on 11 May 2009
Maurice Brinton was the pseudonym of Christopher Pallis, a neurologist of Greek descent working in London, who used the pen name to write many articles, reviews and polemics in the tradition of 'libertarian' or left-wing communism for the group "Solidarity". These have been collected under the title "For Workers' Power", which for some time was the subtitle of the Solidarity paper. His pseudonym (an earlier one was Martin Grainger) didn't help much, since the British press discovered his true identity relatively quickly in both cases; but his boss, Sir Christopher Booth, succesfully defended his right to political independence. He was also an admirable all-round man, not just competent in revolutionary politics and medicine, but also fluent in English, French, German and Greek, a very popular teacher, and one who had been on most continents of the world.
Brinton has been influenced in his work much by Wilhelm Reich as well as Cornelius Castoriadis, some of whose works he translated or helped translate into popular English editions, and as a result much of the articles he has written follow their own political trajectory. His relation to Marxism seems to go up and down - while he is always opposed to Leninism and any other form of authoritarian tendencies in Marxism, he seems to be undecided on whether to reject the whole or not. When Castoriadis did, he seems also to have done this for a while, but later to return to it. However, because the writings are not wholly ordered chronologically, it is hard to keep track of this, annoyingly enough.
Much of course can be said against left-wing communism in general and their practice, and Brinton suffers from these problems as much as anyone else in that tradition. There is the strict sectarianism, easily as bad as any Leninist group, there is the rejection of any kind of socialist endeavour that does not adhere to the very high demands of Solidarity, there is the refusal to understand how state capitalism could be an advance over 'regular' capitalism still, even if it is not socialism per se, and so on. Brinton has a sort of Luxemburgist attitude to the workers' movement(s), that is, that they will achieve their goals on their own and not need any leadership or imposition of ideas from outside, but at the same time he spends a lot of time vigorously polemicizing against the Leninist mass parties - not at any time engaging the question of how he can reconcile their apparent popularity, at least in 'higher' politics, with his idea that they are opposed to the workers' real struggle.
That said though, there is much to learn and much useful in Brinton's works. From Reich as well as his medical background, he takes up the important struggle against sexual puritanism and moralism, both within and without the socialist movement. At times the Freudianism goes overboard, but later on he seems to have realized this, and in any case his analysis and criticism of moralistic attitudes among workers and Communist leaders is excellent. In general, Brinton's strong emphasis on the need to combat authoritarianism and hierarchy not just in the production process, but everywhere, and his strong and forceful analyses of the various ways that bourgeois and authoritarian ideology is disseminated precisely outside the traditional loci of workers' struggles is highly useful and interesting. He correctly criticizes the Leninists (at least the leaders of the various parties) for their wholesale adoption, until very recently, of bourgeois moralisms and bourgeois cultural ideas, and at the same time equally correctly criticizes the anarchists for their refusal to engage in thorough analysis of society, and their simplistic views of the state and of power. I don't agree with Brinton's wholesale rejection of everything Leninist-style socialism has done, but I think his strongly worded critiques are an important antidote to the tendency to elevate the "production now, socialism later" approach to communism to a higher level of desirability than it deserves.
In my personal opinion, much of this comes from the enormous harm and confusion caused by Stalin's decision to make the state capitalism of the USSR, intended to enhance the productivity and living standards to a degree that would make actual socialist movement possible, equivalent with socialism itself. Since then, a lot of fighting has been done between the authoritarian, productivist forms of Marxism that see the basic Leninist economic approach as what socialism is or should be, and on the other hand the more 'libertarian' critics that dismiss all of that because it didn't lead to greater worker power over industry. Much could be gained if the socialist movement could reject this silly dichotomy, and instead realize that socialism is the movement for human freedom in societies that have developed that people can liberate themselves from the domination of the machine and the fetishism of the commodity, but that at the same time state capitalism, led or inspired by political socialists, is the requirement for underdeveloped countries to reach this prerequisite in the first place: so not to confuse the movement with the creation of the conditions for its success. Brinton's works are an important part of the left weight on these scales.