Friday, 26 October 2012

The Traditional Left Failed by Welf Herfurth

As we all know, the anti-globalisation movement, including the Black Bloc, the assorted strands of communists, anarchists and trade unionists, have failed to stop globalisation. If one reads the postings on left-wing (anarchist and communist) message boards on the Internet, the fragmentation of the Left, and the dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the anti-globalist struggle, is apparent.

On top of that, Marx's theory - that the capitalist states are inevitably heading towards Marxist socialism, that the capitalist historical epoch is on the way out and that we stand on the threshold of a new communist era - has been disproved by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the slide of communist states like China and Vietnam towards a free-market capitalism (or at least, social democracy). According to Marx's historical prediction, the collapse of Soviet and Eastern Bloc communism should not have happened, and the decline of communism in Vietnam and China, should not be happening. I know, from my own experience, that the tentacles of globalisation have reached even into Vietnam and Laos - one can see Coca-Cola billboards everywhere. Western foreign investment in Indochina may be 'good for the economy' (whatever that phrase means) but, at the same time, its appearance is a depressing reflection of a replacement of a unique Indochinese culture and way of life with a faceless (and raceless) Western, global 'Starbucks' one.

So what went wrong? Here, in this essay, I will be explaining that communism, even before Marx, was flawed from the outset on the basis of its principles. I will also argue that socialism is something distinct from communism, and that socialism, and a socialist revolution (not a communist one) in the West is still possible. I will here be quoting extensively from a classic work by a German socialist historian, The history of the social movement in France, 1789-1850, by Lorenz von Stein, originally published in 1850. Stein was a Hegelian and a proto-Marxist of sorts, and a big influence on Marx. I will be using him as a touchstone because his understanding of communism and socialism predates Marx, and is in much the same language as Marx's, while at the same containing none of Marx's errors. For that reason, he gives a valuable insight into capitalist society, the class relations which exist under capitalism, and the socialist alternative which exists to it.

2. Babeufism

What is communism? The reader will say: 'Obviously, what's contained in the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and the rest'. Not quite: communism, as a concept, precedes Marx. The first communist theorists and activists appeared in France around the time of the French revolution. The first communist, in modern times at least, was a man called François-Noël Babeuf, who was executed by the French government in 1797. It is in connection with Babeuf's movement that the word communism first appears.

So what is it? Firstly, it is the belief that all men are equal - egalitarianism. Secondly, the belief is that the main source of those inequalities is the possession of capital, which economists define as wealth being available for the production of goods and services. Ownership of this wealth, or rather, wealth tied up in means of producing goods and services (means such as land, or factories, or shops, for example) is property. Some - a minority - possess property, others do not. Bill Gates, James Packer, Warren Buffet, Rupert Murdoch and other capitalists possess large amounts of property; others possess only a little (the small businessman, or farmer); while most people possess none at all. The social gulf between the property owners and the non-possessing class is vast: so, in order to bring about true equality, we need to abolish property. The land will be owned (and Babeuf's ideas were intended mainly for agrarian societies) by the people who work on it - all the people.

This is the first stipulation for a communist order. The second is: the equal distribution of goods. Suppose that someone works for x collective farm, and earns an enormous amount of money through his labours? (Or, if it is a barter economy, an enormous amount of goods?). Or, suppose that he does not consume as much as his fellow workers, and thereby accumulates a large amount of money. After that individual has paid his taxes, and paid for his living expenses, he may still have an enormous amount of savings - after-tax income, capital, wealth. That would make him richer than other people in his commune; and it would no longer be an equal society. Therefore, his wealth has to be distributed, equally, to all other members of the commune; he should only be allowed to keep enough to feed himself, and meet his other expenses, and no more.

Likewise, suppose that a farm, in our communist model, experiences a very large demand for its products in comparison to the other communal farms. That farm would require more labourers than the others; perhaps the labourers on that farm would gain higher status compared to other labourers on other farms. Therefore, in order to enforce equality, labourers have to be discouraged from working on that farm; or consumption of that farm's products has to be discouraged; or both.

The reader will now see the main problem of communism. In order to ensure that everyone gets the same amount of goods for differing amounts of work, a higher authority will have to intervene to enforce equality; likewise, a higher authority will need to intervene in order to allocate resources, like labour, to each farm, to ensure that some farms or individuals do not become 'more equal' than others. So, in order to enforce extreme equality, we wind up with extreme inequality. And this is the fallacy of communism, which has made itself felt in every communist society, without exception. Early critics of Babeuf and communism saw this straight away - even before the revolution in Russia in 1917.

The early communist program was quite explicit about the levels of control needed to maintain it. In the communist doctrine, individual economic interactions are be strictly regulated and directed:
Three basic rules for any communistic society are necessary to give public authority the monopoly of the distribution of goods: all private exchange among members of the communistic community has to be abolished;... all products have to be delivered to a public warehouse in order to separate the individual from his labor; and each individual's share of the goods produced must be obtained exclusively from these warehouses by public authorisation. These are the necessary prerequisites of a communistic economic order. The fourth rule, the compulsion to work in order to increase the amount of goods to be distributed, is a consequence of the demand for affluence. It may be emphasised or omitted, depending on what type of communism is desired, one of wealth or one of poverty... [Lorenz von Stein, History of the social movement in France, 1789-1850, p.167].

All the elements of a Leninist or Stalinist economic system were in place (as I shall explain later) in Babeuf's ideas. Indeed, Babeuf seems to anticipate Pol Pot, who made everyone in communist Cambodia dress the same, took children from their parents and raised them in communal creches, executed any Cambodian who showed signs of any higher learning, and developed an agrarian militia. Stein writes:

Although the citizens shall be well off, they shall live and dress simply and uniformly. Why have different colours of clothes or different furniture? Why have a well tailored dress for one and a shabby one for another? 'It is essential for the happiness of all individuals that the citizen never experiences the slightest degree of even apparent superiority'. Here communism is already lost in the particulars of clothing regulations...
Even with this complete process of levelling all differences there was one serious danger for absolute equality, namely, the difference in mental ability which manifests itself in the arts and sciences. Here also radical measures were proposed... Lest the unalterable nature of things would reassert the dreaded inequality in the children, education, of course was under no condition to be left in private hands. Only the state was to have the right to educate the children. 'The more domestic education there was the greater would paternal power become'. All children will be placed in a huge institution, and here, without regard to intellectual qualifications, all will receive a simple and absolutely equal education... The whole press was to be kept within the narrow limits of republican principles: any violation was to be severely punished... The economy of early communism was concerned with war and agriculture. Babeuf's doctrine is one of Spartan virtues... [Stein, op. cit., pp. 165-167, p. 169].

It is no wonder, then, that Proudhon wrote: 'Communism is oppression and slavery' (in What is property?).

Oddly enough, however, many anarchists today are Babeufists, that is to say, communist, by the definition above. The anarchist wants the abolition of property, and power to be given to 'the workers' - or at least, to the employees of private enterprise (including private enterprise on the land). The State, which exists only to uphold the unequal power relations of capitalism, will be abolished, and a mass of decentralised communes, libertarian, sovereign and without property, will take its place. But the question is: how far will each of these anarchistic communes go to enforce equality? One of the enterprises in the anarchist-run towns and villages may be more profitable than another enterprise; one worker may earn more, or consume less, than the others and so accumulate more wealth. The really successful, worker-controlled enterprise may turn into a new Microsoft or General Motors; the really successful worker, a new Warren Buffet. At some point, then, the community will have to intervene and enforce equality. The same goes for achievements in the arts and sciences and the rest - with the really successful scientist or artist earning more prizes and honours, and more money, than the others...

And all of this has nothing to do with The State. That is, the negative side-effects of communism can occur without a State, even though, in anarchist mythology, the bad, 'Statist' communists Lenin and Trotsky perverted the cause of true communism and socialism when they crushed the Soviets, which were, in anarchist hagiography, proto-anarchist communes worthy of emulation. Even without the State, the communist idea entails that people must be crushed to fit the communist ideal of equality, thus bringing about an order which is even more repressive and coercive than capitalism.

2. Marxist communism

The traits of Babeuf's communism carry over into Marx's, as we can see. But, in Marxist theory, the Soviet Union, Mao's China, Castro's Cuba and all the other communist countries were not truly communist. As anyone who is acquainted with Marx's theories knows, history, in the Marxist view, progresses in historical phases. At the time of Marx's writing, mankind was standing on the threshold of the end of the capitalist phase; the next phase was to be followed by a period of 'socialism', which would then be followed by a period of perfect communism, where all men would be equal, everything would be owned by everyone, etc.

Certainly, the Soviet Union and other communist countries were not perfectly communist in that sense; but they were more communist, and more Babeufist, than anything else. Take Stalinism as an example. Some concessions, under Stalinism, were made to individual acquisitiveness - in other words, the individual's desire to accumulate large amounts of money for himself and not to share it with others. As the Australian economist Ian Ward writes:
In Stalinism, material rewards were designed to induce individuals to act in accordance with goals and targets determined by higher authority. Among the distinct characteristics of the reward system was: a heavy reliance on piece rather than time rates [in other words, payments per good produced, rather than payments by hour worked]; extremely wide differentials which reflected not only one's status but the industry or sector in which one worked; the payment of bonuses for overfulfilment of one's target; the payment of high rewards, together with special privileges, such as restricted shops, to members of the party; and an emphasis on the individual member rather than the group as a whole in determining the rewards. By contrast, a more collective form of material incentive was practised in the group form. Failure to perform was often associated with a negative form of incentive. [Ian Ward, The Soviet struggle for socialism, VCTA Publishing, 1992, p. 25].

Having said that, equality, and collective ownership, reigned in Stalin's Russia. For instance: all State-owned enterprises were forbidden to sell goods to one another (a tire factory could only exchange tires with a machine parts factory, for instance). The enterprises used profit as an accounting measure - that is, the enterprises did make profits - but all of these were redistributed back to the State. The collective farms were not owned by the State, but run by the workers on them, who were in turn monitored and directed by State officials. The farms, after producing their agricultural goods for the State, were allowed to keep the leftovers, which were then distributed among their workers (but there was often little left to distribute).

In a previous quotation from Lorenz von Stein, it was mentioned that, under Babeufist communism, four conditions had to be met for a communist society to exist: 1), all private exchange has to be abolished; 2) all products have to be delivered to a communal warehouse; 3) all goods in these warehouses can only be obtained through public authorisation; 4) all are compelled to work in order to produce a greater amount of goods, which are then to be distributed to everybody. Every communist State - whether it be Stalin's, or Mao's, or Pol Pot's, or Castro's - works according to these principles. For instance, take 4): the mobilisation of the masses to produce more for the community was one of the distinguishing traits of Stalinism:
[Under Stalinism] a whole range of symbols of social approval and disapproval, as well as mobilisation and emulation techniques, were employed. For example, individuals and groups were made model workers or awarded badges, and banners as external symbols of good performance. In addition, all citizens were mobilised either directly through the bringing together of large numbers of people to achieve some specific target or indirectly through massive advertising in the form of slogans on buildings, pictures of successes in public parks or through a media campaign.; 'Catch up with the West' and 'Forward to Communism' were commonly-used slogans. More specifically, emulation campaigns were used to encourage workers to learn by the example of others and work harder. [Ian Ward, op. cit., p. 25.]

Both Marxist communism, and Babeuvist communism, are the one and same thing in practice: communism. And that communism can be reproduced at the decentralised level of the anarcho-communist: we can have a mini-Maoism, or mini-Juchism (Juche being the official North Korean ideology), which is what anarchist-communism and its offshoots are. The anarcho-communists may deny it, but, by necessity, they will be led down the same path, and be forced to abandon anarchism in favour of communism.

From my comments here, it may seem that I believe that communism is entirely a bad thing. But it is not, at least, from the nationalist perspective. After all, recall Stein's phrase: 'The economy of early communism was concerned with war and agriculture. Babeuf's doctrine is one of Spartan virtues'. Such a description reminds me, at least, of certain elements of the German National Socialist, or Italian Fascist ideology, or Evola's Traditionalism. And I must confess that I as a nationalist look at a country like North Korea, or Cuba, with some degree of envy: there, the respective populaces are disciplined, and led, by a political leadership which is anti-US and which, despite all its faults, acts in the national interest as represented by the State - above all classes, all special interests, which exist in our own liberal democratic societies. There are no business lobbies there calling for policies which are harmful to the general well-being as there are here, for instance, and no trade unions doing the same. There is no degenerate phenomena along the lines of 'Chavism' in Britain, and one can be sure that social pathologies are dealt with firmly by the law. At the same time, no-one doubts that Cuba and North Korea are dead and repressive countries, and that their standard of living is far below that of the Western States. The challenge for any theorist of Western nationalism is to isolate the good from the bad.

3. Socialism

So, what is socialism? Stein defines it this way:
All those systems, and all those ideas, which aim at establishing labor's control over capital... and making labor the guiding principle of society, may be called socialist. Socialism is the second blueprint for a social system based on the social idea of equality. Socialism in all its variations is infinitely superior to communism. Its basis is labor, and thereby, individuality, this fountainhead of all true wealth and of all diversification. Socialism does not desire to realise the abstract of equality of men, any more than it desires to eliminate a person's individuality... Socialism does not desire, as communism does, to abolish differentiations among individuals and therewith society and the order of the whole; it aims to build society on the principle of labor independent of property. [Stein, op. cit., p. 85.]

Stein, elsewhere, goes on to outline what he means by social reform, and how it can be achieved:
The major concern of a social movement is not the problem of poverty. The social problem which social reform tries to solve is the result of the laws which determine the relationship between capital and labor and thus also govern society, the constitution and the development of each individual personality... We have shown that the contradiction in the situation of the proletarian consists in his dependence on the property-owner because he owns only labor and no capital... As long as the inherent nature of capital and labor remains unchanged... differentiation and dependence are inevitable. It would be a complete misinterpretation of the nature of social life to consider the abolition of differentiation as the aim of social reform... The abolition of this differentiation is not at all the aim of the proletariat... The proletariat wants to acquire capital. Here is the core of the problem. [Stein, op. cit., p. 92.]

So the solution is, says Stein:
Personal independence in this [acquisitive] society rests on the ability of even the meanest worker to acquire capital. This provides an opportunity for everybody to break through the traditional pattern of social classes and of the ensuing dependence.... As long as this opportunity exists in the form of a rule also extending to the worker, no contradiction is apparent, and the social order is stable, no matter how great are the dependence and the differences between the two classes. The essence of the social question and of social reform in our present society is therefore clearly indicated. The problem is whether it is at all possible, in this acquisitive society, to provide labor with the necessary opportunities and corresponding institutions for the acquisition of property commensurate with the accomplishments and standards of labor. The social reform movement consists of the work, the activities, the suggestions, the attempts, the laws, and the institutions which aim to create these opportunities for the working class. [Ibid.]

4. Socialism and its applications to Nationalism

I think, after the exposition above, that the reader can understand what socialism is and how social democracy, and the social democratic parties (like the German SPD, the British Labour Party, and the Australian Labor Party) are socialist or at least contain socialist elements and aim at social reform. But there is one important change which has occurred since the socialist doctrine was first propounded in the early 18th century. That is what I call the 'blue-collarisation' of socialism. 'The workers' in socialist doctrine are, theoretically, anyone without property, i.e., anyone who has to work for a living as opposed to living off rents and dividends. A call centre worker in a phone company like Telstra is a worker, perhaps even a proletarian; the investor who lives off Telstra dividends, or capital gains on sold Telstra shares, is a capitalist. (And, in theory, the CEO whose job it is to manage Telstra on behalf of the shareholders is a very rich worker). But somewhere along the line of the history of socialism, the worker or the proletarian became 'working-class' as we know it today: i.e., a blue-collar. The CEO, or even the white-collar worker, are not 'workers'.

The difference, I think, between white collars and blue collars is as follows. In economist's jargon, the blue-collar menial labourer possesses a great deal of 'physical capital'. That is capital - the wealth available for the production of goods and services - is the blue-collar's muscle power, which is used to produce goods and services in the sectors of industry he works in. Whereas the white-collar worker relies on 'intellectual capital', i.e., skills which stem less from muscle-power and more from some skill which comes from higher education and training.

It has been stated at the New Right blog, and indeed, in many other places, that German National Socialism, Italian Fascism and their variants in other countries (Mosley's Fascism, for instance), were socialist, all right - but socialism for the workers with more 'intellectual' than 'physical' capital (students and academics fit into that category). Which is not to say that blue-collar workers did not support fascism - they did - but that the white-collars were overepresented and were its primary support base.

As well as that, small business - the petit bourgeoisie - formed another pillar of the fascist support base. The petit bourgeoisie work for a living; but they own a little more capital than the average salaryman or salarywoman, but much less than a big capitalist.

So the NSDAP was a party of the German worker, all right, but of the worker who had more intellectual than physical capital, or who had possession of comparatively small amounts of capital. (On top of that, the NSDAP appealed to small farmers, in particular, the peasantry). There is plenty of evidence for this in the literature. Martin Broszat, for instance, recounts that the NSDAP appealed to youth, and to the German mittelstand (middle classes):

The share of young voters who found the NSDAP most appealing was particularly high. What attracted them was the Nazi image as a party of youth. There was also the pressure of youth unemployment with its demoralising impact. In this way young people became politicised at an early age and in turn began markedly to shape the public style of the NSDAP and the SA.... It was in particular young people of traditional liberal-bourgeois or conservative family background who dissociated themselves from their parents' political and joined the NSDAP.
The main social basis of the Nazi mass movement was therefore the broad spectrum of the Protestant middle class in town and country. As early as 1930, the sociologist Theodor Geiger explained the political landslide of the September elections in terms of a 'panic among the Mittelstand'. He argued that fear of proletarianisation was an even stronger motive among large parts of the old and the new Mittelstand than their actual degree of material deprivation. Although objectively, these groups were becoming proletarianised, their anti-proletarian and anti-socialist consciousness which had been moulded by their education and social background held them back from voting for the left-wing parties. Instead they began to search for a third way between socialism and capitalism, and it was the Nazis who promised it with their emotionally very effective propaganda extolling the Volksgemeinschaft. Only a few people in the socialist movement recognised at the time that the massive successes of the NSDAP among peasant and the impoverished lower middle classes were partly a consequence of a dogmatic Marxism; for all this type of Marxism was able to offer the panic-stricken 'petty bourgeoisie' and peasants was a 'proletarian class consciousness' against which they had developed a psychological block. [Martin Broszat, Hitler and the collapse of Weimar Germany, 1984, pp. 86-87.]

The above quotation should be made compulsory for every nationalist in the West - not to mention every Marxist. The fascist movements in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, whether they be in the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Rumania, Italy, gathered their mass support simply because they paid attention to the social classes which were in need of help but had been neglected by Marxism. Nationalists can likewise fill the gap in the West today - especially now, considering that Marxism and communism are spent forces. If we are to advocate socialism, it will be much more appealing than communism, for, as Stein says, socialism, unlike communism, does not aim at a society where no-one earns more, and has more, than anyone else and where everyone is perfectly equal.

5. Objections

The first objection anyone could make is that, at present, in Australia, at least, we are experiencing great economic success, and that, in good economic conditions, the propertyless classes are much less prepared to abandon the 'acquisitive society' and capitalist order. While economic conditions in the West in the 1930s were uniformly terrible, they are not so today. One only has to look at Australian unemployment, for instance, which was 4.3 % in the June quarter - the lowest in over thirty years.

It has been stated here before that the unemployment figures, in Australia, and elsewhere in the West, are kept artificially low using statistical trickery. The opinion columnist Ross Gittins estimates that, once the underemployed and 'discouraged jobseekers' are factored in, the current Australian unemployment rate stands at 9 or 10 percent - hardly the best in Australian economic history. (Ross Gittins, 'Credit where it's due on unemployment', Sydney Morning Herald, February 14 2007). Elsewhere in the West - France and Germany, for example - unemployment is much worse: the official unemployment rates, which underestimate the true extent of unemployment, are much higher than Australia's.

Secondly, there are pockets of deprivation in Australia, even among the workers who possess 'intellectual' capital - for instance, the students. The article 'Extent of student poverty highlighted' (August 8 2007, here) makes the claim that many Australian undergraduate and postgraduate students are struggling on less than $A10,000 a year, and are studying with a very high level of personal debt.

As well as that, inflation, as manifested in the rising prices of commodities like oil, is very high at the time of writing; and central banks in the Eurozone, America, the United Kingdom and Australia have hiked interest rates to high levels - in Australia interest rates are the highest in ten years. The results have not been catastrophic, but have caused some economic hardship, especially to the heavily indebted petit bourgeoisie. It is, then, a time for the electorate to turn leftward, not rightward.

The other objection is, 'What's to stop, then, Australian voters, for example, from going over to the mainstream, social-democratic Labor Party? Why should they go over to your brand of socialism?'.

Again, I will point to precedents in 20th century history. In Weimar Germany, for instance, the socialist vote was split three ways - between the NSDAP, the German Communist Party, and the social democratic SPD. The NSDAP, in terms of bringing about social reform for its constituency, proved to be a much better party than the SPD, which had been running Germany federally, and at the state level, for years. Likewise, social democratic parties regularly come into office on the Continent and accomplish little. I do not think, either, that the Australian Labor Party will accomplish much in alleviating unemployment after it wins the federal elections this year (if it does win) - although it is conceivable that interest rates and inflation may come down over time.

6. Conclusion

One of the reasons why communists do so well in recruiting students is that hardly any other political group (and that includes nationalists) pays attention to student needs. A recent communist poster around Australian university campuses, for instance, reads 'Abolish student poverty/Abolish HECs [student] debt/No more fee increases'. In the view of the average student, these policies are good policies. The student, on the basis of that, will be more inclined to support the group whether it be communist or not. For the most part, other mainstream parties hardly seem to give a damn.

As Stein would say, all political parties have a class basis. A political idea only makes the transition from theory to practice when it appeals to the needs of a certain economic and social class. And that is the difference between a socialist group and a nationalist one (or at least, nationalism as it exists in Australia). A racist slogan like 'Pakis go home' is not the expression of a social movement; it is an expression of animus, of resentment. But, on the other hand, propaganda which explains why Subcontinental immigration is bad because, among other reasons, it affects the economic well-being of a certain economic class - it is social theory.

Fascism, in the 1920s and 1930s, had a huge mass base in Europe. After the war, neofascism did not. This cannot be explained wholly by persecution at the hands of Allied-imposed State sanctions against neofascism. The reason why neofascism failed to make headway was that economic conditions were too good in Europe in 1960 or even in 1970. Secondly, the theorists of neofascism (men like Yockey and Evola) failed to ground their politics in a class base, unlike the canny fascist demagogues Hitler and Mussolini. They could not find a socioeconomic group to align themselves to, or at least, had no wish to align themselves to any such group.

Admittedly, economic conditions today in the West are not at the catastrophic level of the 1930s. It is far better, materially, to be one of the propertyless-classes - even one of the lumpenproletariat - in the West than it is in, for instance, Africa or India (which is why so many Africans and Indians are emigrating here). But we should not allow white guilt over our privileges stand in the way of socialism. In the 1930s, Germany, Italy and Japan portrayed themselves as 'proletarian nations' - that is, countries which, even though they had a very high level of industrialisation and wealth, were in an inferior position compared to France, Britain and the United States, and were deserving of better treatment in the sphere of international affairs. Nationalists in the West need to adopt the same mentality. We may be members of wealthy nations, and members of the white race, the most privileged in the world; but, at the same time, we deserve social reform, and the system which can deliver it, socialism. And that means reclaiming the word socialism from the Left.

For other articles and interviews by Welf Herfurth, please click here.