Jul 12, 2011
Rizzi, Trotsky and the 'Apostate' Left: Bureaucratic Collectivism
Rizzi was a denizen of extremist circles (mostly leftist) in the Thirties. This book is not a complete translation of his "La Bureaucratisation du Monde". Rizzi managed to be a socialist and something of a racist at the same time! Far right and far left together? ...Look at the elements that make up the opposition to the mess in Iraq. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. This book only contains the work on 'convergen 10/17/2007
Rizzi, Trotsky and the 'Apostate' Left: Bureaucratic Collectivism
Rizzi was a denizen of extremist circles (mostly leftist) in the Thirties. This book is not a complete translation of his "La Bureaucratisation du Monde". Rizzi managed to be a socialist and something of a racist at the same time! Far right and far left together? ...Look at the elements that make up the opposition to the mess in Iraq. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. This book only contains the work on 'convergence' of political ideologies from a leftist point of view. To the best of my knowledge the racist stuff remains untranslated.
First let me start out with listing the Table of Contents of this English translation:
The Bureaucratization of the World (Part 1), 35;
1. The nature of the Soviet state, 41;
2. In the Camp of Agramant, 55;
3. Class property, 62;
4. Bureaucratic exploitation, 70;
5. The proletariat, 78;
6. Nationalization, 83;
7. Bourgeois restoration, 88;
8. Defining the USSR, 93;
9. The reign of the petite bourgeoisie, 96;
Appendix: Table of Contents of the 1939 edition ("La Bureaucratisation du Monde"), 98;
Name index, 107;
Subject index, 109;
The table of contents of the 1939 French edition, conveniently supplied in the appendix to this book, reminds us that Part II, the part specifically concerned with fascism, was not even included in the 1939 edition! Part III ("Quo Vadis, America?") was included in the 1939 edition. The Appendix to the 1939 edition ("Where is the world going?") contains the racist remarks I alluded to above. However, all that is published in this book is Part 1 of the 1939 edition, that is, the socialist (i.e., Trotskyite) portion of the book.
Rizzi was a Trotskyite. The left has often wondered why there are so many 'apostates' that come out of the Trotskyite movement. It was their radical critique of Stalinism that was responsible for this. Eventually, some 'Trots', as they were often called, concluded that Stalinism equals communism. But Rizzi was not among them.
His contribution was the notion of 'bureaucratic collectivism' and the belief that it was towards this that both the USSR and the Fascists were heading. Obviously, this 'new class' could not be understood through typical (or traditional) Marxist categories. What made this so outrageous for Marxists was the implication that History was not rolling in the direction of the proletariat, the so-called 'universal class'. This notion that the bureaucracy would rule influenced many people; the most famous of whom were James Burnham and Milovan Djilas. Note that Djilas, in spite of being imprisoned twice by communist Yugoslavia, continued to think of himself as a Marxist, but Burnham, after (or during, I forget) the second world war, became a conservative.
Though Rizzi thought of himself as a Marxist of the Trotskyite persuasion, one could find notes in him that are reminiscent of other movements. For instance, he sounds like a member of the Austrian School of Economics (the Libertarians) when (mostly in his postwar writings) he affirms that information conveyed by free markets is essential to economic rationality. He was thus an early advocate of market socialism. Also, this notion of a bureaucratic state, which keeps the proletariat from uniting History, strikes a pessimistic note that one would not be surprised to find in Spengler. And, of course, the racism also reminds us of the fascist camp...
It really was often only how one answered the question of the status of the bureaucracy in the USSR that either kept one a Marxist or drove one from the fold. If the bureaucracy was considered merely a 'caste' superimposed on the genuinely socialist economy of the USSR then one (generally) remained a communist. If, however, the bureaucracy was a new class, then one was in danger of leaving communism. Why? Because the appearance of a new class could not be explained within the boundaries of classical Marxism. Although Rizzi does try; claiming (in an untranslated part of the 1939 edition) that although the struggle between thesis (capitalist) - antithesis (proletariat) produces the new class of bureaucracy, eventually, thanks to the material socialist base of the economy, socialism wins.
Rizzi, by the way, always assumed that James Burnham (in 'The Managerial Revolution', 1941) had plagiarized his ideas. But, as our editor, Adam Westoby, points out in his useful introduction, the influence may have been reciprocal. The 1939 book by Rizzi is a reaction to the controversy (mostly in US Trotskyite circles) between Burnham (and Joseph Carter) and Trotsky over whether the USSR was a workers state or something new. (Rizzi was unaware of who Trotsky was arguing with at the time.) As Westoby dryly notes, "[t]here can be few things more disputed than an idea whose time has come."
But that is only an entertaining side note. So, again, let us ask what is at stake here in the Trotskyite controversy over the status of the USSR as 'degenerate workers state' or a new type of bureaucratic state? Let Trotsky himself speak in a brief late essay in which he mentions Rizzi's book:
"The historic alternative, carried to the end, is as follows: either the Stalin régime is an abhorrent relapse in the process of transforming bourgeois society into a socialist society, or the Stalin régime is the first stage of a new exploiting society. If the second prognosis proves to be correct, then, of course, the bureaucracy will become a new exploiting class. However onerous the second perspective may be, if the world proletariat should actually prove incapable of fulfilling the mission placed upon it by the course of development, nothing else would remain except openly to recognize that the socialist program based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended as a Utopia. It is self evident that a new "minimum" program would be required for the defense of the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic society." (Trotsky, 'The USSR in War')
And a little later we read:
"If contrary to all probabilities the October Revolution fails during the course of the present war, or immediately thereafter, to find its continuation in any of the advanced countries; and if, on the contrary, the proletariat is thrown back everywhere and on all fronts--then we should doubtlessly have to pose the question of revising our conception of the present epoch and its driving forces. In that case it would be a question not of slapping a copy book label on the U.S.S.R. or the Stalinist gang but of reevaluating the world historical perspective for the next decades if not centuries: Have we entered the epoch of social revolution and socialist society, or on the contrary the epoch of the declining society of totalitarian bureaucracy?" (Trotsky, 'The USSR in War', which is freely available on the Internet, btw.)
We all know that WWII did not result in world revolution, and we also know that the USSR eventually disappeared; it is thanks to Trotsky's own realism that so many of his followers eventually walked away from socialism. One needs this realism in order to make revolutions; it now seems that one also needs 'utopianism' to sustain the revolutionary impulse when revolutions fail. Read Rizzi, Trotsky (especially the last writings), Burnham, Djilas ("The New Class") and Max Shachtman ("The Bureaucratic Revolution") for further insight into this controversy. Four stars for this historically important book.
Dec 06, 2018
Not particularly well written. Claims surplus-value existed in the USSR but its rate and distribution was determined by bureaucrats instead of markets and this signified a new form of society which the world was moving towards... but obviously in retrospect this form of planning wasn't particularly competitive under the pressure of global markets or even enriching the elites to the maximum so they dismantled it. Not particularly well written. Claims surplus-value existed in the USSR but its rate and distribution was determined by bureaucrats instead of markets and this signified a new form of society which the world was moving towards... but obviously in retrospect this form of planning wasn't particularly competitive under the pressure of global markets or even enriching the elites to the maximum so they dismantled it.
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