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Submitted by Jason Schulman on Sun, 08/01/2017 - 20:47

Just a passing remark -- or a few remarks -- on Steve's debate with Ed.

Every ruling class or elite above the working class is in a sense parasitic in that their existence isn't necessary for society to function. The working class could (and should) collectively run society without any entity dominating/directing/exploiting us.

But I'd argue with Steve that he, Mandel and Trotsky were wrong in their description of the way in which the Soviet elite was parasitic.

Marcel van der Linden, in Western Marxism and the Soviet Union, explains:

"A third problem is posed by the fact that Trotsky only ascribed a distributive and parasitic function to the bureaucracy, and thereby denied that it could have roots in the productive sphere. From an orthodox [Marxist] standpoint, this idea is impossible to sustain. The Soviet bureaucracy, after all, led the enterprises, and hence also the production processes.

[...]This dual character of the leadership function obviously also applied to Soviet enterprise management, which, on the one side, tried to organise production, and, on the other side, simultaneously embodied the oppression of the workers. Clearly, the corollary must be that at least an important part of the Soviet bureaucracy was not exclusively parasitic, but also performed
productive labour in the Marxian sense."

That said, I don't think the idea of a "bureaucratic collectivist mode of production" has held up well either. The EVOLUTION of Russia, China, Vietnam towards capitalism has made it clear that the Stalinist elites of these countries were NOT a new type of ruling class. They wanted to be, they tried to be, but they couldn't do it on the basis of the defective, dysfunctional Stalinist social system. The same elites now rule these states but increasingly as the representatives of capitalist classes.

So if these elites weren't a "bureaucratic collectivist ruling class" or a parasitic labor bureaucracy, what were they? I'd argue that in the 1920s the Soviet party-state became a representative of the peasantry, not the proletariat. As one author has put it:

"The peasantry cannot rule: and in consequence it can only, when it acts independently, find a master who will coerce it to produce for the society. That master is the absolutist state. The forced collectivizations and their consequences were not the result of Stalin the monster, or even merely of economic mismanagement. They were the consequences of letting the peasantry loose in the first place through the land reform and the ideology of the smychka. That this is the case can be demonstrated easily enough from the parallels in other Soviet-model states. The very same phenomenon -- scissors crisis, leading to a wildly ultra-left swing to coercing the peasantry under the name of "mobilizing" them, leading to mass starvation, etc. -- can be seen most clearly in China's "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution". Milder forms of the same phenomenon have occurred in every Soviet-style regime to have had a significant peasantry in the first place or to have created one through "land reform". A more extreme version can be seen in Cambodia under Pol Pot."

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