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4220Re: More questions on the theory of the labor aristocracy

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  • Peter Boyle
    Jan 22, 2004
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      Bob Gould wrote:
       Obviously, Lenin and Zinoviev both extend their empirical
      observations into a general analysis.

      Do the empirical observations on which the analysis seems to be based
      form part of what Jon and Peter understand to be the Leninist theory
      of the aristocracy of labour in imperialist countries?

      It seems important, to me, to try to clarify this before we can carry
      the discussion further.
       

      Of course. But let's go back to your earlier request for some sort of summary of Lenin's theory of labour aristocracy.

      “[England's] exclusive position [between 1852 and 1892] led to the emergence, from the 'masses,' of a semi-petty-bourgeois, opportunist 'labour aristocracy.' The leaders of this labour aristocracy were constantly going over to the bourgeoisie, and were directly or indirectly on its payroll.... Present-day (twentieth-century) imperialism has given a few advanced countries an exceptionally privileged position, which, everywhere in the Second International, has produced a certain type of traitor, opportunist, and social-chauvinist leaders, who champion the interests of their own craft, their own section of the labour aristocracy.”

      - Lenin in Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder

      Lenin’s theory of labour aristocracy was an integral part of his analysis of the development of monopoly capitalism. This is why the discussion of this question on this and other lists intersects with discussions about imperialism (and the qtn of national self-determination), social democracy, the labour movement, racism, etc.

      Of course the theory falls if these trends of an economic split in the working class have not persisted.

      The actual material divide in the working peoples in the world is one of the biggest realities of our world today. It is summed up by today’s equivalent of Lenin’s privileged less than one-tenth of the world:

      “North America and Western Europe - representing 12 percent of the world's population - account for 60 percent of this consumption. By contrast, the one third of humanity who live in South Asia and sub Saharan Africa account for only 3.2 percent of this consumption.” ("State of the World 2004" report by Worldwatch Institute)

      This cleavage, reinforced by now more than 100 years of monopoly capitalism, is the major reality check for socialists today. In this 100 years capitalism has created the biggest global army of wage slaves in history, so socialists are posed a number  of challenges

      1. How can the workers of the world unite in the face of such institutionalised disparity in their own ranks?

      2. How can socialism develop when distorted economic and social development spurs political upheaval most in the parts of the world where there is the poorest material basis for displacing capitalist relations of production and exchange? Especially as:

      a) In the semi-colonial countries there is, as a result, a material basis in economic backwardness persistent and powerful pressures bureaucratism even on revolutionary regimes pressures (as Trotsky and others identified)?

      b) In the advanced capitalist countries, there is a material basis, for a persistent class collaborationist and opportunist tedencies to persist in the labour movements, i.e. these are not just the result of the conservativism of particular labour leaderships but that labour bureaucracy has a strong social base. Lenin believed that it was not possible for monopoly capitalism to indefinitely deliver material security to all of the working class even in the advanced capitalist countries.

      Rather than simply deduce a) and b) this from evidence of the global economic split, we should also look at the specifics in imperialist countries.

      To identify a material base for opportunism (or for bureaucratism) is not to argue that it is inevitable. This would be clearly over-deterministic. Actual political struggles that can be decisive (though for how long?) and ideology has a degree of independence from material conditions.

      Does this help?

      Peter Boyle

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