In my previous post, NO MORE CONDESCENDING SAVIORS, I refer to an old group I was once in called the Communist Workers Group (ML), to its founder, a man named Tom Clark, and to a lengthy analysis of his entitled “State and Counter Revolution: A Critical History of the Marxist Theory of the State.” It’s release, I predicted, would raise a howl of discontent. Well, the former comrade of mine, Rick Atkinson, who was working on an introduction and preparing it to be placed in the on line Marxist archive has completed that task and it should appear there soon, but then who knows.
Tom, who is now deceased, argued in the book that what has passed for a proletarian movement (communist, socialist, Marxist, Marxist Leninist) is nothing of the kind. He argues that what is alleged to be a movement of, by, and/or for (take your pick) the proletariat is, in fact, a movement OF, BY, AND FOR the petty bourgeois. He contends this historical movement has been dominated by the petit bourgeois and has consequently acted on behalf of that class, its interests and its privileges. He argues that the entire history of this movement, call it Marxist, socialist, or communist has been nothing but a counter revolution against the interests of the proletariat. As Tom writes:
“The central (and for the socialist intellectual, most abrasive) conclusion from this analysis is that Marxism-Leninism is not a proletarian, but a middle class ideology, and that what has occurred in the socialist movement over the past hundred plus years has been a historical counter-revolution against the working class.
“The very people, who, with the best of intentions and often at personal sacrifice, gave themselves to the cause of working class emancipation, have in reality been the leading force in an objective class effort to perpetuate their own social privileges over the mass of workers. Where the communist parties, the vanguard detachments of the middle class, have taken state power, they have instituted a kind of “capitalism with a human face”, an officially benevolent dictatorship that enforces class peace through bribes and subsistence guarantees, but which ultimately rests, like all bourgeois governments, on the power of armed force.” (Introduction: S and CR)
His arguments are compelling and have had a profound impact upon me. I cannot agree with all of them and I do not agree with the conclusion that he drew from this which resulted in the total dissolution of the CWG and the withdrawal of its members (and himself) from any further active role in the movement he so heartily condemns. He draws this conclusion because he does not exempt himself or his comrades from this condemnation. Any further participation in the world communist movement in any way, shape or form he concluded would be detrimental to the true interests of the working class and only further those again of the petty bourgeois.
I draw a different conclusion...obviously. I find Tom's far too negative. At times, it seems to me, Tom refused to allow the historical figures with which he dealt to change their minds or to develop their thought. He simply labeled such things as contractions in their ideas. If I had not known Tom personally and worked with him in the past, I might have said sometimes Tom found things simply to fit his own scheme of things. However, I did know Tom and he would not have done that.
I do believe there is a role for a Marxist organization (as I have explained in the preceding post on this blog and elsewhere which is similar to that described by CLR James), while totally rejecting the vanguard party and other "leading" organizations which substitute themselves for, or dictate to the working class. I also believe that much, but obviously again, not all of the analysis Tom has done is evidence for the ideas expressed within various trends of autonomous Marxism (Tom would heartily disagree with me if he were alive, and Rick certainly does as well).
I should note that I left the CWG several years before this work was written and before the research was done. In the most simple of terms, my departure from the group was based on my belief at the time that the CWG had become too dogmatic and sectarian, and was lacking in practical work. I also held a profoundly different view in relation to white supremacy, white skin privilege and racism then did Tom or the CWG as a whole.
However, again, I find much of what Tom has written compelling and correct.
...The State and Counter-Revolution [S&CR] was completed in 1983 and revised in 1990. It was never published because, on the one hand, Tom could not find a leftist publisher willing to take on such a “blasphemous” piece of work. . On the other hand, no regular publisher was interested because the NCM had already imploded, the Soviet bloc was falling apart and China had unabashedly restored capitalism via the socialist market economy. During the 1980s it appeared that Marxism-Leninism had been relegated to the dustbin of history. However, given the revived interest in Marxism and the increased activity of the radical intelligentsia internationally during the last ten years, there is no better time than now for S and CR to be studied in detail.
This is a lengthy work and there is no way I can do it justice or even describe it effectively. I think it is very significant and I think we all could learn a great deal from it. I think it needs to be read. I actually think it should rank as a classic.
I am not confident that many will bother with it. I doubt that many will get it or want to get it. I think it likely that if anyone in the Marxist left responds, they will be denouncing it as heretical and ridiculous. They will be wrong to so totally reject this analysis.
It is sad that Tom is not here to elaborate or defend it, although the truth is, that because of the conclusion he reached, he wouldn't bother to do either. He was a man of principle who unlike many applied his principles even to himself.
I hope you read the entire work and then think about it and then decide what you will. While I would enjoy hearing people's reactions to this, it is unlikely that I will engage in much debate. It is after all not my work. I will try to remain somewhat true to Tom's feelings and expressed beliefs about the place of this work is such regard (although it is apparent that I do not totally share his view). As he wrote in in a personal correspondence:
“ … it (S and CR) shouldn’t really have academic value, or self-reference with some ongoing debate, i.e., be by and for the left intelligentsia.”
Personally, I want to thank Rick Atkinson for all the work he did to make this possible. Rick was a member of the Organization of Communist Workers (OCW) which worked very closely with the CWG.
Below are some words written by Rick in his background to the work. They are taken from a much longer piece that he wrote, but I think they will add to the understanding of what STATE AND COUNTER REVOLUTION is all about.
Tom Clark was, for lack of a better term, the founder of the CWG. Though the CWG had no organizing congress, formal principles of unity, or Party programme, individuals gathered around Tom primarily because of his ability to explain Marxist principles in clear and simple terms. Mr. Clark created the Workers League of Struggle prior to formation of the CWG in order to introduce individual activists to Marxism-Leninism and to train the more dedicated comrades for communist theoretical and practical work. Within the CWG Tom was the sole author of Our Tasks on the National Question, the principal editor of The Movement for the Party, and one of the primary writers for Forward, in which his work included the Family Tree Chart of U.S. Anti-Revisionism: 1956-1977.
Tom was initially as shaken as the rest of the CWG and OCW comrades when their investigation revealed fundamental contradictions within Marxist-Leninist theory and practice from its beginnings. But he was the only individual within the CWG with the wherewithal to turn shock and dismay into the clear-headedness and resolve required to put together all of the disparate parts of the story into a coherent and comprehensive critique. The story that needed to be put together was that of the counter-revolutionary nature of the intelligentsia, specifically the socialist and/or communist variety.
Drawing on the historical investigation by the CWG/OCW, Mr. Clark concluded that for the radical intellectual, Marxism offers not only a grand scheme of historical progression and aim, but also a central role for intellectuals in this struggle. In fact, within all varieties of Marxism, the role of the socialist intellectual is not only to help this historical “forward motion and hasten the advent of the new society” (Preface: State and Counter-Revolution), but also to actually lead this struggle of the working class. However, as Tom recognized, when the radical intelligentsia falls in love with the materialist basis of Marxism, their attachment is “not with scientific materialism, but with Marxism; not with a mode of thinking, but with a system of beliefs.” (Ibid.) In conjunction with the idea of historical progression, this “system of beliefs” allows the radical intellectual to assign “the momentum and grandeur of a world historical force” to their narrow class interests (Ibid.).
The over-arching point of Mr. Clark’s critique was that the petty bourgeois intelligentsia, whether advocating for imperialism or socialism and regardless of the social structure within which they live, could only continue to exist as part of a parasitical strata. It is “parasitical” because in order to be “free” to pursue interesting ideas, conduct “principled” debate, research, write, etc. the intelligentsia must be supplied with the means of subsistence without “having to actually work for a living” (Ibid.). The essence of petty bourgeois ideological work, whether capitalist or socialist, then, is simply to define and proselytize “how the privileged status of their kind is to be secured.”
Coming out of the anti-revisionist movement, Tom sought to expose the way that the radical intelligentsia maintained and enhanced their own class interests in the name of the working class. The answer was the socialist state. TC argued that the socialist state was a relatively stable solution for capitalist crisis because it provides the illusion “that the source of class conflict itself has been eliminated.” That is to say: “Socialism retains capitalist monopoly, social classes, economic inequality, a repressive mechanism, and so on, while declaring that capitalism, classes, inequality and repression have been abolished. And that has given it a tremendous advantage over the democratic and fascist state forms. It has been so advantageous, in fact that the socialist state has matured from an obscure ideology into a world historical power” (Introduction: State and Counter-Revolution).
Given this analysis, the final work based on the historical research and practical experience of the Communist Workers Group, authored by Tom Clark, was titled: The State and Counter-Revolution: A Critical History of the Marxist Theory of the State.
Okay, here is how I am going to do this. Today, I will post the Table of Contents and the background information written by Rick Atkinson. Each day I will post a preface, introduction, chapter, etc. These are not short. At the end of it all, I will go back and again print the Table of Contents, but link to the post which contains the complete post for each section.