Debunking More Councilist Nonsense

So @workers.councils decided to write a response to my refutation of his essay on vanguardism, and I have to say that of all the essays I’ve read in my life, this is one of the worst. You can read it here. So let’s begin. The first thing he claims is,

“In response to my assertion that the vanguard party is anti-proletarian, he claims that it can’t be simply because “members of the vanguard party are not to be treated any better than those of the regular working class”. Not only is this simply not true, even if it were it wouldn’t make the vanguard party authentically proletarian. Members of the vanguard party in Russia were treated far better than proletarians, often because the most prominent ones came from bourgeois backgrounds. It would be ridiculous to assert that Lenin did not have a more luxurious lifestyle before, during, and after the Revolution than ordinary proletarians. He lived in comfort in his mansion while they slaved away in factories and on farms [1]. Besides, it is anti-proletarian to have any group other than the entire proletariat controlling the economy, so even if the members of the vanguard party were not treated better than the proletariat, party rule would still be illegitimate.”

So he starts off by claiming that in the Soviet Union, the state officials were better off than the rest of the working class and for this he cites one source (http://www.russianmuseums.info/M446) which is a link to a Russian museum’s website that was built in 1987. Aside from the fact that his source doesn’t say what he claims, the fact that Lenin lived in a nice house is not evidence that all the party officials were better off than the workers. How can we determine whether or not this is true? Well the most obvious way is to look at the wages that workers and officials earned in the USSR [1]:

  • Printers: 200 to 300 rubles a month
  • Chauffeurs: 300 to 600 rubles a month
  • Mechanics: 350 rubles a month
  • Waiters: 180 rubles a month plus tips
  • Household Servants: 120 to 150 rubles a month
  • Graduate Physicians: 350 rubles a month on the average
  • Bureaucrats and State officials: 300 rubles a month
  • Teachers: 200 to 300 rubles a month and more Professors of Medicine: 3,000 rubles a month and more

As we can clearly see, the state officials were paid what the average salary for workers was, and even arguably below the average salary given how high the payment of doctors and Chauffeurs was. How does our author make an assertion of better lives for state officials without even mentioning this? Is he intentionally being misleading or did he just not think of it? I don’t know, and I won’t try to guess his motives; but it should be noted that on top of him not mentioning wages, he never even addresses the fact that Stalin tried to resign four times because he didn’t want to deal with all the disadvantages and stress that comes with being a state official [2]. Next, the author claims,

“Vanguardism does not suggest that the party should combat the bourgeoisie only once the proletariat has achieved class consciousness.  Lenin himself stated that “A party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses and not merely to reflect the average political level of the masses” [1].  The vanguard party thus is not solely an agent of preexisting class consciousness, but aims (at least in theory) to spread class consciousness.  Of course, the idea that this is necessary must come in tandem with the idea that the proletariat will not develop class consciousness themselves through class struggle.”

The first sentence is perhaps phrased wrong, but what he is trying to say is that the Vanguard Party’s job is to combat bourgeoisie even before the proletariat has achieved class consciousness and he then quotes Lenin as evidence for this. I never stated that the vanguard party is only an agent of preexisting class consciousness, what my point was was to show that the in the USSR the vanguard party had to take control because there was a majority peasants, and they couldn’t risk waiting until all the peasants became proletariat to start a revolution, because that would only be able to happen under capitalism; there way around this was to introduce the NEP as well as industrialization to get the peasantry on board with being proletarians [3] [4], if they had postponed the revolution, this most likely never would’ve happened as if it did, the west would just seize Russia as another capitalist state as they did with the majority of the world at the time. As far as the vanguard party in theory, the aim of a modern day vanguard party should be to spread class consciousness yes, but its main goal should be to organize a revolution and not to sit around waiting for the proletariat to spontaneously rise up. Next, the author claims,

“I never claimed that the conditions for revolution rest solely on the bourgeoisie, and I made no mention of Rojava (which, by the way, I don’t consider communist), so I’m not quite sure why Ben felt the need to discuss those.  Anyway, moving on to his next point about the USSR being a proletarian dictatorship, it is pretty clear he doesn’t understand what proletarian dictatorship is.  While it’s true that the proletariat was slightly more unionized in the USSR, the state still controlled the means of production and drove the dominant mode of production, effectively taking the place of the industrial capital he mentions in relation to the United States.”

I never claimed that you did either, so I don’t know why you felt the need to mention that. Next, I added in my statement about Rojava to show how even the type of system he advocates, councilism which isn’t too different from communalism in how they go about worker control, did not come out through a majority proletarian struggle, and it was to further my point of how non majority proletarian revolutions are not inherent to vanguardism but rather just to third world revolutions in general. Next, it is pretty clear our author doesn’t understand what proletarian dictatorship is. Let’s first establish what indeed it is as well as what a socialist society is.

Marxism, unlike many Utopian ideologies, distinguishes relations of production, mode of production, and social formation. The terms capitalist, feudal, slave, and socialist can all be applied to these three concepts. A mode of production refers to a mode and or way in which production takes place. This process influences both the relations and techniques of productions. Automation, hunting and gathering, factories, agriculture, etc. as productive forces all influence the mode of production in any given society. We can thus understand industrial capitalism, agrarian capitalism, industrial slavery, etc. to all be separate modes of productions. The term social formation refers to the aggregate modes of productions that make up a given economy. It is possible for slave labor to exist alongside free labor, serfdom, and commodity production. However, for the most part, one set of relations is dominant in any given social formation, and this is what determines the fundamental logic of the system as a whole. The dominant relations of production are not, however, wherever the most people are working, rather the dominant relations of production are that which influence the system the most. Thus, in the 1800s, the United States was still a capitalist social formation despite having more slaves than industrial workers, because the very existence of slavery in the United States was a result of industrial capitalism’s need for labor and raw materials. Following this logic, it is therefore possible to have a socialist society where the majority of people do not work in collective sectors, given these collective sectors and proletarian controlled plans are what’s driving the fundamental logic of the entire system. A ruling class in Marxist theory is those who control the state and means of production. In the case of capitalist society, the state gets controlled by capitalists through corrupt campaign funding, donations, etc. and in turn the state looks after the interests of the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) instead of the working class (the proletariat). Our author claims that this was the case and that the state controlled industrial capital in their interests, but when I later debunk his claim by showing all the ways in which industrial capital was used in the interests of the workers (proving that the workers own the state) he denounces this as social democratic policies. So then it leaves me wondering what exactly kind of policies he would expect from a proletarian dictatorship, would they not also have social democratic policies? Anyways, moving onto his next point,

“Ben then claims I have no evidence for my “planner’s preference” claim.  My evidence, in fact, is Marx himself, who defined the bourgeoisie as the class that owned the means of production and exploited the proletariat for capital [3].  Ben himself wouldn’t dispute the fact that the Soviet planners owned the means of production, and it is quite clear from economic accounts that they used them to exploit the working class [4].  He then goes on to list a long set of social democratic policies that sound like they could come from a Bernie Sanders political platform (short work week, good healthcare, etc.) in an attempt to claim that the USSR was a proletarian dictatorship.  It doesn’t make sense to reprint the list here, but it can be found on this page.  What’s clear is that the USSR was merely a state capitalist country with a state that provided nice benefits to the proletariat.  Ben also makes the argument that the USSR must have been a dictatorship of the proletariat because living standards went up, ignoring the irrefutable fact that living standards go up every single time a country is industrialized.  His final argument, that the Kronstadt Rebellion and the Makhnovite Rebellion were crushed because the nascent USSR had to be protected further proves my point.  These were proletarian revolutions, and they were crushed to serve the interests of the Bolsheviks, thus showing that the Bolsheviks had replaced proletarian interests with their own.”

His first claim that the Soviet officials were exploiting the working class is laughable especially when he cites this article by marxists.org rather than explaining his point. In order for there to be an exploiting class, there must be a separation of workers from the means of production, which as I have shown there wasn’t because of the fact that workers controlled the government as well as had much say in how economic planning happened via trade unions [5]. As I explained earlier, he denounces all of my explanations of how the workers used the state to better their own lives as “social democratic” when in reality it debunks his claim that state planners were exploiters given that if they were then they wouldn’t plan the economy in the interests of the workers, because what creates the contradiction under capitalism of the capitalist as the exploiter is the fact that he has different interests than the workers, but I by showing this to be false have therefore proved that the state officials were not the same as state capitalists and Szymanski makes an even better case for this in his book [5]. Our author then denounces all of the improvements of life quality in the USSR as “something that happens in all industrial nations” however doesn’t mention the fact that this is not true. During the capitalist industrial revolutions, the quality of life for workers actually went down because of capitalist exploitation, but in the USSR they went up [6]. His final argument is that because the Bolsheviks crushed the Kronstadt Rebellion and the Makhnovite Rebellion that therefore proves his point that the state only cared about itself, but this argument is obviously wrong because as I’ve explained the state existed in the USSR to serve the interests of the working class, and therefore anything that threatened the soviet state, also threatened the workers. And it should be understood that neither of these revolutions were proletarian, but I won’t go into that here [7] [8]. The last awful paragraph screeched by our author is,

“He also claims that state planners and bureaucrats controlled production “alongside the workers via trade unions”, and that thus they were proletarians, which is utterly ridiculous.  First of all, the state planners had significant power over trade unions and many trade unions opposed the state planners but were unable to override them [6].  Regardless of this, the state planners did not actually partake in the physical process of production, and so they cannot be said to be proletarians.  One final note: I never said Trotsky was high ranking in the USSR, I said he was a high ranking Bolshevik before and during the revolution, as well as for part of the 20s.  Which, as leader of the Red Army, Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR, and Commissar of Military Affairs of the USSR, he was.”

For his claim that the state had power of the trade unions he cites an article by libcom.org about a strike that happened against Stalin during the great famine of 1932. It should be very obvious to anyone reading this of why it is intellectually dishonest to point to the state crushing dissent DURING A FAMINE as an example of how the state always crushes dissent. Contrary to the poor image our author is painting of trade unions in the USSR, workers actually had a great deal of autonomy and say over economic planning [9], especially due to the fact that of the 113.5 million trade unions that existed, there was 95% worker participation, and the workers were able to elect 5.5 million of their peers to help the state plan industry more in favor of the workers [10]. He then says that because the planners did not take part in the physical process of production they cannot be said to be proletarians. However this misunderstands what a proletarian is. Your class is defined by your relation to the means of production, not whether or not you physically are laboring. The state planners had the equal relation to the means of production because they were instructed how to plan the economy by the state officials who were elected by the people with consideration of what the trade unions wanted [9].

In conclusion, the author clearly doesn’t understand theory, has to cherry pick historical data as well as ignore other historical facts to prove his points, and is just an all around terrible writer. Thanks for reading!

References:

  1. https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/fi/vol06/no06/soviet.htm
  2. Alexandrov, G. F. “Joseph Stalin; a Short Biography.”
  3. https://espressostalinist.com/the-real-stalin-series/industrialisation/
  4. https://espressostalinist.com/the-real-stalin-series/time-of-nep/
  5. Szymanski, A. “Is the Red Flag Flying? The Political Economy of the Soviet Union Today”(1979)
  6. https://www.marxists.org/history/ussr/government/economics/statistics/index.htm
  7. http://www.isreview.org/issues/53/makhno.shtml
  8. https://espressostalinist.com/the-real-stalin-series/opposition/
  9. Costello, M. “Workers’ Participation in The Soviet Union” 
  10. Brown, E. “Soviet Trade Unions and Labor Relations”
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