Questions of Form, Reform and National Liberation in State Capitalism & World Revolution

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written with Will

Chapter IX of SC&WR addresses the issues of Tito and Yugoslavia.  In many ways the question of Yugoslavia could be seen as the last straw for the Johnson-Forest Tendency.  Yet again orthodox Trotskyists and the Fourth International fetishized nationalized property and described Tito’s Yugoslavia as breaking Left from Stalin’s Russia without asking that central question:  was the working class self-governing?

Along with China, Yugoslavia posed other challenges to the common conception of Marxism for that time.  Like other exercises in national liberation, Yugoslavia raised questions about the role of the peasantry, the material limitations of national liberation without world revolution, and the dynamic class tensions within national liberation movements.

Hopefully the following prompts can help us think through some of these issues.

  • How do they describe the mode of labor in Yugoslavia? (86)  How did this compare to Stalin’s Russia?
  • What was Tito’s People’s Front, and what role does the Johnson-Forest Tendency argue it played in relation to class tensions?
  • Tito and the Communist Party Yugoslavia (CPY) established a method of emboldening the bureaucracy that could be described as a process of upward mobility;  “in its crisis it sought to strengthen the state authority by new recruitments from those who have shown readiness in the factory to exceed the norms in production.” (92)  The notion of meritocracy is a common conception today of what an egalitarian society should look like.  How have we encountered and challenged these sentiments in our own organizing?
  • The Titoist bureaucracy, through a process of criticism and self-criticism, argues for “decentralization.” (93)  The demand for decentralization is still common in progressive/Left circles today.  Is this enough?  Does decentralization have any role in defining the new society?
  • The example of Yugoslavia is posed as similar to other experiences of national liberation.  What was the relationship of the CPY bureaucracy to the Yugoslavian working class when it opposed the Kremlin? (96)  How does the class nature of the Titoist bureaucracy explain its relationship to both the US and Russian empires? (94-95)  How has the problem of socialism in one country been manifest in the historical failures of other national liberation movements – socialist, nationalist, or otherwise?
  • JFT describes the CPY bureaucracy as “concretely nationalist and abstractly internationalist,” what does this mean? (97) How has the Trotskyist tradition understood the nature and process of national liberation?  Is it necessarily a bourgeois revolution?  Are there alternative conceptions of national liberation movements, and why are they necessary?
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4 thoughts on “Questions of Form, Reform and National Liberation in State Capitalism & World Revolution”

  1. Ok. I’m going to sound totally crazy here. CPY was stalinist, reactionary, capitalist, etc… but it was one of the few experiences that attempted (in a bureaucratic and party-dictatorship manner) to deal with the question of workers self-management. There is much to learn from this. For one, having independent enterprises with a market intact is an abject failure. Likewise with having councils dominated by a party bureaucracy. The titoists sought to find inspiration from the libertarian left oddly, and there was considerable study done of the Guild Socialists and Syndicalism in Yugoslavia during the time. Now I don’t find very much on this sort of thing, but I have a feeling this had some impact. For instance after the fall of the communists and before the NATO bombings, the Yugoslavian working class was leading some of the most militant and united strikes in the world. So much so that it was viewed as a threat that could spread across the soviet block countries and pose a challenge to capital (whether this was a cause of the war is an open question). Certainly the Yugoslav-path to accordions is superior to other experiments, 6 rows of buttons!

    There’s lots of good stuff at libcom on Yugoslavia, and I can’t help but recommend Wu Ming’s ’54.
    http://libcom.org/tags/yugoslavia

  2. JFT describes the Communist Party Yugoslavia break with the Stalinist bureaucracy as an attempt to save its own neck. much of the CPY had been purged by Stalin, and in an attempt to save itself from any of Stalin’s future, murderous rampages through the bureaucracy.

    like Russia, the CPY found itself in a position attempting to preserve and defend “socialism in once country”. this, as Trotsky correctly theorized, is impossible. on the one hand Yugoslavia will find itself being forced to compete and will need to implement speed-up, further divisions of labor and competition within. and like Russia, competition with the capitalist world economy becomes all the more difficult as capitalism in Yugoslavia was underdeveloped.

    but it’s also important to point out that the expropriation of the bourgeoisie in Yugoslavia was performed not by any revolutionary movement of workers and peasants, but by the Red Army. there was never even the beginnings of workers’ self-management in Yugoslavia.

    the success of the CPY was due in part to its mass base, but the Johnson-Forest Tendency argues that it is important to argue that the CPY were “forced into a struggle with the Kremlin in order to preserve their influence and leadership over the masses.” this — in contrast to identifying Tito’s bureaucracy as one and the same with the masses — still leaves the possibility open for class struggle against the CPY. this is important because, as they argued at the beginning of the chapter, Yugoslavia is state capitalist and NOT a workers’ state.

    the distinction is important in the context of national liberation movement because defense of Yugoslavia means “the substitution of national unity against foreign domination with the bureaucracy in state power, for class struggle against the bureaucracy.”

    from this need JFT predicts the vacillation of so many of the newly independent nations, particularly those that would compose the non-aligned movement. JFT predicts that Yugoslavia will seek a mass bass in workers’ movements around the world, but — like the Comintern — will betray those workers to their own national bourgeoisies if it means currying the favor of those ruling classes in order to preserve and benefit Yugoslavian capital.

    perhaps of equal importance is the problem this posed for Marxism. JFT poses it accurately and succinctly as “the conception that the breakup of Stalinism will come from competing elements in the bureaucracy and particularly from the national bureaucracies in state power, rather from the mass revolutionary struggle against the bureaucracy as such.”

    against bureaucratic state capitalism must be posed the revolutionary movement of workers’ self-management

  3. I think the analysis is more or less right, but the details are wrong. Yugoslavia was the only country to lead a partisan struggle and win without the Soviet’s army. Maybe that’s what you meant. Also on the purges, I don’t think the Soviet’s got to purge the CPY, I think they tried but that’s when the split happen. Holding their own against the Germans bought them independence others didn’t have.

    That’s kind of an aside. I think Yugoslavia’s experience was somewhat unique because of the independence from the Soviets (somewhat), and the experiments with a deformed type of self-management. Within that practice some turned to libertarian forms of self-management (and were purged) and we all learn about market-socialism and it’s failures. The yugoslavian factory councils were deformed, but it’s something we can learn from more so than say the soviet collective farms and whatnot.

  4. thanks for the clarification, todd.

    on the question of upward mobility and individualist meritocracy…

    meritocracy and individualism are common conceptions of official American political culture and discourse. we hear this all the time when the ruling class expresses their ‘concerns’ for ‘middle class families’ as they discuss tax policy. the assumption here is that most folks in the US are middle class which they argue is evident in the ability of vast layers of the working class — historically mostly white — to move out into the suburbs.

    although we know that most are working class, and need to be consistently putting forward a vision that defines class on the terms of our relationships in the workplace, home, and school.

    one of the central themes of SC&WR has been that it’s not an issue of consumption — lifestyle, suburban, urban or otherwise — that determines class relations. capitalist domination and extraction of surplus value is tied up in social relations: for JFT the question has always been whether the working class is self-governing.

    the notion that everyone needs to pull themselves up by their boot straps to live the good life is not, however, limited to the US. this sort of reformism has been a common mantra of both the bourgeoisie and union bureaucrats alike, but the attack on the social gains of the working class during the entire neoliberal period has been premised on the idea that workers are lazy and greedy. the restructuring of the auto industry and the attacks on welfare, social security and pension plans are only the most recent examples.

    on a world scale neoliberalism has been ideologically argued on the grounds that it provides for the expansion of the middle class in underdeveloped nations through the free-flow deregulation of capital, but, again, this was just an attack by the US on the national bourgeoisies and work class gains of other countries.

    petty-bourgeois notions of individualism has been ideological weapon of the ruling class that takes form the self-conception of everyday people, the social relations that result form this, and the process of value production. all of these things interpenetrate and define each other, and are central questions in the task for the destruction of capitalism and the establishment of self-government.

    with the attacks on unions and other forms of social solidarity the workplace and the classroom can be extremely isolating places. on the job management tries to lure us with raises that amount to almost nothing if we prove ourselves worthy by working harder than our coworkers.

    the few who are able to crawl their way out of the working class into the lowest levels of management are often faced only with a salaried position that requires them to work almost 60 hours per week. when you do the math the increase in hours worked will either amount to only a pittance in terms of a raise, and in some cases might actually equal a pay cut.

    in Russia Stakhanovism was a rewards system similar to what the Titoist bureaucracy used in order to further develop competition between workers, and thus capitalist accumulation. in these examples, and on the job today, breaking forms of social solidarity is part of the same process of capitalist accumulation. it seems as though you can’t have one without the other.

    JFT claims that the goal of the new society is for humanity to find creative satisfaction in their work as an expression of their whole, unalienated selves. under capitalism this comes out as a contradictory expression of the myth of middle class liberation. instead of self-management, the job becomes management over others. the irony, though, is that the middle classes represent an incomplete unity of the division between mental and manual labor. this unity only falls on the side of mental labor, and thus relapses into capitalist alienation.

    in this whole process the workers who choose to hustle ahead, and scape their way into the lowest levels of the middle class sacrifice the only opportunity they have to escape the alienation of capitalist society.

    the values they create and inculcate are centered on the notion that the individual is involved in “a war of all against all,” as the expression goes.

    not only does sacrificing social solidarity reenforce capitalist exploitation and alienation, but it also cannot create the basis for liberation. the creative unity of mental and manual labor is a process of cooperation between people. only then does the individual begin to explore and express their full potential.

    as much as revolutionary movements entail the opposition of the working class to capitalism, the creative energy needed for this can only result from the end of patriarchal, homophobic and racist social relations between the workers. the failure to do this will mean that many working class people, due to the degradation by these social forces, will be unprepared for the task of social revolution.

    this can come in the form of a lack of confidence, a lack of skills to carry out the tasks of self-management at the work place, and the inability to order production along the lines of social solidarity and mutual aid for other parts of the class who will be in need.

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