Question: Bourgeois commentators call the collapse of the Soviet bloc 'the defeat of socialism' and 'the end of communism'. Is there any truth in such formulations? To what extent does this collapse, or the Soviet experience as a whole, represent a failed experiment for socialism?
Mansoor Hekmat: As far as worker-communism and Marxism are concerned, these developments show neither the defeat of socialism nor the end of communism. What we have witnessed is the defeat of a particular type of bourgeois socialism and of the state-capitalist model which formed its basis.
That the Soviet Union was not a socialist country and was totally alien to the Marxist vision of communism was always clear to a vast section - in fact a majority - of those who called themselves communist. This was even admitted by various bourgeois thinkers and Sovietologists. The insistence of the ruling ideology today to re- identify the Soviet Union with Marxism and communism, in the teeth of all the studies to the contrary by many bourgeois analysts, is a propaganda weapon in the current attack against Marxism and genuine worker-communism. They say socialism has been defeated so that they may defeat it; that communism has ended, so that they may end it. These are the bourgeoisie's war cries and bluster; the cruder their sound, the more they confirm communism's vitality as a potential working-class threat to bourgeois society.
In itself, the collapse of the Eastern bloc is no case against communism. The Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc did not by any criterion - economic, political, administrative or ideological - represent communism and socialism. But it is also a fact that the Soviet experience as a whole has been an unsuccessful experiment for the October workers' revolution. We have talked about this question before in the several issues of the bulletin Marxism and the Question of the Soviet Union. I believe the workers' revolution in 1917 succeeded to wrest political power from the bourgeoisie and to overcome the direct political and military attempts of the ousted ruling classes at restoring the old political order. But from that point onwards the fate of the revolution became directly tied to its ability or failure to transform the economic relations and carry out the socialist economic programme of the working class. It was at that point that the Russian revolution failed to advance further. Instead of common ownership of means of production, statification of capital and state ownership of means of production was adopted. Wages and wage employment, money, exchange value, and the separation of the producing class from means of production, all remained. In the 2nd half of the 1920s the economic model adopted was construction of a national economy on the basis of a state-capitalist model. In fact, after a workers' revolution, this was the only historically viable alternative for the bourgeoisie in order to maintain the capitalist relations in Russia. With the economic consolidation of capital, the political victory of the Russian working class was also reversed. A centralized bourgeois state-bureaucracy displaced Lenin's revolutionary working-class rule. Bourgeois nationalism, based on a tampered model of capitalism, triumphed over communism. Not the collapse, but the rise of this phenomenon bears testimony to the defeat that worker-communism suffered. And this hasn't started today or with these events.
Briefly, I think the basic lesson of the Soviet experience for Marxists is that, as Marxism has stressed, particularly in the light of the Paris Commune, a workers' revolution is doomed to defeat unless it carries out its economic decree, unless it affects a revolution in society's economic basis. Without this economic revolution, every political victory eventually ends in failure. Socialist revolution is not divisible; it must win in its totality - as a social revolution. But this revolution in the economic relations must really be a revolution and not reforms in the existing system. The basis of this revolution is the abolition of the system of wage labour and the turning of means of production and distribution into common ownership. This was never done in the Soviet Union.
Question: Some major periods in Soviet and Eastern bloc history have had deep impacts on the so-called communist movement and on socialism's appeal. What we are seeing today, however, is in its scale incomparable to the earlier cases. How do you explain the current dramatic break of the former 'communists' with Marxism? To what extent does the Eastern bloc's collapse make revisions in Marxism necessary?
Mansoor Hekmat: Marxism is a criticism, a criticism of capitalist society, rather than a corpus of tenets and prophesies. This criticism itself is, of course, based on a rigorous analysis of the foundations of the system and its inner contradictions. In my view, breaking with Marxism is breaking with the truth. Even if we had thousands of cases like the Soviet Union this would not affect my criticism of the present society as a Marxist, it would not alter my notion of a society worthy of free human beings.
Methodologically, as well as in its content, Marxism is a very profound and coherent explanation of capitalist society. It is the criticism and indictment of a particular section of society - the wage-earning working class - against the existing relations. The truth of the Marxist criticism is confirmed not only by the current Soviet developments, but by the whole of the economic and social realities of our age, by the very preoccupations of the world today, by the issues which are debated as the chief problems of the contemporary world in academic institutions, in the mass media and in such fields as art and literature. They used to scorn Marx for proposing that economic relations determine society's political and cultural life. Today, any layman will relate the rise of racism, fascism, nationalism and crime, the popularization of a particular style in art or music, and so on, to economic conditions. The mullah in Iran looks for the survival of religion in the operation of the central bank and the dollar's exchange rate. Everyone knows that it all comes down to profits and labour productivity. At the back of their mind, everybody knows what the state is good for, what the police and the army have been built for. All know that there is an incessant conflict going on within society between worker and capitalist, the wage-earner and the wage-giver; that any trace of freedom and humanity has come to be linked to the degree of power of worker and working-class organization, against capitalist business and their parties and states. People naturally expect labour organizations to be against exploitation and discrimination, to stand for social welfare, and so on. Worker is identified with freedom and welfare; bourgeois with discrimination and rip-off. To my mind the 20th century has been the century of Marxism and of the popularization of Marxist notions of the capitalist world. So, as far as Marxism is concerned, as an outlook which contends to have a true knowledge of society, there is no reason to revise it, and the recent world developments only more emphatically prove its legitimacy.
But the current wave of separation from Marxism has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the Marxist view. This is a political movement; the choices are political and not scientific. It is not as if, with the recent Soviet developments suddenly light of wisdom has illuminated their hearts. The truth or falsehood of the Marxist conception of society doesn't really come into it here. And those who try to give to this society-wide political retreat of the left the appearance of a scientific revision are, to my mind, the lowest timeservers. The truth is that the current offensive of the bourgeoisie on Marxism and socialism, relying on the crumbling of a pseudo-socialist bloc, has put much pressure on the left in society. The tide of reformist intellectuals' turning towards Marxism - a characteristic of the post-WW2 period up until the mid-seventies - has now reversed. It'll take time before the current campaign is neutralized. Powerful blows must be struck on the bourgeoisie by the working class before once again the middle-class intellectual considers the Marxist label as boosting his or her credit. I should add that a very large section of these 'Marxists' were in fact non-socialist dissidents who, owing to Marxism's universal prestige in the anti-capitalist struggle, had inevitably put on the Marxist garb. Nationalists, reformists, pro- industrialists in the Third World, advocates of national independence, anti-monopolists, oppressed minorities and a whole host of tendencies had turned Marxism into a medium through which to express their grievances. Then Marxism was in fashion, so they became Marxists; today democracy is all the rage, so all have clustered around democracy, hoping to win their same goals and aspirations through democracy and market. Their break from Marxism in this period is, to my mind, to be expected and, actually, a good thing. Though further circumscribing the field of action for Marxism, this in many respects makes the shaping of a working-class and deeply Marxist communism easier.
Marxism, distinguished from the variety of stereotypes marketed over decades under this name for a host of political uses, does not need any revisions. What needs to be done, however, is important analytic and theoretical contributions by Marxists in the various fields of social theory. Marxist standpoint is absent on the different problematics of contemporary society and the decisive developments that the present world is going through. Firmness in Marxism as a world outlook and a social theory does not mean repeating its general principles in isolation from the social conditions. It means taking part in the theoretical battles of each age as a Marxist and putting forward views and analyses on the new problems which emerge in the historical movement of society and of the class struggle. We need, not revision in the only truth-seeking and radical outlook on society, but the application of this outlook to the contemporary world and to its diverse problematics.
Question: What about Lenin and Leninism? Does not Leninism need to be re-evaluated, and do you still consider yourself a Leninist?
Mansoor Hekmat: We are living in such a day and age that before we can answer such questions we have to first define our terms. If it is a question of a real assessment of Lenin, of the truth of his views and his practice from the viewpoint of Marxism, of his contribution to the revolutionary thought and practice of the working class, and so on, of course I am a Leninist. In my view Lenin was a genuine Marxist with an essentially correct understanding of this outlook, and a worthy leader of the socialist movement of the world working class.
But Leninism as a label which distinguished particular tendencies in the so-called communist movement has its own history. The initiators of the term under Stalin, or the groups which in later splits within the official mainstream of this communism emphasized the term Marxist-Leninist, exploited these designations - just like much other Marxist terminology - to express worldly, and in the main, non-socialist disputes and interests. These have been abuses of Lenin's prestige, and Leninism, as I understand it, is diametrically opposed to such 'Leninists'. Bourgeois analysts try to attribute the whole Soviet experience to Lenin, portraying it as the natural extension of the Leninist view. And this is more the fashion today. They choose to forget that at the time of the October revolution even the bourgeoisie itself conceded that Lenin was a free-thinking and egalitarian revolutionary. Leninism is represented neither in the ideas and actions of the ruling parties in the Soviet Union, China and Albania, nor in the Soviet social and political experience. The latter were built on a complete falsification of Lenin and his ideas. Lenin was an enthusiastic representative of equality, freedom and humanity. You can't, with any justification whatsoever, lay dictatorship, bureaucracy, national persecution, and food queues at Lenin's door.
From the viewpoint of Marxist thought and practice, Lenin is a towering figure. I think such formulations as 'Leninism is the Marxism of the imperialist era', and the like, are trivial. Lenin's significance and his specific contribution to the communist movement are to be found in the clear connection he establishes between revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice. I consider him a thorough embodiment of commitment to Marx's understanding of communism as 'practical materialism'. Lenin's specific contribution is his recognition of the part played by working class's revolutionary will in the material course of movement of capitalist society, and his appreciation of the scope of action of the active agent of workers' revolution within objective social conditions. Lenin turned back the evolutionist and passive view dominant in the 2nd International, providing the same active interpretation of communism which Marx had in mind. To put it simply, socialism before Lenin had mainly learned from Marx the 'necessity and inevitability' of socialism; Lenin stressed the 'possibility' of socialism in this age. His conception of history and of the role of revolutionary practice by classes in historical development is profoundly Marxist. He recognizes a place for this practice and organizes it. I know that subsequent, mainly petty-bourgeois, interpretations of the importance of the active element resulted in a voluntarist, elitist and conspiratorial strain in socialism. But even a cursory study of Lenin's political views and actions shows that he is free from such voluntarism. This is because, firstly, with him revolutionary action has a social and class meaning, and secondly, he by no means abstracts from the objective social situation which conditions the scope of class action.
For anyone who regards socialism not as an ornamental ideal but as an urgent and practical cause, who is concerned about the actual realization of socialism and workers' revolution, Lenin will always be, as a political thinker and leader, a rich source of learning and inspiration.
Question: One major aspect of the current anti-socialist offensive is the economic dimension. Soviet Union's collapse has given currency to the idea that capitalism and the market provide the most efficient and feasible economic model that humanity historically has achieved. How do you, as a Marxist, reply to this?
Mansoor Hekmat: Two things must be differentiated here. One is the comparison of the performance of the different models of capitalism in West and East, and the other, comparison of capitalism (both competitive and otherwise) with socialism as an economic and social alternative. To this day, socialism, in the sense meant by Marxists, has not been set up anywhere. We don't believe that from a Marxist and working-class view the economic system in the Soviet Union could at any time be called socialist. I'll deal with the question of capitalism and socialism later on, but first I want to say a few words about the different models of capitalist development in West and East.
Is market-based and competition-based capitalism the 'best, most efficient and most feasible' economic alternative that has existed so far? To be able to answer this question at all you have to have a criterion by which to judge the superiority and efficiency of economic systems. These terms are highly subjective and indefinite, since depending on what the observer expects of his/her economic model, the criterion of judgement may vary. This has been a subject of debate in bourgeois economic science itself. Economy's physical and technical growth, mode of wealth and income distribution, industrial base, employment level, quality of goods, self-sufficiency or having a strong standing in the world market, etc, have been used by bourgeois economic schools as different and even contradictory criteria to define better or worse production models; they have even fought over these issues among themselves. The question is, 'most efficient and most feasible economic model' for which society, at what historical period, and for a society with what problems? This in particular is an old problem of development economics. For instance, the free-market model was by no means a viable alternative for Russian capitalism and bourgeoisie after the October revolution. The history of a large section of less-developed countries (and even of such countries as Japan) shows that even the formation of the domestic labour and commodity markets in the initial stages, or the building of an initial industrial base and removal of pre-capitalist obstacles, have not been possible without intervention from above in the market mechanism. The history of Western capitalism itself is full of instances when the state has had to intervene in the market mechanism to surmount recessions and crises and to undertake technological restructuring. Even today the terms competition and market cannot, without significant qualifications, be used to describe the features of Western capitalism. This is because the state and private monopolies have a crucial structural role in directing capital's movement and determining such economic indicators as prices, composition of production, growth rate, employment level, and so on.
Nevertheless, the defenders of Western-type capitalism are quite justified when they declare the Western economic model to be preferable to the Eastern one - whether judging by the capitalist society's own assumptions or from the viewpoint of the physical indicators of the two blocs' economic performance over a wider historical perspective. As a model of reformed capitalism, the Soviet economic model failed to provide a more suitable and a more efficient framework for capital accumulation and for mitigating the inner contradictions of the production system based on capital. The chief characteristic of this model was the attempt to circumvent the market mechanism by an administrative system - described as the `opposition of plan and market'. You can abolish the market mechanism, but provided you abolish the whole economic basis of capitalism, i.e. labour power as a commodity, existence of a value system as the basis for the exchange and distribution of products between different individuals and different sections of society, money economy etc. But preserving these relations and at the same time bypassing the market as the medium in which these relations and categories become materially objectified and linked together is not possible without seriously disrupting the operation of capitalism. This is what happened in the Soviet Union. What happened there was not the substitution of market with planning, but, rather, the shifting of the functions of the market onto administrative decision-making institutions.
In capitalism, market (irrespective of the extent of competition or monopoly) performs complex and varied functions: what and how much should be produced, what production technique should be employed, how much should be consumed, who should consume, in what capacity and in which sectors should resources, means of production and labour power be employed, what is the value and price of commodities at any point in time - from labour power to means of production and consumption - what system of production and management should be employed, which needs should be satisfied and which ones denied, in what direction should the economy proceed, what means of production should be dropped out of the cycle, which technique should be abandoned, and so on and so forth. In proportion as society develops in terms of industry and production, with products and needs getting more differentiated, so too does the market assume a more complex role. To bypass this mechanism and assign the determination of these indicators, proportions and relocations to administrative institutions will sooner or later drive capitalism to a dead end. For a long time the Soviet Union claimed that, unlike the West, it was free from such phenomena as unemployment and periodic crises. But for capitalism these periodic crises, unemployment, recessions and booms are the market's mechanisms of adjusting capital to the more fundamental economic contradictions. These are ways of adapting capital to the growth of the productive forces within the system, mechanisms by which capital restructures itself, accommodates itself to the quantitative and qualitative (technological) development of the productive forces. Historically, all modes of production, however exploitative and class-based, have been in the final analysis organizations for raising the output, developing the technology and meeting the economic needs. If anything at all can be said about the Soviet economy, it is that it reached a dead end in this respect at a particular point in time. The Soviet experience showed that the market itself is the most efficient means for economic accounting and for the regulation of economic equations in the capitalist system; that even if, under certain conditions, bypassing the market mechanism and assigning its functions to a system of administrative decision-making may permit certain economic short-cuts, in the long run the capitalist society's technical growth and diversification of producer and consumer needs would make this method unworkable.
Today the market is taking revenge on the Soviet economic system. Non-existent crises, disguised unemployment, low-kept prices, subsidized industries, etc, are suddenly giving way to mass unemployment, skyrocketing inflation and idle plants. It emerges that all this time the logic of the market had negatively worked its way through. Much due to its ideological and political mobilization power, a result of its appropriation of the legacy of a workers' revolution, the Soviet model proved efficient in the initial development of industry and economic infrastructure. In particular, as long as economic growth essentially relied on an increasing employment of labour force and on the production of absolute surplus value - supply of labour force being possible from the rural sector - the defects of the system did not surface. But beyond this point and especially once production of relative surplus value through improvements in production techniques became important, once social needs - in production as well as in consumption - highly diversified, once product quality became an important determinant, the system revealed its fatal flaw. The Soviet Union failed to take part in the technological revolution of the last two decades. The model lacked the capacity to meet the diverse needs of an advanced industrial economy. So from the viewpoint of capital this model is unusable, and the Western capitalist model relying on the central role of the market is still the only efficient and viable alternative.
It may be objected that Soviet society was a more just society, that it had more social welfare and economic security, that the class differences were smaller, and so on. From the viewpoint of the Western bourgeois, economic justice is not necessarily an indicator of how good or bad a society is. The left wing of the bourgeoisie - Social Democracy and its surrounding tendencies - had inserted this category into their economic system essentially in order to avert a revolt of the poor in the heartland of industry and civilization, always in time abandoning it as soon as the profit curves began to slide. As communists and workers, we have our own alternative economic justice. First, we intend to build a system which is based on this economic justice, which continuously reproduces it and which thrives on its basis. It is no consolation to have had 40 years of so-called justice in the use of limited resources, and at the cost of back-breaking labour at that, to be then plunged into abject poverty and unemployment, abandoned to the mercies of an economic, political and ideological reaction which has broken loose. Secondly, we regard economic growth, technological progress, development of the productive capacities, and the raising of the level of consumption, welfare and leisure of human society as absolutely vital. Division of wants is not our solution. Of course the burden of any scarcity should be shouldered by all, but socialism is an economy for development of people's abilities, an economy of growing fulfilment of everyone's material and intellectual needs.
Going to the second part of your question; what can we say about the claim that capitalism, even its Western and 'victorious' brand, is the best, most efficient and most feasible system that has existed to date? Well, a much better economic system for humanity has been possible all throughout the present century. If humanity is not now living under socialist relations this is because the old system is defending itself tooth and nail, by killing and torture, by intimidation and deception. This better system has been defined and millions of people have fought, and are fighting, for it. The claim that capitalism is the best economic system is the biggest lie in human history. This system is drenched in blood and dirt. While hundreds of millions of people have no home, no health care, no education, no happiness, and even no food, the means to produce and satisfy these needs lie idle. Tens of millions of people able to employ these means of production and end the shortages have been put out of work, and guards have been posted to shoot at workers who may dare touch the plants and machinery. In the hub of Western civilization the police beats up and jails the miner who wants to produce fuel. Butter and wheat mountains rot away in the stores of the European Community, while people not far from there starve to death. We don't need to take examples from the Third World. In the United States 30 million people exist below the poverty line, 10 million children are not covered by medical insurance, homelessness runs rife from New York to Los Angeles. All over the world prostitution is a way of earning a living. Drugs production and trafficking is a respectable way of amassing wealth. In Britain they have been so good as to keep the subways open at night so that the homeless would not perish from cold. Economically, this society cannot stand on its two feet without women's domestic chores and oppression. It puts children to work and discards the aged. It can't produce without killing, maiming and wearing people out. It can't carry on without dehumanizing the majority of the people of the earth and without ignoring their basic needs.
Above all, the basis of this society is this despicable fact that a large section of it, its majority, must in order to live in a world it has been born into sell its bodily and intellectual powers to a minority. It is a society where the production of people's essentials has been tied to the profitability of capital. And this is the root of all these inequalities and deprivations. Wage labour, division of society into worker and capitalist, into wage-earner and wage-giver, degradation of work from being a productive and creative activity to a 'job', to a way of earning a living, are in themselves verdicts of the bankruptcy of this system.
Whoever calls the existing economic system the best and most feasible is admitting to his own savagery. The truth is that, especially since Marx's criticism of capitalism, mankind has proclaimed the necessity and possibility of a superior economic and social system and even sketched its outlines: a society based on people's complete equality and freedom, a society based on collective creative work to satisfy human needs, a society in which means of production belong to people collectively. A world community without classes, without discrimination, without countries and without states has long been feasible. Capitalism itself has created the material preconditions for such a society.
Question: How about the point emphasized by bourgeois commentators in the West, particularly in the light of the collapse of the Eastern bloc, namely the issue of individuality and the primacy of the individual in both economy and polity. They argue that not just the Soviet-type economies but all those countries which during the last two to three decades went for some kind of welfare economy, based on the active role of the state, are facing economic apathy and technical stagnation due to this increased state responsibility and the weakening of competition and individual motivation. They claim that not only are competition and individual ism the mainstay of capitalist society, but an inseparable and irreplaceable part of man's economic activity as such. Socialism is accused of giving priority to society over the individual and even of aiming to standardize people and obliterate their individuality. In what way have such factors contributed to the economic dead end of the Eastern bloc, and, generally, how do you see the relation between socialism and the individual?
Mansoor Hekmat: First of all we have to be clear about the meaning of individual and individuality in bourgeois ideology. Here, individual does not mean human being. Nor should the primacy of the individual be taken to mean the primacy of human being. It is, incidentally, the capitalist society itself and the bourgeois notion of human being which abstracts from humans' individual specificity, i.e. all those qualities which make each of us unique individuals and which define our individual identity. It is this notion which gives a faceless image of man - both in material and economic, as well as in intellectual and political-cultural terms. In this society human beings confront each other, and interact with each other, not with their individual identity and characteristics, but as human bearers of definite economic relations. The relation between people is a form and an aspect of the relation between commodities. The first element in the definition of the characteristics of the individual is the relation that he/she has with commodities and the process of commodity production and exchange. The individual is a living entity representing an economic position. Worker is the bearer and seller of labour power as a commodity; capitalist is capital personified. The consumer is the possessor of a definite purchasing power in the commodity market. In capitalism the human being is identified and recognized by these capacities. When the bourgeois thinker talks about the primacy of the individual he/she is in fact talking, not about the primacy of humans, but about the necessity of abstracting from human features peculiar to each human being, about his/her integration, as a unit, and nothing more, in the economic relations. For the bourgeoisie, man's primacy means the primacy of commodity, of the market and of the exchange of values, as the basis of human interrelations, for it is only in this form, i.e. as exchangers of different commodities in the market, that each person's peculiar identity and personality is taken away from him, and h e confronts others as an 'individual', as a human unit bearing a commodity which has exchange value.
In capitalism the reduction of the human being to individual is necessary and unavoidable, since people must carry out the logic of their economic positions, replacing their human judgments and priorities with this logic. Worker should sell his labour power and deliver the commodity after sale, i.e. work for the capitalist; the capitalist should carry out the requirements of the accumulation of capital. The worker should compete with the sellers of a similar commodity. The capitalist, to increase his share of the total surplus value, must continuously improve labour productivity and the production technique. He must make layoffs in time and recruit new workers in time. If in any of these roles people were to impose their extra-economic priorities and judgements the economic mechanism of capitalism would be disrupted.
It is the same at a political level. Individualism is the basis of parliamentary systems, where at the best of times, i.e. where the conditions of having property, being male and white, etc, as preconditions for voting rights, have been omitted after years of struggle by people, each person has one vote in the election of national parliamentary representatives. After the elections, people go home and the elected, at least on paper, take up the legislative work on their behalf. Each individual is one vote, not a human being with powers to constantly judge the needs and priorities and have the opportunity to fulfil them. A political system in which there is this permanent intervention by people - a council system, for instance, which provides for continuous presence by people themselves in the decision-making process, from the local to the national level, is not considered 'democratic' in the parliamentary system of thought. In the bourgeois system the political concept of individuality is the direct derivative of the economic concept of individuality.
Going back to your question about the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy was not an economy in which the human being had primacy. What curtailed individuality in this system was the massive hold of an administrative system on the market mechanism. When the official commentary in the West refers to the violation of individuality and individualism in the Soviet Union its objection is primarily to a system in which personal ownership of capital was severely restricted, and so the industrial lord obeyed not the economic logic of capital but the decisions of an administrative system. In other words, capital lacked multiple individual and private human agents. Secondly, the Soviet worker, though politically totally atomized vis-à-vis the administrative system, economically did not figure as an individual seller and in competition with other workers. Though the administrative system tried by its own economic accounting to direct, just like the market, the units of capital to more profitable areas or itself fix the value of labour power at the lowest possible level, from the viewpoint of the bourgeoisie this was no substitute for the free and competitive confrontation of capitals, and of capital with labour under a competitive labour market. The slogan of `man's primacy', counterposed to the Soviet model, was a slogan against this administrative system, in favour of freedom for private capital and for increasing economic competition among workers and their atomization in the labour market. As I said, this administrative system was no longer able to assume the complex and diverse functions of the market. In particular, it could not incorporate into the Soviet economy the technological revolution underway in the Western industrialized countries.
I too think that in this sense the individuality and competition of commodity-owners is an indispensable part of the capitalist economy, an essential mechanism in this system for technical development. But capitalism owes its survival also to the fact that the bourgeoisie has itself constantly and at crucial junctures limited the scale of this competition and individuality, going for economic, as well as extra- economic, interventions through the state and administrative institutions. Economic crises with devastating consequences, and acute recessions are as much intrinsic to capitalism as constant accumulation and improvement of technology. Capitalism restructures and purges itself in this way. The bourgeoisie's need to keep the extent of these crises in check and, more important, its need to protect the system politically against the struggle of the working class, has forced bourgeois parties and states to frequently intervene in the economy from above and impose some restraints on the market mechanism. The Thatcherism and Monetarism of the '80s was thrown up against a powerful Keynesian tradition and Social Democratic policies which emphasized significant state intervention and the role of state expenditure in economic growth. It seems that today this trend itself is in retreat. Anyway, the point I am making is that to accept the central place of competition and market in capitalism's technical development doesn't yet mean that the bourgeoisie itself seeks, or has sought, the long-run survival and growth of capitalism in free market and perfect competition. The free market, perfect competition and extreme economic individualism advocated by the New Right are as baseless and unrealistic as the idea of a planned and competition-free capitalism.
Much can be said about socialism and individual, or rather, about socialism and Man. To this day, Marx has been the most important and profound critic of the dehumanization of humanity under capitalism. The gist of the discussion of commodity fetishism in Capital is to show how capitalism and the transformation of the production and exchange of commodities into the axis of human intercourse are the basis of the alienation and lack of identity of humans in capitalist society. Socialism aims to return this identity to human beings. The slogan `from each according to his ability, to each according to his need' is entirely based on the recognition and guaranteeing of the right of every person himself/herself to determine his/her position in society's material life. In capitalist society the human being is slave to blind economic laws which determine his economic fate, independently of his thinking, reasoning and judgement. As I said, in bourgeois thought by the individual is meant the human being stripped of identity, self-alienated, robbed of all the particular characteristics and individual qualities peculiar to him, a human being who may therefore be transformed, as a unit, into the living agent of some economic relation and role in production, into the buyer or seller of a particular commodity. It is in fact this society that in this way standardizes human beings, reducing them all to the patterns set by the economic division of labour. In this system we are not particular human beings with our individual views to life, with our particular psychology, temperament and emotions, but holders of particular economic posts. We are living agents in the exchange of lifeless commodities. Even in our intimate personal and emotional relationships with each other we are primarily recognized by these characteristic of ours: what is our job, how much purchasing power we have, what is our class? We are classified and judged on the basis of this economic status, on the basis of our relation to commodities. The capitalist society has even created the blueprint of the life style of each of these groupings: what we are supposed to eat, what we are to wear, where we are to live, what is to make us happy, what is to frighten us, what our dreams and nightmares are to be. Capitalism first takes away our human identity and then introduces us to one another by the standard economic labels that it has stuck on us.
In contrast, socialism is a society in which human beings gain control over their economic lives, are freed from the chains of blind economic laws and themselves consciously define their economic activity. The decision is with the person not with the market, or accumulation or surplus value. This liberation of entire society from the blind economic laws is the condition of emancipation of the individual and the restoration of humanity and human specificity of every individual.
Capitalism's exalting of individuality is in fact its exalting of man's atomization. Human masses then become so indeterminate and flexible as to be able to be tossed around in accordance with capital's economic requirements.
Look where the bourgeoisie remembers individuality and individual rights: when it wants to counter attempts for any form of economic planning which disturbs the market mechanism and involves extra-economic social priorities; when it wants to attack national health care, state-financed education, nurseries, social welfare services, unemployment insurance, calls for ban on sacking and so on; against trade unions and labour organizations as a whole, since these organizations, to whatever degree, reduce workers' fragmentation and the individual competition between single sellers of labour power, and somehow impose on the naked laws of the market certain people's discretion on wage levels, working conditions, etc. They remember it just when workers and people want to exercise their human character and take economic decisions on the basis their human principles and needs. So much for the primacy of the individual in capitalism.
The basis of socialism is the human being - both collectively and as an individually. Socialism is the movement to restore man's conscious will, a movement for freeing human beings from economic necessity and enslavement in pre-determined production moulds. It is a movement for abolishing classes and people's classification. This is the essential condition for the growth of the individual.
Question: What is socialist society's alternative to individual competition and incentive? How will a socialist society ensure a constant improvement of production methods, a raising of product diversity and quality, technological development and innovation - things which we under capitalism have experienced even as technological revolutions? What kind of mechanism will ensure human beings' permanent drive for innovation and improvement in production?
Mansoor Hekmat: Technical innovation and improvement in product quality is not an invention of capitalism, just as little as production of people's essentials is a capitalist invention. In the capitalist system human beings' permanent drive to reproduce and improve their conditions of life is organized in a particular way. In this mode of production individual competition and incentive are not the origin of technical progress; they are vehicles and channels through which the more fundamental necessities that exert pressure on total social capital are transmitted to enterprises and individuals in the market and activate the latter. The constant raising of labour productivity and rate of surplus value is the necessary condition for preventing the fall in the general rate of profit with the growth in the magnitude of constant capital. This need of total social capital is transmitted through the market to individual capitals and enterprises as the need to compete. The capital which does not improve its technique goes out. This competition exists also in the next link, this time as competition among producers of means of production. Science, scientific curiosity, invention and innovation are thus organized through the market and by capital. Human beings are always eager for knowledge and improvement in production techniques and in the quality of their lives. But in capitalism this intrinsic drive is organized around the profitability and accumulation of capital. There is no doubt that compared to the earlier systems, capitalism has greatly increased the intensity and scale of man's scientific and technical activity. But the specific form of this activity in this system should not be confused with its real source. Individual material incentives and competition between enterprises are not the origin of man's scientific inquisitiveness and technical innovation. These are the particular forms, only through which capital can accommodate this endless human activity, just like man's drive to produce his means of subsistence.
In capitalism, just as in any other economic system, after all necessity is the mother of invention. In this system it is the market that defines the needs and the level of demand for the commodities which satisfy them. Capitals which produce these commodities make profit. It is through these capitalist equations that scientists and experts find and take up their researches and projects. It is here that the proportion of society's resources which should be set aside for scientific research, the direction science and its practical application should take, the areas which have priority, etc are decided. In socialism, on the other hand, there is no market, no competition and no individual interest. But people and their scientific curiosity and drive for innovation and to improvement of the quality of life are there. The important question to be answered is what in the absence of the market can be the mechanism of finding out society's scientific and technical needs, choosing the priorities, allocating resources and organizing the scientific and technical activity? This, in my view, is an important area for Marxist research and investigation. I have no ready answer to it, but I will here just touch on some of the outlines.
In the first place, a socialist society is an open and informed society. In socialism it will be a routine procedure to constantly inform people about the needs and problems in the various areas of human life worldwide. Under capitalism it is the market that informs capitals about the existence of demand and the opportunity of making profit in the production of certain commodities. In the socialist system it is the citizens and their institutions that constantly inform each other of the economic, social and human needs, as well as of the scientific and technical advances of the different sectors. Given the present technology, the organization of such information interchange and of everyone's constant access to it is feasible even right now.
Furthermore, socialist society is a society in which people enjoy a much higher level of scientific education than today. Access to learning and participation in scientific activity is not a privilege of a particular social group; it is everyone's elementary right. Just as once literacy was the privilege of a few but today is regarded as a basic right. We see even today how, for instance, using computers and even their relatively complex and specialized application, at least in the more advanced countries, has become so generalized - though still a far cry from socialism's capability in promoting general scientific capacities and making the means for scientific work accessible to all.
It may be objected that knowing the needs and being able to satisfy them does not yet necessarily mean that they will actually be satisfied. In the absence of the motive of self-interest, what else would drive people into fervent scientific and technical activity? Here then we should return to man's intellectual qualities and how these are related to the social relations. Capitalism's stereotyped picture of the human being and human motivation cannot be a starting point for the organization of socialism. Capitalism builds on individual self- interest and competition. To make the economy work, it bolsters these qualities in people and trains them in this spirit. The basis of socialism, however, is man's humanism and his social nature. Not only no scientific effort but none of the socialist ideals can be realized without getting rid of the intellectual and cultural prejudices fostered by capitalism. I don't want to enter the discussion of human nature, though personally I believe that humanism and being society-oriented are more basic and more reliable features in humans than competition and self-interest. This has been corroborated many times even in this backward and prejudiced class society. It is still a fact that whenever people are to be called on to sacrifice themselves more than the usual degree it is to these noble sentiments and features that they appeal. Like any other social system, socialism breeds the human being appropriate to itself. It is not difficult to imagine a society in which people's motivation in their economic and scientific activity is to contribute to the well-being of all, to participate in a common effort to improve the lives of all.
I have to mention another point. Capitalism has both emerged on the basis of an industrial revolution, and also, compared to earlier economic systems, itself brought about striking technical changes. But right in the middle of this development the paralyzing effect of capital in the development of society's technical capacities is still conspicuous. In this society technology develops where it is profitable for capital and where preservation of the bourgeoisie's political power requires it. Alongside the enormous development of warfare technology we see the serious technical backwardness of medicine and health care, education, housing, agriculture, etc. And the majority of the people of the world is deprived of the results of this technological progress. The technical profile of socialism will certainly be different from that of capitalism, since the technical priorities of a society based on improving people's lives are totally different from a society driven by the profit motive.
Question: In the final years of the twentieth century, the century which communists had called the age of proletarian revolutions, socialism seems as inaccessible an ideal as it was at the beginning of the century. How do you, as a Marxist, explain this? What is your vision of the actual accomplishment of proletarian revolution and socialist society?
Mansoor Hekmat: Communism was not supposed to be achieved as a rational model, as a human ideal, as something favoured because of its rationality or desirability. An important contribution of Marx to the history of socialist and communistic movements was that he linked the communist cause and the prospect of its realization to the struggle of a particular social class, i.e. the wage-earning working class in capitalist society. Socialism's victory could only be - and can still only be - the result of a working-class movement. So, in my opinion, the fact that socialism has not been achieved is primarily because of the shift in the social and class base of mainstream communism after the developments of the second half of the 1920s in the Soviet Union. The Russian revolution and its outcome have played the most decisive part in this. The October revolution was a workers' revolution for socialism. And it was led by Bolshevism which represented the working-class radicalism and Internationalism within the general socialist trend. With the political victory of this revolution a communist pole formed in the Soviet Union, in opposition to the experience of the 2nd International. It is clear that communist movements, parties and communist practice worldwide would intimately be linked to this camp. The building of a Soviet state and an International, based on the vision of the radical and worker tendency within the socialist movement, has been the highest achievement of communism, as a working-class movement, in this century. As I have said before, unfortunately this camp did not remain a worker-communist pole. During the debates on the economic path that the Soviet Union should follow worker communism retreated in the face of the nationalist perspective and politics. On the whole, with the consolidation of a planned state-capitalism in the guise of constructing socialism in the Soviet Union, worker communism was practically disarmed. Later on, workers and communism were step by step pushed back in all the fronts. The entire prestige of workers' revolution was exploited by a bourgeois socialist camp which for decades influenced the fate of communist struggle around the world. With the emergence of a bourgeois Soviet Union, as the reference point of the official communism, worker socialism as a whole was marginalized. No important parties, able to challenge this domination by bourgeois socialism over the so-called communist movement, developed in the worker-socialist tradition.
Non-worker socialism has always been a living current in the general socialist tradition and within the left criticism in society. Prior to the Soviet experience, this tendency existed alongside, and in conflict with, worker socialism. And we know that the choice of the term `communist' by Marx and Engels was precisely so as to show that they belonged to a particular, worker, tendency in socialism. But with the Soviet experience the supremacy of non-worker socialism obtained decisive dimensions and worker communism did not even remain an influential tendency in the destiny of socialism.
In my view, from the late '20s onwards communism was completely derailed. Now the Soviet problem itself, alongside capitalism as such, became a central problem for genuine worker- communism. The fact that socialism as an ideal has not yet won is the result of the fact that the only movement capable of bringing it about was subdued and broken up with the `nationalization' and appropriation of the workers' revolution in Russia. Worker socialism is yet to straighten its back from this defeat. When I speak of the Soviet experience I don't just mean the developments confined to a single country. The rise of Chinese Communism, which was a transparent cover for the nationalist ideals and aspirations of an essentially peasant country, the rise of militant left populism, particularly in the imperialist-dominated countries, the rise of a left student movement and a left-liberalism, which found expression in the New Left school and some Trotskyist ramifications in Western Europe, the emergence of Eurocommunism, and so on, each of which represented the quasi- socialist activation of non-worker movements, were in different ways the later results of the defeat of the workers' revolution in the Soviet Union. In the absence of this experience, I think, worker socialism could have stood up to these activations; it could have retained and consolidated its position as the credible mainstream of Marxism and socialist struggle.
In my view the non-worker pseudo-socialist movements, which entered the scene in the name of communism and Marx, weakened the basis of real communism in society. The first victim was Marxist thought and the Marxist criticism of the capitalist system. They emptied this thought of its incisive and powerful content. They replaced Marxism's radical criticism of capitalism with a host of reformist and, partly, even reactionary and anachronistic petty grumbles peddled under this name. Marx's search for truth and his profoundly scientific method were disfigured; Marxism was turned into a store of divine clichés and verses which were only expressions of the low and worldly aims of the middle classes in society. This went so far that when we today say Marxism is critical of democracy, is opposed to nationalism, considers economic revolution as central, stands for the abolition of wage labour, does not feel pity for national cultures and ethnic identities, is the enemy of religion, and so on, it seems as if we are saying something new. The domination of the pseudo-socialist and even anti-working class ideas of the non- proletarian classes, in the name of communism and socialism, has for long driven workers into the restraints of trade unionism, even into mass subordination to Social Democracy, i.e. the left wing of the ruling class itself. Where they did not, as in the Soviet Union, literally slaughter working-class leaders, the false socialisms had at least this role that they cut the link between worker and communism on a massive scale. Both where they presented workers with repulsive examples of closed, despotic and stagnant societies in the name of socialism, like the Soviet Union, China and Albania, etc, and where they paraded the noisy but empty oppositionism of the intellectuals as left and radical communism, as in the West and in the imperialist- dominated countries, the result was to alienate workers from communism and to silence the communist worker inside the class. Thanks to these currents, a worker-communism which could stand up to a capitalist world war and bring a country the size of Tsarist Russia or Germany to revolution was for years reduced to critical and oppositionist efforts and muttering. With the collapse of these false camps and the decline in the appeal of communism and Marxism among the non-worker classes and their intellectuals, this cycle is just being closed.
So when you ask me why communism and socialism have not won in this century I in turn ask which socialism was supposed to win? Our socialism, worker socialism, with the defeat it suffered from the nationalist line in the Soviet Union, for a long time lost the power of bringing about fundamental changes in contemporary society. It lost its class power to trade unionism, Social Democracy and left reformism. Its keen criticism of the existing society was buried under the weight of pseudo-socialist distortions. We are just today straightening our back from this experience, and this under the conditions of a new assault on worker and on socialism.
Let me add a final point. I am not among those communists who consider the final victory of communism as the inevitable result of the historical process. The realization of socialism is the result of class struggle, and this struggle is as much capable of victory as it is of defeat. Not only communism and free human society, but capitalist barbarism, on a scale perhaps not yet experienced by our generation, can be the outcome of this conflict. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that this cycle that I talked about is now closed and bearing in mind the immense power that worker has now achieved on a social scale in the economic field, I am optimistic about the future of socialism. In any case, the issue hinges on the social practice of communism and communists.
Question: In the absence of a realized example of socialism, or a positively-defined model of socialist society, communists are chiefly identified by their oppositionist demands. Don't you think there is a need to express the socialist vision in more concrete terms? Shouldn't more practical models of economic and political organization in socialist society be elaborated?
Mansoor Hekmat: If you'd put this question to a Marxist at the beginning of the century he or she would reply that it is not for us communists to devise blueprints and utopias, that our task is to organize a revolution against the existing system, that our goals are clear and the process of workers' revolution itself will provide the practical forms of their realization. I believe this answer to be basically correct even today. However, two factors, one correctly the other incorrectly, make it that today many people regard the point about the need to offer a positive model of socialism as a valid one.
First of all, in showing the estrangement of the Soviet and Chinese models of socialism from Marxism, a communist must also, to some degree, offer positive alternatives. So I recognize this need to some extent in this sense. But the second factor is the result of the left's overall submission in the political struggles, particularly in the West, to the parliamentary system and climate. For many so-called communist and socialist parties the parliamentary field had been the chief battleground of struggle for political power. Unlike the revolutionary struggle, which is mainly organized on the basis of the criticism and rejection of the existing system, electoral struggles are carried out essentially around positive platforms. This is precisely the difference between reform and revolution. Reforms must be specified concretely; revolution, on the other hand, is a movement against a situation which exists, for the establishment of different general norms and principles. The revolutionary movement defines the practical forms of realization of its aims in the course of breaking up the existing situation, while the reformist movement in a parliamentary electoral system tries to win votes with a concrete reformist programme. The rise of capitalism itself was not on the basis of a clear positive model of the system either. Rather, it was the result of the criticism of the previous order and the presentation of general slogans for political and economic freedoms.
I think, therefore, the need to present socialism as a concrete and attainable politico-economic platform is rather exaggerated. To mobilize the forces of its class, communism must take into the working class its critical outlook, as well as its ideals, express the general outlines and principles of the society it is advocating and, at the same time, as an active political tendency amidst the ongoing struggles in society, offer practical and clear platforms for reforms.
What should be done is, firstly, to clarify the precise meaning of socialist aims, and, secondly, to show the feasibility of their realization. It must be established, for instance, that the abolition of bourgeois ownership does not mean introduction of state ownership, and then shown how the organization of people's collective control over means of production is practical. Or, it must be stressed that socialism is an economic system without money and wage labour, and then shown how organizing production without labour power as a commodity is feasible. What cannot be done is to prepare a detailed blueprint of production and administration in a socialist society. The specific form of economy, production and system of administration in a socialist society should be worked out in the context of the historical process. Our job is not to make models and utopias, but to show in what ways socialist society differs from the existing one. For example, we show the process of the withering away of the state following a workers' revolution by explaining the material basis of the state in class society and its superfluousness as a political institution in a classless society, and not by issuing a brochure in which the party has elaborated its practical programme for the step by step dismantling of state institutions and departments.
Question: The official commentary portrays the Soviet and Eastern bloc system as the inevitable result of communism, equates communism with 'totalitarianism' and lack of political freedoms and draws the conclusion that the only practical way for mass participation in society's administration is the parliamentary system and the pluralism prevailing in the West. How do you see this whole question, and to what extent does the communists' alternative for mass intervention in the running of society, i.e. council-based democracy, compatible with the complex social organization of today? Is the political system in socialism a one-party system?
Mansoor Hekmat: First of all, the political system in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc was the political and legal superstructure of the economic system in place in these countries and had nothing to do with socialism, communism or Marxism. It was in no way the natural extension of the workers' revolution in 1917. Not only that. This system was made possible precisely by crushing the political gains of the revolution, by wiping out the far-reaching political freedoms and rights won by the revolution. Secondly, the parliamentary system is a particular form of the rule of the propertied classes. Quite apart from the fact that the bulk of the decisions bearing on the life of millions in these countries is made outside the parliament, by an unaccountable political, economic and military elite, the parliament itself can hardly be called an organ of popular intervention in society's affairs. They set upon people every four to five years with colourful posters, propaganda and promises, get their votes and go back to their businesses. Were we to believe their claim, we would arrive at this strange conclusion that for a whole decade people in the West have been taking apart their social welfare system with their own hands, putting themselves out of jobs and taking away their own rights! Why on earth would the British people impose a poll tax on themselves? And when did the American people vote for the launching of war in the Gulf and for sacrificing their lives and money in this crusade? This is a joke. The parliamentary system is a system in which once every few years people yield to subjection by one or other of the assorted factions of the ruling class. Of course, compared to the absolute autocracy of some army general or an overt police state, this system is better, but to call it a system based on people's direct intervention is going too far. Thirdly, parliament is as much a natural product of capitalism as are the police states and military juntas. The whole world is under capitalism and the number of regimes with anything like a parliament, formed by elections which were not rigged, through universal suffrage and with a significant say in the passing of laws, is a handful. Whoever talks of politics in capitalism should also remember that Marcos, Shah, Franco, Pinochet, Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Papa Doc and Baby Doc, General Evren, Hitler and Mussolini, too, have been the products of this same society. Bourgeois pluralism depends on the degree of stability of the bourgeoisie's political and economic position in society. As soon as this stability is threatened they board up the parliament, ban the opposition parties and revert to outright autocratic rule.
Is socialism a one-party system? Communism, as the final aim of workers' revolution, does not have the state as a political institution. But transition to such a situation necessitates a kind of state following the taking of power by the working class. Essentially, however, the workers' state is not a party state; it is the state of workers' institutions. It is not a state of the communist party of workers, but a state of working masses' and citizens' councils and organs of direct rule. It is natural that in such a system parties should be free to work to have their policies and programmes adopted by councils and other organs of direct democracy. The strong position of the workers' communist party should essentially be the result of its having been able to assert itself as the organization embodying workers and influential working-class leaders. Workers' state is not based on a one-party regime, but it is not a political system in which parties win state power either. What's more - and this like all the other points is my personal view - workers' state is not an ideological state. A free society does not need an official ideology. It is the job of communists to spread and popularize Marxism and the communist view as a basis of society's self-awareness. The question whether the political parties seeking to overthrow the system of people's direct, council democracy and to restore the power of the overthrown classes will have freedom of activity, is something which the councils themselves will decide at the time. The question is which of the two options, i.e. allowing or banning these parties' activities, would be the more effective way of uprooting them.
Does the council system correspond to today's complex society? In my view it is in fact in the council system, i.e. the system based on people's direct participation, from the local to the national level, that given the existing complex economy and division of labour, people's continued presence in the political, economic and administrative decision-making can really be ensured. In the parliamentary system, politics and administration become skills out of people's reach. In the council system the extent of power of every council is proportional to the field of its activity. Every council is formed by the representatives of a group of councils at one lower level. The council structure as a whole, which includes councils from the lowest, local level to the highest, national level, provides for the possibility of people's and their representatives' effective intervention at all levels, as well as for the electors' control over the deputies. The parliamentary system is a smokescreen for the power of a bourgeois oligarchy. The council system is a direct medium for the intervention of people themselves.
Question: One result of the collapse of the Eastern bloc has been the weakening of party activity among the left. Apart from the former pro-Soviet parties, which are mainly either just dissolving themselves or dropping their formal claim to communism, there are radical left who do not consider the present era as one in which you can do party work. They stress theoretical work, and activity in rank and file movements. What is your view? You are a founder of a new party that wants to work even more firmly than before as a Marxist and workers' party. Don't you think that the building of a worker- communist party now may be met by disbelief and even ridicule?
Mansoor Hekmat: You can always find people who shrug their shoulders at socialism, at socialist organization and even at having lofty ideals. In bourgeois society deriding socialism and workers has always been rewarded. Perhaps more people today, than before, in the media, universities and the various political and propaganda institutions have turned to this honourable profession. This is not our concern. But with regard to radical left and socialist activists who while believing in the necessity of socialist work don't consider the present 'era' as one for party work, I'll say a few words.
I too believe that today Marxist theoretical work and involvement in working-class mass movements is very important for communists. I emphasize the terms Marxist and working-class because I know that for many on the left theoretical work and rank and file movements don't have this particular meaning. Many times what is meant is cultural activity, participation in minority and ecology movements, democratization of certain aspects of the political regime, and so on. I think that while the left should actively be involved also in these fields, this doesn't yet count as theoretical work or mass activity for communists. Even for someone who has really Marxist theoretical work and working class mass activity in mind, withdrawing from party work is a big mistake. Circles, centres, schools and political figures are no substitute for political parties. In the absence of worker-communist parties able to pose the whole of a class alternative against the ruling class, of parties committed to joining together communist activity in the different fronts, giving to communist struggle the profile of a complete movement which challenges the entire capitalist rule - in the absence of such parties, the efforts of socialist centres and individuals in this or that area will fail to make lasting impacts. In particular, in the absence of an active worker- communism in the shape of political parties, socialist efforts in the form of circles and centres will not remain radical and critical; bourgeois society will assimilate them and form them after its own image. The world is full of socialist circles, centres and individuals who carried out 'alternative activity' in different areas, only later to find it incorporated into the established tradition. Radicalism in society is a function of the position of the working class in the class struggles. And this is an area which above all requires the existence of worker-communist parties.
The wariness towards party work which we are witnessing today is the result of the massive offensive by the bourgeoisie against communism generally, and against organized communism, specifically. When communism is outlawed and communists are persecuted, communist parties lose members, and sometimes even break up. Anybody can see this. Today, at least in the West, apparently communism is not banned, but the propaganda campaign of the bourgeoisie against socialism, its economic war on the working class and the existing mass unemployment have a similar effect. It is intelligible that under such conditions many would withdraw from socialist organization. So I don't think so much of such `profound' theories which claim that `now is not the time for party work'. Man, by nature, invents complex philosophical reasons for his down to earth and intelligible actions. Once the current pressure lifts from workers and communism, it will again be a time for `party work'! I think this retreat is transitory and the working class movement, in such places as France, Germany, Russia and even perhaps the United States, will in the next few years put an end to this intellectual atmosphere.
Question: In the West we are witnessing serious retrogressive trends. The last bricks of the Welfare State are being pulled down and even the existing level of society's responsibility towards the individual, in terms of social welfare and economic security, is being questioned. Nationalism, fascism and religion are on the ascendance. Parallel to these developments we see a dramatic moral regression which shows itself in, for instance, the sanctioning of the West's military aggression, justification of the mass poverty and unemployment, growth of religious and ethnic fanaticism, corrupt journalism openly tied to state policy, and so on. Where will all this end? Do you think this retrogression will lead to an established equilibrium in the long run, or is it a passing phenomenon?
Mansoor Hekmat: I think in the final analysis socialists and workers will decide where this process will end up. Not in the sense that all factions of the bourgeoisie are willing to go all the way, to the extent of creating a super-reactionary political superstructure. For example, I think that racism and fascism on a scale advocated by the extreme right are not totally favoured even inside the bourgeoisie in the West. But the fact is that the more long-term and lasting balance sought by the bourgeoisie is much more to the right than the present one. Furthermore, if things are left to the manoeuvrings of the bourgeoisie the process by which this balance is created will be accompanied by enormous suffering and numerous wars and bloodshed. Fascism, racism, militarism and religion are not tendencies which just give ride to the centre and conservative factions in the ruling class, then to be relieved where their usefulness comes to an end. Today they are giving free play to these tendencies so that, thanks to the climate thus created, they may crush radicalism and struggles for justice and freedom and establish their own right-wing laws as the bases of the New World Order. Perhaps they reckon they would pull the brake in time, just before gas chambers or the advent of a ruinous war. Even if the outcome of the current reactionary agitations were not so grim, for the generation living now the path leading to that new balance will be a harsh and painful one.
In my view, primarily the working class and the socialist force can and must block this process. Today a turbulence is building up in the political climate of the West, and the growth of fascism, and the reaction that has emerged against it, are parts of this reality. These countries are gradually coming out of the political apathy of the '80s. Society is once again headed for polarization and politicization. I think these conditions themselves would also pave the way for the rise of a new left in the West, of an interventionist working-class socialism.
Nevertheless, I think stopping the growth of these trends, and generally the extreme-right political tendencies, is still more feasible than building barricades against the current efforts to dismantle 'Welfare Capitalism'. The bourgeoisie's assault on economic forms handed down from the 60s and the first half of the 70s is more determined and more desperate than the political aspects. There is also a greater consensus in this regard among the various sections of the bourgeoisie. Naturally this economic attack will also give rise to a fundamental revision in society's self-consciousness and the position of the individual in it. At the end of the day, the average person and particularly one who lives by selling his/her labour power will be someone with less rights, less dignity, less worth and more deprived than today. When they privatize health care and shift the burden of medical costs onto the 'consumer', they are apparently carrying out an economic policy. But in the meantime the notion being reinforced is that the right to health care is a right connected with property and income. The same is true of education and of leisure and recreation. Such ideological, political and legal retrogressions, though apparently not even 'fascistic', are more far-reaching and harder to confront than standing up to the extreme forms of expression of the right.
Question: Don't you then see fascism and racism as major threats in the West?
Mansoor Hekmat: Let me put it this way. The re-enactment of the experience of Nazi Germany is not a simple matter for the fascists. The left and centre forces will react strongly against them. There may be more grounds for the growth of the extreme right in Germany, France or some of the former Soviet Republics, and may be less in Britain and the USA. In any case, to become a dominant force in Western Europe, fascism will first have to overcome immense material barriers and political resistance. I think that even under the present atmosphere the political activation of the working class and the socialist force will be able to deal with this threat. Of course to mobilize this force against fascism and racism a lot of work must be done. The fascists will grow stronger and the extreme right, as an organized and active force, will occupy a definite place on the political stage of these countries. But I don't think that in the foreseeable future they would be able to turn into a dominant or decisive force inside the bourgeoisie.
With regard to racism the question is more complex. Racism is more institutionalized and more deep-rooted in these countries. There are a number of factors which point to the growth of racism in the future, even if it officially be castigated by the bourgeoisie. For example, one aspect of the idea of United Europe operates totally against the people of the so-called Third World. European identity finds meaning not just in distinction to British or German national identity, but against Asian and African identity. The racist tinge of the idea of European unity has become evident many times here and there and specifically on the question of a common policy on immigration and asylum or in the definition of the European character and culture. It seems that with the existing unemployment levels in Europe and the scale of poverty, economic difficulties and political repression in many of the Asian and African countries, and so the ensuing mass flight to Europe, racial incitement and racist provocation will be an area which the bourgeoisie would not easily abandon. The most the official policy in these countries would consider is to prevent fascists from gaining too much power. The civil laws will certainly take a turn for the worse for immigrants.
Question: The developments of the last few years have revealed two contradictory trends: on the one hand, we see the rise of nationalist movements and confrontations in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, we see how Western Europe is about to dismantle national borders and create a united Europe. Which of these do you think sets the pattern for the future?
Mansoor Hekmat: I think none of them. Nationalism in Eastern Europe today is a result of this bloc's disintegration not its cause. So the current growth of nationalism in the East does not presage a general International trend. Furthermore, I doubt if one could regard the plan for a united Europe as a significant break with nationalism. The question seems to be more about forming an integrated domestic market in Western Europe, as the basis of an economic bloc in rivalry with the US and Japan, rather than a shift from a national to a supra- national identity. The Soviet Union itself was for a long time an integrated bloc, with a single currency, a single state, a single army and a centralized system of economic management, but now it is the focal point of nationalist movements. To the average observer, the plan for a united Europe has put the stress on European identity vis-à-vis non-Europeans without undermining the national sentiments of each partner in a united Europe. What seems to be really happening is that new economic and political blocs, made up of inter-state alliances, are replacing the old arrangements, which, incidentally, creates more frictions.
History of capitalism shows that although the movement of capital and the globalization of the labour process weaken national borders in the economic sense, the unevenness of capitalist development, the world capital shortage and the general instability of capitalism keep nationalism alive both politically as well as in the economic strategy of the different sections of the capitalist class. If not as such, nevertheless as far as its concrete development to the present is concerned, capitalism needs national identity and nationalism. So any unity would be no more than the drawing of new demarcations. However strong the inherent drive of capitalism towards globalization, it seems that the liberation of mankind from nationalism and national identities will be the job of Internationalism and workers' revolution.
All in all, I don't think the present era is one of nationalism. Nor is it the age of its decline. Nationalism has no particular solutions to the problems of capitalism today, but it is not particularly under pressure either. What is changing is the national configuration of the capitalist world, not the role of nationalism in it.
Question: While the bourgeoisie is putting up its own economic, political and cultural alternatives - from nationalism to religion, fascism and racism - it seems that the working class is only resisting in the economic front. This is apparent in the West, but also in the East where, despite the more politically charged atmosphere, the growing poverty is making workers more prone to confine themselves to economic struggle alone. Is this not a cause for concern? What, in your view is the way out of this situation?
Mansoor Hekmat: I also think that this is a tangible fact and is a cause for serious concern. Working class's political self-expression is not a simple continuation of economic struggle. 'Workers', in the demographic sense of the term, have hardly ever intervened in politics. Worker participates in political struggle through worker parties, be it reformist or revolutionary. Today we have situation where all organizational and political traditions that, in one way or another, served as a vehicle for political intervention of workers in society, like social democracy and various strands of communism, have hit the bottom. To expect that workers, without political parties to rally around, can step much beyond the economic arena is an a- historical and absurd expectation. I don't think that the social democracy is even interested any more to be portrayed as the political expression of the unionist labour movement. They have to a large extent abandoned workers and focused on the middle social strata. Furthermore, social democracy lacks a clear social and economic programme. Everything, therefore, depends on the course of worker- communism. I think serious efforts must be made to, firstly, neutralize the current anti-communist offensive and secondly, form worker-communist parties engaged in organizing workers as a class and involved in the political struggle. Without this, even if workers manage to defend and preserve certain economic gains, we shall still end up with a much more anti-worker political and ideological balance. The period we are just entering will not be lacking in working class protest movements and actions. But the outcome of these struggles and specifically their impact on the general conditions of workers in society, their power and dignity, is another question. This requires an active communist movement in society and within the workers' movement.
This interview is translated from Persian and was first published in International, paper of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, no. 1, February 1992. The present translation is reprinted from International in English, no.1, August 1992.