Russia in the early 1920's.
Twently million people died of famine and famine-related diseases, such as typhoid, in the period following the civil war. The peasantry (ie: 80 percent of the population) was extremely unhappy with the situation and, in such conditions of desperation as to believe the fraudulent promises of the oppositional political trends which preached that an easy way out from all the hardship was possible. The bolsheviks suppressed these trends because otherwise these trends would have come to power, pushed the bolsheviks aside--and then surrendered power to the bourgeoisie and landlords. So the "economic stability" to which you refer means the ability of the workers in the cities to create tractors and other things that could be traded with the peasants for grain--rather than (essentially) taking grain from the peasants at the point of a rifle.
I just thought that I should make that clear before continuing.
Your question (I think) concerns how the return to normal democratic rights would (or could) have taken place.
The answer to this question depends on whether, by this time, the Soviet party/state had degenerated. Historically, this is what happened: by the time that a return to normal democratic rights would have been possible (probably in the 1930's) the ruling party/state (in my view) had become so narrowly focused on its own survival, had made so many mistakes and committed so many crimes--that it felt a need to make permanent the suppression that initially had been imposed as a temporary emergency measure.
If we are discussing how rights could have been restored in conditions such as what actually took place--then yes--the working class would have had to forcibly take back those rights. In my view this would probably have necessitated another revolution. Realistically, conditions for such a revolution (ie: the difficulty of organizing under what had become a police state--as well as many other difficulties) probably were not present. To illustrate what this was like I have included here (see below) some comments on the political work of Grigory Isayev. Isayev was part of an underground communist organization in the former Soviet Union in the 1970's that opposed the revisionist regime and secretely distributed underground revolutionary propaganda:
"We distributed these works among workers with great caution. Instead of printing them, we asked readers to rewrite what they read. Later on, the chekists [i.e. the KGB operatives] confirmed that it was a good security practice. Indeed, who would pay attention to some secondary-school notebooks with clumsy handwriting and ink blots all over, eh?"Isayev's organization also organized work stoppages and short strikes. In 1981 they were arrested and sent to the camps. Isayev was freed when Gorbachev came to power and, I am happy to report, is still politically active: his group, the "Party of the Proletarian Dictatorship", organzied a massive (and successful) strike in 1996 in the city of Samara. (His website, somewhat poorly laid but with a section in English, can be seen at http://proletarism.org )
An interesting question (to me anyhow) concerns the process by which a more normal political system would have been created if the party/state had not degenerated. I believe that if Lenin had lived another 15 years (he was incapacitated by a series of strokes in 1922) this degeneration might have been avoided. (But I cannot prove this, of course, it is only my personal opinion.) Some insight into the early part of the process by which normal political rights would have been restored may be gained from an interview with Lenin that was never officially published (see below: "Lenin's description of a bolshevik two party system"). I have no way of "proving" that this account is reliable--but I present what I consider a compelling argument that it is: the people who reported this would not have had the ability to make it up.
9. Daniel: How Ben answers these questions depends crucially on how he addresses my first question. That question could be reformulated as follows:
If class struggle from below is the only thing that brings us any closer to communism, then how can an entity which has the capacity to dissolve the instruments which galvanize this struggle from below, bring us any closer to communism?
Ben: -- See Appendix A: Truth is always concrete
vs. Tiananmen (1989)
Excerpted from "Zhang Shanguang and the Proletarian Revolution" (part 2)
( posted in parts one, two and three ) • (more about Zhang Shanguang here )
Ben Seattle • January 1999
"Many workers were furious. The government said that the students were instigating turmoil. Well, the way I see it, if the students were wrong, you wouldn't have to send the police or the soldiers! There are plenty of young workers like me who could beat them up. But the students were right! They expressed what was in the hearts of us workers. That's why we went out to support them." -- Zhao Hongliang, 1989, "The Gate of Heavenly Peace" The problem that the "Communist" Party of China faced in suppressing the 1989 protest movement was that the protests were extremely popular and struck a chord among both workers and students thruout the city and thruout China. Workers could not be organized to disband the students because, as the quote above illustrates, knowledge of the protest movement and contact with it drew the workers into _support_ of the movement. When the People's "Liberation" Army was sent in to suppress the protests, troops from distant, rural areas had to be used because the authorities were afraid that soldiers would sympathize with the movement or join it. This was probably not an unrealistic fear considering that somehow, when troops were first sent to suppress the protests, many of their weapons ended up in the hands of protesters. Contrast this with how severe disturbances at Tsinghua University in Beijing were dispersed during the Cultural Revolution. This is documented in William Hinton's well-known book "Hundred Day War". Tsinghua University, possibly the most prestigious University in China, was the scene of violent factional warfare in the spring and summer of 1968. Urged on in secret by manipulators at the highest levels in the party, rival red guard organizations used machine guns, rifles, Molotov cocktails, homemade cannons and dynamite in an effort to win control of the campus from one another. Fed up with this, the party organized a mass intervention by the working class. On the morning of July 27, 1968, somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 unarmed workers invaded the campus. Using great restraint and shouting the slogan "Use reason, not violence" the workers took control of the campus back from the two warring red guard organizations. The workers did not beat up or kill students but used non-violent methods in spite of the most severe and extreme provocations--including attacks by home-made spears, rifles and hand-grenades that killed five workers and injured more than 700. Within 24 hours calm was restored to the campus and the long period of rebuilding a shattered University could begin. What is important to understand is that methods such as this were not available to the "Communist" Party of China in 1989 because the working class supported the student protest movement and had united with it and were defending it as their own. Without popular support, the party only had the choice of sending in the army.
They banged our heads against the pavement.
"Only the ruling party can be right!"
-- Grigory Isayev
Translator's notes from 1996 interview of
Below is my translation of the 1996 interview with Grigory Isayev by a journalist from a Samara newspaper. Isayev is the leader of the Party of Proletarian Dictatorship based in the city of Samara (former Kuibyshev). Last spring, as the Chairman of the City Stachkom (Strike Committee), he led the two-month long strike which paralyzed the center of the city and included the lockout of the plant administration. This interview is interesting in a number of ways. PPD is the only known grass-roots party of the Russian/Soviet proletariat. Its ideology was formed in undeground, in complete isolation from the Marxist thought outside the country and in the opposition to the official Marxism of Brezhnev's era. I've read by now most of Razlatsky's writings and have my doubts about some of his ideas, but his clear understanding of the coming catastrophe was indeed unique at that time. He was not only the last revolutionary thinker of the late Soviet period, but the last revolutionary intellectual who indeed went over to the side of the proletariat once and for all. The workers of Samara paid him back with their love and continue to revere his memory. His followers were not many, but he succeeded in bringing up a vanguard for the future. Now it begins to bear fruit. Isayev's own story is still in the making. He and his friends are presently in Moscow talking to the miners who have been picketing the government offices since June. In his last letter to me he promised to organize the All-Russian Strike Committee. They sleep on the ground, together with the miners. You can recognize them by two banners: "All Power to Strike Committees" and "Down With All Bosses!"
This is an abridged translation. I left out the details of Isayev's arrest, his life in the camp, and smaller things that would be difficult to understand for foreign audience.
-- Vladimir Bilenkin
Ben Seattle comments
Isayev today is the leader of the Party of Proletarian Dictatorship based in the city of Samara (former Kuibyshev) in Russia. In the spring of 1998, as the Chairman of the City Stachkom (Strike Committee), he led the two-month long strike which paralyzed the center of the city and included the lockout of the plant administration.
Isayev today, under a communist banner, is leading militant workers in struggle against the corrupt Russian government. Where was he while Russia was ruled by a "socialist" state? If you guessed a prison camp you would be correct. In the mid 1970's, realizing the bankruptcy of the ruling regime, Isayev and others organized an underground communist organization in the Soviet Union. They organized work stoppages and circulated, in secret, works such as: "Who Is Responsible?", "The Second Communist Manifesto," "What Our Intelligentsia Does Not Want to Know" and others. Here is Isayev:
"We distributed these works among workers with great caution. Instead of printing them, we asked readers to rewrite what they read. Later on, the chekists [i.e. the KGB operatives] confirmed that it was a good security practice. Indeed, who would pay attention to some secondary-school notebooks with clumsy handwriting and ink blots all over, eh? "In our foundry shop we tested our strike methods. Reasons for strikes were simple: the administration did not give us special work clothes, boots. So we stopped working for 2-3 hours. Two days was our record. And we taught the administration a good lesson! All our plant would come to the shop to drink milk and soda. And this was in the 1970s. "We held on in the underground for five years ..." -- From The Life of Grigory Isayev
a bolshevik two party system
from Workers' rule and the mass media
Ben Seattle • February 1999
[...] a "secondhand" interview with Lenin described by George Seldes in his 1988 book "Witness to a Century". Seldes went on to become the publisher of a one-person social-democratic newsletter (1940-50) that became the inspiration for "I.F. Stone's Weekly". In late 1922, as a reporter, he was sent to Russia to gather intelligence for the US government as a condition for US famine relief. Stone interviewed many key figures in Russia and was personally debriefed by US president Warren G. Harding when he returned. ======================================= Lenin on a Bolshevik "two-party system" ======================================= (from "Witness to a Century" by George Seldes, 1988) "For many weeks Oscar Cesare, the noted artist of The New York Times, was privileged to sit in Lenin's office daily and make sketches. Sometimes Lenin talked. When Spewack of the World and I heard of these conversations, we primed Cesare with questions--and thus had a secondhand running interview. "To our questions, 'Will you ever permit another political party to exist in Soviet Russia?' Lenin replied: "'The two-party system is a luxury which only long-established and secure nations can afford. However, eventually we will have a two-party system such as the British have--a left party and a right party--but two Bolshevik parties, of course.' "Cesare said that Lenin's eyes twinkled when he said 'two-party system,' and that he finished his talk with a knowing laugh." Such an "interview" certainly contradicts the notion of our "Cargo Cult Leninists" that Lenin stood for the rule of a single monolithic party (ie: without factions) thruout the entire period of the D of P. These people (and others) may question whether Seldes' account can be considered reliable. I am personally confident that Seldes' account is accurate. How do I know? I believe we can know it is accurate the same way we can know that Phoenician claims to have circumnavigated Africa in a three-year voyage before 500 B.C. are accurate. The Greek historian Herodotus, considering these claims fifty years later, doubted their validity because the Phoenicians reported that in the far south the noonday Sun was in the northern half of the sky. Herodotus felt this to be impossible. Issac Asimov notes that we moderns know that the Sun _is_ always in the northern half of the sky when seen from that latitude. "The Phoenicians would not have made up such a ridiculous story if they had not actually witnessed it, so the very item that caused Herodotus to doubt the story convinces us that it must be true." In a loosely analogous way, I believe that Seldes account is accurate because Lenin's remarks are _theoretically correct_ and I believe it was beyond the power of someone with Seldes' ideology to make up such a formulation. (Note again, potential opponents--I do _not_ claim the formulations are correct _because_ Lenin said them. On the contrary, I claim that Lenin said them because they are correct. ;-) I present the "interview" here as food for thought. This interview is characteristic of how Lenin thought: Lenin was able to see phenomena in the _process of development_. Lenin clearly saw that the _form_ of working class rule would certainly change as it developed, as conditions developed and experience was accumulated--just as the form of capitalist rule developed from the stern Oliver Cromwell to the modern bourgeois democracy. We can't know, from Seldes' description, the exact words that Lenin might have used nor what he really had in mind when he said "two-party system" and his eyes twinkled. But the "interview" helps us to grasp that the period of workers' rule will have _stages of development_ within it. The necessity of overcoming the extreme problems that inevitably accompany such highly centralized power (ie: the ease with which officials at all levels would be able to silence the press to cover-up their incompetence, hypocrisy or corruption) would probably find expression _first_ in a system which permits a "loyal opposition". As experience is accumulated--the boundaries of oppositional behavior that serve the interest of workers (and the workers' state) would be determined experimentally.