Appendix: Ted Grant and Marxism

Submitted by AWL on 27 October, 2016 - 11:02 Author: Sean Matgamna and Martin Thomas

When the Russians invaded Afghanistan In December 1979, almost every “orthodox Trotskyist” group in the world supported them, or at any rate refused to call for their withdrawal. Some were wildly enthusiastic for a while. A big part of the so-called “United Secretariat of the Fourth International”, grouped around the Socialist Workers’ Party of the USA, hailed the Russians as “going to the aid of the Afghan revolution”.

Even those who had a more balanced view refused to call for the Russians to get out. Over the years most of the Trotskyism changed their minds and started to call for withdrawal. Militant was an exception. Socialist Organiser was very much in the minority when he insisted at the beginning that socialists should call for immediate Russian withdrawal.

The tragedy, as yet unfinished, that engulfed Afghanistan, shows who was right; and it would have been a worse tragedy, in its human consequences, if the Russians had decided to commit themselves to full-scale conquest.

Those, like Militant, who supported the Russians need to give an honest account of themselves on this question. They looked to the Russian bureaucracy to “make a revolution” — against the entire population of Afghanistan. Logically they should now denounce the Russians for betraying that revolution.

So far they have tried to square their circle by claiming that the Russians are withdrawing from Afghanistan victorious — but how long can that delusion last? Militant won’t give an account of themselves. The reason why they repeat the self-same errors over and over again is that they don’t want to learn. Delusions are more comfortable than the bitter truth.

Nevertheless, Trotsky was right when he wrote: “To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; to be true in little things as in big ones... these are the rules” of Marxist revolutionaries.

As far as I know there are two central documents putting forward Grant’s position. The first, the 15,000-word-long “The Colonial Revolution and the Sino-Soviet Dispute” was written in 1964. In fact it has little to do with Sino-Soviet dispute of the early 60s, and is a general statement of Grant’s view of the colonial revolution — that is, of Grant’s variant of the views common to himself and others in the early-60s Pablo-Mandel “International Secretariat of the Fourth International”. This document is the major single item in a big collection put out for supporters of Militant in 1974 under the title “The Colonial Revolution”.

The second central document was written 14 years later. It is the article ‘The Colonial Revolution and the Deformed Workers States’ already referred to, in Militant International Review, summer 1978. I will analyse the main ideas in both articles.

The second offers an opportunity for Grant to check what he wrote on the same subject 14 years earlier against the facts. We’ll see what he makes of it.

In the early 60s Algeria, Cyprus, most the French and British colonies in Africa, and Malaya all won independence — some of them after long and bloody struggles. The Cuban revolution had triumphed in 1959. In Algeria and in other Third World countries — notably in Iraq, in Egypt and in Syria — there had been substantial nationalisations and land reforms carried through by radical-nationalist military-based regimes. Generally the working class in the advanced capitalist countries was quiet, though there had been a general strike in Belgium in 1960-1.

The dominant notion in the Pablo-Mandel mainstream of the Trotskyist movement was that the “world revolution” was “on the rise”, but its “epicentre” was in the underdeveloped countries. Many would-be Trotskyists developed all sorts of illusions in this “revolutionary process”. Pablo hailed the Ben Bella leadership of the National Liberation Front in Algeria as genuine revolutionary socialists; Juan Posadas, who took a large number of its Latin American members out of the ISFI in 1962, was wildly enthusiastic about the Maoist current generated by the Chinese-USSR dispute of the early 60s, arguing that Mao’s verbal leftism really reflected his (Posadas’) ideas. The whole ISFI did not yet call for a political revolution in China.

In 1963 it united with the SWP-USA (which did call for a political revolution in China) on the basis of an evasive formula about the changes needed in China. What did Grant make of it all? He accepted the notion that a process of world revolution was going on; accepted that systems like China’s were its lawful products, greeted them; yet dourly portrayed them as totally repressing the working class.

After World War Two, says Grant, Stalinism was strengthened “temporarily for a whole historical period”. Yet the world revolution was still going on. What did this strengthened Stalinism mean for it?

‘’In... history... there have been many methods of class rule... In a period where the revolution (apart from Czechoslovakia) has taken place in backward or undeveloped countries, distortions, even monstrous distortions in the nature of the state created by the revolution are inevitable” so long as the metropolitan countries remain capitalist.

“The malignant power of the state and the uncontrolled rule of the privileged layers in the Soviet Union has served as a model for ‘Socialism’ in these countries”.

Bonapartism is a form of rule where the state rises above society “only in the last analysis directly reflecting the propertied classes because of the defence of private property on which it is based”.

Not only the bourgeoisie can have aberrant forms of rule. “The proletariat is not a ‘sacred cow’ to which analogous processes cannot take place”, says Grant elegantly. Thus “proletarian Bonapartism”:

“The State raises itself above society and becomes a tool of the bureaucracy in its various forms, Military, Police, Party, ‘Trade Union’ and Managerial” which is the “privileged” and “sole commanding” stratum.

“In the transition from capitalist society to Socialism the form of the economy can only be State Ownership of the means of production, with the organisation of production on the basis of a plan.”

And this state ownership, and a plan of some sort, are for Grant necessarily a workers’ state, whatever the political dynamics — though “Only the democratic control of the workers and peasants can guarantee such a transition [to socialism]. That is why Political Revolution in these countries is inevitable before workers’ democracy is instituted as an indispensable necessity if the state is to ‘wither away’, but such ‘transition regimes’ can only be deformed workers’ states — because the economy of these states is based on nationalisation of the means of production — the operation of the economy on the basis of a plan.”

So “monstrous distortions” are inevitable in “the state created by the revolution”, because of backwardness and the strength of Stalinism. But what is the motive force of this revolution? ‘The explanation for the way in which the revolution is developing in the colonial countries lies in the delay and even over-ripeness of the revolution in the West, on the one side, and the deformation of the revolution in Russia and China on the other side. At the same time it is impossible to continue on the old lines and the old pattern of social relations. If, from a historical point of view, the bourgeoisie has exhausted its social role in the metropolitan capitalist countries... it is even more incapable of rising to the tasks posed by history in the colonial areas of the world.

“The rotten bourgeoisie of the East and the nascent bourgeoisie of Africa are quite incapable of rising to the tasks solved long ago by the bourgeoisie in the West. Meanwhile, the bourgeois-democratic and national revolution in the colonial areas cannot be stayed. The rise in national consciousness in all these areas imperatively demands a solution to the tasks posed by the pressure of the more developed countries of the West.

“Thus we see the same process at one pace or another, in all the colonial countries. At the moment, the process is becoming marked in the Arab countries, which have been in a state of ferment for the last decade... The monotony with which such tendencies appear in all these countries is striking...

“The bourgeoisie is so weak and impotent that they are incapable of resistance. The officer caste which carried out the revolution [in Egypt], with the sympathy and support of the masses undeniably, did so because there was no perspective of modern development for the nation under the old system. There are no forces capable of resisting such change. Imperialism is too weak... The bourgeois system in these areas is so effete and prematurely decayed that it can offer no perspective of development...

“Under conditions of slump, there will be a veritable landslide in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the direction of social revolution, in this peculiar form... There are no forces of resistance in the old system in these countries. Thus the magnificent movement of history takes place on the peripheral weak links of the capitalist system. All mankind in a sense benefits from these changes. But it would be a horrible betrayal to see in these regimes, the authentic visage of Socialism”.

Thus the motive force of revolution is defined more negatively than positively. Negatively, it is the decay and impasse of the old order. Positively, it is nothing more precise than the needs of “‘development”, the tasks posed by history, “the magnificent movement of history”. ‘’In the process of the permanent revolution”, writes Grant, “the failure of the bourgeoisie to solve the problems of the capitalist democratic revolution under the conditions of the capitalist society of modern times
is pushing towards revolutionary victory”. Pushing whom? Towards a revolution made by whom?

The theory of distorted permanent revolution here is peculiar. Trotsky talked of the bourgeoisie in underdeveloped countries being tied to the landlord class and to imperialism, and being afraid of the mobilisation of the working class, and therefore not fighting seriously for bourgeois democracy. The working class in those countries could therefore take the lead in the fight for bourgeois-democratic measures like land reform, civil liberties, national independence. In that sense one class — the working class — would carry out the historic tasks of another, the bourgeoisie. Grant also talks of one class carrying out the tasks of another. What he describes, however, is some force of no precise class identity coming forward to substitute for a historic class.

Sometimes — as in the passage above — this “proletarian Bonapartist” force is described as substituting for the bourgeoisie. In nationalising industry, however, it is deemed to be substituting for the working class.

The Chinese Revolution was “next to the Russian Revolution, the greatest event in human history” — “as the document of the RCP [the British Trotskyist group in the 1940s, in which Grant played a leading role] proclaimed in advance”, adds Grant proudly.

“The Chinese Revolution unfolded as a peasant war... led by ex-Marxists. Thus as in Eastern Europe the revolution from the beginning assumed a Bonapartist character, with the classical instrument of Bonapartism, the peasant army”. Why didn’t the Maoists fuse with the bourgeoisie, as Trotsky had expected? “Because on the road of capitalist development there was no way forward for China”. So the Maoists constructed “a strong Stalinist state in the image of Moscow”.

“Just as bourgeois Bonapartism... in the last analysis defends the basis of the capitalist society, so in the same way, proletarian Bonapartism rests in the last analysis on the base created by the revolution, the nationalised economy”.

There is a curious logical trick here. The nationalised economy is “proletarian” because it is “created by the revolution”. But why is the revolution “‘proletarian”? Because it creates nationalised economy. The assumption is either that nationalised economy is ipso facto proletarian, however created; or — by a mechanical interpretation of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution — that no revolution in the modern world can be other than proletarian.

“The Stalinist leadership... where elements of proletarian action emerged spontaneously, met these with the execution of the leading participants”. But Grant is very optimistic about China.

“The Chinese revolution solved all those problems which bourgeois society was incapable of solving.”

Grant presents the Chinese Communist Party and its army as no more than a negative imprint of the impotence of the Chinese bourgeoisie. Yet consider the history. After the bulk of the old Communist Party was broken up and slaughtered by Chiang Kai Shek in the 1920s, a faction took to the countryside. Basing themselves on the peasants, they took power in Kaangsi province in 1931. Harassed there by Chiang Kai Shek, they went on a Long March to the remote north-west and set up a regional state power there. The Maoists built an army, fought the Japanese invaders after 1937, and manoeuvred with the Chiang Kai Shek government, with which they entered into an alliance without ever surrendering to its control and putting themselves at Chiang’s mercy as the CP had done in the run-up to 1927. All the time they built up and conserved their strength. After 1946 they then fought a three-year civil war. The Mao leadership was not a mere shadow of the pressures and forces around it. Its ideas and models were Stalinist, but nevertheless it was a conscious, active force whose deliberate and calculated efforts transformed its environment.

Grant fades all this out of the picture. At the same time he vastly exaggerates the impasse of Chinese society. Of course China was backward. The bourgeoisie and the landlords were corrupt. The Chiang Kai Shek regime was rotten and incompetent. But societies do not just come to a line marked: “Dead end — wait here for a deliverer”.

If the Maoists had not mobilised, manoeuvred, and fought, then Chinese society would have continued in a different way. If what has happened in the non-Stalinist colonial world since the 1940s is any guide, and it must be, it would have developed substantially on a different, capitalist, basis. The conscious factor was central in China and Cuba in securing one result, and equally central in Egypt or Syria in securing another. But Grant reduces it to naught by way of crude distortions of reality and the method of vulgar materialism. He sees politics as a mere impress of economic trends. Where Marx wrote “Men make history, but under circumstances not determined by themselves”, he might write “Circumstances make history, but with men not chosen by themselves”. This vulgar materialism diminishes both the conscious role of political formations in history, and the importance of any other criterion than nationalisations for a workers’ state.

Grant uses a very mechanical, indeed mystical, determinism, according to which “needs of economic development” make history almost regardless of human activity. “All history”, he writes, “has demonstrated that the peasantry by its very nature.. can never play the dominant role... It can support either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. Under modern conditions it can support the proletarian Bonapartist leaders or ex-leaders of the proletariat. However, in so doing, a distortion of the revolution is inevitable... on the lines of a military-police state”. But what are these proletarian Bonapartist leaders themselves, positively? Grant’s answer: they are what the nationalised property they create makes them. He underlines his point: “The most striking thing to demonstrate the correctness of this thesis is the events in Iraq. The Communist Party, through its cowardly opportunism and the policy of Khrushchev not to disturb the imperialists in this area, failed to take advantage of the revolutionary situation provoked by the fall of the old regime [in 1955]... Nevertheless the Kassem regime... was preparing measures of nationalisation. The recent [1963] coup of the army took place to prevent these measures. But now... this very caste... has itself now announced measures of nationalisation, which embrace all important industry and the banks”.

The Aref regime formed after 1963 did indeed nationalise most industry in Iraq. But for Grant the political events he describes do not show the state-capitalist nature of those nationalisations. On the contrary: they show that “the process” is so strong that even if the Stalinists are defeated, even if the radical nationalists are in turn defeated, still the makers of “the counter-revolutionary coup” will willy-nilly become instruments of Proletarian Bonapartism. From one side the impasse of capitalism pushed society willy-nilly towards proletarian Bonapartism. From the other side — for Grant — the backwardness of the Third World, coupled with the existence of the USSR and the survival of capitalism in the metropolises, makes proletarian Bonapartism inevitable.

Other Trotskyists in the same international tendency (Pablo-Mandel) that Grant was then in had great, exaggerated, somewhat fantastic hopes that the Algerian revolution would deepen and follow Cuba. They saw Cuba as a relatively healthy workers’ state; and indeed then and until late 1960s Cuba was far from being a hardened Stalinist state as it is today. No such hopes or aspirations for Grant. He expresses hard, fatalistic conviction that the wave of the future can only be decades of deformed, totalitarian workers’ states.

“Beginning as a national revolutionary war against colonial oppression, Algeria finds itself in an impasse . On the lines of capitalist society, there can be no solution of its problems. With the result, step by step, that Ben Bella and the FLN are being pushed in the direction of a ‘Socialist solution’...” This will be “a Stalinist dictatorship of the familiar model”. There is no other possibility whatsoever.

“Even the victory of a Marxist Party, with the knowledge and understanding of the process of deformation and degeneration of Russia, China and other countries, would not be sufficient to prevent the deformation of the revolution on Stalinist lines, given the present relationship of world forces.

“Revolutionary victory in backward countries, such as Algeria, under present conditions, whilst constituting a tremendous victory for the world revolution and the world proletariat... cannot but be on the lines of a totalitarian Stalinist state”.

The only Third World countries for which any other possibility is even hinted at are India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) — and, in another passage, South Africa.

“In India and Ceylon... with a developed proletariat, it is possible that the bourgeois democratic revolution could be transformed into the Socialist revolution... The installation of a Workers’ Democracy would be its crowning achievement.. However, in these countries... the firm establishment of a workers’ democracy could only be an episode to be followed by deformation, or counter-revolution, in the Stalinist form, if it was not followed in a relatively short historical period by the victory of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries”.

Then it hardly matters very much if Third World revolutions are immediately Stalinist; it saves time and energy for all concerned. The situation in Algeria — where the possibility of a workers’ democracy emerging was indeed slight in 1964 — is made to stand for the whole Third World. The proletariat has been dropped from the whole calculation, the protagonist is the “proletarian Bonapartist” social formation gathered around the army, or the CP, or the Ba’ath party, or whatever, and the working class is fated to suffer “a totalitarian Stalinist state”.

Grant regrets the totalitarian suppression of the working class. He censures those Trotskyists who gloss up the Stalinist regimes. He looks forward to a political revolution at the next stage. But he is not impatient. For the spread of proletarian Bonapartism is part of the “magnificent movement of history” which is sure eventually to produce world socialism. On a world scale, “From the point of view of Marxism, no more favourable situation could be envisaged”. But in this rosy perspective, Grant dismisses the working class entirely for the whole next stage of history in most of the world!

The working class has no role to play except to “support” the semi-automatic ascent of the alien social formations that Grant calls proletarian Bonapartism. The system that they must support is one in which the working class is to be mercilessly suppressed and denied all civil or political rights. No wonder Grant needs to tell himself again and again that this is nevertheless “a tremendous victory for the world revolution”.

What should the working class, or the socialists, in the countries where proletarian Bonapartism is the inevitable “next stage”, do? Bow down low before the imperious decree of history, as revealed by Ted Grant? Before 1917 the great majority of the Russian Marxists were convinced that bourgeois society was the inevitable next stage for Russia.

The Bolsheviks advocated that the working class should not tail the bourgeoisie, but should strive to do the job themselves, even to the point of forming a coalition government which would inevitably be short-lived. The Mensheviks thought that the revolution could be made only by coaxing and prodding the bourgeoisie to do it; but they said to workers — organise, defend yourselves, fight for liberty in the bourgeois republic. And Grant? By definition workers’ self-defence is not allowed under proletarian Bonapartism. Any civil liberties would hinder the proletarian Bonapartists in their progressive work. So what can the workers do?

In fact, any worker or socialist who took Grant’s “perspectives” seriously would — if they did not despair and die — ... join the bureaucracy. There would be no shortage of ideological, political and historical rationalisations, after all, would there? In his 1978 article — to anticipate — Grant is even clearer: “For a transition to a Bonapartist workers’ state such organs of workers’ democracy, indispensable for a healthy workers’ state, would be an enormous hindrance...”

Does Grant want the workers to be suppressed by the proletarian Bonapartists? Speaking of someone with 50 years as a would-be Trotskyist it is tempting to say: of course not. He has just not thought it through. I’m not sure. Passages like this — which state a central truth about the Stalinist system — go ill with Grant’s fervent advocacy of the glories of proletarian Bonapartism. The contradictions are blurred by Grant’s stance of vast philosophical detachment, his sweeping perspectives in which the activity of the majority of the world’s working class is lost as a tiny detail in the “magnificent movement of history” — but they are there. Comrade Grant, you advocate and justify the system that you describe as “a one-party totalitarian state machine where the proletariat is helpless and atomised”. You recognise it as necessary, you greet it as progressive.

The second article was written 14 years after the first. A lot had happened in that period. In 1964 Grant had written. “In Asia, the remorseless peasant war of liberation in Vietnam... is nearing success...”

He predicted confidently — as he would continue to do year after year — that the US would soon negotiate a compromise resulting in “a nationalist-Stalinist regime in Vietnam... independent of China, like Yugoslavia is independent of Russia”.

In 1965, the US started bombing North Vietnam, and built up its forces, previously small, to 125,000 men in Vietnam. By the end of 1966 it had 400,000 troops there. At the end of 1972, in eleven days it dropped a greater tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than the Allies dropped everywhere in the world in the whole of World War Two. Finally, in 1975, the Vietnamese CP emerged victorious.

The war had seriously shaken the whole economic and political structure of metropolitan capitalism. In 1978, all Grant has to offer on Vietnam is a harangue on how events have confirmed his perspective, and how “The latest events in Indochina have served again to show the ridiculous contortions of the policies of all the sects...”

In 1964, Grant had compared South Korea to South Vietnam. “The American position in South Vietnam tomorrow in South Korea, is becoming untenable... The military police states in South Vietnam and South Korea and other areas of South-East Asia can only be compared to the rotting regime of Chiang Kai Shek in the period before the Second World War”.

By 1978 South Korea had gone through probably the most rapid process of capitalist industrialisation ever seen anywhere. Industrial output there grew 17% per year in 1960-70, 13.6% per year in 1970-82. South Korea is now the second biggest shipbuilding nation in the capitalist world, and threatening to outstrip Japan. Grant in 1978 comments: “There is no possibility of a consistent, uninterrupted and continuous increase in productive forces in the countries of the so-called Third World on a capitalist basis. Production stagnates or falls...’ True, any development of productive forces under capitalism will not be quite “uninterrupted and continuous”. It will be spasmodic and uneven. But that is not the same as stagnation.

South Korea — where growth was much accelerated by the US’s vast Vietnam war spending — is exceptional. But generally Third World capitalism has shown an elasticity which proves Grant’s mechanical picture of society at a dead halt not only methodologically unsound but empirically ridiculous. From the early 1960s manufacturing industry began to grow quite fast in the Third World. In 1960, the Third World made only 5% of the capitalist world’s steel. By 1980 it produced 15%.

Overall since 1950 manufacturing output in the Third World has grown around 6% per year, and output per head at around 3 to 4% per year. That average is twice as fast as the growth of British manufacturing industry in the 19th century. In Mexico manufacturing output rose at an average of 8.5% per year in 1960-82. In Brazil, at 8% in 1970-82. In Kenya, a country specifically named by Grant as doomed to stagnation, at 8% per year in 1970-82. In Pakistan, again supposed to be absolutely static, at 6.5% per year in 1960-82. Great misery often goes with this growth; but it is not stagnation!

In 1964, Grant had confidently seen Egypt as on the road to proletarian Bonapartism. In 1978 he has no comment. He hailed Syria as a workers’ state in 1965 (in a document which is published in the collection The Colonial Revolution). In 1978 he repeats that assessment. What is the reality? The Economist Intelligence Unit reports as follows on Egypt: “Under President Nasser, Egypt built up a dominant public sector of the economy. In the 50s banks, insurance, transport, major trading, mining and even agriculture were all brought under the overall control of the state. Regulated pricing, purchasing and profit margins were the order of the day.

“Over the next 20 years some valuable national assets were built up, particularly the iron, steel and other heavy industries. (Even today some 75% of industrial production comes from the public sector). But growth tended to be sluggish. Wars with Israel depleted currency reserves; there was little domestic demand to stimulate the economy.

“In 1974 the new president, Sadat, decided to reverse the centralising economic policy of his predecessor. His law 43 of that year instigated infitah, the open door policy, and gave the green light to increase foreign and domestic private investment.

“The latter half of the 1970s saw some spectacular improvements in economic performance. Real GDP rose on an average of around 9% a year from 1974 to 1981. However it soon became apparent that much of the growth was being fuelled by four significant sources of revenue: oil sales, Suez Canal tolls, tourism receipts, and workers’ remittances. The actual effect of the open door policy was fairly limited.

“Law 43 companies provided much needed stimulus to their Egyptian counterparts, particularly in banking”.

And on Syria: “Although President Rafez al Assad rules in the name of the Ba’ath party, Syria’s economic system and political structure do not rigidly conform to Ba’athist ideals: indeed, the Assad regime’s will to survive rather than the party doctrine is often the most important determinant of events. The private sector still plays an important part in most areas of the economy and a whole stratum of nouveaux riches has been allowed to develop. Its members tend to have strong links with the regime, often coming from the Alawite minority to which Assad himself belongs. Corruption and nepotism are rampant ...

“The foundations of a socialist economy were laid in the period of the first union with Egypt (1958-61), largely on the lines of President Nasser’s own policies in Egypt, and have been consolidated by the Ba’ath party from 1963 onwards. The main measures implemented to change the structure of the economy were land reform and nationalisation of the major industries and financial institutions.

“In addition the government controls utilities, transport, communications and internal and external trade, and operates a wide-ranging system of price controls. Public investment predominates, but is largely funded by outside transfers.

“In Syria there is considerable but far from total central control over resource allocation and current operations in the productive sector of the economy. Much private enterprise remains, however, and has been actively encouraged in recent years.

“Of the total sum of S£101.5 billion to be invested in the Fifth Plan (1981-5), S£23.3 billion or 23% was to come from the private sector.

“Private sector operations in industry tend to become more efficient than their public sector counterparts. The black economy has grown increasingly important in recent years, and the government has made no determined effort to stamp it out. The military is heavily involved in the black economy and in smuggling from Lebanon...”

Egypt and Syria show that Third World bourgeoisies — or sections of them — can opt for state capitalism as a measure of expediency. The same lesson can be drawn from a number of Third World regimes with no pretence whatever at socialism which have nevertheless developed industry on the basis of extensive state ownership and control.

The Ivory Coast has possibly the most vocally pro-capitalist government in the Third World. ‘’The state seeks to promote a stratum of entrepreneurs... The creation of a rural bourgeoisie... is also the explicit target in agriculture. The effort on the part of the state to persuade Ivorians to invest their savings in industry, and thereby diminish state intervention, is another example...” (this quotation, and all following quotations in this section, from H S Marcussen and J E Torp, Internationalisation of Capital).

Moreover, the Ivory Coast state has clearly been governed by the bourgeoisie. Under French rule, the country was mostly exploited in the form of French-owned plantations worked by forced labour. When the forced labour system was abolished in 1946, a native planter class began to develop.

“The struggle for independence was carried out by a layer of larger plantation owners... this group of larger plantation owners ... took over the colonial administrative apparatus and... gradually developed the state apparatus to what it is today”.

Yet the state totally dominates the economy. It controls marketing of agricultural produce. It owns the biggest plantations and the ancillary factories. “The Ivorian state... share of total (industrial) capital has grown from 10% in 1976 to... 53% in 1980”.

Almost all the rest of industry is foreign capital operating under detailed conditions imposed by the state. Marcussen and Torp could find only five people in the country who could be described as private industrial capitalists, and even the big private planter class has declined relative to the state. On this basis industry grew at about 8% per year in 1965-83.

“In 1950, the total industrial sector consisted of two small canneries, some soap factories, two factories producing beer and mineral water, a spinning mill and some saw mills. Today a varied industrial sector exists consisting of... 705 enterprises in 1980.”

Samir Amin, a well-known academic Marxist economist of Maoist leanings, wrote a detailed study on the Ivory Coast in the mid-1960s: in which he concluded that substantial autonomous development there was possibly only through socialism. Marcussen and Torp point out that the vocally pro-capitalist regime has actually done through capitalism what Amin said could be done only through socialism! And the Ivory Coast should pose a problem for Grant, too. If Syria is a workers’ state, then why isn’t the Ivory Coast? If (as we saw) any petty bourgeois formation in Iraq — either the CP, or the left nationalists, or the army officers who carried out a right-wing coup against the left nationalists — could become the vehicle for “proletarian Bonapartism”, then why can’t the bourgeoisie in the Ivory Coast be “proletarian Bonapartism” too?

By the logic of Grant’s theory, we would be driven to the conclusion that when the bourgeoisie — in the interests of making profits better — nationalises enough of industry, then the bourgeoisie becomes proletarian! In fact a high level of nationalisations in industry is common throughout the Third World, under regimes of the most varying colour. But the bulk of Grant’s 1978 article is simply repetition of his theses from 1964.

‘’At a time when Mao and the Chinese CP had the programme of capitalism and ‘national democracy’”, boasts Grant, “we could predict the inevitability of proletarian Bonapartism as the next stage in China”.

“Here was a perfect example of one class — the peasants in the form of the Red Army — carrying out the tasks of another”. (I.e. here, of the working class. Elsewhere Grant identifies the proletarian Bonapartists as carrying through the tasks of the bourgeoisie). “It is amusing now to see the sects swallowing the idea that a ‘workers’ state’ was established in China by the peasant army without turning a hair only because at the head of the army was the so-called ‘Communist’ Party. In classical Marxist theory this idea would be precisely considered hair-raising and fantastic. The peasants, as a class, are least capable of assuming a socialist consciousness. It is an aberration of Marxism to think that such a process is ‘normal’. It can only be explained by the impasse of capitalism in China, the paralysis of imperialism, the existence of... Stalinist Russia; and most important of all, the delay in the victory of the revolution in the industrially advanced countries of the world”.

But for Grant, in fact, the process is much mere uniformly and mechanically a “norm” than it is for the “sects” he is lambasting! Grant reconciles it all in his own mind, first by a stance of philosophical detachment (the battles of most of the world for half a century are only a marginal distortion in the grand sweep of History), and second by the notion that it doesn’t matter who creates “Proletarian Bonapartism”. Any force to hand can be pressed into service.

Continuing his account of China, Grant makes it clear that his concept of “proletarian Bonapartism”, under the labels, is in reality a concept of a new class, a new historical epoch, midway between capitalism and workers’ revolution. “On a capitalist basis there is no longer a way forward particularly for backward countries. That is why army officers, intellectuals and others affected by the decay of their societies under certain conditions can switch their allegiance.

“A change to proletarian Bonapartism actually enlarges their power, prestige, privileges and income. They become the sole commanding and directing stratum of the society raising themselves even higher over the masses than in the past. Instead of being subservient to the weak, craven and ineffective bourgeoisie they become the masters of society”.

So “proletarian Bonapartism” is a process whereby the middle class carry through their revolution with the conscious and central intention to become the ruling class (Grant calls it caste) on the basis of collectivised property, using the state as their instrument. Long ago Mikhail Bakunin, the anarchist opponent of Karl Marx in the First International in the 1860s, described “state socialism” as no more than a proposal by middle-class intellectuals to enslave the workers. Grant’s “proletarian Bonapartism” is more like that than any “distorted” version of Marxian socialism. But why is it proletarian Bonapartist? Why are they workers’ states?

Remember that Grant emphasises again and again that these states have nothing in common with the revolutionary USSR of Lenin and Trotsky except nationalised property, and that they cannot enable a transition to socialism without a further workers’ revolution. Before that further workers’ revolution all they can do is carry out certain tasks of the bourgeois revolution and develop industry. Why is that proletarian?

Grant’s implicit answer is that the one workers’ state — the USSR — defines the many similar to it. In fact the vast expansion of the deformed workers’ state theory to include Syria, Burma etc. — and the relegation of the conscious factor, the revolutions, the social overturns, to the status of inessentials — inescapably implies that the many do define the USSR — as a new form of class society. That is the last thing Grant wants. In the 1940s he attempted to refute Tony Cliff’s theory of state capitalism in the USSR by arguing that state capitalism was a logical impossibility. Unlike Trotsky he rules out even the theoretical possibility that nationalised property could be other than proletarian. But ideas have their own logic.

Grant’s notion that we are in a whole epoch of progressive Stalinism — that this distinct form of society is the only and inevitable way to develop the productive forces in most of the world — implies that the bureaucracy in Russia was no aberration but something rooted in the fundamental needs of Russian society. The bureaucracy were not the usurpers that Trotsky says they were, but a legitimate historical ruling class. “In Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, Syria, Ethiopia — the petty bourgeois intellectuals, army officers, leaders of guerrilla bands, use the workers and peasants as cannon fodder, merely as points of support, as a gun rest, so to speak. Their aim, conscious or unconscious, is not power for the workers and peasants, but power for their elite”. All distinctions between a genuine mass mobilisation and revolution, and palace coups, are suppressed by Grant.

The workers and peasants, in Grant’s “perspective’”, are fated to be “cannon fodder”. But “proletarian Bonapartism”, is still a tremendous step forward.

“These regimes... can... develop the productive forces with seven league boots. They carry out in backward countries the historic job which was carried out by the bourgeoisie in the capitalist countries in the past”. Why should carrying out the jots of the bourgeoisie define army officers in Syria or anywhere else as “proletarian”? Grant’s argument depends on his repeated assertions about the absolute stagnation of capitalism (therefore, any system that sees development cannot be capitalist) and dogmatic manipulation of phrases from Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution (only on a proletarian basis can the bourgeois tasks be carried out).

But, labels aside, why do the Stalinist regimes develop the productive forces fast? Grant knows well enough, even though he would say that the progress is primarily a product of the nationalised economy and planning. The workers are under semi-slave conditions. The state has totalitarian control over them. All means of working-class self-defence are destroyed and systematically rooted out. Such methods are inseparable from the results desired and advocated by Grant. (Notably, the least repressive of the Stalinist-type states, Cuba, has had a rate of economic growth not particularly impressive by comparison with capitalist countries). Implicitly — with such conclusions as his attitude on Afghanistan — Grant is saying that “the development of the productive forces” is more important than the working class and its struggles. And he is utterly fatalistic and dogmatic about the inevitability and progressiveness of “proletarian Bonapartism”.

In fact there is a substantial proletariat in many Third World countries. Working-class revolution is not ruled out; and even if it were, socialists could not abandon the cause of the working class for the sake of “‘the productive forces”. Far from adopting Grant’s “proletarian Bonapartism” as part of its programme (until socialism comes in the metropolitan countries), the working class in the Third World should fight, with guns and any other weapons at their disposal, and to the last ebb of their strength against the imposition of a Stalinist totalitarian state. Of course no individual in Militant holds this attitude of welcoming Stalinism consciously, lucidly, and coherently. Yet the logic is there, for certain.

The major new experience — apart from Afghanistan — dealt with in Grant’s 1978 article is Portugal. His fantastic account of the Portuguese revolution and implicitly of what our programme in it should have been shows that it is not only for the Third World, but even for the less-developed countries of Europe, that proletarian Bonapartism is on the agenda.

In April 1974, Portugal’s crumbling semi-fascist dictatorship was brought down by an army revolt, As Portuguese politics radicalised, the top army ranks round General Spinola attempted a coup to clamp down on the revolution in March 1975. Their defeat by a workers’ mobilisation opened a period of intense struggle. Workers’ commissions were set up in the factories, neighbourhood commissions in working-class districts. Factories and banks were brought under workers’ control and nationalised. One shaky provisional government succeeded another, dominated by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and/or radicalised officers. Many army officers started talking about revolution and socialism; and the first act in the coup, in November 1975, which halted the development of the revolution, was the removal of the left-wing general Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho and his unit, Copcon, from posts round Lisbon. What account does Grant give?

“Under conditions of the crisis of capitalism in Portugal, a semi-colonial country, a majority of the officer caste... moved in the direction of revolution and ‘socialism’. Only our tendency explained this process.

“This gave an impetus to the movement of the working class, which then reacted in its turn on the army. This affected... even some admirals and generals who were sincerely desirous of solving the problems of Portuguese society and the Portuguese people... True enough, because of the reformist and Stalinist betrayal of the Portuguese revolution — by preventing it from being carried through to completion [by the “admirals and generals”?] — there has been a reaction. The army has been purged and purged again to become once more a reliable instrument of the bourgeoisie.

“But how far this has succeeded remains to be tested in the events of the revolution [sic] in the coming months and years”.

Rather than stressing the need for working-class independence, Grant looks to the officers. And not only in 1975! Three years later he was still looking hopefully for “proletarian Bonapartists” to come forward.

June 1985

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