Why the New Cannot Be Born

I wrote the following in response to a transcript of a talk given by Dan Gallin to Greek activists and unionists, posted on the New Unionism Network site.

Excellent analysis, apart from one major mistake…

Gallin writes “our present crisis, […] has several basic elements” the third of which is the “hugely destructive impact of Stalinism.”

He continues adding, “Russia had three or four years of revolution, followed by seventy years of counter-revolution.”

This analysis of the Russian Revolution does not stand up to historical facts and with it fails to learn one of the most important lessons from the 20th Century, which has significant implications for labour movement revitalisation today.

The counter-revolution did not start with Stalin but rather with Lenin and Trotsky. Has Chomsky, and many others, have repeatedly pointed out:

“particularly since 1917, Marxism – or more accurately, Marxism-Leninism – has become, as Bakunin predicted, the ideology of a ‘new class’ of revolutionary intelligentsia who exploit popular revolutionary struggles to seize state power. They proceed to impose a harsh and authoritarian rule to destroy socialist institutions, as Lenin and Trotsky destroyed the factory councils and soviets. They will also do what they can to undermine and destroy moves toward authentic socialism elsewhere, if only because of the ideological threat.”?

(quoted in Looking Forward: participatory economics for the twenty first century. Albert & Hahnel. 1991)

But the problem is not so much these two or three individuals but rather, I would argue and as Chomsky suggests, the form of their revolutionary organisations – namely, democratic centralism.

Democratic centralism maintains the corporate division of labour which is the source of power for the coordinator class (which is what advocates of participatory economics call Bakunin’s “new class”). The coordinator class can be anti-capitalist – as with Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin – but that does not make them pro-working class or pro-classlessness. But the corporate division of labour is not only maintained by democratic centralism, it is also maintained in the cooperative and trade union movements.

Focusing in on the evils of Stalinism and failing to understand the broader implications of how the ideology of the coordinator class has come to dominate the labour movement – and as a consequence alienating the working class from their own movement – is, to use Gallin’s own quotes, one of the reasons the “new cannot be born” and is one of the major obstacles preventing us from “rebuilding [our] movement to be the most powerful force”.

The intellectual task, then, is to conceptualise an alternative institutional arrangement to that of the corporate division of labour.

The practical task, then, is to implement this new institutional arrangement into our organisations – planting the seeds of the future in the present.

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