A conversation with Hillel Ticktin

I was in Glasgow recently and took the opportunity to look up Hillel Ticktin. I have always admired the journal "Critique" which is edited by Hillel amongst others. It was always interesting and stimulating even if I sometimes disagreed with it. It was a model of what creative Marxism is about. The problem with journals tied to parties and groups is the tendency towards a stifling orthodoxy.

I said that Ticktin was correct in his analysis of the USSR where he regarded the alleged successes of the planned economy with a sceptical eye. Here Ernest Mandel regarded the planned economy as a surviving gain of the October revolution. Given what we now know of the chaos of the economy Ticktin was obviously right. I forget the exact place but the GDR was once considered the fourth or fifth largest economy in the world. On itís collapse it turned out that this was nonsense. The economy was based on out of date technologies and wholesale misplanning. The first thing the capitalist west did was not so much privatise the economy as shut down plant. The real inheritance of the capitalists was a skilled workforce

He alluded to Mandel`s excessive confidence in the ability of Marxists like himself in turning the workers of the USSR to Socialist goals after the collapse of Stalinism. Many Marxist groups invested a lot of time and effort in trying to set up groups in the former USSR with so far not much of a dividend.

We touched on Workers Control vis a vis Cuba. He raised an interesting point on the city wide 3examples of workers control in the USSR which peter out due to the lack of an alternative at government level. I am reminded of Leninís statement that the Bolsheviks were willing to take state power when a Menshevik, I think, raised a similar point. When push comes to shove all the current opposition groups in the former USSR only offer an alternative to Yeltsin`s drinking.

On reading his critical tribute to Mandel I though interesting his points about developing Marxism in a creative way which Mandel sought to do with some success where others were satisfied with a view that all the essential discoveries of Marxism had already been discovered and it was just a matter of mining the texts for the way forward.

I raised the question I saw posed of an ethnic class view of some struggles. His point was that these as in South Africa were super exploited sections of a common working class. I must get his book on South Africa.

We talked about the Moscow archives. He felt that essentially they did not add much. E.g. these archives proved that the Military committee of the Petrograd Soviet lead by Trotsky actually carried out the revolution.

In his Mandel tribute he dealt with some pettiness at an Oxford conference where he was excluded from the platform by an unholy alliance of some IMG and New Left Review organisers.

In a later post I intend to give a list of articles in Critique. For the present let me praise an issue devoted to Victor Serge edited by Suzi Weissman. Serge with C.L.R. James are my models of independent and critical thinking in the Marxist tradition within which I want to belong.

The website of the Glasgow University Department to which Ticktin is associated is called The Centre for the Study of Socialist Theory & Movements http://www.gla.ac.uk/Inter/CSSTM/

Glasgow is interesting for at least two intellectual products. One is Critique and the other is the journal "Revolutionary Russia".

The above remarks are my responsibility not Hillel Ticktin's as they are based on remembered conversation.


Jim Monaghan

The more the Soviet economy moved away from central planning and the more their economy was plugged into the capitalist world-economy the more the Soviet Union suffered decline and social disorganization. The mess in the Soviet Union was caused by its progressive integration with global capitalist society.

The irony of the post below is that for Ticktin, the reason why the SU wasn't socialist was because there was either no or inadequate central planning! Rather, he argues, there was a logic of organization that privileged the elites, bureaucrats, and the intelligentsia. Rather than planning, according to Ticktin, there is merely administration. The core of Ticktin's criticism of the Soviet model is that the lack of planning makes for incredible waste. Wastefulness is considered by him to be the central economic feature of the SU and hence its decline.

There glaring problem with Ticktin's analysis (and I have noted this before, although probably not on this list) is that it is not a class analysis. There is no discussion of the class character of these societies. The elite seemed to be free-floating, not linked to any class position or embedded in any class structure. Clearly, from the tone of the analysis, Soviet society was not a classless society. There were multiple classes and rulers (several strata, e.g., the intelligentsia) and these rulers were organizing social production to their benefit.

But how do we account for the much greater degree of equality and comparatively higher standard of living that is easily demonstrated to have existed in the socialist world-system? Ticktin's analysis is amazing for its rationalization and omission of facts that contradict his thesis.

The claim that wastefulness is the central economic feature of the SU is exaggerated. At one point, the socialist world covered 1/3 of the world's population, and the SU itself rose from third world status to the second largest economy in the world in a matter of two generations--accounting for 40% of industrial production globally. No small feat, and not indicative of terrible waste. (Although, as is his fashion, Ticktin doesn't define waste very well.)

What we are left with, when we examine Ticktin's "moribund social formation," is really a weak description of a supposed historically aberrant social formation, not an analytical model with a clearly defined dynamic. Ticktin is vague, sure, but clearly incorrect in his adjudication of the history of the Soviet Union.

Andy Austin