Monday, September 24, 2018

The third camp of Agramant

Bruno Rizzi was an Italian political theorist best known for his work “La Bureaucratisation du Monde”, first published in Paris in 1939. The book played a certain role in the debates on the nature of the Soviet Union within the Trotskyist movement, detailed in “In Defense of Marxism”. Later, it became something of an underground classic, despite (or because of?) the fact that virtually nobody had actually read it! This volume contains an English translation of the book's first part, dealing with the Soviet Union, and an introduction by Adam Westoby, a Trotskyist activist. Westoby places Rizzi in context, and summarizes the untranslated parts of his book. Westoby has also tried to track down biographical information on Rizzi, which turned out to be easier said than done. Some of the info comes from Italian police files! It seems Bruno R was a very elusive, perhaps even slightly shadowy, character…

“The Bureaucratization of the World” introduced the term “bureaucratic collectivism” for the Soviet social formation. It argues that Stalinism and fascism are similar phenomena, and that the “democratic” West is slowly but steadfastly moving in the same direction through the New Deal and Keynesianism. Thus, capitalism and Stalinism-fascism converges, making bureaucratic collectivism the wave of the near future. To a dogmatic Marxist, who believes that the contradictions of capitalism lead to socialism, this is obviously a problem (so is Stalinism). Rizzi's attempts to square his empirical observations – which may have looked correct at the time - with Marxist dogma aren't entirely successful. In Russia, the rule of the bureaucracy is said to have been caused by the isolation of the revolution. This is the standard Trotskyist position. However, if all of the world is moving towards bureaucratic collectivism, the implication (at least for a dogmato-Marxist) is that the proletarian revolution is impossible everywhere. Like most Marxists, Rizzi believed in historic progress of an almost deterministic kind. Since regress is impossible, bureaucratic collectivism must be progressive! Rizzi said that it makes the economy more efficient. Logically, Rizzi should therefore support Stalinism and fascism, and indeed, he *did* draw this conclusion, only to revise it at the last moment before publication. One thing he didn't revise was his anti-Semitism, which led to a hate speech conviction and the banning of his book by the French authorities (at the time, Paris was home to a substantial Jewish community).

How original is Rizzi's book? That's for others to decide. It's a hard read, and I admit that I only skimmed certain sections. It certainly belongs to a time-honored tradition, also including Hilaire Belloc's “The Servile State”, James Burnham's “The Managerial Revolution” and even George Orwell's dystopian novel “1984”. Karl Wittfogel, Milovan Djilas and Max Shachtman could be mentioned in this context, too. And even Trotsky, who had a few things to say about the logical consequences of state capitalism, bureaucratic collectivism, and so on. I think Bruno R's mysterious book became famous mostly because The Old Man mentioned it in his polemics. The most obvious parallels (or so they say) is to Burnham's “The Managerial Revolution”, and Rizzi would subsequently accuse the apostate professor of having plagiarized his work!

But who was Bruno Rizzi, exactly? My impression is that of a “misunderstood genius” who was peripherally connected with many different leftist groups, while joining none. He was extremely eclectic, and his thinking espouses traits of Trotskyism, Stalinism, racism and free market libertarianism (sic). Rizzi constantly wanted to write public letters addressed to Stalin, Mussolini and other world leaders. He was a traveling shoe salesman and after the war became the owner of a shoe-producing plant. In France, some leftists suspected him of being a police spy or provocateur. He had little problem leaving fascist Italy on business trips abroad, and spent the war years in Paris in relative peace. During the war, he tried to deliver a letter to the Duce in Salò, and briefly feared for his life when the Partisans took over Northern Italy. Westoby doesn't think there is any evidence that Rizzi was a agent, but at least back in 1985 (when this translation was published), some files on the man were still classified in the archives of the Italian secret service…

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