Monday, December 20, 2010

What is the trad left?

Maurice Brinton, 1969:
Here goes (briefly for shortage of space prevents full treatment of each proposition): 
a) Among the identifying features of the trad left (whether Fabian or Bolshevik) are an ingrained belief in man's incapacity to manage his own affairs without an elite or leadership of some kind (themselves!). In this, both reflect the typically bourgeois concept of "masters and men".

b) The trad left places the question of formal ownership (as distinct from control)[6] at the centre of its preoccupations. It believes that solving society's economic problems by planning and the increase in the productivity of labour will necessarily result in society's other problems being solved. 
c) [Harold] Wilson, Collan*, [Gerry] Healy (and both Stalin and Trotsky in their lifetime) would all assert that Russia (economically speaking) was a "fundamentally different" kind of society from that existing in the West. Libertarian Socialists would not. It all depends on what one considers "fundamental". The yardstick of the former ("amalgam" again?) would be the presence or degree of "competition", "planning", "nationalization", etc. The yardstick of the latter: human freedom as expressed in workers' self-management.
d) Many in the "Marxist" section of the trad left believe in a revolutionary theory based on allegedly objective laws. But they also hold that they alone can "correctly" interpret this theory (hence the multiplicity of the mutually hostile "Marxist" organizations). Under appropriate conditions these beliefs lead them to assume what Trotsky called the Party's "historical birthright". In defence of this birthright the Party is prepared to manipulate (and if necessary shoot) workers in the interest of a higher, "historically determined" purpose, which it has grasped, even if the masses haven't.

At the more mundane level the trad left can be recognized by its deeply ingrained conservatism and its ideological sterility. It is the living embodiment of Bagehot's aphorism that "one of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea". At a time when everything is being revolutionized more deeply and rapidly than in any other period of history, only their "revolutionary" ideology seems to remain static. A "frantic search for novelty" (to use J.S.'s phrase) should be the prime preoccupation of those slowly sinking in an antediluvian morass of half-truths and outmoded concepts. But for them, as for all conservatives, "novelty" is a term of opprobrium.

Those who seem frightened of new ideas might at least rearrange their prejudices once in a while. But even this seems to be asking too much. In argument, they defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance. All buttoned up by impeccable little coats of complacency, they are like a man who will not look at the new moon out of deference for the old one. They react to the ideological stimuli like Pavlovian dogs in an early stage of conditioning with a non-discriminatory and purely salivatory response.
*Note: not sure who Collan is, although not relevant to the meaning of the text.

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Anonymous said...

Collan would almost certainly be a mis-spelling of Gollan, as in John - then General Secretary of the Communist Party. Not a household name in Brockley?

bob said...

Afraid not a household name around here! But that would make sense, because then Brinton is invoking social democracy, Stalinism and Trotskyism as the three main variants of the trad left.